Wednesday, May 30, 2007

UMC Follies

There are times when I'm not incredibly proud to be known as a Methodist.

The reason for this is one affecting most of the mainline Protestant denominations anymore. Theology and action twisting apart traditional biblical values seem to rule the day.

Case in point: There is a UMC pastor in Maryland who used to be a woman, and the change was made during this person's time as pastor.

It goes without saying, but I find this to be an incredible faux pas for church leadership. And yet, the regional leadership there found there to be nothing contradictory with church rules in appointing him/her to another term as pastor.

I should note that the majority of the UMC does not think like this. As with the Episcopal church, the majority of faithful members and leaders don't agree with decisions like this. The aberrations, however, make for much better headlines.

My pastor has discussed this with me before. I figure he'd be in a good position to offer an opinion on matters like this, knowing something about church structure and authority. His theory on how we ended up in this place is interesting. Since the 70s or so, the trend has been that conservative leaders spend their time and energy serving their local congregations, while the more liberal leaders focus on politicking and gaining broader positions of power. Eventually, one mindset took to important leadership positions nationally, including at the seminaries, while the other found itself on the outside looking in.

This makes some sense, and does a decent job of explaining the current situation. I can't say whether his theory is right, but he'd be in a better position to say.

This story about Reverend "Drew" makes me sad, but don't think it indicative of the entire UMC.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Case for the Empire

If you're a nerdly sort, such as myself, then you know there's a lot of hullabaloo about the 30th anniversay of Star Wars right now. In honor of this, I present you with this (relatively old) article asking the question, was the Empire really all that evil?
STAR WARS RETURNS today with its fifth installment, "Attack of the Clones." There will be talk of the Force and the Dark Side and the epic morality of George Lucas's series. But the truth is that from the beginning, Lucas confused the good guys with the bad. The deep lesson of Star Wars is that the Empire is good.

It's a difficult leap to make--embracing Darth Vader and the Emperor over the plucky and attractive Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia--but a careful examination of the facts, sorted apart from Lucas's off-the-shelf moral cues, makes a quite convincing case.

It's an interesting article. Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?

(Hat tip to Slublog)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Heroes Finale Rundown

I really wanted to write about the end of the first Heroes season with an analysis of what we were left with. I didn't want to spoil the ending for anyone, though.

I thought I might try to work with Blogger to get those posts where you can put the entirety of the post beyond a link, and just a little bit of it on the main page. That would be perfect for this. You know what I discovered? Since Blogger upgraded to v2, their template is ridiculous. I don't understand it a bit (Widgets are much less self-evident than HTML). I'm not sure I could even do basic changes to the template on my own anymore. All that stuff in my sidebar? I couldn't even tell you where the code IS in the template anymore, which means they might be permanent fixtures.

I hear WordPress is nice, or maybe MoveableType.

Anyhow, I still wanted to write about Heroes without ruining it for anyone, so the entirety of my thoughts is going to be posted in the comments for this post. If you're interested in reading a spoiler-filled, geeky analysis of the end of season one, then read on in the comments.

Monday, May 21, 2007

More Like Death-strogen

According to recent research, estrogen in lake water is killing off a population of minnows by feminizing the male fish.

Yet another example of why God commands us to fear the almighty uterus.

Heroes Finale

I have a love/hate relationship with this show.

The season ending was everything I wanted. And yet . . . I walked away with a sense of disappointment. I'm not sure I can say it was because of the show entirely.

All the same, the moment this show comes out on DVD, I'm there. When's the next season start?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

paJAMA Blogging

There is an editorial in the most recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association which purports that the American medical system is no longer, in the author's own words, "the best in the world." His argument is that it's quite broken. I read a few panicky news articles about the JAMA editorial, and thought I should see what the guy has to say. Thankfully, we subscribe to it here, so I was able to read it. (Update: Found a posting of it)

In short, the author, Ezekial Emanuel, states that the American healthcare system is broken. He cites as proof statistics which rate the American healthcare system as #45 amongst countries while we pay the most for our health care (16% GDP, more than any other western nation). Additionally, he cites ours as having only mediocre rates for lifespan and infant mortality compared to other countries, even Cuba. Not that I'd worry about how we compare to Cuba; Castro's government could tell me the sky is blue and I'd be skeptical.

These statistics are all alarming at face value, but I've no idea what went into forming them. Emanuel does cite his sources, so I could always chase those down and see what the methodologies were. We'll call that a "rainy day" project.

