Tuesday, June 26, 2007


My wife has posted several Noah-isms on her blog. These are the funny ways that our son expresses himself. He really thinks about some deep issues and all too often his vocabulary outclasses his age.
So today my brilliant little seven year-old was already having some issues with making his theology and his science interlace. Somehow, we got on the subject of death. He began talking about the resurrection, or in his terms, “the time when everything comes back to life.”
“Dad, you know the time when everything comes back to life? Will that happen before or after the sun expands past the orbit of the Earth? Because if it happens after the sun expands we’ll probably have to come back to life on some other planet. And if it happens before we’d have to start looking for another planet pretty soon.”

I’m not quite sure how to answer that one…

Friday, June 22, 2007

Father's Day

Yes, I realize that I'm a little late on this. I've been trying to think of a better way to express this but I kept coming back to the same thing. I posted the following on our family's web site a few years ago. I would like to share it with the readers of this blog.

I’ve just finished reading book that was recommended to me by my father. I read it once in High School but it didn’t have much meaning to me then. Like a Bilblical parable the book took on a deeper, more personal meaning this time. Since High School I have gone to Japan on a mission for two years, gotten married, had four children and said “goodbye” to the man who taught me to love books in the first place.

The book in question was previously read by my father. I don’t just mean that we read the same book, I mean it literally. This copy was owned by him and he loaned it to me. For those of you who knew Rog’ you know exactly what that means. That’s right. It has highlighted passages on nearly every single page. So in reading this book I was not only able to learn about the story described but I was able to learn about my father. What parts he liked. What passages he thought were important.

Near the end of the book a main character has died and the author is dealing with the loss of this character, his son. Rog had underlined the following passage;

….before it could be asked “Where did he go?” it must be asked “what is the ‘he’ that is gone?”

He then goes on to explain that what he missed about his son was not the molecules that made up his body but the pattern that made up his soul. It is natural, he says, to cling to things that resemble his pattern but in actuality are far from who he really was.

For a couple days after Rog’ died I too felt this need to cling to his pattern. I didn’t want to go home. I stayed by his body as much as possible. I was looking for him in places that I knew he wasn’t anymore. It made me sad.

A few days later I realized that Rog’ had left us vast volumes of his pattern to cling to. His journals. His photographs. His book collection complete with highlights and footnotes. But more important than all of this is the mark of his pattern that he left on everyone he ever met. This last year it has been a considerable source of comfort to see the evidences of Rog’s “pattern” on my life and those that I love.

Rog used to tell a story about ripples in a pond. He said, “When you throw a stone into a pond it will create ripples in the water. These ripples extend outward slowly from the splash. Scientists have proven that even though those ripples grow smaller that they never quite disappear and they will extend out to infinity.”

I see ripples that Rog has left on everyone of our lives. It is my prayer that we will all learn from the ripples and patterns left by Rog and create our own ripples as well.

with apologies to Robert Pirsig

Originally posted on celestialfamily.org

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saving Lives?

WARNING! This post is a little more political than most of my others. I debated not posting it. However, I felt that it fit in with my overall theme of sticking to logic to make your points. So I am posting it anyway. You have been warned.

