Friday, January 30, 2009

Re: interesting idea???

Mom recently sent me the copy of an article posted online.  Here's the article and my rebuttal.

[Original Article]
Posted by: anon11702
melanin is the key to civilization. comes from the greek word to mean BLACK. it is found in the pineal gland. it is instrumental in every chemical process in the body. the proof is in the pudding. people who have less melanin can not withstand the sun. which is in some cases seen a God of creation. the people who dont have brown eyes are more prone to make clouded decisions because of the amounts of harmful light that enters the eye. hair is straight and flat minus melanin which in turn cannot protect the scalp from harmful sun rays and environment(bugs lices) melanin is the skins first line of defense against any and everything. it is also like the creator. some people call the pineal gland the third eye which is why most people of color have more spiritual roots and what white people call "soul". melanin is far more than anyone wants you to know. which why there is only about a 8 sentence paragraph on it in most science books. you have to get the real good or expensive ones. i feel the knowledge should be taught to all. once you learn about melanin the government will be less likely to string you along with mass media and propaganda. there is no such thing as disease, germs and uncurable virus. it all has to do with the mucosal lining in our entire bodies and inflammation. melanin a natural fix, puts everything back into place. medications, stress and our diets make it harder for our bodies to control things naturally with negative feedback. i know you wise geeks know all about this. mark my words. try to look up melanin and see if you have a tuff time getting to the hard core facts. and if you do, you might have to dodge some racist remarks. but honestly the truth is the truth. which is why it is so easy for me to understand why any race would go through generation upon generations keeping another race- the ultimate "hue"-man race blind deaf and dumb to the truth. you don't have to have the "hue" to be humane. melanin is what makes any living thing a human being.
sincerely, a free mind

[My Rebuttal]
This is just being racist without having much information.  I broke it down to decide what to take, what to reanalyze, and what to reject.

Here's the statement that has something accurate:

1) "[melanin] comes from the greek word to mean BLACK it is found in the pineal gland"
[Right.  It's also found in other locations, such as the skin, eyes, and hair.]

Mixed statements:

1) "hair [without] melanin... in turn cannot protect the scalp from harmful sun rays"
[It's true that hair without melanin or other pigments can't absorb as much light as hair without melanin.  The pigments in hair can act as "lightning rods" to absorb energy from sunlight, with differing efficiences at various wavelengths.  But the good news for people with hair of all types is that 1) sunblock was invented, 2) hats are available, and 3) all hair provides a physical barrier to the penetration of UV rays into the skin.  Even if hair can't strongly absorb UV light, it can still scatter it before it penetrates the skin.  The people we should really feel sorry for are those who are bald.]

2) "hair [without] melanin... cannot protect the scalp from... environment(bugs lices)"
[The color of a person's hair could camoflague or enhance a parasite's color, 'tis true.  But parasites come in a range of colors.  Sure, lice could easily hide in my hair while they'd stand out in a person with darker hair.  But if ticks start inhabiting my head, it's going to be easier to find them against my blonde hair versus someone else's black hair.  So it's a toss-up as far as who has the advantage.  The only out-and-out winner on this one is the bald guy who lost out on the previous statement.]

3) "melanin is the skins first line of defense against any and everything. it is also like the creator."
[Melanin, as we've seen, can protect a person from excessive UV absorption (since it absorbs a broad range of light) and from lice or other lightly-colored parasite infestation (since it takes away that type of bug's camoflague).  But there are a host of disease-causing fungi, bacteria, and viruses that melanin has no protective role against.  Thus, this statement overreaches itself.  Skin is what I would classify as our first line of defense.
    Finally, it is definitely true that the Creator is the first line of defense against any and everything.  But since melanin isn't, the author will have to give me more reason to believe it's a fair comparison.]

Baseless or extremely distorted statements:

1) "melanin is the key to civilization"
[This broad statement is launched without any supporting framework.  The rest of the article presents some accurate information about the places melanin can be found in the body, and then goes on to put forward a completely disproved theory of a world where bacteria and viruses do not exist.  Somehow the author never got around to proving their initial point about melanin being the key to civilization.  Since they do not even explain what they mean, I'm left to wonder if this statement means that the more melanin a person has, the more likely there are to conquer other nations, or what.  The last time I checked, the world wasn't universally dominated by ultra-pigmented people: the folks at the UN come in a rainbow of pigments.]

2) "[melanin] is instrumental in every chemical process in the body"
[There are so many examples of biological reactions where melanin is not present.  One common example would be phosphorylation, where a protein transfers a PO4(3-) group to a molecule.  Also realize that melanin is not even present in every tissue in the body, and so cannot be involved in every biological process that takes place in the body.]

3) "people who have less melanin can not withstand the sun."
[I'm going to assume that the author means more melanin in a person's skin and eyes.  But  define "less."  Less than what the author has?  Less than what Sabrina Williams has?  Less than what Tida has?  Less than what I have?  Now, I will give you the fact that albinos have a tough time sunbathing.  But I doubt this author is limiting his/her argument to albinos.
     I have a lot less melanin than most, but I'm still able to "withstand" the sun.  Granted, I'm not going to go out on a sunny day without sunblock, but it's vampires -- not Caucasions generally -- that die when sunlight hits them.
     This question of how much melanin a person has in their skin/eyes is difficult or even impossible to quantify exactly.  Sure, if Christine (her Dad's parents were native Chinese) is talking to Kwansima (Ghanese), I'm going to be able to see a difference in the amount of pigment in their skin.  And Kwansima is probably going to get a lot fewer sunburns than Christine.  But that doesn't mean Christine can't "withstand" the sun.]

4) "the people who dont have brown eyes are more prone to make clouded decisions because of the amounts of harmful light that enters the eye"
[No evidence is presented to support this claim, but if it is true, I would expect black-eyed people to have the most wisdom and decision-making prowess.  Uh-oh.  Problem.  Some fair-skinned people have black eyes!  What does this do to the Theory of Melanin-Inducing Prowess?  Is it the melanin in their skin, or in their eyes that determines their value on a scale of melanin-enrichedness.  Or is it the average of the two?
    There's two other problems with this statement: 1) it has an incorrect understanding of how light enters the eye, and 2) it makes the value judgment that light is harmful.  Light enters the eye through the cornea, lens, and pupil, not through the iris.  It's not as if all green-irised people saw everything looking like the Land of Oz.  Only if the cornea or lens were tinted would a person always see a tinted view.  Once light enters through the pupil, it's detected as the retinal cells absorb light of different wavelengths and transmit electrial signals to nearby nerves which deliver the signal to the brain where it is interpreted. 
    Thus, the tint of a person's iris has nothing to do with the amount of light delivered to the person's retina.  And if it did, this person has oversimplified the scenario that would ensue.  If the tint of a person's iris actually determined the amount of light allowed into the eye, then you would have to find the optimal tint to allow for the right amount of light to be let in.  A person with black eyes might not let enough light through and be functionally blind, a person with brown eyes might be legally blind, a person with blue eyes might collect too much light and have to wear prescription sunglasses their entire life, and a person with green eyes might be the one who could see well in broad daylight.
   Finally can light be categorically described as harmful?  Yes, a blinding amount of light is harmful, but without light nothing could ever be seen.  "...[E]verything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.  This is why it is said: 'Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'" (Ephesians 5:13-14).
     The fact that God compares Himself to light would make me skeptical of anyone who unqualifiedly labels light "harmful."  I'm also suspect when someone sacrifices the truth just to make a point.]

