July 2, 2013

  • On Thursday, I took Spencer up to Saukenauk for family night to watch the campfire skits and the OA tapout ceremony with my dad.  It was a great night and everything went off without a hitch.  After about 25 tapouts (there were 40 that night!) Spencer told me he had to go to the bathroom.  Figuring we had both seen enough, we planned to use the one in the dining hall before heading off to the trading post for ice cream and hitting the road.  After hiking up the hill and making our way through the classic double swinging screen doors, that instantly recognizable Saukenauk dining hall smell hit us both in the face.  As we made our way down the center aisle past all the neatly arranged table-waited tables, I glanced to the side and saw something that took my breath and stopped my heart for just a second:



    And for the tiniest length of time a human brain can register, I was a scout again.  At Saukenauk.  With my troop.  And then it was gone.  But the memories remain and always will.  Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

October 11, 2012

  • Before I became a father....


    ...........and many times since, I would always hear people talk about the day their child or children were born.  They would describe so many details and what they saw, did and felt throughout the day, usually with enthusiasm and wide smiles on their faces.  Many cite their child's birth as one of the happiest and most momentous days of their life, and I always assumed that when that day came for me, I would experience the same feeling.  But, as anyone who knows me well has observed, I have certain "Kramer-esque" tendencies that go against the grain set by seemingly everyone else on Earth.  Don't get me wrong - the days my children were born were good days.  However, my entire recollection of Erica's birth would go something like - "Well my mom, wife, and I went to the hospital at around 6:00 am.  It was a scheduled c-section for 8:30...... so the surgery went fine....um....the doctor said "It's a girl" and uh......that was pretty much that."  But it didn't take long to realize that the true joy of parenthood was developing relationships, sharing experiences, and watching them grow, but all of that comes later over an extended period of time.  I watched my daughter go from struggling to support her own head to beating me in a game of Uno and telling me sternly as she points her finger "Daddy, you don't smoke cigars because cigars are bad for you, okay?!"  Between those benchmarks, I've had so many great times and memorable days with Erica that the one that started it all has mostly faded away, like holding a candle up to the sun.  This morning, she woke me at 9:20 (we're night owls) quickly picked out her own clothes, dressed herself head to toe, and ate breakfast to make it to the QPL's puppet show.  Then to the gym, where daddy worked out while she played at the facility's daycare.  On to swimming, where she was smiling and giggling for the entire 45 minutes we were in the water.  After swinging by mommy's work for a birthday hug, she chose Steak-N-Shake for lunch, and ate all of her food plus some ice cream for mommy.   Later she took a nap before heading off to dance lessons, followed by dinner at Fazoli's (again, her choice) with the grandparents, followed by opening presents, followed by an hour at Bonkers before returning home and watching The Fox and the Hound while mommy made cupcakes for Erica's classmates.  Throughout the whole day she smiled, laughed, and had a great time all the while doing what I told her when I told her (She's taken a vow of "no tantrums" now that she's four).   Today I spent the fourth anniversary of a day I barely remember doing things I'll never forget.  Happy birthday, Erica.  I love you so much.  But now that you're asleep, I think I'll go sneak in that cigar now.

    August2011 063


September 7, 2012

  • Okay, so I've been busy.

    It's been over a year since I've posted, and I don't really have an excuse other than to say that I've been too busy living life to write much about it.  Numerous ideas for posts had surfaced but never made it to the screen.  I didn't even make a Stanley Cup prediction, though I can be honest and say I would not have picked the Kings.  Living with a wife and two young children, a full-time job, a part time job, involvement in my church, being president of a charitable organization, working out 3-5 times a week, playing hockey, and trying to keep myself up to date on information and entertainment leaves little extra time.  Nevermind the fact that last fall I underwent what may have been the most psychologically trying two months of my life: trying to secure a house that had everything my family and I wanted after 10 months of searching.  This was followed by what may have been the most physically daunting task I've ever undertaken: moving every single possession my wife and I have accumulated over our entire lives along with those of our children from our house in the city to our house in the country in under 55 hours.  But after all the phone calls to the utility companies, the internet provider, the satellite provider, and Budget truck rental, and the endless list of change-of-address forms, and the huge stack of papers from the bank and the realtor that needed to be explained/signed, we began to make ourselves at home.  Of course, now perspective has set in, and I realize that if, after 35 years on this planet, this was the most mentally and physically stressing ordeal I have experienced, I have lived a truly privileged life.  And it's funny - I've been wanting to return to the country ever since I lived in town, and this new house is superior in virtually every way to the old house. But it's impossible not to think fondly about the old place and miss it once in awhile.  Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to have just one more day there, just like it used to be.  After all, it's the house where my wife and I spent our first night as husband and wife; it's the house we brought both our children home from the hospital;  it's the house that saw first steps, first words, first days of school, birthdays, Halloweens, Christmases, daddy days, and countless cigars (for me) on the front porch.  In short all of our lives changed in inumerable ways while living in that house and that neighborhood.  I understand now how people who were born, raised, and live in places that seem so inhospitable to outsiders can still talk with pride and conviction about where they are from - it's part of a person's identity.  People are generally happy with who they are and their environment helps shape that.  Nevertheless, I look forward to new memories and new adventures in our new home.  But I've learned to have more appreciation for what I have and what I am doing.  Because no matter how much "better" life might get, at some point I will look at this time in my life and think, "It would be fun to live just one more day like that." 

