Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What We've Got Here is Failure of Humility

This is a heartbreaking story.

Erick Munoz wants to see his wife's wish fulfilled this holiday season, but it's one that carries ethical and legal challenges: To be taken off of life support.

Marlise Munoz, 33, is in serious condition in the intensive care unit at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, hospital officials said. She is unconscious and on a ventilator, her husband told CNN affiliate WFAA, but she wouldn't have wanted her life sustained by a machine.

"We talked about it. We're both paramedics," he told WFAA. "We've seen things out in the field. We both knew that we both didn't want to be on life support."

Complicating an already difficult situation is that Munoz is also pregnant, about 18 weeks along, WFAA reported. Texas state law prohibits withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient, regardless of her wishes.

There are no simple answers here, but it just seems like common sense that the best people to figure out this situation are the husband, the family, and the doctor. Lawmakers completely disconnected from this family, this situation, should not be dictating what to do. It baffles me how anyone could think otherwise. Humility is definitely common amongst those who seek election to higher office, but it's exactly these sorts of situations where a little humility is called for. While we may have strong opinions on matters, we shouldn't assume that we know what is best for everyone else. One person's answers may be the right ones for themselves, but not necessarily for the next person. This goes for end-of-life decisions, assisted suicide, abortions, and many other very personal decisions. I think we operate best in an environment which allows individuals and their families to decide how to handle these very serious matters.

"There is no respect for others without humility in one's self."
-Henri-Frédéric Amiel

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Myth of Doing It Alone

This is an amazing story of an American reporter writing about and then helping two Vietnamese kids. It's almost enough to melt my cold, cold misanthropic heart. Almost.

One thing, however, struck me as being absolutely wrong.

Right after he describes all of the things he's done to help out, Baker says the kid did it all by himself. Maybe it's just to flatter the kid, but it builds up the great American myth of the loner out there succeeding all by his lonesome. No one is an island. This boy's drive was absolutely critical to his success, but it wasn't the only part. He's had good teachers. He's had Billy Baker. Telling ourselves that people can achieve all by themselves just makes it that much harder to convince people that systems matter. Environments matter. People matter. We are all in this together and we need to invest in each other rather than saying, "Suck it up and pull yourself up, you loser. If you don't succeed, that just means you're not working hard enough." Again, I'm not saying that individual initiative is not important, but it's only one piece in the puzzle of achievement.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Most Important Class

My oldest started driver's ed a couple of weeks ago. The day before the first class, there was a mandatory parent meeting. The lead instructor gave a dry presentation on what to expect, etc. He said one thing, though, that really struck me.
"This is the most important class your child will take. Yeah, math and science are important, but when it comes to growing up and being independent, this is the most important."
It baffled me, really, because I just don't understand this notion at all, especially coming from a teacher. Does he truly think that learning to drive is more important than math and science and English and all of the other things kids should be learning in school? Is a kid who gets C-grades in all of his classes, but learns to drive better off than a kid who maintains a 3.5 GPA, but doesn't learn how to drive? Learning to drive an automobile is important, but there are many other methods of transportation available. A student who doesn't apply themselves to their basic classes is setting themselves up for long-term problems. It's much easier to learn to drive a little later in life than to make up for learning not done in secondary education.

I guess I can see someone making this argument (because there's someone out there for every point of view), but I can't believe a teacher said it. I know he's not saying that other subjects aren't important, but it's disheartening that an educator would say that driving is more important. Misguided priorities make me wonder if this sort of attitude slips into his regular classroom duties. I hope not.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

