Saturday, October 15, 2005

Penguin Paradox

Penguin paradox
From The Boston Globe
By Ellen Goodman | October 14, 2005

I WAS A BIT late getting my ticket to Antarctica, so I missed the first flight of controversy over the ''March of the Penguins." I am still trying to figure out how the sleeper hit of the season, an astonishing documentary about the life and times of the emperor penguin, turned into another case study in the culture wars.

First, the right claimed the penguins as paragons of family values. The editor of National Review actually praised them as ''the really ideal example of monogamy." Then a popular religious magazine suggested that the 3-foot-tall birds made a pretty strong case for ''intelligent design."

Alas, in the family values department, the penguin profile is a little mixed. The emperors and empresses are monogamous for a year before they turn with equal devotion to the next partner. Let's also remember the two male penguins in a New York zoo who famously raised one donated egg. And the fact that when the two dads lost their home, they broke up and one went straight.

As for intelligent design, penguin males balance an egg on their feet through months of an Antarctic winter. If that is intelligent design, the Big Guy has quite the sense of humor. Under natural selection, at least they would have a shot at evolving a lifestyle that doesn't require 70-mile marches to and from the food supply.

Still, this anthropomorphic battle has me waddling all over the terrain where science is a fighting word.

In the Grand Canyon, for example, you can actually sign up for ''alternative" rafting trips. One paddles with geology and sees a space created over 550 million years by shifting faults. Another looks through what the leader calls ''biblical glasses" and sees a place carved 4,500 years ago by the Flood.

In the lab, scientists who put evolution through its paces have just completed mapping the chimpanzee genome that is only 4 percent different from our own. Yet on the day I Googled this news, it was located on a website with a sponsor ad for the opposition: ''Evolution vs. Christianity. Uncomplicated Bible Answers."

This is nothing compared to struggles in the courtroom in Dover, Pa., where the trek of expert witnesses is lasting longer than the march of the penguins. There, a judge is being asked to decide whether the school board can force biology teachers to read a disclaimer on evolution that offers intelligent design as an alternative.

There's now little doubt that the school board members saw ''intelligent design" as a way to get religion into science class. Nor is there much doubt that intelligent design is just gussied-up creationism.

As Brown University's Kenneth Miller said in the courtroom, '' 'intelligent design' is not a testable theory in any sense, and as such it is not accepted by the scientific community." It isn't science. Yet two-thirds of Americans think we should ''teach the controversy."

All in all, most scientists believe that teaching ''intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution is like teaching the flat-Earth theory as an alternative to the round. But as science pollster Jon Miller of Northwestern will tell you, one in every five Americans believes the sun revolves around the Earth.

For those of us who would ''teach the controversy" in the science class where it belongs -- political science -- the sorry part is that the creationists set up a false dichotomy between science and religion. They also create a false portrait of our place in the universe.

In one of Miller's recent surveys, 75 percent of people agreed that animals adapted and evolved over time. But 65 percent believed that humans were created as whole persons by God and didn't evolve. The root of the conflict, says Miller, ''is the human exclusiveness, the desire for humans to be unique."

Many who seem quite capable of anthropomorphizing a 3-foot creature are unwilling to see themselves as part of the same tree of life. They are perfectly willing to believe that we are little lower than the angels, but reluctant to believe that we're little higher than the apes.

I suspect we'll look back with astonishment to a time when both the president of the United States and the Senate majority leader -- a doctor -- wanted the pseudo taught with the science. But some of the greatest issues of our time -- from stem cells to global warming -- depend on scientific understanding. And that's an understanding easily sacrificed in the culture wars.

When the right wing made the penguin their paragon, a Hollywood producer sighed, ''they're just birds." Beware. Now, the same filmmakers are working on a new movie about the relationship between a young girl and a fox. I don't even want to think about it.

Ellen Goodman's e-mail address is

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Monday, October 10, 2005

I have a dream...

Okay, so I have a few dreams really. And they're not the same kinds of dreams that MLK had of everyone getting along. Don't get me wrong, that dream is still alive inside me somewhere, but those aren't the kind of dreams I want to talk about here. My dream has to do with helping other people, especially young people, handle the unfortunate things that life throws at them. Not just the "normal" unfortunate things, but the kinds of things that change a life so completely that it's never the same. The kinds of things that leave you incapacitated, feeling "left behind" by your friends...and the "real" world.

For those of you who don't know me and either stumbled upon this blog by accident or are just starting to learn about my life, here's a quick bit of background. I have been dealing with chronic Lyme disease since I was 15, a time in my life when I was supposed to be stretching my wings and becoming more independent. I have been on and off treatment since then and dealt with all the ups and downs of that. Oral treatment is easy enough to deal with, but when the treatment turns to intravenous antibiotics it's a little more noticible that something is wrong. It's tricky to try to hide a PICC line in your arm and hard to have to tell people that you can't go out at night because you have to infuse at a certain time. Now at 23 I am still in the midst of the nightmare, most of my "healthy" friends off living their lives and I'm usually not up to hanging out with the few who are still around.

So, I find little ways of keeping up my spirits and making my world of medical supplies more fun and light-hearted. I've named all my medical stuff: my port-a-cath is Winnie the Port, my portable IV pump is Eeyore, and my three IV poles are Piglet, Edgar IV (Edgar the forth), and Roland Polansky (Roly Poly for short - that's my pole with wheels). Now that it's getting around to Halloween, I decoraged my poles with Halloween and fall stickers and other fallish things. I have plans to put tinsel and/or Christmas lights on the poles when it gets to be closer to the winter holidays and I like to decorate my room appropriately for the season because I spend so much time resting in bed or in my comfy chair.

Okay, enough background info on me, now for my dream. Since it generally sucks to be sick, whether in or out of the hospital, and have to be surrounded by medical stuff, I would really like to help cheer up others who are dealing with things similar to what I am. My dream is to put together a program to provide little care packages to kids and teenagers with things for them to decorate IV poles with (stickers, string lights, hanging ornaments, etc.), Vetrap (if the patient has a PICC line or peripheral IV line), a special stuffed animal, and maybe a blanket to help make them more comfortable. It would also include arts and crafts supplies so they could make their own decorations for their medical equiptment and hospital room or bedroom. Anything to help make things feel a little less intimidating and a little more fun!

This dream is part of a larger one: to start a non-profit organization to help people with Lyme disease. Through this non-profit I would continue organizing and running the retreats that I have been running for the past year, organize and run support group(s), go out and give informational sessions/presentations about Lyme disease, and any number of other things that have been growing in my head for the past few years. Each dream is achievable, but each requires a good deal of work and it's rough to try to get anywhere when the dreamer is herself sick and has very limited energy. But as long as I continue to dream about them and formulate plans I believe that one day my dreams will become reality.

Now you know my dreams. What are yours?...