07 December 2016

New Book on Evolution

Darwin's Original Title
Six years ago I started writing a post for this blog to address the topic of evolution from the Baha'i Writings, a sticky topic for sure.

It didn't take long for my blog post to turn into 14 pages, and I realized I had a problem. When it hit 100 pages and I realized how awesome it was, I considered sending it to a publisher. This week I signed a contract with George Ronald to publish in 2017!

One reason it expanded was that I wanted to review all the other authors who have written on the topic, and that alone is a substantial task. `Abdu'l-Baha made comments that seem to indicate a kind of parallel evolution for humans, in a way that they evolved over millions of years from a primitive form, but in a way that they were distinctly human and not animal throughout their evolution. This interpretation clearly presents a conflict with standard science, but it is far, far removed from modern creationists.

The majority of Baha'i authors have addressed the issue by taking the modern scientific consensus as factual, and reinterpreting the context and language of `Abdu'l-Baha to suggest that the parallel growth interpretation is an unfortunate semantic mistake.

Originally, my only concern was to suggest that Baha'is not totally abandon the idea that new understandings in science could still validate the apparent meaning. After all, it is still naturalistic and does not involve a special creation by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I hypothesized some potential discoveries that could validate and affirm the apparent meaning of `Abdu'l-Baha's comments. Then I was surprised that pretty much all of my hypotheses had already been discovered, and I found that numerous leading evolutionary biologists were advocating for a paradigm shift in our understanding of evolution, so I began documenting.

I expect most people will scoff at the idea of someone writing about a change in science to support a religious doctrine. Anyone remotely familiar with the absolute dominance of neo-Darwinian theory should assume that my conclusions are wrong, but I can guarantee it'll surprise you. I encourage skeptics to read it and see if it doesn't leave you convinced that the model of independent descent is highly plausible.

I'll share more when the book becomes available, but I wanted to give you a heads up, and yes, it will be available as a Kindle eBook as well as print.

10 November 2016

6 Reforms to Save American Democracy

The majority of voters in this year's US presidential election said that they were inspired to vote against the opponent, rather than for their candidate. On the sidelines sits the most dysfunctional Congress that any living person has ever known (Americans are four times more likely to approve of the Internal Revenue Service). This, at a time when several slow-moving issues could eat out the soft innards of America's economy and leave memories of a once-great power. If there was ever a time to talk about major reforms to the political order, it is now. 

Here, I'll lay out some of the ideas that I've come across over the years of contemplating power and democracy. Minor tweaks in the election process create vastly different outcomes. The United States has the longest running constitution in the world, and it is a testimony to the foresight of the founders that it has worked so well, for so long. But it is a big ship letting in water, slowly sinking while the people who should be fixing it are fighting with each other over who gets to be captain. There is a pessimist inside me saying that it will sink no matter what, but the optimist wrote this article.

I listed these in order of feasibility. Tweaking how primaries work is a no-brainer and easy to implement at different levels. A constitutional amendment, however, requires a proposal from two thirds of Congress (or two third of states), then ratification by three fourths of states. The chance of Congress proposing an amendment that reduces their own power is unlikely, but this is not a thought experiment in what is likely, it's a brainstorm session on a better democracy. 

30 June 2016

Predictions for Britain and the European Union

Less than a week ago the United Kingdom voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union. This was the most significant change in the EU's status since its expansion into eastern Europe in 2004. As one of the three big economies in the EU, Britain's leaving will have serious repercussions, and I have some predictions on how things will shake out.

24 February 2016

Rural America and Federal Land

Oregon. The southeast counties right to left are Malheur, Harney, Lake.
I have had a good life. I was born in a small university town in Oregon to well off parents. Turning fourteen I got to live in Mexico for half a year and experience a new culture, but I also learned a lot about my own country by leaving and observing it from afar. It was while living in Mexico that I realized the United States is the preeminent and most affluent country in the world. This was a rather shocking revelation to a teenager who never really thought about the freakishly lucky conditions of his birth.

My life continued to get better and I continued to appreciate traveling and exploring the world's mix of peoples. I spent a summer in Spain, then joined the US Air Force, which took me to Texas and Mississippi for almost a year. The military sent me to Qatar for half a year where I baked in the sun with camels and worked alongside people from the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Palestine. I went to college as an electronics engineer then lived in China for a year before starting a wonderful job for a power utility in Portland, Oregon. I've also seen Nicaragua, Ecuador, Greece, and Israel thanks to my access to wealth and a US passport.

In all my travels and studies, I've only increasingly appreciated the peace, stability, fairness, and economic opportunities in the United States. Even if China surpasses the US in GDP, it will be decades before it can become a more desirable place to live.

Visiting America

Then I visited a new culture that presented an interesting challenge. My wonderful job took me to field offices all over the northwestern United States in small remote towns that most people would never pass through. I did not have any trouble associating with people of different backgrounds. But I had just come out of a decade of international travel and university study, where people talk about technology, sustainability, and how to fix the world's problems. What I ran into in rural towns were discussions about what to do when the government comes to take away all your guns and serious opinions about Obama being born in Kenya. It was a culture shock.

