Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Belated Christmas Letter

I had every intention of getting this posted before Christmas but I guess better late than never. Besides I seem to remember a little cliché about good intentions and their use as an asphalt substitute, but I digress.

2008 was so busy for us that I don’t quite no where to start. So as the kids say I’ll line things up alphabetically by height.

Eve, AKA Evey-bug, Bugger Chugs, Evil Livia, Evey, Chuggers has had a good year. She’s enjoying Elementary school quite a lot. She’s still struggling with learning to read but she keeps trying and I’m not the least bit worried that she’ll get the hang of it. She has become quite the little comic. We all enjoy her zany sense of humor complete with 70s pop culture, British sci-fi, and Monty Python references. I’m not sure anybody outside our family understands her silliness but we think she’s a hoot. Lately she has really enjoyed helping Noah work on his electronics projects and playing with her new K-9 robot. Her dream job for when she grows up is to be a Dalak. Like I said, she’s a nutter that one.

Noah has totally licked the reading struggles he had a few years ago. Every night he reads out loud to us for at least 40 minutes. His homework only requires him to read for 20 minute, but since he stops every 30 seconds and asks, “Mom, How long have I been reading?” we deduct this Q&A time from his total. Noah’s struggling a little bit with school. Not with the material but with the procedures and his organizational skills. The kid is brilliant, but I guess genius comes with its own baggage. Since he forgets to turn in assignments that he has completed I don’t think his teacher quite realizes how smart he really is. We’re working on this with him.

Noah enjoys making robots. Frequently the robots are made of pop bottles, cardboard, cans and copious amounts of scotch tape. He then labels all the parts with a sharpie. Last week I was chastised for throwing away a “laser rifle”. As it turns out I had thrown a 2 liter bottle with a little scotch tape on it into the recycle bin. On the side of the bottle in sharpie it was clearly labeled “laser rifle”. How silly of me to think it was an empty soda bottle. In an attempt to steer his efforts to a more productive path we got him a Radio Shack electronics lab for Christmas. It’s a little over his head, but not much. We started at the beginning and we’ve been doing all of the projects together. He really likes the noisy ones. Big surprise. He’s been doing a really good job of identifying and keeping all of the resisters and capacitors organized and in the right bags. Hopefully this one item will help him with his science fix as well has help improve his organizational ability and his fine motor skills. I’ll keep everybody posted on the status of our aspiring Jimmy Neutron.

As Victoria stated in her blog recently we have coined a new phrase around our house. The phrase is “being Rachel”. This girl has no interest at all in sports or television. Every spare moment she finds she is reading a book or writing a story. She discovered the whole Twilight series around Thanksgiving and has since read every one of the novels at least once and some multiple times. Thanks to a Dr. Who episode that featured her as a character she has recently discovered Agatha Christie. The phrase “being Rachel” has taken such acceptance in the house that we even use it when not referring directly to Rachel. If Victoria or I just want to sit down and veg with a good book we’ll just say were gonna go be Rachel for a while. When she’s not reading or writing she’s off at one of her friend’s from girl scouts goofing around. Rachel is our good student. Her teachers love her because she’s a round peg and their curriculum is suited for round pegs.

Rachel is my little hippy-chick. She is genuinely concerned about a myriad of social issues. Last week she asked me several questions about the different political parties. She was wondering where she fell. So as not to bias her with my own positions I directed her to a short political quiz. She enjoyed taking the quiz and finding out where her political beliefs fell. Like everybody I’m sure her opinions will evolve, but I’m impressed that she is so genuinely concerned about social issues at such a young age.

Aaron is officially taller than Victoria now. We’re gonna have to stop feeding that boy. He will sit down and eat three Arby’s sandwiches and be hungry enough in twenty minutes to fight with his siblings over the leftovers.

Since he turned 14 Aaron has been attending troop 129 in Tucker. That’s the troop that Grampa Jim has been working with for years. The church’s program for boys his age is primarily focused on sports and other activities that didn’t appeal to Aaron as much as the traditional Scouting program. He still attends mutual on Wednesday nights, but also attends scouts on Tuesdays. Recently the two of us helped out with the troops annual Christmas tree sales by running the tree lot for a few nights. Aaron enjoyed the work and his labors will help to pay his way to summer camp this June.

After several years of home-schooling, Aaron decided to head back to public school this year. Unlike Rachel, Aaron is quite the square peg. Actually, I don’t think Aaron is a peg at all. The transition to public school has been anything, but smooth. Fat lips, suspensions, calls from principals, etc. etc. It seems like every problem I had the whole time I was in school, Aaron has been able to condense into his first few months at middle school. We do our best to help things go smoother for him, but short of attending class with him and supervising every moment we just have to continue teaching correct principles and letting them govern themselves.

As if Victoria didn’t have enough to do raising four kids she also had to sign up to be the yearbook lady at school. I bought her a new camera, a Nikon D90 so she could take more pictures to her heart’s content. She took her new role as Yearbook Lady as a cue that she needs to go to school every single day and wander the halls taking pictures. I really feel sorry for who every takes on the role after Victoria leaves, because she has completely expanded the duties well beyond what has previously been expected. Previous yearbook coordinators have simply grabbed the pictures that others have taken and the school pictures and plugged them into the template given by the publisher. Do you think Victoria was content with just doing that? No way baby. She had me download Photoshop CS4 just so she could do a very specific type of journaling around one of the candid shots. Most yearbooks don’t do any journaling at all, let along the type she was looking for. I’m really proud of the extreme effort she’s putting into it. I just wish I could see more of her when she wasn’t looking through a camera or photoshopping the pictures.

Perhaps recognizing that she’s been spending a lot of time at the computer, Victoria has started walking around the park daily. Her mom bought her a pedometer for Christmas and we figured out that she has been walking 6½ miles almost every day. She’s not at marathon pace by any means, but it’s obvious she feels better on days that she has walked. I also enjoy the times when the kids are behaving and we can sneak out and walk together. We just celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary and what can I say. I still enjoy hanging out with her.

I was released as Scoutmaster this summer and asked to serve as the Committee Chairman. It’s not as hands on as being Scoutmaster, but I enjoy working behind the scenes to support the boys in the Ward. I attended Woodbadge this summer and I’m hoping to complete my ticket and earn my beads by this spring.

I still enjoy reading and updating my blog, however earlier this year ago I noticed a guitar that was lying around the house that wasn’t getting played. So I picked it up and have been trying to teach myself how to play. I’ve been abusing the generosity of friends who also play and hounding them for free lessons and jam sessions. Thank you Dave, Rich and Eric. I’m absolutely lousy, but I find it very relaxing and a whole lot more satisfying than just wasting time playing Guitar Hero. The greatest compliment I expect is when Victoria just recognizes what I’m trying to play. Never mind the quality of my playing, it’s enough sometimes that she can simply can tell what song it is.