The problem, however, is that Emanuel jumps straight to his conclusion from there. He goes on to argue rhetoric and anecdote to further his case, that Americans feel like they're getting diminished returns for their money, that many would rather spend the money on food and shelter. The latter strikes me as a bit of non-sequitur for his general point, but that's not really important.

Only briefly does Emanuel attempt to identify any cause for our healthcare system being sick. He notes that American physicians are fast to adopt innovation and invention, whatever new (i.e. expensive) treatment, medicine, or technology is being developed. Additionally, he states that American physicians will make a lot of off-label use of medicines and implants.

So, I'm left unconvinced. Emanuel tells us that America's healthcare system needs drastic health due to the statistics above, but nowhere does he attempt any explanation for those statistics aside from cost. So we're ranked 45th in the world . . . why? Our life expectancy is lower . . . why? We have slightly higher infant mortality rates . . . why? It's a terrible mistake to try to find solutions without first identifying the actual problem.

I'll concede that, since it was a three page editorial, I shouldn't expect a great deal of policy and scholarship from it. However, given the "doom and gloom" tone of the article, I'd have expected at least something resembling a coherent approach to the topic. Instead, as I said, it was mainly rhetoric with pleas for solutions to unidentified problems.

I'd have expected more from JAMA.

Update 2
Had an interesting conversation with my sister this evening, a 3rd year medical student. Based on what she's had in her classes, she postulated that the infant mortality rates may be due to the incidence of drug use ("crack babies") among mothers, as well as a failure to get proper pre-natal care, for whatever reason, and that the life expectancy is due to the rate of obesity in America.

If these were true, then I think it'd invalidate everything Emanuel posits in his piece. Changing what we spend on obesity is going to have no effect on life expectancy, since health care won't take the food out of your mouth. Similarly, no change in medical spending is going to make irresponsible mothers see a doctor or prevent them from using drugs during pregnancy.

At this point, it's reasonable to ask where we are spending all of that extra money. I'm wagering a guess that it's partly in cosmetic surgery, and partly in cancer therapy. Cosmetic surgery is a huge industry in America, and one that would have no effect on mortality rankings. Now, I remember reading something a while back saying that cancer patients have a much longer lifespan in the US due to their access to testing (earlier detection) and newer or more effective treatments. I can't remember where I read it so I can't cite it, but if it is the case then it would explain to me how we might be spending so much more.

None of this is meant to put a firm seal on it, but I'm left even more unsatisfied than before with Emanuel's case.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Science Round-up

Another week, another selection of interesting news stories coming out of Science. Maybe someday I'll be the one generating the stories.

Healthier with Herpes

So, apparently herpes can make you healthier because it fights off bacterial infections? In other news, Paris Hilton will live forever.

Seriously, though, this is awesome, and exactly the kind of stuff I want to be studying when I get my PhD.

Hair from a Cut

Lab mice were shown to regenerate hair, not just skin, at the site of cuts. This is pretty cool, although they haven't confirmed if it works in humans. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be taking a steel wool pad to my scalp.

Dark Matter takes a solo

I don't care what they say. I still don't buy this whole "dark matter" theory. It's all based on indirect observation.

You know what else was based on indirect observation? Phlogiston. And we all know how that turned out.

Pro-choice . . . but which one?

Over at his blog, Dr. Mohler writes about a NYT article regarding selective abortions.
Side Note: Is it weird for me to be writing an article about an article about an article? It seems like some sort of joke waiting to happen.
The gist of the original article centers around decisions to abort for defects such as Down's Syndrome, which is relatively non-controversial in pro-choice circles. However, the more interesting part comes from the selective abortions which are starting to become more commonplace.

I've written about sex-selection abortions in India before on this blog. It's a horrible topic, partly because abortion itself is so horrible and partly because so many people are unwilling to say that such a thing is wrong, even the feminists. The NYT article seems to highlight the latter, as abortions for sex or for cosmetic defect are becoming more prevalent.

Is there no dignity left to mankind? Have we fallen so far as to think one better off dead than to live with even minor inconveniences?

I shouldn't have to say it, but selective abortions are the height of selfishness. It's not an abortion for reasons like, "I can't take care of the child, I want to pursue my career, my parents will be angry," etc. It's, "Oh, I want a child, just not this child." I cannot begin to describe how that attitude makes me feel.

