Friday, November 30, 2007

Boy dies aftter refusing treatment on religious grounds

You can read the article here. Basically, the story is that a 14 year old denied a blood transfusion which had the possibility of extending his life. The boy was a Jehovah's Witness, and according to their faith, a blood transfusion would make on unworthy, or unclean to enter the Kingdom of God. Thinking universally, I don't know if the state should step in in every case to choose to extend life, however, these kind of deaths seem senseless. The question would then become where to draw the line. We will force blood transfusions, but not continue life support if the patient has indicated not to. Or, should these crazy, dangerous, religious beliefs not be tolerated anymore? Should that be allowed as a reason to refuse a treatment? Then again, should a white supremacist be allowed to refuse a transfusion because it may contain "impure" blood?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Under the Banner of Heaven" Review

While on the way to Missouri, "The Show Me State," formerly Eden, and soon to be front row center to Jesus Part II, we listened to "Under the Banner of Heaven," by Jon Krakauer. If you have Mormon friends or coworkers, don't read this book. It has the effect of turning the image of Mormon missionaries into the most ardent Islamic fascists. Well, maybe not that bad, but the tone of the drum beat is steady and deep.

"Under the Banner of Heaven," examines Mormonism, scratch that, should have examined Mormonism. Rather then mainline Mormonism, Krackauer weaves a story of a 1984 murder of a woman and her baby by two members of an FLDS group with a pretty good history of Mormonism. This history that is presented is told in such a way as to be sympathetic of the polygamist groups who fall under a general banner of FLDS, or Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. Picking on FLDS members, and tying them with the LDS church is a much of a straw man as making Creationists in Christianity representative of the majority. However, this book made me feel sympathy for the FLDS members and their plight. They feel that it is their duty to marry at least three women and have as many children as possible. Part if this comes from D&C 132. President Woodruff issues a Manifesto stating that the Church and it's members must follow the law of the land. The FLDS members believe this is a great apostasy, that the LDS church sold out to the government of the United States. They believe it is in their right to practice their religion under the Constitution, which they believe is divinely inspired. Anyway, what you have in the end, after 100 or so years of the abolition of the practice of plural marriage, are isolated communities of practicing polygamists, including plenty of sexual abuse, brainwashing, and abuse of the social welfare system. I don't need to describe what Colorado City is like, just picture as bad as it could be, and that's how Krackauer paints it. Although, at the end, when interviewing a former FLDS member, he did acknowledge that the people in the city, despite all of the hardship, are probably happier then people outside.

I think the key, and what should have been examined further, are the people who feel so strongly that God is talking to them, telling them to do things. This was brought up in the court case regarding the murder, because an insanity claim was made, because one of the men received a revelation from God that a list of people should be killed. He wasn't deemed insane, because plenty of people believe they talk to God, and many of people believe they get answers to prayer. Are they all insane too?

In Kohlberg's moral ladder, the highest level of morality involved acting rightly, even though you will be punished for it. Here is where one can find sympathy with those in the FLDS, and even those who commit horrible crimes because they are justified through their faith. However, by what basis do we judge an action as moral or not? If one follows secular law, and disobeys God's law, is that moral?

Now, I'm an atheist, I don't follow any God's law, and have only my own morals and secular law to live by. But, how can I judge someone who, say, prays and believes they should protest a war through nonviolent means, despite getting punished, or someone who keeps their 17 children isolated an illiterate, and happens to abuse a daughter sexually because God tells him she's to be a special daughter, and must submit. Now, that story is from Alaska, and I don't think that guy was Mormon. I judge the protester is moral, but the guy from Alaska is immoral, even though both use the same reasoning for their actions. Both are acting rightly, according to their beliefs. Is it because I would be sympathetic to the cause of the protester? Would I feel differently, if the protester were violent? What if the protester were shooting politicians in order to end further violence, at least in his or her mind? Are the actions moral? So, the answer to prayer, or revelation from God is not a good basis for determining morality. So, what use is it to pray for guidance for morality? I don't mean to say that the faithful toss a coin between violence and peace when praying, it's just difficult to judge morality based on that alone.