Work at the phone factory has been a little hectic with the downturn in the economy, the threat of a strike and the whole AT&T buyout thing. There have been a few rounds of layoffs, but each time they avoid anyone with "engineering" in their job title. I guess they realize that the newer technology is where the future of the company is. So with that in mind I feel pretty safe. I recently applied for and interviewed for a new position. Hopefully, I will get the job. It’s not technically a promotion, but it’s a change to a more technical position. So I’m looking forward to it, but won’t be too upset if I don’t get it.

Well this is by no means a complete synopsis of 2008, but I need to go ahead and post this so I can spend some time with the family. Victoria keeps looking back at me wondering what I’ve been typing for the past three hours, I’m not a fast typist. For more complete details as to what we’ve been up to check out my blog, Victoria’s blog, and Rachel’s blog. And we’re all available on Facebook.com too.

I wish you all Peace on Earth. Goodwill t’ward men.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

toys

When I was a kid I remember two toys that were on the market; one of which I had and the other that I wanted.

The one I wanted was a small truck and large vinyl sheet. You could draw a line on the sheet with the grease pencil that it came with (This must have been before the invention of the dry-erase marker) and the truck would follow the line around the board. There were two little electric eyes that kept the truck on the right path. If the right eye saw black it would turn the wheel slightly to the right to compensate, and if the left saw black I’d follow suit. The toy was slow and methodical and there were a few little things that took some getting used to, like the fact that it had a hard time with really sharp corners and intersecting lines, but it eventually got where you wanted it to go. I never had one of these but a friend did and I loved to play with it. I enjoyed trying to figure out what I need to do to make it change its path and take the correct course.

The other toy was pretty much the polar opposite of this little truck. It was a wind up little clown car that went relatively fast. It went on a rather straight line to start. Out of each side of the car were a little L shaped bars that rotated at slightly different speeds from each other. At the bottom of their rotation the bar would hit the ground and lift the wheels on that side off the ground for a second causing the car to pivot in that direction until the bar could no longer touch the ground. The frantic display of chaos that ensued was fun for a little bit but the novelty quickly work off. This thing would bang into walls, furniture and anything else until the winder expired.

The first car was slow and methodical and constantly checked its progress to make sure it was on track. The second had no method or direction. It just bounced around until it ran out of steam.

For good and for bad, I see many similarities in my children’s behaviors and these two cars. I concede that there are time when its just fun to run around and act crazy for a little while like the second toy. But ultimately Id like the kids to take the path of the first toy. Have a goal and keep working towards it. If you get out of line, thats no problem. Ill help you get back where you need to be and then you can follow the line and keep moving forward.

The really problem comes when they dont seem to even have the capacity to look for and follow the line. They just run around purposelessly no matter if they are on the line or not. Its as if I took the little chaos car and placed it on the grease pencil line and expected it to follow along. I find my self getting increasingly frustrated. I keep picking up the little toy and expecting it to follow the path and it consistently just runs of behaves by a complete different set of logic as if the line and the path underneath dont even exist.

If there were no underlying meaning behind this little story it would be easy to just give up and realize that the car is never going to see the line and quit trying. The reality of my situation is that I dont have that option. Im left with few other options except to pull things back to the right path and them let them go hoping that this time theyll finally learn that they need to follow the path laid out.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thankful

A few days ago we went through our normal bedtime rituals. After the never ending homework assignments were finished we started up with the baths, pajamas and teeth brushing. This whole process seems to take longer each night and on this particular night it seemed like we started prepping for bed at around 6:30pm still didn't start reading until almost 10:00pm. If we let the kids get too rowdy after their baths it takes quite a while to settle them back down for reading time. So typically I'll go hang out in one of the kids' rooms and quell any uprising as well as stay on guard for hair washing or fetching the always forgotten bath towel.
Our goal is to start reading time early enough that the two youngest don't fall asleep before the end of the chapter. All too frequently, for one reason or another, we fail miserably and the younger ones head off to dreamland without us.
On this particular night Eve had sidled up next to me and was out cold. I put my book down and just stared at her for a while. We're not financially wealthy and we don't have a lot of stuff from the materialistic standpoint. But the look of comfort and contentment on her face just made me ponder about what we do have. Lying there in her fleece footie-jamas she was warm and comfortable. She was clean and even freshly bathed. Her tummy was full, granted is was just a few slices of frozen pizza but it was food that she liked and she had plenty. In a few hours she would wake up and have a hot breakfast and be off to school. Far too many people children on this planet go to sleep with out these basic necessities and comforts.
As I try to think of what else I should get the kids for Christmas I can't help but focus on how much I really do have. A new game for the kids' Nintendo DS just kind seems trivial.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Life

Last night after making rice krispy treats with the kids Noah decided that for Family Home Evening we would play Life. Noah loves board games. Actually Noah just loves any chance to talk trash to his parents and siblings. I’ve warned him repeatedly about this strategy. He always acts surprised when he’s the one given the flat tire in Mil Borne or as the case was last night he’s the one getting sued. Maybe eventually he’ll learn that lesson. At one point in the game Noah we caught Noah trying to set back the spinner from 7 to 6. You see he had counted up the spaces and realized that he was going to land on tax space. We caught him trying to get out of paying his taxes. At first I wanted to make him forfeit a bunch of extra cash as a penalty, but Victoria just called him Enron for the rest of the game.

A few turns later Eve really surprised me. She’d been landing on all of the spaces that give her kids and she had three kids. She took her turn and landed on a space that caused her to loose her job. She was devastated and just broke down into tears. But it wasn’t what I first thought. She wasn’t worried about loosing the game. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to support her growing family. Victoria and I coached on how to get another job and she finished the game and actually did pretty well. I guess at 6-years old the metaphor was just too real for her

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Girls

A combination of a several events have had me really cherishing my girls lately.

My wife has been reading a historical fiction book set in 19th century China. I havent read it but from what she has relayed to me the story is told from the perspective of a young girl. In China girls were pretty much expendable and they were quite literally just a target for torture. Her descriptions of the Chinese practice of foot-binding really disturbed me. The fact that 1 in 10 girls dies from infection of lost their feet just adds to the horror of this practice.

Without going into too much detail, this week has been report card and parent teacher conference week. My girls accomplishments have given me particular reason to be proud.

Last night when I got home from work Eve was being uncharacteristically mellow. She crawled up onto the couch and sat next to me. Soon she had fallen asleep. I could tell by how warm she was that she wasnt feeling good. So I let her sleep on my lap for a few hours. When it cam time for bed I took her upstairs and stayed with her for a while once Id put her to bed. Victoria came in a remarked that I was doing womens work and that the men should not be burdened with having to help sick girls. I should send her away and let other women take care of her and if she dies she dies and thats one less mouth for me to feed. Of course she was not serious. She was just parroting the views of the book shes reading. Nevertheless her comments really made me focus on how precious my girls are.