I’m very confused by a major news event today. President Bush has once again vetoed a bill that would have allowed federal funds to be used to support embryonic stem cell research. My confusion is not with his decision to veto the bill. For the record, I firmly agree with this veto. In fact, I wish he would find more spending bills to veto. As it stands the only issue that he seems to feel strongly enough about to cast his veto is federal funding for stem cell research. In vetoing this bill President Bush said,
"Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical, and it is not the only option before us,"
Stated as such I agree with his moral dilemma. But there is much more to this issue.
Here comes the confusion. For the sake of this argument let’s avoid the whole controversial discussion of whether or not a fertilized embryo constitutes a “human life”. Let’s assume that it is. A careful reading of this bill, HR 810 will reveal that the only embryos that are being considered for research funding are surplus embryos from fertility clinics.
What steps will this veto take to save these human lives? The answer: absolutely nothing. The sanctity of these human lives are now being preserved right up to the point that the fertility clinic needs more space in the fridge and they are discarded to the garbage can. In spite of what he insinuated this veto does absolutely nothing to prevent fertility clinics from, “destroying human life”
It is obvious to me that this is just a political tool. By denying a little bit of funding he can stand on his soapbox, thump his chest and appease his pro-life constituents. If he really felt strongly that a fertilized embryo in a fridge in a fertility clinic constituted a human life then why doesn’t he do something about it? He could call on Congress to enact legislation that would force fertility clinics not to create the surplus embryos in the first place. But, wait a minute that could backfire.
Few people on the planet could be more appropriately labeled as pro-life than a couple trying to get pregnant. However with the current technology if they visit a fertility clinic they will likely make several embryos and only bring one or two of them to full term. They then leave the surplus embryos to be stored or discarded. If you accept that these embryos are “human life” then in a very real sense every couple that has a child with the assistance of a fertility clinic is guilty of destroying several human lives in the hopes of creating one or two. Now that we’ve established that the veto does nothing to save life it should be obvious that the President’s claim is a red herring and his moral dilemma described above is, at best, a non sequitor.
Mr. President, I have no objection to you vetoing this bill because you don’t think it is a constitutional function of government. But, please don’t stand on your soapbox and proclaim that you are protecting the sanctity of life. Your veto will save zero lives. The embryos in question are being discarded anyway. You are doing nothing to prevent that. Yet the potential of stem-cell research could save millions of born and unborn “human lives”.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ends v Means

“The only reason to go on vacation is to see all that stuff in the middle”
-Overheard on an NPR interview with the author of the Lonely Planet travel guides-

About every other year we take a two week long road trip as a family. In 2003 we drove out to Oregon for a family reunion. Along the way we went to several great sites in the middle of the country. On the way out went to Nauvoo IL, Badlands SD, Devils Tower WY, Yellowstone and several other neat places. Then on the way back we visited some family in Utah and then went by Bryce Canyon and The Grand Canyon. In 2005 we took the southern route and went to Carlsbad Caverns NM, The National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, and Mesa Verde. This year our plan is to hit an area that we haven’t been and head up to New
York and Canada, again with several neat places along the way.
Our original goal in breaking up the trip and doing so many things en route is was to make sure that the kids would be okay for the extended traveling. It turns out that they are all very good on road trips.
It seems that in both of these trips the final destination is somewhat overwhelmed by the stuff we did along the way. I could not help but to wax philosophical on this point. Never have I been the type to justify the means by the ends. In fact I believe that the two are just different parts of the same thing. Without the path that leads you there the destination has no meaning. It’s what we learn along the way that adds meaning to the destination. If we had chosen to simply fly to Oregon for our 2003 vacation what would we have learned? Well we potentially could have learned a little bit more about Oregon but at what cost? By doing it the way we did I believe that my children have a much better love and appreciation for this wonderful land.
I recently read in a climbing magazine about a new remote controlled helicopter that can safely hover at altitudes well above 30’000 feet. Technologically speaking a rescue is now plausible from the very summit of Mount Everest. Some are concerned that the helicopter will be used not as a rescuer but as a mountain tourist attraction. Those with the cash to pay for it could just have this chopper drop them on the summit for a few snapshots and them pick them back up. Theoretically they could even spend more time at the summit that true climbers since they had such a faster return to a safe altitude. I doubt that anyone would feel that these tourists would have the same type of experience on the summit as one who had climber under her own power. In comparison I sure don’t feel any sense of accomplishment after driving 26 miles. But ask a marathon runner about his experience along the same stretch of road.
When I see people hoping to win the lottery or in some other way try to cheat their way to success the first thought that comes to my mind is pity. What they didn’t have to work for very hard to earn the esteem even less. In a very real sense they have cheapened the final goal. It will mean less to them because of their means of achieving it. For me the final goal typically turns out to be rather immaterial in comparison to what it took to get there.
I have many personal, spiritual, and professional goals. Sure it would be nice to accomplish them all. But does it really matter? Not if it means that I have to take shortcuts along the way. If I can learn more and become a better person along the way them what is the real goal anyway? I have attempted to climb far more mountains and rock faces than I have actually succeeded in summiting. However I would not trade the lessons that I learned on those failed attempts for any collection of summit photographs cheapened by shortcutting the path to the top.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Yet Another Cool Quote

