Unsportsman-like apparel

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I’m not much of a gambler, and I’m certainly not much of a poker player. In college, my friends and I would occasionally get together and play a few hands, and never for more than $5. I don’t think I ever won, but when you’re hanging out with your friends winning isn’t the point. I still watch poker on TV sometimes, late at night when I’m flipping through the channels trying to find something to watch. I find it mildly entertaining, mostly because these guys are playing for $2,000,000 pots and splashing around half a million dollars like it ain’t no thang.

But lately I’ve noticed a trend in poker that really kind of irks me. And remember, I’m not even a diehard fan–I’d say I’m barely a mild enthusiast. That trend is sunglasses. It’s all too common to see players at the table these days in a getup like this:

"I'm a sneaky poker ninja!"

“I’m a sneaky poker ninja!”

I know poker isn’t a sport, but it is a strategy game. Like chess. Part of that strategy is having a good grasp of statistics.  But the more important part of the strategy behind poker is your ability to read your opponents and bluff them if necessary (this is where I fail miserably). It would seem to me that someone dressed like the asshole pictured above is really taking the coward’s way out. And then there’s someone like “The Fossil Man” who takes it to a whole new level with glasses that have holographic eyes on them:

"They say the eyes are the windows into the soul..derp!"

Apparently the eyes are the windows into the derp.

I know there are no rules about stuff like this in the leagues (yet), but something about this just seems slimy to me. Weaselly. It’s an unfair advantage, changing the ability of the other players to read you in a game that relies exclusively upon that strategy. Plus it’s just distracting. People who dress like this are taking all of the challenge and skill out of poker. I hope that changes soon.

Ken Ham is at it again

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I know that I said previously that I would stay away from the topic of religion because it tends to never produce meaningful or productive dialogue. But after I read this, I couldn’t help but post. Ken Ham, the AiG guy who debated Bill Nye awhile back, wants to defund the search for extraterrestrial life. Not that surprising, really. But this idea that he has is symptomatic of the larger problem of fundamentalism. To read the blog post that he wrote, click here.

Ham’s rationale for discontinuing our search for ET rests upon the gospel, which he sees as definitive proof that life beyond earth is impossible. And even if it did exist, he argues, the bible makes it perfectly clear that since any ETs couldn’t possibly be the sons of Adam there’s no way they could be saved anyway. So since they’re all going to hell, let’s call the whole thing off.

Let’s take the things in this blog as they come, shall we? And bear in mind, I’m quoting Ham directly from his own words here.

1. “Of course, secularists are desperate to find life in outer space, as they believe that would provide evidence that life can evolve in different locations and given the supposed right conditions!  The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man’s rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!”

Well, one could make the argument that if secular scientists are desperate to find life elsewhere in the universe to prove their secular scientific theories, religious fundamentalists like Ham are equally desperate to stop that from happening because it would prove everything they believe wrong. Everything Ham has ever asserted would in one instant become patently false. So obviously creationists see a threat in an organization like NASA. “It’s a waste of time and money” is nice pretense, but the crux of the issue is what discoveries by NASA would mean to people who interpret the bible literally.

Because if Ham stopped to think about it for more than ten seconds, he’d actually want NASA to continue its search. One would think that Ham would love it if NASA searched and searched and never once found ANY trace of life elsewhere in the universe, because it would only support his points about the bible. Come on Ken, give NASA a chance to prove you right! Unless of course you’re afraid they’ll prove you wrong.

2. “You see, according to the secular, evolutionary worldview there must be other habited worlds out there. As the head of NASA, Charles Borden, puts it, “It’s highly improbable in the limitless vastness of the universe that we humans stand alone.” Secularists cannot allow earth to be special or unique—that’s a biblical idea (Isaiah 45:18). If life evolved here, it simply must have evolved elsewhere they believe.”