21 January 2016

The End of Nuclear Weapons and a New World Order

"There is in existence a stupendous force, as yet, happily undiscovered by man. Let us supplicate God, the Beloved, that this force be not discovered by science until spiritual civilization shall dominate the human mind. In the hands of men of lower nature, this power would be able to destroy the whole earth." 
Abdu'l-Baha to a Japanese Ambassador, 1912 

The World
North Korea just detonated their fourth nuclear weapon and Iran is in a standoff over its nuclear program. The US policy toward nuclear weapons needs a major overhaul to avoid slipping to the point of no return. The United States is in a strong position to unilaterally renounce the use of nuclear weapons, then systematically destroy its nuclear arsenal.

I expect the typical American will think that disarming would be suicidal and ludicrous. The typical American is wrong. Nuclear disarmament is in the best interests of the people and government of the United States, not to mention the whole world. The world order that has been in place since the end of World War II is fraying at the edges. To secure the future, the US needs to help mould a new order before the old one unravels completely.

10 January 2016

15 Great Group Games

My first junior youth group, 2003
Over about 12 years of facilitating junior youth groups in various forms, I made a growing list of the best group games I've encountered. I'll provide details below on how to facilitate the games, and what worked well in different situations.

The spiritual empowerment program for junior youth is intended to provide a rough balance between study, service, and recreation. To be successful, the group should not focus on one of those exclusively, or ignore one entirely. With that in mind, the recreational piece can be defined pretty broadly, and incorporate anything from crafts to sports, hiking, or trips to the zoo. Many of these games have the advantage of being short and easy to organize, so they could be added to every gathering. 

Junior youth groups are meant for ages 11-15, during a time of growing social awareness. Especially in the first few meetings after a group forms, it's important to establish an attraction and desire to participate. While the facilitators should be careful not to make it a group who's only purpose is to play, recreational activities are great for establishing friendships and leave people with a good feeling about the group.

Please leave comments if you have more to add.

Concentration 

The tricky part of this game is that you need to create a repetitive beat that everyone participates in. For example, slap your legs, clap, snap, pause. Repeat. 

Once everyone gets the pattern, pick a category, such as animals. As the facilitator, you'll start, and on the "pause" beat you'll say the name of an animal. On the next beat the person to your left will have to say the name of an animal that hasn't been said already, then the person to their left, and so on. If someone hesitates or repeats on their turn, they get eliminated and the next person in order continues.

Eventually you'll have two people going back and forth one after the other until one fails. The game goes fast, so don't be afraid to eliminate people and start a new category. If people are having a hard time, practice first with the alphabet as the solution set, or say that the game has to go around the circle once before anyone can be eliminated.

Try another round with the category plants, or states, or countries, or names of people you know.

05 January 2016

5 Tips for Raising Toddlers

A combination of professional advice and my personal experience.

And one more coming!

There are not many things as challenging or rewarding as raising a child. Soon my oldest girl will turn 5, my second girl will turn 2, and my son will be born, all in February. And while raising these cute little monsters, I've compiled my own list of parenting advice.

Before you roll your eyes and say that all children are different, I know. While there is a plethora of emotionally charged parenting advice that amounts to personal ranting, there is also a well studied and researched discipline on early childhood development. These recommendations are standard fare for the experts and have serious consequences on development.

1. Enough Sleep

As every parent knows, sleep is precious. Children sleeping not only allows you time to do the laundry without "help", but it is also the greatest tool to keep your child from having meltdowns. A tired four year old can crumble into a sobbing pile of tears when they can't find their favorite shoes, but with enough sleep they will be adorable little angels.

They're so peaceful when they sleep
A newborn baby will sleep for two thirds of the day! The trick comes later when they SHOULD be sleeping half of the day, including naps, up to the age of 6. But getting in that 12 hours requires the parents to really be on top of things, especially at nap time. This is one of the most frustrating things for parents to deal with, because you have to make your child want to sleep. And this at an age and time of day where they are irrational and emotional.

I recommend reading through lots of detailed advice on getting children to sleep, like this article from WebMD. This is an area where authors vary significantly. You'll get a lot of recommendations, and then you have to see what works with your particular child. Here are a few tips that have worked for myself and some friends.
  • Use a routine. Once you get into the habit of letting children put themselves to sleep, you'll have to reset that expectation when you change the routine. My almost five year old still takes naps for up to two hours during the day. I tell her she needs to lay in bed and rest for one hour, and if she gets up and runs around, then the timer starts over. Almost every time she falls asleep while laying there, but it took months of setting expectations and being consistent for it to work.
  • They need more sleep. If we get our kids to bed an hour earlier than normal, they go to sleep without noticing the difference and wake up at the same time. They just get more sleep. The problem is usually the parents, who are slow to get the bedtime process started, or who keep their kids out late at a party.
  • Make a dark, quiet room. We have always covered venetian blinds with an extra set of blackout curtains in the kids' rooms. When you pull the shades and the room goes dark it knocks them right out. The curtains also prevent them from waking up super early in the summer. Danger: you may find it hard to get them to sleep in other spaces, like visiting relatives.