Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: The Martian


Grade: A+

This book is a genius thriller.  Pair excellent science with a hilarious astronaut, and it's irresistible. 

I mean it.  You can't believe how realistic the book is, and how the main character is always saying and thinking exactly what you would be.

This is not a spoiler, because you find this out on the first page - the book is about an American astronaut, Mark Watney, who gets stranded on Mars.

How do you survive on a planet in a research dome meant to last 30 days, when no one will be back for 4 years?

The twists and turns are unexpected and realistic.  The author didn't make up crazy things, he just studied mars really REALLY well to know what would naturally happen. 

There is a caveat to my recommendation.  There is a good amount of language in this book.  When a man thinks he's gonna die alone on another planet - he swears!  Mark Watney is the guy you want to be best friends with and invite over to BBQs at your house.  He is smart, funny, creative, down to earth, and just irreverent enough to make you laugh out loud over and over again.

You've been warned, and you've been also been teased with the promise of an amazingly awesome, fast paced, believable thriller.

Enjoy!

(and read it before the movie with Matt Damon comes out)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Why I Stay a Mormon When Many Friends Have Left

Because It's True.


For the same reasons I stay married when it gets tough.  The same reasons I don't abandon my kids when it gets tough. 

If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently.

Being a Mormon does not "spark joy" every day.  Parenting doesn't either.  Some days are terrible.  Just like some days I don't like my work.  Some days I don't get along with my wife. 

Sometimes I am too tired to sing a goodnight song, or tell a story.  I really couldn't care less about which creature in SlugTerra has which superpower. 

It is the same at church.  I don't enjoy every lesson.  I don't get along with every member.  I don't always like fulfilling my callings.

Then why did I skip family breakfast everyday for 2 months to drive downtown to teach seminary when I knew no students were going to show up?

Because if you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. 

Christ really is the Son of God.  He really did live on earth, died for us, and was resurrected on the 3rd day.  He really did call prophets anciently, called Peter as a prophet after his earthly ministry, and since called Joseph Smith and successive prophets to continue His work.

Marriage can be eternal.  Families can be eternal.  The Gospel is eternal.

Why am I still a Mormon when many friends have left?

Because what others do has no influence on the Gospel being true or not.  It is true, so I strive to follow it.  If I fail or fall away - it's on me.  Just me.  Christ is the Savior, and this is His gospel, whether I follow it or not.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman




Grade: A-

I have not read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 20 years, and I remember very little about the book.
I refrained from reading it again because I wanted to see: can this book stand on it’s own?

Yes.

This book is not what I expected.  I expected a somewhat entertaining story that eventually told us, “don’t be racist” and did it in a very convincing and poignant way. 
Lee did much more than that.  She let us love the people around us without jumping to crazy conclusions. 

She let us be good people without being perfect people.  She let us be heroes, who have real lives, and live in the real world.
Though the book was written in 1957, it feels as though it was written for our day.  It was written to teach us that Paula Deen is not a racist monster, and we can have heroes and role models who don’t meet the current public criteria of “appropriate.”
This is a fairly quick read, even though the book is not fast paced.  Lee did a wonderful job of developing characters and relationships so that the climax of the book is real.  The emotions and interactions are real and heartfelt because we know the back story of each character.

Lee took the time to teach vital life lessons, and through this book she taught them wonderfully.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Negative Reinforcement" is like "Inconceivable" - I do not think it means what you think it means.

When I ask most people what the term "Negative Reinforcement"  means most of them say something like:

"It's when you want someone to stop doing something so you do something negative so they'll stop. Like yelling at them or grounding them or insulting them."

That is actually the EXACT OPPOSITE of Negative Reinforcement.  That example is actually : Positive Punishment.

Let me explain. (no there is too much, let me sum up):

POSITIVE: Do Something or Give Something
NEGATIVE: Stop Doing Something or Take Something Away

REINFORCEMENT: Increases a behavior
PUNISHMENT: Decreases a behavior

SO:

EXAMPLE: You want your kid to take out the trash

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT:
When they take out the trash, you praise them or give them a reward, and then they take it out more often

NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT:
When they take out the trash, you stop nagging them, and then they take it out more often

POSITIVE PUNISHMENT:
Your kid refuses to take out the trash, you spank them, they stop refusing.
OR your kid refuses to take out the trash, you give them $5, they stop refusing.


NEGATIVE PUNISHMENT:
Your kid refuses to take out the trash, you stop giving them allowance, they stop refusing.


The important thing to remember is that NONE OF THESE TERMS refer to moral judgments or preferences.

Punishment, by definition, decreases a behavior.  It could be very enjoyable and nice, if it decreases the behavior it is a punishment.  You could give someone ice cream, and if it stopped them from cussing you out, then it is by definition a punishment of cussing.  (if it made them cuss you out more so they'd get ice cream then it became reinforcing...oops)


Positive means "you do something" so spanking and cussing out your kids is in this sense "positive" because are DOING something.
Negative means "take something away or stop doing something."  It doesn't mean it's aversive or unpleasant

THIS is positive punishment:



ie: Sunscreen works through negative reinforcement.  When you put on sunscreen, you decrease or take away a sunburn, and then sunscreen is put on more often.  The behavior is done more often, because something was taken away.

Parents often think that if something is unpleasant it is a punishment.  Well, if your kid is smoking marijuana and coming home late, and you take away their cell phone - then they smoke more and come home late more often - THEN you have reinforced them.
You used NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT.  You took something away, and it increased the behavior (smoking and staying out late).

If they were smoking and coming home late and you took them to a minor league baseball game and spent more time with them, and they stopped smoking and staying out late, THEN you have POSITIVELY PUNISHED them.  You did something, and the behavior decreased. 


