Archive for February, 2006

A basic lesson in statistics

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

OK, so there’s this article in the Sacramento Bee about Don Peralta pulling his support for the Pre-School Initiative to be on the next state-wide ballot.

I don’t want to comment on the Initiative because I don’t know anything about it so I don’t know if I’m for or against it.

What I do what to comment on the continual misuse of statistics by various proponents. At the end of the article a proposition supporter is quoted as saying:

“half of all 4th graders can’t read at grade level”

That’s like of like saying “Did you know half of all people are shorter than the other half!?!” Grade level is determined by the average performance of kids in that grade. Since no one performs (well MAYBE one person) at EXACTLY grade level, half score above, half score below. It’s just a fact of life no matter how smart or how stupid kids are nor how much pre-school they attended. 100 years from now, when kids in the 4th grade are doing Calculus because of our advances in teaching techniques, half of them will STILL be performing below grade level. Similarly, if in 100 years we’ve completely given up on pushing our children to learn and we’re teaching them how to walk in the 4th grade, half of the class, that incredible group that can not only take a few steps but walk across the whole room, will STILL be performing above grade level.

What a joke.

I bought a new sailboat

Monday, February 27th, 2006
A week ago I bought a new sailboat. It’s called an International Canoe (or IC for short). It’s called that because it is very narrow, like a canoe. But it also has a bunch of sail area, about 110 square feet. To make up for that, they added a hiking board so that the sailor can sit out on it to balance the boat. On the right, you’ll see a picture of me sailing it Saturday in Sacramento just before the storm came in on Saturday night. The hiking board is that big long board sticking out the side of the boat. There wasn’t enough wind to justify sitting out there on Saturday.

Lenten blogging plans

Monday, February 27th, 2006

For those not in the know, Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I’ve been feeling in a religious rut for a while now so I’m going to be putting a lot of focus on fasting, prayer and repentance (not so much on almsgiving, I’m broke.). Lent basically lasts until Easter (technically it ends mid-day on Holy Thursday at which point the 2 1/2 day Triduum starts) which this year is April 16th. It is considered to be 40 days although technically it is 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter and there are various days that “don’t count” depending on who you talk to to make it an even 40.

In any case, I wanted to let everyone know that I’ll be fasting for all of Lent (this means basically one meal a day for the entire period) and blogging about how it is going and my reflections on growing close to God through suffering.

In memory of Louise Rosequist

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

Louise Rosequist died last Monday. She was the mother of one of my best friends growing up, Andy. She was one of the neighborhood moms, and because of the trust my mother put in her, had the same authority as my mom did, from my perspective. Her words and admonitions (and what young boy doesn’t get thousands of admonitions?) carried the same weight as my own mother’s. My mom’s trust in her was not mistaken either as she was a wonderful woman and mother. Frankly spoken, she was always my favorite neighborhood mom because she treated me as maturely as I was willing to behave and always seemed to speak words of wisdom, integrity and compassion. She had a composure and collectedness that, despite all of our antics as children, rarely was ever cracked. Finally, while most parents seem to play favorites, you always got the feeling from her that she cared for us all and treated us all fairly.

She died fighting a 15 year battle with cancer, a battle she fought vigorously so that she could watch her children grow into mature adults. A fight she won as she lived to be able to see her first two grandchildren born in the last couple years.

May God forgive her sins, grant her peace and bring her into His heavenly presence.

In memory of Norman Hermansen

Friday, February 17th, 2006

On Tuesday, Norman Hermansen died. He was in his late 80s. Norm was Wendy’s grandfather, her father’s father. Much of what I love about Wendy seem to have come from her grandfather. Norm never had anything negative to say even around people who didn’t extend him the same courtesy and always showed compassion in his words and actions. He loved his family and supported them. He also seems to have been the source of a good portion of Wendy’s sense of humor as it mimics his style.

May God give you peace Norm. Know that your legacy will live on in your granddaughter that I love very much.

Cloning myths continue to pile up

Friday, February 17th, 2006

I was pointed to this article in the New York Times regarding cloning and I thought it was worthy of comment.

As I’ve said before, everyone should consider it manditory reading to read Wesley J. Smith’s blog (linked in my blogroll) regarding bioethics. This guy has spent the time to understand all the issues at hand and will repeat the underlying truths over and over until they finally make sense.

In this NYT article, Michael Gazzaniga tries to make the point that there are two different types of cloning: reproductive cloing and biomedical cloning. It used to be that people who thought like he did called biomedical cloning therapudic cloning, but apparantly that smokescreen has fallen out of favor.

