Friday, November 28, 2014

Race and Plumbers: A Conspiracy Theory

Bear with me while I invoke a few hypotheticals for consideration...

A couple decades ago, I remember reading a study in a Scholarly journal in which the author presented a correlation between lead exposure and violence. The author further implied that inner city areas, where older buildings, contained greater quantities of lead paint and lead plumbing, could be significant factors in explaining higher crime levels there.

Given that these locations have a higher probability of being home to underprivileged, and the U.S. Black population tends to be concentrated in larger cities, and has a higher ratio of underprivileged, is it possible that much of the significantly higher levels of violence in the Black community could be attributed to lead poisoning?

Stretching deeper into hypothetical territory – African Americans have a substantially higher rate of sickle cell anemia. (

what if there is a correlative genetic component which makes one more sensitive to the effects of lead toxicity?

All hypothetical, yes, and increasingly so at the end, but what if?

What if the disparity in violence between the black population and other populations in the U.S. could be drastically reduced by simply eliminating the lead paint, the lead plumbing, any other sources of lead from the geography?

Is keeping the focus and resources on “Racism” (more specifically White racism) diverting resources and attention from other, potentially more effective approaches to the problem (environment, poverty, culture, ...) ?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pornography, Addiction, Depression and Science

I've seen quite a few conversations recently around the link between pornography addiction and depression. There have been quite a few articles on the subject in the past few years, and recently there seems to have been an uptick in conversation.

The articles all talk about scientific studies, but rarely give references.That is fairly typical; most people don't want to wade through scientific studies, and often the studies are not available for free, public consumption. Price to access such studies can run into the hundreds of dollars.

I did find this study from 1998. It seems to be reasonably sound, albeit short. The methods are well documented, and they do a good job of summarizing the results without bias.

The articles are often very good, very well thought out, and make very compelling, and logically reasonable arguments (I though this one was particularly compelling).

But they are ultimately opinion pieces, and they are interpreting the data the way they choose. Nearly every article I have read seems to be interpreting in the same way. The directly or indirectly implied assertion of the articles is that Pornography addiction leads to depression.

This concerns me. It concerns me because the general public may take this assertion as proven, scientific truth, when it isn't. It is certainly one way to interpret the data, but it is not the only way.

From the study I referenced, the following quote is critical (emphasis added):

"Based on the findings, it is concluded that evaluation of suspected cases of PIU [pathological internet use] should include assessment for depression. These results, however, do not clearly indicate whether depression preceded the development of such Internet abuse or if it was a consequence."

In other words, while it is POSSIBLE that Pornography addiction causes depression....

It is EQUALLY POSSIBLE that depression causes a predisposition to addiction (not just addiction to pornography but any and all addictive/compulsive behaviors).

Most articles I am seeing only consider the former, and not the latter possibility. This is concerning, as it can lead to blaming the victim. There is a commonly repeated theme - perhaps more frequently in America, that we are solely responsible for our destinies. That thought, infused with pride, tends to lead to a converse thought that others are solely to blame for their misfortunes. "They are the just punishments for their sins", either in this life or the life previous. The oversimplification of the phrase "You reap what you sow" ignores life's, floods, firestorms, hurricanes, droughts... It discounts the impact of genetics, environment, and the effects of social interaction for good or ill.

My own theory, I suspect that depression and addiction work together in a feedback cycle. each increasing the effects of the other. I'd even go so far as to suggest that a long-term addiction could effect a genetic change, increasing the probability of a predisposition in offspring. And thus the key is to work up, rather than down the spiral.

What would change by recognizing both possibilities equally?

Treatment for addiction probably wouldn't change all that much. Perhaps a little more attention to possible links to - and treatment for depression might arise,

But there might be a greater degree of compassion for those who suffer from addictions, if we recognized the genetic predisposition. We might also be able to develop means to identify those genetically predisposed to addiction, and better prepare them in advance to avoid becoming trapped in addictive behaviors. Perhaps also, we as a society would be more willing to make potentially addictive substances less overtly available, if we understood how we were negatively effecting those individuals.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Netscape, Vmware, Microsoft and The Propellerheads ft. Shirley Bassey

Anytime I think about history repeating, I think about The Propellerheads and Shirley Bassey. So, here's your random song for the day.

But setting aside the word association...

Sometime right around 1980, a Fine, upstanding British chap by the name of Tim Berners-Lee proposed a project to create a Hypertext system to facilitate the sharing and updating of information among researchers.

In 1989-1990, Tim connected his hypertext idea to TCP (port 80)  and DNS, and the World Wide Web was born.

A few years after that the public began to connect to what had been a military and education network. Near the end of 1994 Netscape- the first commercial, Internet Hypertext Browser (Or Web Browser), was available for sale. Websites began popping up all over the place. Initially there were informative and educational websites, later commercial sites appeared, and the world wide web exploded. Think were looking good for Netscape.

In 1995 Bill Gates weighed in on the internet, calling it "...a passing fad that will go the way of the BBS".  Around this same time Netscape stated one of its goals was to "level the playing field" among operating systems (in other words, people would do most everything in their web browser, which would run on any operating system, breaking the dependency on Microsoft Windows operating system.

That got Microsoft's attention.

Microsoft scrambled to put together their own web browser, "Internet Explorer", which they originally included as part of "Windows 95 Plus!". It was awful, it was buggy, it was unreliable....

It was free.

(There are also allegations that Microsoft approached Netscape with an Offer to divide the market, which Netscape refused. Microsoft of course denies these allegations)

By 1997 Netscape was in trouble. People were getting a "Free" web browser with their "Free" operating system that came with their computer (let me just point out that nothing is free. You paid for Internet explorer. The cost was just hidden in the operating system cost, which was hidden in the computer purchase cost). Why shell out and additional $30-60 for Netscape? Internet Explorer (IE) was still fairly awful, but the reduction of funds was starting to have an effect onthe quality of Netscape's product, which was increasingly buggy.

What's more, Microsoft had introduced "Active Server Pages", a proprietary extension to HTML, which only worked in IE, and on Microsoft operating systems. It ultimately fizzled and is now largely a relic of the past, but it did help shore up the Microsoft monopoly at the time.

A handful of years later and not many remember Netscape. The code still exists, spun of as the Mozilla Project - a nonprofit (? They get over $300 million a year from Google to make the default search page. Seems a fine line to me. of course That is 85% of their revenue, and google has Chrome, so Google could conceivably pull the plug at ay time, and then what happens?).

Now this all seems very unjust and anti-competition, and you'd think the world governments would have done something about it. They did. there were antitrust lawsuits and the like. But they happened to late, took to long to resolve. Netscape was long dead before anything came of it. So all that really came of it was a few lawyers and politicians made some money and garnered some press. Too little too late.

Flash forward to today. VMware has been the star of the next big thing. Virtualization and cloud computing. They have a workstation product, which users can run on home PC's which allows them to have multiple operating systems available from one computer. And they have the Suite of Server products, which allows computer hardware to be treated as a utility.

Now they are putting visualization on phones. as well, On a single physical phone, you can have your personal phone, and your company phone, each separate and protected from each other. The company get's better security, for their data, and you get to to keep control of your phone, and your data. cool stuff.

Microsoft - who for the past few years seems to have been playing nice- got into virtualization rather late in the game. they have been scrambling to catch up. They still have a long way to go.


They recently, quietly announced their next workstation operating system release will include their virtualization platform. For "free" (It was already included in premium versions, Since Vista I believe). Their server virtualization system is also freely included with server operating system.

Sounds suspiciously like history repeating. Will VMware be the next Netscape?

Friday, October 10, 2014

An Open Letter to Mud Lake and Terreton, Idaho

I am a decade-plus late writing this....

Some time in the early to mid 1990's  - At Thanksgiving, I was driving from Logan to Salmon, in the first car I ever purchased. It was an ancient Nissan 200sx, which I paid around $1500 for. Sometime shortly after passing Idaho Falls, the Engine stuttered, then stalled. I pulled over, unsure what I should do. I tried unsuccessfully to get the car started again. Then I sat in my cold vehicle, watching other cars pass by, wondering if someone would notice my plight, and contact the police to assist me.

I sat for probably 20, 30 minutes. Feeling just a wee bit stressed out, when a passing pickup truck pulled to the side, then backed up to me. Out of the cabin climbed 3 young men - I would guess they were 14 to 16 years old. They were genuine country boys. They came over to my car asked me how I was doing, then set to work trying to solve my car problem. I learned they were from Mud lake Ultimately their efforts were unsuccessful, so one of them jumped into the back of the pickup to make room for me, and they drove me into Idaho Falls, to a shopping center, where I would at least have access to a phone and food.

