Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Luddite

Recently my father-in-law’s old push mower broke. Mel is not very technologically inclined so he was facing a serious dilemma. A retired university professor of agriculture, he preferred to work more with his brains than with his hands. Though this was not always the case for during his young adulthood during WWII Mel was a mechanic – not just any type of mechanic; he was an AIRCRAFT ENGINE mechanic.

Mel was a farm boy raised in the deserts of Utah. He and his brothers shared a tent outside the main house which served as their bedroom. His parents worked the farm to feed the family.

My experience with the farmer-types I have known is that they always seemed to be to be quite ingenious and inventive characters. Likely having to work with a lot of equipment and implements, often isolated far away from civilization, their survival skills required the ability to fix things when they occasionally broke. Ingenuity is perhaps the real mother of survival.

So the farm boy, having graduated from high school when the war broke out and with no job, enrolled in the Consolidated Aircraft manufacturing school in San Diego. Mel was trained to work on one of the most complex mechanical devices ever engineered: the piston aircraft engine. At the height of the war, toolbox in hand, the scrawny teenager was sent to the South Pacific where he executed some of the most remarkable repairs under the most abominable conditions imaginable. He later wrote a book about his experiences. "Contract Military Air Transport From the Ground Up"

When the war was over Mel went to college on the GI Bill and started pursuing an entirely new career in academia, specifically agriculture. With this change in focus, oddly it almost seems as though he resolved purge his brain of the ability to hold a screwdriver.

So there Mel, the retired professor and I stood on his front porch contemplating how to deal with the broken push lawnmower. He was pondering where we might drop it off to have it repaired.

“How old is that lawn mower?” I asked him.

“It was given to me, used, in 1952”, Mel replied in his methodical drawl.

It was damn clear to me that purchasing a new replacement for the almost 60 year old lawn mower was not this man’s radar. Over the years I had learned first hand what Mel’s idea of maintenance consisted of – the strategy for dealing with a leak under the kitchen sink, for example, was to place a pan under the drip. When the leak got worse; that just meant he needed a larger pan. As I contemplated some strategy to entice Mel to consider purchasing a new mower, my gaze was drawn to the porch where the pole pruner was temporarily holding up the rain gutter. One thing for sure, I was going to have to keep my expectations low – I possibly could convince him to buy a new “push” mower; but no way in hell was he going to buy a power mower.

Now I wouldn’t go so far as to label Mel a Luddite, but he is glacially slow to adopt modern technology. When he retired from the university he lost availability of secretarial support. So for him to be able to publish his book of his WWII experiences he accepted that he was going to need to learn how to use a computer. But with the completion of that book, he abandoned any further need for word processing. Today he still writes letters or memoirs entirely in long hand.

Last year when analog Television broadcasting was to be phased out, replaced exclusively with digital broadcasting, I bought Mel a digital TV converter and wired it up to his rusted TV antenna. This too became an exercise in futility. As expected, on the morning of June 13, 2009 when all analog broadcasting ceased nation-wide, he telephoned me and asked me if I could come over and “fix” his television.

Mel will never own a cell phone, electric hedge clippers or an automatic coffee maker. He doesn’t do e-mail and he doesn’t throw anything away that won’t attract flies. This is likely a mind set quite common among the folks who were raised during the Great Depression. They’re used to getting by without, with making do with what you have. They used tin cans for drinking cups and bath water boiled hot on the wood stove; they literally held their lives together with bailing wire and twine.

We went to Home Depot and I helped Mel pick purchase one push mower they had in stock in the entire store. I wondered if the Home Depot people might have even been holding it especially with him in mind. Mel has already grown attached to the “new” mower. And the old mower; well it will sit there rusting on the side of the house. After all, it just needs to be fixed and it will be a perfectly usable mower.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Fictional Bible

Photo credit: Left - The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John. Date: 2nd Century CE.

When I was moderating our local “Ask an Atheist” forum recently, one or two of the religious attendees in the audience attempted to underscore their opinions through quotations from the Bible. Many people believe that quotations from their "holy book" represent the definitive authority for their belief. I don’t - I dismiss all these references as the opinions of man, not god.

