Appetite for Destruction

Winter sports seem particular insane to me. Maybe it's because our minds are addled by the lack of sunlight, but somehow we become convinced that snow is actually a soft and forgiving substance, forgetting the rocks, trees and general hardness of the underlying surface. Just ask the freestyle skier who just head-planted on national television exactly how soft the snow is.

We decide to hurl ourselves down a steep incline on some device that serves to reduce the life preserving friction that normally exists between man and mountain. At least in the case of skiing and snowboarding, we have some control over the sliding that necessarily ensues, but not so in sledding. Of course, none of this would be a problem, if it weren't for gravity.

Let me illustrate.

Before: and After:

Or, in a similar fashion:

Normally I refrain from sledding, because I don't want to get hurt in the middle of snowboard season. I relented this time, and I must say that there's something particularly wonderful about screaming your way down a mountain with reckless abandon.

The coupe de drace, though, wasn't captured on film -- and a good thing, too because I'd never live it down. On the day's fastest sled, I took a running start and jetted down the white surface. I deftly avoided the bigger bumps that would threaten to separate me from the sled. (Odd, isn't it, that we clutch so tightly onto the thing that is responsible for our rapid descent?)

I sailed past my friends at the base of the hill with surprising momentum. It was then that I noticed the four wheeler parked directly in my path. Thinking that I'd slow down now that I was on the flat, I contentedly watched the driver taking pictures of his kids. Totally unaware of my speed, I closed the gap much fast than I anticipated. I rolled off to the side, but much, much too late. My shoulder collided with the front left tire of the ATV with more force than I care to remember. It was then that the father pulled his face from the camera's viewfinder, looked down at me sprawled and moaning, and said, "Oh! ... I thought I felt it move."


The Single Male and His Girl "Friends"

In this post, I want to give any female readers out there a little insight into the male mind: As a general rule (and it makes me sad to say it) guys do not have “girl” friends. There is almost always some ulterior motive to friend-like behaviors exhibited by a single male.

Itemized and numbered according to frequency of occurrence, these motives are:

  1. He wants to date you.
  2. He wants to date your roommate, friend, or sister.
  3. He wants you to help him find people to date.
  4. He won’t ever want to date you seriously, but knows you’ll make a good backup date and help him understand the girls that he does date.

You may think I’m oversimplifying, but men really are simple creatures. The next question becomes, why are men this way? Well, to put it simply, girls make complicated friends. When two guys are together, they can scratch, grunt, play video games, watch excessive amounts of football, talk very little, and things are great. These activities are rarely sufficient for the fairer sex, not to mention that they really frown on any humor in the “bodily function” genre, which is a staple of typical male to male friendship interaction.

If having a female friend is going to stifle the male’s true nature, there must be some ancillary benefit for him to want to be friends. Most often, this is some form of dating. I figure that men have adopted this passive aggressive tactic because it can significantly reduce the fear of rejection. So, don’t be surprised when your “friend” suddenly starts hitting on you, or seems disconcertingly interested in your new roommate, or simply falls of the face of the earth. All of these seemingly odd behaviors fall neatly under the umbrella of the single male’s inability to simply be friends with a girl.

Okay, so know that we all have another reason to hate my gender, let me say that I’m trying to escape this paradigm. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that keeping only male company would lead to my complete social de-evolution. And not surprisingly, keeping female friends seems to be much more suitable training for relationships than perpetually hanging out with the guys. That said, it still takes extraordinary effort for the typical single male to be genuine friends with a female, though I have found it to be quite worthwhile. (But I still reserve the right to ask you out.)


Things that scare me...

As a male in his late 20s, few things scare me anymore. My capacity for rational thought has made it possible for me to watch pretty much any scary movie, eat medium-rare steaks, and drive 80 mph on the Utah interstate, all without being paralyzed with fear. There are a few things, however, that still scare me. Some of them are more rational than others.

Things that frighten me:
  • Cheese in a can. Especially disconcerting if mixed with aerosol propellant. Note that I eat it anyway.
  • Sitting next to someone with a 6 month old child on a cross country flight.
  • The "people" in computer animated cartoons. For some reason, they always look like Chucky to me.
  • Wal-mart greeters: if this is what happens to the elders of our society, then we all have reason to be concerned.
  • Catching the heel edge of my snowboard while traveling at high speed. The feeling you experience as your body's momentum whips the back of your head into the mountain is not soon forgotten.
  • Huckabee or Clinton as president.
  • Being alone.


