Monday, May 26, 2014
Monday, October 01, 2012
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the way "A Separation's" exquisitely human situations unfold is that the narration allows for as many points of view as there are characters. Everyone is fallible yet everyone feels justified in their own particular grievances, and the film is at pains not to pick sides. The great French director Jean Renoir, who would have loved this film, exactly sums up its situation in one of his most famous phrases: "The real hell of life is that everyone has his reasons."
Sunday, September 30, 2012
[Delivered in the Hilliard Ward, Sept. 23, 2012]
How much is a human soul worth? How can we calculate its value? One way would be to try to use a dollar amount. If your body was reduced to its basic elements, Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, and so forth, it is estimated that you would be worth about $160 dollars, most of that value coming from the potassium and sodium. Your potassium, in fact, would account for about 2/3rds of the value of your body’s elements, were it reduced to its basic compounds. So, $160 -- doesn’t seem like much. Link.
Another way to calculate the value of a human life is to think about how much it would take, say, to purchase a slave. How much would it cost to actually own another human being? Based on my research on the Internet, I found that, in 1857, it cost about $1400 dollars to buy a slave in Antebellum American South. That translates into about $25,000 in today’s money. It is interesting, and very troubling, that you could have bought a slave, a human being, for about the cost of an average car today. Link.
What about if we do the sort of cost benefit analysis that is popular today in the business world? Ford Motor Company attempted this back in the 1970s. Ford President Lee Iacocca had stipulated that, in order to compete with the economical Japanese cars that were coming in the market, he wanted to design a car that would weigh less than 2,000 pounds and that would be priced at less than $2,000. This idea became the legendary Ford Pinto. There was one major and tragic flaw with the Pinto’s original design, a flaw that cost dozens of lives. In the event of the rear end collision, even at low speeds, the gas tank would be pushed forward and punctured by the protruding bolts of the differential. Gasoline would come pouring out, explosions would occur, and people would be in danger of dying a fiery death. When Ford discovered this problem during the initial crash tests, they did a cost benefit analysis. They found a solution to the problem that cost $11 per car. Overall, the cost to redesign and rework the Pinto's gas tank, at that late stage, would cost about $137 million. Ford experts then calculated that they could be held liable for $200,000 per traffic fatality. Using an estimate of 180 deaths and 180 serious burns, Ford calculated that their possible liability costs worked out to around $49 million. So, because the $137 million cost to fix the problem was greater than the 49 million in liability, they, tragically and infamously, decided not to fix the Pinto. Many people died or were severely burned. So, in this sad story, there is another estimate of a human life: $200,000. Link.
Yet another way to think about your worth as a human being to to think how much your individual organs are worth. There is, unfortunately, a thriving black market for human organs throughout the world. Turns out that a human heart is worth $290,000 in South Korea, where a human liver is also worth $290,000. A kidney is worth $145,000 in Turkey, and a pancreas is worth $140,000 in Singapore, where a lung also sells for $290,000. Link. According to a recent article in Wired magazine, a full human body could be worth up to $45 million if we sell the bone marrow, DNA, lungs, kidneys, heart, etc., as separate components. I, for one, will be worth more money dead than I every will be alive!
Now, none of this has been particularly pleasant to think about. That discomfort stems from our moral issues, I think, with the thought of buying a slave, doing a cost benefit analysis on a human life, selling body parts on the black market, and so forth. But our discomfort is more than that. I think we sense that the value of a human life is being missed in these calculations. In the D&C 18:10, we read that we should “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” This begins to tell us something about our worth as human beings. Is there a way, though, we can get a more precise sense of this worth? Is there a way we can feel it on a more gut level, with more emotional punch.
To get this sort of glimpse of the worth of a soul, I want to turn to three stories from the New Testament, three parables, that deal with this same topic. The text that I wish to focus on is the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke.
In the beginning of this chapter, we are given the setting in which these three parables are told. Picture the scene: Jesus is teaching. A group of sinner and publicans (who were basically seen as traitors to Israel) approach him. This group is the lowest of low on the Israelite social ladder. They are the outcast and despised. And what does Jesus do? We are told only that Pharisees and scribes start to complain, saying, this man “receives sinners and eats with them.” It is in response to this complaint that Jesus offers to the Pharisees three famous parables. Start in verse four:
And she loved a little boy.
And every day the boy would come
And he would gather her leaves
And swing from her branches
And eat apples
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree… very much…
And the tree was happy.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then, one day, the boy came to the tree and the tree said:
"Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy!"
"I am too big to climb and play," said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money.Can you give me some money?"
"I’m sorry", said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in city. Then you will have money and you’ll be happy."
And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away.
And the tree was happy…
"Come, Boy," she whispered, "Come and play."
"I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me away from here. Can you give me a boat?"
"Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away… and be happy."