Platos cave is full of fools

Demanding refunds for the things theyve seen.

I wish they could believe in all the things that never made the screen.

-Jack Johnson-

Inaudible Melodies

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

False Dichotomy

A false dichotomy is when a choice is arbitrarily reduced to only two possibilities and presented as if these two are the only options and there are no others. Politicians love to use this rhetorical tool because it will make their opponent stammer if the don't immediately recognized the fallacy. When the President says, "You're either with us or against us." That is a false dichotomy. He leaves out the option that someone may support his motives but not his strategy.
Yesterday I received a survey in the mail from the Republican National Committee. Some may find it hard to believe but since I frequently vote Republican, at least in the primaries, I get put on scads of conservative mailing lists. As I was reading through the questions is soon became clear that this was no opinion poll at all. They were attempting to manipulate my opinions by forcing me into one false dichotomy after another. I'm paraphrasing just a bit, but the first question was something to the effect of this. Do you support the Republican proposal to renew and strengthen the Patriot Act or do you think we should just hand the key to the country over to the terrorists today? I don't think that the RNC really believes that these are the only two options. They are plenty of choices in the middle. By phrasing it in this manner they are trying to force people into siding with them or the terrorists. This is hardly a realistic choice. Personally, I believe that most of the founding fathers would have been insulted by the rights violated by the Patriot Act. This doesn't mean that I believe Jefferson was a supporter of terrorism.
The real kicker was the final question. Will you support the RNC by sending a contribution? and my choices were,
Yes, and here is my check for $_____.
No, I think we should just let the liberal Democrats just keep on screwing up the country.
What? That's it? No other choices besides give me cash or watch the country get screwed up? I think it's really sad that so many people are persuaded by such juvenile rhetorical tools. Personally, I do a great deal of research on all the issues and I vote for that candidate who shares the majority of my views. I vote in the Republican primaries often enough that I stay on their mailing lists and not on the Democrat's. However, the party that closest reflects my beliefs is the Libertarian party, but I still take issue with many of their strategies.
So during the upcoming election cycle hyteria don't be afraid to look behind the questions. Just because somebody gives you a choice between two things don't assume that those are the only two options. All too frequently in politics and in life the best solution is something completely different than the options we are presented. Have the courage to look for that solution no matter who is trying to court your vote.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mistaken Identity

In the past two days I have been a victim of mistaken identity twice. With a relatively common first name and last name I have never been under any delusion that I was the only Michael Taylor out there. This little occurrence got me doing a little bit of research into the other Michael Taylors out there.

Today I got an instant message from another AT&T employee in another state. She was asking me about assisting her with something on her PC. Since I knew the answer I went ahead and told her. I then asked her why she felt that I would be able to help her. She promptly apologized for sending the message to the wrong Michael Taylor.

Yesterday, Victoria received a condolence card from the American Heart Association. It was addressed to her and stated that a donation had been made to the AMA “in memory of Michael Taylor”. I called the AMA to let them know of the mistake. I announced that she had apparently received the card in error because I was very much alive. To which he replied, “I’m sorry to hear that.” Well the AMA may be sorry to hear it but I’m downright elated that I’m still alive. I’m sure he meant that he was sorry that they sent the card to the wrong person. I just thought it was rather funny.

A quick Google search for my name revealed about as diverse a group of people as you could imagine.