This is pretty typical of someone who does not really grasp the concept of evolution. There is absolutely NOTHING in the theory that states that life has to exist on other planets. It’s entirely possible that life evolved on this planet and nowhere else in the universe. Notice the word that the NASA scientist used: “improbable.” And then notice how Ham takes that to the absolute by using the word “must.” That’s the problem in this debate. Science lives in a world that in constantly changing and updating what we know. Religion lives in a world that is static and absolute. But again, to reiterate, Ham is setting up a pretty egregious gap in logic–that in order to for evolution to be true, it has to have occurred on other planets. That’s a product of Ham’s own personal interpretation of evolution colored by the lens of his faith, NOT a scientifically or logically accurate statement.

3. “Now the Bible doesn’t say whether there is or is not animal or plant life in outer space.  I certainly suspect not [...] And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.”

Well, if the bible doesn’t specifically mention it, then all of this is just Ken Ham pulling it from his ass. He even straight up admits that the bible doesn’t make mention of this situation one way or the other. Ergo everything that follows is just his own unique interpretation. He even says, “I do not believe…” Well where the hell is the literal truth in that? There isn’t any. Ham’s just making the rules up as he goes along here.

I think we can stop there.

This is the danger that fundamentalism represents: close yourself off from the world. No reason to explore anything. Instead of being a place of wonder and possibility, the universe is relegated to mere background status, no more or less than painted scenery on a stage. I almost feel sorry for Ham.

 

The only limit to science is the human being

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How many times have a you heard someone utter a phrase like this: Well, there are just some things science will never be able to explain.

People who follow this blog know that I’m all about science. I believe that science is the key to improving ourselves and the world around around us. Science satisfies a natural curiosity within us. We intrinsically want to know why things are the way they are, how they got that way, how they’re going to be, etc. And that’s why I find statements like the one at the beginning of this piece to be so interesting.

A statement that puts some sort of cap or limit on what science will ever be able to tell us or explain would seem to indicate that at some level, people are okay with having questions unanswered. Or at least certain questions. This is often framed against the backdrop of philosophy. Science call tell me about the physical processes that govern a sunset, but it will never be able to tell me why I find it emotionally stirring and beautiful. At least that’s the claim. But is there any validity to that claim?

People–in most cases very rational people who accept science–still view some things as beyond the reach of science. Things like emotions. Morality. Art. Beauty. Truth. Things that have traditionally been thought of as the philosophical. Well, why can’t science deal with any of those subjects? Why can’t science say anything about art? Or beauty? Or morality? Objectively, there’s no reason why science can’t inform these subjects…but we as a society still separate them.

It’s almost like people believe that if we can scientifically explain something like beauty, that that explanation will somehow change the nature of beauty. I don’t know why. Science can explain the sensation of taste–does that mean you enjoy food less? Science has hearing pretty much down pat, yet music doesn’t sound different. So why should it be different with beauty? If science can explain why you find the things you do beautiful, why should that change the fact that you find them beautiful?

And that’s the crux of the issue. The ability to explain something does not change reality. If I didn’t know anything about music, and I played the c note on a piano, and someone explained to me which note I played and how it was made, have I changed the sound? No, I haven’t. So if science can explain to me why we have certain morals, has it somehow changed morality? No. Just because there’s nothing ethereal or mysterious about a feeling or value doesn’t somehow invalidate it. Science can explain why we’re empathetic. So? Does that explanation somehow devalue empathy? No, of course not.

But the threat of science explaining things that people have traditionally considered “unexplainable” is certainly a real thing. As we understand more and more of the human brain, science is beginning to be able to explain why we see things the way we do, why we perceive things the way we do–even why we believe what we do. And a lot of people don’t like that idea. Why? Well, I can’t speak for these people, but I certainly have my theories.

Like most things, it comes down to ego. Human beings want to feel like their existence is special, purposeful. If there isn’t some intangible, almost magical essence to being alive or being human, then people start to panic. If we aren’t all special, if every life doesn’t have some philosophical purpose, then what is our place in this big universe? If science can explain everything, then aren’t we reduced to mere parts in a cosmic machine? I understand those fears. Hell, I even have them myself from time to time.