Here's another example, of acting on the top level of morality. Jeannette and I were in the hotel on Sunday morning, and watched EWTN, a Catholic TV network. One show, the Knights of St. Michael, contrasted the Killing of the Innocents of King Herod, with abortion. The show had a Roman politician urging people to act to prevent further killing, with a modern US politician proclaiming that since the last 100 years, over 925 million babies have been aborted murdered. About half of this show was about abortion, featuring another segment with the Devil and a kid. Fetuses and tissue should be used, rather then babies, according to the Devil, and murder is a choice. Also, a reenactment of Mother Theresa's speech accepting her Nobel Peace Prize was shown, including her statement that the "greatest destroyer of peace is abortion." There was also this appeal to follow God's law, that abortion should be made illegal, because this is God's law. That argument is very persuasive. I can imagine how people so strongly act when it comes to God's law, because it is something most noble, higher then one's self. And, it's something a large group can get behind, so one is acting in unison with fellow followers. Now, most will not turn violent because of some kids show on Sunday morning TV, and the show was not promoting violence, but I can see the point of view of someone who believes they are justified, who encourage punishment for their actions because their actions now are placed on that highest rung of morality. I have no answers to these questions.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Diet Coke Plus

Since we are out on vacation and I'm sick with a "common cold," we headed to a Walgreen's to get some magic pills to cure me. While there, they had Diet Coke Plus on a special 4 for $1. Being frugal, I had to pick it up. I had thought of the idea for Diet Coke Plus years and years ago, wondering with the stuff they already add into the drink, why they couldn't add some vitamins along the way. Just avoid ones which effect taste to sharply, and people would buy it up. Well, Coke did come through with such a product. However, now it makes me think of "A Clockwork Orange," where the Droogies are at the Korova milk bar drinking milk-plus which is milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom. Diet Coke Plus doesn't contain anything stronger then a mild stimulant to increase awareness, but made me think we are one step closer to the past / future of A Clockwork Orange.

1984 Arcade

We drove all day through Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri to land in Springfield. Here are some quick impressions of the town. It must be the strip mall capital of the world. That is all there is, strip malls with blazing bright signs attempting to draw customers in. The signs are getting better, or at least more annoying. We drove past a couple of sleepy properties which had fancy LED full video screens promoting their stores. Also, downtown is indistinguishable from the rest of Springfield. Their downtown, surprisingly, looks much like most major urban centers, however, in that half of the businesses are up for lease, and it looks tired and run down, with a scattering of condos for sale. Yes, even Springfield didn't pass up the condo craze.

The 1984 Arcade was busy, very busy. At any given time, there were maybe 10 to 15 games free out of around 50. It was pretty easy to play what you wanted though, as there weren't too many people who stuck to one game. Because it's Springfield, the lease must not be that bad for the place, and the business model seems solid. Just charge at the door, and let people go nuts. Arcade games are pretty durable, even the old games, but you have to watch for the moving parts, like buttons and joysticks. So, I think it wouldn't be so bad for this model to expand elsewhere. The traditional arcade model fails because people have games at home which offer a more personal experience. I've never thought that an emulation, or even a classic game on a different platform was quite as good as the original. I think people would flock to a place where they could play older games, which have quality game play and spend a few hours mashing buttons. Of course, I'd like to see a 1992 arcade, with TMNG games, or various Simpsons games in addition to classics from the 80's.

If you are anywhere near Springfield, the 1984 Arcade is worth it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sick Haze and

I've been sick for the past few days. I stayed home on Monday,m and that did no good. I went to Mankato, and was out until all hours of the morning hanging out with August Berkshire and students of MSU on Tuesday. Wednesday, I went to work, because I just love work so much, I can't stay away for too long, plus I needed to get backups prepared for the weekend, because I won't be in the rest of the week. Now, this morning, I'm still sick. It's s an upper respiratory thing with unnecessary fluid in the form of mucus in my lungs, so I cough.