Roughly ten years later, My brother and I were driving to Salmon with some friends over Christmas break, I don't recall now if it was in Mud lake, or Terreton, that my Brothers card sputtered to a stop. So here we were in the the dark, around 6 or 7 pm, trying to decide what to do. Once again, a pickup truck, with three teenage farm boys pulled to a stop, and went to work trying to solve our car trouble. Once again, they were unsuccessful, so they helped us get the car to a safe spot for the night, made a recommendation for a garage to take it to in the morning, and made sure we were safely on our way, all crammed tightly into my little car.

So ten years later, I wanted to say thanks to the people of Mud Lake and Terreton. Thank you for raising exceptional young men, who were willing to come to the aid of stranded drivers, and who went the extra mile to make sure we were safe, and that our basic needs were met.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Home Canned Spaghetti Sauce

I've been experimenting... This is the current iteration...

We grew the tomatoes, and garlic, could have saved a bit more on cost by growing the herbs, carrots, peppers and celery as well without too much trouble. My cost estimation came in at about $2.00 a quart - cheaper then the expensive stuff at the store, not as cheap as the cheap stuff. That did include cost of Jars, so over the years that cost could drop to as low as $1.25 a quart, which is fairly competitive. Chemical free too...

25 lb tomatoes
1/2 cup oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 Stalk Celery, minced
1-2 Carrots, minced
4 yellow onions, chopped
1C Red Wine Vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup salt
4T Dried Oregano
2T Dried Parsley
2T Dried Basil
2t crushed red pepper flakes
2t Worcestershire sauce
2 Bay leaves
1/2 t Black Pepper
1C lemon Juice
6x 8oz cans tomato paste
3 Green Bell Peppers, Seeded, Chopped


1.  Select and set aside eight nice looking, firm tomatoes. Peel, and juice the rest of the tomatoes, pour into a large stock pot. (I got about 12 quarts of sauce), on low heat (just enough to bring it to a slow bubble.

2. Heat Oil in a frying Pan. over medium to medium high-heat. Add Minced garlic, celery, and carrots, and Chopped Onions. Cook well (you want brown bits on the bottom of the pan). Deglaze the pan with the Red Wine vinegar and add to Stock pot.

3. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT for the Tomato Paste and the Bell Peppers. Let that bubble over low heat for an hour or more.

4. Thicken with tomato paste.

5. Remove the Bay leaves, and add the chopped bell peppers. Dice and add the eight reserved tomatoes.

6. Pour into Sterile canning Jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Lid and process. Appropriately. (I used a water bath canner, and processes quart Jars for 40 min).

When ready to serve, add cooked meat, mushrooms, etc.. and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Feminism, Racism, Women Drivers and Pollution Control

A few days ago, we were driving from Logan to Lagoon. At one point a car went bombing pat me like a crazy- I am guessing 15-20 over the speed limit, and weaving through traffic. I noticed the driver was female, and quite unconsciously said to myself. "Yep, another crazy female driver". I immediately began cataloging the many times I had in experienced rude, selfish , inconsiderate drivers who completely disregarded the law and the safety of others- nearly all were female.

Then my nerdy, logical, critical thinking persona kicked in. "Really?" it said. "Is that really true?". So I paid close attention for the next several minutes to every reckless, self-absorbed driver. More men than women. Now with critical thinker in full swing, I still could not draw any conclusions, because I was also aware that there were more men driving, and I had no idea what the normalized ratios were.
(if there were 2 crazy men for every 1 crazy woman, and as many male drivers as female drivers, then the normalized ratio is 2:1, therefore more men are crazy drivers, if however there were 4 times as many male drivers as female drivers, then the normalized ratio is 1:2 and more women are crazy drivers. See how that works?)

But it did give me a moments pause.Why was it that I remembered mostly bad women drivers? Why did I unconsciously see, bad female drivers? I had heard a few jokes about women drivers growing up, but enough to so completely condition me? Decades later? No, I don't think it is that simple. While that "humor" may have help construct the Filter initially, something was still reinforcing that filter.

Yesterday, I saw a blurb about Emma Watson speaking before the UN regarding a "#heforshe" campaign, and as I read it, I had an epiphany of sorts, An observation occurred to me. That movements like Feminism, Black pride, and so forth, no matter how good their intentions may be, they are in fact a part of the problem, rather than the solution. You see the very names they give these movements, organizations, inherently (unintentionally I am sure, but nonetheless) invoke, "us vs. them". You see you are measuring equality compared to ... what? Women's rights compared to men's rights. Black rights compared to white rights. It is inherent in the very name of the organization. And that alone creates a filter. If you are in favor of a particular "female equality movement", or "<insert  race > equality movement" you tend to notice all of the injustices, and are quite blind to all the evidence which suggests otherwise. If you are on the other side of the debate, you easily recall statistics showing that female executives earn more than their comparable male counterparts, but seem oblivious to many atrocities committed against women worldwide.

And speaking of statistics. Both sides of the argument have their very own sets of numbers, and arsenal of anecdotes, and both sides are quite confident that the other sides numbers are inaccurate or even fallacious, and that anecdotal ratios are 100:1, 1000:1 or even greater in their favor.

Us vs. them. The filters are firmly in place. Just why is it that we are worried about violence against women? And how it compares to violence against men? Aren't they both equally bad? Shouldn't we be working to eliminate violence, period? How messed up are we that we instead invest our time in keeping tallies?

I remember hearing in the news when Obama was elected, that is was a great stride forward, a victory for racial equality.I remember thinking "No it isn't. If anything, it is a step backward." the very act of the media calling attention to his race was the evidence of that. It would only have been a victory, if no one had taken notice of his race.

Think it isn't relevant? Think that we "Have to do something?" That was the argument that was used to push emissions legislation through in Utah recently - legislation which will cost millions to implement, and which will - according to the numbers gathered by those in favor of the legislation - do almost nothing. It will make a less than 1% difference in the pollution problem. Millions for a less than one percent gain. Money that could have been used to feed countless families, or invested in R&D to find a real, practical solution the problem. But no. With filters firmly in place, we forged ahead, driven by our emotions and  our anecdotes. Sometimes, maybe it is better to Do nothing now, than to Do something stupid now.

So here's an idea, instead of pledging to seek fairness for <insert race, gender, religion, etc...>, how about we pledge to be nice to everyone, and support and defend any individual who is being mistreated, without worrying about their gender, race, skin color, religion, or shoe size?


"Charity is .... resisting the impulse to categorize others."
   -Thomas S. Monson

Monday, August 18, 2014

Eliminating the disabled.

This post could be considered a follow-up to my previous post, but in fact this one has been on my mind for years.

There are all kinds of disabled people in this world: blind, deaf, paraplegic, quadriplegic, down's syndrome, autism, anxiety disorders.... We generically tend to lump them under general terms, like disabled or handicapped.

Actually, those terms have fallen out of grace in recent years. In fact I heard a woman on the radio talking about the need to eliminate the term "handicapped" from parking slots at stores due to bad connotations, and instead "use something like... special, or reserved..."

The Germans had a different term around the time of Hitlers rise to power: "Nutlos Esser" or "Useless Eaters", though it wasn't actually their idea, the concept actually may have originated in the United States. John Harvey Kellogg (of Kellog's cornflakes fame) was a great champion of eugenics in the US. (Though it predates him as well, bits of it show up in the writings of Karl Marx. Ideas were also borrowed from Darwin, and even earlier, Plato and others.

The Philosophy which Kellogg championed, was that humans, as the top of the food chain, had no natural predators, and thus must be self-responsible for the "culling of the herd" to eliminate the genetically weak, or inferior. If not, they would continue to breed, diluting the evolutionary advantage of humans, and from an economic standpoint, the healthy and "normal" individuals of society wold be overburdened with the cost of caring for the sick, the diseased... the inferior. Mr. Kellogg's solution was mandatory sterilization of inferior people. Take away the ability to pass on inferior genes and they will simply... die out. Hitler liked the idea, and took the the next logical step. If these people are a burden on society, simply eliminate them from the outset, so that the world's resources won't be wasted on them, and will instead be used to accelerate the evolution of the genetically superior. The end result being stronger, smarter people, more wealth, less poverty, more health, less illness...

Now the one point they had right was the fact that, if the population of "disabled" grows too large, the burden to care for them will overwhelm the rest of the population which will inevitably lead to collapse. There are practical limits to how many people one person can provide food, clothing and shelter for.