To me, this is indicative of the problem of abortion in total. Let's say you wanted to outlaw selective abortions. How do you distinguish between selective abortions and those for "normal" reasons? It strikes me as similar to hate crime laws. Something that is legal (or a minor infraction) might become super-duper bad based solely on the mindset of the action. In this case, an action would be seen as bad based on one motive but good (or at least neutral) under another.

Shouldn't it be bad always? What makes the difference? Or is it a lack of imagination on my part to not see the distinction?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Seniors are allowed to conduct the band during practice once at my high school. Our band director was a great guy, even allowing us to pick the song we wanted to conduct and making certain the band would be ready to play it decently.

This story is just a good bit of fun. And I love the picture that came with it:

I don't care what anyone else says, I like this guy.

Islamic Compounds?

Is Canada Free Press a reputable source? I'm not sure. So, take this story with a grain of salt:

Radical Muslim paramilitary compound flourishes in upper New York state

Apparently, these compounds have sprouted up all over the country. Closed to the outside world with a gun-toting sentry at the entrance, neighbors are scared silly about these outposts and the FBI isn't appearing highly bothered.

If this is all true, it's a huge deal. Not only are these people creating sealed off communities, which creates something of a public health concern, but they're almost certainly jihadi training camps.

(On a side note, I'm surprised people aren't upset just by the sealed off communities; I incurred the wrath of readers at another blog when they were discussing an alleged Catholic-only community. Is this any better)

To follow-up, a blogger who wrote about the story has had his life threatened in Washington for doing so.

Does it validate the story at all? I dunno. If this is all true, it's pretty scary.

Sorry about that. It seems my HTML ate some bad Linux or something.

Random Thought Generator

I just spent a lovely weekend in Nashville, and the title reflects my brain upon return. This post is just a few odd thoughts and a couple of articles I picked up since Friday.

Odd Thought 1: People with one-track minds are hard to talk to.

I suppose it shouldn't be weird to say that Nashville is full of people who have centered their lives around music. It's the musician's Mecca, I suppose. Still, I found myself eating lunch on Sunday with a group of musicians, and it was really hard to carry a conversation with them.

I'd like to think of myself as a well-rounded individual with a broad range of interests. I could probably talk about anything, though to varying degrees of depth. These guys . . . it was nothing but talk about music and being in the business for over an hour.

There's really nothing controversial or insightful to add here. Just . . . people with such high focus on one area of life are difficult to interact meaningfully with. That's it.

Odd Thought 2: Christian cleavage.

One of the musicians I met this weekend was this lovely young woman, a Christian singer with an album in stores now. I'm sure she's very talented (though I didn't hear her sing), but I was a bit bothered by her outfit. She was, ahem, well-endowed, and wore a shirt that let it show.

Perhaps I'm overly focused on modesty, but doesn't this seem like a conflict of interest? "I want to encourage my brothers in Christ to purity and holiness . . . but in the meantime, don't you think I have great jubblies?"

Friday, May 11, 2007


Wee! Finals are done! Now I can spend all day writing for you guys . . . well, until I find a job.

Actually, I'll be heading out of town for a few days, so no blogging. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a few links for you to amuse yourself.

Cheat Seeking Missiles has a post about global warming involving a scientist who thinks it's the greatest scientific scandal of our time. You may or may not appreciate CSM's take on it, but he provides a link to the journal piece published by the scientist, so you can at least read what the guy has to say for himself.

Bookworm Room has a post about the "New Atheists" and their strident anti-religious dogma. It's an interesting (if old) premise, but I must say that I find these atheists who think religion is good for the world to be incredibly odd. I can't put my finger on it, but it seems like there's some sort of logical gap between saying, "We need religion because otherwise the State will degenerate into a killing machine" and "I'm not religious because I think it's a crock." Perhaps I'm missing something.

Finally, Anheuser-Busch is being criticized, again, for making beverages that "appeal to teens." Apparently, if you make any alcoholic beverage that tastes sweet, you're marketing to teens. If you try to make the label colorful or appealing in any way, you're appealing to teens. I guess the only way to make certain teens don't drink is to make all liquor taste like tree bark and sell it in unmarked containers. Great theory, but Bud Light was the drink du jour amongst the partiers when I was in high school, and I don't think it's famous for its flashy packaging or bubble-gum like flavor.

Hat tip to Big Lizards for the first two links.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Science vs. Welfare

Since coming to grad school, I've encountered very little politicking in my courses. And why would I? I expected that out of my philosophy courses as an undergrad. It's hard to figure out how to snipe at a political figure when you're talking about northern blots or the mechanism of ribosomal translation.

