Friday, September 25, 2009

Dangerously Dumb People in the World

Because of my very busy weekend schedule this semester, this blog series has been interrupted for quite a while. And today's, strangely, will be a suggestion to read another op-ed piece about the shenanigans at the UN this week.

Before I had even heard of this article, both targets of the commentary were on my list. Thus, I might as well reference an article that exposes the "dangerously dumb" at length.

The other winner this week is Kirk Cameron, from Growing Pains to Super Genius:,,20307814,00.html

An excerpt from the article:

"You can see where [Hitler] clearly takes Darwin's ideas to some of their logical conclusions and compares certain races of people to lower evolutionary life forms," Cameron says. "If you take Darwin's theory and extend it to its logical end, it can be used to justify all number of very horrendous things."

My reaction? Yawn. A repeated, tired argument with absolutely no grasp of reality.

"This has been refuted many, many times. The anti-evolutionist fearmongers have to link Darwin to every perceived evil from mankind," says Kevin Padian, professor of paleontology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley. "The two kinds people who believe that religion and evolution can not coexist are extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists. Everyone else doesn't really have a problem. [A majority] of Americans believe that a belief in god is compatible with evolution."

But here is my favorite passage from the article:

"Atheism has been on the rise for years now, and the Bible of the atheists is The Origin of Species," Cameron tells PEOPLE. "We have a situation in our country where young people are entering college with a belief in God and exiting with that faith being stripped and shredded. What we want to do is have student [sic] make an informed, educated decision before they chuck their faith."

So, my question to Kirk is this. If people are going to college, perhaps for the purposes of making informed, educated decisions about matters that may affect them throughout their lives, how can he claim that they are NOT making informed, educated decisions? Does he not see the inherent contradiction in his quote here?

Kirk Cameron, growing pain, this week's "Dangerously Dumb Person in the World".

Vignettes from the Road -- Colorado Potpourri

Horsin' Around

In June 2007, my sister, three college friends, and I went to Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) to hike the Cascade Falls trail. It was a beautiful sunny day that turned out to be relatively warm and smelly. Smelly in the "horse trash" sort of way. A long stretch of the trail is shared by horses. We actually met a few on the way back. We knew many more had been there, given the "remains of the day". Unfortunately, this required looking down as much as out on the forested trail.

The western side of RMNP is much greener than its eastern counterpart. The mountains are smoother, and the ground is almost impossible to see because of the thick canopy. This side is wetter, and typically, the scenery is considered inferior to the drier leeward landscapes. I disagree, because I think comparing the two is comparing apples and oranges. They are both fruit, but their flavors are totally different. The majestic beauty of Longs Peak or Flattop Mountain is stunning, but the vastness of the trees amidst the enormity of hills and mountains clinging to the west side of the Continental Divide are just as magical. Part of the magic is in their lack of appreciation. The hike was quiet, with few run-ins with others the entire beautiful, sunny, weekend day. Solitude boosts the power of natural wonders, and the roaring sounds of the tumbling waters, the whirring of the leaves and the pines in the wind, and the birds chirping their happy tunes under a big open sky hidden only by the very trees that support them made this a particularly fun day in Colorado. Even if there was a little altitude sickness.

Natural Toothpicks

State Highway 82 southeast of Aspen climbs to Independence Pass, a beautiful summit on the Continental Divide. On a trip through this area in June 2008, three friends and I discovered that the climb up featured a peculiar forest of aspens. The forest looked like an endless field of toothpicks. Aspen toothpicks, with the trunks glimmering in the bright sunlight. It was a marvelous sight.

The scenery up the west side of Independence Pass is nearly insurmountable in Colorado, and the habitats change quickly. The open tundra near the top quickly turns into subalpine forest, crudely masking the towering peaks that overlook the region. The snow-covered triangular mountaintops are hidden by vertical lines jutting upward everywhere. The only sounds were of the aspen leaves and the rushing waters of a mountain stream and snowmelt. Pure nature, just off the road. It doesn't get better than this highway.


Near Aspen are the famous Maroon Bells, called the "most photographed" mountains of Colorado. After visiting, it is not that difficult to see why. The jagged peaks of the Maroon Bells are natural masterpieces. Even in late June, mounds of snow striated the sides in a scene seemingly right out of a painting. After an hour taking hundreds of photographs of the mountains and Maroon Lake, my friends and I hiked to beautiful Crater Lake, which sits right underneath the Pyramids and the Maroon Bells. We noticed at the latter portion of the hike a rock formation on one of the mountains. The formation looked like a face, and with closer inspection, the face was in a crevice that hid a waterfall. Sometimes, even nature knows when to smile.