Another element to this sentiment is the idea of control. Humans like control. We like to think that we control things or that things are being controlled. But the more science discovers and explains, it becomes apparent that while there is a degree of symmetry and order to the universe, it is for the most part chaotic, random, and entropic. The thought of a rudderless universe utterly terrifies people.

So it seems perfectly normal to me that people envision a limit to science. It seems like a psychologically protective measure to want to maintain some mystery about life and the  universe. I can understand the phrases like, human beings will never know everything. That may very well be true, but is knowledge really infinite? I’m not sure that it is. And if it isn’t, there may very well come a day when we really can explain everything. That day may be thousands or millions of years in the future. We might all blow ourselves up before we can reach that point.

But to bring this home, I don’t think that there are any subjects off limits to science, nor should there be any. Scientific discoveries may force us to change our philosophical outlooks and values. So what? To argue against that is to argue for stagnation, for some static existence. Arguments for putting limits or boundaries on what science can explore are self-defeating. It’s willful ignorance. It’s being too afraid to move forward, too afraid to learn more about yourself and the universe you inhabit. Again, I understand this fear. And I don’t begrudge anyone for the way they feel. I guess in a sense what I’m arguing is that all fields of study are interrelated. Every -ology and -ism overlap, and at the center is science. Science is a slow process, and I only hope that if the pace is slow enough, human beings can grow and adapt accordingly.

The gap in mental health

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Yesterday I downloaded a police scanner app for my phone. The nurse in me likes to listen to the fire/EMS channels. So there I was, sitting on our porch swing on a fine summer evening, listening to the goings-on about town. And what I heard was absolutely depressing.

Most people probably have a fairly straightforward conception of what people in law enforcement and EMS do. Firefighters respond to fires, car accidents, and the like. Paramedics respond to the various accidents, traumas, and heart attacks around town. And the police respond to burglars, vandalism, drug activity, and other violent situations.

Wrooooooooong.

You know what the majority of the dispatch calls for both the police and the fire/EMS services were? Suicide threats or attempts.

Let that sink in for a minute.

First of all, this is a gross misuse of these two services. Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen. Instead of out addressing crime, our police force is dealing with people threatening to take their own lives. Same thing with firefighters and paramedics, amazingly. You’d actually be pretty shocked at how misused fire/EMS services are in general. It’s a huge issue in healthcare in general, not just mental health, because low income people and families have a propensity to use 911 as primary care and a shuttle service instead of going to their local clinic or urgent care. But I digress.

The biggest issue with this is that these people aren’t mental health professionals. At best, these people get cursory training on how to deal with mentally unstable people. They’re a band-aid for a much, much larger issue. And that issue is the unaddressed mental health problem in this country.

I say unaddressed because everyone knows that it exists. It’s just that nobody wants to apparently do anything about it. I don’t know why, considering the rise in violent crime in this country. You’d think that after a few mass shootings by mentally unstable people, everyone would be interested in mental health again. But sadly you’d be wrong.

The current problem with mental health in this country can be linked to deinstitutionalization. A big fancy word, but basically it means that we closed down all the mental health parts of public hospitals and other mental institutions. The act to deinstitutionalize mental health patients started in 1955 and picked up steam in the 1960’s with the civil rights movement. And, like most acts, it started out with the best intentions. Mental health doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record when it comes to having treated people like human beings. Conditions in a lot of these institutions were abysmal, and it was believed that by taking these people out of institutions and placing them into community facilities, they would get better care and more humane treatment.

Obviously that didn’t happen.

So where did everything go wrong? Well, that little tidbit of history I just gave you is from a 2007 report by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. So what does their report say happened? Well, a lot of these deinstitutionalized patients were absorbed by nursing homes–also not exactly equipped for such an influx. Here’s a short list of mistakes in mental health reform from the 60’s to the 80’s according to the commission:

1. While the original plan was to move these patients to nursing homes, single room occupancy buildings, and board and care homes, these places were ill-equipped to handle the shear number of people released into the system. Reagan defunded a lot of public and standardized housing in the 80’s, which made a lot of these people homeless.