5) "hair is straight and flat minus melanin"
[Think about the shelves and shelves of noodles at Meijer.  If you picked up three boxes, you could get quite a variety of shapes and colors.  Maybe you'd find orange carrot cartwheels, yellowish lasagna noodles, and spinach shells.  At the factory that makes these noodles, you'd probably see that a stock batch of noodle dough was made into these three different varieties.  What makes them different is their processing: 1) the color/taste could be changed by adding food coloring or flavoring, and 2) the shape could be changed as the dough was molded, cut, or extruded into cartwheels, ripply lasagna noodles, or shells.  If you switched up the processing steps, the same noodle dough could be used to make spinach cartwheels or orange carrot shells.  Shape and color are independent properties.
    This is also true to some extent for hair.  Hair is made of protein.  Protein can have primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structure.  The primary structure is the series of amino acids that make up the protein.  These amino acids have side groups that can effect how the amino acids can interact with one another, like puzzle pieces.  Secondary structures are repetitive patterns formed by arranging amino acids.  Certain series of amino acids are capable of forming different types of secondary structures.  For example, a series of glycines (the simplest amino acids with a single hydrogen as its R group) would interact with one another much differently than a series of tryptophans (which have an aromatic group as its R group).  Two commonly occuring types of secondary structure are alpha helices and beta sheets.  An alpha helix looks like a spring (I'll abbreviate it with 00000), and a beta sheet with its rigid ripples looks like a sun chip (I'll abbreviate it with }}}}}}}).  Think of a protein as a string of amino acids.  Different stretches of amino acids in this string can interact with another and form the secondary structures that end up looking like springs and sun chips.  So if a protein had some stretches that couldn't form any secondary structure, it'd remain plain and flexible like this: --------------.  If a protein could form two alpha helices with one beta barrel in the middle, and straight stretches in between, it would be something like this: -------00000---------}}}}}}}----------00000---------.  The straight stretches of string are flexible, and the "spring" and "sunchips" could then fold back on top of one another and form an extremely complex structure.  This folded structure made up of interacting secondary structures is called the tertiary structure.  Finally, the quaternary structure of a protein is the final structure formed when all its subunits (the individually folded tertiary structures each made up of its own sequence of amino acids) are assembled.  Not all proteins have quaternary structure, because some are made up of "only" one unit.  On the other hand, hemoglobin is made up of four subunits.
     Okay, long answer here!  Hair has proteins which define its structure, and other non-proteins that define its color.  The cell's a crowded place.  Many intracellular proteins are "folded up inside themselves," and can thus navigate the crowded freeways of the cell.  The proteins that make up hair, however, suffer from no such space limitations.  They emerge from your scalp and have quite a bit of space to work with.  Their structure is different that that of hemoglobin's, too.  They don't tightly fold up on themselves: they have secondary structure, but no tertiary structure.  Thus, differences in their secondary structures become extremely noticeable macroscopically.  If you take ten springs and tie them together with string, your work or art is going to look completely different from your neighbor's, whose tied together sun chips.  If one girl's hair has proteins with a lot of alpha helices, it's going to lookly completely different from the girl's hair that has lots of beta barrels. 
     The structure of the hair is determined by its primary and secondary structure.  Think about the proteins as cotton thread.  Depending on how those threads are arranged, they can form a fabric that's chunky and thick like flannel or a fabric that's thin and flexible like knit.  The difference is in how the thread is handled. 
     That's what hair is often like.  The proteins determine the structure of the hair.  The finishing step to fabric or hair is the coloration.  The color of fabric for the most part depends on the pigments introduced and taken up by the fabric.  So, you can have blue knit or blue flannel, pure knit or purple flannel.  The structure and the color are distinct and can be mixed and matched.  That's how it is with hair.  The structure and the color come from different molecules.
     Of course, hair is more complicated than fabric.  The structure of the proteins in hair is defined by that person's genome, and the amount of melanin secreted by a person is also genetically determined.  And that's why certain characteristics of hair are often seen together, even though the structure and color of a person's hair arise from different molecules and different processes.  If the genes encoding hair protein structure and the genes encoding melanin secretion are located on similar regions of a person's chromosome, they're most likely going to be inherited together when your mom and dad's chromosomes square dance.
     "Kinky" hair and intense melanin concentrations are often seen together for this reason.  But it's not because melanin has anything to do with the structure of hair.  In fact, I've seen kids who have extremely kinky blonde hair.  And I'm sure there's Africans with naturally straight hair.  It's just that kinky hair and intense melanin concentrations are often seen together, like muted colors in flannels, and bright colors in knits.]

Now we get to the interesting stuff:
6) "some people call the pineal gland the third eye which is why most people of color have more spiritual roots and what white people call 'soul'"
[Define "people of color."  Define "spiritual roots."  Define "soul." 
     There's two issues here: 1) That "people of color" are more "spiritual" than um, people of less color.  2) That this difference is caused by melanin, which is secreted by the pineal gland.
     Last time I checked, every person was spiritual, having a spirit.  But I think that's not the author's working definition of spiritual.  S/he might mean that black people are more likely to be extremely outgoing and sociable, project their personality better, demonstrate their feelings more effectively, etc.  I can definitely say that I miss this aspect of black culture.  I miss the 20-30 hugs I got every Sunday at Dublin St., and the sense that I was always among friends, the way that people went out of their way to connect with each other, and the warmth and love that so many of my friends there just exuded and made a point of sharing with you.  I miss that most every Sunday, and when a tiny glimpse of it comes my way at my current church, I revel in it!  But I don't think these characteristics are caused by melanin.  I think they're a cultural thing, and that any culture can learn to do these things. 
      Just looking at American history, one dictate of some American Indian tribes was to not show outward emotion.  That's one reason Jonathan Edwards had a hard time "reading" his congregation!  If melanin was the sole cause of emotional display, or whatever else the author calls "soul," then an American Indians should have displayed much more emotion than Caucasions.
      It highlights the difference between a cause and an incidental.  While cultures often include people that look very similar, that doesn't mean a person acts like the others around them because their appearances match.  It's just that at the Tower of Babel, people sharing a language migrated together, had kids that looked like them, had kids that looked like them, etc., and families transmit ways of doing and thinking about things (cultures).  Other people who were born in another culture can enter a new one, if they choose to conform to that second culture.  The person from Iceland who decides to migrate Zambia could choose to assimilate into the new culture.  If they can make that choice, even though they look totally different than the descendants of the founders of that culture, than culture doesn't stem from appearance.
      This statement also raises the whole question of nature, nurture, and will.  If melanin always affected a person's behavior, and they had no choice over its production, wouldn't that go against the idea of free will?  The most ironic thing I find about this statement is that the author is trying to reduce something spiritual -- "soul" -- to something physical.]
      I think a lot of people limit racism to white supremacy.  Here's an example to broaden their limitation.  And as far as spiritual need, God sees us all in need of Him.  And it's through Him that we can be united:  "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28).
      Sure, some cultures are going to encourage kids to be more open with their thoughts and feelings.  Some are going to encourage their kids to think about God.  Other cultures are going to dissuade those tendencies.  But it's not a difference caused by melanin.  That's trying to simplify a observation by saying it stems from a physical instead of a spiritual cause.
      And the glorious thing is that God works.  While some cultures are teaching their kids to be open to the true God, He's glorified by that.  While some cultures are trying to fence God out, He still is working to reach out to them!  There's one Savior who knows our spirits, and can help us to know Him.  That's why we can live out 2 Corinthians 5:15-16 "And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer."  Compare Revelation 14:6 and 7:9: "Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth -- to every nation, tribe, language and people."  "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."  God's Word and His Spirit are going out to each person in each nation, and people from each of those nations is coming to know Him.]
7) "melanin is far more than anyone wants you to know. which why there is only about a 8 sentence paragraph on it in most science books. you have to get the real good or expensive ones.  i feel the knowledge should be taught to all."
[If there was a conspiracy to hide the fact that people have melanin and that it plays a physiological role, there wouldn't be an accurate wikipedia article about it.  But wait -- there is.  And if you're looking for a detailed description of melanin in a general science book, you probably aren't going to find a lot of information.  Look up a book that's more specific to your interest: melanin.  You can find books about pigment physiology, skin disorders, stability of pigments, etc.  Basic biology books are going to spend the predominant amount of their time on basics, for example the central dogma of DNA --> RNA --> protein.  For advanced information, you'll have to look for specific titles.]

8) "once you learn about melanin the government will be less likely to string you along with mass media and propaganda. there is no such thing as disease, germs and uncurable virus. it all has to do with the mucosal lining in our entire bodies and inflammation. melanin a natural fix, puts everything back into place. medications, stress and our diets make it harder for our bodies to control things naturally with negative feedback. i know you wise geeks know about this."
[Now we see a glimpse of pathology through the author's eyes.  First, let's try to understand the author's position.  The first question is, if there's no such thing as "disease, germs and uncurable virus[es]" then why do people get sick?  The author doesn't say.  S/he might believe that autoimmune diseases are possible, but there's not enough evidence to say either way.  One cause of diease s/he leaves off of his/her list of "organisms not believed in" are macroscopic parasites.  Since s/he mentions lice previously, it's probably safe to assume s/he believes in them. 
      In the author's view, what's the role of mucous membranes?  Evidently to keep parasites from entering our bodies.  What is the purpose of inflammation?  Perhaps it is the body's way of fighting internal parasites such as tapeworms.  Then how does melanin factor into this process of fighting macroscopic parasites?  It's "a natural fix, puts everything back into place."  The mechanism is not discussed, and no references are supplied.  We're supposed to believe this author's word that the government is suppressing information about melanin and oppressing all of us through our ignorance so we'll listen to Big Pharma that's pushing this bunk about bacteria so we'll buy their drugs, we'll pay the doctor telling us we have a bacterial infection and that's why our snot is green, and we'll listen to friend in the lab next door who *says* she's growing up bacteria on agar plates.
      The author's progression in this piece started with several fun facts about melanin over-editorialized and incorrectly interpreted.  And now it's dissolved into questioning such basics as whether bacteria exist.

