Friday, December 30, 2011

Rog Tales

When dad died ten years ago we all got together and shared stories about him. I was intrigued by the responses that some of the younger members of the family had to the stories. They had never heard many of them. At the time I promised my youngest sister that I’d do a better job of telling the stories and keeping them alive. I haven’t done a very good job of that but suffice it to say that this is my first attempt.

A couple weeks ago I went through a drive-thru with Rachel and a memory of my dad popped into my head. It was nothing really profound, just a funny event that had happened.

It was the early 80s and Rog and I were in a hurry to get somewhere. We were in “Thumper” our brown 76 VW Rabbit, we were both hungery but didn’t have a lot of time. Rog pulled into the Wendy’s in Tucker, drove right past the microphone and straight over to the pick-up window. The girl at the window looked out and said, “That’ll be $8.75” Dad paid, handed me the bag and the drinks and drove off. As soon as we got on the road he looks over at me and asks, “What did we get?”. I don’t remember what we actually ended up with. I was just stunned by his breach of drive-thru protocol. I can only imagine the conversation that followed when the next driver came to pick up his order.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Happy Carl Sagan Day

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."
Carl Sagan

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The King Swing

(Warning!! This post is of a very personal nature and may offend some readers.)
This is a video from a very popular rock climbing route in Yosemite. This technique is called a pendulum traverse. Climbers call it "The King Swing” and it takes place on a route called “The Nose” on the 3000’ feature called El Capitan. About halfway up this particular route the cracks and features kind of peter out once you get to the top of that flake the photographer is standing on. Since the rock doesn’t have any little cracks or bumps there is subsequently nothing to pull up on or stand on. Therefore, no way to climb it. The only solution is to go back down and see if you can find another path. Sometimes you see another path but there really isn’t any way to get to it from underneath. The only feasible solution is to do a pendulum traverse. Just as the name implies you lower down as far as you have to and swing back and forth until you can grab a section of rock that is will allow you to climb it.

I’ve done several pendulum traverses, although not this one. They can be quite intimidating. Sometimes you’re not quite sure if you’re swinging into a section that will be just as unclimbable as where you were. One time it was an emergency situation and this was the safest technique to get off the rock during a thunderstorm. But every time I was more than a little apprehensive. The technique requires much more planning than it appears and things have to be done just right in order to stay safe.

Even though the route ahead seems insurmountable it’s quite a weird feeling to hang your butt on the end of a rope and run back and forth hoping to grasp something better, something that will allow you to keep progressing. It’s not exactly the safest thing to do. The times I’ve done them were only in situations where I was absolutely sure that it was the only way to keep on progressing. The risks can be high, but the rewards can be even greater if this leads you to better climbing or a way out of the current predicament.

I’m at a point in my life where I need to take the King Swing. I’ve been on a path that has provided me with much joy and happiness up to this point. I felt like I was growing, learning and progressing. But for the last several years I’ve been stuck on a ledge looking for ways to keep moving up and not finding anything to hang on to. It has taken me quite a while to even consider looking for another path. I’d been raised to believe that the path I was on was perfect and there was no reason to stray from it. But I just couldn’t see where or how to continue. Consequently, I’ve lowered down a little bit and begun to swing back and forth looking for another path.

I believe I’ve found a path. I’m not quite sure how good the climbing will be over there but I’m sure it is more promising than where I am now. Who knows? This new path may lead me back onto my original path from a different angle. Or I may end up having to lower back down this new route too and look for yet another path. I just don’t know right now.

To those of you who aren’t having any problems negotiating the blank sections of the original route, I have no criticism at all. Congratulations. You are better skilled at finding the route than I am. Simply because I am looking for a different path I have no criticism at all if you are making it work for you.

I’m not suggesting that anybody take the steps that I about to without doing at least as much thorough research, soul-searching and earnestly looking for all of the answers. This decision, to take the swing, has not be reached casually. In my case it has been years and years of agonizing study and prayer that has brought me to when I am now.

It’s time to set the metaphor aside. This post has nothing to do with rock climbing. I’m talking about my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For the past several years I’ve been stuck on a ledge and could find no way to keep moving forward. I’ve discussed some of the specifics on this blog numerous times, but I don’t wish to get into them today. To my friends and family who are members of the church I hope that you will take this with the spirit with which it is intended. I am very grateful that you are in my life and I mean absolutely no disrespect to you at all. I have never felt that absolute agreement on everything was necessary for me to love you and this decision will not stop that. I hope that you can see it in your heart to still love me. The most apprehensive part of this decision has been the considering, reconsidering and re-reconsidering the effects it will have on my family.

I fully expect that many of you will not understand my decision. I’m under no delusion that this will be easy. But I believe it will be better in the long run. I’ve seen other friends and family members struggle with some of the same issues that I have. It’s been very selfish of me to let them struggle alone while I conceal my struggles and go through some of the same things they have been.

I am grateful for everything that I have learned so far on my path. Please don’t think that I am going to consider abandoning all of the progress and the good things that I’ve learned in the process. I have no plans to start stopping by liquor stores or breaking any other of the moral and ethical codes the church has taught me. Quite the opposite; I cherish those values and I look forward to continuing to incorporate them into my life.

The private answers to the questions I have asked in my prayers have led me in an unexpected direction, a spiritual path which, at least for now, has proven incompatible with Mormon doctrine. This search for a new route has brought me some of the most profound surprises and also the deepest sadness of my life. It is very hard for me to leave a path that I love so much.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Prophet's Prey

One of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. If you think that Big Love and Sister Wives represents a realistic depiction of what it’s like to live in a polygamist sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints you could not be more mistaken. If anything these programs are convenient distractions from horrors that are really going on behind the walls of most FLDS communities.