10 Things I Learned from Moulin Rouge!

1. Never fall in love with a woman who sells herself. It always ends badly.
2. Girls are excited to sleep with you if your title is 'Duke.' If it's 'writer,' they are a little more hesitant.
3. You can go anywhere and do anything if you have a huge...talent.
4. One dude spontaneously singing a Madonna tune to another dude is an effective distraction.
4a. Frogs are also a useful distraction.
5. The Bohemian revolutionary lifestyle may be sinful, but it is lots of fun.
6. Singing to a girl on foggy rooftops is best when the moon is singing backup.
7. Drinking absinthe is an effective method for gathering the courage to follow your dreams.
8. Dwarfs dressed as nuns and narcoleptic Argentinians make for the best neighbors.
9. Freedom, beauty, truth, but above all things love.
10. Love may be messy, but if you can sing it will all work out.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Erica's junior year school photo.
My oldest daughter turned seventeen on Thursday. Seventeen. I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around that. She's a junior this year, so she's only got one year left after that. Then she's off for new adventures.

Of course I'm not the only parent who has to come to terms with their children growing up. Seventeen, however, is of particular significance to me. That's the age I was when Erica was born. I look at Erica and as smart and talented as she is, I can't imagine her becoming a parent now. But it happened to me and in no way was I prepared for what was to come.

I was forced to grow up and become a better person. This was not an overnight journey. In fact, it took years and if I'm being honest, I'd say that I'm still working on it. Erica (and her sister who came thirteen months after her sister) didn't ask for parents who were still children. They didn't ask for parents who were completely clueless as to what being a parent actually means.

Babies having babies.
An enormous burden was now on my shoulders. Like I said, it took years before I fully realized the full weight of this new task. I began to feel guilt since I felt that Erica and Shaena deserved better. If I had waited to have children, I would have been better prepared. I would have been a better parent. But I didn't wait. My daughters were here and I had to rise to the challenge. I think I'm a better parent now than when my daughters were young, but I still feel inadequate and I still feel guilty. They deserve better than they've gotten, not just from me but their mother as well. If I had waited to have them, I could have gone to college and started a career. Instead I've stumbled around with both. It's made my life more difficult which by extension has made my daughters' lives more difficult. It's also not fair for them to be stuck with the task of Forcing Dad to Grow Up and Be a Parent. This is not a conscious decision or something they had a choice in.

I've used myself as a prime example to my daughters of What Not to Do. The message appears to have sunk in as neither seem inclined to rebel in the ways I did. They are teenagers, so of course as they work to build their identities there is push back and clashes. But thankfully both seem to have fully absorbed the silly notion that growing up and finishing one's education should be done before one decides to have children.

People tell me all the time that I look too young to have kids as old as mine are. And I am! I'm thirty-four now. Thirty-four. I'm still trying to figure out how to be a decent human being and what I want to do with my life and how I'm going to achieve these things. That's hard enough without having to worry about guiding two young minds along their own paths. I can't imagine life without my daughters now. They are a blessing and despite all of the hardships, they've turned out pretty well. Despite that, however, I can't help but feel they would have been better off if they hadn't been born when they were. That's on me and I owe it to them to do the best I can for them. It's hard, very hard. Parenting doesn't come easily to me, but I have a responsibility to two people who didn't ask for the circumstances they were delivered unto.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What is the Purpose of Education?

A couple of posts over on Andrew Sullivan's blog got me thinking about education recently. The first was titled "How Much Math Do We Really Need?" It was basically a link to an essay by a math teacher who thinks we teach too much math and should cut back. A follow up post on Sullivan's blog highlighted a few arguments against this line of thinking.

As a lover of math, I have a hard time agreeing with cutting back on math education; but I want to make a broader argument about education. If we want to make sure we provide our children the best education, we need to start by asking what that means. When we send our children off to school, what do we want them to come home being better at? What do we want them to accomplish? I believe it has two foundations that are absolutely essential and all else must stem from these. We need to teach kids how to reason and how to communicate.

If people learn how to reason, how to critically think, then there is nothing they cannot learn. There are lots of facts out there. Of course they are important, but they are meaningless without the ability to understand what they mean. It's easy to teach someone the names of every American President and the years they held office. It's harder to understand why FDR was a transformative President or how Executive authority is different now than it was 100 years ago. It's easy to know that Martin Luther's writing of his The Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 was one of the flash points in triggering the Protestant Reformation. It's much more difficult to understand the long-simmering tensions that led up to it and how it opened the door to 30,000+ branches of Christianity.