But to many, the Bible is the inerrant and perfect word of god, to be taken as literally true. Other believers consider the Bible to be more of a manuscript from which interpretative references can be derived to support their vision of “truth”. Or more succinctly, to some Genesis means the world was created literally in six 24-hour days. To others Genesis refers to a more metaphorical creation period – a day being “millions of years” perhaps. The controversy that arises between these two interpretations, however, is that both can’t be right.

As I have studied more about the origins of the Bible it has become extremely clear to me that this is a book of mythology concocted entirely by man. I checked out a couple of books from my local library written by historical scholars regarding the origins of the original text of the Bible. I must admit, they were a little too advanced for my level of academic training.

However I bought an excellent book written for the lay person by a “textual critic”. Titled “Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” by Bart D. Ehrman, this book clearly lays out how collected manuscripts evolved into the many versions of the Bible that exist today. More specifically through having been copied countless times (by hand) over the centuries, both accidental and intentional changes have radically altered this book that so many wrongly believe is the timeless and inerrant word of god.

If you ask most Christians today who they believe wrote the Bible, they might answer “god”; yet the most honest answer would be "I don't know". For a good portion of my life I had, as well, been under the mistaken assumption that the first books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had been written by those apostles. In actuality, biblical scholars really do not know who the true authors of these texts are.

Actually, the little fragment of Bible pictured above, and most all the known remnants of the early manuscripts, were written in Greek. Yet the principle language of people of ancient Jerusalem during that time was instead Aramaic. In either case, it is most likely that the apostles, allegedly recruited from common laborers, could neither read nor write. Public schools are a very recent modern concept.

One must appreciate that during this time in history, writing and reading was the Information Technology (IT) of its day. Often only the educated slaves or men of substantial wealth and power were literate; keeping tight control over the dissemination of information. The ability to write in Greek was a highly sought after skill of the day. Knowledge was power and those who wielded power were very cautious about into whose hands this technology was entrusted.

The earliest known writings concerning Jesus were the Letters of Paul, dating to approximately 37-40 AD. These epistles focus mainly on the crucifixion and resurrection stories but mention very little of the other familiar legends (virgin birth, magi, miracles, etc.) that later were incorporated into the first four books of the New Testament.

"Textual Critics” such as Bart Ehrman meticulously compare all the known surviving documents to determine if they can trace back, as closely as possible, to the oldest (and therefore supposedly most accurate) versions of the New Testament. They are Biblical CSI scientists. In comparing the accuracy of copies over time, subsequent documents reveal changes, some subtle, others significant, which sometimes completely changed the interpretation of the scripture.

Ehrman’s book is particularly interesting in view of his personal story of how he became a Biblical scholar. As a young man in college, Ehrman became a devout Evangelical Christian. He (as have other Biblical scholars) lost his belief when his study of the texts revealed how men promoting specific self interests have “corrected”, fudged or outright fabricated passages in the Bible that many today ignorantly hold to be the infallible word of god.

Some New Testament passages were added centuries later. For example, one of the more notable stories from the Bible, Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) does not appear in any of the earlier versions until the 4th century. The motivations for someone to concoct tales about the life of Jesus remain can only be speculated.

Christians cite the testimony in the Bible as “evidence” of the divinity of Christ. However it must be noted that none of these testaments is written in the first-person. Mark doesn’t say, for example “… I went to the tomb and saw personally that the stone was rolled away”. The testament reports what someone says that someone told them what they claim to have witnessed. In today’s legal terms, such testimony would be considered hearsay which would be completely inadmissible in a court of law.

Conversely, Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith’s account supposedly is first-person testimony. Smith declares that the angel Maroni appeared in his bedroom, telling him directly where he could view and transcribe the golden plates (written directly by god) which form the content of the Book of Mormon. Is Smith’s testimony more reputable than that of the unknown authors of the Bible? Does that make the Book of Mormon more credible than the Bible? Followers of Mormonism might argue yes.

But if you don’t believe the Book of Mormon is the true word of god, there is even less basis for the divine origins of the Bible. To believe incredible tales which were not committed to writing until decades after their supposed happening about events that defy reason and logic, and most importantly, have been revised and altered over the past 20 centuries, requires a monumental leap of faith.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Which Gulf disaster is worse?