However, my bioinformatics professor snuck some of her politics into a lecture the other day, and it really rubbed me the wrong way.

We were discussing the HapMap project. The layman's description is that it seeks to identify and classify genetic diversity across different populations of people across the globe. The project is funded almost exclusively by governmental money (both here and abroad).

We talked partly about the non-scientific aspects of the project (scope, methodoly, ethics, etc.), but at one point she snuck a bit in there about reasons for not doing the project. Why spend all this money on a project like this, she asked, when there are so many people in this country and globally who don't have access to basic healthcare needs?

I'm still flabbergasted by this. Why are you inserting politics into a class about science?

But I'm not just blogging to whine about it, so I'll take the bait: Why should we spend money on this, or any scientific venture, when people out there are in need?

This question has unsettling consequences to me. Imagine just shutting down all progress because it is a better priority to ensure those in need are not. It's a lot of money. Her gripe is about universal healthcare. The HapMap project has had about $120M pumped into it so far, which is a drop in the bucket for the billions needed for universal health care.

Still, I don't think it's right to just shut down scientific inquiry for the sake of welfare. Most advancements in science and technology actually help alleviate these needs: increases in food production, new medical treatments invented, cheaper materials or procedures developed, etc.

And if you really want to get grumpy about it, when do you stop? At what point do you stop diverting money away from science for the sake of welfare? (Ponies for everyone!)

That last question is more of a non-starter, but I think the final answer falls on governmental priorities. I think the government has a larger stake in promoting scientific advancement, which everyone benefits from, than in offering universal health care, which is greatly more expensive with a lower return on investment (Alternatively, insert your preferred social welfare program).

Monday, May 07, 2007

Ibrahim on Armstrong

Here's an article by Raymond Ibrahim at NRO about a new book Karen Armstrong has coming out soon. Once again, she's writing about Muhammad (the founder of Islam).

If you read here regularly, you'll remember that I picked up Robert Spencer's newest book at Christmas. It's an interesting piece. Karen Armstrong has written a few books about Muhammad as well and thinks that Spencer is the worst kind of bigot and idealogue.

I've not read any of her books, but I did listen to her on CSPAN talking about one of her books. It's absolutely amazing. You'd think that her and Spencer were talking about completely different guys. I'll point out that Spencer uses citations like they were going out of style, both when writing and speaking. Armstrong doesn't when speaking. When writing? I don't know. But given what the Islamic writings say about themselves, she either has to be very ignorant of them or very dishonest about their content.

And Everything Nice

I suppose as long as phallic considerations are still on topic, this recent Science news article seems relevant.

Researchers have apparently discovered that infertility may be a risk for men with diabetes. When they performed analysis on the DNA of sperm from diabetic men, they discovered that the genetic material had degraded more in the diabetic group than in the control group.

They think that the higher blood sugar may lead to free radicals which destroy the DNA. I'm not certain how that mechanism would work, or why sperm are affected to such a degree. I'm curious what research will follow from this.

So . . . is this motivation to start or stop a low-carb diet?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Nature's Coat Hook

It's things like this that I read Fark for.

Why do I find penis jokes so funny? I guess you never really get over being a 12 year old boy.

Penis. *Snicker*

On A (Gender) Bender

Apparently, I write like a woman.

No, really.

This program, the Gender Genie, analyzes writings for their masculinity/femininity based on the words used. Based on the ~16 words devoted to each gender, it decides which way you swing based on the majority.

Interestingly, I'm a feminine writer when I write about philosophy or religion. When I write about video games and porn? I'm all man, it seems.

Personally, I think it's a skewed system. Even average Joe Schmoe writers like me know that certain words are best used in certain contexts. You'd think more content specific clues would be the determining factors, but it's rather innocuous words. Here's the lists:

With, If, Not, Where, Be, When, Your, Her, We, Should, She, And, Me, Myself, Her, Was
Around, More, What, Are, As, Who, Below, Is, These, The, A, At, It, Many, Said, Above, To
See what I mean? I could easily construct a very "feminine" sentence that in context is 100% all man, and vice versa. I think the system stinks.

Incidentally, this post clocks in as male. Good to know.

Oh, I should probably offer my hat tip on this one to Shamus.

I'm a rude blogger sometimes. Good thing no one reads this mess.

Update #2
A big welcome to Shamus' readers! I hope you'll take a moment to look around. A big thank you to Shamus for the link (I guess that shows what courteous blogging will do for you).