Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Over the past year I've read several books on this theme. All too often people will ignore data and evidence that does not support their preset conclusions and opinions. Whether it's political, ideological, religious or just hard to swallow people resist accepting evidence that will require them to actually change their behaviour or way of thinking.
In Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives author and science journalist Michael Specter covers several specific areas where people do exactly that and become denialists. Whether it's the benefits of vaccines, the safety of genetically modified foods or the nonsense behind the whole vitamin and alternative medicine craze, Specter shows that time and again we ignore the data and the real evidence and in its place accept unverified personal stories from friends and co-workers. Compelling as they may be these personal allegories are just that. And they are poor substitutes for evidence.
Specter points out that denialism is an infection that knows no political restrictions. Conservatives and liberals alike are just as prone to denying overwhelming data when it doesn't support their political ideology.
One of the side effects of reading several books on the same topic is that I have a hard time distinguishing what I learned from what book. Several of the specific cases and evidences cited in this book were also cited in other books I've read. Parts of the book dragged a little for me but only because it was a re-reading of things I've already covered extensively.
One of the topics that I was surprised that Specter didn't cover in this book was global warming. He responded when interviewed on The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast and asked why he didn't devote a chapter to it. He wanted to restrict the topics he covered to areas where more people might be sitting on the fence. He wanted to only address the issues where he hopped that he could actually change peoples' minds. He went on to state that the science behind anthropogenic climate change was so conclusive that he didn't expect his book to change the opinion of anyone who still believed that it was not a reality. Even some of the most hardened skeptics have changed there mind on this topic when they just weighed the massive amount of evidence supporting it.
Denialism is a serious problem. I fear that the marginalizing of science and evidence and the demonizing of intellectualism is seriously hindering technological and social progress. If we really want to solve the major issues of the 21st Century we have to start behaving more rationally.

"If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence."
Bertrand Russell

I disagree with Russell on one slight point here. I've seen far too many times when people have clung to their beliefs even when the evidence was overwhelming.

Monday, December 28, 2009

One-Dimension in Three-Dimensions

Over the weekend our oldest two kids cajoled us into going to see James Cameron’s latest creation “Avatar”. I had planned on just passing this one over because the plot that I could work out from the trailers looked rather lame. I was convinced to go see it when several people that I trust informed me that the imagery in the film was nothing short of stunning and it would be worth my money to see it in the theatre. So here is a quick review of the movie.
Warning! There will be some spoilers.

First the good news:
As predicted the imagery was breathtaking. The CGI and the 3-D effects created a very believable and beautiful world. The variety of Pandoran landscapes and wildlife were so well done that it reminded me of a National Geographic Imax movie. Only on a few rare occasions did the graphics betray its CGI roots. This is clearly the crowning accomplishment of this movie. If for no other reason the movie is well worth the price of admission.

Now the bad news:
There really is no other reason to see this movie besides the graphics and the eye-candy I’ve already described.
The characters are profoundly one-dimensional, particularly the villains. Every preconception you make about every character turns out to be right on the money.
The plot has been recycled so many times that it is easily predictable. The story just seemed to drag along while you were waiting for the inevitable to occur. One friend of mine called it “Dances with Space Wolves”. The story follows a very similar structure. It’s hard to escape the parallel. The overdubbing, the journal entries, etc. It’s as if he just borrowed Costner’s storyboard for the first two hours of the movie.
Although I share their views, the heavy-handed environmental message was laughable in its rigid adherence to stereotype. The good guys were a bunch of self confessed tree-huggers looking for the life force of the forest and the bad guys were the mindless corporate drones driving fleets of bulldozers side by side in formation across the wilderness in order to meet a self imposed production deadline. Another friend of mine called the movie “a half billion dollar CGI remake of ‘Fern Gully’”.
I also had a hard time with the technological anachronisms in the movie. The humans had perfected near light-speed travel yet their military hardware was little more than Blackhawks with modified rotors. They had developed a way to clone human alien hybrids and transfer their thoughts from a “driver” to the hybrid, yet they still fought their battles hand to hand with flesh and blood soldiers in the field. Why? Even the bulldozers in the movie were remote controlled. So why risk the soldiers?
I really wish Cameron would hire a screenwriter for his next film. “The Abyss” was great. But ever since then he has been willing to sacrifice plot, dialogue, character definition and every other element that makes a movie great in exchange for magnificent images. Make no mistake; the images in “Avatar” are amazing. It just saddens me to see this much money spent on creating stunning three-dimensional images to tell a tired one-dimensional story.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 Christmas Letter

2009 was another very busy year for our little wing of the Taylor family.

