Polite chit-chat

Because you're not supposed to talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. I assume medical emergencies are taboo too.

The Connecticut School Shooting

While my newsfeed, and everybody else’s, is filling up with posts about the horror in Connecticut today, I want to add this thought.

Today and in the coming days, a lot of people (on Facebook and elsewhere) are going to be discussing the political and legal implications of a tragic school shooting - just as they did after Aurora, after Gabby Giffords, after Virginia Tech. Why do these things keep happening, and most importantly how can we stop them from happening?

Some people call this “politicizing” a tragedy. I don’t agree with that. Problems call out for solutions. And as far as problems go, kids getting shot at school is just about as bad as they come. So I don’t consider the passionate search for a solution to be inappropriately political in any way.

That being said, here’s something that I always try to keep in mind and that I hope we all can keep in mind. While we may very strongly disagree on what the most effective solution may be, we are all generally in agreement that the shootings of innocent victims need to stop.

People who say that this tragedy shows why we need to ban guns are, for the most part, saying that because they believe that banning guns would prevent such tragedies from happening in the first place.

People who say that this tragedy shows why we need to allow more concealed weapons are likewise, for the most part, saying that because they believe that allowing more concealed weapons would prevent such tragedies from happening in the first place.

Both groups, and everyone in between, are for the most part motivated by a shared underlying hatred and horror of gun violence.

So let’s have a conversation about how we can best stop these tragedies from happening, and while we’re doing that let’s try to remember that we’re all in this together.

Voting Guide

Just got my absentee ballot in the mail, and if anyone’s interested in cancelling out my vote, here’s my guide to what’s on the ballot and how I’m voting.

President: For the first time in my life, I was genuinely undecided in this election. I think Obama and Romney are both good guys with good leadership qualities. I agree with Romney a bit more on the issues but I think Obama’s done a passable job as commander in chief. That being said, I’m about 80% sure I’m voting my conscience on the issues and voting for Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate. I’ll explain this more some other time.

Senator: Without knowing a great deal about Elizabeth Emken, I would like to see a Republican Senate, particular if Obama gets re-elected, so I’m voting for her.

U.S. Representative: Fun fact about Congress: most people disapprove of Congress as a whole, yet think their Congressperson is great. Talk about being deceived, eh? Well, unlike most people, my Congressman actually is great. Ed Royce is one of the best out there.

Prop 30: This proposition would raise income and sales taxes to fund schools. To paraphrase President Obama, I’m not opposed to all tax increases, only dumb ones. California is already very heavily taxed, which is businesses are fleeing to more friendly states and taking their taxes with them. And, CA schools have lots of problems, but more money isn’t going to solve that. No.

Prop 31: Changes it so the state budget is set on a two-year basis, rather than a one-year basis. If anyone knows of any compelling arguments either way on this one, please share. I’m going to vote No unless I hear otherwise.

Prop 32: Makes it so that unions and corporations can’t deduct money from employee paychecks and then use that money for political purposes. To be honest, I don’t think corporations really do that, so it seems to me like this is just aimed at unions, while the corporations bit is in there just to make it seem more even-handed. But, that said, unions have had a deleterious effect on California’s political process lately, and at any rate if I were in a union I’d want my money going to the union, not to some political candidate I may disagree with. No.

Prop 33: As far as I can tell, this will make car insurance cheaper for some people. Sounds good. Yes.

Prop 34: Repeals the death penalty in California. Look, there are major problems with the way the death penalty is applied, but I think once those are fixed there is still a place for it. No.

Prop 35: Increases penalties for perpetrators of human trafficking. Yes. Definitely.

Prop 36: Modifies the “Three Strikes” law (where people convicted of three felonies go to jail for life) so that the third conviction must be violent/serious in order for the person to be sent to jail for life. Yes.

Prop 37: Requires genetically engineered foods to be labelled as such. I don’t really care about this, but, some people do, and I don’t see any reason to oppose it, so I’m voting Yes.

Prop 38: Raises income tax to pay for education and debt reduction. This one’s a little more tempting since it does go to debt reduction, but I still don’t think now is the right time to raise taxes - and if we do, all revenues need to go to close the deficit. No.