Weird Science

For some time now, there have been repeated attempts to blur the line between religion and science in public schools by suggesting that Creationism and Intelligent Design (CID) are philosophies that should be taught in science courses. Though I have no personal qualms with either of these philosophies (and, in fact, agree with parts of them), the thought of them being passed off as legitimate science terrifies me.

As I have thought about the science that I have studied and the historical context under which scientific discoveries were made, I have reached the conclusion that true science must satisfy the following Laws:

The Law of Observation:

True science is based off of observation, or, in other words, the process of doing experiments and collecting quantifiable data. Every attempt is made to remove bias from this process so that a scientist elsewhere can repeat the experiments and obtain the same data. One might say that this is the greatest challenge in all of science: to isolate and remove bias.

Where is the experiment, data collection, and bias removal in Creationism? Personally, I can look at a tree and say, "I see God's hand in this tree," but this is not a valid scientific observation. Not only is it unquantifiable, but someone with a different bias may make a different observation that is entirely valid from their perspective. In science, an accounting must be made of every observation -- and it is actually the differing observations that tend to lead us to the greatest discoveries. Creationism discounts these contrary observations automatically based on the religiosity of the observer.

The Law of Utiltity:

Science is useful. The laws and theories produced by science provide us with increased understanding of the world around us. This additional understanding may serve to further the pursuit of the science in question, but also frequently leads to the development of technologies or predictive models to benefit humanity.

The philosophy of Creationism supplies no useful observations about the world that apply outside of their religious contexts. If we simply assume that things are "created that way", then what conclusions or predictions can we attempt to make about the physical world? In contrast, the theory of evolution helps us to understand how organisms adapt to their changing environment. How does Creationism help me to make predictions of the world around me?

The Law of Supersession:

The most basic tenet of scientific theories is the understanding that the theory represents our best understanding at the current time. A theory may be superseded by another, more complete theory. The history of physics is a perfect example. We started with Newtonian mechanics, which were eclipsed by relativity, which is, as we speak, being augmented by quantum mechanics and string theory.

The problem with Creationism is that it precludes the possibility that any additional data could change the theory because virtually everything is evidence of Deity's involvement. If you contrast this with even the most robust and well tested theories of science, one will find that EVERY scientific theory is open to review and adaptation as more experiments are performed and more data is collected.

The bottom line:

Creationism is not science and simply shouldn't be taught in school as though it were. The debate surrounding Creationism, though, is a lively and relevant one, so I do think it should be included wherever possible in government, history, and whatever classes it might come up.

The thing that must also be remembered is that science is amoral. Science in no way suggests what we should do, or whether one thing is right and another wrong; it merely provides data and predictions for which we have the responsibility of interpreting and acting upon. This is where the religious principles at the core of Creationism and Intelligent Design come into focus. Coupling accurate scientific observations with the moral tenets of religion can guide us to make decisions that are satisfying to both the soul and mind. Pretending that these philosophies are science does nothing to strengthen them, and may in fact, sully their potency.


Letter to the Editor

One of my favorite rituals when I visit the family homestead is to peruse the unintentionally quaint and humorous local paper. The funniest part is frequently the Opinion page, which is filled with "letters to the editor". These are almost always some disjointed rant about religion in government/school (both for and against), liberals (always against), gun control (similarly always against), unruly livestock, and how all these things are causing the inexorable decay of western civilization and democracy.

One letter I read championed the cause of teaching creationism alongside evolution in school. And while the letter itself was sufficiently "out-there" to give me a chuckle, the fact that the letter was written at all gave me significant pause. I wondered, "Why are we having this debate at all? It's been 500 years since Galileo and 80 years since the Scopes trial. Why are some of the religious still threatened by science? Haven't we learned what science really is?"

I guess not.

Simply put, creationism is not science. The explanation of why I firmly believe this is more than I want to write this evening, but the words are currently forming themselves in my head. For now, let it suffice to say that I DO believe in creationism and intelligent design, but I still feel it has no place in a science class. Furthermore, as a religious person, I see no dichotomy in accepting scientific theory while simultaneously believing in a Higher Power.