So to make sure it was absolutely clear what was going on here I thought I would explain the ins and outs of the issue:

The whole issue fits under the broad heading of “Stem Cell Research”. Stems cells are cells that can turn into different kinds of cells, cells that could become skin cells or nerves cells or blood cells or brain cells or whatever. The problem is that not all kinds of stem cells can become every type of cell, they usually have a limited subset of cells they can become. So a stem cell that comes from the ambilical cord could become (I’m making this list up for demonstration purposes) skin or blood or nerve cells but could not become brain cells. Stem cells that come from other sources could become a different handful of types but again not all of them.

So the holy grail of stem cells is to find pluripotent stem cells, stem cells that could become ANY type of cell. This has the potential to allow for all kinds of treatments that otherwise couldn’t be done if we couldn’t find a type of stem cell that could become the needed cell type.

Up until this point, NOBODY has an ethical issue with this science. Catholics are perfectly content with stem cell treatments and the search for pluripotent ones. But after this point, the ethical delimas start.

You see, many scientists believe that the best source for pluripotent stem cells come from embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stems cells are the cells that make up recently created embryos (like in the last week or two). Us Catholics like to call that embryo a human being because, well, it is. Life begins at conception from our vantage point. Or said another way, life begins when a cell is created that can be properly fostered to divide/grow into a full grown human being. What is it before it grows? A very small human being. It’s nature doesn’t change because it grows.

So for us Catholics (and many others), the idea of taking/creating an embryo and instead of letting it develop to become a baby, destroying it so that the cells can be used for stem cell research, is very ethically troubling, just as ethically troubling as abortion because, well, it’s exactly the same thing it just has a different intent when the embryo is destroyed.

This is the point at which cloning enters the fray. You see, inherently all the scientists want is an embryo. They don’t care how it was created. So it can either be one conceived in the womb (in theory although very difficult in practice because of the difficulty of extracting the embryo from the womb without damaging it), one conceived in a petri dish OR one that was cloned.

Because of the immediately obvious opposition to using conceived embryos, many scientists have put their hope in cloning to give them the embryonic stem cells they want. This desire is magnified because of the trouble that scientists have had with concieved embryos in their stem cell research. You see, embryonic stem cells often become cancerous/dangerous to the subject when injected in the person. This is thought to be because the cells don’t have matching DNA to the person they’re being injected into. If however, the scientists were to be able to create an embryo that has exactly the same DNA as the person being treated, the hope is that they could get around the cancer/rejection problem.

So scientists have two motivations to figure out how to create cloned embryos: To potentially avoid the ethical questions about destroying life and to hopefully give a new avenue to prevent embryonic stem cell rejection.

The good news for scientists is that they have a process that promises the ability to do exactly what I outlined above: create an embryo with the DNA of the person that is to be treated. This process is called somatic cell nuclear transfer or by its initials SCNT. The process is as follows:

-An unfertilized egg is taken from a woman
-Just about any cell is taken from the subject to be treated.
-The DNA is sucked out of the egg
-The DNA is sucked out of the subject’s cell
-The DNA from the subject’s cell is placed into the egg, creating an embryo
-The embryo is stimulated into starting the division/growing process

While it is fairly easy to outline the process, there are all kinds of difficulties with it. Things like doing these processes without damaging the egg or the DNA. It’s so difficult that no one has yet been able to successfully do it for human embryos, at least that they can prove (note the recent scandal with the Korean research that was likely completely fabricated data). However, there have been numerous experiments with animals where they have successfully used this process to create a cloned animal embryo and then grown that embryo into an adult animal, Dolly the Sheep being the most famous.

So, FINALLY I get to the point of the article from the NYT!

Note that I said that SCNT was the process used to make Dolly the Sheep. In other words, it was used to do what is called reproductive cloning. Also note that the logic that got us to discussing SCNT was stem cell research and the desire for pluripotent stem cells. This is what the scientists would like to call therapudic or (in the NYT article) biomedical cloning.

The fact is that these two “different” types of cloning are EXACTLY the same thing. They can try to call them different things, but the procedure is the same and is called SCNT. The only conceivable difference is intent. However, after one has performed SCNT, no matter what the original intent was, the embryo could either be distroyed and used for medical purposes or it could be grown into what it is a miniature version of: a human being.