Prop 39: Levies taxes on multi-state businesses with sales in California. Sounds like a great way of driving businesses away from California. No.

Prop 40: Approves the new State Senate districts that were drawn. Yes.

Fullerton stuff: Yes on W (develop homes while preserving open space in Coyote Hills) and Yes on X (legal fireworks yeeee!).

Election 2012

With a month and a half to go to the 2012 U.S. presidential election, depending on which news channels you’re watching (or not), you probably either think Mitt Romney is a foreign policy know-nothing who doesn’t care about half the country or Barack Obama is a an America-hating socialist.

Call me crazy, but I suspect both of those are slightly over-exaggerated.

Well, the truth is that for me, for the first time in my voting life, I’m genuinely unsure of whom I’m going to vote for in November. So I thought maybe we could all figure this out together.

First off, I’d like to recommend the quiz found here. It’s a useful little selector, asking you your views on a number of different political questions and then telling you which candidate agrees with you the most. There’s more to choosing whom to vote for than just their views on the issues, but it’s a good start. Check it out.

My results? Johnson tops with 70%, then Romney with 55%, and Obama with 54%.

Libya

I posted a link a couple days ago, but I think I might need to explain exactly what I meant by it.

You may have heard of the tragedy that occurred in Libya last Tuesday. During an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were brutally murdered.

As a little background, Libya went through a civil war last year, in which rebels based out of Benghazi managed to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi, a generally unpleasant guy who had been ruling Libya for decades. Early on in the war, the rebels were losing, and losing badly, and Gaddafi was promising to massacre a whole lot of innocent people in Benghazi when his troops arrived. Thanks to a timely intervention by the U.S. and others, Benghazi was saved and the rebels won.

So I’ll admit that when I heard that Ambassador Stevens - a man who’d dedicated years to helping Libyan-American relations - had been murdered in Benghazi - a city that had been saved from annihilation by the U.S. - my first thought was something bitter and cynical along the lines of “well, that’s gratitude for you.”

And of course, many others were calling for some kind of response, and just in case anyone’s idea of a response was to do something unpleasant to Libya in return, it’s important for them, as it was for me, to see the pics I linked to the other day.

(Others can be seen here.)

These are the Libyans. They’re against terrorism, too. They want to peacefully live their lives and live out their religious faith, too. They don’t like being lumped in with thugs and killers.

And beyond those simple, basic, factual things - isn’t there something beautifully touching in that sign that says “Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans”? They’re mourning, too. Just as Americans are mourning an American diplomat, the Libyans are mourning an American friend.

Just a good reminder during a difficult time for America - and for Libya, too.

Stop Child Sex Trafficking

Last summer, as some of you know, I visited Cambodia and spent two weeks working with organizations that are working to combat child sex trafficking.

One of those organizations, Agape International Missions, is doing a fundraising drive. Their goal is to raise $200,000, which sounds like a lot, but if only 2,000 people donate $100, they will reach the goal.

The money will go towards running a place called Agape Restoration Center (ARC). ARC is a shelter where the rescued victims of trafficking can recover from their abuse, receive counseling and vocational training, and finally be treated with the dignity and value that all human beings deserve. I’ve been to ARC. We threw a party for the girls there, with a massive cake and an even massiver water balloon fight. I taught a 16 year old former sex slave how to play guitar. ARC is a wonderful place, and well-deserving of your support.

A video about the fundraising drive, and more information about Agape, can be found here. Please check it out, and consider supporting it. Hit me up if you’d like to hear more about Cambodia, Agape, or anything else related to the fight against human trafficking!

The President Evolves

I’ve gotten two emails and a text message from President Obama’s campaign since yesterday; for those of you who aren’t on the mailing list, you still may have heard that the president came out (no pun intended) yesterday in support of gay marriage.

In response, some of my conservative friends are saying this was a cynical pander, and some of my liberal friends are saying that this will help him win the election. I disagree with both.

So why did he do this, particularly now, and what does this mean for him politically, with an election this fall?

First, the president came out and said he supports gay marriage because, it seems, he always has. He did so openly back in the mid-90s; then, when his political ambitions went national, he changed his publicly-stated stance on the issue. Given the way he talked about all gay-related political issues apart from marriage, though, and given the fact that at the time it would have been political suicide to openly support gay marriage, I for one never doubted that Obama actually truly supported gay marriage.