Yes, popular TV programs like to portray modern polygamist groups as just a bunch of quirky little consenting adult Christians who live normal healthy lives, they just all consented to being married to the same guy. However in most FLDS areas, especially those under the control of Warren Jeffs, these shows couldn’t be further from the truth. Most live in squalor because they consecrate everything they earn back to the church. They live on church owned land with no legal lease arrangement so the “prophet” can kick them out for any perceived infraction, the most common of which is just happening to have been born male because that means they will eventually be a competitor for the little girls in the group. Yes I said girls, not women or females. These are little girls that are being married off to much older men to gain political clout within the community. Some of these girls are as young as 12 and most are married off well below the legal age of consent.

So if you happen to be born as a girl in a FLDS community the odds are that you will be denied to play with dolls because the prophet has said that girls “should learn to raise real children”. You won’t have any other toys. You’ll be home-schooled but most of that will be only church sanctioned propaganda, like the fact that we never landed on the moon. Then in your early teens you’ll be married off to some man three times your age and brutally raped before you’ve even had the basics of sex education (see comment above about propaganda). You see if girls knew what normal sex was supposed to be like they’d surely resist what the men in the FLDS culture force on them. Now you’d just better hope that your husband overts his eyes from the prophet fast enough ‘cause if he's too slow he might get banished from the cult and you and your sister wives are doled out to the prophet’s political cronies and you just have to submit to him and his abuse and hope the cycle doesn’t repeat itself.

Being born male isn’t exactly an easy life either. You’ll be put to work on church projects when you are so young that the hammer you’ll be given reaches all the way to the ground when you sling it in your work belt. The only way the church elites can maintain their high number of wives is to restrict the number of men in the community. So the odds are pretty good that right about the time you start thinking about starting your own family that you’ll be driven out of town and dropped off on the side of the road adn told never to return. If you get lucky enough to be allowed to stay well hog dog, You will be allowed to follow in your indoctrination and become a serial child abuser. But don't get too comfortable in your role as abuser/rapist. You still could lose all that at the drop of a hat if the prophet decides he doesn't like you anymore.

No matter what your gender your odds are the greatest in the world to develop serious genetic defects due to inbreeding. FLDS geneologies boggle the mind. There are only about four suranmes and they recycle a lot of the same given names and middle names. Wives are sometimes taken from a father and given to his son, or from one brother to another. So you'll have children growing up in the same house whose father is also an uncle or a brother or a cousin. The CDC has estimated that over half of the world’s cases of fumarase deficiency are in Short Creek UT/AZ. So you may be stillborn or only live a few weeks.

The author of this book is LDS. Not FLDS, just LDS. He lived only an hour away from where much of these atrocities were taking place but just didn’t give it much thought. The FLDS were just the red-headed step children of the “true” church. Not until he got involved as a private investigator on a simple eviction did he come to understand the lawlessness and church sanctioned abuse that was taking place in his backyard.

As American’s we are proud of our First Amendment. We like the government to stay out of our worship. People should be able to believe or not to believe what ever they want to and the government is supposed to let that be. But when beliefs turn into actions there is something that the government does care about and does make laws to prevent. You can believe that god will bring destruction on the world, but if you try to fly a plane into a building to start the process then we should expect some intervention, not against the belief, against the action.

Somehow religions that profess a link to Jesus get a little more of a pass than others. If I were to tell you that the Taliban had taken control of a small city in Utah had completely converted to Sharia law all hell would break loose to end the process and establish order. However since the FLDS claims a link to Jesus’ teachings all the same Taliban-like behavior is tolerated now and has been tolerated for almost a century. It’s a serous double standard.

As if he had a chance before, this book more than convinced me to vote against Rick Perry. When close to 500 children were in the custody of the state of Texas Perry went before cameras and read all his talking points about, "safety of the children" etc. etc. Yet the Department of Child Protective Services was pressured from above to release all of these kids back to their abusers for no logical reason except that it was costing too much. Just confirmed my suspicions about him. He'll say whatever he has to to look good, but not offer any real support where it is really needed. I'd like to see how he would have responded if it had been a Taliban group and not an FLDS sect.

Polygamy would not exist to the extent it does in the United States if it were not for one man, Joseph Smith. Joseph took his desire for sexual impropriety and canonized it. Officially the mainstream LDS church has since stopped practicing polygamy a century ago, however the FLDS still claim Joseph as their justification for continuing.

Read this book. It’s not a pleasant read. It will challenge a lot of what you believe and think you know about polygamy in the United States. Bower had unique access to the facts that put Warren Jeffs behind bars. It’s quite an eye-opener. Far from just being a quirky little sub-culture, in every measurable way FLDS communities are the most lawless cities in the United States and generation after generation of children are being taught that this is normal and god’s way.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Just Kidding

What follows is just a little bit of a rant about the way a certain phrase is being used lately.

I get more than a little irritated when people misuse and abuse language. Here’s an example that I’ve seen happen a few times a week for the last several months and even been the unwitting victim of the exchange quite a few times too.

Person A, “Hey I’ll trade you that watch for this used popsicle stick.”

Person B, “No way!”

Person A, “Yeah I was just kidding.”