Eve stayed home from school today and I just got a call that her fever is back up. I sure hope that its not too serious. Im just so glad that I didnt grow up in China.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Strategy Disagreements

Some recent events have really had me thinking deeply about the church's role in politics. I've been in some discussions that have gotten very emotional from many different viewpoints. One of the primary discussions has centered around what role should a church play in influencing elections, legislation and public policy. I'm still rather conflicted on the issue.
As I was making one of my many trips out to Lawrenceville to push a wheel around I was listening to NPR. They were doing a long segment on a Catholic Priest who said he would deny a certain politician communion if he came into his church just because his political position is different than the Catholic Church. This priest certainly has the right to do this. It just strikes me that this may not be the best position for a church to take. NPR then interviewed another priest who suggested that churches need to start acting "more like churches and less like political action committees". He then went on to say things like "rather than trying to make abortion illegal they should focus on making it unthinkable." You could put most other moral issues in the same sentence and the same logic would also apply. Rather than trying to make gay marriage illegal they should focus on making it unthinkable. Rather than trying to make drinking illegal they should focus on making it unthinkable. Churches should focus on winning hearts and not creating legislation.
From that my mind began to wander a little bit. It occurred to me that just because you allow somebody to make a choice for themselves does not necessarily mean that agree with all possible outcomes of their choice. For instance, I can agree that cigarettes are destructive and dangerous, but also feel that people should be allowed to choose them if they wish. Rather than a church campaigning to get cigarettes made illegal they should "act like a church", preach the dangers of any addition and then reach out to help those who are afflicted. I picked cigarettes for the mere point that is less controversial than some of the other issues currently in play. It is also an issue where the legality of allowing the choice is not really in question. Apply this same logic to several to hot button issues of the day I tend to lean in a similar direction.

On a little bit of a side note I believe it is possible to fully support a position, but still have strategic differences with other people or groups who support the same position. For instance: philosophically, I fully agree with the Libertarian party's stance on decriminalizing recreational drug use. However, I have serious concerns with how they market this plank of their platform. By focusing ad money on MTV they turn what I think is a serious civil liberties position into and appeal to get the "pot-head" vote. Philosophically I agree, but strategically I disagree. I have similar strategic differences with groups whose philosophy, theology and politics I wholeheartedly support. While I agree with their position I just may have some concerns about whether the strategy they have chosen is the best considering their role and their situation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Random Observation

On the way home from camping Sunday I passed a truck with an ATV and a treadmill on a trailer. From the looks of the driver he used the ATV a lot more than the treadmill. Perhaps if he were to get rid of both of them he’d be in a lot better shape and also be better off financially.

Leaf Blowers

So I’m sitting here at work trying to be productive when I hear the guys with the leaf blowers making their rounds around the office complex. We have a fair amount of hardwood trees on the property, mostly oaks and a maple or two. The workers are blowing all of the leaves out of the parking lot. But they aren’t stopping there. They are also blowing all of the leaves out from under the trees too. And why are they removing the oak leaves from underneath the oak trees? So they can spread pine needles under the oak trees. This doesn’t make any sense to me at all. What’s wrong with having oak leaves under oak trees? We could save a lot of energy and labor expenses if Americans just didn’t require all of their oak leaves to be replaced with pine needles. Go figure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Perspective

As I was walking around the office today I walked by two coworkers who were having a personal conversation. One of them has a husband who is currently in a hospice for cancer. The other's husband died a year ago from cancer.
Somehow this chance encounter in the hallway made all my problems seem much smaller. It made me think of how selfish it is to focus so much on one's own problems. I need to get much better at sharing the burdens of my fellow beings.

Monday, October 27, 2008

False Dichotomy

All logical fallacies irritate me. But one that really gets under my skin is the false dichotomy. This is when someone takes a really complicated issue and narrows it down to just two choices. Sometimes there really is a true dichotomy, (for instance either 2+2=4 or it does not equal 4. all possible answers fit in one of these two groups) but most of the time I've heard people do this there are several other options. Perhaps even a whole spectrum of choices that they are not considering. Here's a quick apolitical example. When you RSVS to a party there is frequently a choice between chicken or fish. At first you may think these are the only options. But I can think of at least two more. Most caterers will make preparations for at least one or two vegetarians in a crowd. You could ask and see if that were possible. You could also just not eat anything. None of the above. My point is that almost always we do have other options besides the two we are given.

Since 9/11 often have we heard the phrase "You're ether with us or you're with the terrorists." Probably one of the worst abuses of the false dichotomy I could think of. Truth is there are several other positions that you could take that don't fall completely in either of these extremes. I could be 100% against the terrorists but disagree with the strategy of opposing them. This is my position. I'm against terrorism but I don't like sacrificing liberties, i.e the Patriot Act, in order to combat them. Or you could be somewhat sympathetic to a group's goals, but 100% against their actions. Pakistan? By turning the issue into a dichotomy many who may have minor strategic differences are unfairly labeled as un-American or as terrorists. Some politicians just find it easier to think in black and white and avoid the more realist, more nuanced nature of reality.

One abuse of this fallacy is the one that comes all too frequently from the pulpit. Either quoting Joseph Smith or any number of the other general authorities who have restated it, "The Book of Mormon is either the greatest book ever published or it is a fraud." As with the political example there are several varying other interpretations and positions. A religious scholar who doesn't have a testimony of the book doesn't necessarily have to think it is a fraud just because he doesn't believe the doctrine. An investigator who is trying to gain a testimony may gain a testimony step by step. There is no quantum leap from thinking it is a fraud to thinking it is doctrine. These things come "line upon line".
Specifically with regards to the Book of Mormon dichotomy, this can be a very disastrous way for someone who is struggling with their testimony to think. If they were to find a story about any number of the missteps of our early church leaders they may be tempted to "throw the baby out with the bathwater". The truth is much more nuanced. It is not an all or nothing proposition. I find it ironic that most LDS members can accept these same nuances and gradations of truth in the Bible, but would consider it heresy to apply these same rules to the Book of Mormon.

No matter what the subject. I find that only very rarely can my choices really be narrowed down to only two.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Autism's False Prophets