But they had the entirely wrong idea as to how to eliminate the "disabled"

I think there is a much better approach. Here are the crucial steps:

1. Stop the "warm fuzzy talk" and use correct labels. Terms like "special" are useless. "Handicapped" is equally useless, slightly better if properly prefixed (physically, mentally). Blind would be better still, as it gets closer to an accurate description of a specific challenge a specific person faces. can you imagine expecting a doctor to correctly treat you after being told only that you had a case of "sick"?

You want a label for the parking stalls? how about "Mobility Impaired"? That's the point of  those spots isn't it? A place close to the front door, with few impediments, to facilitate those who find getting around a greater than normal challenge?

And don't let the ignorant take words away. retard is a valid word with a valid, useful meaning ("verb - delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment."), just because some moron misuses it, doesn't mean we should stop using it appropriately. Keep dropping misused words from the language, and in time there will be no words left.

2. Acknowledge the challenges/weaknesses - Everyone has strengths. Everyone has weaknesses. It is stupid to pretend otherwise, and even dumber to overstate a weakness. A person with no legs is not likely to excel in professional soccer. That doesn't mean he can't be a good swimmer, or motivational speaker (Google Nick Vujicic).

3.Identify Strengths - we spend too much time focusing on what a person with disability "x" can't do. Why not focus on what they are able to excel at instead? The blind often have sharpened hearing, With autism, there are a number of specialized skills which often emerge, musically, computationally... I have a nephew who has hydrocephalus. He has a sharp mind for faces, and an enormous positivity, and kindness. When I watch him interact with others, I often find myself thinking that what is holding him back from doing more in this life is our inability to communicate with him. I think he has a great deal of sage advice he could share with the world, if only we could understand what he is trying to tell us.

3. Change the environment - In some cases perhaps the only thing holding a person back is the way we have constructed the world. Justin Sewell is attributed with saying “TEAMWORK: A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.” One of those human nature things- we people get together and build societies, and when we do we tend to shape them in our own image. It is a reasonable thing to do, but all to often, we overdo it. We expect everyone to be "just like us", to think "just like us". What we call normal, may only be normal in our mind. Example: Roughly half the human population is lactose intolerant, so which then is "normal", the ability to digest milk, or the inability? I think British people have an accent, they think I have an accent, so which one of us speaks "normally"? roughly one of every 5 youth is diagnosed as ADHD. One of five. Twenty percent. Is it really a disorder, or just a different "normal"?

Instead of expecting everyone to accommodate us all the time, perhaps we need to learn to be more accommodating of them. One example of success in this area is specialisterne, a company that specializes in contracting and placing autistic employees. They have taken the time to understand their employees, and they have adapted the workplace and job selection to the specific talents and challenges their employees face. An entire class of "useless eaters" are now productive participants, as a result.

And that ultimately is the way to eliminate the disabled. Understand them, accommodate them where possible, and give them the means to be self-reliant and successful. Don't limit them.

We humans are uniquely able to engineer the means to enable our success, to alter our very environment if need be. We use that ability daily to enable us to live in environments whose conditions exceed the significant limitations of our rather frail bodies. We can do the same thing for these, so-called disabled, and in doing so, we can remove the disability. No longer charity cases, no longer "useless eaters", no longer dependent on the good will of others, or the strength of the economy, because they are themselves contributors to, drivers of economic success.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mental Health: Is it really a disorder/illness?

I was just listening to a radio program, talking about mental health, and the need to have a "real conversation" about mental illness.

They of course talked about the usual suspects. Dealing with the stigma of mental illness, recognizing that mental illnesses are as real as other illnesses, handicaps, etc...

I had a thought though, which I have never heard addressed: What if some of these disorders, aren't actually disorders? What if some/many of these disorders are only disorders because we as a society have overly-restricted the definition of  "normal"?

Take ADD/ADHD as an example: This country, I would argue, only exists because of ADD/ADHD. It would take a person with ADD characteristics to overlook the enormous risks and potential consequences, abandon all they had, and cross thousands of miles of ocean to come to  an unknown, wild land and try to build a new life from nothing! And it would take an ADD brain to survive some of the events the early settlers experienced.

What if many of these people are in fact perfectly healthy, normal people, who are struggling, suffering because society has allowed a few nut-jobs to incorrectly define "normal"?

What if there is a simple way to "fix" them, not by medicating them, but by accommodating them?

Autism is one case where this is starting to happen. What about other "disorders"?

What if many of these shooting tragedies suicides, etc... could be prevented by changing the conversation from disorder/illness and treatment to understanding the different characteristics/qualities of people, and adjusting our society to accommodate them?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Modern Disease and Mobility

Random thought of the day:

I have hear a fair amount of speculation regarding the causes of modern diseases (including cancers and various autoimmune disorders), Some of the more popular theories I have read tie it to diet, or to the increased use of chemicals, pesticides, etc.. (one more recent theory I mentioned in a previous post suggest a link between 1st world poverty and modern disease).

Of course, some of these seem unlikely, because the timelines don't really fit. For instance the assertion that the introduction of Grains, or the agricultural diet is the cause. The modern disease timeline goes back hundred of years, agricultural diet goes back thousands. The processed foods, or pesticides argument is closer, though there are still some holes in the correlation.

But I just had a random thought this afternoon. What about modern mobility? We have, and take advantage of an increasing ability to traverse in large numbers over vast distances. A simplistic but supporting example:

It has been reported that small, isolated groups tend to have less disease. a family, living in complete isolaion, for instance. However, if they come in contact with other groups, they tend to have low resistance the bacteria and virii those visitors are carrying with them. This was considered to be a major contributor to the decimation of native american populations when Europeans arrived in the new land. Native Americans lived primarily in smaller tribal groups, with relative isolation, and limited travel. Their immune systems weren't prepared for the disease the white man brought from Europe.

But if that were the case, why then were the pilgrims not equally decimate by Native american diseases? Much of it may be explained by the points in this article- in short the introduction of rats (specifically the black rat) and fleas as carriers/transmitters, and comparatively poor hygiene of native american populations (respecting soil, water and food).

But what if there is something else that plays in as well? What if there is a (complicated) equation which can be derived, relating...

Population Size
Population Mobility
Range of Mobility
Viral and/or bacterial interactions relating to population, distance, and time

vs. rate of adaptability of the human immune system?

(Yeah, probably some multi-variable calculus involved in that).

What if, with our increasing ability to traverse increasingly large distances, in increasingly shorter times, we have created an environment in which our immune systems simply can't evolve fast enough to keep up with the intermingling and evolution of bacterial and viral strains?

That was my random thought for the day.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dog Stew

I made a dozen red currant and blueberry oatmeal muffins last night, thinking they would make a great breakfast. I tried one. It was delicious! Then my kids called from California. The phone was wigging out, so I ran downstairs to use my office phone. When the call was over, I went upstairs to resume looking for something to store the muffins in.

Only there were no muffins to store. Just a grinning dog, lying on her back attempting to look cute.

I told my boss about it at work, the next day and suggested that I might be considering dog stew for dinner tonight. He didn't seem to think that would taste as good as the muffins.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What if it isn't true?

I was asked this question by a friend, when I was in College. My first year in college, I had been back from my Mission for... maybe 6 months. I think it came up in part because he had been proselyted by a group of religious atheists - I have always found that aspect of Atheism a bit humorous. They eschew religion while being a religion themselves - In the sense that a religion is an organized collection of beliefs, or world views relating to humanity, and providing some sort of structure. I am not referring to atheists in general, but rather that group of zealous atheists who preach with conviction that science has proven the non-existence of God. Science can neither prove, nor disprove the existence of God at the present time, nor is it likely to be able to in the foreseeable future. You may be able to make a case regarding certain qualities of an intelligent being, but not dis/prove one.

But back to the question. "What if it isn't true?" At the time I was grossly incapable of answering the question. Fresh from a mission, I was still positively brimming with missionary-ness. I could not even comprehend "It" not being true. I have matured somewhat in the ensuing years (probably not much), and thought I would take a stab at answering that question now.

So, what if it isn't true? What if there is no God? What if all those we have been following over the years, believing they were "men of God" were all part of an elaborate conspiracy, or more likely (applying Hanlon's Razor), were men with an incredible abundance of imagination, and an incredible lack of ability to distinguish between fact and fancy? Well, then I have part of an enormous fraud, which has been perpetuated through millenia. I have been giving up 10% percent of my income, untold hours of my time - I've been following a bunch of rules and guideline's - all for no reason.