Finally, there are a number of additionally troubling issues specifically with SCNT the most overlooked of which is the need for eggs from women. See, they don’t create these clones from thin air. Unless some unforseen breakthough comes about, they will always need 1 egg for every clone they do. So if they’re going to treat millions of people with embryonic stem cells, they will need millions of eggs from women. This issue popped up during the Korean experiments where women were forced to donate eggs to the experiment.

Additionally, much of the focus on SCNT and embryonic stem cell research (which has yet to produce ANY treatments) takes away focus from far less troubling stem cell research using adult stem cells (of which the above mentioned ambilical cord stem cells are an example of) which not only shows much promise, but has ACTUALLY developed meaningful cures/treatments for a number of different illnesses.

However, these issues are just the icing on a very ethically troubling cake. The reality is that no matter what proponents of embryonic stem cell research say, every time they create a new stem cell line, they destroy a growing human embryo.

A dream come true for Cal fans

Friday, February 17th, 2006

I watched a clip of the Daily Show just after Dick Cheney shot his hunting partner. The host was complaining that it had been a slow news month until this beautifully wonderful story dropped in his lap giving him all the comic content he could ever want. In his words, “Thank you Jesus!”

Well, us Cal fans were given a similarly blessed gift recently when we found out that the person inside the Stanford mascot was fired from said job for being intoxicated while doing it.

Putting aside for the moment that I think they’ll have a hard time finding someone who’s willing to do the job while sober, I want to focus on the supposed mission of the Stanford band. As it says in the article about this “tragic” firing, the band spokesman Sam Urmy said, “We don’t want to risk our core mission of rocking out and bringing funk to the funkless.”

THAT’S their core mission!?!

Did anybody else pick up on this from the numerous times they’ve been subjected to watching the Stanford band? I’ve seen them more times than I care to remember and I think everyone who has seen the Stanford band perform can attest to the fact that not only did they fail in their apparent mission to “bring funk to the funkless” but that it was entirely unclear that to “bring funk to the funkless” was indeed their mission to begin with.

Hat tip to my brother.

The Mission

Monday, February 6th, 2006

In a Crawford family first, my brother actually recommended a movie of religious nature that I enjoyed watching: The Mission. This movie was made in 1986 and stars Robert DeNiro.

The number one thing that struck me in this movie was the value of Penance. Robert DeNiro plays a slave capturer who kills his brother in a fight and turns away from his past life to become a religious brother. During his transformation he goes through a process which is very common for new/renewed believers: he doubts whether his sins can be forgiven. And while God forgives, the process of penance helps us to recognize the truth. The sequence of him carrying a heavy load of miltary gear up the mountain to the natives that he had hunted and sold was very powerful and the natives freeing him from that load was even more powerful. You could feel the healing in DeNiro’s tears.

Penance is a very powerful healing tool.

The second thing that I thought of what how far the mighty Jesuits have fallen. This movie portrays the best of who the Jesuits are. They were formed by a Saint who knew the value of fighting for the faith or as is said in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

‘Ignatius had suggested for the title of their brotherhood “The Company of Jesus”. Company was taken in its military sense, and in those days a company was generally known by its captain’s name.’

The movie shows the Jesuits standing up for the faith and, just as importantly, the people of the faith in the face of secular persecution. Today, however, the Jesuits far too often find themselves associated with questioning the faith and denying Jesus and particularly his divinity. How the mighty have fallen…

Superbowl recap/thoughts

Monday, February 6th, 2006

Well another Superbowl has passed. Forty of them…

The first thing to note is that Superbowl Sunday is quickly becoming “Ken’s obligitory annual beer day”. For some reason I just don’t drink very much at all and it isn’t because of any religious aversion. When offered a beer or a soda most of the time my mouth desires a soda. In any case, I’ve made a point of ensuring a drink a beer on Superbowl Sunday just to make sure I drink a beer now and again. Kinda odd…

Along those lines, Wendy said something that every man wants to hear now and again from his wife: “Can I get you another beer?” Admittedly, she isn’t exactly given a lot of oportunities to say that, particularly the “another” part.

Also, I realized how much I miss watching the Superbowl with my Dad. Every year I’d get to hear my Dad lose his cool because someone was talking during a commercial. The best part was that he’d rewind the segment to hear it again and inevitably everyone would be quiet just long enough for him to rewind, re-watch the part he heard the first time, and then someone would say something just as he was trying to hear it the 2nd time. The resulting fracas was always fun to watch. I’ll have to make sure I watch the game with him next year.