He’d always avoided answering the issue directly, saying that his opinion was “evolving,” but that became much harder when Vice-President Biden and Education Secretary Duncan both this past week went off script and announced their own support or at least comfort with the idea. The president couldn’t really avoid the issue any longer, which explains the timing.

As for the politics of the matter. Obama won big in 2008 by winning a number of moderate, Republican-leaning states. It was always going to be hard to repeat this feat, but with this announcement he just lost North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana.  North Carolina, for one, just passed an anti-gay marriage ballot measure by an overwhelming margin. So this was not a politically-calculated move, I don’t think. And it makes the election a lot harder for him to win.

On the other hand, it will benefit him indirectly. Candidates who are sincere and passionate in their beliefs (a la Bush) usually win over candidates who are seen as flip-floppers (a la Kerry). Mitt Romney isn’t known for taking sincere and courageous stands on things. If this announcement by President Obama does indeed come to be seen as sincere and courageous, it could make up for the direct hits he’ll take in the polls.

At any rate, the 2012 election just got a lot more interesting.

Hey Protesters

I bet you were really proud of yourselves, today, when a large group of you - probably more than a hundred - shut down an intersection in Santa Ana while carrying signs.

I didn’t see the signs you were carrying, but I’m assuming you were affiliated with the Occupy Movement, since it was May Day and Occupy was supposedly going to be trying to disrupt things. I read that y’all were going to try to shut down bridges and tunnels in NY and SF. Apparently intersections in Santa Ana were also part of the plan.

I don’t need to tell you that for the five or so minutes you shut down the intersection, a huge line of jammed-up traffic formed. If you looked really hard, you might have noticed that about three hundred yards back, there was an ambulance stuck in this traffic. My ambulance, in fact, though you wouldn’t have known that.

What you certainly didn’t know was that we were responding to a 911 call around the corner from that intersection. We were delayed five minutes in responding to it, thanks to your shenanigans. Even an ambulance can’t move a column of entirely stopped and bottled-up traffic.

At the time, all we knew was that the call was for “respiratory distress.” Now, I’ve been on a lot of respiratory distress calls. A “diff breather,” as we call them in LA county, could simply be a 30 year old with anxiety - or it could be a 6 year old having a life-threatening asthma attack. My worst diff breather call started out as a simple allergic reaction. By the time we had her loaded in the ambulance, she’d stopped breathing. By the time we got her to the hospital, her heart had stopped. Fortunately, because we responded quickly, treated quickly, and transported her quickly to a quality hospital, she was resuscitated and, as far as know, is fine today.

If our call today had been for someone like her, that person would be dead because of the delay. Fortunately, our patient was only in mild distress, and we got him to the hospital safely.

What are you trying to accomplish by causing these kind of disruptions? You’re trying to get back at the “1 percent?” Well, I make 24 grand a year, and my patient was an elderly immigrant. All you managed to do was to prevent two 99 percenters from doing their job, and put another 99 percenter in harm’s way.

Stop and think about the consequences of your actions.

Science v. Christianity?

An apocryphal Einstein story has been making the viral rounds on Facebook lately; you can find it here. (You can find my favorite apocryphal Einstein story, and a couple of variations, here.)

Anyways, so for those of you who aren’t inclined to click on links (and on my tumblr, the bold things are links - and, really, seriously, you should click on the second link because it’s darn funny), here’s a quick summary of the main story.

  • A philosophy professor decides to embarrass a Christian student of his by bringing up three questions he sees as striking death blows to the Christian faith. The questions are as follows:
  • 1) How can an all-good, all-powerful God allow pain and suffering and not intervene?
  • 2) If God created everything, then isn’t he responsible for the existence of evil? And sin? And Satan, for that matter?
  • 3) How can you believe in God when you have absolutely no tangible evidence for him?
  • The Christian student responds to the first two questions by asking the professor if there is such a thing as “cold,” and when the professor responds in the affirmative, points out that actually, cold is simply the absence of heat. Dark is simply the absence of light. By analogy, then, evil is simply the absence of good.
  • He then turns the tables on his professor, embarrassing him by pointing out that by a literal interpretation of the professor’s words, there is just as much basis for believing in God as there is in believing in the existence of the professor’s brain.