Seven American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Monday but hardly anyone noticed. Far more concern is being expressed for the wildlife threatened by the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico than for the G.I.’s being blown up in the wilds of Afghanistan. ~ "The Courage to Leave" by New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Bob Herbert. Read the full article here.

I notice - I notice every night when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are NOT mentioned in the evening news. These two Gulf Wars are the longest running wars in American history. They have, and continue to, cost us trillions of dollars; money we are borrowing from foreign governments. The cost in human lives is unacceptable and the cost of caring for our war wounded will haunt us both financially and ethically for generations.

This week Gen. Stanley McChrystal submitted his resignation to the President after making comments in Rolling Stone magazine deriding his Commander in Chief. Yet even this leadership shakeup in command will not likely change the strategy in Afghanistan - a strategy which shows no sign of ending any time during my lifetime.

The military of most nations throughout history has held civilian control over them in contempt. But if history has taught us ANYTHING, it is that civilian oversight and control over the military is essential to a truly free society. Any government failing to exert such control over their military faces a future idealized by the likes of Gen. Jack Ripper who would presume to save us from our folly.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Call of Nature

Whenever we go out to dinner, invariably at some point I am going to need to use the restroom. Restaurants occasionally like to be “cute” in their d├ęcor and so will try to come up with (what they think are) clever names designating the gender between the men’s and women’s bathrooms.

A local restaurant (now out of business) called The Fox and Firkin identified their men’s and woman’s rooms using the unimaginative titles “Foxes” versus “Firkins” on each bathroom door. Now most people pretty much know what a fox is; it turns out that a “firkin” is:
  1. a British unit of capacity usually equal to a quarter of a barrel.
  2. a small wooden vessel or tub for butter, lard, etc.
So there I was standing before two doors, glancing back and forth trying to decide which was the men’s room. I knew that among foxes, the male is called a “reynard” and the female a “vixen”. However in popular American culture we often refer to attractive young women as “foxes”; so that could be the women's room... Ah but much to my relief, the voice of the bartender said in a tiresome tone belying he probably has had to say it a lot: “You’re a firkin”.

So yet again this past week, after downing a pint of luscious ale at a coastal brew pub, came the need for me to make room for more ale. I followed the directional signs to the restrooms only to be faced again with yet another clever restaurateur puzzle: two doors, one labeled “Hops” the other “Barley”. I’m now completely stumped; not in my wildest imagination am I able to assign gender to beer ingredients. Glancing over my shoulder least I be observed, I nudged the “Hops” door open just enough to peek inside. Within view were the reassuring fixtures of urinals.

When I got back to the table, Nancy then had to go; I decided to allow her the pleasure of solving the puzzle all by herself. When she returned I asked her which did she use, “Hops” or “Barley”?

“Neither”, she said. “I used the generic handicapped restroom”.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Delusion is Dangerous

Recently a reader left a comment on one of my earlier posts regarding their belief in “The Secret”. I had already planned on addressing my thoughts on this baloney in an upcoming post, however I chanced upon video of a talk by acclaimed journalist, author and political activist, Barbara Ehrenreich where she explores the darker side of positive thinking.

The clip below was produced by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) in London. Not some recent New Age think spa, the RSA “has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress for over 250 years.” Among its members have been the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, Adam Smith, William Hogarth and Charles Dickens.

In any event, rather than attempt to tackle this subject myself, I will instead let this EXCELLENT video speak for itself. I encourage you to invest 10 minutes of uninterrupted time, if you can. As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Nancy

This is Nancy. Today, June 16th, is her Birthday. I won’t divulge her age but most people who guess are surprised to find out she is older than she looks.

Aside from my trying to convince her how utterly brilliant I am at Jeopardy during evening cocktails, Nancy truly is the smartest person I know. There are few decisions beyond “light or dark beer” that I make without consulting her first. She has the uncanny ability to see that which I overlook; rooting out the dust bunnies accumulated in the crevices of my brain. She keeps my “feet on the ground” and my “nose to the grindstone”. She’s the last person I talk to before I sleep and the first one I see in the morning. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, some mornings she even brings me coffee.

Nancy can’t sing or play an instrument; she’s not athletic and she’s nervous around most animals. But in the stuff that matters she’s got a lot of Chutzpah. Nancy is not above encouraging our taking “calculated risks” to move us forward together.