A Lazy Walk

In RMNP in 2008, a beautiful hike to Dream and Emerald Lake was followed by a quieter hike around Bear Lake. A classic subalpine lake, surrounded by trees and, because of the popularity of the area, nearly a hundred people, Bear Lake is a beautiful stroll. About a quarter of the way into the hike, I see someone sitting on a rock just looking around. Across the lake, through the trees, and to Longs Peak staring back at us in the distance. The sight startled me, and continues to do so to this day. If ever there was an image that I think of whenever my imagination wanders to the mountains, I'll remember that one. It remains one of my favorite photos and favorite moments in the mountains.


Colorado is home to Great Sand Dunes National Park, one of my favorite locations in the world. Here lies a small but clean desert of sand dunes amidst mountains and valleys that are commonly green. A sheer coincidence of nature often leads to the finest of locations. The climb to the second highest sand dune peak was memorable for the heat, the altitude sickness, and the stinging of the specks of sand flying in my face. Of course, every painfully small step to the top was worth, as the "small" dune field doesn't look that way when you have a view overlooking all of it. On the way down, I commonly looked back up and noticed the beauty of just a small portion of the place. The small waves ebbing and flowing in the wind-driven sand, the perfect monotony of the color of the sand, the etchings of clouds in a pronounced blue sky, and the infinitesimal appearance of people mere yards away -- well, you just can't beat sand for a sense of the genuine smallness that we really are.

Zapata Means Shoe

My favorite waterfalls are the ones you have to work for, and Zapata Falls is a genuine treat in that department. The hike to get there is not particularly difficult in terms of elevation, but it requires getting your feet wet. Wet and cold. Very cold. Snowmelt cold.

Numbness can be a very good thing, but I imagine my pure euphoria of watching the blisteringly cold water fall inside a beautiful rock formation was responsible for what I am sure were freezing feet to disappear. Sacrificing your body for the greater cause of natural wonders is sometimes worth making. The crystal clear water, the overwhelming rocks, and the gleaming ice feeding the water were pure mountain entertainment.

Only Colorado can bring such diverse excitement, such repeated excitement, visit after visit after visit. All it requires is a drive, some courage, and some extra oxygen. Get in the car.
Let me get my "Zen on" at Cascade Falls.
A crew and Lake Granby.
Natural toothpicks.
Independence Pass.
How can you be crying when you're smiling?
Crater Lake, CO.
Would you rather be doing anything besides what this person was doing at that moment? Longs Peak, overlooking Bear Lake.
Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Zapata Falls. Note that I am standing in water while taking this photo. As it should be.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pictures from the Road -- Deception Pass

A special Wednesday night edition because of my weekend hiatus. Some photos from Puget Sound during my trip to Washington last year.

Tomorrow: Stories from the Road takes on Colorado.


Deception Bridge.
The beautiful rocky shores of Deception Pass.
Deception Pass State Park.
Beautiful shoreline of Puget Sound.
This is a scene my dreams are made of.
Mom on the shores of Puget Sound.
Glorious sky and water view.
A view of Puget Sound from a hike up to the bridge.
Beautiful waters of Deception Pass.
Even the trees are glorious here.
Beautiful Deception Bridge from the beach at the state park.
These trees are not uncommon in this part of the country.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What "Overwhelming Portion" May Mean

I was thinking yesterday of Jimmy Carter's comments regarding the amplified and embattled opposition to Obama and his policies, with respect to the racial overtones inherent in them. I think Bill Clinton, Jonathan Alter, and others are warranted to point out that not all opposition to Obama and his policies (specifically health care) is racially motivated. Clinton further suggested that opposition to health care policy would continue with or without the issue of race. This is a position that I agree with as well.

However, there is no question in my mind that race is a motivator in the loudest opposition to health care. By loudest, I mean the opposition that tends to garner the most attention. Most often, when Rush Limbaugh speaks, the media listens and reports. Most often, when protesters put a Hitler-stache on an Obama poster, it makes the front pages of the next periodical. Most often, when a civilian suggests that Muslims are taking over this country, this is the quote heard on CNN or MSNBC.

There is clearly a sensationalistic bias in the media today. To refute that claim is borderline insanity (certainly ignorance). Commonly, this bias is misrepresented as "liberal" or "conservative". (My opinion on this matter is there is little politically philosophical bias in the media "on average".) To get the most viewers, to entertain those viewers, and to dramatize issues far beyond their merit, the media exhibits these outlandish and sometimes downright dangerous voices. This is certainly a contributor to the "loudness" of these racially motivated denouncers.