Eve, AKA Evey-bug, Bugger Chugs, Evil Livia, Evey, Chuggers has had a good year. She’s enjoying school quite a lot and finally getting the hang of reading. She’s stubborn so she keeps pushing until she understands. She opted not to do girl scouts again this year and chose instead to take gymnastics. She’s very limber and very strong so it’s a good activity for her. She’s still working on her handstands but she’s getting there. She is cursed with the sarcasm gene from each side of the family and it results in a very quick and zany sense of humor. We love having her around if nothing more for the comic relief.

Noah, Noey, Noah Monster, Noah-it-all is far too smart for his own good. He now reads much faster and more often than most everybody in the family. Last week he found a book series that he enjoys and I think he’s on the fourth or fifth book already. He has a great teacher at school who really understands his quirky sense of humor. It can be tough to teach a kid who really believes that he already knows more than you do. We’re working with him on that. His fashion sense is still running on the James Dean model. He’s perfectly content to wear jeans and a white t-shirt every day of the week and he pulls it off pretty good, too.

Rachel is growing up far too fast for my comfort. I jokingly tell her that she can start dating when she’s thirty. She’s had a few growing pains getting used to Middle school. But considering she’s taking so many gifted classes I’m inclined to cut her a little slack. As with all of my kids it’s tough to be happy with B’s when I know they’re capable of A’s, but that’s something I need to work on. Recently her best friend of many years moved to Florida. They have been pretty much inseparable for quite a while so I foresee some family trips to Tampa in the next years and some increased long distance charges.

Last year Aaron passed Victoria in height and he’s less than an inch from overtaking me now. We’re gonna have to stop feeding that boy. This was his first year in high school. He’s still not quite grasping the importance of the school work. We’re really working with him on setting his sights higher. He has created a large group of friends both in school and in his seminary class. Aaron is also still active in his Boy Scout troop. Last Saturday he spent all day helping out with an Eagle project and then selling Christmas trees to help pay for our Philmont trip in July 2010. He’s only a few merit badges away from being able to start working on an Eagle project. Yesterday he was bugging me about getting his learners permit. I can’t believe I have a son that’s old enough to drive already. Where did that time go?

Victoria is still working much harder than she really should. The yearbook that she put together for the elementary school last year won mountains of praise from parents and students. It was really nice to see so many people gush over it. I know how much of her heart and soul went into every page and it felt good to see others recognize that too. She’s recently taken a few cake decorating classes and really had a good time making cakes for family birthday parties and anniversaries. As with all of her hobbies, she never does anything half way. I enjoy being the technical support and moral support behind the scenes for all her projects. Oh yeah, this is all over and above what she does just getting four kids back and forth from their numerous activities and keeping the house in running order.

I’m now a planner at the phone factory, AT&T. It wasn’t technically a promotion, but it moved me into a group that’s a little up the food chain, which makes it comforting when they announce some lower level layoffs like they did a few months ago. I enjoy the work and it keeps the bills paid.
I’ve taken Victoria’s lead and I’m doing my best to stay in shape. We recently moved offices to another building and I’ve used that as an excuse to walk everyday on my lunch hours. Weather permitting I’ve been doing between 12 and 20 miles each week. But with all the rain lately it’s only been about 10 miles a week.
Victoria bought me a really nice Breedlove guitar for my birthday. I’m still lousy, but I enjoy it and it helps me to relax a little bit while trying to get pretty sounds to come out of it.

