Monday, February 20, 2006

Not Especially Intelligent Design

A new periodic feature at Peaks and Pacific. Hope it sheds light on the evolution vs. intelligent design debate.

Nasal membranes in cold weather
Below 20 degrees fahrenheit nasal membranes empty big flows of creamy snot onto your upper lip. At zero degrees that snot freezes into an unsightly lump. Embarrassing when passing cross-country skiers on the trail.

Nails on your small toes
Vestigial small toes make no sense. The tiny, gnarled and useless nails on those foot pinkies make even less sense. Damn ugly. What was God thinking?

Ear Hair
After 40, men tend to get ear hair. Why does a middle aged man need hair on his ears? I mean, come on.

A New Feminine Mystique?

June and the Boys

Betty Freidan, the mother of modern feminism and author of The Feminine Mystique, died last week. Freidan described the fairly rigid roles available to women in the early 60's and the way both women and men thought about women at that time, a mindset she called 'the feminine mystique.'

It got me thinking a little bit about the kinds of choices many women I know are making, particularly in the Christian community.

Feminism changed everything. That’s still true. We’re all familiar with the kinds of shifts in attitudes and behaviors feminism created, so no need to cover that ground again here.

A lot of women, though, particularly in the Christian community, are returning to more traditional women’s roles.

At least in my circles, I can’t think of too many younger Christian women who continue to work more than half time after they have a kid. Many become full time stay-at-home moms. Some are home schooling their kids.

In a number of instances I’m aware of, you’ve got a full time mom who is clearly more gifted in Christian leadership than her husband, but she moves out of that type of ministry for many years in order to devote herself full time to child raising.

Or put in another way, I rarely see women remaining single longer run in order to pursue ministry or leadership roles, and it’s very rare to meet Christian couples who choose to remain childless in order to focus on ministry or work. I used to see both of those situations far more frequently among Christians 10 or 15 years ago.

I think I understand some of the reasons for this noticeable shift.

In general, we’re living in a much more conservative time than we were a while back, so it makes sense those broader attitudes would shape the choices women make too.

We’re also in a time where parenting has become almost a profession, with a heavy emphasis on enriching kids in every possible way and directing them 24/7. I sense a palpable fear among a lot of young parents of doing a poor job of raising ‘em.

I contrast that with what I believe was simply a different and more relaxed parenting ethos 20 years ago. That older ethos is sometimes stereotyped by younger Christian moms as the “Stop bothering mommy, sweetheart, and go get me a martini” school of mothering :^)

Underneath the stereotype and the humor, though, is a strong committment to help kids avoid growing up in a dysfunctional home. The belief that the world is a very dangerous and Darwinian place seems more intense and personal now than it was not too long ago.

I mean, how many kids now just hang out in unstructured ways by themselves or with their neighborhood playmates? As the dad of a college student and a 13 year old boy I haven't seen too many over the past decade.

Parents have to work a lot harder in the current parenting environment and it appears women are bearing most of the brunt of those changes. That raises the question of how much men’s behavior has changed as a result of feminism, but I’ll leave that hot potato alone for the time being :^)

And I think there’s a concern that kids who aren’t super-enriched won’t be able to compete in the “global economy.” This has led to a change in the way people think about schools and education, something PBS commentator Sandra Tsing Loh calls the new "Asianization and fetishism of education."

And of course, lots of women are rejoicing in a new found freedom from what they view as harsh and unrealistic feminist expectations.

Anyway, I wonder if the shift has gone a little overboard. Do women sense they still have options, or are some of those hard won freedoms being slowly eroded away by shifts in cultural expectations, particularly in the Christian community?

Love to hear any reflections on any or all of this. Important and practical stuff in my mind.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Forgiving But Not Forgetting

My daughter Rebecca is studying health care delivery and policy in the townships around Cape Town in South Africa.

She just sent this note and the pic above. Thought you might be encouraged.