Nancy worked for many years as a Social Service Worker with Child Protective Services. On more than one occasion police officers have told her they couldn’t do her job.

There have been people who have not always treated her well. Yet in the 25 years I have known her, I have never heard her use a hateful word against another person. I have never known her to lie and never has she EVER intentionally hurt another person.

Nancy believes that it’s not enough to simply treat others the way you would wish to be treated – one needs to help other people whenever and where ever one can. If you were to look up the definition of Integrity in the dictionary, her picture would be right next to it.

I’m the lucky guy she chose to be her partner. Sure, she isn’t perfect, but she’s pretty damn close... and my life is a whole lot richer for being part of hers.

Happy Birthday Nancy... and many more.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Not for the Faint of Heart

Thanks to fellow blogger Jerry whose recent post reawakened one of my deepest fears and dredging up the following memory.

Few things used to strike fear into the darkest depths of my soul than a trip to the dentist. I confess that I have fainted only twice in my life, both times I was in a dentist chair.

The first time was when I was a kid. I was trying to be a brave little boy; to psych myself through the ordeal I recall I was imagining myself as an astronaut. Brave and confident, the countdown commenced when the doctor walked into the room. But soon the g-forces caused me to pass out. I woke up tilted backward in the dental chair, my feet above my head.

The second experience was as a married adult. I needed a single wisdom tooth pulled. Even though I knew my insurance wouldn’t pay for it, I requested (demanded) general anesthetic which I was more than eager to spring for. As they started a drip IV in my arm, I recall the translucent window across from me began to blur then undulate, then...

The next thing I noticed was the dentist's assistant patting my hand saying, “Robert…Robert… wake up”! With a great sigh of relief I said, “Great, I’m soooo glad that’s over with”. “No, I’m afraid we haven’t even started yet… you just fainted”, She said.

So in some great leap of contradiction, during junior college, I found myself taking the college entrance examinations at the University of California Dental School. How I got there is a long story in itself involving an overbearing mother and a dearth of self identity… best saved for another post. Suffice it to say; there I was, supposedly poised on my first step to becoming a dentist. I certainly had the manual dexterity skills, I was very adept at making things. But beyond that, I had absolutely no business whatsoever even considering a career doing to people that which I was in mortal terror of having done to me.

The examinations took all day. I had brought a lunch, so after the first half of the exams I retreated to my car to eat. As I munched my bologna sandwich, I contemplated the absurdity of path I was supposedly going – I finished my sandwich then started the car and drove home without completing the remaining half of the exams. When my mother asked how my dental school application was going I told her I wasn’t accepted because they were “full”.

Now I am sure, at this point, you have questions so I will preemptively address your concerns: Yes, I do regularly go to the dentist every six months. I have adopted this behavior pattern, not from any admirable sense of self-discipline, but rather out of fear, as a survival mechanism – my rationale’ being that if I go in for regular maintenance, I will less likely be facing the specter of major “repairs” in the future.

Alas, my best efforts not withstanding, my dentist has occasionally found the need to repair one of my old fillings or build a crown. I routinely remind him that my tooth nerves are so sensitive that they can actually detect his presence when he walks into the room. I therefore request sufficient Novocain injections that cause me to limp when I walk out of the office.

My dentist really is great; I love the guy. Unfortunately he doesn’t do Nitrous Oxide so I’ve never had the experience. I know there are dentists in town who do use the gas, but I can’t bear to hurt my dentist’s feelings by taking my sissy teeth somewhere else. Really, he has never hurt me and that holds a lot of significance for me.

Still, having taken up skydiving in my mid 40’s, when asked which I would prefer, jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet or going to the dentist… yup, the skydive every time!

A few years back my cousin’s husband (a dentist) stayed with me while he was taking some dental school continuing education requirements at Oregon Health Sciences Dental School in Portland. One evening he and I went to the Laundromat to do our clothes. He was studying one of his textbooks for an upcoming test while I was reading a magazine. Being the curious and scientific sort that I am, as we sat together on the clothes folding table, I asked him what specifically he was studying.

“Extractions”, he said. And he proceeded to explain how sometimes during an extraction, the root breaks off and you have to chip away the jaw to dig it out. “Here, let me show you.” Then he raised the book up, turning the open page toward me so I could see the photographs accompanying the explanation.