The watch and the popsicle are just examples. Substitute the watch with anything of value and the popsicle stick for anything of substantially less value or no value at all. The conversation typically takes this form. Person A proposes a very lopsided deal. Once rejected A then attempts to camouflage the scam as if it was just a joke. My irritation comes at the use of the phrase “just kidding”. I wonder if B had accepted the deal would A have accepted the watch. If so, then was A really kidding? I think not. In every situation I’ve seen A was completely serious and would have followed through with the lopsided deal if B had accepted. So they were not kidding. They only chose to claim that they were kidding once they had been caught. “Just kidding” seems to be used as a poor substitute for “I’m sorry to have even proposed such a lopsided deal. Please forgive me.”

I recently had somebody propose a deal to me that was very much not in my favor and opened me up to some serious liability. I promptly declined the offer. They followed by saying, “I don’t blame you. If I were you I wouldn’t have done it either.” Really? They openly confessed that they knew the deal was not fair but they followed through with it anyway.

Yeah I know this is kinda petty. I just find it irritating. Whether you call it The Golden Rule, Kant ‘s Categorical Imperative or any of the other names that it goes by treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you would accept the deal if it went in your favor then you were not “just kidding” you were being manipulative. And if you wouldn’t accept the deal if it was offered to you then don’t offer a deal that you know is unfair.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cherry Picking

I had an interesting thing happen at church on Sunday. Before I get into specifics I wanted to talk about the rhetorical tool of cherry-picking. Cherry-picking is the process of picking only the data the supports your position while ignoring or under emphasizing the data that goes contrary to your point.
To illustrate my point today I took a Wikipedia article about an individual and picked only the positive and neutral points. From the information below see if you can identify the subject of the article.

An avid downhill skier while in high school.
He studied law at Utah State University.
In college he was baptized a member of the LDS church.
He worked on Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential campaign.
He liked Volkswagens.
He enjoyed spending time outdoors.
He died at age 43.

Okay. He sounds like a pretty good guy, doesn’t he? Well yeah. Anybody would if you only use the details that make him seem like a nice guy. Now take a look at the rest of his profile and see if I left out anything important.

Big difference isn’t it? Even though everything above was technically true by cherry-picking the data, only picking the positive, I was able to create a false picture of who this man really was.

Now back to my experience Sunday. July 24th is Pioneer Day. It’s a Mormon holiday to celebrate those who made the trek west to help settle the Salt Lake valley. It’s typical for the Sunday talks to tell personal anecdotes about ancestors who made the trek and have them make comparisons to their own lives. This Sunday it became a textbook example of cherry-picking. The closing speaker did indeed have an ancestor who crossed the plains and helped settle the west. As he began to list the positive attributes of his great-great-great-great grandfather his name rang a bell. I pulled out my iphone and did a quick search for him. Now here is a short list of the details that the speaker shared with us.

He learned to hunt as a boy.
He converted to the church as an adult.
He was a close confidant on Joseph Smith.
He crossed the plains with Brigham Young and was one of his most trusted friends.
He was a proud defender of the LDS Church.
He was shot several times and eventually died from complications of his gunshot wounds.

I’m going to spare the actual name of the ancestor mentioned because I don’t want to identify the speaker. However, Suffice it to say that the comparison I made to Ted Bundy is not unfair. He was Danite and essentially a hired assassin. This speaker’s ancestor actually confessed to killing more people than Bundy is suspected of killing. Yes, he was a member of the church but he was excommunicated and became an opponent of the church.

My point here is not to criticize Sunday’s speaker. I just seriously am intrigued by the amount of cognitive dissonance that it takes to spin this character into a hero. It’s one thing to cherry-pick data in order to convince somebody else. But I think that more often than not people unconsciously sort that data. They just actually do not even see the disconfirming evidence. Or if they do they minimize it or rationalize it to the point that even a negative becomes a positive.

Monday, July 25, 2011


It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. As usual this isn’t because nothing has been going on. Actually it’s quite the opposite. I just haven’t been able to slow down enough to give a report.

Emergency Surgery

A year or so ago I was having some recurring abdominal pains so I went to the doctor. She did a CT scan and noticed that I had a few kidney stones and a gall stone. I passed the kidney stones and then the real fun began. I started having gall stone attacks. For the most part they were just an annoyance that made me lose a lot of sleep and consequently vacation days. But after a few months they started getting rather intense. Went to the doctor again and she gave me some drugs for the pain and told me to try to manage it with diet. Well anything with any fat at all could trigger it and after further reading I found out that just laying on your left side could also trigger an attack.

Well the first weekend in July I came home from work a little early because I couldn’t stand sitting in my chair. It was getting painful but I was trying to tough it out. I knew exactly what the problem was and exactly what the solution was. I just didn’t have time for it. I had multiple projects in the works and my house was still substantially less than complete. Plus I didn’t have much of a buffer on vacation days if we were going to be able to go at all.

I tried to make it get better and nothing would work so Victoria called our neighbor over, she’s and EMT, and she persuaded me to go to the ER. After painfully waiting for hours in the ER they finally saw me. They kept asking me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I had a hard time with this and kept thinking about the Brian Regan comedy routine. So I told the nurses, “Well a broken femur is supposed to be a 10 and I did that in ’97. This is far worse so how about 35.” An x-ray, EKG, and ultrasound later they admitted me. They gave me some morphine so I could sleep and scheduled me for surgery Saturday morning.