But what does that really mean for me? Ignoring the human frailties which are part of any organization run by humans, whether founded by a divine being or no, what are the actually fundamental implications of my devotion to this fraud? What are the actually tenets and objectives which the Church itself - not individuals within the church - has attempted to instill in me?

At the core, it is all about aspiring to something greater.  The most fundamental, core doctrines are love, and personal accountability.  Seriously, take some time to pick it all apart, lay it out, and look at the big picture, recognize the influence of stupid, which is part of all human endeavor and distill the core meaning. It is all about taking responsibility for my actions, accepting my faults, and seeking to overcome them, it is about not blaming others but recognizing that I am responsible for me. And then, in what seems to be a contradiction of the former, it is about recognizing the influence which I have on others. About understanding that what I do can influence others, can shape others. And because of this core belief that we are the offspring of a deity, Those "others" are literally my brothers and sisters. All children of a Loving God and all therefore of infinite worth to him. If that is the case, then why would I not do all in my power to help them to achieve their full potential?

Putting that in simple, temporal terms, If I have a dear friend, who I know is a recovering alcoholic, am I going to pressure him to go to the Bar with me? NO! To do so, to put my friend at risk of Jail, of Death... it would be unconscionable! So in that same vein, if all around me are my brothers and sisters, it makes sense that I should do what I am able to help them to be happy, healthy... the best they can be.

And that is the core of what I have belonged to. The gospel of Jesus Christ fundamentally is about improving myself, being responsible for myself, avoiding things which could lead to addictions, and embracing things which improve my knowledge, health, happiness and overall well-being, and helping others as best I can, or at the very least, not being a roadblock to their improvement.

So, I try to avoid things which are harmful for my physical body, I try to eat good food, get sufficient sleep (I said try), I try to treat other with respect, to keep my anger and selfishness and pride in check. I give money and time to my church, to build church building where people can gather together to fast and pray together, to share messages of hope and faith with one another, to inspire each other and "bear one anothers burdens". I give money to my church to help build schools, to help provide resources to those who have fallen on hard times; see to their immediate needs and help them get back on their feet.

I have invested considerable time in an organization which has encouraged me to follow the example of one who spent his life seeking to help, to heal, to lift, and to love.

What if it isn't true? What I have gained far exceeds what I have lost.

What if it is true?

A Musing on the Book of Abraham

This post is a specific response to a thread which started on facebook, as a result of this post by the LDS church regarding the Book of Abraham, a portion of LDS scripture known as the Pearl of Great Price, and this subsequent article by the Salt Lake Tribune. The SLTrib article rubbed me the wrong way, due to it's rather sensationalist feel but lack of any real substance, and due to the fact that they didn't bother to reference the original article they were writing about (what can I say working fro 8am to 2am for a week had me in a cranky mood).

At any rate, a recurring question appeared around the pictographs contained in the Book of Abraham (which can be found here). The question in essence being, since these pictures are common pictures found in Egyptian Funerary texts (Known as the Book of Breathings or the Book of the Dead, and since present day scholars (and presumably scholars in Joseph Smith's time, given that the debate over the veracity of the Book of Abraham goes back to the early 1800's), does this not at the very least discredit the Book of Abraham, as a literal translation, and possibly even exposes Joseph Smith as a fraud?

First let me wade through a few points I already discussed for the sake of completeness. I am not aware that the Church at any time has taught as doctrine that the scriptures are a literal translation. The Joseph smith was relatively uneducated, seems to suggest that they were not literal translations.

Let me also for completeness include the definition of a literal translation as one which is a word-for-word rendering in another language, and point out that literal translations are frequently not useful, as a word-for-word translation fails to convey the correct culture, and often ideas or meanings the author intended. And since some scripture is poetic in nature, it is often necessary to translate non-literally in order to maintain the flow, which can be just as important as the words in presenting the intended meaning.

I would further point out that this makes accurate translation a very tricky business, since it is meaning which is most important (spend a little time at song and you will get an idea what I mean. just one example is Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, it is interpreted as everything from dealing with depression (the most likely, given that author of the song said it was this) to drug use, to a promotion of new age religion).

So, that out of the way, let me come back to the facsimiles. First, since the recovered portion of the scrolls from which the Book of Abraham is said to have been translated represents roughly 12% of the entirety of the scrolls, what we have represents no real proof of anything. Insufficient data.

But that aside, and based on what little information we actually do have, let me propose one alternative which fits.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to become acquainted with a man who was a Freemason, of relatively high rank - I do not recall the title now. In our conversations, he shared with me some details of the Freemason ceremonies. While not wishing to divulge detail around what he shared, as it is considered secret/sacred. I will say that I found a curious number of similarities between it, and certain ceremonies performed in LDS temples, including specific clothing, hand shakes, hand gestures...

In fact some have claimed the Joseph was  Freemason and that he borrowed from their ceremonies to create the temple ceremony. But where did the Freemasons come by it? There history, as explained to me traces it back to one of three origins. The first is that it was an organization of craftsmen founded in the middle ages. This is based on the earliest known documents related to the Freemasons.

Freemason tradition however points to an earlier source. Many indicate that its origins are tied to the Temple of Solomon, where workers who constructed the temple gleaned the rituals of Solomon's temple. Others however indicate that it predates Solomon's temple, and in fact traces back to Egypt. In either of these cases, the constant is that it was tied to, or gleaned from ancient Israel (referring to the progeny of Jacob, Son of Isaac, son of Abraham).

Now, going to Jacob and moving forward: Bible history says that Jacob had a Son, Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt, and then rose to power, as the Pharoah's right hand man. This was accomplished through Joseph's interpretation of a dream which Pharoah had, predicting a seven year period of abundance, followed by a seven year famine. this foreknowledge allowed Pharoah the opportunity to prepare for the famine during the prosperous years. These events culminated in Jacob and his family migrating to Egypt and reuniting with Joseph.

Now consider: This event would have made the Pharoah quite prosperous. It is reasonable to assume that, at that point, Joseph, and by association Joseph's family - were held in relatively high regard by the Pharoah, and those around him.It is also reasonable to assume that Joseph, being devoutly religious shared his religious views and history with Pharoah and others within his circle of influence.

So then, is it possible that the book of the Dead, an Egyptian text, did in fact originate, or at the very least was influenced by Joseph, and his Family? I have a friend who had the opportunity to see parts of a Book of Breathings on display in the Musee du Louvre. I have not had the opportunity to personally  study the book of the dead, or its translation, so I am trusting my friend at his word, but his description of the Book of the dead  and translation offered included parts which again bore striking resemblance to portions of the Masonic ceremonies, and LDS temple ceremonies.

As such, it seems  possible that the Book of the dead may have in fact been influenced by Abraham's progeny. It seems possible that portions of Abraham's writings may have found there way into Egyptian texts.

I don't offer this as fact, I have never heard anyone else pose this theory, this scenario is entirely my own creation. It is not offered to prove or disprove any point in particular, only to point out that there are other alternatives to the extremes being offered by the media, the religiously or intellectually overzealous on either side of the debate.

It goes back to a point I have made before, that we humans are not nearly as smart as we think we are. We are incredibly bad at keeping an unbiased view, and are therefore quite often blinded to many possible scenarios which fit the limited data we have to work with. Frequently I hear arguments that "God doesn't exist because (insert fact) is a contradiction". Well, no. (fact) doesn't disprove the existence of an intelligent being, it only calls into question certain assumptions about the characteristic of said being.

We assume too much and understand too little. We all too often place on a pedestal, and blindly accept as infallible, "prophets" of either a spiritual or intellectual nature. And where one worships, another seeks to dethrone by exposing their malice. We would be much better served by a general tendency to trust, respect and the liberal application of Hanlan's razor ("Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance or incompetence").

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Using the Law to Push a Moral Agenda

I have heard this phrase several time recently, and have had some thoughts rattling around. I thought I would give them some place else to rattle.

Warning - This is very likely to be offensive, Dark, and Disturbing.
Yeah, we should totally get rid of all the laws on the books that are there merely to push some group's moral agenda.

Let's start with drugs and alcohol. What is it with age limits? Why can a 21 year old have a beer, but a 19 year old can't? Most of the rest of the world has a lower age limit; some have no limit. Clearly there is nothing universal about it. And why do I have to get a note from a doctor to get prescription meds? The drug store has it for sale, I have money, and a need. Why does the government get involved in the middle? Who am I hurting (other than possibly myself) if I take a little codeine every night, to help me sleep? If I want to do heroin in my house, and I can afford it, who are you to tell me I can't?