In an ideal world, kids would learn lots of facts and how to connect them, how to understand them. But if they have the ability to analyze, to deduct, to piece together the pieces of a problem, then the facts are a secondary concern. The thinker can work those out. This doesn't mean everyone can be an Albert Einstein developing ground-breaking scientific theories in his or her spare time. But we can teach people how to ask questions. Why? How? What does this mean? Is this someone's opinion or is there a factual basis for this assertion?

The second thing that we must teach our children is how to communicate. We've taught them how to think and now we need to teach them how to share what their reasoning has led them to. This is not just writing, either, though that might be the most important. Kids should learn how to speak. It doesn't stop there. Ideas can be communicated visually through means such as painting or movies. Why not give children an opportunity to develop skills in these areas. Communication is just as vital as reasoning because the most brilliant thinker in the world is worthless if she can't successfully communicate those ideas to other people.

Education is hard, especially in the world we live in today where we expect people to know so much. I could write a lot about education theory and what I think we need to do to advance it. In fact I'm sure I'll write more about it. But whatever we do or how we do it, I think we need to have a solid foundation. Kids need to learn how to think critically and how to communicate. All else flows from these two pillars.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Geek Funnies

I've needed a good laugh recently and these two videos stepped up and delivered.

First, a bad lip reading of Game of Thrones that turns the show into a medieval theme park.

The next is the wonderful people of Improv Everywhere reenacting a dramatic moment from Lord of the Rings.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bad Logic

One of the things that bugs me is faulty reasoning. If there is one thing I don't think gets taught enough, it's logic and how to clearly think about a problem.

There are, of course, countless examples of this, especially if one spends anytime in comments sections (the bane of good thinking) of any number of websites. One of the more frequent arguments I come across, not just online but in the Real World, is from atheists who say something along the lines of, "There is no proof that God exists, therefore he doesn't."


This is a fine example of argumentum ad ignorantium often phrased as "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." If you want to have a serious debate with someone, you should at least attempt to formulate a well-reasoned, logical basis for your proposition. Otherwise you're just shouting nonsense. And, yes, I realize that thinking people might use more reason and logic is, well, illogical; but I think it's a worthy cause. There's nothing wrong with not believing in God, but you can certainly make your case using good logic. Teachers, I know you're just sitting on your lazy butts, so how about adding some logic to the curriculum, eh?*

*I'm just kidding, teachers. That was an example of sarcasm. Maybe you could teach your students how to detect that after the logic lesson.

How Long Should a Movie Be?

I was watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog the other day. If you haven't, stop reading this and go watch it. Now.

Done? Good. Read on...

Anyway, one of the things that occurred to me as I watched it was how it's only 43 minutes long, but that's okay because it's perfect that way. Sure I would have like to have seen more because it truly is awesome, but at 43 minutes it is lean and mean and just glides along without any filler. Perhaps Whedon and crew could have made a traditional two-hour film and made it just as brilliant. But perhaps not. Some stories don't have 90-120 minutes of material. I think comedies are often the worst offenders here. Someone comes up with some clever sketch or situation that might be 10-15 minutes long, but then it gets saddled with a lot of extra material to make it fit into a traditional movie format. The whole movie then suffers and the viewer leaves the theater thinking, "There was a few funny parts, but there was a lot of extra crap that just wasn't funny. Or entertaining. Or worth watching."