July 22, 2011

  • Ground Control to Sir Richard

    With the end of the era of the space shuttle has come alot of speculation about the future of space travel.  Who will run it?  How much will it cost?  Where will we go?   What will it accomplish?  As private companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have come to the forefront to offer a sort of astronaut fantasy camp for the super rich and future visions of family vacations to the moon, the most important question seems to be curiously overlooked - how safe will it be?  Coincidentally, I was recently reading a fantastic book called Proofiness:  The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception by Charles Seife which chronicles the distortion of numbers and statistics in the dissemination of news.  The author happened to touch on the subject: 


    Airline magnate Richard Branson is hard at work trying to snooker private investors.  Branson is currently running a private spaceflight enterprise, "Virgin Galactic," which within its first five years of operation is supposedly going to launch an estimated 3,000 passengers into space.  Safely.  "Virgin has a detailed understanding of what it takes to manage and operate complex transportation organizations....such as Virgin Atlantic Airlines and Virgin Trains which carry millions of passengers each year and have enjoyed superb safety records," brags the Virgin Galactic website.  If you believe Virgin, spaceflight will be no riskier than a little jaunt on a private jet.
          Hogwash.  By comparing spaceflight to train and plane travel, Virgin is effectively underestimating the huge risks you take when you strap yourself to a rocket.  It's a very dangerous task to pack enough energy into a cylinder to get you into space - and it's equally dangerous when, falling through the atmosphere, you get that energy back and have to dissipate it away in the form of heat.  Throughout the history of spaceflight, about one in a hundred human-carrying rockets has killed its passengers, and that risk seems unlikely to change in the near future.
           One chance in a hundred might not seem like so much, especially for the rare privilege of becoming an astromaut.  But as far as risks go, it's extraordinarily high.  For comparison, if today's U.S. passenger aircraft had a similar failure rate, there would be roughly 275 U.S. plane crashes every day.  A one in a hundred chance of dying every time you set foot on a plane would doom the airline industry; a 1% chance of death is simply too risky for any form of transportation to be commercially viable.  If the historical failure rate holds, at Virgin Galactic's projected launch rate of one flight per week, there would be only a one in three chance that Virgin Galactic  goes for two years without a Challenger-type disaster.  All in all, their chance of getting all 3,000 people into space and back safely in this scenario would be about half of one percent.  People would almost certainly die, sooner rather than later.  Even if the company survived the inevitable  investigation and embarrasment, it would be jsut a matter of months before another explosion.
           In my opinion, Branson is downplaying the risks, which has helped him convince more than 250 astronaut wannabes to put down $30 million worth of deposits on rides into space.  He's also sold politicians and the public on his vision.  In 2005, New Mexico politicians started spending tens of millions of dollars to build a spaceport.  Two counties even passed a sales tax to fund the project.  As a smart businessman like Branson knows, downplaying risks can be very lucrative.



June 9, 2011

  • That's a new one.

    So, at the end of a long day, I sit down with Spencer on the couch as he watches an old episode of the Jetsons.  I notice that a band is playing on the show and the following conversation takes place:

    Me:  Spencer, do you think you might want to learn to play a musical instrument?

    Spencer:  No.

    Me:  No?  Wouldn't it be fun to be a musician and be able to play the songs you like to listen to?

    Spencer:  (Whining) No, I already know  what I want to be.

    Me:  You do?  What?

    Spencer:  I want to be a coach.

    Me:  A coach?  A coach of what?  A sport?  Or do you want to teach something?

    Spencer:  Umm.......a tennis coach.

    Me:  A tennis coach, huh?  Okay.  (Shared smile between my wife and me.)

    In all the times I've heard a child asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, the standard replies are always something along the lines of police officer, astronaut, movie star, fireman, baseball player, singer, etc.   I've never heard anyone say they wanted to be a coach.   Maybe it's because he has inherited his parents' occupational tendencies toward teaching and guiding people, or maybe it's because he just resumed the tennis lessons he enjoys so much.  Regardless of the reason, thank you Spencer for the totally original answer and the priceless memory.  Keep 'em coming.

June 1, 2011

  • Do as I say, not as I do.