So, in my state, sleeping happens lightly, and for entertainment, there is the Internet. Ah, humanity's great resource, presenting the very best of human knowledge. Then there is It's a hilarious video podcast / vidcast / video blog / vlog thing. The video's are short, entertaining, have pretty simple humor, and talking plastic horses. Here is the latest video featuring a dog with no eyes:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ah, Bird Meat

I am not opposed to eating bird flesh, as Jeannette is, ever since she discovered an odd part of meat in a turkey sandwich which she called a "turkey aorta." So, this Thanksgiving, I will be consuming bird meat and so will many Americans. But what kind of bird meat will be consumed?

The choices are many now, with different definitions from the FDA then you may be expecting when you buy the "Big Bird."

Free Range

This indicates that the turkey isn't kept inside all the time, and allowed to roam outside if it would like. While I have the image of turkeys running around picking berries off the ground in a forest somewhere, what is usually the case is that the turkey isn't raised much different then other turkeys. True, the turkey has access to the outdoors, but that could consist of a small fenced in pen tacked onto the end of the larger barn where the majority of turkeys are. It's a tiny investment for a huge marketing spin, plus you can get more money marketing turkey as "free range."


The FDA has not approved the use of hormones in poultry production. Even the Butterball is hormone free.

Cage Free

There's no real legal meaning, but is usually similar to Free Range, except the animals have no access to the outdoors. The turkeys are still packed breast to breast in the barn.


Certified Organic meat consists of a lot of paper work for the producer. This certification means that the turkey ate only organic feed, and was not unnecessarily treated with antibiotics, among other regulations.


This means that the turkey hasn't been frozen, or at least hasn't had its internal temperature lowered below 26 degrees, which I guess is frozen, but not that much?


This definition is not regulated as heavily as the Organic label, and generally means that the meat contains no artificial colors and has been minimally produced.

So, what's the answer? We've become very good at producing lots and lots of meat with very few resources, and very small plots of land. I would prefer a good system, like Organic Certification, despite the heavy reliance on documentation, or the ethical treatment of animals meant for human consumption which had a strong focus on living conditions. This would mean less production, or more land required for production, and higher prices, but meat is already heavily subsidized by the government as it is. Bah, whatever happened to honesty, and just doing things right without so much oversight?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Man's Search for Meaning

I don't remember the moment I found out Santa Claus wasn't real, but I remember Christmas not being as fun without that belief. Recently I read a great book by Mary Roach titled "Spook". It scientifically disproves the afterlife. Up until this point I childishly held on to the belief of ghosts as some indication of an afterlife. After reading this book a lost not a hope for great presents, but hope that I won't just rot in the ground when I die. Needless to say that for a while this proved to be a very depressing prospect for me, haunting my thoughts at every thing I did. If there is nothing after this, what is the point of doing anything at all? As much as I wanted to lie to myself and ignore the facts, I couldn't turn away from the tangible proof that has been presented not only in this book, but other research as well. Just because I want something doesn't make it real, otherwise I'd have more money in the bank. However this book did more than depress me. It made me realize that if I only have this life, I need to make the most of it. This ultimately led to the question "What is the meaning of my life".
At about this time Bjorn recommended another great and influential book to me. "Man's Search for Meaning" by Vickor Frankl gave me an entirely different perspective on things. He was a victim of Auschwitz, and a proponent of logotherapy. I will briefly talk about some things that I could relate to. Much of it talks about living through suffering. As I have not had significant suffering in my life, I cannot relate.
The beauty of life. One often feels alive when they look upon a sunset or climbs a beautiful mountain. In Frankl's experience just a branch with the leaves on it was enough to make his day. Find beauty in life wherever you can find it. This ties in with keeping positive. Today people have such trite complaints. Frankl would find joy in the day by finding a piece of cloth, or working with a foreman who beat him less. Focus more on the good things than the bad. What is the point of making yourself feel horrible, unless your a sadist.
The thing that struck me the most was the possibility that life doesn't have one meaning, but many small meanings. There is a different meaning to one's life at any given moment. It is one's responsibility to the world to carry out these tasks. This is enough to personally get me going through life and take a Universalistic approach to it. Try to make every decision based on how it will positively effect other people. Don't end up a nihilist like Bjorn.
Frankl quotes Nietzsche "he who has a why to live can bear almost any how". This is a beautiful quote and means so much to me. Because I have one life I need to make the most out of it, not sit around depressed that in a billion years none of what I do will matter anyway because human kind will be no more. I don't know exactly what my why is but I have an idea. I only have so much time to implement it. I better get my ass in gear and live my how.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Minnesota Monitor's Quote of the Day Coulter and University of St. Thomas