There was a death notice for 16-year old kid who was shot in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser,
A man awaiting a stay of execution in Missouri,
A San Diego personal injury attorney,
A Sacramento portrait photographer,
A college football recruiter,
A British figurative painter,
A custom furniture designer,
A screenwriter for Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,
A visiting Robotic researcher at Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute,
A UCLA Geology graduate student,
An African-American author of motivational books,
An Anchorage, Alaska anesthesiologist, and several other characters of all types and descriptions.
I'm not going to get too introspective on this. I just thought it was neat to do a little research on the rest of the crowd that shares my name.


Excuse me for just a second while I talk shop.

I gave up listening to talk radio about six months ago and I havent missed it at all. Ive been spending my drive time listening to books on CD and much more educational and uplifting podcasts and music. Today a coworker turned up his radio today because our company was mentioned. In Atlanta we have a consumer reporter who always refers to our company as a monopoly local phone company. At last count AT&T had 35% of the market share for home voice-lines in the states we serve. Can you think of any other monopoly that only has 35% of the market share? In today rant he was talking about a cable company, a satellite company and AT&T competing for the video market. Apparently oblivious to the irony, he used the word monopoly to describe all three of the companies that are competing for the same market on a specific product. Considering this statement it really makes me wonder how he defines a monopoly.

I quit listening to talk radio primarily because the political talking heads were just pandering to their customer base to sell advertising regardless of the facts. I used to respect this consumer reporter, but now it seems obvious that he too is just using emotionally charged words like monopoly regardless of whether or not there are facts to support his claims.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Debate revisited

In my experience talk show hosts rarely make good debaters in a true structured debate format. Most simply don't know the process and have a hard time following it once they are taught it because it is so different from what they do on a day to day basis.
The general public has grown accustomed to the spectacles that each party airs during the election cycle calling them debates. At best they are joint press conferences. A serious analyzing of them shows too many distortions, fallacies and just plain old posturing to deserve being called a debate.
Truth be told, structured logical debates are rather lack luster and you really have to pay attention to each and every point raised and then see if the opponent can refute them. The judge when I was on my High School debate team would do exactly that. They'd take a legal pad and break it into columns. In the first column they would right down the claims made by the first team. Then in the second column they would note and refutation to the claim made by the opposing team. They would then follow up in each column with each of the rebuttals. At the end they would analyze each claim and see to which side the arguments went. Then weighing the argument by how strongly they supported one team or the other give those "points" to that team.
Without this structured approach to a debate most people walk away from anything referred to as a debate simply believing that their guy won it. Their confirmation bias counts every dig against the opponent but ignores or rationalizes away a dig against their guy.
Without their mute button for callers I have found that talk show hosts are among the worst debaters around. I've watched several of them. Whether it's Neal Bortz debating Bob Barr on medical marijuana, Sean Hannity debating Rocky Anderson on George Bush or any of a number of others that I've seen. They just have a hard time sticking to any logical process.
If you'd like to see a great debate here's a link to a debate on Intellegent design sponsored by the Cato Institute.
I subscribe to a email newsletter sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania called Factcheck.org. A quick glance of their archives will show that they are equal opportunity offenders without any political agenda. I typically wait at least a day before I pass judgement on a debate to give these guys a chance to check the facts out.
There are many people who I agree with and many that I disagree with that make great talk show hosts but are lousy debaters. I also subscribe to a few podcast of folks that are great debaters but simply aren't entertaining enough to sell the required advertising to put them on radio. So next time you hear what you believe to be a great debater seriously analyze why you feel that way. Is it just because you agree with their position? Or is it because you have seriously analyzed all of the points made and "your guy" has logically refuted all of the claims against him as well as made well supported claims against the other position that could not be defended? Just something to think about.