9) "mark my words. try to look up melanin and see if you have a tuff time getting to the hard core facts. and if you do, you might have to dodge some racist remarks. but honestly the truth is the truth. which is why it is so easy for me to understand why any race would go through generation upon generations keeping another race- the ultimate "hue"-man race blind deaf and dumb to the truth. you don't have to have the "hue" to be humane. melanin is what makes any living thing a human being."
[As far as dodging racist remarks, the author gives his/her own share of these missiles.  And I disagree that every living thing with a melanin is a human being.  If that was the case, then every plant with melanin would be a human!  Okay, so that was a misstatment on their part. 
     More to the point, melanin does not define humanity.  While it's a clever play-on-words to talk about being "hue"-man, the fact is that everyone except albinoes secretes some amount of melanin.  Is the author prepared to discover that he is discriminating against albinoes? 
       Absolutizing melanin to the point of saying that it defines a person, and that a person with more melanin is more human idolizes it, and attempts to put melanin in place of God himself.  Earlier on, the author talked about God.  But at this point of the discussion, the author shows how man-centric, or humanistic, his/her worldview actually is.  It is God, and God alone, who has decided to make each of us as humans.  Having more melanin does not make a person more human.  Having the breath of God inside us is what makes us human: "[T]he Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."  (Genesis 2:7)  The testimony of the soul, the spirit, and the body are in agreement: God has created them, and His work is marvelous in our eyes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Edited or mutilated?

Projection is risky business.  Last night I was skimming the intro to Thomas Hobbes' book Leviathan.  Within about 30 seconds, I was wishing that I had more carefully selected the edition I'd bought.  Hobbes wrote two versions of his work: one in Latin (the scholarly language of that day), and one in English (for the common man).  In the version I was holding, an editor had translated the first two sections of Leviathan from the Latin, and amputated the last two sections (because, he said, they were interesting only to people of that day).  He had modified the punctuation and even the construction of the work, to clarify Hobbes' meaning for the modern reader.

This annoyed me, because I would much prefer to read Hobbes' original work, and not some editor's conception of Hobbes' meaning.  Plus, the introduction was not incredibly well-written, and I wondered how the author convinced himself that he was capable of improving Hobbes' style.

But this was just the beginning.  Toward the end, the editor explained why Hobbes used Scripture throughout his work.  According to the editor, Hobbes only quoted from the Bible because people of his day were by and large influenced by Scripture.  He didn't personally believe in God or His Word.  He just used the Bible because other people were swayed by it.

I find it simply incredible that this editor can look back over four hundred years and read a man's mind.  It would have impressed me if he had read my mind as I sat in the same room as him.  But this editor's mind-reading abilities are capable of penetrating the inner sanctum of a man and discerning his thoughts, though the two of them are separated by four centuries and six feet of dirt.

I wondered where I had heard this type of argument before.  Then I had it: during one of the very first discussions I had with some grad students on campus, we were talking about U.S. History.  I was saying that most of the Founding Fathers were believers in Christ, and that's it time to get back to our historical roots.  Two other students disagreed, saying that the Founders quoted from the Bible because they knew what kind of influence it had over the common people of that time.  They didn't actually believe the Bible.

It struck me at the time at how arrogant this view was.  It assumes that the Founding Fathers were insincere opportunists, and allows no room for the Founders having a sincere, Scripture-enriched view of government.  Hearing the Leviathan editor's words brought me back to the same position that previous conversation had brought me to: how on earth do you know?

A follow up question for the editor is, Are you projecting?  Perhaps you do not believe in God, and cannot imagine a scholar or Founding Father using Scripture because they believe in God.  But can you separate your beliefs from those of others?  Or do you think that every scholarly, successful person believes as you do?

I was not convinced that the editor could make the distinction.  I was concerned that in the process of "clarifying" Hobbes' message, the editor would end up inserting his own interpretation into Hobbes' original work.  So I ordered the full version of the original.

It's 700 pages long, which is much more formidible than the thin edited version I started with.  One reason for the length is that the last two sections amputated by the editor are included.  I wondered earlier why the editor did not stop to describe the sections he was axing.  After all, Hobbes must have had some reason to include them in his original work.  If the editor does not understand why they were included, perhaps he does not understand other portions of the work he is editing.
     I wonder now if these two sections are in keeping with the editor's view that Hobbes used the Bible only because it was convenient for him, and not because he believed it.  The two sections describe "The Christian Commonwealth" and "The Kingdom of Darkness."  That last section compares the actions of Hobbes' society to Scripture's standard, and shows where society is coming up wanting.  This is hardly the kind of thing a man would do if he was trying with all his might to get on society's good side by using a book they respected but he distrusted.  In that case, he would want to pander to them by every possible means, not point out their sins!  It sounds to me (you'll notice I make no claims to mind-reading) that he cared more about the truth of Scripture than the passing fancies of society.

Monday, January 26, 2009


There's something to be said for listening.  You learn lots.  I mean, I'm surrounded by people of a very different political persuasion than myself at most social functions I attend, and I gotta say, I'll always amazed at what turns up when everyone thinks the mike's off, and they're among political allies.  Or they just get carried away and don't care who hears what they're saying.

Folks, I'm not makin' this stuff up.  Wish I was, but I'm not.  I struggle to maintain my composure and my acquaintances when things like this come up.  I mean, what do you say?  (Note: the following statements are not exact quotes.  I'm relying on my memory here.  But the quote marks indicate the essence of what a particular person said, and sets the statement off from the rest of the sentences).

From some months back...

"I believe this election is a referendum on the intelligence of the American people."  (An older woman eyeing the election returns, election night).
Hey, I'm not saying you're not intelligent because you voted for Obama.  I'm just saying that you were deceived.

"She was wonderful.  She said there needs to be equality for women, and diversity, and it was great."  (A man describing Donna Shalala's keynote address at a conference).
And when I heard that she was covering such fresh ground, I grieved that I had missed the keynote.

At a party this weekend...

"I was so excited to move to a liberal state.  But then I found all these corrupt politicians here!" (A girl on her move to Illinois and the current impeachment trial of Governor Blagojevich.)
And you were surprised?

"I just can't understand why people don't like the word socialism.  I mean, my dad and I get the warm fuzzies when we talk about universal healthcare."  (Another girl describing her and her father's political harmony).
Well I don't know about you, but knowing that Hitler's party was the National Socialists' party is enough to make me allergic to the term "socialism."  And I don't think your dad is going to maintain those "warm fuzzies" when he's put on a waiting list for his kidney stones.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Listen to the Bible

Ever heard Max McLean read?  If you've ever listened to Moody Radio, you probably have.  He often reads the verse-for-the day.  Anyhow, if you want to hear him read more of the Bible, you can!  Just visit, and look at their audio resources.  You can download passages of Scripture by the chapter on your Real Audio or Flash Player.  And it's all free!
    There's other audio versions of the Bible available other places, too.  Just search  When you're ordering one, be sure you know what you're looking for.  Do you want a dramatic version with sound effects and different voices for each character?  Or do you want a simple reading by someone with a resonant voice?  The version I ended up buying stands somewhere in-between, and it's given me quite a few chuckles.  For one thing, it plays music in the background.  Now, that wouldn't be a bad thing, except that there's only two possible songs, and the mood of the song is often completely out of keeping with what's happening in the story!  I mean, do you really want to listen to a battle with happy music playing?  Also, there's a pretty broad range of acting ability.  Some of the actors are awesome and really bring the meaning of the verses out.  But others read each word individually and their delivery becomes pretty choppy.  Case-in-point: when Balaam starts beating his donkey and they get into a conversation, Balaam holds up fine.  But his donkey takes so long to recite her lines that it really drags!  (Now, maybe I should give the actor some benefit-of-the-doubt.  After all, that was probably the first time the donkey ever talked!).
    Anyway, if I had it to do over again, I'd find the simplest version I could. That way, your imagination can have more fun than a preschooler with a pile of Tupperware.  And you can learn without being distracted.

Designed to adapt

The past two days I've been thinking about some non sequiturs:


Just because a cookie recipe can be adapted to different tastes or available ingredients doesn't mean the original recipe came about by random processes.

Just because a pair of jeans can be altered to fit a smaller person doesn't mean the original pair of jeans came about by random processes.

Just because an equation can be fit to different parameters doesn't mean that the equation itself came about by random processes.

Just because an organism can adapt to different selection pressures doesn't mean that the organism itself came about by random processes.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Coat Hanger

This is an article my mom recently submitted to her local newspaper.  As Dinesh D'Souza says, one extremely effective strategy is to reiterate a person's argument back to them, and ask "Is this what you believe?"  The question here is "Are you really interested in women's health?"

