Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Fountain

The movie that's been compared to a double prog-rock albums gets decent reviews from both April and me.
Artsy. Beautiful. Well-done. Emotional. A little confusing. A bit strange.
Will we watch it again? Probably not. Still, if you're into artsy movies, it's not one you want to miss.
Oh, and it's kind of a chick-flick, in a strange, artsy sort of way.


I just wanted to send out a quick thanks to those who read and comment on my blog. I know I say things that many of you disagree with (especially as far as politics go). And I'm fine with that. But I appreciate the fact that most of you are open-minded and think things through.
It's been a while since the WALL-E post, but the comments there prove my point: you guys are great friends, and you're incredibly thoughtful.
Keep up the good work.
We're in interesting times here, with the economy and the elections, and the world needs as many open-minded, intelligent people as it can get.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Movie reviews

I checked out three movies from the library today--Solaris, The Fountain, and Disturbia.
And then I looked up reviews on ericdsnider.com and Rotten Tomatoes. I refuse to waste time on movies that get poor ratings.
Ratings for The Fountain were very mixed. One of the negative reviews from Rotten Tomatoes:
"Ambitious? You bet, but also a towering, tumultuous folly. It's the movie equivalent of a prog-rock double album, short on humour, long on pomposity, and as for what it all means - you might well ask."

I'm sold. I'm definitely going to have to watch this.

Some prog-rock double albums I own:
Pink Floyd--The Wall
Genesis--Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Dream Theater--Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
Neal Morse--Testimony
Spock's Beard--Snow
Ayreon--Into the Electric Castle
Ayreon--The Human Equation
And possibly more...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Is backpacking around Europe a negative thing?

I quote from a recent interview mentioned in the LA Times:
In her second "CBS Evening News" interview with Katie Couric, Sarah Palin was asked why she didn't get a passport until 2006. Did it, as some of her viewers wonder, show a lack of curiousity and interest about the world and other cultures?

She told the CBS newsperson that she had to work, sometimes two jobs, and that's why she didn't backpack around Europe like privileged kids do.

"I'm not one of those who maybe come from a background of, you know, kids who perhaps graduated college and their parents get them a passport and a backpack and say, 'Go off and travel the world.' Noooo. I worked all my life. In fact, I usually had two jobs all my life, until I had kids. ... I was not part of, I guess, that culture."

Now where in the world does owning a passport mean that your parents paid for you to travel around Europe? According to Palin, I'm a priviliged kid.
I'm guessing most people reading this have a passport. I am also guessing that the majority of you have used it more than once (and not just for LDS missions). I am further going to guess that the majority of you paid for your own trips yourself.
I know I have. $6000 for 10 weeks in Europe. My money.
Sorry, Palin. We're not a part of that culture either. We work hard. Most of us even paid our own way through college. But we value travel and experience enough to sacrifice our time and our money for it.
Priviliged? No. Curious about the world? Very much so.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hurricane Ike in Cincinnati

Sunday afternoon we heard a loud windstorm start up. High winds were interrupted by terrible gusts (think 70-80 mph). The tree in our backyard lost a huge limb. The neighbors across the street lost a huge tree. The electricity went in and out (and quickly back in). Electrical wires fell, some of them onto our driveway. Two blocks down, a large tree fell down and totally blocked off our street.
The whole thing lasted maybe two or three hours.
This evening, the large tree is still in the street. Hundreds of thousands of our neighbors are without electricity. Most of my classmates don't have power (unfortunately, there was power at the law school and at April's work). Numerous traffic lights are out.
The hurricane didn't reach us, but the winds it created did. They say it will take another week until everyone in the Cincinnati area has power again.
We're lucky. Our power is still on. Our house is undamaged (minus some shingles and a little bit of siding).
There's a possibility that we might lose electricity sometime in the next few days. We're keeping our fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dirty Politics

So, pre-election politics are getting pretty dirty. There's a certain class of people that we can always expect crap from. The type of people that say Obama's a Muslim, for example (like Rush Limbaugh). My mother-in-law still believes that (I'm not worried--she's in Idaho, so her vote doesn't really matter). But it's sad when the politicians themselves get into it. And both presidential candidates are.
For example:
Obama claims McCain believes that an income of less than $5 million a year defines middle class. Clearly out of touch, right? McCain did say that...although it's fairly clear that it was said as a joke.
McCain's campaign ad (endorsed by McCain, and later defended by McCain in an interview) claims that Obama wants schools to teach sex ed to kindergartners. Obama's plan, in reality, is a comprehensive sex ed program that would teach age-appropriate information. For kindergartners, it's composed of teaching them how to avoid sexual predators.
It's sad, really, to see these politicians resorting to these tactics. I'm afraid it's getting to the point it did in 2000, when Karl Rove, working for our current president, set up a master plan to defeat McCain in the primaries in South Carolina. Bush's campaign set up a "poll" and asked "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain...if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" McCain was then campaigning with his adopted non-white daughter. Guess who won in South Carolina?
So why do these tactics work? Why are we, as Americans, so gullible? Why don't we demand the truth?
How can we change things around? I have three recommendations:
1. Stay educated. If you hear something that sounds a little to extreme--like $5 million or sex education in kindergarten--check it out through an unbiased source.
2. Let others know what you find out.
3. Vote against the sleaziest. If their misleading attack ads and tactics backfire in the polls, they'll stop.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

What does it mean for you to be a Christian?