The next morning the doctor came in and explained what was going on. She used the phrase, “If you want to keep on living…” and the word “gangrenous” in the discussion. As if I needed more persuasion, but I was even more convinced after that.

The surgery was laparoscopic so I have 4 little scars that look like bullet holes. The doctor said that my gall bladder had a large stone and showed significant scarring. So it was good that I didn’t wait any longer. I healed up pretty quickly and only missed a few days of work the next week. The next Friday the doctor approved me for driving so our vacation could go on as scheduled. We left pretty much as soon as I got back from her office.

It’s been three weeks since the surgery and three weeks without an attack. That’s the first time in about a year that I can say that. At its worst the attacks were coming about every 5 days. I sure hope those days are all behind me.

I doubt any of them are reading this but I just wanted to give a tremendous thank you to all of the staff at the hospital. Everybody, without exception, was very nice and pleasant. I don’t ever want to have to do something like that again, but if I do I’ll pick the same folks to help me out.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Many years ago I played saxophone in my middle school band. I wasn’t very good at all. Typically I was either 3rd or 4th chair. That depended entirely on how many saxophones there were that semester, 3 or 4. In band if you wanted a promotion to a higher chair you had to “challenge” the chair in front of you. Friday’s were challenge days. We would go around the band and listen to each challenge. Typically the 2 players would each play the same piece and they were judged by the band director. If that challenger played it better they advanced to that chair. Sometimes challenges would be issued to show an expertise in a specific technique. I remember challenges issues entirely on breathing at the correct spots in a piece.

I will always remember one particular challenge. I was in the flute section. Our band director had been working with us on keeping our fingers close to the keys; basically not wasting energy and time by completely straightening your fingers when a smaller motion will get the job done. So the 3rd chair recognizes that she had an advantage in this area and challenges the 2nd chair to a piece. Here’s where it got interesting. She challenged him based on two criteria, accuracy and keeping fingers on the keys. Both musicians played the piece and then the director had to make a decision. The 3rd chair flutist clearly had mastered the concept of keeping her fingers near the keys. However the 2nd chair played the piece with more accuracy. So what do you do? Which of the 2 challenge criteria trumps the other? Without any ground rules in place before the challenge he decided that a tie meant no change in the positions.

No you’ve probably already realized that this post isn’t really about who sits where in a middle school band class. At our company we have a long standing safety creed. Until a few years ago it read,
“No job is so important and no service is so urgent that we can not take time to perform our work safely."
I have no problem with that at all. It’s simple and to the point. When I would get spot checked while on site my supervisor would ask me what it meant in my own words. I would typically say something like, “It’s just your phone or your internet. Nobody should have to get hurt to make this work.”
Well a few years ago we were bought out by a larger company. And that company made a slight change to the safety creed. It now reads,
“No job is so important and no service is so urgent that we can not take time to perform our work safely and in an environmentally responsible manner."
Hmmm. Now like our band director I am presented with a possible conflict. I have no problem with either of the goals expressed in this creed as long as they don’t conflict with each other. But what about when they do conflict? I can think of several cases where the most environmentally responsible thing to do would not be the safest thing to do in the short term. What if a coworker is being attacked by a Canada Goose? Whose side do I take? The coworker’s or the threatened migratory bird? While I have no criticism of either goal, I just think that bringing up environmental issues in the context of a safety creed waters down the creed and could actually make a situation more dangerous.
Now on to other issues. How many times do we find ourselves in situations like this? Do I swerve to miss the animal in the road and endanger my passengers in the process? Or make a professional decision without considering the family? I guess my only point is that you need to be clear which goal would trump the other before you get into that situation.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


We’ve started making the plans for our biannual family adventure. Every other year our family does a reunion. This year it’s in Utah. We do our best to attend and we also try to make a big road trip out of it. The kids really look forward to it. This year we plan on hitting several of the National Parks in California as well as some old favorites, possibly Yellowstone and Carlsbad again. We’ll see. The hardest part about planning these trips is reminding the family that we only have two weeks to get everything in.
The bittersweet part of this adventure comes because we are going to have to leave one of the family home. If he wants to graduate on time Aaron’ll have to take a summer school class which means that he will not be going with us. While I recognize that he has to sleep in the bed he made, it’s still rather tough to make plans like this knowing that we won’t all be going.


I bought another car last week. That’s actually the errand we were running last Sunday when we noticed the water coming out of the house. A few months ago I noticed a cute little VW bug parked in a driveway about 2 miles from the house. Every time I drove past I became more apparent that it hadn’t move for quite some time. I checked some online aerial shots and based on some other clues in the area it had been there for several years. So after work one day the last week of May I stopped by and talked to the owner. We talked for a little bit and I made him an offer and he accepted it.

The owner and his family are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Just a treat to talk to. He actually owns a tool rental company and when he found out what happened to the house he loaned us a carpet blower to help dry things out until the abatement people showed up. So if you need to rent a tool consider using Temporary Tools in Lilburn. A good friend of mine from the bug club loaned me tow bar and a wheel and helped me get her home. The previous owner and his son were also very helpful in getting her rolling so we could move her.

She’s a 1967 zenith blue VW Beetle . 1967 is a one of kind year for Beetles. Sometime in ’66 VW made the decision to completely overhaul the design by the ’68 model but the still had to get a new model out for ’67. Many VW aficionados think this is the best year for the Beetle. It still had a lot of the old body style and quaint features like the overrider bumpers, longer hood and the horn grills. But it also has some of the modern technical features like the 2-speed wipers and upgraded 12 volt electrics. Before ’67 they were only 6 volt.