“Interesting”, I replied… Then the room started to slowly undulate; I closed my eyes and lay back down on the table. “Really really interesting...”, I mumbled.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I was just thinking about you...

So there you are involved in some innocuous mundane task, when suddenly thoughts about a friend or relative you haven’t thought about in a long time leap into your mind. Shortly thereafter, surprisingly, that person contacts you.

Or perhaps, for no apparent reason, you experience ominous or uneasy thoughts about someone, a distant family member perhaps; you get this strange feeling of foreboding or danger. Out of concern, you call this person only to confirm your worst fears that that indeed something terrible has happened to them.

These experiences are remarkably common; most people can recall experiencing similar events or likely know someone else who has. So what’s going on here; is this evidence of some sort of telepathy or ESP?

The first thing to bear in mind is that experiences such as these are often memorable. In fact, one of the primary reasons we attach such significance to them is because they ARE memorable; we have judged them worthy of retaining.

The human brain has evolved to be extremely adept at detecting patterns and attempting to establish relationships between observed causes and effects. The end product of this process results in our capacity for formulating assumptions. From these assumptions we are able to make projections regarding the potential consequences about acting on what we perceive.

Take for example, ancient man coming to a conclusion he could be in danger simply in response to hearing rustle, or catching a glimpse of movement, behind a nearby bush – is that a bear about to attack him or just the wind? Our ability to make connections, draw conclusions and even project potential outcomes, can carry strong implications regarding our survival.

Establishing connections between cause and effect is not only vital for human survival; it was also an essential early strategy that, over time, drove the progression of our species’ toward a better understanding of the world around us. Today we draw on these cognitive skills in creating successful strategies for living; be it to live in financial comfort in our old age or assuring ourselves that our consciousness might continue to exist forever beyond our death. You see, as carefully as we may believe we apply our cognitive skills, they still have the potential of coming to quite different, and incorrect, conclusions.

There are several major functions that our brains must process in order for us to posess sufficient understanding of the reality in which we must exist. One issue is dealing with the tremendous volume of data that is processed by our brains (even while we are asleep). Second, the brain is tasked with evaluating the validity or accuracy of the information it draws in. As the old computer adage warns – “Garbage in, garbage out”. Third, our brains need the ability to sort out between what information potentially carries significance and therefore worth retention versus that which is irrelevant, inconsequential and not worth retaining. Most importantly a significant proportion of these decisions and deliberations are accomplished below the conscious level, automatically and without our knowledge.

We know that the brain can be fooled. Optical illusions can cause objects to appear as our cognitive mind believes they “should” appear, even though they may exist quite differently in actuality. Magic tricks can deceive the brain into thinking actions have happened that defy our understanding of what we know the laws of physics tell us is possible. Seeing is not necessarily, believing.

So what about these apparently telepathic experiences, what do they mean? Let's take a closer look at what is going on here.

Think about your last trip to the grocery store; you operated a motor vehicle through traffic without needing to look at your hands and feet in doing so. You negotiated obstacles, calculated the speed, direction and location of other vehicles, obeyed traffic laws, negotiated intersections and took in countless pieces of information about environmental conditions, all the while thinking about work, friends, family, American Idol – maybe you even talked on your cell while driving.

Now home from the store, how much of that trip did you remember? How many cars passed you, how many red lights, pedestrians, dogs… your brain processed thousands of actions and thoughts during an uneventful trip. Most of what we experience we don’t remember. That is quite normal; if we recalled every fact of every moment, we simply couldn’t function.

But suppose instead you had witnessed an accident on your outing. You are likely going to remember it because it has significance – you will have likely felt a emotional impact from the experience, relief that it didn’t happen to you, thoughts of how you probably should be more diligent in the future regarding your own safety. The incident is stored in your brain as worth remembering.

But what your brain seldom does is store the insignificant, the inconsequential, the unremarkable. The countless times you thought about an old friend or felt concern or worry about a relative, these thoughts pass through your brain constantly. The key concept here is: If nothing further attaches any significance to those thoughts they are quickly forgotten.

But because our brains are wonderfully adept at detecting and establish patterns, we invariably place significance for the experiences that appear to us to be “hits”. When we give weight to the "hits", but dismiss the "misses", biases can cause us to paint a statistically incorrect picture about how we think the world works.

