Agree to Disagree

April 26th, 2006

This past weekend I had a most interesting airplane conversation. After hours already on planes and in airport bars I at last landed in my seat on the final leg of my journey to Miami. Mind you I had plenty of liquor in me at this point to be feeling quite conversational. So, that probably has much to do with the conversation that followed. I finished reading an article relating a debate between people of three differing viewpoints on the future of humanity and hopes for biotechnology to help us reach that future. The article got me thinking all sorts of things, and I really wanted someone else to read it so that I could have a discussion.

The man sitting next to me on the plane was reading an article about aging and the ability of humans to live longer lives. Perfect, I thought. He’s right in line with what I’m thinking right now. Maybe he’ll want to read this interesting article. Only too late did I notice that the magazine he was holding looked suspiciously like the literature that Jehova’s Witnesses bring with them when they come knocking at your door. Oh, the floodgates had been opened. Dumb, dumb, dumb, were the words reverberating through my head as the conversation took an ominous turn into belief in God.

Well, as it turned out, the conversation went surprisingly well. In the end, after debating our differing beliefs in science, evolution, and alll things in between, we came to the conclusion that we could agree to disagree. It didn’t mean that he would stop pursuing the goal of Witnesses to convert everyone to the “one true faith”. But, rather that he realized that I was a lost cause. I in turn realized that he would never stop believing the words written in the literature he was holding in his hands.

The Jehova’s Witness publications do a fascinating job of twisting science to agree with the beliefs of their chuch. Everything that the man I was talking to had learned about science was from those little magazines, which by the way are written some governing body, a Jehova’s Witness information council of sorts, who decides what their flock should learn and what should be ommitted. He didn’t question a single statement in his little pamphlet. Quite the contrary, he used it to back up his points during our conversation.

I have a feeling that many Witnesses like this man I met on the plane have never questioned the things that they read. Never questioned that everything they learn comes from their church, or even some group of people who decide what they need to know for them. This man I met runs a study group in which he uses the Jehova Witness literature to teach others about the workings of God in this world, and how the flock can live amidst the constant advancement of technology, incorporating science into their daily lives. Did you know that Witnesses aren’t allowed to have blood transfusions? If in an accident, they can recieve saline and drugs to make up for the lost volume, but no blood. I told the man about a new blood substitute that is being tested in some cities. He said that he didn’t know if it would be allowed, but that his church leaders would give them guidance in good time.

Nice not to have to make your own decidions…

He was a nice man. We had a pleasant conversation. I think he felt sorry for me and my lack of belief. I felt sorry for him and his lack of a need to question. So, we came to an impasse where there could be no further discussion. I went back to my wine and biotechnology, and he to his literature. There was nothing more to say, just an unspoken agreement to disagree.

I wish a lot of disagreements in life could end as my conversation did. Nicely.

Freeing Up the Airwaves

April 25th, 2006

I just received this link through the list-serve at my radio station. As radio djs we are all quite interested in any moves that are made regarding indecency and obscenity laws promoted by the FCC. We like to know what we may or may not get in trouble for. I sure don’t want to end up getting my station in trouble for uttering something that I’m not supposed to, like Bono for instance. Additionally, although considering some words or phrases obscene or indecent seems reasonable, it seems ridiculous and out-dated for others. For instance, the phrase “piss and vinegar” can get you in trouble because piss pertains to urine and urine is considered vulgar because it is a bodily fluid. I know many would like to maintain the US in a 1950’s conservative way of life, and the FCC is helping to try to do just that. However, the reality is that the times, they are a’changin’, and what may have been indecent before may be commonplace in today’s world.

The article makes some really interesting points about the future of indecency in the US as technology advances. We have been brought into a new age of free information via the internet that opens up a whole new can of worms for the Supreme Court to deal with. Will the Supreme Court side with the FCC and continue to limit the content that adults are allowed to receive, or will it take this new age of information and the competition that things like cable and the internet have brought to the once hallowed purveyors of information, the broadcast networks? The networks are fighting for their freedom to compete in the market that they once used to own. And, who knows which way the Court will go these days?