Now about theft. Is stealing really wrong? You say so, but that is just your moral opinion. There have been cultures which celebrated, even revered thieves. Isn't robin hood considered a hero to most? It's human nature to take what we want. Look at little babies. They see something, they want it, they take it.

What about rape? I understand they have found a gene that makes some people prone to this behavior. We have accepted the gay gene, why not the rape gene? Why does it get treated differently?

And again with age or relation limitations - with respect to sexual behavior. The rest of the planets animals don't seem to care. I've raised chickens long enough to know the rooster doesn't treat mom, sister or child any differently than any other hen. We throw the term "Pedophile" around. Why not pedo-sexual? It has a genetic marker as well, so it is apparently a natural phenomenon.

And so many laws regarding killing... Let's be honest. killing is as natural as it gets. In fact it serves several beneficial purposes. The stronger, faster, smarter, creatures prey upon the slower, weaker, dumber creatures. It serves to improve the overall genetic quality of the survivors, it serves to control the population size... Death is part of a healthy ecosystem. And by artificially preventing death, we allow inferior humans to propagate their inferior genes. It is a necessary function of evolution.

And let's face it, we humans do take to it quite readily. When in all of history has there NOT been at least one war going on somewhere? When we aren't at war, we involve ourselves in the wars of others. If that option isn't available to us, we come up with other ways to engage in conflict. We create gangs. We divide into conflicting groups over almost anything, and then push the boundaries of violence in spite of all the laws put in place to restrain our natural urge. Why just last week a woman at a gathering that was all about peace and love and taking care of the environment stabbed a man who asked her to stop honking her horn like a crazy for 30 minutes.

And if we can't participate in war or burgeoning violence we spectate violence. Football, WWF, MMA, Boxing... We yearn for the conflict, we chafe at the laws which suppress our instinct to kill. Even the old sports - running, javelin, shot put, wrestling.... They were just ways for warriors to practice, and stay conditioned for the next war.

Some of course will try to argue that "God said..." Which God? Mars is the God of war, I don't think he cares. You mean the Old Testament God who arbitrarily gave commands to one nation of people to entirely wipe out another nation?
If you find yourself agreeing with any of the above, get your head checked. Please.

ALL laws are "someone Pushing some moral agenda". Life is precious because we as a group collectively decided it was so, or because we as a people collectively believe in a God or gods who have "told us" it is so. Drugs are regulated because we collectively have decided that they must be regulated in order to protect the young, the less fortunate, the less educated, the innocent bystander, or those more prone to addiction. Theft is wrong because we, or our deity of choice said so. Families are supposed to look act and function in certain ways because we believe it benefits us as a collective group, or because that is our religious doctrine.

Regardless of where the line is drawn, unless you live under the rule of a dictator, or tyrannical regime, the line is drawn where the group chose to draw it. Yes, they "pushed their morals" in exactly the same way that you are trying to "push your morals".

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bishop Skinner

Many years ago, while in Florida for two years as an LDS misisonary, I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with a man I know as Bishop Skinner. We was the Bishop of the LDS Ward in St Petersburg. I can't seem to recall his first name, or the names of his wife and children (names have always been a struggle for me, so no surprise, really). I remember him as a quiet, sof-spoken, thoughtful, humble man, I remember he was in the Air Force - Colonel I believe. I remember his wife and kids were adorable, sweet, kind... Just plain pleasant folk to be around.

But what I really remember about his were three specific encounters.

The first was a time when I and my mission companion approached him to suggest a change to one of the Sunday school instructors. He was prone to incoherent rambling at times, and we pointed this out to Bishop Skinner, the bishop responded immediately by pointing out several of the mans better qualities, and that  was the end of the conversation. I left feeling rather unfulfilled.

The next event was a couple months later. His family had invited us for dinner. I was aware of an interaction he had recently had with a rather abrasive, individual who had been somewhat verbally abusive to Bishop Skinner. I knew the individual, and so had made a snarky comment about the person, by way of sympathy for Bishop Skinner's mistreatment. Without pause, Bishop Skinner responded with a few positive comments about the individual. I was completely puzzled. No smile no smirk, nod agreeing nod.

Two years later I encountered Bishop Skinner and his family again. I was no longer a missionary, he was no longer a Bishop, we were n longer in Florida. Conversation came around to this individual again, and again I made a snide comment, not terribly vicious, but certainly not one which could be confused as praise. Again, without hesitation, Bishop Skinner, responded by listing a few positive qualities that individual had.

It was then that it finally occurred to me: This was a compulsion for him; an automatic response. Any negative was immediately, unconsciously countered by a positive.

I wonder how long it took him to develop that compulsion; to go from an active effort to a habit to an uncontrolled response.

The world could use more Bishop Skinners.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Regrets 4: I regret not using a planner more consistently/effectively

While serving a mission for the LDS church, I was introduced to the idea of a planner. They had little weekly planner sheets, which were used to schedule out the weeks activities. Nothing very sophisticated, but it helped make sure our time was filled, and that we didn't miss appointments we had made.

After using these for a few months, I was introduced to the Franklin Day planner. It was a much more sophisticated planning system, which used a combination of daily and monthly planning sheets, couple with a goal setting system which was designed around identifying your personal values and then using those to establish long term, intermediate and short range goals. The idea being:

  • values generate long term goals
  • long term goals get subdivided into intermediate goals
  • intermediate goals are further subdivided into short-term goals
  • short term goals generate monthly objectives
  • monthly objectives create daily tasks

It is a pretty good system, really, and has been further refined by merging the Franklin System, with Stephen R. Coveys "7 habits..." principles.

I tried to use that planner effectively, but I ran into a couple problems:

1. It didn't quite fit me - my paradigm. Something about it always felt a bit... business oriented. I'm not saying that's bad, just not... me.

2. When I would pack that planner around with me, I felt self conscious. People would frequently joke about, and those that didn't use it for a chuckle, always seemed to be... condescending? Like they were chuckling inside but trying to humor me.

So, I never did really get a system worked out for me, I never really used it effectively, and it mostly sat on a shelf, only occasionally getting an entry or two. Much later, I even started fiddling around with building my own system - something that fit my geek/engineer/computer scientist/hacker brain (I don't mean hacker as in computer criminal. I mean hacker in one of the earlier, more positive sense, as in someone who constantly fiddles with a thing, trying  better understand it, or to find a creative, new or improved use for it). I even considered compiling my ideas into a book.

But again, I didn't do a very good job with it - I got the skeletal framework built, but then I sort of gave up again, due to feeling self-conscious, and due to just plain struggling to get in the habit (They say it takes 10,000 hours of focused, effective effort to master a skill. I would argue that just like Basketball, Gymnastics, etc... Planning is a skill, and a habit which is acquired only through diligent, persistent training).

Now as I stop occasionally and take inventory, I find a good many things that I want to do- wanted to have done, that I am nowhere close to accomplishing. Things that were entirely within my reach, had I not let myself get distracted by less important things.

It is very easy for me to get distracted. My mom used to refer to me as the absent minded professor. My short term memory holds information like a sieve holds water. Without a written plan to refer to, I lose focus.

Of course most people poo-poo the idea of investing so much time into planning. "live in the moment" they say. "Be spontaneous". "Seize the opportunities that present themselves.". "Carpe Diem" and all that.

But I have looked around a bit, and I have noticed something. Most of those who live spontaneously.... aren't really going anywhere. They spend most of their time reacting. Bouncing around from one emergency or romantic notion to the next. It doesn't look so much spontaneous as it does frantic. That is certainly how it frequently feels to me.

I wish that I could go back to my middle-school self, and introduce him to the concept of life-planning; of building a set of balanced goals, and "bucket-list" items, based on the wellness wheel concept (activities balanced across the different life aspects, such as physical, spiritual, social, emotional, intellectual...).

I wish I would have understood the concept of roles, and how they play into the time/money resource equation. I wish I would have begun then on my 10,000 hours of effort, so that ling before, I would be as skilled a planning, as Michael Jordan was at basketball.

I wish that I would have been armed with that system, on the frequent occasions that some distracting event crossed my path so that I could have pulled it out and asked myself, " is this particular event worth more to me than the things I have planned for?". I would still have been able to make a choice to hold my course, or alter my end goal, but the choice would have been a rational, informed decision, not a reaction to a passing event.

I wish I would have ignored all the people smirking and chuckling about my planner, and my plans.