Yet again recently I decided that I hadn’t heard from my daughter Kara in a while nor had her her blog been updated for some time. Normal Dad that I am, I began worrying that some unpleasantness had befallen her. My call to her went to voicemail, further raising my concern. But a short while later Kara called; she had just been out with friends and was doing fine. Based on that "non-incident" I chocked-up yet another mark in the “miss” column on my Psi chart.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Awwwwww

Normally I don't do "adorable" in my blogging as already a number of you are much better at that than I am. Follower "Secret Agent" has posted several nicely composed photos of nature around her home and "Penny" as well... particularly some bird photos that had my wife (an avid birder) quite excited.

Two days ago, as Nancy and I shared our morning coffee in bed, I glanced out to our small pond and discovered that a group of tiny ducklings had moved in and were gleefully swimming to and fro. We have a Japanese garden in our back yard with a small Koi pond. Nancy grabbed her digital and film cameras and stealthfully crawled out over the lawn like a sniper through the undergrowth (lawn) to snap some photos.

She captured the following picture on the digital camera; more are still in the film camera awaiting development. That camera has a much better telephoto lens so we are expecting some great shots.

Shortly the doorbell rang; a concerned neighbor had come by asking if we had seen where the ducklings had waddled off to. We showed him that they were safely in our pond, for the time being. Apparently mom and kids had wandered into a neighbors yard where dogs had killed one of the ducklings and separated mom from the remainder. They had escaped the yard with the dog and wandered down the street, ambling into our yard and discovering our small pond.

The ducklings were peeping while, off in the distance, we could hear mom calling to the babies. She was circling the neighborhood trying to locate her lost brood. After a bit of quacking-peeping back and forth, mom triangulated their location and joined them in the pond.

Here they swam for a while until mom quacked them all into a row then led them off under the fence to some new location. I was a bit disappointed, kind-of hoping they would make my pond their permanent home. But apparently Mrs. Mallard had other plans.

More pictures of our backyard garden and pond can be viewed here. (No ducks though)
True Lies Contest Participants
Some of you have yet to e-mail a preferred mailing address to me to receive complimentary copies of my documentary, "Andrus" as consolation for entering my lame contest. I will be mailing out DVDs the middle of this week to the first 10 contest participants who so request, to sales@skepticalmedia.com - be assured your information is safe; I don't scam, spam or telemarket (except in Nigeria).

You can view a trailer from"Andrus" at: www.skepticalmedia.com/trailer.html

Friday, June 4, 2010

True Lies - The Answers

Ok everyone, put down your pencils and pass your answer sheets to the front.

1. My first job out of college was as a “Repo Man” - I repossessed cars from people who were behind on their payments.
TRUE – I worked for a major Northwest bank in various management positions for twelve years, however, my entry-level position during my first two years, was that of Outside Collector which required me to bring delinquent auto loans current or repossess the collateral. As far as I know, I still hold the record for stealing the most cars (5) in a single night. To this day it remains the most fun I ever had at a job.


3. I asked my current wife to marry me after we had known each other only ten days. TRUE – My wife had been divorced for ten years and I for two years when we met. I proposed to her while she was driving her Volkswagen Bug with her two kids sleeping in the back seat. The second the words literally fell out of my mouth I thought “You Dumb Ass… You can kiss this one good-bye!!!”. But instead, it took her less than three seconds to accept.

This September, we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

4. I am so frightened of the dentist that I skipped out in the middle of taking a dental school entrance exam. TRUE – An over-bearing mother charted what she had determined was the acceptable career path for her son; which was either as doctor or a dentist. I was just a year out (sort-a) on my own in junior college experiencing my first taste of freedom.

In the midst of taking that exam, I realized two things: 1. My mother had planned out my entire life including who she was expecting me to marry, and 2. I would NEVER be capable of doing something to another person that I was terrified of being done to me. It was INSANE to think that I could be a dentist. During the lunch recess in the middle of the exam, I got into my car and drove away.

5. I am terrified of heights.
TRUE – I am very uncomfortable being up in tall buildings and am even nervous driving over high bridges. I worked in the 10th story of a downtown Portland building and was perfectly happy to have my desk situated in the middle of the room away from the windows.