Dear Editor:

I just read a report  that  a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Indianapolis received a reprimand in August 2008 by Dr. Judith Monroe, State Health Commissioner, over 278 improperly filed Terminated Pregnancy Reports submitted to the Indiana State Department of Health in 2007.

As part of the reprimand, Dr. Monroe reportedly warned that any future Terminated Pregnancy Reports that are improperly filed will be referred to the office of  Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi for further action.

Indiana Code 16-34-2-5 outlines the requirements for the reporting of abortions in Indiana and clarifies that failure to properly file a Terminated Pregnancy Report is a Class B misdemeanor.  When any abortion clinic fails to list the age of the female on which the abortion is done, questions must be raised by state officials over whether such omissions are done to cover up child sexual abuse.

The Planned Parenthood of Indiana clinic receiving the warning is the same clinic embroiled in a grand jury investigation into whether criminal activity was committed when a female claiming to be 13-years-old and pregnant by a 31-year-old man was told by a Planned Parenthood employee on undercover video that she didn't care how old the father is.

"Abortion clinics are not above the law," says Mike Fichter, the Director of Indiana Right to Life.  "If they refuse to comply with the clear requirements of Indiana Code, their license to operate should be revoked."

It would seem to me that the people who do not want to go back to what they call the  "coat hanger" days of abortion should  be the ones most for the clinics being held to strict standards of accountability.  There is no difference in taking a young girl to a seedy pretend doctor's house to get an illegal abortion than there is in taking a young girl to a seedy law breaking Planned Parenthood clinic.  Anyone who is pro-abortion must face the facts that women's health is the issue here.  Do you want women to be protected from money fiends willing to kill innocent human life for a buck or not?  Legalized abortion has aided the incestor, the rapist, and the so called boy friend who does not want to take responsibility for abusing a girl's trust in him.  At the very least complete records should be mandated and clinics that do not comply immediately closed down, otherwise you can hang the coat hanger over the door.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Law, Morality, Motive, and the Ideal

"You can't legislate morality." I disagree with this in the way it's usually meant, because every law is describing what is right and wrong to do. However, I could use the same sentence in a different way, and fully agree with it. I agree with the idea that "you can't legislate morality" if by that you mean that a person can follow laws and still be immoral.

Laws are often only action-deep. They do not necessarily penetrate to thought-depth. A person can outwardly obey while inwardly rebelling. Obedience can be carried out with the wrong motivation.

While we're on the subject of the law, I think that humanity as a whole will always outpace manmade legislation's ability to guide their actions. The one being pursued has more options than the one pursuing him.

Also, I've noticed that some laws can be atrocious, life-gnawing ogres that strangle productivity. But not all law is like this: God's Law heightens productivity. Why the difference? Maybe because God knows what he's doing, and legislators don't.

Dear Applicant

Suitor screening? I don't know what I imagined my parents doing. Applications? Background checks? Water torture? Hmm.....

[Phase I]
Dear Applicant 0146897QJD,
We have received your preliminary request to court our daughter. Thank you for sending your most recent photograph with its Certificate of Authenticity signed by your mother, as well as the 20-page essay describing what motivated you to begin this application process.

We would like to thank you for your interest in our pride and joy. While some steps of this application process may seem inconvenient, you of course understand our caution in entrusting our sweet young thing to just anyone who happens to have a Y chromosome. Even from a purely materialistic point of view (cost of childbirth; cost of clothing, housing, and food; cost of dentistry and healthcare; cost of education, etc.), you must understand the type of financial investment we have here. Besides that, we love our daughter, and we want her to be happy.

Because of this, we cannot allow you to monopolize even a minute of our daughter's valuable time without a few preliminaries and precautions.

Please complete the enclosed forms, and return them to the address on this packet within 10 days. If we do not hear from you within 10 days, we will assume that you are no longer interested. Additionally, please study the reference materials, and be prepared to be tested over them, should you proceed past Phase I of the screening process.

Marvin and Jenny Schnauver

Forms to be completed
Personal Testimony
Detailing your conversion, and beliefs.
Scripture Memorized
Be prepared to recite this at any time.
Scriptural Study Method
Outline your daily routine for Bible study.
Personal Ministry
Detail the ministries you have been personally involved in through the investment of time or money in the past twelve months.
Brief Personal Account
Describe your life in 20 pages.
Outline of Friends
List the friend's name, length of friendship, method of meeting, and current pursuits.
100 Favorite Books Read Last Year
Three-sentence summaries of those one hundred books you most enjoyed reading last year.
Favorite Movies Watched Last Year
Same as above, except there is no stipulation at the number of movies you watched.
Academic History
Courses, GPA, and degrees earned from middle school to the present day.
Acquired Life Skills
Itemized list of tasks you are proficient at. Please be as comprehensive and detailed as possible. For example, list tasks as far-ranging as "pinning butterflies" to "open-heart surgery."
Automobile, Sink, and Lightbulb Diagrams
Detailed diagram of automobile, kitchen sink, and lightbulb, including as much detail as you can summon from memory.
Toolbox Contents
Describe the contents of your toolbox.
Publication History
Itemized list of all Letters-to-the-Editor, journal articles, book chapters, and monographs you have written.
Background Check
The results of a background check from your state of residency.
Credit Report
Showing your financial history at the present date.
Bank Statements
Bank statements from each bank you have used.
Monthly Budgets
Include your budgets from the last 12-month period.
Current Resume
Showing your places of employment from middle school through the present day.
Medical History
Results from a physical performed within this month. Include a full description of all allergies and current medications.
Traffic History
List of all traffic violations during your time as a driver.
Top 50 Role Models
List of those fifty people that have most influenced your life, and why.
List of those hobbies you find most enjoyable. Enclose photographs whenever possible.
Typical Daily Regimen
Outline your typical 24-hour period, listing physical workout, time at work, time doing hobbies, etc.
Perfect Day
Outline what would be your ideal 24-hour period.
Favorite Games and Time Log
List of those video or board games which you enjoy most, along with an estimate of how long you spent playing them during the last twelve months.
Favorite Jokes to Tell
Italicize all punchlines and phrases to be especially emphasized.
Biggest Strengths
Spiritual, or physical.
Biggest Weaknesses
Be honest.
Favorite Historical Epoch
Fully justify your selection.
Previous Romantic Involvements
From elementary school to the present day.
Survey of Family Tree
Include the photos/names/ages and brief descriptions of all those in your immediate family as well as all first-cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Include any interesting quirks, hobbies, and/or pastimes. Also include a brief medical history.
Cooking Abilities and Preferences
Include favorite recipes, cooking experience, and cooking preferences.
History of Plant Ownership
List the species and genus of each plant you have cultivated or killed, and why.
History of Pet Ownership
List the name, species, and genus of each pet you have owned. Indicate whether each animal was solely or jointly owned. If jointly owned, detail who performed which animal-related chores (nail clipping, litter cleaning, fang cleaning, etc.).
Music Preferences
Describe your favorite music genres, groups, and songs.
Alcohol, Gambling, Smoking, Dancing, and Card-Playing
Describe your view of these activities, and what, if any, guidelines should be imposed on them.
View of Marriage
Describe your view of marriage, God's view of marriage as revealed in the Scriptures, and whether your views and God's coincide.
View of Divorce
Describe your view of divorce, God's view of divorce, and upon what grounds you would consider divorce.
Vision & Worldview
Your vision for the duration of your life. Detail the level of involvement you wish to maintain in your family, work, ministry in current issues (abortion, euthanasia, homosexual agenda, etc.), and the specific goals you have in each area of your life and your justifications for having them. Describe your worldview as it relates to the ten (10) areas outlined by David Noebel, and which classification it most resembles: Marxism-Leninism, Secular Humanism, Cosmic Humanism, or Biblical Christianity.
Character Witnesses
Include the phone numbers/email addresses of no less than ten (10) character witnesses.

For your reference (be prepared to be tested over these materials).
The Way Things Work
Evidence that Demands a Verdict
Escape from Reason
The God Who is There
Band of Brothers
A Patriot's History of the U.S.
Far Side (selected comic books)

[Phase II]
If the paperwork perusal, battery of tests, and intensive one-on-one interview go successfully, within 3 years, it's time for the stepup to "Personal, Screened Calls."

"Suitor Screening Service. This is Jenny speaking. How may I direct your call?"
"Uh, I just wanted to talk..."
"Let me transfer you to our automated voice messaging system."
[Electronic beeps, and a delay of 45 seconds.]
"You've reached the Suitor Verification System. Please speak your ten-digit identification number and reason for calling after the beep. *BEEP*"
"Uh.... 0146897QJD. I wanted to talk to Stephanie and see if she'd, uh, befreeon Wednesdaynight. Uh, that's it. Um. Call me?"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Red-Hot Canon

Our chemists' Bible study was talking about canonization last week, and I realized (painfully!) that I know next-to-nuttin' about how God showed us which books to keep and which books to jet.  So, I'm on a treasure hunt.  I found a reading list from the website "Stand to Reason," and it lists this book on canonization:

"The Canon of Scripture, F.F. Bruce

A comprehensive and fascinating history of how the canon came to be as Protestants read it now. He not only lays the historical framework for the canon, but explains how the church has used the rejected books in worship and devotion, providing some new perspective on the early church's worship practices."

Mom and I were talking about canonization this week, and she read the following passage to me:

"When we look at how God led His people to recognize the canon of Scripture, the listing of books that were inspired over against those books which were not, we note that God did not engage in any celestial fireworks in the process.  No angels showed up with golden tablets marked 'Divine Index.'  Instead, God worked with His people over time, leading them to recognize what He had already done through the act of inspiration.  It took time, and some might wish for a more 'spectacular' method, but God did it in His way, in His time.
    "The same thing is true regarding the protection and preservation of the text of the Bible.  One might well see a tremendous amount of divine wisdom in the way in which God worked over the years.  By having the text of the New Testament in particular 'explode' across the known world, ending up in the far-flung corners of the Roman Empire in a relatively short period of time, God protected that text from the one thing that we could never detect: the wholesale change of doctrine or theology by one particular man or group who had full control of the text at any one point in its history.  You see, because the New Testament books were written at various times, and were quickly copied and distributed as soon as they were written, there was never a time when any one man, or any group of men, could gather all the manuscripts and make extensive changes in the text itself, such as cutting out the deity of Christ, or inserting some foreign doctrine or concept.  No one could gather up the texts and try to make them all say the same thing by 'harmonizing' them, either.  If someone had indeed done such a thing, we could never know for certain what the apostle had written, and what the truth actually is.  But such a thing did not, and could not, happen.  Indeed, by the time anyone did obtain ecclesiastical power in the name of Christianity, texts like P66 or P75 were already long buried in the sands of Egypt, out of the reach of anyone who would try to alter them.  The fact that their text is nearly identical to even the most 'Byzantine' manuscript of 1,000 years later is testimony to the overall purity of the New Testament text."

(James White, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995, pp. 47-48).

I'm looking forward to knowing more about how the Bible was formed!  Just from the little bit of browsing that I did online tonight, I learned that Esther, Song-of-Solomon, James, and Revelation were close to getting chopped at different points in the canonization process.  Wow -- forget Dan Brown and all his nonsense.  I want to know the real drama of Scripture!  There's the drama within it (the true battles, victories, loves, and lives) and the drama surrounding it (the true history of how this tremendous book was carefully compiled).  All throughout the process I know that God's been guiding people like us to write and preserve His ideas.  "And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times."  Psalm 12:6.  Thank you, LORD.  Your Word is amazing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Dose of Realism

This is a letter I just sent to my brother and sister-in-law...

Have you guys gotten snow, too?  If it lasts 'til Monday, it looks like it could be a "White MLK Day."  I did a self-defense class this morning, which was pretty cool.  I'm not actually convinced I'll remember any of this, but it was fun!

I'd never heard of an eskrima stick before.  The gal teaching the class told us this is the only weapon you can legally conceal in Illinois.  I looked up "eskrima" on wikipedia, and saw that it's just your normal duct-tape-or-other-covered stick.  I thought it was pretty ridiculous that here in IL, they have to give you permission to conceal a stick.

There's a really great book called "Working Knights" that's written by an emergency physician.  He's the opposite of at least one of the lecturers at this med school.  Here, a doctor gives an annual lecture on the wonders of gun control.  The doctor who wrote "Working Knights" has his own private arsenal.

He's quite a mix: he talks about "treating" patients that use the ER for entertainment (nothing else was happening on Friday night, so I decided to go into a hysterical fit and get the ambulance called), how some patients will only come to the ER at night -- even if you bribed them to come during the day with lottery tickets, trying to diagnose patients in 2 hrs. and be prepared to treat anything that walks in the door, and how working on other people's kids makes him appreciate his own kids more.

He knocks quite a few mainstream mainstays (like "healthcare is a right") into the dust.  He talked about what would happen if we went around saying "housing is a right" and made builders give away their houses instead of selling them, or said "food is a right" and told grocers they couldn't charge for their wares.  We'd all end up living in thatched huts and eating soggy bread.

He suggests a $5 copay for all Medicare cases so that patients stop and think "Would I rather have the Doc look at this red bite that's probably nothing, or spend $5 on something else?"  Y'know, questions that should be asked.  He also suggests that DUI laws be tightened so that a single offense means the police repossess your car. 

Anyway, reading his book was not an adventure in PCism.  It was an adventure in realism.  Men and women are not basically good.  Now that that's out of the way, how can I encourage them to be better than they naturally are?

Love you

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Notes from Grandpa

These were some notes from my Grandpa that my aunt recently found in a Bible. My mom typed them in and sent them to me. Under the list of names, she wrote "These are men I know dad admired. Mr. Ketcherside married Mom and Dad."

Struggle between those who accept God and those who do not.

Einstein once observed that if he was able to advance the horizon of science it was only because he could stand on the shoulders of giants.

E.M. Zerr
W. Carl Ketcherside
Hershel Ottwell

Elijah found out that 7000 (underlined twice) had not bowed the knee to Baal.

June issue Readers Digest
Robert Novak

"I was wrong about communism and so are all those who deny God's Power in History"
Communism in our time was the culmination of the notion that man could direct his own affairs without recourse to God.

Whittaker Chambers in 1953 wrote a book entitled "Witness" concluded that the struggle on earth was between those who accepted God and those who did not. For those who did not, Communism was not the only path, but it was the most effective means of making it clear that man can rule without God, and without God the challenge to communism is sterile. Chambers rejected communism and accepted Christianity with the conscious conclusion that he was switching from the winning to the losing side in the present world.

Bejing Tinneman Square
Ceausescu in Romania
Berlin Wall
thought control

Gorbachev's mistake may have been divinely inspired
the apparatus of social engineering
the whole rotten edifice began to crumble

[NOTE: Grandpa has the following in big letters and underlined:]


Many of us lacked faith that Divine Power is overseeing this epochal struggle. Light is beginning to break through the darkness

Gamaliel Acts 5:38-39

Look, the fields are ready for the harvest
The wall has come down
Where there was darkness
now there is light.

Is it okay to argue?

At the last creation meeting at the Chapel, I heard about a site called Stand to I found some great articles posted there. One was "Can Science Test Prayer?" which really helped me consider this question in a rigorous way. Another one was "Arguing is a Virtue."

In the blog about arguing, my favorite section is right at the end: "This is why, by the way, I think it's a mistake in discussions in Bible studies when someone raises an opposing view for someone else to shout him down, or suggest that in the context of that study that we ought not differ. We ought not argue. Yes, we should argue, but we ought to do it sanely and reasonably. We ought to dispute. That's good for us. It's healthy. It protects us from religious despotism. It keeps us from getting weird."

Amen, amen, amen! He makes the point that in a group where you can't dispute, the first person to state an opinion on the issue is the one who will hold the day. I had to pause when I read that, because I've been in a group where that was exactly the situation! God deliver us from ourselves, and teach us how to discuss the hard issues so we can find your Truth!

Speak, Lord

For a good part of my life, I've wanted God to speak to me. I guess I thought it'd be genuinely cool to be able to say that "God said..." I figured it'd be easier to do the right thing if He would just tell me what that "right thing" was, and take the guesswork out of it! I was always jealous of Samuel, because he got to hear God talking to Him when he was just a little kid. And here I was, obviously older than Samuel when he heard from God, but I'd never heard a peep!
I'm older now, but that doesn't mean I don't want to hear His voice! I've often wondered what it sounds like, or what He'd say to me. And I've been noticing something. This week I finally realized that the Holy Spirit often speaks to me by pointing me to Scripture I've heard and stowed away. Now I know that's not going to be an earth-shattering observation to you. But I think there's enough people out there who haven't heard it before, and that's why my new book "God spoke to me and said..." is going to be a national bestseller anyway.
Really, though. I got to thinking about the idea that the Holy Spirit "guides us into all truth." And I started realizing that when I stray away from God, I'm often called back to Him with a verse that speaks right in the face of my temptation, or calls me back from what I've already indulged in. Sometimes that truth comes from another person telling me truth straight, or if comes as a quiet reminder to my thoughts. That's why, as I told God I was too sleepy to read His Word, and even as I drifted off to sleep, He reminded me of the plant that was choked by the "cares of this world." (Luke 8:14). And why, as I made another excuse today, the words from the song "Do you love the Lord? Are you makin' the time to be readin' His Word? ... Do you love the Lord?" carried a clear meaning as I hummed them.
(That whole verse about the Word dividing bone and marrow, soul and spirit? I think it shows me so clearly that the Holy Spirit knows how to deliver truth, full strength, to where I need it most. He knows the place that's becoming infected, the open wound I'm allowing to fester, or the appendix I'm foisting things into. And He knows the treatment that I need. He's the surgeon letting me know in a calm voice "It's bad, it's real bad. But there's something I can do...").
As I thought about other times that I'd been straying from God, I remembered how often my thoughts had been arrested, and the sheriff had been the Holy Spirit. Of course, He didn't read me the Miranda rights. But He did remind me of what He'd already told me, gently, but clearly. Softly so that only I could hear, but unmistakably so that I wouldn't die.
Thank you for speaking to me, LORD. Please help me listen, and obey, and live.

Mind over Matter

Alternate title: "Hardy Hair"

My mind gets blown pretty often these days. Here's why there's bit of it all over the place right now:

"A pilus (from the Latin word for 'hair') is a stiff protein appendage that is thinner than a flagellum and loks like a long hair projecting from the bacterium. A single bacterium may have only one pilus or up to hundreds of pili. The surfaces of some bacteria are covered with tiny protein fibrils referred to as fimbriae (from the Latin word for 'fringe'). Pili and fimbriae are hollow and are made up of repeating subunits of a protein called pilin. Like flagella, pili are assembled at their tips by passing the pilin subunits through the hollow core; the subunits are then assembled spontaneously at the pilus tip." (Walker, T. Microbiology, Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co., 1998, p. 29).

I remember learning about pili in biology, but I never thought about the fact that they were hollow. I had no idea what the function of these pili were (adhesion) and that the subunits could travel up through the hollow pili in order to extend it. This is amazing! For one thing, it just shows me that God is into details. But how'd He come up with this?

On the cellular scale, pili are long, heavy objects, and this thing would be a pain for the cellular construction workers to fully assemble, navigate through traffic with a "WIDE LOAD" sign, insert through the cell membrane, and hammer into place. So, pilin was made fully animated (or that's how my simple mind pictures it), and these subunits dance into place, traipsing through the hollow passage that God designed for them, singing "Heigh-ho, heigh-ho," and enjoying all the echoes.

After all, if there was no hollow passageway, how could a pilus be extended outside the confines of the cell membrane? Say that the pilin was to be packed tightly together, with no hollow passageway inside. The cell's the New York City of hubbub, and a pilus is needed to extend from the cell right outside downtown. So there's no room to preassemble it. But even if there was room, how would you extrude the completed pilus through the cell wall without comprimising the integrity of the intracellular environment? Rupturing the cell membrane is risky business: you don't want just any old molecule to diffuse into the cell, and you don't want any of your carefully selected molecules diffusing out without due process! It'd be the equivalent of us opening a 10-mile line of our border with Mexico!

Say the cell came up with the idea of assembling a closely-packed pilus (solid not hollow) "out of doors." That would solve the cell-integrity problem: just find a pilin exporter and insert it into the cell membrane. Import and export will remain as the highly regulated processes they should be. But a new problem emerges. How could you pump pilins out of the cell and expect them to find the pili they're supposed to be extending? That's pretty much equivalent to ejecting steel bars, nuts, and bolts from your spaceship and expecting them to assemble themselves into a rugged, linear structure. So you've got a dilemma: you either apply for a zoning permit to assemble the entire pilus in downtown New York City (and everybody knows just how willing the cellular beaucrats are going to be on that one) and push it through the cellular membrane, risking the homeland security of your entire cell, or you eject all your dearly-bought pilins out the front door and hope they find each other and self-assemble. Nice catch 22 you find yourself in.

I've got to say that building what I like to call a "straw wigwam" with my cousins really makes me appreciate what God pulled off with this whole pilus thing. It's not a trivial matter to plan the efficient delivery of materials to a worksite, let alone ensure that they interlock well enough that you don't have massive structural failures. And when my cousins and I were making our structure, we didn't have to worry about extending it into a hostile environment where any leak could signal the end of life as we knew it.

And that's why I think it's so easy to write off the design element in something so "simple" as a pilus. Since we've never had to design a pilus, we take the pili we stumble across for granted. Of course there's pili, and of course their subunits are shipped down through their hollow core as they assemble! How else would they be able to form?

Well, everything's simple once it's been proved, polished, published, and Powerpoint-presented to you. C'mon: my research isn't complicated; it's just that I haven't found the right answer yet! (Hold it -- that's why it is complicated: because dead ends are bold hussies and solutions are refined and elusive).

I truly think that if each of us who looked at biological systems had an engineering background, we'd be more likely to appreciate the solutions that a Master Designer presents to us free of charge, and fully optimized.

After all, I've been playing free and loose, and writing as if matter had a mind, and as if a cell could contemplate its navel. If a pilus didn't form properly, how could a cell tell its minions to "get back to the drawing board"? Sure, I know that "selection pressures" are the motivating factor in the idea of evolution. But selection pressures are just the boss with the power to hire or fire. The worker is the one who's got to innovate and come up with new concepts to try out. I know how inefficient trial and error can be for me, but how about the efficiency of a cell that has no capability of rational thought, one try before its "does or dies," no research notebook, no funding, no way of rallying undergrads and explaining the process and the approach, and no way to dig into the prokaryotic literature to see what past cells did in this situation of needing a pilus. (Which brings up another dilemma. Even if (and that's a stretch not even Mrs. Incredible could manage) a cell did hit on the idea of assembling pili by creating a hollow passage for pilin to toddle down, how could it communicate this to successive generations of cells? Ah, you say, it all depends on the structure of pilin: it can only self assemble to form a hollow structure. But how did a cell know that it needed to design a pilin that could form a hollow, interlocking structure? And remember, the structure of pilin is encoded in the cell's DNA. So it can't just play around with protein playdoh until it hits on the right structure, then send a memo to the DNA department that it should encode this structure in the DNA!

Forget the chicken and the egg. Did the pili protein, the RNA encoding it, the DNA encoding that, or the idea of assembling a hollow structure outside the cell come first? It was a hard enough question when it just came to the method. But now the issue of materials and two steps of templating comes into it!

Also, it opens the question that I've thought of before, but which I have no answer as of yet. What drives the movement of pilin down through the hollow pilus? And what drives them to interlock themselves into the pilus structure instead of diffusing away, or pointlessly bumping into one another: "'Scuse me" "Sorry" "Was that your eye?" "Uh, anybody got a match?" "If you knock me out again, I'm calling my lawyer!" More generally, what drives the intracellular movement of molecules? The shuttling of molecules through the cell membrane makes more sense to me, because it's often happening down a concentration gradient. But what causes a protein to glide into the nucleus of a eukaryote and start looking for that particular DNA strand it's supposed to bind? Is this, too, supposed to be caused by concentration gradients, or blind entropy? I know that proteins can navigate along the cytoskeleton, but still, that's not getting to the heart of the issue. WHY do molecules navigate along the cytoskeleton, or participate in what seems to be purposeful movement? I'm looking for casuation, and I don't have an explanation.

Directed molecular motion is intriguing to me, because molecules don't have minds. Though if they did, when they saw the complex motion and optimized, synchronized functions they carried out, their minds, like mine, might be blown too.

This world exists. We enjoy it, at least some of the time. Over eons could it have gradually developed to the level of complexity it's at now, or did it instantly snap into existence at the level of complexity it is now, like a DVD when you hit play?

That's the question, and you have until the end of the DVD to answer it for yourself.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

You've just described my inmost thoughts

Boy, oh boy.  I open the book "Working Knights," and I see a passage that says:
"I never cared much for alcohol.  I never used drugs.  I have smoked one or two cigars, but no cigarettes. I have been enthralled by one woman my entire adult life.   But I have an addiction and it's to stories and the books where they are found.  I walk through bookstores like some people linger before jewelry cases.  I buy far too many books, because borrowing them isn't enough.  I have always been this way.  I have always needed more stories, more words, more insights.  Looking back, I have been reading poetry and novels and everything else since I can remember.  And the only pain I feel in the presence of books is that there are so many that I will never read in this life."

It's always eerie to me when someone describes something so exactly that I sit and wonder "you mean, I'm not the only one?"  (I had a similar experience when I read parts of Barry Goldwater's book, too!)  I love stories.  I love hearing them, telling them, reading them, ending them with my own endings if the original one isn't what I think it should be.  And yes, I try never to think about the books I'll never read.  It's a painful topic.  But y'know, I hear there's a library in Heaven...

Going to pot

This country is going to pot, literally and figuratively.  What's my current rant?  Bureaucracy.  C'mon: wouldn't the university, the company, the world be a better place without bureacrats?  I remember asking my grandpa how he decided to drive trucks for a living.  He said that after the war, he tried out a desk job.  But all he was doing was shuffling paper from one place to another.  Enough of that!  When he was in the military, he'd driving bigwigs around, and he'd liked it.  So he found a job involving driving.
     I think if I follow my Grandpa's example, and if more people did too, we'd all be better people.  Sure, it's fun to some extent to review other people's ideas and to order others around.  But I've found that unless I'm trying to work on a project at the same time that I'm overviewing another person's work, I'm entirely overbearing or out of touch with what they're doing.
     I'm writing about this, because I just heard about a position called a "diversity coordinator."  Someone in this role tries to increase the percentage of minority students enrolled in a certain program.  For example, s/he might do this by overseeing the application process at a university.
    I'm just blown away by the fact that there's actually a job title for this.  Wouldn't it make more sense for folks who have real jobs to do this as a part of their real job?  Instead of just manipulating the quotas of students admitted, why not just recruit more diversified students, and then leave the admission process to just concentrate on grades?  For example, if a professor was acting as a "diversity coordinator," when he spoke at his own or another university, he would ask that undergrads be invited to his talk, and at the beginning or end of his talk he would talk about some minority role models at his home university.
    While I'm griping, I might as well add this one into the mix: does it bother anyone else that bureaucrats guide an institution's course, but are often unqualified to understand or speak for those they are supposed to represent?  As a case in point, what in the world qualifies Leon Panetta to run the CIA?  Also, who decides the ratio between bureaucrats' and others' pay?  Why are they on an institution's payroll, and why do they often make more than those drones on whose backs they stand?  What ratio of bureaucrat to labrat is sustainable?  As I see it, an institution can do without bureaucrats, but it cannot do without those at the draft board/lab bench/programming dialog box. 
    In an ideal world, the only person qualified to lead is one who's been in the lowest rank and worked their way up.  Otherwise, how can they know what they're doing?

Immerse yourself in science, and pay out the nose at the same time!

I just received an email about a three-day "Bioimmersion" course to learn scientific terms and processes.  It's being marketed to a broad range of professionals, including attorneys, biotech sales associates, real estate representatives, and university administrators.  These lucky suckers will learn about immunology, DNA basics, cell signaling, and cancer.  And you too can share this experience -- for just $1,345. 

Of course, you could just save the money it would cost to stay at the Marriot.  You could stay in your apartment and browse wikipedia for three days.  You'd come away with the same information as if you'd been "bioimmersed," and have a bonus dose of knowledge about platypusses, Aztec art, sleepwalking ethics, and whatever else distracted you during that time.

But don't let me keep you from attending.  After all, when you immerse yourself in water, you usually do blow out your nose to seal it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Open letter to Dad

Dear Dad:
After years of disagreeing with you, I've changed my mind.  I think it is better to buy the DVD than to see the movie in the theater.  There may be a few exceptions to this (VERY few), but let's just say that I've seen the light on the way out of the theater.  My reasons are sixfold:
1) You spare yourself the double expense of seeing the thing in the theater, and then buying the DVD later.
2) You spare yourself the pain of sitting through nauseous commercials of products that you don't really want to watch, but which you're being brainwashed to THINK you want.  (And c'mon: what a marketing ploy!)
3) You spare yourself the temptation of buying a five-gallon bucket of artery-clogging popcorn.
4) You spend your money on something you can share with others -- a DVD -- instead of something you can just talk about.
5) If you need to powder your nose in the middle of the DVD, you can just hit "pause," instead of waiting until the credits.
6) Your money goes to support the product you actually like, and not the moviehouse that's promoting what you like and what you abhor.

Here's a couple reasons why, even though I think it's better to watch a DVD at home than go to a theater, I might still go to a theater on occasion:
1) There's a movie that I really want to support so that the moviemaker makes a profit (e.g. The Passion of the Christ, Expelled)
2) I'm terrified of hearing spoilers and I can't bear the thought of wearing earplugs for 3 months.
3) My friends are going, and it's a fun event like going bowling.

So.  Let me think about anything else we disagree on.  It'll take a while, but I'll probably see the light on those things, too.

Monday, January 05, 2009

An intentional God

Tonight our study group was talking about science and religion. At the outset, the gal leading the study asked us all to talk about our position on creation/evolution. She went first, and described how she views God as involved in the world, but using evolution at the outset. Then it was my turn. I decided to talk about the continuity of Scripture, and how the six days of creation mentioned in Genesis are cited repeatedly throughout other passages. For example, in the Ten Commandments, God explains why He's setting up a system of seven days with the seventh day being the Sabbath. It's because He created the world in six days.
As we went around the table, everyone talked about their beliefs. It turned out that there were four people who strongly identified themselves as theistic evolutionists, three people who strongly identified themselves as creationists (two who were firmly decided on a literal six-day creation period, and one who was undecided on that point), one person who leaned toward theistic evolution, and a final person who leaned toward creationism.
Of the people who were strongly theistic evolutionists, three of the four talked about the creation story being just that -- a story. One gal mentioned the Hebrews' oral tradition, that Adam and Eve didn't write down what happened to them, but it was passed down orally. Another guy went so far as to say that the entire creation story was just an allegory.
What we all agreed on was that God was involved, and that humans are the pinnacle of His creation. What we disagreed upon was the method which God used.
Now that I'm out of the discussion, I'm kicking myself that I didn't grasp what was really at issue here. Three of the four people who strongly believe that God used evolution diminished their view of Scripture in order to do this.
Well, I'd say the answer to that question is yes, definitely.
Tonight creation vs. evolution came up at our discussion. We all agreed that God was involved in the beginning of the world, and that humans are the pinnacle of His creation. What we disagreed upon was the method that God used.
I've been thinking more about what we covered tonight. There's two things that think are key in this area: 1) that the act of substituting evolution for creation depends on a person's view of Scripture, and of God Himself. God has not yet revealed the mechanism by which He created the world, but He has supplied a framework, an outline of how creation progressed. Evolution is in conflict with this outline, and so one must decide what he values more: the words of men, or the words of God. If I am convinced that the words of man are more reliable, then I will bend or snap God's words in order to fit them to the words of men. If I dismiss the creation account as an oral tradition that got somewhat garbled in the translation, I am saying that God does not care enough about His word to safeguard the version that was distributed en masse. 2) that God is a God of intentionality. The idea of evolution was designed to take the credit of this world and lay it at the feet of an impersonal process instead of a personal God. To say that God used evolution is to defer, not answer the question of "Why is creation the way that it is?" The theistic evolutionist or the atheistic evolutionist credits (albeit to differing degrees) an impersonal process with the formation of life forms, and the function of the immune system, the eye, and the mind. The atheistic evolutionist is at least spared the tension of trying simultaneously to credit God and evolution with the same phenomenon, or to divvy up the phenomena to one or the other, personal or impersonal. The creationist has no point of tension. Everything was created by God and for God. That the eye functions is not a testament to random, undirected processes over the course of millennia, but a testament to the thoughtfulness and intentionality of a God who created a man who, when his eyes opened for the first time, saw creation and His Creator clearly.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Citadel