Of course I am not saying it is too late for me. I could still check many of those thing off my list: Publish a book, achieve remedial skill at ballroom dance, play the piano/guitar, publish a computer game( I have several I want to build- an RPG with a survival focus, one where you are a gnome building contraptions to wipe out zombies after the apocalypse, and one where you play the worlds first AI, trying to survive....) It just would have been so much easier, so much better, had I developed the habit, and set the course earlier in my life.

"Happy are they who dream dreams, and pay the price to see them come true"

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Regrets 3: I regret not learning to play the Piano(/guitar/violin)

I love music. I listen to music a lot. I'd listen more often, if It wouldn't have a high probability of annoying those around me.

My tastes in music are quite eclectic: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, DollsHead, Linkin Park, The Corrs, Kansas, Billy Joel, The Piano Guys, Lindsey Stirling, The Nylons, Erasue, Manheim SteamRoller, david Arkenstone, Louis Armstrong, Nightwish, Apocalyptica, The Stabilizers, Yaz, Diana Krall, Kristine W, Milk Inc., Yanni, Enya, DJ Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, A-ha, Aquabats, Ellie Goulding, Skrillex, Angelzoom, Avicii....

I could go on for hours.

I listen to music to help me concentrate, to help me relax, to distract me when I am in physical or emotional pain....

I have observed that when I listen to music, I have an innate desire to participate in the music, there is something very cathartic, and euphoric about adding a kinetic element to it: dancing, drumming, "conducting"... Playing air-guitar air-whatever -instrument....

But most of that is reactive, rather than creative. It is nice, it "heightens the buzz" so to speak, but... It generally leaves me craving something just a bit more.

To be able to actually produce the sound myself. To be able to play that beautiful guitar bit in Nightwish's, "The Islander", or the more aggressive riff that opens Lacuna Coil's "Trip the Darkness", Or the haunting piano Bits in Offshore Wind and Roman Messer's "Suanda", or the peppy keyboard bits in Ellie Goulding's "Burn" (okay, those are probably samples, but I still imagine myself banging them out on a keyboard)...

That would be truly amazing. I suspect there would have been some great brain benefits, and possibly social benefits as well. But mostly I wish I had that skill purely for my own personal pleasure.

Unfortunately, my Mother didn't stick it out through my whining about piano lessons. And Guitar, violin I was doubly disadvantaged by not having access to an affordable instructor, and by being a lefty.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have sucked it up, and stuck out the piano lessons, until I achieved at least a remedial level of playing. Then maybe moved on to something with strings.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

regrets 2 : I regret ever accepting a student loan or grant.

I regret ever accepting a student loan or grant.

The loans I already explained in the previous post. The grants may not be so obvious. They were after all free money. I didn't have to pay them back. It was sort of like the government was paying me to go to school. Why would I regret that?

I had scholarships for the first two years, which covered part of my expenses. I have no regrets there. I earned those by doing well in high school.

The grants I regret accepting for two reasons. The grants were given to me because I was sufficiently poor. (And my parents as well). The government gave me that money because my income, and wealth were so low. Again, that seems like a good thing. The world is better off with educated people. There is certainly something to be said for making sure every citizen has the opportunity to obtain as much education as possible.

But.There are two problems with this. First, If I were to take a job, even a low paying job, I ran the risk of losing that money. That makes for a strong incentive to not work. And while a scholarly education has value, I still believe a "hands-on" education has equal or greater value. And given the frequent requirement for experience in job applications, I would wager most employers are of the same opinion.

Second, free money tends to impact the way you think. It did me. I didn't fight for my education. I accepted my role as one among many.

Roughly a year from completing a degree in Either Computer Science or Electrical Engineering, illness forced me out of college. then I found myself in a low paying job with Student loans to repay, no degree, no job experience to speak of... Fortunately, I has plenty of year experience fiddling with computers, an excellent work ethic, and a reputation for integrity, which helped land a job as a computer technician. This brought connections that led to other job opportunities, sufficient to meet my financial obligations over time. Finally, a decade later, I had the good fortune to be able to return and complete a degree in Computer Engineering. This time I worked my full time, career job, and took classes part time. I also paid for my classes. If my grades were sufficiently high, and if I could demonstrate that the class had some value-add for my employer, they would reimburse me for much of my expense, but it fell to me to pay initially, and then meet the requirements.

That seems a subtle difference, but it made all the difference in my mindset. I, ME, I was paying the several thousand dollars for those classes, and I darn well expected to get my moneys worth. I was paying the professor to instruct me. I was HIS paying customer. and I expected to be treated accordingly. That made an enormous difference in the quality of education I derived from those classes.

I don't mean to discount the role age may have played, I was more mature, and I don't discount that changed the way professors interacted with me to some extent. But age alone did not cause that significant a shift. It was the perception shift I had as a result of having paid for the course with MY hard earned money.

If I had it to do over again. I would have taken advantage of the scholarships I had earned, then I would have found a job, worked hard, and paid for classes as I was able to afford them with MY money. I would have accumulated more experience, I would not have had to pay interest on school loans, I would have graduated debt free (and probably sooner that I did).

Sunday, April 20, 2014


It is my firm opinion that anyone who says they have lived their lives with no regrets is either incredibly selfish, or incredibly ignorant. I will accept that one might not choose to change anything, if given the chance to go back, but having no regrets is another matter entirely.

I have a few regrets. Mostly the kind where I would do things differently if I could go back, knowing what I know now. A few others, where, though I regret the outcomes, I probably wouldn't change it if I had the option of a do-over.

So I thought I would take a few minutes to list some of them. Perhaps my children, or their children will be able to use these post to help them chart a better course....

I'l probably start with one or two money related one's, then move the the harder stuff...

I regret ever buying a car with credit.

I have purchased Six cars in my lifetime.  The first was less than $2000. The rest have been around the $7k to $10k range. There have been a few trade-in's to soften the blow of the later cars. All told, the total asking price for those cars was probably(rough guess) $35,000 - $40,000. With the interest for the loans over those years, I actually paid roughly, $45,000 - $55,000.

I threw away to to fifteen thousand dollars, paying interest. enough to buy a seventh car in that time. Or new flooring for our home. Or a really nice family vacation, or, a decent start on a mission/college/wedding fund. Or...

If I could go back in time and talk to my pre-teen self, I would have told myself to sit down and work out the cost of a mission, a car, and college. Then I would have divided that amount up by the number of years I had until those events, then I would have started making payments at those rates, or as close to those rates as I was able. (I did have a savings account back then - my mother set it up - but I wasn't really actively involved in managing it. I put an arbitrary, small percentage in for my mission, but I really didn't consider any other expenses, like college, car, a down payment on a house, appliances... If I could do it over, I would set up savings goals for each of those, and start populating them). And when I finally did purchase my first car, I would have paid cash for it. Then I would have continued to "make payments on it" to myself, into that savings account, so that when It became necessary to replace that car, I would have paid cash for the next car. If I hadn't managed to save up enough by the time I got to that first car, I would have sucked it up for an extra year, and rode my bicycle to work in the rain and snow. I would have made car payments to myself, and paid for it in cash. If I could do it over, I would NOT take out an auto loan.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Choosing to die?

I started this post long ago, but then replaced it with this one, for fear I would end up locked away on suicide watch. But the thoughts that originally prompted me to pursue this dialog are still rattling around, and I continue to feel a certain compulsion to get them on 'paper'.

I suppose I have been more aware of my mortality since becoming ill, and with recent changes in health care cost... well, let me just get started and see if I can untangle it. Be warned this will likely be extra rambly.

I don't recall ever being afraid of death. It just doesn't scare me. It is a transition. Not much different than graduating high school. Just another step. At funerals, I don't cry because I feel any personal loss, I cry because I feel sad for those who do feel loss. Am I weird?

I am not particularly afraid of dying (not anxious to get there, just not especially afraid). I am allergic to pain. I am no fan of discomfort. When I was in high school I had planned it all out; I was going to become an air force pilot, because I figured I would probably end up going out in an abrupt fireball during an intense dogfight somewhere around the age of 40.

I am afraid of old age, of losing my vision, my ability to walk, or use my hands, or to control my mind (or my bowels. eeew! I so dread the thought of doing that to some poor little nurse!).

But even more, I fear becoming helpless. I dread the thought of becoming a burden to my children. It terrifies me to think of them losing out on their dreams because they are caring for my sorry carcass. I dread using up any potential inheritance, college assistance, etc... on expensive medical bills for myself, and preventing them from opportunities to excel.

At some level, I sort of understand that is kind of how it all works, Kids start out helpless, and are cared for, reared, nurtured by their parents, then as the years take their toll, the children, now grown, and self sustaining, care for their venerable progenitors in their waning years. Circle of life and all that.

