Thursday, October 4, 2012

Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

So with last night's debate the political bickering has reached a new high. I truly hope that voters will go in to this election well informed and truly vote their conscience, rather than buying the party line. I also hope that people learn to read and understand statistics before they use them to back or refute points that make them look silly.

This is not a statement one way or the other on the veracity of this specific information. My opinion on the following numerical information is immaterial, I am using it as an illustration.

The following I took off of FB. The original poster, and those who agreed, were discussing disproportionate US military spending in comparison to the rest of the world.

First, increasing military spending by $2 million is an inconsequential argument, when you are talking about Trillions. It is negligible to the point of being a virtual standstill. At this point rounding the number one way or the other could account for most of that. Be aware of the statistics in context of the whole.

Second, when talking about the spending in terms of real dollars, yes the USA is spending much more, but taken as a percentage of GDP, suddenly the gap is not nearly as large. Realize what the statistics say and what they don't. Be aware of which statistics people are comparing and which they are ignoring. This will often open your eyes.

Third, know when/where the numbers come from. When someone throws a pretty chart out in front of you demand sources. Some of the numbers on this wikipedia page are current as of 1996, others 1999, others throughout the first decade of this century, etc. When and where the statistics come from can greatly manipulate "fact".

Other important points:
Be aware of trends and sudden changes. I have seen crime rates jump or drop drastically based on how the statistics are counted. Are we counting the number reported, convicted, estimated, etc.? If something doesn't match be extra careful in your research.

Margins of error are important. Always check how accurate the people who put the numbers together in the first place think they are.

Numbers can be used to inform, numbers can be manipulated, sometimes use numbers to outright lie. Ask for sources, do research, and take numbers with a grain of salt. A statistician I respect often asks, "Does it pass the 'eyeball check'?" Meaning knowing what you know, are the statistics reasonable and do they seem to match your gut? As an example of this principle: If you are doing NBA analysis and your numbers don't tell you that Lebron, and Durrant are in the top several offensive players in the game, your stats might be flawed.

So when your favorite politician/party/talking head/social media spammer starts throwing out stats take a minute to think about what the numbers REALLY say.

Finally, remember 85% of statistics are made up on the spot. =)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Americans, WHY?

September 11. A solemn occasion. A time for reflection, introspection, and hopefully inspiration.

I remember where I was... I came to consciousness shortly after the first plane struck, groggy and stunned as I heard my mother's teary voice, "We are under attack." I had come home just a few hours before from working a night shift as a janitor in one of the most peaceful places on earth. Less than 36 hours before I proposed to the beautiful girl who is now my lovely wife. With her, like the rest of you, I spent the next several hours watching horror unfold. As the shock waned, anger welled. I thought: Who, and Why?

In the following days as I walked down the street, in the store, on the college campus, at church, everywhere I trod there was unity, a bond with every person I met. Eyes met, sad smiles exchanged. I felt genuine care for and from others, which I had not experienced before or since, on a universal level. For several weeks every one of us was AMERICAN.

Maybe I was delusional, maybe I put too much faith in humanity. Yet, for a fleeting moment in time I think Dr. King's dream took place. We were "able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."1 The America that I remember then was kind and strong, loving and resolute. There were no (D)s or (R)s or hyphen-Americans, there were no political agendas to be furthered by atrocities.

Then little by little the cracks started to show. Someone started to politicize, another to blame. Then others felt left behind, and suddenly the wheels were off. I watched a nation more unified than I had ever seen in my lifetime turn (or return) over the next several years into a bunch of vicious, backstabbing, selfish, petty, easily offended tribes looking for their pound of flesh. It became more important than ever to label one another, lest someone not be clear on how different we are from THAT person who is unacceptable because they don't think or act like WE do.

At this point if you listen to politicians or media they will tell you if someone doesn't agree with you, they must be an idiot. They can't possibly be a good person. They must be a monster. They think the way they do because they are bigots, and intend to harm you and yours at every step. NEWS FLASH: That isn't true. We are all brothers and sisters, members of the human family. Most people don't intentionally do harm to others. Most people just want to be happy, and unfortunately we don't think enough about the unintended consequences of our actions and words.

Watching the firestorm both literal and figurative unfold today in Libya and Egypt, my heart wept. A day that should bring us together tore us further apart. We allowed the irresponsible and hateful actions of a few to tarnish our humanity.