PS. I'm posting his while I'm at Scout Camp. I'm typing it all on a Blackberry 720 that has a keyboard that's just slightly smaller than my previous Blackberry and the special keys are all in different locations. So please excuse any glaring errors until I get near a WiFi connection and can correct them and add the hyperlinks.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Internal Consistency

Internal Consistency

In the past year I have read a few books on the early history of Christianity. The best of these were written by Bart Ehrman. In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman described the process that textual critics go through when they are trying to verify what was originally intended by the author of a book. Before the age of printing and Xerox machines scriptures where hand copied and then taken to another town. From there more copies were made and taken to other towns etc. Over time small errors would be introduced to the text and get passed down to all subsequent copies of that book. Many of the errors were benign but, occasionally a serious doctrinal discrepancy arises. Without access to the previous variations of a text it is very hard to correct the meaning back to what was originally intended. One of the tools that textual critics use to correct these differences in the text is to look for what they call internal consistencies. This concept of internal consistency has intrigued me and I think there are many other possible uses of the tool.
Suppose I have a copy of the gospel of “Jack”. In chapter 2 of Jack we have account of Jack relaying a story to one group of people. In chapter 4 and 7 there are two other accounts of Jack telling the same story and the details are small. However, in chapter 10 there is yet another account and the details are very different, not just in the tiny detail but the doctrinal issues are in direct conflict with the first three times the story was told. This is an example of an internal consistency. Which doctrine did Jack actually believe? At the very least you know that you shouldn’t put too much confidence in either account until you have solved the inconsistency.
I have a similar problem with many political and philosophical debates. Take for instance; 911 conspiracy theories. They are not internally consistent. Most of these theories would have us believe that the same Republican party that can’t keep control of congress or find Bin Laden are also capable of the greatest cover-up of all time. Well make up you mind! Are they morons who can’t manage the war or are they brilliant political strategists? You can’t have us believe both. It’s internally inconsistent.
A local talk radio personality likes to claim that global warming is happening but that it is not caused by man. Yet give us one colder than average day and he attempts to use that to claim that it isn’t even happening. Never mind that one event doesn’t prove or disprove the overall trend. The real problem here is that he is defeating his own position. He’s internally inconsistent.
Most of the so called logical proofs I’ve read of God’s existence have similar internal inconsistencies. They start out with a goal of using science and logic to make their point and in only a few steps they declare something to the effect that God is the cosmic singularity that is outside of space-time and therefore not subject to logic and science as we know it. Well that may be true but again it’s not consistent. Is God provable or not? Saying that God can only be proven by science that we do not yet understand is hardly a logical proof. It’s a fallacy called special pleading. With this same logic I could claim that silent, invisible, odorless dragons live in my garage but the science doesn’t yet exist to detect them. Again, this may be true but my “proof” is anything but.
I offer this not to take a position on any of the specific topics discussed. I just suggest that if you find a source that is not even internally consistent then how well are those arguments going to stand up when you put them out and compare them to others.

With apologies to Carl Sagan. The “dragons in the garage” analogy was borrowed from The Demon Haunted World.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Seeking Inspriration