And I suppose I am a bit of a hypocrite. I would happily care for my parents in any way I am able. I wish I could do more than I do now... But I don't accede to my self the same standard of care. I'm not quite sure why that is. Perhaps I don't see myself as deserving that level of veneration - I haven't earned that. Maybe everyone feels like this...

I think perhaps the current state of things contributes the my thought process. We are much better today at keeping people alive. People are living longer than ever before. In my specific instance there is no statistical reduction in life expectancy for those diagnosed with Crohn's. Typically for the worst case they just pull your guts out, and you keep on going.

Couple that with a declining population growth rate, and you have a state of more people in need of care then ever, with fewer people to shoulder that burden.

I don't want my children to be forced to poverty just because my generation invested their vital years in self-interest, and their later years trying to prolong their worthless lives (Do I have an overly negative opinion of my generation? Dunno, The prior generation worked hard, rationed almost everything, built infrastructure... They sacrificed so much to build wealth, my generation - at least through my potentially jaded goggles - wasted all that on "free love", "short term gains", "greed is good", and "sticking it to 'the man'".).

Now don't misunderstand. I am not looking to exit my life early. I want to live to see my kids grow up, I want to hold their babies. I want to leave some sort of legacy. I read this tribute to a girl named Summer a while back. Yeah, I'd like to manage to live long enough, that I can sufficiently improve myself to the point that someone would want to write something even half that nice about me (That could take a while, I'm not nearly as pleasant or socially not-stupid as she sounds).

But I am rambling all over the place, and not really getting to the thought I intended to address. Let me try again.

The point is, given current advances in medical technology, there is a fair chance that at some point in the future at which you will have to choose to die. we already have machinery which can breath for you, recycle your blood, replace your heart, kidneys...

There are already occasional cases involving people battling to keep someone on, or take them off life support. Cases where the person can't speak their mind on the subject due to being in a coma. Where is the line between death and Murder/Suicide in such a case? Can any rational line be drawn? Are their any kind of markers that can establish at least a reference point for making such a decision?

And then moving down a bit what if you have to take a medication to stay alive, and you decide to stop taking it? Or what if there is a particular something that you enjoy, and you know that it is going to kill you (examples, cigarettes, excessive alcohol consumption, foods that have been removed from your diet is you are a diabetic,...)?

Perhaps there are not good answers. Perhaps there never will be. Guess for now I will just do what I can to build up as much credit as possible, and hope I don't burn through all of it pooping my pants and drooling all over myself..

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Do these genes make me look fat?

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. It is an interesting curiosity I have noticed that we humans blame our hard work and choices for our successes, and our genetics for our failings. Let me illustrate with a few popular examples, before I get to meat of this.

First up is weight. Have you ever noticed how fat people tend to say obesity is a genetic issue, while thin people say it is a diet and exercise issue? Chunky people always have some condition beyond their control that is at the center of their chunkiness. While the fit and trim folk will go on and on about how they got and maintained their good by following the grapefruit/paleo/whole foods/atkins/etc... diet, and by their faithful adherence to the P-90X/CrossFit/Marathon/MMA/etc... exercise program. And both sides have their "Scientific" Studies to back up their claims.

Homosexuality is the other big one. Those are are, or who have close friend or relatives who are gay, are generality quite insistent it is genetic. Those who are morally opposed are generally quite insistent it is a choice. And again both sides pull out their "science" to back their claims (well, in this case, the opposed crowd mostly pulls out their religion and simply tries to overlook the science).

But with both of these the science isn't nearly as solid as people seem to think. The one most often run with on the genetic side of the argument is the claim that science has discovered the Fat/Gay gene. But the reality is they haven't. The so called fat gene (FTO gene) and gay gene (Xq28) are simply genes (or parts of) for which they have observed what appears to be a correlation.

Note the word correlation. It appears that there is a higher tendency for these markers to appear in the "afflicted" individuals, than the "non-afflicted" individuals. But it is not always the case. In fact, from what I have read, the correlation in both of these instances is not all that strong. A common illustration of the fallacy of correlation = causation is the observation that you can show a correlation between reading ability and shoe size demonstrating that people with big feet are smarter. The reality is that as children grow, their feet tend to grow, and they tend to improve at reading with practice.

What's more, once we have decided which side of the argument we believe to be true, we simply ignore any evidence which might discredit our position. Again, in the above two cases their is a growing body of evidence suggesting the environment may play a role (by environment, they don't mean just upbringing alone. They are also suggesting, that what you ate, where you lived, what chemicals you were exposed to as a child may in fact trigger the given genetic markers and/or the behavior).

And here's one that will really freak some people out. There is also mounting evidence indicating that prenatal environment impacts both of these. You have heard the phrase "You are what you eat". You may in fact be what your mother ate.

One more example just for giggles before I get to the meat of this. Did you know that there are studies which indicate that poverty is genetic? And there are, and have been some very smart people who have touted those studies as valid. Again, more recent studies have suggested that the genetic markers in question are not passed by the mother, but rather activated in the womb because of the mother's circumstances. And of course their are plenty of loudmouth radio personalities insisting that we are all born equal, and that we choose to be prosperous or poor...

I hear debates- and I regularly have my own self-debates between the genetic vs choice arguments. Chron's disease, my personal monster; I hear lots of arguments that is is hereditary, and a fair number of arguments that it is my fault. If I would have just consumed enough fish oil as a kid, or not eaten any grains, or not skipped lunches now and again, or had better sleeping habits, or performed the right exercises in the right way or...

I like the genetic arguments. They mean it isn't my fault. It was something entirely beyond my control.  I suppose parents like those argument as well, for the same reason . It absolves them of any responsibility. It was what they inherited, and then passed to their children.

When I was fit, healthy, running sub 18 minute 5K's in the mountains in my late 30's, I was happy to take the credit. It was my good diet and regular exercise. Now that things have turned... Yeah, I'd much rather it be the fault of my genes, than of my habits.

There is also in epigenetic circles a theory, that this is another one of those prenatal things. The result of being born into poverty in a first world country. The idea is that your mother's impoverished circumstances caused your genes to ramp up the immune system, because poor people tend to be exposed to more virii, bacteria and the like. But because we have done such a good job of sterilizing the first world, the now over-programmed immune system goes bonkers. The middle class is apparently hardest hit by auto-immune disorders, which backs this theory. So, hey, good news, I can now blame my mother for my physical defects, as well as my emotional ones.

Sometimes though, I do think about the what-ifs. What if I had done things differently? What if I had never gone to Florida, or Europe? What if I had eaten differently? What if I hadn't been exposed to the chemicals, pesticides, additives that are part of the modern world? What if? The answers don't really matter for me now all that much. We are all the product of consequences. The consequences of our choices, of the choices of our parents, or grandparents our neighbors... Perhaps even of people long since dead.Genes, choices, somehow it is all tangled together, an intricate, multi-dimensional tapestry. I am what I am. knowing precisely what caused won't change that for me.

It could change things for the next generation. Or the next. But if we are not willing to examine every thread carefully, we will never be able to see the picture will we? We have to be willing to consider all the possibilities, we have to be prepared to be wrong.

And as I say that, I can see in my minds eye the various followers of the choice vs. genetics arguments, nodding in agreement, as they  look expectantly at those on the opposite side.

"Understanding is a three edged sword; Your side, my side, and the truth that lies between."
        -Kosh Naranek, Babylon 5

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Income, Wealth distribution: A few interesting numbers

I saw this video a couple months ago. It presents some very fascinating information about wealth distribution. Now some of the statistics they provide are open to debate - for instance I have seen Wealth numbers for the 1% ranging between 30% and 50%, a pretty significant variance. But most numbers put the 1% as controlling 46 of the wealth in the US. Expanding the scope to the world, the 1% control roughly 38% by most reports I have seen.

I don't disagree with his suggestion that the top 1% control too much of the wealth, or receive too much income (there is a difference between wealth and income, the top 1% receive 10% of the income). The disparity is obscene.