And so the boy cut down her trunk
And made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy…
But not really.
"I am sorry, Boy," said the tree, "but I have nothing left to give you – My apples are gone....My branches are gone....My trunk is gone"
"I don’t need very much now,” said the boy. “Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, "well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down… sit down and rest."
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy…
Monday, September 03, 2012
Authoritarian parents are more likely to end up with disrespectful children who engage in delinquent behaviors, the study found, compared to parents who listen to their kids with the goal of gaining trust.
It was the first study to look at how parenting styles affect the way teens view their parents and, in turn, how they behave.
The study considered three general styles of parenting. Authoritative parents are demanding and controlling while also being warm and sensitive to their children’s needs.
Authoritarian parents, by contrast, are demanding and controlling without those compassionate layers of caring, attachment and receptiveness. They take a "my way or the highway" approach to their kids.
Permissive parents, the third group, have warm and receptive qualities, but they define few boundaries and enforce few rules.
Using data on nearly 600 kids from an ongoing study of middle school and high school students in New Hampshire, researchers from the University of New Hampshire were able to link "my way or the highway" parenting with more delinquency in kids -- measured in behaviors like shop-lifting, substance abuse and attacking someone else with the intention of hurting or killing.
Firm but loving parenting, on the other hand, led to fewer transgressions. Permissive parenting, surprisingly, didn't seem to make much of a difference either way.
Friday, August 31, 2012
Friday, May 25, 2012
The most famous cognitive obstacle to innovation functional fixedness — an idea first articulated in the 1930s by Karl Duncker in which people tend to fixate on the common use of an object. For example, the people on the Titanic overlooked the possibility that the iceberg could have been their lifeboat.
Newspapers from the time estimated the size of the iceberg to be between 50-100 feet high and 200-400 feet long. Titanic was navigable for awhile and could have pulled aside the iceberg. Many people could have climbed aboard it to find flat places to stay out of the water for the four hours before help arrived. Fixated on the fact that icebergs sink ships, people overlooked the size and shape of the iceberg (plus the fact that it would not sink).
Thursday, May 24, 2012
I also loved this description of funeral potatoes.Mormonism is a young religion, born in the 1830s, leaving little time for food traditions to evolve. Its food doesn’t reflect one particular ethnic identity, or a region other than the Wasatch Front....Food was rarely plentiful in the early years, families were large, and all households tithed at least 10 percent to the church, so women were strongly encouraged to develop cooking and budget-management skills. Being industrious and hardworking is highly prized in Mormon culture (the beehive is a symbol of the church), and for women, cooking provides a real sense of identity and daily purpose.In the 1960s, Mormon women (like most Americans) enthusiastically embraced inexpensive convenience foods like canned fruit, instant potatoes and, of course, Jell-O. “For some reason, the Utah Mormons took longer to come out of that phase,” said Christy Spackman, 34, a doctoral student in food studies at N.Y.U.Ms. Spackman says that in her congregation, in Brooklyn, the tradition of socializing with food and sharing recipes is just as strong as it was when she was growing up in Logan, Utah. Only the recipes have changed. “Now the recipe is more likely to be a grapefruit curd or a new kind of granola bar than a casserole,” she said. Recipes, like one for homemade yogurt, “spread like wildfire” in the community, she said.Many Mormon men and some women spend two years abroad working as missionaries — a custom that has given many a lingering taste for kimchi or Camembert. In Brazil, Mrs. Wells discovered a passion for dulce de leche, mangoes and black beans.
Funeral potatoes, a rich casserole of grated potatoes, sour cream, cheese and cream-of-something soup, is delivered to the bereaved, and serves as a side dish for ham on Christmas and Easter. It tastes like the inside of a baked potato mashed with plenty of sour cream and Cheddar, and it takes only one savory, fluffy forkful to see why the dish is a classic. (During the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, visitors found these dishes so pervasive that souvenir pins shaped like cubes of green Jell-O and casseroles of funeral potatoes became hot sellers.)Is it lunch time, yet?
Friday, February 24, 2012
There's been a lot of loose talk about the Death Star lately. I want to put it into a bit of perspective.
As background, some students at Lehigh University have estimated that it would be a very expensive project. The steel alone, assuming the Death Star's mass/volume ratio is about the same as an aircraft carrier, comes to $852 quadrillion, or 13,000 times the world's GDP. Is this affordable?
Let's sharpen our pencils. For starters, this number is too low. Using the same aircraft carrier metric they did, I figure that the price tag on the latest and greatest Ford-class supercarrier is about 100x the cost of the raw steel that goes into it. If the Death Star is similar, its final cost would be about 1.3 million times the world's GDP.
