Monday, November 22, 2010

And the Terrorists have Won

They not only can fly planes into buildings, but now they've got us scurrying around like ants fighting each other.


An ABC News employee said she was subject to a "demeaning" search at Newark Liberty International Airport Sunday morning.

"The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around," she said. "It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate."

In what world is this appropriate?

And it doesn't end there. Taking a child's shirt off, grabbing, then examining a breast cancer survivor's prosthetic breast, breaking a man's bag of urine after he warned of the likelihood of breakage. Seriously?

And this gem, from the head of the TSA:

Pistole said he is "very aware" of the concerns raised by passengers and said if anyone feels their privacy was violated, they can file a complaint on the TSA's website or ask for a supervisor at the airport.

You mean, after they're all done assaulting us we can complain?


Monday, September 13, 2010

Is Sugar Prohibited by the Word of Wisdom?

Yesterday I read an article at the New Scientist website that looked into studies that has found that sugar and junk food can have some effects on the brain similar to morphine, suggesting that the subjects may become addicted to sugar. Of one study of rats it said:

Sugar is a key ingredient in most junk food, so they offered rats sugar syrup, similar to the sugar concentration in a typical soda beverage, for about 12 hours each day, alongside regular rat feed and water. After just a month on this diet, the rats developed behaviour and brain changes that Avena and Hoebel claimed were chemically identical to morphine-addicted rats. They binged on the syrup and showed anxious behaviour when it was removed - a sign of withdrawal. There were also changes in the neurotransmitters in the nucleus accumbens, a region associated with reward.

Of a separate study done by a different group it said:

Kenny wondered whether rats that eat junk food would have a similar response to the cocaine-addicted rats he had already studied. He used three groups of rats. The first was a control group that only had access to standard rat feed. The second group could eat junk food - bacon, sausage, icing and chocolate - for only 1 hour each day with regular rat feed and water available for the rest of the time. The third group had an all-you-can-eat, around-the-clock buffet that included junk food and rat feed. After 40 days, Kenny stopped access to the junk food in both experimental groups. The rats with unlimited access to junk food essentially went on a hunger strike. "It was as if they had become averse to the healthy food," says Kenny. It took two weeks before the animals began eating as much as those in the control group.


The obese, unlimited junk food rats had dulled reward systems and were compulsive eaters. They would even tolerate electric shocks to their feet designed to deter them from eating junk food when the rat feed was still available shock-free. Cocaine-addicted rats behave the same way towards their drug.


Yesterday afternoon, after reading the New Scientist article, I attended a regional conference held by the LDS church, in which President Packer was one of the speakers. At one point during his talk he said something like, "We don't use harmful or addictive substances." I'm not sure of the exact wording, but using the words "harmful" and "addictive" is pretty common among leaders of the LDS church, and the subject is related to what is termed the "Word of Wisdom".

[The Word of Wisdom refers specifically to Section 89 of the Mormon book Doctrine and Covenants, in which certain dietary prescriptions and proscriptions are made, and also to the set of requirements for full church membership made by the church organization today. The two aren't exactly the same. For example, nowhere in the text of Section 89 does it mention "harmful drugs" or something similar, yet the use of drugs is explicitly considered to be a violation of the Word of Wisdom and of the requirements for full church membership. A third Word of Wisdom definition might be a more abstract and nebulous injunction to "do things that cause you to be healthy".]

Anyway, when President Packer stated that we don't use addictive substances the first though that came to my mind was sugar, since I'd just read the article about junk food addiction.

Should excessive consumption of sugar be considered to be against the Word of Wisdom? Well, it's not against the text of Doctrine and Covenants Section 89. It's not now a violation of the specific requirements for LDS church membership. It would be against the abstract injunction to be healthy, though being healthy isn't particularly novel or insightful, except perhaps the idea that God is asking us explicitly to take steps toward being healthy. It is, though, a violation of the command to avoid harmful and addictive substances.