That brings us to my point. Why am I American? Without a hyphen, without reservation, without caveat. Where does my circle reach out and include rather than exclude?

I am American because I too have a dream, that people can "be the content of their character."2

I am American because I have friends and family who stand in the line of fire every day, or rest eternally having sacrificed all for others to be free.

I am American because I am free to worship (or not worship) God "according to the dictates of [my] own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."3 

I am American because whether I agree with your opinion or not, I am willing to fight for you to voice it.

I am American because I believe in the human spirit. I believe we can be better.

So Americans why don't we set aside our hyphens, our parenthesis, our political parties, and our axes to grind... Let us do something special and once again become a beacon of hope to the world. Let us open up our arms and not by government mandate but from our souls say, "Give me your tired, your poor,your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"4

I am American because I hope for more...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thoughts on God and Science

I often find myself having conversations about God or the lack thereof with several of my friends. I am a devout believer in God, they are...otherwise inclined. A couple of things come to mind, not necessarily directed at these friends but just in my musings surrounding this "conundrum".

First: Why does the target keep changing? I feel like any time I have a conversation with someone who is convinced that God doesn't exist they have their favorite question to stump people of faith. If I give an answer that is well thought out and coherently argued, immediately they throw out a new question, or change the parameters of the one they asked before. A recent case in point:

The argument: God(of the Christian persuasion) can't exist because a woman cannot have a baby without having a sperm fertilize an egg. It just cannot happen.
My answer: Who said there was no sperm? Just no intercourse. Ever heard of artificial insemination? In vitro fertilization? I have several friends and family members who have conceived children by means other than sexual intercourse.
And here is the change of target: For Mary, I'm just going off what the Bible says. "A virgin shall conceive." Virgins don't have babies, especially 2000 years ago.

So you didn't want an answer to your question, there was no room for a different possibility in your mind, you wanted me to roll over and let you score the point?  You can't admit there is a possibility of a reasonable answer, instead you move the target.

Second: Why do you ask a question which can't be answered (meaning you don't want one)? Here is how I boiled down a friend's recent argument about the impossibility of God's existence because we can't explain how miracles happened:

Point the first, if we can't explain a miracle then it couldn't have happened and it is a lie, therefor there is no God.
Point the second, unless and until you can prove to me that these miracles are possible scientifically, they couldn't have happened.
Point the third, if we can explain a miracle then it is instead science and not a miracle therefor we have no need of God, so he can't exist.

So you really didn't want an answer to your question, you want a person of faith to use for a pinata at your party to beat until the candy of their shattered faith pours out for you. Sorry find another pinata.

I think where I really hang up with people on this is here, to me the argument isn't binary. To me the question isn't "God or Science", and if that is the question my answer is YES. (Thanks dad for undermining my ability to make normal sounding arguments from an early age.) That doesn't make any sense you say. Actually it makes perfect sense, at least to me. Let's approach it from a different angle:

We can agree there are laws or rules that govern everything right? I don't mean civil laws, but natural laws. For example we can agree that gravity exists, we call it a theory because we can't exactly explain all the little nuances yet, but there is a law there however imperfectly we can explain it so far. Exactly like that there is a law for each other natural reaction whether we understand it or not. These laws are overarching. Lets call these laws science.

Let me ask you a few questions about this "science".
-Are these laws everywhere?
-Do these laws govern everything?
-Are these laws what cause life as we know it to exist?

The next question whose answer isn't provable, but to me is the logical progression from realizing that these laws exist:
-Could this complex system of laws which governs all of existence have suddenly just sprung into place via accident? Could the universe just have not existed one moment and existed the next?

Not impossible, just statistically very improbable.

To me that points to something which was there to put the system as we know it in place, a "creator" if you will. This creator (I call it God) is able to perform what we call miracles, because it knows every facet of the system perfectly. The answer in my mind is yes God AND science. God is the perfect scientist.

The end game to this whole thing: Can I prove God exists? No. Can you prove he doesn't? No. Can we have a logical discussion and exchange ideas without resorting to name calling? Yes, please. We might actually learn something in the process. Can we agree to disagree whilst being civil and working together for the common good of humanity? I sure hope so.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Back up a Step

I came back from leave today, and checked FB for the first time in a couple of weeks and I can't say I missed much. My news feed had a few items of interest on it: pictures of friends and family, news from the same, and a few requests for a helping hand. Unfortunately most of this was buried in a heap of ignorance, hatred, filth, knee-jerk screaming, and just plain stupidity so thick I quit looking.