Rachel decided to name her Judy, or Jude for short. She’s very much a work in progress and I’m probably going to have to learn to weld to get her fixed right. I’m not holding my breath that she’ll be on the road any time soon. Every day reveals some positive surprises and well as a few let downs. I’m very happy that most of the ’67 only features are still intact and very salvageable. It’s gonna be fun to work with my girls to help get her back on the road. I already have a set of replacement doors and Rachel wants to keep her the same color. First priority is to get the foundation solid enough that we can drive her safe. Then we’ll worry about cosmetic details.

Water Water Everywhere

We had a little excitement last week that made for a very stressful Memorial Day week. Sunday after church we’d gone over to the in-laws for a dinner. Around 3:00 or so Victoria, Rachel and I left to run an errand. We stopped by the house for just a second. I hadn’t even planned on going in the house, just needed to get some tools out of the truck. Well when I got out of the car I noticed that the driveway looked wet. I then noticed that the water seemed to be coming out of the garbage can. I moved the can saw it coming from under the garage door. I quickly dashed inside and it sounded like somebody had left the shower on. I ran up stairs and the steps were splashing as I ran. When I opened the bathroom door water was spraying everywhere. My first instinct was to check the shower but it was fine. The pipe behind the toilet had sprung a leak and was spraying water everywhere. I shut the water off there but it was still leaking. So I went into the garage and shut it off at the house too. When I opened the door to the garage it sounded like it was raining. The ceiling had become completely saturated and was buckling in several places. I backed Victoria’s car out just a few minutes before pieces of the ceiling began to fall.

So it was chaos for several days at the house. Plumbers, electrician, water abatement companies, insurance adjusters etc. for most of last week the house was around 110degrees inside. The water abatement folks had 3 of these mini-fridge sized dehumidifiers that were very effective but they were like little ovens. On top of that there were 18 high volume fans. The place sounded like an airport during a vintage prop plane air show with all those rotors turning at once. The kids and Victoria stayed with family most of the week. Personally I was afraid to leave the house unsupervised with all that heat and that many electrical appliances running.

We got somewhat back to normal on Friday when the insurance adjuster showed up and the water abatement company left. The house is now dry and the air conditioning is back on. All the flooring in most of the rooms is damaged beyond repair but they’re taking care of that for us. We didn’t have much damage besides the house. Everything in the garage got wet but not much was damaged. Now we just start the long process of dealing with flooring contractors to get everything taken care of. So far the insurance company has been great to deal with. It isn’t quite like the commercials (i. e. the agent standing side by side with you seconds after the damage occurred looking at the home owner saying, “We’ll make this right”) but I don’t have many complaints.


So I haven’t blogged for a while. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s because nothing has been happening worth talking about. Actually quite the opposite. Life’s been throwing a lot at me lately. I’ll try to catch up a little bit but I may have to break it down into a few posts.


Last month sometime my blog was tagged as offensive on Facebook. Somebody who calls themselves a friend of mine, at least as far as facebook’s definition of “friend” goes, reported my blog as offensive. I had to appeal it to the powers that be at facebook in order to get unlabelled. Every since then I’ve been really wondering what specifically I said that was offensive. I’ve never intended to offend, disagree? Certainly. But never offend. I’ve since brushed it off as just somebody who doesn’t know the difference between offensive speech and disagreement. It’s just taken me a little bit to get motivated to actually post something again.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


I've posted this before but I just felt like posting it again today.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Last night Atlanta had some pretty rough storms roll through town. High winds, rain, hail, and lightning made quite a mess outside. My 11 mile commute to work had four detours from roads blocked by trees, utility lines and debris. About half of the neighborhoods I drove through were pitch black because they had no power.

The FM DJs on the station I was listening to were being pretty factual about their reporting. They were just stating the facts. Roads x, y, and z are blocked. Power out in x, y and z areas of town. But when I get in to work a coworker is complaining about how bad the am stations were reporting the storm. In his short commute he heard the aftermath compared to a “war zone” several times. Really? A war zone? Really? Were they bodies in the streets? Gunfire? Burning buildings? Sure there were trees down and leaves and crap spread everywhere, but a war zone? Come on. I remember as a kid being told the story of the boy who cried wolf. Apparently some people need a refresher course.

The boy who cried wolf caused the public to ignore his pleas. He had changed the definition of the word “wolf”. It no longer meant the same thing and was now something that could be ignored. Same goes for calling the storm damage a “war zone”.

A few years ago a gas pipeline blew up in California and completely blew up or burned an entire subdivision. I did not criticize anybody for saying that looked like a “war zone”. Now, if something like that were to happen today in Georgia what words are left to describe it? “War zone” now just means limbs and stuff spread around. You have diluted the words and they no longer have their original meaning.

It hit me today that the problem I have with this type of exaggeration is the same problem I have with the political inflammatory rhetoric. Suppose a real Socialist, a real Nazi, or a real Fascist were to run for election. What words are you left with to describe them? The past few years people have been throwing the words around without understanding that they are diluting the meaning. The three term are used as synonyms, they aren’t, and they are all used to mean “anybody who wants to control something I don’t want them to”.

Perhaps we could all benefit from asking an elementary school kid to retell us the story of the boy who cried wolf. Remember the moral to that story? He used scary words when there really wasn’t anything to be afraid of and people stopped listening and stopped caring when the real wolf showed up.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Years ago I my dad had a book laying around the house called How to Lie with Statistics. The book took the form of a how-to book. The entire premise being that people don’t really understand statistics or even math very well so it presented some tongue in cheek suggestions on how to spin your numbers to say something that they don’t really. The book was intended to be used as a defensive tool to teach the readers how to notice when somebody else is lying to them with numbers.