On to this years commercials:

This year started with a pretty good batch. I particularly like the following (in order):

1. Bud’s secret fridge and the rotating wall.
2. FedEx’s pre-historic manager “that’s not my problem”
3. Bud’s running from the bear.
4. Bud’s “cleaning the gutters”
5. AmeriQuest’s “that killed him” bit (the fly by the doctor) even though I didn’t like the “Don’t judge too quickly” series as a whole.
6. CareerBuilder’s Chimps running company think sales are up because they’ve got the chart sideways.

But as the day wore on, not only did the commercials get worse, but I saw A LOT of already running ads, particularly from Carls Jr. What every happened to every ad on the superbowl being new?

Next up, the halftime show:

This just gets worse EVERY year. This year we just have a standard run of the mill Rolling Stones concert. What’s special/super about that? I mean it was fine, for a Rolling Stones concert. But who cares? If I wanted to see the Rolling Stones I’d order up whatever pay-per-view thing they’re doing right now. At least last year with Paul McCartney they had a pretty cool fireworks display synchronized to the music. That was somewhat unique. But the Rolling Stones doing they’re regular thing just isn’t special. In the end, the whole concert halftime show is the wrong way to go. I’d rather see the traditional marching bands or similar stuff. I want to see something unique even at the expense of “guaranteed” enjoyability. It doesn’t make any sense to do a rock concert. That’ll just never be special or unique. Add on the pre-game concert by Stevy Wonder and you’ve got a bad joke on your hands. Something really needs to be done about this.

Finally, the game itself:

Every Seattle fan this morning needs to shutup about the refs. It wasn’t that bad and you probably would have lost anyway. There’s actually a petition circulating this morning asking for the NFL to add “reviews” to penalties.

Listen people, that’s THE ABSOLUTE LAST thing that the NFL needs. I already don’t like the reviews and you can’t have reviews of judgement calls by the refs. See, the underlying problem is that every play has 10 fouls if you go just by the rule book. By the letter of the law tons of rules get broken. The refs therefore reasonably have to make judgement calls as to what was a big enough infraction to justify calling the penalty. Often times they are using their knowledge of the minor infractions that weren’t called before that to decide whether to call a penalty now. So, in the case of the offensive pass interference call that overturned a touchdown (which admittedly was the most objectional call) for all we know he’d been pushing off the defender all day and that was the straw that broke the camels back. But that doesn’t change the fact that the player did indeed break a rule even though he didn’t break the “spirit” of the rule.

I also think the replay of the TD was handled correctly. There wasn’t enough evidence to OVERTURN the call. People forget that the ref’s job is not to determine what was most likely the case but to determine if there is solid evidence that the call on the field was wrong. This didn’t exist for two reasons:

1. the ball was hidden behind the QB’s arm
2. the camera that had the best angle wasn’t on the line but in the endzone (I’d say 4-5 yards deep) and that slight angle change is more significant than you think in making the location of the line difficult to judge.

Which brings me to an on-going complaint I have about football TV coverage (both college and pro). Why is it that the sideline cameral is always out of position? Seriously, on a play like that the camera should be RIGHT ON the endzone line! Why is it always slightly off. At least if it had been right on the line of scrimage (another thing they frequenly fail to properly place it on) they’d have an excuse, but no, it’s 4 yards deep in the endzone. And this is the case just about EVERY time. They NEVER put it right on the line even when it is clear that they set it up for the line shot. Just ridiculous.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend!

Today is national signing day in college football

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

For those not in the know, today is the first day that future students of colleges can sign commitment letters to attend those schools with the intent of playing football. That doesn’t sound like a big deal at first, but it turns out it is a VERY big deal. Coaches have been traveling all over the country for the last 3 months courting the best high school football players. Up until now, none of them have been able to sign on the dotted line so other coaches come in a try to sway those who intend to go to one school or another. Today is the day that the coaches get the majority of their recruits to sign on the dotted line.

Click here for a list of the Cal recruits who have signed as of today.

In general, it seems like a pretty good lot, ranked by most as the 4th best in the Pac-10 (USC, Arizona, UCLA in that order being better). However, the QB, Kevin Riley is supposed to be incredible and there are THREE highly touted running backs: R.J. Garrett, James Montgomery and Tracy Slocum. This is an indication that Cal is getting a reputation with running backs as being one of the premiere running schools on the west coast, and why wouldn’t it with all the talent that has gone through here in the last few years. Also of note are two junior college transfers who will be immediate help on the depleated offensive line.

Things continue to look up in Berkeley…