I still eat sugar. And I did use the weasel word "excessive". Take it as food for thought. Or thought for food.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

First of a new series of discussions on topics related to Mormonism and Transhumanism

The following invitation is from the Mormon Transhumanist Association:

Please join us for this month's discussion on the topic of Social Change in the advent of Radical Life Extension OR How things will be when we live the as long as Methuselah.

Date: Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 9:00 pm Mountain Daylight time.
Location: SecondLife, an online environment,

The Mormon Transhumanist Association is hosting a series of open discussions on various topics relating to the intersection of Mormonism and Transhumanism. The first of these discussions will address the topic of Social change in the advent of Radical life extension. Everyone interested is eagerly invited to attend. Bring your ideas or questions to discuss, or just bring yourself and listen. After a brief introduction of the topic we will have a discussion where everyone is free to participate, share their perspectives and ask questions.

The discussion will be hosted in the online environment Second Life. An internet-connected computer with speakers and a microphone -- as either a headset or with echo cancellation -- are prerequisites, while the SecondLife software may be freely downloaded from the internet. If you do not yet have the software, download it from

The two following TED talks may be of interest on the subject:

Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+ - Dan Buettner (2009)

Aubrey de Grey says we can avoid aging (2005)

Friday, January 22, 2010

LDS Church makes a call for Haiti Relief Donations

The LDS Church has made a statement asking for its members to help aid the suffering in Haiti. They have specifically asked for monetary donations to the Church Humanitarian Services, and for prayers to God asking for peace and calm to come to Haiti.

A few days ago I made a donation to the Church for Haiti, and was surprised at how easy it is. Donations may be made using a credit card at the Church's philanthropic website, and it took maybe 2 minutes to type in my name, address and credit card number. It is similarly easy at the Red Cross web site, as they both use basically the same process to accept donations. I believe that the Red Cross had the ability to select Haiti Relief specifically. Both websites were easily found using a web search.

It is sometimes a difficult thing to become involved in helping the victims of disaster when the world is so big and we are usually so far away from tragedy. I am amazed and grateful that through modern technology we are able to help those who are able and willing to give help at the site of the crisis. I am also grateful that modern technology, and the rapid and large organization it enables, allows medical supplies, food, water and help to be delivered so quickly. I wish it could be even faster and better for such a devastated place as Haiti, but I am glad it is as good as it is.

Link to the LDS Newsroom

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Truly Christ-like Art

I currently practice karate. No, you needn't worry. I'm only a white belt, the lowest rank in karate, so I'm not dangerous.

After becoming involved with our club I was struck by the incongruity between the image I had of traditional "martial arts" with what I was experiencing in practice. I expected that the martial arts was a peaceful pursuit. The reason to study martial arts, such as karate, is to learn how to not fight, to learn to have peace, etc. Yet in our karate club, like other karate or martial arts schools, we learn how to hurt people. We learn techniques to use that are oftentimes meant to hurt, possibly used to kill, and we learn places on our opponents' bodies to use these techniques. We spar with each other, after which I often have bruises on my shins. (Nothing worse than that, thank goodness. My club is made of great people who care for each other and try to prevent any serious injuries.)

I don't fault karate for this incongruity. It's the nature of self defense, just as it is the nature of our communal defense (e.g. military), that you learn to hurt the other person. With most styles of self defense, anyway. As long as defending one's self is a part of achieving and maintaining peace training for and practicing conflict will be a part of it.

I find that because of my karate training I think about getting in fights more now. I think about what I carry on my person that I can use as a weapon if I find myself in a fight situation. Where should I hit, how should I hit, what's the best way to "end the fight"? These are all good questions when one is studying how to defend one's self. At the same time I think there are drawbacks to having these thoughts. I feel more aggressive (though I haven't gotten and don't plan on getting into any fights). I start seeing people as opponents, even though it is just in a "sparring" way rather than a "fight in a dark alley" way. These are not peaceful thoughts.

The way I see it, there are trade-offs in the study of karate and other martial arts.