2. Essential services were never realized.

3. The federal and state governments did a poor job of communicating terms of community care policy, and therefore a lot of people fell through the cracks.

4. Mental health systems used measures of success like bed-days, instead of quality of care. So instead of saying, “This person got better,” they were essentially qualifying a successful treatment as, “Hey, this person only stayed for three days!” Not the greatest metric for mental health.

5. Money. As usual, everything comes down to the almighty dollar. Multiple funding streams were never coordinated, federal funding never materialized, and state funding was misappropriated.

6. NIMBY. I thought that this one was the most interesting point that the commission made. The “not in my backyard” attitude of our society killed a lot of community mental health services. The stigmas around mental health can be extremely detrimental to treatment and rehabilitation.

I would encourage everyone to read the report themselves, as it makes a fascinating read and gives great information about a crisis facing our healthcare system and our nation.

I’m too cynical

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I suppose that quote describes me perfectly nowadays. I realized yesterday that I’ve become a very cynical person over the past two years. At least a lot more cynical than I used to be. I’m cynical about romance and dating, I’m cynical about politics, I’m cynical about my generation and the ones that came after it–I’m cynical about other people in general.

Not that cynicism doesn’t have its purpose. Learning from mistakes is fine. Being skeptical about things and people is also fine. But lately that cynicism has checkered my entire worldview. And for what? So that I can live a grumpy, unhappy life and die an angry, lonely death? What’s the point of that?

I’ve always believed that to a certain extent, happiness is a choice. And right now I’m simply choosing to be unhappy. So what if I never change the world? So what if things never get better? So what if people are selfish, obnoxious jerks? Why does any of that have to ruin my life? Objectively, it doesn’t have to. If given the choice of going through life shrouded by a desolate cloud of cynicism and pessimism or with a glimmer of hope and some optimism, I’ll choose the latter.

Because ultimately, what does going through life with a giant chip on your shoulder get you? It gets you fucking nothing is what it gets you. I realize that it may not be possible to solve all of the world’s problems or even your own problems, but why not try? What’s the harm in trying? So you fail. You’ll be right back where you were before. You haven’t lost anything. But what if you succeed? You gain something!

Looking at myself now, I know where I went wrong. I let a failed marriage and a string of bad relationships and dating get to me. I let the news media and its 24 hour cycle of doom and gloom get to me. I let a lot of stuff get to me. But the key is that I let it get to me. I made the conscious choice to give up and go the other direction after a lifetime of optimism and believing. Well, no more. I’m done being part of the problem. The world doesn’t need one more cynical douche bag asshole. I used to love problem solving, meeting new people, going new places, sharing ideas, the creative process, trying new things. I want to be that person again.

I only get one go at life and I intend to make the most of it. I don’t care if that’s on the micro scale or the macro scale. There’s no reason not to be happy. There’s no reason not to be hopeful. There’s no reason to reject love and connection, to stop trying to improve ourselves and the world around us. As soon as we lose all of those things, we’re giving up everything that makes us human. Those are the things that make life worth living. And I, for one, am choosing to rejoin the land of the living.

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Beth Lake hike

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It’s been awhile since I posted any of my photos on this blog, so here we go! This fourth of July my Dad and I (and the pooch, of course) went hiking to one of our favorite spots: Beth Lake. It’s a small lake in the Bull of the Woods area of the Mt. Hood national forest. The hike itself is fairly grueling–the lake is located off trail on the other side of a fairly high ridge, so the majority of the hike takes place on a 45-60 degree incline over rough terrain. But the lake itself is totally worth it, as its inaccessibility makes it crystal clear, totally pristine, and stocked with some awesome trout. 

My dog is a goofball

My dog is a goofball

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“This is the best day EVER!”

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Mt. Hood

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Wild Rhododendrons grow like crazy up there.

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Beth Lake itself. 4 acres of turquoise beauty!

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A final, parting shot of Mt. Hood.