However, my fear of heights did not stop me from taking up skydiving in my mid 40’s. I had my own parachute and jumped every weekend for over two years before deciding that I had proven to myself that I would not allow FEAR to prevent my pursuing opportunity.

(And just in case you were wondering… I do visit my dentist regularly every six months.)

6. I have never smoked “Marijuana”. TRUE – As an infant my family lived a couple of blocks from San Francisco’s Height-Ashbury district; I attended high school and college during the Golden Age of the Hippie Movement and I had lots of buddies who did drugs. Though, as unusual as it may be for someone growing up during Sex-Drugs-and-Rock & Roll generation, I still never could rationalize to myself the idea of putting anything into my body that was marketed by outlaws. Still don’t.

7. I once threw a dart, missing the bulls-eye, which instead stuck into my cousin’s skull. TRUE – Under the category of stupid kid tricks, my two cousins and I were playing “William Tell” and we stood my younger cousin up against the wall directly under the dart board. The first dart I threw fell short, sticking firmly into the top of the younger cousin’s head. He pulled it out and threw it back at us. However, we bribed him with candy to not tell our parents. The bribe took and we got the point.

2. I contracted Polio in the 1950’s and spent some time in the dreaded Iron Lung
LIE – One of my greatest fears growing up as a little kid was seeing pictures of people confined to an Iron Lung. I worried about it obsessively, wondering how they went to the bathroom or scratched their nose if it itched. Though I never knew of anyone personally who had been confined to an Iron Lung, I was still terrified that somehow I would end up in one.

But I lived during a very fortunate era; As a result of a national effort to completely eradicate Polio in our lifetime, our whole town turned out to be administered the Salk vaccine, (some pink stuff squirted onto a sugar cube – imagine that, no needles!).

Nobody correctly determined which statement was the lie, so I am instead awarding consolation prizes -
My strategy in conjuring up these contest questions was that I figured six of the questions could appear to contain some atypical or unusual criteria making them remarkable to some degree – whereas contracting polio in the 1950’s (my assumption) would have been entirely possible, therefore "unremarkable", thereby judged a lie.

However, the Distinguished Panel of Contest Judges (my Wife) has determined that my rationale was significantly flawed in that, unless one knew me or I had previously blogged about the subject, the only real way anyone would correctly select the false statement would be by random guess. To emphasize her point, she challenged me to identify anyone I had actually known who had ever had polio as a child, least of all confined to an iron lung. I couldn't.

Therefore, She (I mean, the judges) has decided that my contest was bogus and has ruled that I should at least award prizes to some of you who participated in the exercise.

So, I will send DVD's to the first 10 contestants who e-mail me with their preferred postal mailing address to sales@skepticalmedia.com by the end of the weekend. I will put them in the mail next week. I ship First Class mail and International First Class.

Thanks to everyone who participated, you were all great sports. Have a great weekend ~ I'm planning more mayhem for next week.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

True Lies

I thought I would initiate the month of June on a bit of an upbeat note. I lifted this idea from fellow blogger Mary Whitsell from her excellent blog, Resident Alien where she had readers guess which one of her statements was a lie.

Below are six true statements and one false statement about me. The first 10 readers who correctly deduce the one lie below, will receive a free DVD of my documentary: Andrus, the Man, the Mind & the Magic. (And yes, I do ship international).

Incidentally, Jerry Andrus prided himself on never telling lies (though he recounts in the film about the one he admits he told during his life).

The contest will end June 4th at midnight when the answers and the winning commenter(s) will be revealed.

(Contest rules: One guess per commenter though you can delete
and change your guess at any time before the contest ends.
Void in locations where your name is Kara)

Ready… set… go!

1. My first job out of college was as a “Repo Man” - I repossessed cars from people who were behind on their payments.

2. I contracted Polio in the 1950’s and spent some time in the dreaded Iron Lung.

3. I asked my current wife to marry me after we had known each other only ten days.

4. I am so frightened of the dentist that I skipped out in the middle of taking a dental school entrance exam.

5. I am terrified of heights.

6. I have never smoked “Marijuana”.

7. I once threw a dart, missing the bulls-eye, which instead stuck into my cousin’s skull.
Good luck!!