On a sad note, we had to say good bye to Jasper a few months ago. Five years ago when we found a stray ferret I never dreamed he would have such an impact on our family. His silly personality was good for all of us. He really helped Aaron deal with years of home-school. He’s probably the primary impact on Eve’s future as a vet. We all miss him terribly, but we’re comforted by the idea that he and Gracie are giving each other a hard time where ever they are.

December 8th, 2009 is the twentieth anniversary of the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. I surprised Victoria by kidnapping her and taking her to a cute little bed and breakfast in Hot Springs North Carolina. It was a great weekend away from the stresses of the world. We’ll probably head back there for our 30th, 40th, 50th etc. I seriously question her sanity every day that she still thinks I’m a good catch, but I hope she never wises up. I truly love her and the family that we have created together.

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.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Emotional Awareness

I have long been a fan of the Dalai Lama. Even though I don’t accept the deeper doctrines of Buddhism, like karma and reincarnation, I really admire the efforts that he has put in to teaching people to live more peaceably with each other. His optimism is infectious. I’ve also been a fan of the work of Dr. Paul Ekman. So it has been really enjoyable to have my commutes filled with their voices as I’ve been listening to Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion: A Conversation Between the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman.
Ekman and the Dalai Lama both have the same goals but they are approaching them from different perspectives. Ekman is the scientist who is studying emotion scientifically with the goal of trying to make people’s lives better. The Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader who is also trying to make people’s lives better. Both have found a very common ground in the study of emotion and how to respond to our emotions.
I have so many things to take away from this book that I don’t really know where to start.
Much of the conversation focuses on just being aware of our own emotions and controlling what we feel and how we respond to that emotion. The Buddhist principles of compassion and mindfulness come into play quite a bit in this area.
Ekman refuses to classify emotions as positive or negative. It is only our response to that emotion that can receive such a value judgment. Fear that prompts us to get out of the way of an oncoming train can be good. But fear used to intimidate is bad. Similarly pride and anger can also have similar positive effects if channeled constructively. The only emotion that both the Dalai Lama and Ekman agree has no positive effects is contempt.
Moods are a different issue and both men agree. Moods poison the well and last longer than emotion. Most emotions only last for a relatively short time. Moods however skew you perception and are never constructive. A cranky mood will cause you to misinterpret the actions of others to fit your preconceptions. Even a good mood can be destructive if it causes you to gloss over and not give due attention to a stimulus. I found it very interesting that The Dalai Lama agreed that being overly optimistic can have similar negative effects to being overly pessimistic.
The biggest take away I have found from this book is simply an awareness. I’ve been trying to identify my feelings as emotions or as moods and then trying to consciously decide how to respond. I have a bad habit of taking tidbits that I’ve learned and educating my family. That I believe is good but I tend to sound like I’m lecturing them. I hope that as I learn better emotional awareness I will also become better at sharing with my family.

Anonymous Comments

I have had to change my comments settings to restrict anonymous comments. I started getting so many spammed comments that this was the easiest way to handle it. I hope this doesnt scare anybody away from commenting. I do appreciate any and all comments that are related to the post and not just trying to get me to send money to Nigeria or buying Mona Vea water, etc, etc.

Friday, December 11, 2009


So the trick to keeping a secret from my wife seems to be to tell everybody else. But they all have to believe that they are the only ones you’ve confided in. Just to make sure nobody freaked out and to get all of our responsibilities taken care of ahead of time I had to tell the kids, the babysitter and our substitute nursery teachers for Sunday. And they all kept the secret so Victoria was completely surprised.

Friday after I dropped Aaron off for Sunday I kidnapped Victoria and took her off to a cute little bed and breakfast in Hot Springs NC. The drive up was relaxing and very pretty. The last hour was a bit curvy and I though we might have to pull over so Victoria could toss her cookies but she made it.

The folks at the inn upgraded us to the best room in the house since they knew it was a special occasion for us. The inn was very nice and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who just needs a little getaway. The food alone would be worth another trip up that way. Seriously, I haven’t eaten that well for quite some time.

We took a nice walking tour of the town. I could move there in a heartbeat. The Appalachian Trail runs right down the main drag. It was cold but we made the best of it and enjoyed each other’s company. See her blog for a bunch of pictures.