To be fair, I don't think that's entirely the fault of the writers and directors. We don't have a system that makes room for filmed entertainment that doesn't fit into the traditional style. Well, until now. One of the exciting promises of the Internet is its potential to allow for more variety of opportunities, especially of those that are outside the norm. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was released on the Internet. As such it didn't need to be 120 minutes long. It could be just 43 minutes and a near-perfect 43 minutes. Of course I loved it and would be excited at the prospect of more, but it is perfect just the way it is and I'm glad no one had to double its length just to fit a cookie-cutter recipe that isn't right for every tale. Not all stories are two-hours long or novel-length and a story should be allowed to be just as long or short as it needs to be.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Mobius Strip of Depression and Loneliness

It's not something I talk about much. For one, I'm generally a shy, laconic person in the best of times. Two, how do you even bring something like this up in conversation.

Person you only superficially know: "How's it going?"
Me: "Well other than being depressed and lonely, I'm alright, I guess."

Yeah, probably not. I recently came across a collection of cartoons that conveys what I often feel like in my melancholy state. This one sums up pretty well what I was just talking about.

I feel as if I'm fighting battles with myself and that I'm doing just well enough to stay afloat. Barely. Many times I feel as if I'm on the verge of losing control and spiraling down and only the thinnest thread is holding me up.

The intense loneliness I feel makes it seem that much harder to imagine a path forward. Interestingly I just ran across an interview that summed up well how I feel there too.

Another tragic example concerns lonely people. The lonely are interesting because it’s so tempting to say: "Oh, lonely people. Yeah, those are just losers, or whatever. Those are people who can't make friends." Actually, the data suggests that the vast majority of lonely people don't lack any social skills at all. It's just they found themselves in lonely situations.
You move to a new town and you don't really know anybody. How do you meet people? It's hard to meet people. The longer that persists, now the longer you've been lonely, and then ‑‑ this is the key part with the lonely and the busy and the money and the poor ‑‑ now that you're in that state, your behavior changes, and the way your behavior changes seems to keep you in that state.
It's actually about how being poor changes how people think and often leads to people making bad decisions that leave them in a continual state of poverty. A vicious cycle if you will. I know exactly how that feels. I've had more than one person give me flippant advice along the lines of "you just need to get out more" or "you just need to focus on the positive things." Yeah, if it was that easy I wouldn't have a problem, would I?

It's a struggle. Some days are worse than others. Sometimes there's a reason. Sometime's there's not. This internal struggle is what I try to keep in mind when dealing with someone I want to punch in the face. Maybe they are going through some battle with themselves too, something that no one else sees.

Of course some people may be fighting their battles, but still need a punch in the face. Either way, I'll be wrestling my own demons while I weigh the pros and cons of following through with said punch. And whether or not I go through with it, I'll still probably be feeling sad and lonely.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Declaring a Truce with Infinite Jest

Back at the end of May, I decided I would read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It's now September and I've only managed to read about 150 pages or so. It is not an easy read and I knew this going in. After the first 80 pages, I ended up starting over again. However I am setting aside now as frustrating as that is for me. I fully intend to pick it back up again at some point, but for now I just can't devote myself to it like I need to in order to finish it. This is not a book where I can read a page or two at bedtime or during my lunch break. It requires a fierce concentration to make sense of it due to Wallace's style (or more accurately various styles which shift with each viewpoint) and his non-linear narrative and his enormous vocabulary which includes words he's made up. The book is quite intriguing, but in more of a dry, clinical way than an emotional connection. I do want to read it, but for the moment I can't devote the time and energy needed. The next time I take some time off from work, I may pick it up then. Wallace has not defeated me; I will read the book. Just not quite yet.

Until then I will find other things to read. For now, I'm starting with Snow Falling on Ceders by David Guterson. I've read the first twelve pages and don't feel my brain melting so that's a good sign.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Setting Sun Amongst Storm Clouds

Montana skies are amazing.

More pictures can be found over at my Google+ page.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Someone Spent Time and Money Putting This Cutting Edge Story Together

Stay calm. I'm going to blow your mind here. Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Here we go.

When someone we don't like or who plays for the wrong team does something even if it's relatively innocuous, we're more likely to not agree with the action than if it was someone we do like or who is on our team.

Crazy, eh? Mind. Blown.