I laughed a good laugh. Here's why. Minnesota Monitor has a post about the campus recycling program's web page on Environmental Stewardship at the University of St. Thomas. Here you will find quotes from popes, presidents, writers, the Bible, Jesus, politicians, many different voices. Some explain the problem of environmental stewardship, that it's simply more profitable to not limit the use of resources, most of the others speak with caution and responsibility. For example:

We must strive to become good ancestors.

-Ralph Nader

If we play the Sesame Street game to find the "thing that doesn't look quite like the others," Minnesota Monitor stumbled upon this gem:

God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'

-Ann Coulter, Fox-TV: Hannity & Colmes, 20 Jun 01

Now, I hope there's a very very small minority of people who use that reasoning. I would say, if I put on a Christian apologist hat, that the decree from God that man has dominion over the plants and animals and things which swim in the sea, does not mean, "rape it, it's yours." A king has dominion over his kingdom. That doesn't mean "rape it, it's yours." Dominion implies a sense of responsibility. Sure, you get to call the shots, but you can not abuse your authority without consequence. So, as human kind, we have a duty to the environment. This is the majority point of view of the quotes on UST's site. Who knows how Coulter's quote got in there? But, I do think that it does bring to light a base reasoning come people may have when trying to oppose an attitude of Environmental Stewardship. We don't need to be responsible. God said we could do what we'd like with all the things which fly, crawl, and swim
, and I'm not going to let some hippy tell me I can't built my parking lot because it would cause an increase of pollution in the water supply.

Personally, I don't think we need the Bible to justify environmental stewardship. It makes as much sense as not shooting yourself in the foot. But, using the Bible to justify the indifference towards environmental stewardship, is irresponsible, and I'd say is poor reading. You don't need to be told from any politician, comedian, playwright, religious leader, or president that environmental stewardship is critical. Will it lead to an end of global warming? Who knows? But, there are immediate benefits of having cleaner air, and cleaner water. Also, the development of cheaper energy will make the largest difference to countries without stable power generation, or a reliance on unstable fuel sources. Whether it makes a huge dent in the warming of the planet, the side effects of the effort are so great. It's just a shame that the side effects are not as powerful of a motivator as global climate change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Back in Time - 1984

Jeannette and I are going to Missouri, or Misery, as Jeannette's friend likes to call it. Why the "Show Me" state? One answer, the 1984 Arcade. We'll be taking the Pac Man car down there over the weekend for a quick trip after Thanksgiving. We'll report back with details of an arcade where the cover is $5.00 and the play is unlimited, except by time. Most games are original, except for one emulation. There are over 50 games there, and I'll be sure to play them all.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Worst Reason to Ban Gay Marriage

Jeannette and I headed up to Maple Grove to see a debate between Ronn Johnson from Northwestern College, and August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists. I thought both participants are getting better at articulating their positions, but because this debate has been done so many times, it feels rehearsed. While August was on the offensive, asking for proof and evidence, and saying everyone in the room is an atheist with regards to other gods, like Thor and Apollo, the Christians at Northwestern Bookstore gasped in shock, almost hearing the word atheist and shutting off what followed.