The book currently on my reading list is about a subject very close to me. The book is Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure by Paul A. Offit M.D. To begin with, my father was a microbiologist at CDC and we used to discuss his work a lot. I even did a science fair project using some of the data that CDC collected. Although I am far from being an immunologist, I do have a working knowledge of the theory and the processes. So when Offit describes certain aspects of his work I understand the concept pretty quickly. Secondly, for the last fifteen years or so I’ve had a personal interest in the search for a cure for Autism. My brother-in-law is autistic. So this field is not just an academic pursuit for me. It’s somewhat personal.
If you are not familiar with the controversy around autism this book would be an excellent primer. Though far more than just a primer, it goes into great detail of the history of vaccines, the testing they do to insure and keep them safe, and the ongoing checks and balances in the field. In comparison to the patient, detailed, extensive research done on vaccines those who proclaim that vaccines are unsafe appear at best to be amateurs who are letting personal profit, opinion, bias, or just an unrealistic optimism cloud their judgment and research. Far from just being ad hominem attacks on his opponents, Offit takes each study and points out the flaws, deviations from protocol, biases and conflicts of interest.
Offit does an amazingly thorough job of explaining the big picture concept of vaccinations. If you think that the airplane, the internet, cars or any other technical marvel has most changed our world in the last century, Offit will convince you that they all come in as distant seconds in any comparison that includes vaccines. Quite literally, many of us would not be here today if it were not for the life-saving ability of vaccines.
There is a group of people out there who base their opinions on emotion, flawed research, conspiracy theories and the hope against hope that they can find a cure. While I share their frustration, I deplore their tactics. Offit details where many of these groups sidestep logic and proper scientific procedure and truly join the ranks of the lunatic fringe. Jenny McCarthy self describes those on her side as an “angry mob”. The prologue to the book details several of the death threats that he and his family have received in response to him testifying in favor of vaccines. How ironic that those claiming to be all about saving lives are threatening the lives and safety of an immunologist and his children.
To spoil the ending for you; there is zero correlation between the MMR vaccines and autism. None. Zero. There is zero correlation between the preservative Thimerosal and autism. None. Chelation therapy is expensive and deadly and does not cure autism. Vaccines work. They save countless lives every single year.
If you get your news on this subject from Oprah, Jenny McCarthy, politicians with an agenda, or your Homeopath you will likely disagree with most of this book. However, if you prefer to trust respected scientist in the field, decades of research, and thorough evidence-based research you will enjoy reading this book. Offit won’t convert Jenny McCarthy with this book. But, if you are still open-minded, and able to be swayed by the evidence he will show you the facts and the research and let you connect the dots yourself.

“The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.”
Mark Twain

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Shameless plug

For several years I worked at REI. It was a lot of fun and I'd probably still be working there today except for the fact that they really don't pay enough to raise a family. REI still gets a little flack for the fact that they seem to be higher priced that other stores. Well yeah if you compare a jacket at WalMart to a jacket at REI the REI jacket is going to be more expensive. However, on identical products I never found that REI was overpriced.
One of the things I really respected about REI was their 100% satidsfaction guarantee. It was really nice to have REI take care of things when something when wrong with your gear. Last month my GPS that I got for father's day a few years ago started acting up and finally it just stopped getting a signal all together. I took if back to REI and after a very brief explanation of the problem they gave me a full refund which I promptly turned around and spent in the store. I paid a few more bucks and got a upgrade of the same unit I had exchanged.
In today's world of customer no-service and outsourcing to India or just a voice mail it was really nice to have a human being help me out with such a positive result.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On My Honor: a review

Suppose you were in mood to watch a movie about bowling. You go to netflicks and find a movie that you suspect is about bowling based on the title. When it shows up in the mail you attempt to watch it and the whole movie is about school shootings and how conservatives and the NRA are making the world more dangerous. The movie repeats many of the tired old mantras of the fanatical left and just really doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with bowling. Halfway through the movie, when it still hasn’t said anything about bowling you pop the movie out of the DVD player and return it to netflicks in disgust. I imagine this is just the way I would have felt had I rented Michael Moore’s propaganda movie “Bowling for Columbine” expecting a movie about bowling.

I had pretty much the same experience recently, but on the opposite end of the political spectrum, when I tried to read a book that was recommended to me about Boy Scouts. When I picked up On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For I was expecting a little bit of a conservative slant. I can accept that. The book was written by the republican Governor of Texas, Rick Perry with a forward by Ross Perot. I don’t share the idea that you have to be a Republican to be a good Boy Scout, but I recognize that many people do feel that way. So I gave the book a chance.

I was expecting several chapters of Perry describing his personal experiences and then detailed accounts of how the principles of Scouting had improved his life and the lives of others. If I were to write a book about Scouting and my personal experiences I would likely title a chapter about each point of the Scout Law and then tell personal stories of how Scouting has made me more trustworthy, loyal, helpful, etc, and then extrapolate on Scouting's potential future impacts.

Perry decided to take a much different strategy and it really disappointed me. It had an obligatory paragraph about the founding of Scouting and the eventual founding of BSA, but all too quickly the book took on the Coke v. Pepsi theme. Rather than tell what was good about Scouting he criticized those who do not share the same values. In only a few paragraphs the book took the tone of something written by Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh. He even made sure to include all the buzz words and phrases that readers of those types of books already accept without challenging. The “so called mainstream media”, “yellow dog Democrats”, “counter-culture perversions of the sixties”, “the onslaught of secularism” etc, etc ad nausea. Perry spent about 100 pages of the book going case by case describing the law suits that have been brought against BSA by the ACLU, Atheists, girls and homosexuals. This section felt like I had just been hired as BSA’s chief council and had to familiarize myself for an upcoming trial. It was very tedious.
Finally towards the last chapters Perry gives some statistics and examples of how boy scouts have grown up to be prominent and successful leaders in politics, business and philanthropy, but this was too little too late. Perry did not strike me as a leader with whom I would enjoy sitting down at a campfire with. Instead he came across as a bitter, defensive lawyer. I understand the point of his message and I have little criticism of his position only his strategy. The Boy Scouts of America is a private organization entitled to set their on requirements for membership. Hey, if Hooters can consistently have cases against them overturned for their strict hiring policy then all the more reason that BSA should have their requirements upheld as well.

My biggest complaint with the book is that it didn’t really live up to the title. It said substantially more about Scouting’s opponents. A better title would have been something like “Defending Scouting’s Values: A History of the Attacks Against the Boy Scouts of America”.

A quick note: Nothing in the previous review should be interpreted as support for those who would have Scouting change its policies. I see no conflict in simultaneously believing that values of Scouting should be unchanged and also that this was not a very good book. My words are critical of Perry and his strategy, but should in no way be taken as criticism of the Scouting program. I am currently jointly enrolled in two troops in two different councils as well as serving on the Adult Leader Training staff. I am currently working my Wood badge ticket and I will likely be donating several hours a week and a good portion of my vacation hours in support of BSA for the rest of my life. The two items on my resume that I am most proud of are the fact that I am a happily married father of four and that I am and Eagle Scout.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Negative Campaigning

Take a second and watch this smear ad from Senator Obama.
Now watch this one from Senator McCain.

Now read the following quotes from both men earlier in their campaigns.

Sen. John McCain: I pledge again a respectful campaign. A respectful campaign based on the issues and based on the stark differences we have on the vision for the future of America.

Sen. Barack Obama: I said I was looking forward to a civil substantive debate on the issues and he agreed.

McCain: I've pledged to conduct a respectful campaign and I urge, time after time, various entities within the Republican party to also do that.

Obama: We don't need John McCain and I to be demonizing each other. You won't get that from my campaign.

They must have drastically different definitions than I do of words and phrases like; respectful, based on issues, substantive, demonizing, etc. And now both of them are asking me to accept that they will bring "change" to Washington. I frankly don't trust either one at this point.

Shrinking

I’m shrinking. Ever since my first driver’s license I’ve been listing my height as 5’ 10”. My passport, although expired, shows my height as 5’10”. Every time I give blood they ask me my height and weight. Every time I just put down 5’ 10”. I’ve never had any reason to suspect otherwise. At my last physical I don’t remember them measuring my height. I think I just told them I was 5’10” and the nurse thought it was close enough that she didn’t challenge me.