So, I'm sure glad to see some cutting edge journalism from CNN on things that are clearly The Most Important of Our Time, things like...what people think about Obama putting his feet on his desk. Really.

I'm very glad they didn't ask people about things like whether or not we should take military action in Syria, the vast data-mining of the NSA, the drone war without borders, locking up people for small amounts of drugs, or any of the other myriad trivial matters that our nation faces. Thank God CNN can resist the siren call of such trivialities and get to the essentials. "Hey, this guy occasionally puts his feet on his desk (you know, like nearly every other male ever who has ever sat at a desk). What do you think of that?"

Next up: Wolf Blitzer showing people (especially people who aren't in the same political party as the President) a picture of Obama and saying, "The President is breathing in this picture. What do you think about that?"

Monday, September 2, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of?

Part of being human is having fears. Fear of the dark. Fear of spiders. Fear of heights. Fear of the number thirteen. It's normal, but I've wondered for a long time what I was afraid of because I never really could think of anything. Until recently.

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night. It was dark and it was quiet, but I didn't know what time it was because I don't have a clock in my room other than my cellphone and laptop. I wasn't sure why I woke up other than something was...wrong. I couldn't say what exactly. I just didn't feel right and I really couldn't think. My head was foggy and it seemed more than just grogginess from waking up after a couple hours of sleep. The feeling was very frustrating as I lay in bed. Why did I feel strange? Why was I having trouble thinking? Something was very wrong, but I couldn't figure out what.

After a few minutes of this, I had the vague notion in the back of my head that I needed to eat something. There was no rational thought that went into this. It was just a feeling. I reached out for things on my desk and dresser and finally grabbed something which I proceeded to attempt to eat. As I attempted to stuff this thing in my mouth, I kept thinking, "What is wrong with me? Why isn't this working? Why can't I think? Why does this taste funny? What's wrong?" After several valiant attempts to consume the object, I got the sense that it wasn't going to work and I set it down. I realized in a hazy way that it was my Newton's Cradle which was now a tangled mess.

I still had the sense that I needed to eat something, but that I wasn't going to find anything in my room. That meant the kitchen. My bedroom is in the basement, so I began making my way upstairs. In addition to being unable to think, I was feeling quite clumsy. The stairs nearly proved my undoing as I stumbled and almost fell down. Twice. But I managed to make it to the kitchen where I opened the fridge and the cupboard next to it and began stuffing my face with whatever I could grab. Thankfully it turned out to be food items. After furiously stuffing myself with crackers, leftover pasta, chocolate, and some milk, some semblance of thought began slowly returning to my brain and I realized what had happened.


Your brain needs glucose to function and mine wasn't getting enough so it wasn't functioning properly. This is not the first time I've been hypoglycemic, but it was undoubtedly the worst. Based on previous lows I've had, my guess is that it was probably less than 32. Anything below 70 isn't good. The biggest problem with severe lows is that I am incapable of recognizing what is going on. I can't think clearly or call for help. I can't think, "Gee, I think my sugar is low. I'll check it and eat some glucose tablets." I just have this terrible feeling that something is wrong and that I can't think well enough to figure it out. No doubt it's scary for anyone who has been in the situation (protip: don't get type 1 diabetes), but it's especially fearful for me. If there is one thing I take pride in, it's my mental acuity. If the universe sees fit to bestow further diseases on me, I don't care what they are so long as they leave my brain alone. The fear I felt lying in bed, trying to eat an inanimate object, and unable to think was about the worst feeling in the world. There is no physical thing I think I fear as much as that.

I'm Back

So after an extended hiatus, I'm back. I've been thinking about posting again for awhile and the prodding of some friends pushed me over the edge. Writing is a great outlet and I'm looking forward to posting at least semi-regularly again.

It's been awhile since I've looked at this page. I've got a few ideas for updating it. As for what I post about, it will probably continue to be whatever happens to be on my mind. There is so much in the world I find fascinating.

I hope you find something interesting here and I hope to read your comments.

Live long and prosper.