I had a good day. We met with the Amy Biehl foundation...the one started by the parents of the stanford girl who was murdered here in 1989 in a political rally. Her mother showed us around along with one of the other leaders of the organization. He was one of the men who killed her daughter, but was pardoned under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Amy's parents didn't want him to go to jail, but to devote his life to a good cause. They are close friends and he comes to the U.S. to stay with their family. It is a pretty incredible story. I find myself thinking about forgiveness a lot here. There have been some pretty striking examples of people's amazing capacity to forgive. It is something I want to think about more. I'm going to email Linda Biehl, Amy's mom, and ask if I can go have coffee with her sometime. I want to hear more about her story. Well, I need to get back to work.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Shotgun Dick

I feel sorry for that old Republican guy that Calamity Dick shotgunned into intensive care this weekend. The left couldn't have made up a more likely metaphor for our current political leadership if they tried for a month.

Heavily armed neo-conservative heavyweight seeks to blow his quarry out of the sky but inadvertently blows a pillar of the conservative right into intensive care.

Simply substitute the Bush Administration for the old Texas lawyer lying in a hospital bed and you've got the story of our Cheney-driven American foreign policy in the past 4 years :^)

Those dismal 39% domestic approval ratings for the gang that couldn't shoot straight are mostly the result of one neo-con blunder and miscalculation after another.

Americans trying to serve folks in developing countries struggle to overcome the Cheney legacy of intense anti-Americanism in a lot of the world.

Neo-conservative thought often combines the worst tendencies of both worlds: over-idealistic liberalism that believes in intrusively remaking the world combined with the traditional conservative support for the military and the use of coercive violence. Strange brew.

Traditional liberals and conservatives are less dangerous. That's a good thing. Libs normally can't swallow the coercive violence part of the equation and paleo cons don't do intrusive reclamation projects. Might be some wisdom in the old time religions.

Most of the leading neo-cons freely admit to being disillusioned liberals. That's what makes the whole thing so sad. Many of 'em are truly well-meaning. I'm sure Dead Eye Dick didn't mean to empty both barrels into his friend's face and chest. But that's what happens sometimes when you play with guns.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Hell's Hole

Had a chance this afternoon to climb up to 'Hells' Hole,' a glacial basin at the foot of some tall peaks about an hour west of Denver.

Nothing hellish about it. The trail starts at 9200 ft and ends at 11,200 and every foot of it is beautiful in the winter.

Saw some Rocky Mountain Bristlecone pines up high. The bristlecones here live for about 3000 years. Their cousins in California live almost 5000 years. Original wood. OW for my inner city friends.

I love the place names on maps of the American west. Lots of imagination and not much respect for good taste way back when. Quite a few Hell's Holes and Devil's Thumbs and Desolation Peaks and other places that playfully threaten damnation or disappointment.

I'm still hoping to hear of a new housing tract in some western exurb called 'The Devil's Den.' Doesn't anybody have respect for regional tradition these days?

My favorite old school map name is Zzyzx Road in California. It rhymes with "Isaac's." Anybody who drives east from LA through the Mohave Desert to Vegas knows it.

Stopped by the old mining town of Idaho Springs to get some gas. Drove by the town hardware store and stopped for a photo of the ripped and stripped store motto below. Why waste words when you can say it all in six?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Basic Hoop

DU vs. WK

I read the other day that Cal Tech just lost its 190th straight NCAA basketball game. But the players there keep playing and the die hard fans keep coming out. If you think about that for a second or two you've gotta give honor where honor is due.

A reporter interviewed one of the CT players after yet another historic loss. The player--no doubt using advanced statistical analysis--explained that while victory for any Cal Tech team was highly unlikely, a statistically appreciable chance exists for a win sometime in the first half of the 21st century :^)

A story and an interview like that could only happen in college athletics. A welcome relief from the professional sports scene.

Andrew and I got a chance to see the Denver University Pioneers and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers last night.

We saw Stanford play DU last year in a nail biter and the place was packed. So we thought we’d come back for seconds.

Only a couple of thousand folks showed up this time. DU is a .500 team and college hoops hasn’t caught on here yet.