We last night I was helping Noah with his homework. The task was to get a handful of measurements and than make comparative analysis. How high in feet is the ceiling in your kitchen? How tall is the kitchen table? How many tables could you stack on top of each other in your kitchen? Part of his comparisons was to measure your reach from finger tip to finger tip and then compare this to your height. He choose to measure me. Rock climbers refer to this ratio of reach to height as a “gape index”. Since I have always been just slightly taller than my reach I have always had a negative “gape index”. Better climbers have a slightly longer reach than their height giving them a positive “gape index”.

So last night as I stood with my back against the wall I was fully expecting Noah to confirm my height as 5’10”. Not So. I had him measure me twice and them Victoria double checked him. I am now only 5’8 ½” tall. I’m shrinking!!

I know that in ’97 when I broke my left leg I lost a little bit of height. My left femur is now about 3/4” shorter than it was before I broke it. Since my right leg didn’t get shorter I assume that this would average out to about a 3/8” loss of height. Okay, I can accept that. But where did the other 1 1/8” go? Oh well I guess I’m just going to have to chalk it up to getting older. Not that it really matters. At the rate my oldest is growing he’ll be taller than me sometime next month whether I’m 5’8 ½” or 5’10”.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Unspinning the Spin

This is probably one of the most timely books that I've ever read. UnSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation is written by two of the editors for factcheck.org. I've been a fan of Factcheck for several years. I really enjoy their non-partisan analysis of the factual claims made by politicians. This book details the steps they take to get to the truth behind the deceptive claims made by advertisers and politicians. I'd recommend this book to anybody who is interested in learning how to find the truth. If, on the other hand, you are comfortable in just accepting that what you already believe has to be true then you might take issue with this book. It challenges the reader to evaluate the claims that they believe in even more than the ones that they disagree with. So if you are comfortable with voting for someone just because of the letter that the TV station puts behind their name then you might just want to leave this one alone.
Shortly after finishing the book I went down stairs and began watching the vice-presidential debate between Palin and Biden. Sure enough, both of them jumped into the same spin and deception that the book had cautioned against. One candidate spun the opponents position as voting for a tax increase when the facts behind the vote clearly show voting for a decrease, just not as big of a decrease as their side was asking for. Only in the twisted world of Washington spin-doctors is an vote for a decrease considered a vote for an increase. This book gives the reader the tools to identify such deception.
During the debates the deception was not limited to one side or the other. Neither side had a sincere allegiance to the truth. They just wanted you to believe their interpretation.

On the subject of debates: I was on the Debating team in high school. So, I'm familiar with what a real debate is intended to be. These political debates are nothing more than joint press conferences. I don't really understand the role of the moderator. The candidates just talked about whatever they wanted to after the time was turned over to them. Palin was asked a question on the mortgage crisis. She talked for 5 minutes on her energy policy. Biden was asked about Pakistan and he talked about Afghanistan. Palin was asked what programs she would scale back because of the Wall street bailout bill. She talked for another 5 minutes about the problems she saw with Obama's Plan and never even approached answering the moderator's question. Gwen Ifill might have well said, "I know you're both just going to ignore the question anyway so each of you talk for 5 minutes about whatever floats your boat". In my debate competitions if I've have pulled this type of diversion I'd have simply lost all my points for that question. As correct as the information I had given about the energy policy I'd have gotten a big whoppin' zero since the question wasn't about energy policy.
Both of the the major parties are trumpeting "change" as a major part of their platform. So far all I have seen in the ads and the first two debates is just more of the same, distortions, spin and propaganda. I want to thank factcheck.org and other organizations like them for helping me to see the facts behind the political nonsense that is shovelled out by those who want to represent me in Washington.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Gas Shortage Becoming a Blood Shortage

I just got back from donating a triple unit of platelets. Earlier today the Kroger up the street had a fresh supply of gas so I waited in line for 30 minutes to get a tank full of gas for $3.79 a gallon. I was going to cancel my appointment because I didn't want to use my precious gas just to drive for a blood donation. It didn't take me long to rule out that idea.

As I was going through all the preliminaries I asked the girl at the Red Cross if the gas shortage had affected the number of donations. Unfortunately it had. They had 6 cancellations today and 7 yesterday. I felt even better about my decision to drive down and donate.

It's not much of a stretch to see that needless government intervention is now causing blood shortages.

If I have a company that sell widgets for $4.00 and I make a $.40 profit on each widget. I can make a pretty good business as long as there is still a market for widgets. Now suppose that the supply of widgets drops in my area but the demand has stayed the same. I will soon sell out of widgets. Since there is still a demand for the widgets I could FedEx some from another part of the country to sell. If I did I'd have to increase the cost to cover the additional cost of FedExing the widgets. The demand is still there so I could sell them all at the increased cost. Once widget supply got back to normal there would be no need to FedEx them in so competition would force the prices back down to pre-shortage levels.
Now suppose the government passed a law that you couldn't charge more than $4.00 for your widgets. I'm not going to spend extra money that I can recoup to increase my supply. So rather than sell them at a loss I'll let the shelves sit empty until I can get some widgets without having to pay the FedEx cost. If this goes on for too long any industry that relies on widgets will start to feel the effect of the government regulations on the cost of widgets. The supply could be increased, but government regulations make it not profitable so the effect of the legitimate shortage is exaggerated by regulation.

Does this sound familiar? This is exactly what is happening in Atlanta with the current gas crisis. The pipeline is below capacity, but anti-price gouging laws are preventing stations from charging higher prices. If they could charge a little more they could pay the extra cost for a truck to come in from another source. But since they can't the stations just wait for their normal sources and just sell it all out.
The government created shortage is now causing people to cut back on their extra travel. Unfortunately too many have decided that donating blood was one of their optional activities.

I'm not a fan of complete deregulation. Sometimes that can get us in just as much trouble. However too much regulation really gets in the way of letting the market work the way it should.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Deception as Policy

“All war is deception” Sun Tzu

A few months ago I blogged about the dangers of constant violent imagery. Once you start down the road of comparing your situation to a battle, a war or even a campaign you start to behave as if winning the “battle” and surviving long enough to ultimately win the “war” are the only real goal. Truth and accountability seem to be the first casualty to this type of twisted, ends justifies the means logic.
Eight years ago a candidate for President promised to end this type of permanent campaign. He promised to take politics out of the driver’s seat and make actually governing his primary focus. He promised to reach across the aisle and actually make the changes and corrections to the government that those who put him in office expected.
Somewhere along the way President Bush lost his focus. Changing the culture in Washington took a back seat and he began playing by the same rules as the rest of them. Granted, Bush did not create the concept of the permanent campaign. But he did take it to new levels.
Sun Tzu and most military leaders since would tend to agree that deception is necessary in war. Unfortunately, our President and the rest of his advisors felt that it was okay to use deceptive tactics, that may be permissible during a war, to deceive the Congress and ultimately the American people into going into war in the first place.