My recent ponderings on religion and politics has left be rather saddened. Feeling a need to escape to something more uplifting I have returned to topic of research that has always left be with a profound sense of awe and wonder, astronomy.
Currently I have checked out several books, DVDs and books on tape on the subject. At Ray's suggestion I have just about everything I can find by Brian Greene including
The fabric of the cosmos : space, time, and the texture of reality on CD and in print and The Elegant Universe : superstrings, hidden dimensions, and the quest for the ultimate theory in book and DVD. For about a month now I've been working on Is Pluto a planet?: a historical journey through the solar system by David A. Weintraub. I've also been reading The Varieties of Scientific Experience: a personal view of the search for God by Carl Sagan as I find the time. All of these have been very enjoyable even when they frequently test my ability to comprehend. However, the greatest source of joy came from another DVD.
I had a particularly disappointing morning. A situation at church resulted in a decision I had made being overruled without even given a consultation in favor of what I believe to be simply hypocritical obedience to the fourth commandment. Rather than just sit and stew over it I went to the library and picked up Carl Sagan's Cosmos on DVD. They just got a copy of the newly remastered original series that was run on PBS in the early 80s. Victoria and I sat down and watched the first 3 episodes back to back. I will likely watch the rest in similar fashion. Many of Sagan's descriptions and examples had me literally in tears because they were so profound.
I first watched this series when it originally aired with my father. I remember then walking away from the shows and just wanting to look up and gaze at the stars. Sagan has a certain manner about him when he describes and explains science. No matter how old he is he seems like a 5-year old boy telling you about the fascinating things that he found at the local pond. He never seemed to loose that sense of wonder and admiration for all of nature. And he had an incredible way of inspiring the same wonder in me.
In books of religion or politics they seem to be a list of answers. Basically these are our interpretation of what the truth is. There doesn't seem to be any room to ask questions. The only questions permitted are simply "how are you going to change your life to fall in line?". Science on the other hand seems to be fascinated with the questions, particularly the questions for which we still don't know the answers. In many other subjects this admission of your own ignorance would be a source of distrust and cause a loss of faith. For me at least these unanswered questions inspire and prompt me to personally strive for greater understanding. Whether in print or on video few have inspired me more than Carl Sagan. I never seem to grow tired of reading his work.
I find it ironic that in the past few years I have gained so much comfort and peace and had my spirituality increased by a self described agnostic. Religious faithful are quick to shun intellectuals, scientists, agnostics and atheists as arrogant and evil. I have never felt this from Dr. Sagan. Quite the contrary, his naturalistic explanations of the cosmos have more humility than anything I have ever heard from the pulpit.
My brother is very fond of putting things to the "fruits test". Based on the scriptures that say "by their fruits you shall know them". Sagan passes the fruits test with flying colors. Whether he's teaching about humility, stewardship, or how to love your fellow man he consistently showed us all that there is a better way. Thanks to him I will always look at this pale blue dot that we live on and the whole of the cosmos with a much more profound reverence.
I have heard that there is a toy store near that campus of Cornell University that sells individual pale blue marbles. And that if you drive just a mile of so away to Carl's grave you'll find and abundance of those marbles, each one placed on the headstone as a silent thank you for the impact that Carl had on that person's life. I would like to add two marbles to that pile, one for myself and one for my father who was also inspired by Carl and taught me to never stop asking questions.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Point of Diminishing Returns

At some point in any project, whether business or personal, there is a point where the additional cost of continuing exceeds any possible benefit that will be gained from that effort. Few would argue that spending $1 per gallon for a fuel additive that will give you an additional 30 miles per gallon is a good investment. On the other hand, spending and additional $1 per gallon to make your car get only 1 or 2 additional miles per gallon hardly makes sense. From this example it is simple to interpolate that there is a point that the cost of the additive and the additional cost of the gas saved is equal. Below this point using the additive is cost effective. Above that point it is clearly ineffective.
Frequently, in my life I find myself making this judgment call. The one that I am currently dealing with has to do with a book that was recommended to me. The book is titled The Physics of Christianity. From the introduction and the first chapter I have found that the basic premise of the book is so flawed that I have no desire to continue. I skipped to the conclusions just to see where his arguments would lead. I might detail how ludicrous the author’s arguments are in a future post. As it stands I’m likely going to just drop the book back off at the library on my to work.
I seriously considered forcing myself to finish the book just to give it due diligence. Considering the huge stack of books that I have on my current reading list I simply feel that my time and efforts would be much better spent on other books. The only reason I’m giving this as much thought as I have is because I’m being overly introspective as usual. My decision has me questioning, if only a little, about whether I’m just being closed minded to the book.
The best thing that I have gained from reading the few chapters of this book is a few minutes of introspection on the topic of diminishing returns. At any cost I’m moving on to what I seriously believe will be better endeavors.