If How to Lie with Statistics was the 101 course then Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception by Charles Seife is the masters level course. If you are uncomfortable with uncertainty you might want to avoid this book. Seife successfully shows that many of the numbers that control our lives are at best gross estimations and at worst deliberate fictions. Instead of saying "Hey there are a bunch of Communists in the Justice Department.” Joseph McCarthy knew that we would give more credence to a number so he made one up, 205. Where did he get that number? He just made it up. And people bought it. Seife shows that people tend to believe numbers even if there is no reasonable expectation that the number is even correct. This reminds me of the story of the surveyors who were measuring Mount Everest and found out that it was exactly 29,000’. The supervisors in charge altered the data because 29,000’ looked like and estimate so they added a few feet to the mountain and called it 29,029’.

Seife shows how pervasive our trust of numbers are in everyday life. Most people accept that 98.6F is the normal temperature for a human. Is this number really accurate to one decimal point? No it isn’t. The doctors who determined the average normal temperature for humans only claimed it was accurate to the decimal point in Celsius and even then it could vary by person. 37C is the normal temperature, but when you convert that to Fahrenheit you get a number that appears more accurate than the number you started with. The real average temperature for humans is somewhere between 36C and 38C or 97F to 100F but we really can’t be more accurate than that. Yet how many times have you assumed that you had a fever at 99.0F? Not to say you weren’t really sick, but you don’t need the artificially accurate number to tell you that. This is Proofiness.

Seife explains case by case how proofiness has been used to free the guilt; O.J. Simpson, execute the innocent, elect Presidents and Congressmen, justify military action, justify backing out of arms treaties, support just about every type of legislation on both sides of the aisle on issues ranging form abortion to gun control etc. etc. etc. The abuses of math in our society were very disheartening. Personally I think Seife had his own bias as to which side of the aisle was more guilty of proofiness than the other. That being said he was just as thorough in his rebuke of the right as he was the left.

Many parts of the book were quite depressing. The specific cases, especially those were lives were lost seriously caused me to question the motives of some of our elected official. However, overall I thought the book was an excellent primer on what to look for and what follow up questions to ask when you are given information, especially information that involves counting , math and statistics.

The whole time I was reading this book I keep thinking about this one joke. 5/4th of American’s have problems with fractions. Seife has convinced me that this number may even be higher.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Panic Virus

When Seth Mnookin and his wife found out they were expecting their first child they got all sorts of unsolicited advice form friends and family about vaccines and their safety. He decided to investigate for his personal reasons and in the process felt it would be an intriguing topic for a book. In an interview he stated that his original intent was to just present the controversy. However, after finding that all of the evidence was on one side he turned the book into an expose’ on those that preach fear at the expense of logic, evidence and children’s safety. The Panic Virus is that book.

The anti-vaccination groups out there are really good at getting you to ignore the logic and the lack of evidence. They focus on a few heart breaking stories of kids who were diagnosed with autism at roughly the same time they were vaccinated and then try to get use to connect the dots and link the two. The stories are truly heart-breaking but no matter how sad they are that doesn’t prove that the vaccines caused these kids’ conditions. What makes Mnookin’s book stand out over the many others out there is that he fights fire with fire. Rather than just focus on the statistical and epidemiological evidence that shows absolutely no casual link with vaccines, Thimerosal or mercury; Mnookin bests the antivaxers at their own game. He tells much more emotional stories of children being crippled or dying of Polio, Pertussis and Measles because they were not vaccinated. Jenny McCarthy has stated that she is just fine with this kind of collateral damage.

The Panic Virus is a brilliant and timely history about the manufactured controversy about vaccine safety. From the initial Lancet report all the way to Dr. Wakefield’s complete and thorough discreditation, Mnookin shows that vaccines are safe and effective and do not cause autism.

My only criticism of the book is the same that I’ve had with others too. I have become so familiar with this topic that I was waiting for him to tell me something new. I‘ve grown used to reading articles daily on autism and vaccines. I have news aggregators send me any story with the word Andrew Wakefield in the body. But I had to take a step back and look at the book from the perspective of somebody not as familiar as I was. It is a great resource.

I encourage anybody who has an questions at all about the safety of vaccines to please read this before you hesitate to vaccinate your children. You should be convinced by the evidence that getting vaccinated is much safer than not vaccinated. And if that’s not enough the evidence of fraud, shoddy research, dishonesty, conflict of interest and foul play by the anti-vaccination community should sway you the rest of the way. And if there is still any doubt left in your mind the heart-breaking stories of children dying from easily preventable illness should completely tip the scales.

Monday, February 28, 2011


A few years ago I was having a theological discussion with a friend of mine. He was really impressed that the English word son and sun were homophones. It really appealed to him that Christ, the son, brought light into the world and Sol, the sun, also brought light to the world. Now I realize that this wasn’t the format for textual criticism so I just bit my tongue. I was tempted to point out that the significance of his revelation only applied to English. I didn’t know for sure but I was pretty sure that son and sun were not homophones in the original Greek or Hebrew. If this doctrine were so profound why would it be left for only those who spoke English to understand? But it wasn’t my job to take the air out of his sails. So, I just listened patiently and encouraged him to continue his studies.