Scott McClellan’s book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception gives a first hand perspective of the events that lead to the Bush White House loosing the ethical higher ground that they had promised to bring to Washington. McClellan puts much of the blame on Libby, Rove and Cheney. He doesn’t seem to think that they shared the President’s vision of changing the culture.

McClellan portrays President Bush not as the villain, as some conservative pundits have claimed, but as an honest decent man who, for one reason or another, just didn’t stand up and do things the way he had promised to, the way they should have been done.
I admire McClellan’s dedication and conviction to the truth and a better government.

“I don’t believe the path to better democracy is served by exaggerated claims, distorted partisan attacks, or unsupported accusations of bad faith. Neither of our leading political parties is a repository of evil, and the vast majority of leaders on both sides of the aisle and at all levels of government are decent, well-meaning, and hard-working citizens who love our country and want to do the right thing. In diagnosing the problems we suffer from and the kinds of changes we need to make, I think it’s crucial to cling to truth, even when it is more nuanced, complex, and ambiguous than the extreme partisans on either side may choose to believe.” (p.309)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bumps and Bruises

Yesterday while driving around town for work I saw a dead deer on the side of the road. Unfortunately I’ve grown rather callus to seeing “roadkill” and normally I’m not too affected by seeing it. The events of last weekend made me see this particular deer’s death in a different light. The deer was young, not quite a fawn but he still had a few spots left and he wasn’t quite yet an adult. It also wasn’t out in the boondocks. This deer was about a 100 yards up one of the overpasses on the one of the busiest interchange in the world. Not quite an adult yet this deer had somehow got himself deep into a world that he was very unfamiliar with and didn’t know how to react. I began to think about how terrified this little guy must have been in those last few minutes of his life.

As a parent I try to make sure my children are prepared to handle the real world. I realize that they aren’t always going to be able to stay under my protective care, and I wouldn't want to restrict them by doing so. However, exposing them to the real world does not come without its bumps and bruises, some literal and some figurative. It’s hard not to feel like you’ve failed in some small way when your kids bring home a bruise that you could have prevented. When it comes to preventing my kids from reliving some of the same bad events of my adolescence I had a pretty crummy weekend.

I’m cursed with having a brain that thinks in metaphors. Sometimes it helps me to explain myself, but other times it haunts me. The image of this deer and the metaphor behind it are just too real for me and I’m having a hard time putting them aside.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kewl

Memory

One Sunday, several years ago I attended my sister's Ward so I could be there for the blessing of my niece. It was a nice day and most of my family and extended family were there. After the service one of my in-laws stopped me and told me that she knew of a company that was hiring technicians. On her suggestion I applied and was accepted at the company that I now work for. I remember this event very clearly. It was very important to me both because it was my sister's first child and it was the because it is the moment that changed my career path from barely scraping by at REI to becoming and engineer for AT&T.
But there is one big problem. In spite of how my brain remembers it it simply couldn't have happened. You see my niece is only 8 years old now and I've been working at this job for 9 1/2 years. How could I have more seniority at this company than my niece has on this Earth if her birth proceeded my employment there?
In the past couple years I've been studying quite a bit about false memories and how fluid our memories actually are. Our brain is not the running video of our lives that we'd sure like it to be. Instead it grabs emotions and concepts and sometimes it links event by the emotions and feeling felt and combines them into the same event. This little trick of our brain has caused people to even confess to crimes that they didn't commit. When I first read about this phenomenon I didn't quite believe it. Perhaps just like everybody thinks they are better drives than the rest of the world, I thought that I was a better "rememberer" than everybody else. This memory of my niece's blessing has forced me to reconsider how fallible my memory actually is.
Logically I have come to the conclusion that I had gone to my sister's Ward a second time, a few years before my niece was born and that was when I got the tip about the new job. I can't for the life of me figure out why I would have been there, but I'd be willing to bet that since I forgot why my brain filled in the blanks by combining the two trips and now I remember then as just one event. Even though I know they could not have happened as one event I still can't separate the two.
Just something to consider the next time you take a stand and are absolutely positive that something happened exactly the way you remember it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Some Consistency Please

How would you like to be playing a game, lets say it’s baseball, and the umpire allows one team to get away with something that he doesn’t allow the other team? It would be kind of unfair don’t you think? Both teams should be playing by the same rules. No matter what those rules are, they should be consistent. If a visiting team member just ties the ball to first base the tie should go to the runner. And likewise for the home team, the tie goes to the runner. It wouldn’t be a level playing field if the tie went to the runner for one team and to the ball for the other. Even if some umpires take a stricter interpretation of some rules there usually isn’t much of a problem unless he seems bias toward one team or the other. I’ve heard post game interviews with pitchers who had an umpire with a very small strike zone. Typically they could work within the tighter strike zone as long as he kept the same tighter strike zone for the other pitcher too. Consistency. Both teams are accepting of the limitations as long as they are consistent for both teams.

Reporters, pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle have a lot to learn about consistency. I’ve been amused by some of the claims and accusations that have been tossed around during this election. It seems that each side will claim that what they are doing now is fair and what the opposite side is doing is unfair, even if that directly contradicts the actions and claims that were made are few months ago. Personally I’d just like to see some consistency so I know what the rules are.

A few examples:

If you’re going to count every day of their life since one candidate started getting a government paycheck as time spent serving the country then you should do the same for the opponent and not just add together the number of days he signed in for role call. If total days since x is the rule, fine. If total number of days signed in is the rule, fine. But be consistent for both sides.

On that note If experience in office is used as an asset for one candidate it shouldn’t be used to criticize another for being too entrenched in Washington as usual politics. Just be consistent.

On the flip side of that if being an outsider who hasn’t had much Washington experience is a benefit then allow the same claim from both sides. Just be consistent.

If a certain phase is determined to be sexist or bigoted then it is sexist and bigoted for all candidates. Don’t use the phrase yourself and then criticize others for using it.

If a candidate is going to tout a certain aspect of their life like their religion or their family life or whatever as an asset, then they have by their own actions made that part of their life "in bounds" and it should stay "in bounds" for both sides to either praise or criticize. It's like after you hit a ball that looks like it might have homer distance you try to declare it a foul if it looks like it might not make the wall. Just be consistent.

As a short disclaimer: I have yet to make up my mind about who to vote for in November. If you think this post is biased toward any candidate, you are wrong. I'm pretty annoyed with all of them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What Happened

With raising my kids I find that they will frequently come to me and tattle on one another. Sometimes these little information sessions start of with the attitude of "I was just sitting in my room, alone, minding my own business when so-and-so just came up and smacked me on the head with a stick." In those situations I rarely take the comments at face value and look for a deeper cause to the problem described. Every now and then I get a more honest and apologetic form of tattling. "Dad, so-and-so and I were sword fighting and I accidentally hit him a little harder than I meant to. I tried to apologize, but he just whacked me over the head with a stick." Granted this still may not be the whole truth but it's likely a whole lot closer to the truth than the "minding my own business" line. So I tend to be more sympathetic when I get a response that acknowledges at least some complicity in the problem than when they just seem to get defensive.