    Given the Palin women's penchants for financial opportunism and unusual child names, maybe the next offspring to come out that family could be named "Cha-Ching Palin".

    In 2009, Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol joined a teen pregnancy prevention nonprofit called the Candie’s Foundation. Today, the Associated Press reported that the Candie’s Foundation released its 2009 tax information, revealing that Bristol was paid a salary of $262,500.

    But a closer examination of the tax form by ThinkProgress shows that the group disbursed only $35,000 in grants to actual teen pregnancy health and counseling clinics: $25,000 to the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center and $10,000 to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

    Thus, the nonprofit paid Bristol over seven times what it paid to teen pregnancy prevention groups.

    Curious I'm hearing about this two months late and from a science blogger.

May 13, 2011

  • I'd like to comment on something besides global warming but...

    The Arctic could become the next great international battleground for resources, with melting icecaps opening new shipping routes, fishing grounds and, most significantly, some of the world's richest and as yet unexplored oil and gas deposits.  So far, the United States, Russia and other nations near the North Pole are trying to work together. They'll take a baby step in that direction this week by agreeing to the first international treaty covering the Arctic Sea, a coordinated search-and-rescue pact that will grow in importance as more cargo and cruise ships start navigating the cold waters.

    This is so rich. Every scientific organization on the planet has been screaming about this problem for decades, all the while Conservative think tanks and Republican officials (Democrats aren't exactly winning any prizes either) flatly deny the problem, ignore the evidence, and do everything in their power to delay action. Our privileged 4% of the global population - a) is responsible for 25% of Earth's greenhouse gas emissions, b) uses over 25% of the world's natural resources, and c) has become so accustomed to a wasteful and consuming lifestyle found nowhere else on the planet (although, that's quickly changing which only stands to compound the problem - see India, China) that any request to sacrifice anything is met with boos and hisses. Now after lighting the fuse on climatic catastrophes that will haunt us for generations to come, we Americans want to step in and gain access to natural resources that are only available because of a scientific process to which we were the primary contributors, yet most of our citizens deny is even happening?!   We want to reap the "positive" effects while refusing to acknowledge or curb the deleterious ones.  How must this look to the rest of the world?  And how about the irony of wanting to use the Arctic to drill for a substance that the use of which will lead to further destruction of the Arctic? 

    Can we get off oil now? 

April 3, 2011

  • "This was not a boat accident! And it wasn't any propeller; and it wasn't any coral reef; and it wasn't Jack the Ripper! It was a shark."

    As I continue to work my way through the list of "movies I should have seen by now", I recently took in Steven Spielberg's classic "Jaws".  Typically, I am annoyed by those who constantly see allegories within art, but as the film progressed, I couldn't help but notice something in the storyline.  An urgent threat arrives from the natural world directly endangering people's lives. A scientist is assigned to investigate, confirms the danger and demands immediate action.  Despite the advice and evidence presented, the politician aggressively downplays the threat and takes no action out of fear of possible economic repercussions.  Hmm. Something about this series of events sounded familiar.

    New government figures for the global climate show that 2010 was the wettest year in the historical record, and it tied 2005 as the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880.  The new figures confirm that 2010 will go down as one of the more remarkable years in the annals of climatology. It featured prodigious snowstorms that broke seasonal records in the United States and Europe; a record-shattering summer heat wave that scorched Russia; strong floods that drove people from their homes in places like Pakistan, Australia, California and Tennessee; a severe die-off of coral reefs; and a continuation in the global trend of a warming climate.  It was the 34th year running that global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average; the last below-average year was 1976. The new figures show that 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since the beginning of 2001.  The carbon dioxide level has increased about 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution. - New York Times

    There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

    there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

    (i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

    (ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

    (iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.  

    (iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

    (v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

    Much more can be, and has been, said by the world's scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business- as-usual practices. We urge our policymakers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the burning of fossil fuels.  Open letter from 255 members of NAS

    Anthropogenic changes to the Earth’s climate, land, oceans and biosphere are now so great and so rapid that the concept of a new geological epoch defined by the action of humans, the Anthropocene, is widely and seriously debated. Questions of the scale, magnitude and significance of this environmental change, particularly in the context of the Earth’s geological history, provide the basis for this Theme Issue. The Anthropocene, on current evidence, seems to show global change consistent with the suggestion that an epoch-scale boundary has been crossed within the last two centuries. - The Royal Society

     And then the response... 