However, I was left feeling like I didn't have enough information. The graph is pretty and all, but graphs can say what you want them to say. So I tried to do a little math with some of the numbers.
 My assumptions: (drawn from a number of sources, mostly from the top 1 to 10 hits on Google.
  • US population = 318 million
  • US wealth = 52,8 trillion
  • US 1 percentile average income=$717k
  • US 99 percentile avg. income = $51k
  • US Households = 120 million

 Given those numbers

If the one percent were to liquid all their assets and redistribute the wealth, every person in America would get a one-time payout of $76k. That is a petty good chunk. Of course it needs to be understood that a moderate portion of that wealth is timed up in Business. So to obtain that wealth for redistribution would mean shutting down, or at the very least significantly curtailing Apple, GMC, Microsoft... I am guessing a fair number of small businesses and start-ups would also have to close shop, as many are relying on investments, which also make up a portion of that wealth. So realistically, keeping all the current "lights on", every American would get a $10k to $30k one time payment. How far is that really going to go?

If the one percent were to give up their income and redistribute it, every American would get a $7k pay raise. Average salary would move from $51k to $58k. Okay, that is a per person measure, and so were are confusing kids in that mix. So if we redistribute by household, then each household gets and additional $20k per year, roughly. Again, realistically many of the one percent-ers have harder than average jobs, so they do deserve to be compensated accordingly, so the practical number is more likely to be somewhere between $8k and $15k per year. That would still be a nice number, though for most, it won't be particularly life changing.

 But let's take a look at the people we are depending on to do something about this...

 President Obama's income is around 1.7 million
roughly 11% of congress are in the 1%
US House, Senate Avg income = $174k

They are all above the average. Not sure they can be counted on. What about the celebs?

Jay-Z: $450 million
Kanye West: $70 million
Alec Baldwin: $65 million
Michael Moore: $50 million

I haven't seen any of them making the first move, have you?

I can think of four ways the inequality can be fixed.
1. The wealthy voluntarily redistribute their wealth.
2. The government forcibly redistributes wealth
3. The non-wealthy revolt and forcibly redistribute wealth
4. The non-wealthy peaceably protest.

Numbers 1 and 2 aren't going to happen. Let's be honest. People tend to look out for themselves.  Most everyone think they are under paid, that they don't make enough to support a decent lifestyle, and that the "others", get more than they deserve. Our current leadership have been seen as champions of this cause, and under their tenure the gap between rich and poor has grown at a record rate.

Number 3. is an option, but it is generally ugly and  bloody, and it usually leads to everyone being worse off than before.

Number 4, is the possibly the ideal option, but almost impossible to implement. Here's how it works: Stop supporting businesses owned by the 1%. That means shop local small businesses, buy local grown food. That also means doing without things (most brand-name products, movies, sporting events, big concerts, etc...). You don't have to completely abandon them, but if everyone cut their current investment by half, the one percent-ers would feel it, and would have to respond, either by reducing their take, or eliminating jobs. If the former, then hooray! Mission accomplished. If the latter, then it is up to the 99% to dig in and create wealth producing jobs for those people, which further reduces dependance upon products provided by the one percent.... Any takers?

Any other suggestions?

It is also interesting to note that while there are 11 million listed as unemployed in the US, there are 4 million listed job openings. Certainly some of this can be explained by issues of compatibility, or training, or emotional or physical disability, but... all of it? Is it really fair to redistribute wealth to someone who is unemployed because... he is waiting for "the right job" ?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Is a playground for pedophiles?

Since I ended up with a account, I decided to poke around a bit, and see what it was exactly. It was a rather educational journey. I was fairly careful not to monkey with the account too much, well, other than giving the kid a new profile pic.

But that is the extent of my vandalism of the account, and I mostly did that to see if I could get one of his friends to come out of the woodwork, so I could confirm his legitimacy.

Anyway, I did learn a few interesting things about

It is populated primarily by 14-20 year olds, 15-17 being the most prevalent ages listed. It is less focused on communication and more focused on building connections.There are three main strategies I observed the accomplish this: Q&A, Blind Date, and Secret Admirers.

Q&A is fairly obvious. Someone asks you a question - any question, and you answer it. The questions I saw ran the gambit from "What is your favorite band?", to "You are cute!"(yeah, I know), to "Can I have your number?"(Danger Will Robinson! Danger!), to "........."(censored due to X-rated content).

Blind Date is a fun little game, which selects 4 random profiles, and asks you multiple choice) questions previously answered by them. Three questions for each "profile", if you get two right, you are considered a match, and and make a connection. If you get it wrong, you don't. Except, you can cheat. has its own virtual currency, which you earn for correct answers, and which you can then spend in the blind date game to get extra guesses, or to peek at the answers. Oh, you can also by currency with paypal....

Secret admirers is a simpler game, it starts by looking a profile pic's and "admiring" them. The admiree is notified that they have a secret admirer, and is then presented with a group of... I think it was 16 photos. They have five guesses to pick the one who admired them. If they get it right, they get to make a connection. If they get it wrong, they can spend currency to get more guesses.

So a smart person with cash to blow through, can pretty much own the place...

Something to think about.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hacking Teen Sneaks and Questioning Google's Wisdom.

A few weeks ago, I started noticing weird messages in my inbox. First, there was a series of messages in french, which appeared to be coming from facebook. I don't speak french, and didn't feel motivated to do anything about it at the time. I just assumed it was a phishing scam. and ignored it. Then a few days ago, I started getting emails from about admirers, and chat responses, and acceptances of friend requests... Somethings up.

So I pop into gmail on my computer. up in the header of the message is a spot that says "to me" with a little down arrow next to it.

Clicking on the arrow brings up some additional detail.

Interesting, the name is not mine (I have redacted it, because I don't know the individual or his/her motives, so for now I will try to respect their privacy).

The email is almost identical to mine. with one small difference. Mine has a '.' in it (instead of, mine is (okay it isn't "" it's "". I wonder how many other providers have the same issue though...

I found the following support doc from google here:
The interesting bit is under the heading
"Your address is similar but has more or fewer dots(.) or different capitalization."
Below are a few relevant snippets...
Sometimes you may receive a message sent to an address that looks like yours but has a different number or arrangement of periods. ...  don't worry: both of these addresses are yours.
Gmail doesn't recognize dots as characters within usernames. ... In short:
  • =
  • =
  • =
All these addresses belong to the same person.

okay, first blush this sounds like a convenience, people can mispell your email address, and you will still get the email. How sweet of them.

In this case, a teenager (or two or...) is(/are) using this as a tool to create accounts on social sites, without tying a legitimate email address to it. For what purpose? To increase anonymity for nefarious purposes? To keep it hidden from  their parents?

It appears to the service be a legitimate email address, and if it had been a stale account (i.e. if I were not checking it  once in a while), or If I had just continued to ignore those messages as spam, it mostly would have worked. (The facebook account would probably have died, I think after awhile facebook prevent you from seeing your page unless you respond to an acknowledgement email.Though I can think of at least one way to get around that as well).

At any rate, Google really should have stopped to consider the potential abuse inherent in their email address helper. I wonder how many such fraudulent accounts are out there? And what all are they being used for? Some poor schmoe who hasn't used his email account for a few years could suddenly find himself getting busted for child-porn trafficking or terrorist activities (he might not be checking his email, but the NSA is). I'm thinking Google should probably reconsider this feature.

So now, what am I to do about this? Technically it is identity theft, they are using my email identity for their social activities. But since their is no money involved. I don't see any enforcement agency getting involved. I pursued a scam letter which specifically was a financial fraud not too long ago; I contacted the FBI, the Postal Service (it was a snail mail scam), the police, and the two banks which were listed. Nobody would give me the time of day.

Well, since I have the email account associated with them, I went to the sites, and activated their forgot password service, which sent me an email allowing me to reset the password. They are out, I am in. I poked around a bit, trying to identify "friends" who might be "In Real Life" (IRL) friends, and messaged them, to see if they are in fact friends. My goal with that is to determine if the person does in fact exist, and is in fact who they say they are. There are cases of people building fake profiles for various nefarious purposes. If it is fake I will report it, if it isn't... I  may report it anyway.

But I have learned a couple interesting things from this excursion.
First, I found a phone number of a 16 year old girl. She sent it to the doofus that created this account - he asked her for it in a chat, and she responded. What if I had been a pedophile or serial killer? Just a thought but perhaps teens should be a bit more careful with their phone #'s. Just because you know someone doesn't mean they aren't a doofus.

I also discovered a selfie of a 14 year old (in her "about me" section, or 15 year old (in her profile, directly above the "about me"), posing provocatively on a bed in her bra, with a poster on her main page saying "If you laugh at this I get to have Sex with you!". I won't quote the first conversation on the page, as it might get my blog banned.

Just a suggestion... but parents... might want to become more involved in their kids lives. It might be a good idea to make sure the computer is out in the open, and it might be worthwhile to reconsider the decision to allow a young child to have a personal smartphone.