Earlier this week I started reading What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception by former Press Secretary Scott McClellan. I was prepared to have McClellan start off with the attitude of "there I was, in the White House, minding my own business..." If that had been the case I would likely not have continued reading past the preface. But that's not what happened. McClellan started of with the apology. He acknowledge that he was either indirectly or directly complicit in many of the criticisms that he was preparing to detail. Rather than simply attack his former boss as the bad guy, on the contrary he still paints the President as a good man who just got hung up in the culture of Washington. Rather than change Washington as he had promised in his campaign the whole administration just went about playing the game the way everybody else in the beltway was playing it. McClellan's cathartic, honest approach has me really studying this book that I honestly had not intended to give more than a cursory scan.

Last year I read a couple books that detailed the steps that people will take to isolate themselves from the decisions that they make. Mistakes Were Made But Not by Me and the Lucifer Effect both described how we use cognitive dissonance to convince ourselves that what we did was right. I'm only in the first couple chapters of McClellan's book and I'm already noticing some startling similarities between the behaviors of the detailed by McClellan and the examples in these other books. I don't believe that the Bush administration intended to do anything unethical. I just think that their "ends justifies the means" strategies got out of hand. When we start to excuse flaws in our own behavior what we wouldn't accept from others we leave the moral high ground and start walking along the steeper slopes of unethical and immoral behavior.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Monday, September 08, 2008

Noahisms Continued

So my girls got the chance to march in a parade around the field to start off the Braves game on Sunday. Normally I wouldn't have skipped church to go to a ball game ,but to see your little Girl Scouts in a parade before the game, now that was a little different story.

Well before the game I overhead Noah sharing the wisdom he learned at the last game with his little sister. It went something like this:

"Now Eve, since you've never been to a baseball game before I just wanna warn you about something. You see there is no clock in baseball. They just keep on playing. It could take three years to get to the ninth inning!"

As if Noah's perception of baseball being an open-ended never ending game wasn't skewed enough.
Yesterday at about 4:00 when the game was tied 4-4 I had to explain the concept of extra innings to him. He was just livid.
We eventually left at the top of the 13th inning when they announced that it was the longest game of the season so far.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Debunked

Have you ever been in a position where you totally agree with someone's message you just really wish they could have delivered it better? I find myself in this position quite frequently. For instance, I agree with most libertarian party platforms but the candidates they choose frequently come across as out of control nutcases. Ron Paul's constant overstatements and hysterical twisting of the fact in the primaries is a prime example.
Well I'm also finding myself in that position with the current book I'm reading. Debunked by Richard Roeper takes on many of the more popular conspiracy theories of the first part of the 21st Century. He handles everything from the 9/11 conspiracy crowd to the folks who think that "American Idol" is rigged. Roeper clearly has his head firmly on his shoulders and isn't easily swayed without large amounts of evidence. He uses language like "skeptical toolkit" and "baloney detector" which are catch phrases in the skeptical community and show that he is educated on how to recognize a baseless claim when he sees one. He does a pretty good job of addressing the claims of all of these conspiracy theories in the same language and style that the conspiracy nuts use.
I guess that's the problem I'm having with the book. Much of it is written in the same style as the emails that spread the conspiracy in the first place- right up to the use of all caps and multiple exclamation points. I also don't see the need for the profanities that grace nearly every single page. It paints an image that the author is just angrily pounding on he keyboard and yelling at the monitor. I feel like I've been yelled at for the last fifteen minutes after when I finish a chapter.
The conspiracy emails typically string a bunch of vague facts in line and then coax the reader into drawing the conclusion that they are therefore linked. Roeper takes these theories and using their own twisted logic puts it right back in their laps and then asks them leads them to accept his conclusion in the same, in-your-face, way.
Although undeserved, skeptics already have a bad reputation of being cynical and negative. Roeper's style adds snarky and confrontational to the list. There are several skeptics who are very fun to talk with, non-confrontational, and would make much better spokesmen than Roeper. My concern is that next time a media representative wants to get a skeptical point of view for their story they might assume that all skeptics will treat them like Roepertreats those who disagree with him. The reporter may choose to avoid getting the skeptical viewpoint altogether or at the very least give it less air time than if the skeptic was more pleasant.
Again, I agree with Roeper's analysis of the claims in this book. And I recognize the sarcasm and satire of the book. I just think he could have made his points a little more... professionally.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Trick or Treatment cont.

I’ve just finished reading Trick or Treatment. Since I’ve made it a little bit of a hobby to stay informed about the science or lack thereof behind many alternative treatments, I can’t really say that much of the information in the book surprised me. However, the thorough history of these treatments’ origins gave me a better understanding of why so many people choose to believe in these treatments even after the foundations that they are built on have shown to have no basis in fact or evidence.

Their evaluation was primarily limited to acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic and herbal medicines. Each was given a very good historical overview. Then they started looking into the actual trails to test each treatment. With most of them the treatments were found to have little to no effect beyond that of placebo. In evidence-based science research if you find an anomalous effect and to try to isolate that effect to test it the effect gets stronger as you increase your protocols and the test can be duplicated by other researchers. In nearly all of the tests of acupuncture, homeopathy and chiropractic the results were indistinguishable from placebo and any anomalous effects disappeared once the proper controls were in place. So clearly if these treatments are working at all they are not working because the water had a memory of the arsenic it used to contain, the innate intelligence can travel up and down the spine, or the chi’i can flow better along the meridians.

The one treatment they authors did find more effective than placebo was the herbal treatments. This was not, however, an endorsement. Unlike the other three treatments discussed in the book herbal treatments actually have active ingredients. Those active ingredients may indeed have positive effects. They also have side-effects. (I always get a kick out of the infomercials for homeopathic remedies that brag about having no side effects. Of course they don’t have any side effects. They have no effects at all.) The inconsistent dosages and lack of controls that would be put on these products otherwise make herbal treatments the most dangerous of the ones reviewed.

My personal concern is not that any of these treatments themselves would be harmful. The real danger comes from the fact that while the patient is busy trying these alternative treatments they are forgoing the evidence-based treatments that could really help them.

Rather than just seeming like a couple of guys who had an axe to grind the authors genuinely come across as open-minded seekers of evidence. In fact one of the authors used to be a practicing homeopath. He became disillusioned with his trade after he tried to recreate Hahnemann’s original experiment that was supposed to have cured malaria. After numerous trials he was forced to conclude that there must have been some mistake in Hahnemann's original work. Since that experiment was the foundational experiment in the whole “like cures like” philosophy of homeopathy, the author was forced to question the entire field. His research not only convinced him that homeopathy is just a placebo, it was a very expensive one to boot.

In the last chapters the book calls for stricter government control and labeling of all treatments that may take the place of traditional medicines. My libertarian views normally restrict me from endorsing big government solutions. However, these treatments clearly represent a danger to the taxpayers when they are taken in place of more tested, evidence-based treatments. I wouldn’t want the government to restrict them entirely, but I see no problem with stricter labeling laws.