But the folks who did turn out were raucous. A few thousand people can make a lot of noise when committed.

DU center Yemi Nicholson missed a coupla tips at the buzzer and WK won 71-70. Very exciting. We’ll definitely come back for thirds.

New Braces

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Inspired by a friend's fascination with GPS technology.

Just wondering when a traditional American resistance to intrusion in people's lives will start to kick in. It will kick in, won't it?

Number2Trac Press Release

Existing GPS companies already offer ways to track your car, your children and your employees so you can always stay on top of your possessions.

Number2Trac takes it all one step further.

N2T--the potential ticker symbol of Number2Trac on the NASDAQ--manufactures chips and creates systems that allow for accurate tracking of individual human waste products.

Efficient plumbing and sewers may be the most important--if underappreciated--technologies of all. Plotting waste flow allows for more efficient waste management.

N2T will begin marketing its products to city and state governments and 'green' consumers in June of this year. The company expects an IPO on the NASDAQ within 18 months.

Number2Trac CEO Bill Bowel's eco-business "movement" got a boost last week at an international press conference. He introduced N2T's market friendly and environmentally correct business plan.

"Swallow a small and flavorful pill and your personal waste products can be tracked from bathroom to bay. Greater sewage efficiency and predictability makes for better environments and bigger bottom lines. Satellites tracking the exact location of your stool on its way to the sea will revolutionize the control of waste management."


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

'Dunced' at Ace

Crime Scene

Saw something unusual this past weekend.

I was in the checkout line at the local Ace Hardware when a 30-ish man tried to walk out with the goods. Apparently some employee saw him stuff his pockets with loose metal. A couple of Ace guys nabbed him just outside the door and took him inside to call the police.

As they perp walked him past those of us in line the guy looked like he was going to wet himself. I really felt bad for him. At least the white collar criminals who get frog-marched past their office employees usually steal something meaty. This guy got a facial for a handful of bolts.

It reminded me of a year I spent working in the Stanford University Bookstore when I was an undergrad.

I was the head security guard for the bookstore. Obviously, the qualifications for that job weren't too demanding in the late 70's. A different time. Hard to imagine someone less tempermentally suited for labor like that. But the pay was good and it got me jaw time with friends.

In between long stretches reading books and hanging out with the buds we actually had to track shoplifters from time to time.

I learned a lot about people on that job.

We had one 16 year old pull a heavy Stanford sweatshirt and sweatpants over his clothes and try to walk out the front door during a 90 degree day. The price tags were still dangling from the sweats. The guy had the common sense of a tree stump. Teens aren't clever thieves :^)

And you had your adult clepto types too. I liked these guys better than anyone we caught. They were like your drunk inner city friend with a good story.

We nabbed one wealthy woman from Los Altos Hills a number of times trying to walk out with very expensive editions of classic literature. We got to know her on a first name basis. She was charming. Couldn't keep her hands off the high class goodies, though. The store manager decided not to prosecute her the first few times but we finally turned her over to the police. Everybody, including the store manager, felt sort of bad about it.

The book store manager had to be thoughtful. Hard to see a student expelled over stealing a handful of pens. Hard to see alums embarrassed. So we rarely prosecuted anyone but multiple offenders.

The most common thieves, though, were folks that did it because they could.

These types loved the challenge of taking something and getting away with it. We called them "gamers."

These were rich people who would come in and try to walk out with stuff worth a couple of bucks. Or students who would plot the store and figure out how to systematically loot serious goods.

We were taught to wait until an obvious shoplifter was outside the store before we grabbed 'em. The basic technique was to come up behind them and grab them firmly on the shoulder with one hand and then confront them very publicly and in a firm voice about the stolen merchandise.

The idea was to publicly shame em so they'd never try stealing again.

The Stanford Bookstore looks out onto a plaza normally filled with hundreds of people coming and going. So if you got confronted on the front steps of the store lots of folks got a close look at you.