Two politicians were asked this question recently, and it got me thinking...
Even though Mormons have a lot in common with other Christian religions, there are some important differences that should not be overlooked.
Analyze the following two paragraphs and let me know which one is closer to your beliefs:

Politician 1: As a starting point, it means I believe...that Jesus Christ died for my sins, and that I am redeemed through Him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis. I know that I don’t walk alone. And I know that if I can get myself out of the way that, you know, I can maybe carry out in some small way what He intends. And it means that those sins that I have, on a fairly regular basis, hopefully will be washed away.

Politician 2: It means I’m saved and forgiven. And we’re talking about the world. Our faith encompasses not just the United States of America, but the world.

So which is it? If this is all you knew about the candidates, which one would you vote for?

Obama (1) went on to discuss his faith. It's obvious that he's done some deep thinking about it. McCain (2) went on to related a prisoner-of-war story.
I posted previously about the Saddleback forum...and their comments on religion are probably what surprised me the most.
I was also surprised at how moderate both politicians are (despite how much McCain is compared to Bush or Obama to a socialist). Their responses tend to be thoughtful, instead of reactionary.
Palin, McCain's new VP, is not moderate (and as a scientist and an environmentalist she scares me). It will be interesting to see how things develop within the next two months.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Saddleback Forum

I knew that McCain and Obama had been involved with this forum, but I hadn't bothered reading it until today. In a world where all the media is biased one way or another, it's nice to have a neutral place where the two candidates get asked the same questions and each has a chance to answer without getting attacked by the other.
There are some definite surprises in here too, along with the predictable. Obama praising Bush is one of the surprises. The expected is McCain talking about being a prisoner of war and Obama talking about being a community organizer. Anyway, highly recommended for anyone tired of hate-based politics and biased media.

Friday, September 05, 2008

What Obama did after law school

For those of you who don't know, Harvard is arguably the best law school out there, and Obama was a top student there (he was the editor of the Law Review--the most prestigious position at a law school). After college (before law school) he was well-suited to take a high-paying job, or go straight to grad school. But instead...
That makes this article all that much sadder.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Where the Genetic Code and the Binary Code Differ

An old friend has an article about how DNA/RNA is like a computer code.
While I agree that there are many important similarities, there is one huge difference that separates basically all DNA/RNA from most computer codes.
The genetic code is programmed to make copies of itself.
I know that's obvious. Everything dies. So obviously, there needs to be a way for new life to come about.
All life that we know about comes from pre-existing life. Everything living today came from something that was alive in the past. Everything's a copy, of sorts, of its ancestor.
Now if you look at DNA and RNA, they're made up of four bases. Three of the bases are exactly the same between DNA and RNA. One is slightly different.
Isn't it interesting that every living thing has either DNA or RNA, or both? Every living thing is written in the exact same language.
As we dig a bit deeper, we also find that genetic codes have a lot of information that does absolutely nothing. Humans, for example, have a ton of genes for smelling that just don't work. How do we know that they're genes for smelling? We find the same genes in other animals--like dogs--and in those animals, these genes are functional. These exact same genes, in humans, are just slightly mutated, and therefore are inoperable. But we still have them.
Why would parts of our genetic code be totally useless?
They're not. They're a sign of our past, and they're potential for our future. When a machine breaks down, it still has parts that can be put to work elsewhere. Those spare parts may hang around, useless, for a while...but they may be put to work later.
On the subject of mutation...
Our genetic code makes copies of itself--and your genetic code is making thousands of copies at this moment. Most of these copies belong to cells in your skin, or your muscles, or your bones. A select few are used for reproduction. The copies are very accurate. Very rarely is a mistake made, and most mistakes are quickly corrected. However, occasionally, a mistake slips through the cracks.
Most mistakes--most mutations--are harmless. The genetic code of DNA is made up of four components, which we call A, T, C, and G. They're the letters of the DNA alphabet. Usually, if an A is replaced by a G, it's no big deal. The organism isn't really affected, and we call it a neutral mutation.
Sometimes the mutation proves to be harmful.
Sometimes, it's helpful.
The point is--the genetic code is flexible. If the environment around the organism changes, the genetic code, as it gets passed down to future generations, has the flexibility to change too.
Let's take HIV as an example. We'll use it because it mutates quickly, it reproduces quickly, and we can observe how it works. Its genetic code is passed down when it directs a cell to make copies of itself. HIV happens to have a very high mutation rate. It doesn't make great copies. So why is it so successful, and so hard to kill?
We hit HIV with a medicine. The medicine kills 99.99% of the HIV. 0.01% of the HIV viruses survive because they're a little bit different--their genes are different, and they can survive this particular medicine. There's a good chance that, in an environment without that medicine, they wouldn't do so well. But the environment has changed, and now they're the ones in charge. They reproduce, and their offspring get the exact same genes that these survivor viruses had. Now they have plenty of room to reproduce--all the other viruses are now gone, so the new, mutated HIV can spread rapidly.
And so HIV is impossible to get rid of.
This is evolution.
It gets more complicated when we discuss sexual reproduction, or long long long periods of time. But mutations happen. Environments change. And life is flexible enough to change with it--or else life goes extinct.
Mutations lead to evolution. HIV, in this example, evolved.
In a changing world, there are two options. Evolve, or die out.
In any case, there's way too much information here, and there's even more I've left out. I hope I've described it in words that make sense. Despite the similarities to computer languages, which have been pointed out elsewhere, there is at least one big difference.
Now I'd be interested in learning about a computer program with a code that exists in a changing environment, reproduces (with mutations), and dies...in other words, one that evolves.
That would be cool.