But there's more. Star Wars may have taken place "a long time ago," but the technology of the Star Wars universe is well in our future. How far into our future? Well, Star Trek is about 300 years in our future, and the technology of Star Wars is obviously well beyond that. Let's call it 500 years. What will the world's GDP be in the year 2500? Answer: assuming a modest 2% real growth rate, it will be about 20,000 times higher than today. So we can figure that the average world in the Star Wars universe is about 20,000x richer than present-day Earth, which means the Death Star would cost about 65x the average world's GDP.
However, the original Death Star took a couple of decades to build. So its annual budget is something on the order of 3x the average world's GDP.
But how big is the Republic/Empire? There's probably a canonical figure somewhere, but I don't know where. So I'll just pull a number out of my ass based on the apparent size of the Old Senate, and figure a bare minimum of 10,000 planets. That means the Death Star requires .03% of the GDP of each planet in the Republic/Empire annually. By comparison, this is the equivalent of about $5 billion per year in the current-day United States.In other words, not only is the Death Star affordable, it's not even a big deal.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Tim Tebow’s commercials and personal branding speak about how everyone has always doubted him, but in reality, he’s has every privilege and advantage. He was home-schooled but was still allowed to play Florida high school sports. He was allowed to play in a college spread offense built around his rather unique skill set. He was drafted in the first round even though many scouts saw him as a mid- to high-round project. He is treated like an All-American superstar even without the game to back it up....Tim Tebow had the benefit of the doubt. Jeremy Lin was just doubted.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
Our son, Stephen, seems to have entered the stage of perfect cuteness. Not a day goes by when he doesn't say something clever. And his hair is just a curly mess of wonderful blond tangles. We can't bring ourselves to cut it.
Some recent stories:
Ellie went in after Stephen's nap to find that he had gotten out his old white diapers and spread them all across the floor of his bedroom. Ellie, shocked at the mess, asked him what he'd been doing. "It's snow, Mom," he said.
We were eating dinner the other night. Conversation was lagging a bit. Suddenly, Stephen pipes up, "Mom, are you thinking what I'm thinking?" We're not sure where he got that, but it was hilarious to be asked that by a two-year-old. We concluded that, no, we probably weren't thinking what he was thinking.
I was in the bathroom today getting ready. Stephen marches in and points at the shower. "What's that, Dadda?" he asks. "Um, that's the shower, buddy." I reply. He says, matter-of-factly, "That's where it rains." True, Stephen, true.
Friday, February 03, 2012
Anyway, a mesmerizing video below of the London Tube. For some reason, I love to watch people in transit. It is always interesting to think about who they are and where they are going. Also, there is some great footage of a guy in a bow tie.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Andrew is eagerly awaiting his 6th birthday this month. His big news is that he started Kindergarten, which he loves. He’s also taking pre-piano music class this year. Andrew lost his first tooth in Utah at his Warnick Grandparents’ home this summer. Our Tooth Fairy still found him, so she won’t be fired, despite her sometimes flighty and forgetful ways. His drawings of semi trucks, buses, airplanes, and Jeeps decorate our fridge and the fridges of his teachers and grandparents. Andrew is the resident rule-enforcer in our home, much to his sister’s chagrin. Not much is missed by his penetrating, petty-criminal-bustin’ gaze.
Stephen, at two, shifts rapidly between unbearably cute and just unbearable. On the cute side, we have his claims of having a beard (we think he means his upper lip), his love of hugs, his somersault attempts, his obsession with writing his name, and his big brown eyes and blond curls. On the unbearable side we have the typical toddler whining and tantrums in addition to the messiest eating we have ever experienced. (He is not done until he has pulverized every cubic inch of his food, and has eaten. . .any?) Stephen provides the comic relief in our family. The past few weeks, he’s taken to answering every question, “Yes, sir!”
Ellie and Nora joined a Mother-Daughter Book Club this year, and have had a great time reading and discussing some childhood classics together. In March, Ellie tagged along with Bryan to England for a conference at Oxford. (Thanks to the Merkley grandparents for making this childless trip possible!) Going to England has been a lifelong dream for Ellie, and she loved every minute--even the one where she mistook white wine for water (low lighting!), took a big swig, and just about spit it across the table onto Bryan’s distinguished British colleagues. She’s still running, albeit a little more slowly to keep pace with her favorite pregnant running buddy (sister Anna).
Bryan was consumed early this year with finishing the basement. He put up the drywall, sanded, hung the doors, put up the wood trim, and painted. He is pleased with how it all turned out and can often be found in the basement admiring his craftsmanship. Meanwhile, he gave professional presentations in St. Louis and Oxford, organized a conference in Dayton, spearheaded a major curriculum change in his college, published two papers, and finalized a publisher for his second book. He has recently become fascinated with wood-grilling. His peaceful and quiet life was abruptly interrupted last week by a new church assignment...bishop (a lay leader of a local LDS congregation). Time will tell if he survives to see next Christmas.