     All 31 Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee declined on Tuesday to vote in favor of a series of amendments acknowledging the scientific consensus around climate change.  The three amendments were attached to a bill aiming to curb the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate greenhouse gasses. They posited that "Congress accepts the scientific finding ... that 'warming of the climate system is unequivocal'"; that the scientific evidence regarding climate change "is compelling"; and that "human-caused climate change is a threat to public health and welfare." CBS

    Regrettably, politics trumps science among House Republicans, who recently voted to zero out this country’s extremely modest $2.3 million annual commitment to the IPCC. The bill also slashes spending on a half-dozen domestic programs that study the causes and effects of climate change.  The budget for the Energy Information Agency — which gathers information on energy production, consumption and pollution — would be cut by one-sixth. Small but vital Interior Department programs that measure the impact of climate change on animal, plant and fish species and their habitat were reduced and in some cases nearly wiped out.  Mr. Obama asked for $400 million for the World Bank’s clean technology fund, $95 million for the bank’s program to prevent deforestation and $90 million for its program to help at-risk nations cope with the effects of a warming planet by, for instance, developing drought-resistant crops. The House’s answer in all three cases: zero.  - 
    New York Times
    Congressional leaders, however, know better. One member accuses "nefarious" scientists of "whipping up a global frenzy." Oklahoma's Sen. Jim Inhofe warns of "the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on America." Rep. Joe Barton from Texas reasons that carbon dioxide cannot possibly be a pollutant, because "humans expel it when they breathe."  
    Speaking before a House Energy Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing in March 2009, Shimkus quoted Chapter 8, Verse 22 of the Book of Genesis.  He said: 'As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.'  The Illinois Republican continued: 'I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that's the way it is going to be for his creation.  The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth.' 
    Daiky Mail UK 

    Yes, you read that last one correctly.  John Shimkus, now Chairman of the House Energy Subcommittee on Environment and Economy, downplayed the fears and the effects of climate change citing an ancient biblical story that claims God promised "no more global floods" to a man after he obediently gathered two of every species of animal on Earth onto an ark he built ! ? ! ?  I worry that all too soon we'll be forced into a similar task, but it won't be animals we'll be gathering - it will be environmental refugees forced to flee homelands made inhabitable by climate change.

    You're gonna need a bigger boat.


February 12, 2011

  • Happy Darwin Day!!

    Take a look.  (Click photo and zoom in for best results.)  This is life.  On the giant wheel of living things, we respresent one tiny ordinary spoke.  Then realize that this wheel represents the square root of the estimated number of species on Earth - that is, of the 9 million species estimated to exist, you are looking at 3,000, or less than one-fifth of one percent.  For millennia, humans were thought to be the pinnacle of creation, to rule and dominate over all other organisms, but how can that be?  We are so vastly outnumbered in ecosystems packed to the gills with organisms unaware and indifferent to our existence.  We are entirely dependent on them, but they would still fourish without us - most of them have for millions or hundreds of millions of years.  And we are new - remember that diagram that placed the history of Earth on the timescale of a calendar year and showed humans arriving after 11:59pm on December 31?  To them, we are simply the dominant species of the day.  And yet we do dominate, but in a very unique way - with our brains.  We have consciousness, an acute awareness of our existence, where we have been, where we are going.  We are specially equipped and advanced to explore and experience as much of our universe as possible all as a means to secure an equal or improved life for our offspring.  In other words, we have new and extraordinary means to perform an ancient and ordinary task, a task we share with nine million fellow survivors and relatives.  Today we recognize the birth of a man who produced possibly the most important idea of all time.  Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection continues to send shockwaves around the world and forces humankind to reconsider its place among life.

    "A living creature is always in the business of surviving in its own environment.  It is never unfinished - or in another sense, it is always unfinished.  So, presumably, are we."

                                                                                             - Richard Dawkins -  The Ancestor's Tale

February 3, 2011

  • Perspective

    The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of Earth taken  in 1990 by the Voyager I spacecraft from ~3.7 billion miles away.   At the request of Carl Sagan, NASA commanded the Voyager 1 spacecraft, having completed its primary mission and now approaching the edge of the Solar System, to turn its camera around and to take a photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space.

    The photograph triggered deep introspection and reflection in Sagan, and subsequently, he used the title of the photograph as the primary title of his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. 

    I don't have much to say about it - just wanted to share it as it isn't very well-known among the general public but absolutely should be.  On its surface, the picture is dull and lacks the panache of other famous photographs.  But the implications and the thoughts it provokes are on the grandest of scales.  Dr Sagan understood that and expressed it better than anyone:


    Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

    Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

    The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

    It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.


    Anywho - As my color scheme indicates, my 2011 Stanley Cup prediction goes to the Vancouver Canucks (over Boston in 6). As much as I hate - HATE- picking the team with best record (it appears cliche, lazy, and is usually wrong), their play this year has been consistently head and shoulders above everyone else.  They are a well-oiled machine that could lose several steps between now and April and still be the team to beat.  Watch out for Pittsburgh or New York Rangers in the East and Los Angeles and Dallas in the West.