Several years ago a guy I know was diagnosed with leukemia. He is an alternative medicine practitioner. He has gone to India to study several different forms of treatment. He is even a believer that the Earth has acupuncture meridians and that we can fix the climate problems by simply placing large needles in the Earth at exactly the right point. (I wish that last sentence was a joke, but it isn’t). As detached as his beliefs were I really though that he wouldn’t be around much longer once he was diagnosed with leukemia. The last time I spoke with him his leukemia was in full remission and it wasn’t because of any alternative treatment. It was because he took his doctor’s recommendation and had a very aggressive, mainstream treatment that included radiation treatment and chemotherapy. I am so thankful that he did not risk his own life with alternative treatments.

Note:
There are different ways to Romanize the pronunciation of the Chinese word . I’ve seen it spelled ki, qi, chi, and chi’i. for these posts I simply used chi’i because that was the one the authors chose. Technically it is pronounced 気.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Theater of the Absurd


I've always enjoyed Sam Beckett's plays and Jeremy Irons' acting. The effect of making Irons play both characters in this version is particularly effective.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Trick or Treatment

It's been a while since I've reviewed a book on my blog. Primarily, because I really haven't read much in the last couple months. I have been reading, but most of the books have been on how to play the guitar and not really good subject of book reviews. Victoria checked out a few book that she thought I'd like. Wanting a little break from the guitar, I started reading the first one yesterday.
Trick or Treatment is a very thorough study of several of the more popular trends in alternative medicine. The first chapter is a history of the scientific method and a lesson on how we discover what works and what doesn't. The authors focus on what they refer to as evidence-based medicine. All the anecdotes and sales pitches mean nothing if the treatments don't stand up to rigorous scientific testing. Lets put the superstition, snake oil and wishful thinking aside and focus strictly on the facts.
The remaining chapters of the book deal with the top four of alternative therapies; acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic and herbal remedies. So far I've only read the chapter on acupuncture. But if they handle the other chapters as thoroughly as they did acupuncture I know I will enjoy them.
I was very pleased that the authors did not start out with an agenda. Their only loyalty is to the evidence. Honestly, I was a little surprised that they had anything positive to say about acupuncture at all. After finding no evidence of the alleged mechanism of acupuncture, chi'i, I expected them to just conclude that the entire practice was based on a flawed understanding of human physiology. While they admitted there is no evidence of chi'i and that the very nature of acupuncture negates a true double-blind test they did say that in certain cases it does promote pain relief. Until somebody figures out a way to truly double-blind test acupuncture it may be impossible to tell weather this is a real effect of the treatment or if it is placebo.
I'll give a complete review after I finish the book. In a day and age when Jenny McCarthy is telling us to just trust her "mommy instinct" and not vaccinate our kids it is refreshing to read a book that bases its conclusions on evidence and not just emotion, anecdotal evidence and superstition.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Measuring Progress

The world of quantum physics is really bizarre. Some of the things that our world does on this microscopic level just don’t make sense to our brains that have evolved to survive in our world of medium sized objects like trees, dogs and automobiles. On the quantum level there is one particular thing really intrigues me. It appears that the very act of measuring some things changes them. It’s quite the paradox that when you try to measure the quantum state of some particles the quantum state changes as soon as you’ve measured it. So you can technically only know what the state of that particle was at the time you measured it but It’s likely something different now that you’ve measures it. The analogy isn’t perfect by any means but a macroscopic example of this would be something like a speedometer on a car. Even a perfect speedometer has a little bit of friction. That friction would tend to slow down the car just a little. How ironic that the very act of trying to measure a car’s top speed would be impeded by the very process of measuring that speed.

So why did I bring this up today? Well you see last night I went to a curriculum night for my son’s middle school. In our world of strict state and federal over-involvement when it comes to the school system the concept of measuring a student’s progress has taken on a life of its own. And the “No Child Left Behind” program has made that even worse. At our curriculum night every single one of my son’s teachers expressed thinly veiled contempt at the sheer volume of government mandated testing that is required this year. They all hinted at the fact that there were so many tests scheduled that they didn’t even have time to teach the kids that material. Just like measuring the quantum state of a photon or the top speed of a car, it appears that we can’t accurately determine the performance of a public school student without adversely affecting the very education being tested.

Earlier this week I listened to a podcast that stressed the necessity of unstructured play in the lives of children. The doctor doing these studies found that during these unstructured play times is when kids learn compassion, empathy, irony, flexibility and forgiveness. I’m concerned that in our effort to measure and quantify our children’s ability in algebra, history, science and literature that we are crippling their learning of other, ultimately much more important concepts.

*****

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ch-Ch-Changes

This Sunday they released me as Scoutmaster for troop 519 and called Bill Tayler to take my spot. They didn’t kick me out of the program all together though. I’ve been asked to serve as Committee Chairman for the troop. I’ve got some mixed emotions about the changes. First of all I think I’ll enjoy being committee chairman. It’ll give me a chance to work on my Woodbadge ticket from a slightly different perspective than I’d originally planned. I also know that a fully functioning committee can really take the boys’ plans and turn them into reality. I’m looking forward to doing just that.

On the other side I will miss dealing directly with the boys. I’ve been working with this same group of young men since they were all about eight and I was their primary teacher, then their Cubmaster and then later on when I was their Assistant Scoutmaster and Scoutmaster. It’ll feel kinda different just working with the leaders than the boys. Don’t get me wrong I’m still going to invite myself on plenty of campouts. It’ll actually be nice to go out and just enjoy the campout and let somebody else stress the details.

As I was growing up and my folks were pretty active in scouting I noticed a large group of leaders who seemed to be just in the program for the adult camaraderie. They went to roundtables and training sessions to hang out with the other adults. It was their own little cliché. I kinda felt like they were missing the point. All the training and support mean little if they don’t actually apply it to the programs and ultimately the boys. I made a promise to myself that I’d never forget what Scouting was all about and I’d strive to stay as close to the boys as I could. My job as committee chair now takes me a step further up the ladder than I’d have chosen, but I’m still close enough to really make a measurable difference in the lives of these guys.

We had our first committee meeting last night with me as chairman. I was pleasantly surprised by the participation. We had about ten parents and leaders there and I feel like we got off to a good start. As I was writing my Woodbadge ticket I noticed that it would be really easy to become one of those who became too separated from the boys. I made a conscious effort to word my ticket in such a way that I was only doing things that I felt would directly improve the quality of the program for the boys.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Piffle"


My Grandmother used to say “sugar” all the time when she wasn’t referring to anything sweet. I remember years ago my dad having a conversation with me about how he’d rather I just say what I was really feeling instead of substituting another word for it. He went on to stress that ideally he’d rather I didn’t even think like that.

I have this same battle with some of my boy scouts. Just like Denae’s use of “piffle” they have created quite a few cuss word substitutes that I find as offensive as the words they are replacing, especially when they preserve the same starting sound and inflection that Granny had with her “sugar”.

Just finding substitute words doesn’t fix the problem. It just mildly camouflages it.