However, there is also no question that such far-right racially motivated behavior is growing, or has always been existent, in this country. And these tendencies have led to occasional violence, such as the murder of a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum this summer. There is also no question that the community is mobilizing, with an increasing tendency for more organized and loud (though primarily peaceful) protests from these increasingly unhinged individuals.

I believe, as others have claimed, that factors contributing to this trend include resistance to change, "one-issue" fanaticism, ignorance of basic policy, and (more generally) lack of education. "One-issue" fanaticism is, perhaps, a primary reason violence crops up in these circumstances, such as the murder of Dr. George Tiller earlier this summer. However, the "issue" at hand here does not seem to be related to health care specifically, even though the debate is on the topic of health care. Words such as "socialism", "communism", and "fascism" have cropped up. Those who shout the claims commonly have little understanding of the terms, especially when they combine the terms, as the definitions of these terms differ dramatically and come nowhere close to the policies proposed by Obama and the Democrats.

Most protests involve people saying "No to Obamacare" or something similar. However, when reporters ask what civilians believe should be changed about the proposed policy, or what a new proposed policy should be, the incredible lack of actual knowledge of policy is stunningly apparent. Most people are opposing an ideal without any education about the actual substance (reality). This is nothing new, in America or elsewhere, but it is this very lack of knowledge combined with obsolete and malicious racial overtones, that amplify the opposing rhetoric that seems to overtake the grounded, educated opposition that does exist with Obama policies, from health care to foreign policy. This is why "overwhelming portion" does not mean majority, in this case.

Opposition to Clinton's health care reform was voluminous as well, but no (or relatively limited) mention of socialism, fascism, Nazism, Hitler, euthanasia, death panels, government-organized preferential treatment, etc. was proposed in that era. Why now? It may not be comfortable to admit, but racism is a very logical, very reasonable, very plausible explanation for these new protests. Guns at town halls? Continuation of already-disproven conspiracy theories ("birthers", "deathers", etc.)? A member of Congress shouting at the President during a joint session? Another member of Congress suggesting a person's race matters when opposition to Obama's policy is provided?

These issues keep coming up, at the expense of reasoned and educated debate about policy. It may not be a majority of people in this country, but it is certainly overwhelming and eliminating the discourse.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Bloody Monday

Wait, that's not how the song goes.

Returning from a much-needed but very short weekend, I find the water is exactly at eye level. The problem is the nose is below the eyes.

Heard about the Emmys last night. Really didn't watch them, but the reviews of Neil Patrick Harris hosting the awards ceremony were glowing. Recommendation to the Emmys: Keep hiring him. Even if the network that airs it changes.

So, the results from last year and this year were virtually identical. No surprise. That's why they are called the Emmys. But, to be honest, I wasn't too disappointed last year, since Glenn Close, Bryan Cranston, Tina Fey, and Alec Baldwin won awards. You really can't go wrong with those four. Mad Men is one of the best dramas on television, though I think Breaking Bad was the better choice. 30 Rock is uneven but hysterical when on fire. I think it is a travesty that nothing from The Shield or Battlestar Galactica showed up. The real atrocities occurred with the nominations, not the wins.

So I heard USC lost. Heh.

So I heard Nebraska lost. Glad my mother didn't watch the game.

So I heard BYU lost. Oh, wait.

(You heard it here probably fifth or twenty-fifth or something. We will lose to Miami, perhaps badly, in two weeks.)

Kansas City was a blast, as usual. I absolutely love Union Station. An astonishingly gorgeous building. Though I am fully aware of how commercialized the Country Club Plaza is, the buildings and the atmosphere make the visit worth it. Only regret is not spending some food time in Westport.

By the way, 42nd 21st birthday does not mean a person is 63. Think about it.

I am officially allergic to Norman. Sinuses cleared up on Saturday only to return today. Welcome home, Chad!

"Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency" was the best episode of Mad Men this season and perhaps ever. When this show is on fire, nothing else touches it.

The season premiere of House was excellent but makes me wish that the show was only about House, and maybe Wilson. DVR'd The Big Bang Theory and can't wait to watch it.

Very strong pilot for Community. Right now, that's appointment television for me. Was not very impressed with Glee, though.

Next year's "Mom-cation" will feature Boston, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. Feeding her Kennedy obsession in travel form. (That's OK. Can't really complain too much about the locations.)

I realize this note is scatter-brained, but so am I. And I get to submit 15 WRF simulations before I go to bed. Yay, dreams of microphysics and boundary layer parameterization schemes dancing in my head...then beating it with an atmospheric hammer. Oh, that's the sinuses. Sorry.