Not all martial arts have the same approach toward self defense. Aikido seems to more closely match my previous expectations of martial arts with respect to learning how to not fight and encouraging peace with others. I understand there are different schools of thought within aikido, but in general the goal is to (quoting Wikipedia) "defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury". The founder, Morihei Ueshiba, seems to have greatly cared for the people in our world and desired peace among us.

I recently read a blog post that pointed to a story told by Terry Dobson, a well-known American aikido practitioner who was able to study under Morihei Ueshiba. His story is profound, and tells of what I consider to be a truly Christ-like art.

THE TRAIN CLANKED and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty - a few housewives with their kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows.

At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our car. He wore laborer’s clothing, and he was big, drunk, and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that she was unharmed.

Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up.

The Rest of the Story

Monday, January 11, 2010

Funny Comic

I was pointed to a comic that is, at the same time, both funny and insightful.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Some thoughts this New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

New Years Day is a day where we look both backward and forward in time. Maybe we only do it one year back and one year forward. I can't help but go farther out and back then just one year, though.

I don't have a particularly good memory. I think everyone believes that, except for maybe those rare people with photographic memories, but my wife can verify that I do, indeed, have a bad memory. Because of this, sometimes looking backward is a saddening thing for me to do. I feel like with every day forward I take I lose more of my past to the ravages of time. Even more than what we know we've forgotten. (There are things we remember, things we know we forgot, and things we don't know we forgot. Thanks go to Donald Rumsfeld.)

I wish there was some way of reconstructing my past. Sometimes I wish there was some way I could relive my past -- not to go back and change things, just to have and understand the feelings and experiences I had before. Then maybe somehow I could save all those feelings and experiences and sensations as Memories(tm), the total package. And this time around they would not get lost.

As far as I know this is not possible. As far as I understand physics it isn't possible, anyway. (But then, damn it Jim, I'm a programmer, not a theoretical physicist!) And even if it were possible I don't see how it could ever be the same as the original memory without being the original person -- meaning without all of the knowledge and additional memories and changes we've had since that point in time. Can the me of now really completely understand the me of 10, 20, 30 years ago?

And then, my past is inextricably tied into the lives of so many other people, most especially my parents and siblings. Would I need to reconstruct their experiences to be able to reconstruct mine?

Will there ever be any way of recovering our past? If so, what can I do toward the goal?

I guess I really should have been keeping a journal all these years.

What will the future be like? It's an interesting question. I really don't know.

I am looking forward to Space Ship Two and White Knight Two! Even though I don't have $200,000, and the flights only spend a short time in weightlessness I think the idea of having private flight to space is awesome, and hopefully it portends even more involvement in space in our future.

I'm looking forward to better computer user interfaces that can read our thoughts. No more typing, or talking, or mousing, or carpal tunnel or shoulder problems or whatever. Just think it and your computer does it. Almost unbelievable, yet scientists are in the middle of our first clumsy steps and mind reading. Just two weeks ago I saw this Star Wars toy that senses one's brainwaves as input for raising a ball in a tube. Force Trainer or something. I wanted to buy it but my cheap self held back.

I follow the headlines of some techy websites, and it is amazing to me the number of blurbs there are about progress humanity is making in technology. Most of them are in the 3-5 year- and 5-10 year-out ranges, and thus haven't "arrived". Maybe these articles are giving an impression that we are progressing faster than we really are. Still, if even half of these modern miracles materialize it will be amazing. Over the past few years I've seen progress being made on retinal implants to help certain blind people see. The last time we could even imagine this was 2000 years ago when Jesus was annointing eyes with clay.

Many people much smarter than I fear our future. Death by asteroid, robot attack, engineered (or natural) supervirus, environmental disaster, World War III and so on certainly are plausible futures. I understand and share a fear of the future. The future demands a great amount of caution and foresight from us, I think.

Yet if we have an expectation of annihilation, where does that take us? I worry that the result is us fulfilling the prophecy. It is important that we take an optimistic view of the future, and work toward that future, as the first step toward a future where we (humans) are still living.

The future will be amazing. Our future will be to us even more amazing than today is to a caveman.