Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Resplendent Quetzal

Thirteen years ago, just after graduating from my university and still not very well employed, I decided to take a trip to Guatemala to learn to speak Spanish. I spent a month there, most of it in Antigua at a language school that purports to use it's proceeds for studying and preserving some of the native languages of the Maya's descendents.

On the final week there, I chose to travel and see the country. One of the places I briefly visited was the Biotope del Quetzal, a biological reserve specifically intended for the preservation of the Resplendent Quetzal, a rather fantastic looking bird that dwells exclusively in the highland cloudforests of Central America.

Prior to going to Guatemala, I read John Maslow's Bird of Life, Bird of Death, a naturalist's travelogue from the tumultuous nineteen eighties, when the Guatemalan people were suffering a reign of terror that resulted from the tensions between paranoid neofascism and socialist-leaning rebels, and fueled by the Reagan administration's big stick policy that tore apart the entire region. (This was a period during which the Spanish verb for "to disappear" became a noun used to refer to people abducted—and murdered, sometimes en masse--by the army. Trials are finally being conducted to bring to justice some of these crimes, although many of the people are reluctant to bear witness, still haunted by the not-so-distant past.)

Anyway, Maslow's story of his quest to see the endangered Quetzal left me with an itch to see this beautiful bird, and my journey thirteen years ago left me unfulfilled. I saw no Quetzals. I did see a huge beetle that was nearly the size of my fist. And, I saw the cloudforest, albeit very briefly as my traveling companion, an intense Israeli from Tel Aviv, didn't really grasp what my fascination for the place was all about.

Today, in Costa Rica's Monteverde cloudforest reserve, I finally fulfilled this thirteen year yen to see the Resplendent Quetzal. (Not without some inconvenient false starts, such as accidentally getting on the wrong bus and starting out for the distant capitol city of San Jose insteadof getting the early start to the reserve that my wife and I had originally intended.) We saw a pair, a male and a female, low in the trees, not far from the trail. One of the guides told us that they were probably seeking a tree cavity to make into a nesting site.

My wife asked whether finally seeing the bird left me feeling fulfilled. I told her that I wanted to see a Three-wattled Bell Bird.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Perfect Day

Looking out my front windows across the I-80 corridor through the outskirts of Park City, after a fresh fall of spring snow, I see clear skies and bright sun over a white, crystalline world.

I just came off of the busiest work week my company has to offer, the Novell BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City.

This morning, at 7:00 am, the day before I go on a two-week vacation, I bathe in anticipation not for my vacation, but for a morning of nirvahna on the mountain slopes. Clear skies, fresh powder, my Neversummer, and no serious responsibilities on my mind.

Everything is oh-so-good.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Randall Terry is an Idiot

Randall Terry is infected with a mental virus that has completely impaired his ability to make cognitive sense of the world.

In the name of an allegedly existent god, Terry has been campaigning against American rights to birth control for decades. Now, he has taken up a misguided campaign to save Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who has recently been taken off the life support systems that have sustained her since her heart failure 15 years ago.

This is religious zealotry at its worst. Terry is making a political issue out of our right to die with dignity.

If you truly consider yourself to be "pro-life," please start working on issues that can save hundreds of thousands rather than individuals. Consider joining the fight against HIV, or erradication polio once and for all. Consider helping to solve automobile safety issues--how many children each year die in automobile-related accidents?

If Terry were really interested in the lives of people, he would devote himself to a more effective and meaningful expression for his cause. Why doesn't he? Because he is mentally ill. He is infected with a severe mental virus that drastically affects his behavior. This virus is the Biblical literalism virus that has grabbed the minds and now controls the actions of conservative Christians.

To be clear, we are all infected with different mental viruses, and each of us are driven by these viruses in different ways. I am infected with the scientific rationalism virus--one I personally think is actually a benign virus. It allows people to look at other mental viruses--like extremist religious convictions--objectively.

Very few medical doctors would likely state that holding a religious perspective is a type of mental illness. Questioning a person's religious beliefs remains the last great taboo we have yet to overcome.

To get more of where I am coming from:
  • On "belief": read this interview with the great Douglas Adams, now dead, and certainly not in Heaven nor Hell, but simply dead (and missed by many of his adoring fans)
  • On "mental viruses":
    • read the excellent essay by Richard Dawkins, "Viruses of the Mind"
    • or innoculate your mind with beneficial viruses by reading Richard Brodie's book by a similar name

Friday, March 11, 2005

Return of the Cranes

Yesterday, my local snowboarding buddyErin and I were bemoaning the warm weather and rapid deterioration of the Park City snow base. I hate the decline of winter.

On my commute to work this morning, as I was turning toward Midway, Utah on my way to Provo, I saw my first Sandhill Cranes of the year, three of them flying over the Provo River. For a few thrilling moments, I completely forgot about winter's end as spring's emergence eclipsed everything else.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

More Blogger Woes: Trackbacks

Having previously blogged my woe over Blogger making superstition compulsory (see "Astrology Sucks"), I am now faced with another Blogger shortfall: no trackbacks.

I'm not an extensive researcher when I get into a lot of things. This means that I often make misteps and muddle my way toward efficiency. When I started blogging, I began by signing onto a free blog site, thinking "What the heck! It's free!"

Since that time I have learned a lot more about blogging. Trackbacks took me a long time to figure out, and I finally figured out why they're so hard to figure out. I got the concept right away. The use was what counfounded me. It turns out that I could not figure it because Blogger has no support for them.

This might be the last straw. I want to start publishing some book reviews, but while I'm facing transition, I am holding back on writing things I really should write up. I suppose that I have to actually do the research to get a better site for my blog. I'm looking over an article, but with so many individual blogs, figuring out the search term to produce better comparative resources has been tough. Anyone got any suggestions?

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Great Apes Under Pressure

Two articles I read this morning regarding preservation or loss of our great ape evolutionary siblings.

The first focuses on how Orangutans may be gone by 2025.

The second is about United Nations appeals and efforts to save all the great apes.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Truth Cramps the Mind

My colleague Tracy Thayne has a blog called "My True Words." I recently posted comments on the concept of "True." I did it anonymously because I want to see if he recognizes who published it.

Truth Cramps the Mind

Ultimately, the similar concepts of "truth" and "true" form a distraction from real understanding. The idea that something is "true" locks our minds from considering new information.

Newtonian physics was considered "true" for hundreds of years. Einstein's Relativity, which modified and expanded our understanding of Newtonian theory, met staunch resistance from the scientific community in part due to necessary scientific skepticism, but also in part because scientific minds, hardened by truth, would not accept the new theory. Progress was slowed due to a dogmatic adherence to truth.

On the extreme, Theistic worldviews persist without evidence of a supreme being because "it is written" as Truth.
The idea of "true" ends up functioning as a mental handicap, preventing people from rationally questioning the world's most popular superstition.

Scientific knowledge, or understanding, is predicated on evidence and counter-evidence. Evidence does not really lead to truth, despite that we are typically taught in school that what science has revealed to us is in fact "true." Science aggregates evidence to come up with understanding. However, any real scientific understanding is never proven as so "true" that it cannot be modified or, on rare occasions, even overturned.

When we take things as our best understanding, our minds are free to accept new ideas and evidence. This forms the difference between religious obstinacy and a healthy adaptable worldview.