Sorry that’s a tad long, but I wanted to flesh it out properly. And now for more.

A fellow named Steven Wang, who identifies himself as a Christian and a scientist, wrote about a few of his problems with this story here. I may end up overlapping with him a bit, but here are my thoughts. I think this story is amusing, and at best a call to critical thinking, but ultimately unhelpful. Here’s why:

  • The professor, as antagonistically portrayed as he may be, raises three questions which both thoughtful Christians and thoughtful non-Christians have likely wrestled with. The first two questions, in particular, are such huge theological and philosophical questions that whole books have been written about them. They are legitimate questions. More than that, they also have legitimate answers - better answers than the one given in the story.
  • The third question is “refuted” by the student’s use of the professor’s own words against him. If the professor is saying that God doesn’t exist because you’ve never sensed (in a five senses way) him, then you have to also say that the professor’s brain doesn’t exist. But this ignores both the differences between God and the professor’s brain (we’ve dissected many humans and discovered that they all have brains, whereas we’ve never performed any replicable experiments on God) and the fact that there is, in fact, evidence for the existence of God apart from peoples’ subjective experience. Not conclusive evidence, to be sure, but evidence nonetheless. More on that another time, perhaps.
  • Adding a bit more to that last point, the student’s response to the professor makes him look silly by misinterpreting his own words. I don’t like it when people do that in politics. I don’t like that when bullies do that to people who are sincerely trying to explain something. I don’t like it when Christians do it to atheists, either.

My biggest problem with this, though, is that it furthers the utterly false and destructive idea that there is a conflict between science and Christianity. This is implicit in, for example, the unrefuted assertion that evolution is merely an “opinion,” thus making the professor and all others who hold to the theory of evolution “preachers.”

And because of that false dichotomy, you end up with responses to this story like this one. It’s got its own set of problems, but there’s a particularly poignant passage near the end.

You can either use faith to believe stuff that can’t be true, or you can use logic and reason to discover the wonders of this universe.

This essay illustrates perfectly my biggest objection to religion: it relies on ignorance and actively discourages logical thinking and true inquisitiveness. It resists education. It thwarts rational thought.

Why? Because education, logical thought and inquisitiveness are all the enemies of religion. Religious beliefs can’t stand up to real scrutiny. So religion has developed all sorts of defense mechanisms to discourage learning and logic.

If this is the image that people are getting of Christianity, then something is seriously wrong. It may be that this is their own fault. Or it may be that they’re responding to something they’ve seen in Christians.

Those of us who are Christians can’t control the first possibility. Only the second. So let’s not be anti-science, let’s not be bullies, and let’s start doing our best to provide affirmative answers to legitimate questions.

Restraining Patients

I’m reading up on the proper methods of restraining combative patients, and I came across an awesomely-written story here. It’s long, but worth the read if you’d like to get an idea of what it’s like to work on an ambulance. (PG-13 for language, but you did say you wanted to get an idea of what it’s like to work on an ambulance.) A sample:

People often wonder how it is that we deal with the sight of critically injured patients, how we are able to move beyond the grotesque and set our minds to the task before us. The answer I give is that it’s one thing to see someone hit by a car and have to watch, helplessly, as they bleed on the sidewalk. It’s another thing altogether to show up in an ambulance with the equipment, experience and knowledge to get that person help. There is also a time-space thing at work, where empty-handed witnesses have nothing to do but focus on the horrific details. We, by contrast, can occupy our minds with the long list of tasks that need tending to prior to our arrival at the hospital. Typically it isn’t until the whole thing’s over and the patient is in the hospital and out of our care that we even begin to consider what had just happened. The result of this is that things move much more quickly for us and twenty minutes pass by like two, while for the bystander each second ticks loud in their head, time moving excruciatingly slow.

These factors combine into a defense mechanism of sorts and allow us to finish a call and head straight for lunch.

I’ve never quite had a patient as violent as the one in the story. But we did have a very combative 90 year old lady the other night. That was fun.

A late Good Friday thought from John Stott:

"I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering."