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Archive for June, 2011

Where Are We?

Some call this maize

My office manager recently went on a bus trip that took them through Tennessee.  A couple of men on the trip were arguing about how a particular town name was pronounced.  You say tomato.  I say tomahto.  I call it corn.  People in Michigan call it maize.  Whatever.

This argument persisted until the bus stopped for a break.  The two men carried their debate into the establishment, and finally, the one man went to one of the workers.

“Do you live here?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Good.  Can you please tell this man,” he said pointing to the guy he was arguing with, “VERY SLOWLY where we are?”

With a straight face she slowly replied, “BUR . . . GER . . . KING.”

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In my last post, I discussed faith and in the process of meandering through that

Just typing my blog . . .

issue, I addressed the origin of life, and how science has not proven the mechanism by which the first cell(s) was/were born.

The general theory is that if you start with the right ingredients, under the right conditions, and throw in an immense amount of time (beyond human comprehension) then life will form by random chance.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem.  A million monkeys typing away randomly will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare.

Or in this case, the inifinite evolutionists theorem.  Replace letters on the keyboard with base pairs in DNA and amino acids in proteins and the similarities are striking.

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

In this context, “almost surely” is a mathematical term with a precise meaning, and the “monkey” is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces a random sequence of letters ad infinitum. The probability of a monkey exactly typing a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time of the order of the age of the universe is extremely low, but not zero.

 In order for the evolution theory of cell creation to occur, one must have a lot of pre-existing conditions (a typewriter and a million monkeys for instance) and a lot of time (more than we can imagine.)

But it could happen.

One monkey typing for a few days could probably reproduce this blog.  But I digress.

On another blog, I asked the evolutionist to prove the origin of the first cell.  His response was thus, and I will cut to the chase:

Explaining early life is difficult if you are not from a biological and chemical standing point, or have an interest in how chemicals and biology work, but ill keep it relatively simple for the length of the reply. Life began in the sea several million years ago. Complex chemical molecules began to clump together, it is these that begin to sow the first seed for the tree of life. We know that when certain atoms are arranged, you get adrenaline, sugar and caffeine. It is because of this way, that atoms can do many things, that they formed these organic chemical molecules, most importantly protein. When given enough time in the right environment, ie warm oceans, then these chemicals begin to combine. After these chemicals find the right state to be, they are able to split, and replicate themselves, as has been found in pre-Cambrian fossils. This can be achieved in labs, but they would have to wait some time for the chemistry set to do much, thats the wonder of evolution, it takes a long time.(And they’d have to get the right parameters.) And it is at this point, id like to mention that life, every cell, is just a chemical box. The Nucleus of the cell, is just a big packet of DNA, or long strings of chemicals. What scientists have done is artificially, by using chemicals, create a cell nucleus, and create synthetic life from that.

But is synthetic life really creating life?

You can read about synthetic cells here in the Wall Street Journal.  But note the following conditions:

To make the synthetic cell, a team of 25 researchers at labs in Rockville, Md., and San Diego, led by bioengineer Daniel Gibson and Mr. Venter, essentially turned computer code into a new life form. They started with a species of bacteria called Mycoplasma capricolum and, by replacing its genome with one they wrote themselves, turned it into a customized variant of a second existing species, called Mycoplasma mycoides, they reported.

To assemble the strips of DNA, the researchers said they took advantage of the natural capacities of yeast and other bacteria to meld genes and chromosomes in order to stitch those short sequences into ever-longer fragments until they had assembled the complete genome, as the entire set of an organism’s genetic instructions is called.

They transplanted that master set of genes into an emptied cell, where it converted the cell into a different species.

So in essence, to “create” this life, they used an existing mycobacterium, they employed other bacteria and yeasts to manufacture the DNA, and then used a pre-existing cell shell to house the new life.  None of these things would have been present in the primordial soup before life began.

Even the researcher notes:

“I don’t think it represents the creation of an artificial life form,” said biomedical engineer James Collins at Boston University. “I view this as an organism with a synthetic genome, not as a synthetic organism. It is tough to draw where the line is.”

I still maintain that science has not shown how LIFE originally began, only how it has changed and adapted from that point on.  It may seem like a minor point but I don’t think there is anything minor about.

So did infinite monkeys create the first cell?

God?

Maybe it was space aliens.

But who created them?

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A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.
Victor Hugo

Just an accident waiting to happen?

Recent events have caused me to become reflective.  We got a new mirror.  But that’s not the reflectivity of which I am alluding.

In the course of browsing blogs on WordPress, I came across two by professed atheists, or at least ones who lost their faith, so to speak.  One is a mechanical/aerospace engineer in training, writing on the Blazing Truth, while another atheist is going to read the Bible over the next year and report her thoughts on what she read.  So far she has finished Genesis 1-3.

Pretty strange undertaking for an atheist, no?

Despite not taking a word in this book as truth, I think it is important that I know what it contains nonetheless.

But neither of these blogs, or the countless others you can read under “religion” (2734 recent posts that were tagged as such at the time I type this) is the sole impetus for this entry.

A fellow blogger left me a message on my ABOUT page, asking that I give more detail about what my blog is, er, about.  I actually thought the ABOUT page was information about me, more so than my blog, but after careful consideration, I can see his point.  I’ll put updating the ABOUT page on my To Do list.

But that did get me thinking, what is this blog about?

Your guess is as good as mine.

So far I have written about my dogs, cataract surgery, on-line games, The Rapture, The Rapture that didn’t Capture, Satan reading my blog, having my toenails removed surgically, Adidas Climacool running shoes, my hometown of Altoona selling out its name to a movie, and dog poop.  Almost all of these are written tongue in cheek and hopefully, my readers find the humor in these posts.  That was intentional.  Whether I achieved that or not is up for debate.  I still have not been FRESHLY PRESSED.  I wrote about that too!

So this post will migrate away from being primarily humorous, and will wax more philosophically.

Can one lose his/her faith?

Is there some celestial lost and found box for these poor souls?  But even that slightly amusing but not intentionally humorous question begets an even more critical one: do we have a soul?  I will leave that question for another day, because I want to concentrate on the topic introduced initially:  Faith.

For some background, I was raised in the United Methodist tradition.  I attended Sunday School, and I will be perfectly honest.  The only thing I really remember is not liking it.  I was there because my parents forced me.  Sure, I can recall tidbits of Bible stories I learned over the years:  Noah’s Flood, the Resurrection, Lazarus, the Prodigal Son, etc.  But I’d probably only score a C on a multiple choice test if I had to take one right now.

As I grew and presumably became smarter–graduating high school, college and then medical school–I increasingly became less religious, whatever that means.  Honestly, I stopped going to church, did not pray to God, and seriously questioned God’s existence.  I’m pretty sure I wrote a paper in college arguing in favor of evolution over the creation story.  I was a biology major after all.  I was immersed in the sciences and evolution fit into that paradigm more neatly than God.

One might argue that I lost my faith.

I would argue that I simply put my faith in something else.  Instead of God, I placed my faith in science.  In rational thought.  In proofs and experiments.  I want to point out that religion and rational thought are NOT mutually exclusive.  But whereas religion uses unseen beings (God, angels) to explain solutions, science never resorts to unseen and unexplainable things.  Like gravity.  Science demands proof.  For the most part, religious faith is in spite of proof.  Science rationalizes its unexplained phenomena as theories.  Religion calls them tenets or creeds.  Tomato, to-mah-to.

Atheists have not lost faith–just faith in God; their faith is in what they can see and measure.  They still have faith–just not religious faith.

If you believe in nothing, then your faith is in nothing.

You may not have faith in God.  You may not have faith in science.  You may not have faith in anything.  But you believe something, even if it is nothing.  Your faith is in what you believe.  You may be confused about what exactly you believe, but that is not a lack of faith or lost faith.  Having beliefs–faith–separates us, I believe, from other living organisms.  I doubt very much that celery believes in anything.  It might believe it is a food, but it not only has no calories, but we actually expend more energy chewing it than it contains.  It has negative calories.  It is certainly NOT a food, no matter what the stalk thinks of itself.  But I digress.

Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.
Khalil Gibran

After meeting and marrying my wife, I became religious again.  (I changed my beliefs, I attend church on a more or less regular basis and I pray everyday.)  That is in large part due to her, but also to my own maturation.  I discovered that my faith in science left me unfulfilled.  Something was missing.  While evolution certainly occurs, can it really explain how I came to be here today typing this blog entry?

I think not.

Science has yet to adequately explain how life arose in the first place.  Every thing that is alive today came from pre-existing life.  Science has never been able to produce life in a test tube–without using pre-existing life.  Miller showed that inorganic chemicals under the proper circumstances can produce organic chemicals like amino acids, the basic building blocks of life.  But that is not creating life.  That is like manufacturing a piston and claiming you have made a car.  We can manufacture proteins and enzymes.  We cannot create living cells without using pre-existing cells.

Note:  Once you have the first cell, then I can buy the whole evolution thing.  But it is getting to that first lowly cell that seems to be a problem for science.

Just because science cannot explain or replicate the origin of life doesn’t mean that one must evoke a supernatural entity.  But in the final analysis, whether you believe the universe was formed by a Big Bang and life arose by the random chance of molecules combining to form complex cells, or whether a divine creator is responsible for all this is moot.  Either way, you must take the final product on faith.  Neither side has definitive proof.

Likewise it is with death.  Science simply defines death as the cessation of life.  We can measure it medically in terms of brain waves and EKGs.  We can see the body degrade after death.  But what actually makes an individual cell die?  Obviously a lack of oxygen or nutrients is one answer.  When the heart stops pumping, cells throughout the body die.  One can be brain-dead, but the rest of the body can be kept “alive” indefinitely through mechanical and artificial means.

But if you take one cell out of the body that has died, and ask yourself how is it different from one that was alive only moments before, science is hard pressed to answer that question.  Proteins denature.  Chemical bonds are broken.  Cell membranes break down.  Yada. Yada.  Yada.  These are merely descriptions.  They do not answer the fundamental question of why it happened in the first place.  It is almost a chicken and egg conundrum, but not quite since obviously life came first and then death.  But which can be answered first is the heart of that issue.  Why does life begin is as important a question as how does it end.

Again, it is not necessary to ascribe some soul or life force to the cell which makes it living when it is present and non-living when it isn’t, but there is certainly something special about life such that only other life can produce it, and once it is gone, the processes of degradation and decay take over.

For myself, I believe in a Creator.  God.  I am a Christian and I believe in Jesus Christ.  I don’t believe so because I can prove it.  I can’t.  I believe because I have faith.  One of the things that sways me most about the Bible is how the disciples reacted after Christ’s death and resurrection.  This was a rag-tag band of basically uneducated men–manual laborers not priests–who when the chips were down all deserted Christ.  Peter denied Him thrice.  Yet, after the resurrection, this group went out and spread Christianity in a world that was not terribly receptive to them.  Most of them died–were painfully martyred–for their beliefs.  What did they witness that gave them that kind of resolve?  Before his death, they ran scared and lied to protect themselves.  Then, something changed and now they were willing to die for this cause.

Was it mass hypnosis, like the Hale-Bop followers?  Did they drink the Kool Aid?  Or did they suddenly find their faith?

For me, I believe they witnessed the risen Lord and it changed their lives.

But have faith, if you don’t want to believe in that, you can still take faith in that.

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And no one will get fat.

According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (motto: You can’t read that from here!) Potato Chips make you fat.

I know!  Who would have thought?!  Thank heavens for science!

Weight problems are epidemic. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese.  Childhood obesity has tripled in the past three decades. Pounds often are packed on gradually over decades, and many people struggle to limit weight gain without realizing what’s causing it.
The new study finds food choices are key. The message: Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Cut back on potatoes, red meat, sweets and soda.
Potato chips were the biggest dietary offender. Each daily serving containing 1 ounce (about 15 chips and 160 calories) led to a 1.69-pound uptick over four years. That’s compared to sweets and desserts, which added 0.41 pound.
The study looked at data on a 120,877 people.  I could have told you chips weren’t good for you, and it would have taken a lot less time.  Chips in general are not healthy:  chocolate chips, cow chips, poker chips.

GPS: Gastronomic Preference System

Seriously!  The problem with American Obesity isn’t that we don’t know that we should be eating fruits and vegetables and whole grains and nuts.  We don’t need a stupid multi-colored plate to tell us that.  We know that.  What we lack is the capacity and will-power to do something about it.

What we need is a study that shows us how to avoid pulling into Kentucky Fried Chicken or Wendy’s.  I eat at McDonald’s.  I don’t for a minute delude myself that this healthy.  I still eat it.  It’s not the fast food industry’s fault.  If they made healthy food, we wouldn’t buy it.  It doesn’t taste good.

What we need is a study to make vegetables taste like chocolate (without actually dipping them in chocolate or adding the calories of chocolate.)

What we need is a health food GPS system.  A Gastronomic Preference System.

When you enter Burger King’s parking lot, it tells you to make a U-turn when possible.

When you head down the ice cream aisle, it starts recalculating.

When you reach for the white bread, it tells you your destination of wheat bread is ahead on the right.

But even that would probably fail.  (Like you never got lost with a GPS system!)  What we really need is shock therapy.

Maybe the electric company would underwrite that research.

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Bigger Isn’t Better

American advertising will tell you bigger is better.

A bigger car.  A bigger house,  A bigger paycheck.  A bigger phallus.  Did I just type that out loud?  Wait!  Size doesn’t matter does it, unless you are buying burgers and fries?

But bigger isn’t always better.

A bigger car loan.  A bigger mortgage.  Bigger responsibilities at work.  A bigger need for performance enhancing drugs or surgery due to inadequate anatomy.

Where am I going with this?  Viagra Falls?

No, this near and dear issue arose this morning as I took the dogs out for their morning constitutionals.

Since we adopted Kurt in February, he has grown considerably.

Six months old and still growing!

 With this change in stature, there has been a change in the volume of excrement, if you catch my drift.

"You're going to need a BIGGER BAG!"

With our first dog, Carly–a beagle mix, one baggie could pick up 2 or 3 messes.  With Sammy our miniature dachsund, one baggie could last all week.  But here I am with Kurt and my little Glad sandwich baggie.  It’s like being in a stall with only one square left, and you really need like half a roll.  And no one around to spare a square!  In the end, I have poop on my hands and a new desire to shop for bigger bags.

Don't be HAD . . . Get GLAD!

Maybe BIGGER is BETTER after all, at least when it comes to poop patrol!

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So there I was, living the Eye Life, doing cataract surgery and listening to the radio–hits of the eighties, nineties and today!–when the DJ came on and started talking about this guy in New York who is taking his wife outside in a wheelchair, walking seventy miles, because she likes the outdoors.  Sounded like one of those “feel good” stories, but I thought I’d listen anyway.  I’m way ahead of the story thinking she has some debilitating disease and he’s going to make husbands everywhere else look like puke.

His wife is . . . . wait for it . . . a mannequin.

Good feeling gone.

My first thought was that old Ned had found himself the perfect woman, perhaps at Macy’s or even Victoria’s Secret.  I was picturing this man pushing a life-size Barbie doll down the streets of New York.  But the real story is more bizarre than that, if you can believe it.

Ned Nefer has fell in love with Teagan . . . when she was only a head.  He has since built her a body out of wood.

The dummy is on the right. I think.

Are those eyelashes?

Are those lips real or did someone have plastic woodshop surgery?

What about splinters?

Of course, some might argue that she is the perfect mate.  She doesn’t nag or expect expensive gifts.  With a little bit of polyurethane, she’ll look as good as she did on her wedding night forever.  Other women will envy her.  She doesn’t have to worry about wrinkles.  Maybe just warping.  And termites.  That could be terminal.

But as bizarre as this story may seem, it is not isolated.  There is actually a clinical term for this called agalmatophilia.

Further research unearthed this youtube video of a man marrying a store mannequin . . .

Doesn’t he remind you of Tiny Tim?  Or Grandpa on the Munsters?

Gun oil?  Seriously?  Whatever happened to K-Y jelly?

Will he now be able to get a bigger social security check for being married?

I think the dog barking at the 4:25 mark was speaking now rather than forever holding his peace.

The Church of Proctology?  I’m not even going to.  Go.  There.

And as for someone putting his sex toy (“her lady garden”) between his wife’s legs, well I think we all know what that would mean.  This behavior could become epidemic.

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The USDA, with the full power of our federal government behind it, has decided that the traditional food pyramid is too complicated and has replaced it with . . .  a plate.

Apparently, the traditional food pyramid–something I learned about in grade school, but which was not formally adopted by the USDA until 1992–is too complicated and is to blame for the poor eating habits of America.  I thought that was McDonald’s fault, but hey, if you want to blame a polyhedron instead of an arch so be it.  Personally, I think government agencies work overtime to come up with ways to waste taxpayer’s money.  Of course, we know they do not actually work “overtime” and most do not actually “work” at all.

I’m not sold on the concept.  Simple design does not mean simple interpretation.

What was wrong with the traditional food pyramid?

The FOOD Pyramid

Apparently, one is to eat more servings of bread, rice and pasta, than one eats of meat.  Two slices of bread for the bun.  One patty.  Sounds pretty simple.  They even have pictures of the food, so even if you don’t speak English, you can still figure it out.

Cue the government’s new attempt to simplify our dietary quandaries:

So basically we have a plate with colors, a fork (to make sure we understand that the circular thing is a plate,) and another smaller circle that is presumably a glass marked dairy.

What does this make you think of?

Trivial Pursuit: Food Edition

I mean, seriously, how does this simplify things?

Do I get one plate for each meal or one plate per day?

If I have a cup of yogurt, can I not have a glass of milk?  Is water acceptable–after all, it’s blue too, schematically speaking of course.

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?  I need to know which quadrant on my plate it belongs.

I can’t eat if my green food is touching my purple food.

Grains of sand?  Salt?  Grain alcohol?  Am I just supposed to know that bread and pasta are grains?  If I couldn’t figure that out on the old pyramid, there is no freaking way on God’s green Earth that  I’m going to know that’s what the orange slice means.

The colors are confusing.

Better Color Coding

Where do oils come into this new picture?  Are they in the cup with the dairy, or can they be spread around the plate?

Why don’t I get a spoon or knife?  How about a spork?  Can I only eat foods that I can use a fork for?  That would eliminate soup.  Peas.  Not impossible but more challenging than it is worth.  Can I still use my fingers?

The USDA tries to sell this concept in their press release.

MyPlate is a new generation icon with the intent to prompt consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times and to seek more information to help them do that by going to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov. The new MyPlate icon emphasizes the fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy food groups.

And the old pyramid didn’t mention “fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy” groups?  They are there, but we don’t try to glorify bread with grain and meat with protein.  I don’t know about you but I eat meat.  I don’t order a protein burger.  They don’t even attempt to upgrade the status of fruits and vegetables.  Why not edible reproductive seeds and herbaceous organic material?  Maybe that upgrade will come out in MyPlate 2.0.

By creating the new food icon, USDA helps all adults and children understand what a healthy plate should look like when they sit down at the dinner table.

Shouldn’t there be some actual food on the plate?

In order to reverse the trend of childhood obesity in the U.S., both parents and kids need accurate, easy to understand information about what constitutes a healthy diet. . . We are pleased that the USDA has seized the opportunity to help consumers better understand the basics of good nutrition and hope that this new icon helps parents make healthier choices for their families.

Sounds like Dilbert’s boss trying to explain a new management protocol.  Blah, blah, blah is what I hear.

The new Dietary Guidelines set high standards that will require a concerted effort among numerous scientific disciplines to gradually change consumer behavior. This new icon will make it easier for consumers to incorporate the dietary guidelines into their food choices, which will ultimately help improve the health of our country.

And telling people that smoking is bad for you will stop smoking.  Don’t drink and drive has pretty much eliminated DUI’s hasn’t it?  I don’t see how that plate is going to convince people that french fries are not a healthy choice.

In today’s environment, when food is on every corner, at every event, and two-thirds of the nation is overweight or obese, consumers need clear guidance on healthy eating. The Plate shows more clearly than the Pyramid what healthy eating is. The Plate and the comprehensive communications effort it represents will help reverse trends for obesity.

It will probably cure cancer, put a man on Mars and bring peace to the Middle East.  Seriously, who is going to walk away from the concession stand at a ballgame because they don’t have room on their icon for another cheeseburger with a side of Dippin Dots?

The new plate icon makes it clear that healthy eating means lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and for that alone it is a big step forward. The plate is easy to understand. You don’t need a computer to use it. It lets you fill your plate with whatever foods you like without worrying about portion numbers. Best of all are the messages that come with it. Enjoy your food!

No portion numbers?  Just pile that pizza right on!  Maybe that’s why the pyramid didn’t work–you needed a computer to figure it out!  Of course, if you have any questions about what constitutes a grain, all you need is, um, a computer to log on to the MyPlate.gov website and click on the grain icon.  (When you do, you can read about degermed cornmeal and bulgur–I didn’t even know that was a real word and I still wonder if they made that up!)  The darned old pyramid just had silly pitchers of food that  no one could figger out without some darn contraption.  At least the pyramid had some numbers.  This new icon doesn’t address how big the plate should be or how many plates you get a day, let alone how many times you can return to the all-you-can-eat buffet during the same meal.

I wonder how much somebody got paid to cook up this idea?  (Seek and ye shall find . . . about $2.9 million!)

Bon Appetit!

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