After the debate, and talking afterwards, which lasted 3 hours, we headed to Perkins. Here the debate continued with Christians and atheists talking about the nature of evil, the afterlife, morality, etc. As it got later in the night, August mentioned that in our country, if you want a law passed, you need to have secular reasons for getting it passed. For example, you couldn't pass a law banning the eating of meat on Friday, unless there were a secular reason for doing so. He cited gay marriage as an example of a law to prohibit an action which has no secular basis. One of the women there, how very honestly said, "What about harm to the body? Shouldn't we prevent that? Gays have to get surgery for ruptured anuses all the time and I need to pay for it. If they get married, then I need to pay for their spouses insurance, so I'd need to pay for their surgery as well." August countered with, "What about lesbians? They have the lowest numbers of venereal disease, so what's the reason there?" She replied, "well, I'm sure there's something they do, I have no idea what they do."

So, THAT's why people don't want gay marriage. They don't want more ruptured anuses. I wanted to find more information about the gay marriage debate, and where the concern for ruptured anuses came from, but I ran into too many sites with people wanting to hang gays, thought gay parades were icky, that it was unnatural, people don't fit that way, that gay people should procreate so the disease of homosexuality will die off, and that being homosexual is wrong because the Bible tells us so.

Of course, I know there are many Christians who are gay, and many Christians who don't see any problem with homosexuality. They see the main message of the New Testament as love and inclusion. The difficulty when a tolerant Christian tries to convince a literalist, is that they are using the same source material, just reading it differently. There's no good ground to start from, and all are just a point of view, with some being more convincing to others then another. For example, a liberal Christian could write off all of the crazy Jewish laws in the Old Testament, and Leviticus 18:22, because we've entered into a new covenant with God, therefor we don't need to follow all of the old laws. But, a literalist, will pull out Romans 1:26-27, right in the New Testament. So how do you judge who is right? Do all arguments carry equal weight?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Pagoda Dinkytown Menu

The Pagoda Dinkytown has a website, with their menu. If you wake up at 2AM on Saturday, and need some noodles, you can stop on by, they are open until 3 AM on the weekend, midnight the rest of the week.

If you want a unique dessert, they have something called a "frosty." This isn't like the Wendy's Frosty. It starts out with a base of shaved ice. Then soy milk is poured on top, with a scoop of ice cream topping the ice. Then clear gelatin cubes are added, with which ever fresh fruit you'd like poured around. It's a strange dessert if you aren't used to it, but it's very light, and very refreshing.

The Kite Runner Movie

While I haven't read the book, The Kite Runner felt like a movie attempting to be honest to the content of the book. Parts were rushed over through editing, and the pace was very quick at times. However, I thought it told the story very well. While some parts toward the end seem far fetched, the first three quarters are an absolutely engrossing bit of film. The characters are not heavily introduced, but exposed enough that you could fill in your own back story if you'd like. Don't tell me everything I need to know, but show me how things are at present, and I can infer the past. This film is a personal story, but presents Afghanistan in transition well without being political about it. We saw an advance screening, with a question and answer period with Homayon Ershadi who played Baba in the film. One question was, "What do you expect this film to do to the violence we brought to your part of the world?" Mr. Ershadi responded, "What? The movie? This movie is not political." His answer resulted in cheers. He had stated that what he hopes for the film is that people have a better understanding of what the Afghan people have gone through, know where it is on a map, that there are people there who need our help, and that there is a lot of money going into Afghanistan, but there is nothing to show for it. When the movie is released in December 14th, make a point to see it, you won't be disappointed if you loved the book.