A quick disclaimer: I am a soldier, a gun owner, a Mormon, an Eagle Scout, very fiscally conservative, opposed to government involvement in my marriage and my bedroom, against government run universal health care, a huge sports fan (Utes, Jazz, Broncos, Rockies, Avalanche, RSL, Team USA), a husband/father/son, an avid volunteer, voracious reader, and table top miniature war gamer. However, not one of these things defines who I am in my heart, or how I feel about you as an individual.

Unfortunately, because it is so easy to share information in this day and age we often don't put much thought into what we share or bother to check the "facts" behind what is presented to us. I am convinced that if I as an individual were to sit down with almost any person in the world (and an appropriate translator in many cases) one on one we could come to an agreement and live in harmony.  That is not to say I am some kind of paragon of virtue. That is to say people, individually, are generally reasonable, affable, and kind. It is when we get into groups and try to start defining one another with labels that the wheels come off.

Back off the hate people. Intolerance and stereotyping are running rampant on both sides of several issues. I am sick of it. I will be limiting contact with those who are especially potent in their vitriol. If you have nothing intelligent or useful to add to the conversation, I don't want to listen to your pointless shouting. Please have your opinions, please share them respectfully. Please do not assume because I disagree/agree, I hate/love you.

So that it isn't missed in all of my rambling, here is my central point today: intolerance, racism, bigotry in all its forms are BAD THINGS. Please don't think that because you are on one side or the other of an issue that your side is free of them and the other side is rife with them. Take a step back and look at what they are saying, "walk a mile in their shoes". Your opinion may not change, but your approach to another person may.

Also remember, free speech isn't without price. Someone pays for it. Many people wearing any of several different uniforms have given their lives so you can say rude, ignorant, hateful things to one another on topics where most people's opinions aren't going to change. The Bible taught me, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:3

This country could use a lot more cooperation, selflessness, and compassion.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

This Joy We Call Life

     I realized recently how long it has been since I wrote anything here. Then I realized how many things have changed since then. However with all of the change much is exactly the same. Life is GOOD. We really are here to find joy, and it is ubiquitous to those who look. So today I decided to just thank, semi publicly (I have no illusions about how many people will actually read this) and from the bottom of my heart, a loving God who treats me so well.

     I have the distinction of associating with great people.  Beginning with a dad and mom who spent countless hours trying, thankfully with success, not to kill me.  Luckily they even impressed upon me a few life lessons and not just hand prints.  I was trouble with a capital T and they loved me through it, not because I deserved it, but because that is who they are. From a dad willing to work every day and set aside personal enjoyment to make sure a young boy learned to ride a bike, and work on cars, and do household repairs, but even more importantly how to treat women with respect and sacrifice for his family and love his Savior. To a mother who gave up everything on earth but being a mom, her body, her time, her talents, and hours on her knees. She taught me to cook and clean, mend and sew, and even better to love and forgive, and lift others. Then when everything I am capable of doing is on the line to pray like my life depends on it. Because it does. Thanks mom and dad.

     I have the honor of being the brother to 6 sisters, 3 brothers, 6 brothers-in-law (soon to be 7), and 5 sisters-in-law. Together we make a rowdy, opinionated, stubborn mob.  I wouldn't trade this group for any other in the world.  They have seen me at my worst and helped lift me to my best. They love and care even when I don't merit their attention.  Their diverse and wonderful talents are made far better by their willingness to share them for no gain.  From home maker to accountant, brick mason to student each has skills and abilities that have blessed my life and enriched my soul. All the while, they have done this without thought for personal gain, and sometimes at great hazard to their well being and hearing. (Sorry guys.)  From the depths of my soul thanks for letting me call you my siblings.

     Before mentioning my beautiful wife, I have to thank the two giants who gave her to me. Thank you for embracing a brash, cocky, self righteous, impertinent, and bullheaded young man.  I have grown much from associating with two people of your sterling character.

     Ah my wife.  I always dreamed of marrying a red head.  A woman who was intelligent, beautiful, happy, loving, open, and just plain GOOD. Wow did I out punt my coverage. I am so over chicked it is not even funny.  Babe, you make my world go round.  You not only care for me and love me, but you make me want to be a better person.  Someday I hope I am worthy of your adoration and respect.  You are by far the best thing that ever happened to me.  At some point maybe I can make up to you all the tears and heart ache I have given you so freely.  I can't think of anyone better to watch my back, and pick up the pieces behind me when I ruin things.  You truly complete me... Thank you for being the mother of my children, my lover, and my best friend.  I'll be your wing man any time.

     I have two of the best kids in the world.  They love me even though I am grouchy.  They hug me when I am sad, and make me laugh until my sides ache.  Noodle and Boo, no daddy could ask for more.  You melt my heart constantly and keep me up nights wishing I could be better for you.  The light in your eyes brings hope to my world.  Your smiles remind me of God's grace.  You are beautiful and wonderful, loving and caring.  Please stay pure and strong and full of that childlike wonder for the world.  Your questions make me think and dream and imagine, I love it.  I wish I had the talent of story telling like Ray Depew or Carol Rehme so I could fill your minds with epics written just for you.  I wish I could sing and play the piano like your Em to make the air with music ring.  I wish I was the perfect daddy for you because you deserve one who is far better than I.  Most of all just know that I love you more than I can ever convey in word or action.

     I come from a legacy of good, honest, hard working men and women.  People who spent each day giving and loving.  Thank you to grandmas and grandpas, by blood and inherited who have shaped me and taught me with your example of service.  I have never had to look far to find an example of anything good.  Thank you to my other family members who are carrying the torch of our ancestry farther and brighter than I can ever dare dream.  You make me proud to be your cousin, uncle, and nephew.

     I am honored to wear the uniform of the United States Army.  Each day I associate with men and women who are willing to go into harms way so that others can be free.  To all the servicemen and women, current and past, thank you.  Thank you for answering the call.  I am in awe each day of the privilege it is to be one of you.

     Thank you to a few good friends who have profoundly touched my life. To "The Collective", to the young men my mom calls the "Fantastic 5", to Andrew and Chris, and to mom and dad #2, thank you for letting me into your homes and your hearts.  I learned lessons from you I couldn't learn anywhere else.  It takes a village to raise a child, and I am convinced it still takes one to shape a man.  Thank you for challenging my world views and expecting more from me.

    I have left many out of the list, I am sure, who are deserving of my praise more than I have deserved their help.  Thank you to all of the unsung heroes in my life: teachers, scout leaders, bosses, friends, mentors, etc. Maybe someday when I have a perfect memory I will be able to thank each of you personally for the good you have done in my life.

     Most of all I am thankful to my God.  A loving Father who saw fit to place me where I could be happy and successful.  Who sacrificed his only perfect offspring to give me the opportunity to return and live with him.  I am left speechless at the beauty and glory of your creations. Thank you for allowing me to be your son.

Thank you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Three Cups of Tea

Greg Mortensen is an incredible man with a great heart and an inspiring mission. I am glad there are people out there like him to take on challenges and do something that really needs doing. You can check out more about the Central Asia Institute here.

I enjoyed the adventure and honesty in this book. It is very obvious that much of what Mortensen shares in the book is still raw emotion and comes across as impulsive. There were a few things that bothered me that seemed really contradictory. The one that really ground on me was his criticism of the US government for failing to build Afghanistan back up after the invasion, but then when the military offers him over $2 million to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan he turns it away because it would make him lose credibility. I am not saying the USA doesn't make plenty of mistakes, but you can't hurl criticism and then turn away money to assist you when they see you are the most effective program in the area to get the job done.

All in all I think this is a good read which helps to understand the real underlying issues which drive terrorism. Education and improvement of social circumstances will always be the answer to a real lasting peace in the world.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pres. Bush - Decision Points

I recently finished Pres. George W. Bush's book Decision Points. All in all a pretty good read. I was intrigued by his candor and honesty, he readily admits to mistakes made and details lessons learned. He also takes responsibility for his decisions and even some mistakes others made.

The one thing that has always struck me about Pres. Bush, and this book reconfirms, is that he may not be perfect, but he surrounds himself with intelligent talented people and ultimately every decision he made while in office he truly felt was in the best interest of the country and people he loves. I don't know that you can say the same for every politician.

I would recommend this book to anyone.