     I just saw a great movie called "The Citadel."  It was made in 1938, and it follows the career of a medical man, a pulmonologist.  He begins his work as a lowly apprentice to a bedridden doctor.  His one medical friend is a fellow (oft drunken) apprentice who spurs him on, even when everything is bleak.  Together, they fight endemic typhoid by blasting out the source: a deteriorating sewage system that leaks into the water supply.  The man cares most about helping people.  At his first delivery, it looks like the child is stillborn.  Even as the midwife covers her head and begins to mutter that this is the Lord's will, he gets a sudden idea, and stimulates the child and breathes into his mouth until he cries aloud.
     After this stint, he works as a doctor to coal miners.  Things become rocky as he thoroughly examines men before he issues "certificates," or papers that document a man unfit to work.  But then he starts to investigate a racking cough that many of the mine drillers present with.  With his wife's help and with a microscope from his old friend from the apprenticeship days, he finds the cause for this disease: silicon released from the coal the men are pulverizing is causing silicosis in the men.  Drummed out of the mine doctoring business for exposing an occupational hazard that the mines didn't want to pay for, he finds what looks like his first lucky break.  An old class friend invites him into the shady business of ripping off rich hypochondriacs.  With a steady stream of fictitious cases and exorbitant fees, all he has to do is play the system: recommend patients only to his circle of specialists wise to the crockery, hinting at what the patient's fictitious or exaggerated malady is.  Slowly at first, then steadily, the man changes.  He no longer values his patients, and he no longer cares about their wellbeing. 
Then his old friend looks him up.  The friend has given up drinking for two years now, and he's got a grand idea of starting a dues-based practice where patients pay a monthly fee and are able to see their physician or specialist as often as they need.  Our man poo-poos the idea, especially when he finds that his friend is only interested in making enough from the practice to live on.
      His reaction makes it abundantly clear just how deeply he's changed.  Later that evening, the friend shows up, stinking drunk.  The friend confronts the man again, saying he couldn't say these words sober, so he had to go get drunk.  He can't believe how he's forsaken his first clear idea of what it meant to be a doctor.  The friend stumbles down the hallway, falls, then boards the elevator as the "good doctor" looks on, silently.  A few minutes later, the man and his wife hear tires squeal and look outside at an accident that's just happened.  The friend has been hit by a car.
     For the first time in years, our man shows some interest in a patient.  He has a police officer call up a surgeon from his circle of crocks, and his best friend is rushed into the operating room at the swank nursing home which is rarely used for actual, serious cases.  On the operating table, it's obvious that the friend has sustained quite a few internal injuries.  These are serious, but not life-threatening.  What really needs to be done is to stop the internal bleeding.  Our man assists at the surgery, but trusts the surgeon to do his work.  Then a change comes over his face: What are you doing?  We need to get this bleeding to stop!  The surgeon is ho-hum; all in good time, all in good time.  Our man is getting more and more agitated, and decides to intervene.  He asks about performing a blood transfusion because his friend's pulse is so weak.  No good, the surgeon says: there's no time for that.  What about adrenaline?  The pulmonologist injects his friend with adrenaline, but looks on with horror as the friend's pulse slackens and stops.
    He stumbles out of the operating room, eyes staring.  He distractedly takes off his operating gown.  Then he turns on the surgeon: you killed him!  The surgeon tries to defend himself, that in these accident cases you never know what you're up against.  But the other man says, it was a simple technique, and you botched it.  You aren't truly a surgeon!  Every case I referred to you was child's play, and yet I trusted that you actually knew how to do surgery.  You've murdered my best friend.
    This is our man's awakening.  He wanders the streets in a daze, and once again sees the people in need all around him: the toddler with a babystroller waiting for their parents outside a bar, a man holding a cardboard sign reading "BLIND," the boy playing near the street dangerously close to traffic, and a hungry father and son digging through a trashcan and eating whatever they can find. 
     He remembers a case where a poor woman had asked him to see her little daughter who had a serious lung condition.  At the time, he'd barely listened.  He'd been more interested in the selection of cheese he was having for dinner, and he absentmindedly told her that he was sure her daughter would be fine.  Now he intervenes, and treats the daughter, taking her to a biologist who has a new treatment for cases such as hers.
     When he's hauled up in front of a medical ethics board, and asked how he could allow a patient to be treated by a non medically-licenses biologist, he stands up.  Was Louis Pasteur a registered doctor?  He names name after name of men who had no formal medical training, but whose guiding purpose was to help patients with the knowledge they had gained.  He went on to say that true medical ethics is just this: to act in the patient's best interest.
      Compare to this to one from the Great Doctor, who does not require referrals, and whose office is open 24/7:
"One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.  There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy.  Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, 'Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?'  But they remained silent.  So taking hold of the man, He healed him and sent him away.  Then He asked them, 'If one of you has a son or an oxthat falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?'  And they had nothing to say." (Luke 14:1-6).
     The letter of the law, and the Spirit of the law.  The casual observer might think that Jesus was contradicting Himself when He healed on the Sabbath day.  And yet, He wasn't.  His life is an example of living a fulfilled life, a life filled with the Spirit so that he lived out the fulfilled law.  Without the Spirit, the law can be like the manacles of death.  Evil men can even self-righteously live out the letter of the law, but totally disregard the Spirit of the law.  With the Spirit, living is about knowing God, and getting to know Him so that obeying Him becomes as lifegiving as breathing.
    I saw a glimpse of this in The Citadel today.  It might sound melodramatic, and maybe it was.  But it showed me a man who was learning to live.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Delving into a Treasure Trove

I recently came across some historic Chicago Tribune front pages.  Here's two that were especiallly relevant to today's events.  Isn't it interesting to compare what national leaders were saying then to what our national leaders (or leaders-elect) are saying now?  I read portions of this out loud to my mom, and we talked about our nation's lack of understanding of its own history.  It's one of those sad, funny things that it doesn't take Orwellian or Bradburian intervention to disconnect us from our history.  The original documents, the primary sources, have not been rewritten, burned, or confiscated from libraries.  Most of us just don't take the time to search them out and read them.  I for one rely too much on secondary or tertiary sources of historical information.  This is basically equivalent to letting others chew my food for me, and then taking in partially digested food.  My view of -- pick the historical event or period --  the first Thanksgiving, the Salem Witch Trial, the [anti-]Revolutionary War, the Trail of Tears, the Battle of the Alamo, the Civil War, the New Deal, Pearl Harbor, the struggle against segregation, or the fall of the Berlin Wall has largely been formed through the movies I've watched about these events or the descriptions I've heard in passing conversations.  Almost without exception, I've not the read the writings of the people who lived out that history, and brought it about.  God, help me to understand.  I think I have a very cartoonish view of history, and I'm easily manipulated by others.
That's the negative side.  The positive side is that delving into our nation's history is like going on a treasure hunt.  Sure, there's dark episodes and evil people.  But there are also incredibly Godly men and women who listened to the Lord and obeyed His call.  These are people like George Washington, John Adams, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Washington Carver, Ronald Reagan, Bill Buckley, Phyllis Schlafly, Dinesh D'Souza, and Ben Carson.  There's also many incredible unbelievers (like Mark Twain) who influenced many people and added to the rich history of this nation.  There's so much to discover.

Neal, Steve. "Reagan Takes Oath." Chicago Tribune – Wednesday, January 21, 1981, p.1.

'It is time to reawaken this industrial giant.'
WASHINGTON – Pledging to launch 'an era of national renewal,' Ronald Wilson Reagan became the 40th President of the United States on Tuesday in a solemn ceremony that turned into a national celebration as word came that America's long hostage crisis had at last ended.
On a crisp, spring-like day, the 69-year-old native of Tampico, Ill., became the oldest man ever inaugurated for the highest office in the land.
Reagan, the veteran movie actor and former California governor who had lost two previous bids for the presidency, took the oath from Chief Justice Warren Burger.  The President-elect placed his left hand on a family Bible that had belonged to his late mother, Nellie Wilson Reagan.
IN HIS 15-MINUTE inaugural address, Reagan blamed the crushing weight of big government for much of the nation's economic ills.  Later, in his first official act as President, he signed an executive order that placed a freeze on the hiring of federal employees.
"'In this present crisis,' Reagan said, 'government is not the solution, it is the problem.'
"The President said his objective in his recovery program will be a 'healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunities for…'"


Chicago Daily Tribune. Volume CIII. NO. 135 C. Tuesday, June 6, 1944. (THREE CENTS PAY NO MORE).

Overall header: "ALLIES INVADE FRANCE: Eisenhower's Armies Hit North Coast."

Individual article:
"INVASION NEWS THRILLS CAPITAL: Leaders Voice Prayers of Swift Victory."  [Chicago Tribune Press Service].  "Washington, D. C.. June 6 [Tuesday].—Aroused from their slumbers by the fateful news that the long-awaited invasion of Europe had begun, capital leaders in the early morning hours solemnly voiced their prayers and hopes for the American boys entering bloody action.
    "The White House was shrouded in darkness with only a few lights burning and no word was expected from the President until later in the day.  Only a few hours before midnight, addressing the nation by radio on the fall of Rome, he had remarked that allied forces 'are posed for another strike at western Europe.'
    "Sleepy voices of senators and representatives, answering the telephone calls of newspapermen, shed their irritation and quickened in excitement at the words: 'It's begun!'
    "'Now,' said Sen. Brooks, [R., Ill.], 'we must rely upon the experienced judgment of our military and naval leaders who will direct this most grueling military and naval test of all history.  They have assured us this invasion is necesary [sic] to shorten the time until victory and hasten the hour when our gallant troops may be returned to their homes.
    "'The American people have provided our forces with the finest possible equipment.  Our prayers and our hopes go with them.'
    "Chairman Reynolds, [D., N. C.], of the senate military affairs committee, said:
    "'My heart goes out to every enlisted man and every officer in this trying time.  And I have the deepest sympathy for the fathers and mother of our fighting men.  I join with all the nation in the fervent prayer that victory will be swift for our gallant men, and tat they may soon return to enjoy the reward of their valor.'
    "'This is the hour of decision a time for all Americans to stand firm in the faith of ultimate victory and to make sure we on the home front don't fail those on the battle front,' said Sen. Wiley. [R., Wis.]."