We called it "duncing" somebody. As in dunce with a pointy hat. We used the term for the humiliation angle but also because you've gotta be a dummy to get caught shoplifting. For every person caught another five walk out with the merchandise untouched. The GNP of developing world nations disappear off American shelves every year.

Duncing worked with most people. They got red faced and shaky.

But the gamers rarely showed emotion. Seemed like it was just a temporary setback to them. Scary people if you ask me.

Who knows where those very bright Stanford gamers--some with unusual leadership gifts--ended up :^)

I felt bad for the guy at Ace, but it was good to see he could still blush.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Pricey Cartoons

Hard to know what to think of events in the Muslim world.

A Dutch newspaper published some harshly satirical cartoons about Mohammed. Some Norwegian newspapers republished the cartoons and then French newspapers supported the right of Europeans to satirize religious figures of all stripes.

As a result, Islamic militants are threatening to take European hostages in Palestine. Muslim crowds are burning European embassies. People are rioting from Morrocco to Pakistan.

Islamic law bans any depiction of the prophet, and Muslims consider likenesses of Mohammed blasphemous.

Basically, lots of people are destroying things and threatening to kill people because they don't like some drawings on the editorial page in a few European newspapers.

Or maybe it's more involved than that.

Western governments have predictably denounced the insensitivity of the cartoons while supporting freedom of speech.

But more honestly, I would guess a lot of people in the west--including government officials--are now even more convinced that we're dealing with dangerous religious people who can't handle a satirical cartoon in a western newspaper.

Americans and Europeans are used to harsh cartoons about political and religious figures.

From the Muslim point of view, I'm sure this feels like the last straw in a long series of cultural humiliations at the hands of westerners. Insults don't get worse than blasphemy for religious people. So what's happening isn't simple mob violence and thuggery--in part it's principled hostility to the outrageously "other."

I've already tipped my hand with my last post MohammedScape about my thinking on religious satire. In my view, a religion that can't handle satire is a religion with some serious problems.

Certain folks--even some progressives--believe Islam is committed to violence from the get go and should be overcome or transformed rather than tolerated in its present form.

Others think westerners used their unprecedented power over the past centuries to humiliate Muslims. In that view the frustration boiling over among Muslims is understandable.

And some think the real issue is current western--and particularly American--military and economic supremacy. They think power corrupts and that state sponsored violence flows inevitably from elites against the weak, and that the rioting Muslim crowds understand all that intuitively. Because of that take, some people think our present US government has fanned the flames of greater hostility and division.

From a certain point of view, maybe insulting cartoons are just the tip of the iceberg.

Sort of complicated.

I'd love to hear any reflections.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Angry Muslim Gamers

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian gunmen Thursday shut down the European Union's office in Gaza City, demanding an apology from European authorities who blocked worldwide access to the online game MohammedScape.

The gunmen left a notice on the EU office's door that the building would remain closed until the Europeans apologize to Muslim gamers, many of whom consider MohammedScape "the sizznit."

The ban sparked protests in other parts of the Muslim world.

Teenage Muslim gamers consider it blasphemous to restrict access to graphic depictions of Mohammed's glorious wars of jihad and the violent 7th century Muslim conquests of much of the then known world.

MohammedScape allows gamers to become Muslim warriors riding beside Mohammed as he kicks righteous booty against the infidels. With enough skill, they can turn themselves into generals who, after Mohammed's death, take the butt kicking into North Africa, the Middle East, and eventually into Europe. There are options to become merchants who control the overland trade routes between Europe and China too. Gamers can morph themselves into powerful Muslim characters right up until the end of the last Ottoman Caliphate.

The graphics and action, according to those in the gaming industry, are impressive.

Sal Motherboard, industry insider, said, "Dude. The elephants and boiling oil are rampant! One twitch and you're dead meat."

Masked members of the militant groups Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinians' former ruling party, Fatah, fired bullets into the air as a teen gamer from Gaza read the group's demands.

Palestinian officials said the gunmen were threatening to kidnap European workers if the European Union did not apologize and get MohammedScape back online immediately.