Yesterday at church I had a similar tongue-biting experience. In Sunday School we were discussing the New Testament and somehow we started talking about the words thee, thou and thine. For quite a while we talked about the importance of using these words when we are talking about deity. Begin tongue biting. Personally I think this type of language says more about England at the time King James version was translated than it does about anything contemporary to Jesus. But I continued to listen.

Then the discussion centered on the fact that thee, thou and thine were more familiar and casual forms of the more formal pronouns for you and your. More tongue biting. One member of the audience even challenged that claim, saying that the instructor had it backwards. Thee was the more formal not you. But he stood his ground and correctly stuck to his point that thee was the familiar form and you the formal.

Then two other members of the class shared personal experiences about the formal and familiar tenses in different languages. And how when they learned the different language they were trained to use the familiar forms when referencing deity, in Spanish and Portuguese just like King James’s contemporaries did with English.

One good thing about have a wife that is so understanding of my condition is that I can quietly vent a little bit to her rather that completely sever my tongue. So I asked her, “Does anybody here know if the original Greek or Hebrew had rank distinctions like Old English, Spanish or Portuguese?” My point was the same as my point to my friend a few years ago. If we were to be having this lesson in the language the original text was written in would there be a distinction at all? It was my suspicion that we were spending valuable lesson time discussion the particulars of doctrine on a subject that quite possibly was just an artifact of translation. Until somebody could verify that Greek and Hebrew had rank distinctions in their pronouns we were just wasting time.

So once I got home I turned to the interwebs and the Google helped me answer my questions in only a few minutes. The instructor was correct. Thou, thee and thine are the familiar form and not the causal form.

“Following a process found in other Indo-European languages, thou was later used to express intimacy, familiarity, or even disrespect, while another pronoun, you, the oblique/objective form of ye, was used for formal circumstances.”

And, as I suspected, Greek and Hebrew do not even have rank distinctions in their pronouns.

“Emphasis in biblical languages was on the noun, subject, or name, whether referring to God, man, a spiritual being, or an inanimate object. There were not two or three sets of pronouns used: for example, one to convey the significance of God's name and another when referring to Abraham. Hebrew and Greek do have pronouns that distinguish between singular and plural and between subject pronouns (referring to the one performing the action of the verb); and object pronouns (the one receiving the action of the verb or joined with a preposition); but they are used without any reference to rank. In Biblical Hebrew and Greek pronouns were a matter of precision not piety.”

I guess what concerns me about issues like this is that it distracts from time that we could be using to discuss truly important things. Rather than talking about how we can help other in the congregation we were nit-picking over our choice of pronouns.

As soon as church was over we loaded up the truck and headed up to visit my new nephew and his parents. He’s still in the NICU since he was born rather small. It was inspiring to see this tiny little soul struggling to survive and seeing his parents do everything they can to help him get started right in this world in spite of his bumpy landing. I really enjoyed the time spent with him, his parents, and the nurses showing him so much love in his first week of life. The drive home gave me pause and really got me thinking about what it means to be spiritual.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Internets Polls and other Cons

The book I’m currently reading has a whole chapter on opinion polls. Specifically, it focuses on how systematic errors in the polls can cause error bars so broad that the data is completely worthless. Unless your goal in the first place isn’t to measure public opinion but to shape it, then they aren’t worthless at all.
Yesterday on my facebook feeds I got a request to answer a survey about where I get my news. Sounds good on the surface, but then the problems start popping up.
What’s wrong with this kind of a survey? Well first off, it’s voluntary. They aren’t gonna get any mediocre opinions. People don’t log on to a volunteer survey to say that they really don’t have an opinion. So right off the bat the survey will be artificially polarized, since it will only take responses from people passionate enough to participate.
Second, I didn’t see this same survey come across any other media; radio, TV etc. This isn’t a problem by itself. They may have been specifically looking for the opinions of facebook users. It’s only a problem if they then try to extrapolate from there out to the general population. Many surveys often do exactly that.
But the big death nail in this survey’s credibility is the surveyed audience. This came across my NPR feed. Yup, this survey was only sent out to people who are already self declared fans of NPR. Are you kidding me? You’re taking a survey of people who are already fans of NPR and want to know where they get their news? Gee, I wonder how that will turn out.
Of course this is nothing new. Fox news can’t seem to go a whole hour without asking you to log in and tell them what you think. Then they come back with some ridiculous misinterpretation of the data like, “55% of Americans think Obama is Muslim.” As if the opinions of their viewers makes it reality. I’ve grown to expect this kind of meaningless polling from most news outlets. I was just a little bit surprised the see if from NPR. In fairness to them, I don’t think they were being partisan. They were just trying to create a poll that disproportionately favored NPR itself.
So If you’re ever around me when somebody tells me about a recent poll, you’re liable to hear sigh or a snicker and then a series of follow up questions about things like statistical errors v systematic errors, controlling for sample bias, error bars, etc. You see polls themselves aren’t news. At best, they are what news organizations talk about while they are waiting for real news to happen. At worst they are an attempt to manipulate opinion or politics.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