The Vomit Comet

There we were, pulled over on the side of I-15 on that clear and starry Idaho night, (it really was an amazing view), with spew everywhere and on everything. Fortunately, it was so frigidly cold that my nose utterly froze, making it possible for me to suppress my gag reflex as we went about the unfortunate business of cleaning my car. You'd think I'd be more bothered by this whole thing, but, to be honest, I had nothing but sympathy for my sister. There are few things worse than throwing up. Combine that with throwing up in an enclosed space, all over your clothes/brother's car, when you're supposed to be on plane in 4 hours, and you easily have the trifecta of vomiting.

It's times like these that I am simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by the digestive processes (or lack thereof) of the human body as well as the sheer volume of your average stomach. How is it that certain foods (hot dogs, anyone?) can exit the stomach looking pretty much the same as when they entered? In this case, it was garden salad and thousand island dressing. The thing is, I was sitting next to my sister when she ate that salad six hours earlier. It was a very small salad, but it had easily tripled in volume. I'm also pretty sure that carrots are indigestible.

In the end, it cleaned up moderately well. (Note to self, keep paper towels in car at ALL TIMES.) The rest of the ride home was a little awkward/smelly, as she sat in the back while I sat next to the thousand island dressing stain. I tried to cover up the smell with a vanilla tree I had stashed in the glove box, but resultant odor was only a marginal improvement. Through a little cajoling and three calls to Delta, she was able to get her flight changed. So, she got to crash at my house and get a good night's rest instead of jetting across the country in what would have certainly been the most uncomfortable flight in history as the stomach flu made it's inevitable transition into two-ended intestinal torture.

In the end, I'm glad I was there. Had she been alone, or gotten sick on the plane, that would have been much worse. And as for the car, I let the guys at the detail shop take care of my fry sauce colored seat. Let's just say that the seat and mats were still wonderfully wet and pungent when I delivered the car to them the next day.


New Years

The transition from 2007-2008 is one that will go down in infamy. I'm moderately surprised by this; New Years is traditionally one of the most lackluster holidays. Even holidays that offer zero vacation time (like Halloween) easily trump New Years. In general, I wonder if instead of comparing New Years to Christmas or Thanksgiving, we should compare it to something like Arbor Day to keep our expectations more realistic. At least then you'd be able to say, "Yeah, that was a great New Years -- almost as good as the Flag Day of '99."

But, let's face it, the best New Years you ever celebrated wasn't that much better than the worst New Years you've celebrated. When you're young, you were so excited to stay up late and eat junk food that you tired yourself out well before the ball dropped. And when you get old, you're so tired that you celebrate New Years in EST even though you live in MST. And of course, let us not forget that News Years is second only to birthdays in marking the relentless march of time, just without the presents.

So, how do you celebrate a day such as this? Do you go to a dance? Ick. To a party? How passé. If you do go to these places, you'll inevitable find that one third of the people there are hooked up and anticipating that triumphant New Years kiss; the other third are looking for someone (anyone) for that New Years kiss; and the other third don't know why they are there (in the case of a Mormon party), or just realized that they were only invited to be designated drivers.

That's why I celebrate with the family every year. They've never let me down. Dad slices up the Pepperidge farm beef stick from his stocking, mom makes a veggie tray with enough olives to cover our fingertips, and the sparkling cider flows freely, while we bicker our way through the dice game, Settler's of Catan, Uno, and Scrabble.

This year, however, was a little different. I arrived home the day before New Year's Eve to find the family in various stages of illness. A virulent stomach flu was ravaging the clan. Yet, we soldiered on with our dry toast, green jello, and gallons of sprite, and ended up having a good time in spite of ourselves.

And all was well until the evening of the first day of 2008, when I, the healthy one, was attacked by 2007 while driving home from the holiday. It was terrorism in it's worse form: sudden, unexpected, and demoralizing. It was then, at 85 MPH, on that frigid and clear winter night, somewhere near the Idaho/Utah border, that my sister ralphed ALL OVER the passenger side of my car.

Happy New Year! (to be continued...)