Saturday we took a trip in to Asheville and toured the Grove Park Inn and saw the really cool gingerbread houses. Then we headed down to Biltmore House. In hindsight we could have passed on seeing Biltmore House. I don’t think Victoria and I could have been more underwhelmed. That has to be the single ugliest building I’ve every been in in my life. There was a lot of hype about the house being really done up for Christmas. Honestly I didn’t even notice besides the Christmas tree in the dining room. And even then I wasn’t too impressed with the tree. I was just curious how they got the tree into the house. At one point during the tour Victoria told me, “You know it’s really a shame that somebody with this much money didn’t have better taste.” The only rooms we enjoyed were those in the basement. I thought the pool, the kitchen and the servant’s quarters were really cool. The bowling alley was neat, but I just felt sorry for whoever had to set up the pins each time.

We spent the rest of our trip primarily sitting around the inn taking it easy. Victoria whipped me 4 out of 5 games of chess. We each were able to get quite a lot of reading done as well. Then after another amazing breakfast Sunday we headed home to the family.

Thanks to all innkeepers, the sitters, substitutes and everybody else who helped me surprise Victoria for our 20th anniversary.

Funny Christmas Memory

My mother recently asked me to write a memory about my favorite Christmas. This is not neccesarily my favorite Christmas but it's just a funny story that I wanted to share.
December of 1996 Victoria and I were at a mall in Salt Lake and after buying stuff for Aaron and a few other family members together we went our separate ways for a few minutes to pick up gifts for each other. When we met back together in front of ZCMI Victoria could barely carry the gift she'd bought for me. She refused to let me help her since she didn't want me to figure it out. A few minutes later she resorted to just dragging the bag through the mall. For about fifteen minutes she dragged soemthing along that appeared to wiegh around 40 pounds. Yet she still refused to let me help her. So a few weeks later I was not the least bit surprised to find a large 12" deep dish cast iron Dutch oven under the tree. I still use it quite frequently. And I get this image of her dragging it through the mall every time I use it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Give Life

I’ve blogged about this before but I just felt the urge to do it again.
Every two weeks I go to the Red Cross and donate platelets. The process is called apheresis. First step is to stick a needle into each arm. Then they pull the blood out of one arm and centrifuge it to remove the platelets and a few other blood products. Then my red blood cells are mixed with saline and pumped back into my other arm. I’ve been donating pretty regularly for about ten years. The whole process takes about two hours. Just long enough to watch a movie. I’ve done it over a hundred times and I’ve gotten to the point that they all know my face and I know most of the folks at the donor center by name. I look forward to my bi-weekly appointment and an excuse to really help somebody out who needs help. And any time I can save somebody’s life by just sitting on my butt and watching a movie, sign me up. I really enjoy the feeling that I get when I walk away, knowing that I’ve done my small part to help relieve the suffering of a fellow human being.
Over time my body has compensated for loosing so many platelets every month and my normal count has gotten higher. Now they are able to take three different products from me in one sitting with no ill effects. And they have recently gotten a few new machines that only require one needle. This is a plus if you’d like to read or if just having both arms immobile for two hours is a little claustrophobic for you.
The last few times have been a little bittersweet for me. There really hasn’t been a lot of other folks donating. I’m not sure what the cause is. Perhaps with the downturn in the economy folks haven’t been feeling as charitable as they used to. Perhaps they’re just working too hard to make ends meet. Both of those situations I completely understand. However, the sick folks who need these products still need help.
I just got a reminder call. I have an appointment tomorrow after work so she was reminding me not to take anything with aspirin in it. I encourage the six people that read this blog to take a look at your schedule and see if you too can help out. If you can’t spare the two hours they just find a local blood drive and donate whole blood. As an uncle to wonderful niece whose life was saved by platelet donations I sincerely thank all those who have given and encourage those who haven’t to consider it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I've just discovered this guy and I love his work. Far too much of what we call entertainment is about stuff that really doesn't matter. This guy is not.
He could have done with out the potty mouth on the last line but I wouldn't suggest he change it.