New York Stories

April 17th, 2006

When I traveled to New York this past fall for the AAAS fellowship I was required to write biweekly reports on my experience, a midterm report, and a final report. In addition, the American Physiological Society who sponsored my adventure asked that I write for their publication, “The Physiologist.” The first piece they published can be found here. I just finished working on a couple of stories, one is a final thought based on my experience at WNBC, and the other an opinion piece about the public image and future of science. I’ll wait to see which they choose to publish, and maybe post the other here on my site at that time.

I Didn’t Do it This Time

April 14th, 2006

While many times in the past I might have been guilty of making fun of Canadian scientists on my radio program, this time the Canadians have taken care of it themselves.

And, I’ll takethis moment to say that I love Canadian scientists, Australian scientists, and scientists of any nationality. Some are just easier to poke fun at than others.


April 13th, 2006

What kind of world are we living in? The term schadenfreuden (basically means to take pleasure in others misfortune) has gained popularity in recent months, and I think it says a lot about our culture.

This past weekend the word came up in conversation with friends, and I wondered whether the Germans have a word with the opposite meaning, to take pleasure in others good fortune. After a thorough web search, my friends and I came up empty handed for the German antonym. However, we did find a Buddhist word with the meaning we were searching for, mudita. Simple, yet unknown to many. I’d like to see this word spread. Wouldn’t it be nice if the nightly news had a mudita segment everyday, if only to show that the world isn’t all bad. To counter-act the negative with some positive, so that we feel at least a little more balanced. I know it would be nice to take pleasure at the good that others are doing and experiencing a little more often.

mmm… mudita.

So, There’s Some More Bad News…

April 13th, 2006

I was busy reading my friend Amy’s blog this morning, and was as bothered as she about the huge amount of downright bad news. Then I checked boingboing only to find another example.

In yet another subversive turn, evidence recently surfaced that a major telecommunications company has been shunting internet traffic to the NSA. According to an article in Wired News a 22-year employee of AT&T came forward with 140 pages of documents supporting his claim that AT&T created secret rooms in their switching stations that sent internet traffic to the government. The Eelctronic Fronteir Foundation has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of AT&T customers. AT&T is currently trying to have the evidence silenced, claiming that it contains proprietary information:

The lawyers argued that unsealing the documents “would cause AT&T great harm and potentially jeopardize AT&T’s network, making it vulnerable to hackers, and worse.”

Yea, right… they’ve been caught doingsomething wrong, and they’re afraid that the government (whose program of spying they’ve been supporting) will leave them high and dry to take the fall. Pres. Bush certainly doesn’t need anymore negative press. the White House press release will say something to the effect of, “We are shocked and appalled that such a trusted purveyor of public communication technologies was complicit in actions not condoned by this government. Should the allegations prove true, we will make certain that they are subject to the harshest penalties of the law.” Or, something to that effect. Alternatively, magically, the critical documents will disappear (or simply not allowed as evidence), and the EFF will have no case against AT&T. What we need is more evidence that can’t be sealed. Anyone?

Your Anus…

April 7th, 2006

Ehrm… I mean URanus has a rare blue ring. I swear, as old as I am, and the older I get, I never get tired of that joke. Beavis and Butthead must live in my brain.

My other favorite spacey image for the week is the bird’s eye view that the ISS astronauts had of the solar eclipse… talk about eerie.

The Virtual Playground

April 6th, 2006

This is the coolest web tool/library that I have seen in ages. An assistant professor of Geology at UC Davis, Ryosuke Motani, and his colleagues have created this 3-D library of fossils on the web. I’ve only played with it a little, but the tool lets you drag and rotate scanned and computerized images of fossils to get views of them from any angle. The library contains fossils from several different taxa, and will grow as new fossils are added. This is the kind of thing I could play with all day, and learn a thing or two to boot.

Bones and Bits

April 6th, 2006

Researchers have found a transition species that has the traits of a fish and bone structure that would enable it to support itself on land. Read here for more info. Fascinating.

The most interesting possibility is that there may be more such organisms in that area of Canada still to be found. There is so much below our feet, and we are only just beginning to understand the breadth of the variety we may yet find.