It snowed in the Southeast a few weeks ago. Since Atlanta has no appreciable snow response plan other than to just wait for it to melt, most of Atlanta was stuck at home burning vacation days as fast as they were their Kroger bought firewood. Nothing pulls out the deniers of Global Warming more than a colder than average day. Never mind the fact that most of them were conveniently silent during the records highs of only a few months ago, 87 degrees on October 11th and I didn’t hear a peep out of any of them Saturday and Sunday when it was in the 70s. I could do a whole post on confirmation bias here. If you only look at the data that supports your conclusion and ignore the rest the world looks just like you imagine it would. But I’ve done that before.
Of course a few hot days in October or a few days in the 70s in January don’t prove it is happening any more than a few cold days in January proves it isn’t. If you are talking about a global issue increasing over the long term you have to average all of the data for the long term.
My post today is to issue a challenge to those who honestly believe that a few cold days mean that the general trend is not increasing. Let’s put your money where your mouth is. Do you believe the same thing about your stock portfolio? I propose that we take all the stocks in your portfolio and every time one hits a localized low you sell it to me at that low price. If we apply the same logic to your portfolio that you apply to the weather then a localized low must mean that the general trend is not increasing. So why would you want to hang on to it anyway?
Any takers? No I didn’t think so. Because most people are smart enough to realize that when it comes to their stock portfolio it’s the long term trends that are important not the localized highs and lows. Sure there are bad stocks out there that are not performing well. But if you look at all of them all and average them out, it’s still a pretty good place to invest. Why, because in spite of localized events the trend is generally increasing.
I think that most people who deny the evidence of global climate change are smart enough to realize this point. They obviously accept the same logic when applied to their portfolio. They just choose to deny it because they don’t like the political implications that accepting the evidence would have. And they know that a cold day in January doesn’t prove anything except that it’s a cold day in January, yet they deliberately play on the emotions of those that follow them to lead you to a fallacious conclusion. They think their listeners are that easily manipulated. Unfortunately, many of them are.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Every now and then I like to watch the Barrett-Jackson auto actions. I’m never going to be able to afford any of the cars they sell but I still enjoy looking at beautiful cars. Week after week people will show all sorts of cars and the commentators will give you explanations of what kind of restorations the car has been through, the history of the car and even focus on some of the details that may be either custom or were specific to that year and model. I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of the cars they show. I can guess the decade of most cars and on a few I might be able to get a little bit more detailed, but not much. The only possible exception to this would be air-cooled Volkswagens. I’m still not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I know more about them than any other make.

Well a few months ago they did a show that had quite a few classic VWs come across. I missed the show but I read quite a bit about it on a VW chat room that I visit frequently. From the discussions in the chat room it became quickly apparent that the commentators just had no clue what they were talking about when it came to the VWs. But that didn’t stop them from repeating nonsense with the same confidence that they did with other cars.

Now I don’t fault anybody for not being completely familiar with the brand that I choose to take particular interest in. People like different things and I’m completely OK with that. What bothers me is something different. Up until know I had taken them at their word that they knew what they were talking about. It is clear that at least in one category they were clueless. Sure the guys talking were probably just the talking heads recycling the facts that somebody was telling them about in their ear bud, but up until now I had trusted them. And the confidence with which they gave the facts was partially to blame for my lack of skepticism.

The show has been somewhat disillusioning since then. How do I know if what they are telling me about the Mustang currently on the block is true? Considering how much hogwash they dished out when it was the VWs up there, how do I know? Up until now they had my trust, but now I find myself asking questions. How much of this do they really know? How much are they just making up out of whole cloth and hoping that nobody will call them on it? I still watch the show periodically. The cars are no less amazing. I just have to take the narrations with more than a few grains of salt.

I had a similar event happen recently. A friend was telling a story about another subject that I know quite a lot about. In telling his story he messed up a few of the details with which I am familiar. I can look at the point of his story and his overall point is unaffected by the slight deviations. That being the case I found myself analyzing every detail. If he got that wrong, what else is not quite the way he told it?

As always when these things happen to me I get introspective rather quickly. Do I do this too? How many times have I embellished what I considered to be a minor detail? Have I sacrificed somebody’s trust in me just to tell a little bit better story? Am I doing it right now? Perhaps I need to take better care to be sure that I’m not guilty of the very same thing that I find disillusioning in others.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Totally Looks Like...

So there is this website where people post pictures of two things that look similar called totallylookslike and a few weeks ago a friend had an experience where he found two book covers that looked really similar. Well the same thing happened to me last night. I was in bed Reading Proofiness by Charles Seife and Victoria comes up stairs and puts her book on the nightstand next to mine, Slights of Mind by Stephen L. Macknik. You be the judge.

Friday, January 07, 2011


Although the numbers are little off in the third verse this song always reminds me of my folks.


Recently I've had a few comments come to me via email because they didn't want to create a blogger account. So, I've turned back on the anonymous comments. We'll see if this works...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"A Whole Bunch of Blind People"

I have no idea what exactly started this conversation. Sunday evening Noah and Eve were down in the den watching Dr. Who and Noah comes up and begins to pontificate. This is a common occurance. Victoria and I have learned to listen closely when he's at the podium.
“Hey, Dad. The way I see it if somebody pucks your eyeball out and you go pluck out theirs pretty soon you’re just gonna have a whole bunch of blind people.”
I assured him that he was exactly correct and then pulled up a quote that sounded very similar to Noah’s epiphany.
“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Mohandas K. Gandhi
Noah though it was cool that somebody else had the same idea. What I thought was so cool is that this basic philosophy seems like complete common sense to a ten year old. Yet it was also rather sad that this logic completely escapes most politicians.
As I read this over I think I prefer Noah’s phrasing to Gandhi’s. Something about the childish use of the word eyeball and pluck reminds me that it came from a ten year old and makes it seem whimsical yet no less profound.