Clear as mud?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Christ was Abused by his Parents


I mean that.  As a fact.

Christ watched his father beat his mother, and then Christ was beaten too.  He sat hungry in the corner, crying, wishing He had a different family.

He watched his father go to prison and his mother get strung out on meth as He entered the foster care system.  He got just enough birthday cards to keep his hopes up of having a family again - only to have those hopes crushed time and time again.

Christ was insulted in front of his entire school.
He was rejected, and felt so terrible inside He cut his arms with razor blades.
He got his girlfriend pregnant and didn't know how to tell his parents...or hers.

He decided they should abort the baby, and He lived with that knowledge the rest of his life.

He was fired from his job the week before a family vacation and had to tell his kids they couldn't go.
He cheated on his wife and slept next to her every night with guilt in his heart.

He was addicted to pornography.  He got hooked on weed, and heroin, and LSD.
He felt the pain of crashing when coming down off drugs, and was also convicted of DUI.  He has murdered millions of people, cussed out and beat his own kids, and He has lived with the never ending agony and guilt and pain of every single one of those moments and decisions.

When Christ was suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and later on the cross, He wasn't just paying for our sins.  He felt every grief, every pain, every ounce of guilt, shame, hate, self-loathing, regret, loneliness, fear and doubt.  As Isaiah said: "Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows."

Christ never sinned.  He never did any of those things I said.  But when He was in Gethsemane He wasn't imagining what it would feel like.  He wasn't pretending or feeling sorry for us.
He felt all of it for real.  He went from never feeling shame, to feeling the shame of being Hitler or Stalin.  He suddenly had to experience all our sorrows, exactly as we feel them.

Christ had to have one mortal parent and one immortal parent, otherwise He couldn't have done it.  Any human being who experiences that much physical and emotional pain can't handle it.  We would pass out and die. 

Christ reached that point.  He reached the point of such severe pain that his brain should have shut off.  But He was the literal son of God, and as such He could choose to continue suffering when any human would have died.  He made that choice a few billion times.  He felt every moment of anguish for every human being who has ever lived on this planet.  He cried out to God: "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."

He didn't want to feel the pain anymore.  It was too much, too hard, too overwhelming.  But Christ wasn't going to do what He wanted, He was going to do what God wanted - so He kept suffering.  

He suffered until finally He had felt it all, suffered it all, been through every single experience of every single child of God.  Then He could finally say "It is finished" and let himself die.

That is the atonement.  That is what Christ gave us.  He not only gave us the gift of resurrection and salvation and forgiveness of sins, but also of perfect empathy.

I thank God for His Son, and for the immeasurable gift He has given me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review: Food, A Love Story


Grade: D+

I really wanted to love this book.  Jim Gaffigan is one of the funniest comedians I have ever heard.  I bust up when I watch his videos: Mr. Universe, Beyond the Pale, and Obsessed.  I watch YouTube clips and I constantly quote his material.

He is a comedic genius.  He is hilariously self deprecating and he knows what the audience is thinking.  His timing is precise and his delivery is practiced and polished and perfect.

And his book is a re-run.

I listened to the audio tape.  It is 7 hours of rehashed material I have heard before - with boring descriptions of the food across America mixed in.

I loved "Hot Pockets" the first time I heard it.  I also loved "Kale" and so many others... and I heard them all again.  ALL.  Repeated.  Slower, and much less funny.

This book is a sad money grab.  It is not original.  It is not new.  It is not worth the time or money. 

Go on Netflix and watch his specials.  Laugh so hard you cry - and then skip this book.  You'll thank me.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime


Grade: A

Mind Blown! I mean it.  I've been skeptical of the pharmaceutical industry for many years, but I don't know of anything as impressive as this book.
This book is not written by some anti-drug hack.  Dr. Peter Gotzsche co-founded the Cochrane Collaboration in 1993 and established The Nordic Cochrane Centre the same year.
I first heard about the Cochrane Collaboration in my high school debate class when my teacher was discussing the greatest collection and analyses of medical knowledge in the world.
Yeah - the author of this book helped found it and he has worked in medical research and meta-analysis of data for most of his life.  He became Professor of Clinical Research Design and Analysis in 2010 at the University of Copenhagen.
Basically - this guy knows what he is talking about. He is a physician who has prescribed medications, he has been a "drug rep" and helped sell medications, and he has since analyzed more studies than any researcher I've read.
The only reason this book doesn't get an A+ is because it is so amazingly heavy on research and medical terminology that it is unlikely to be read by the general public.

This book meticulously and methodically shows how deeply entrenched the pharmaceutical industry is in EVERY level of medicine.
I knew they offered free lunches, free drug samples, and they paid for speakers at medical conferences.  I knew they used to give out free pens and paper, and toys, and clocks.  I even knew they had some pull at the FDA.  I had no idea about all the rest.
MEDICAL JOURNALS
This was the part that scared me the most. 
The BMJ (British Medical Journal)'s former editor said "medical journals are an extension of the marketing arm of the pharmaceutical companies." - p. 64
WHAT?!  Medical journals are where I get my trustworthy information.  It's where I can find double blind randomized control trials that have been peer-reviewed.  They are the gold standard for research!
Journals are where I proudly hang my hat.  I don't need to listen to drug reps - I read the New England Journal of Medicine.  The best in the world!

It turns out journal editors can be bought off - just like everyone else.  Even the best medical journals in the world - New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, BMJ, Annals of Internal Medicine and JAMA - have all accepted drug money to publish misleading information or bad studies.
The New England Journal of Medicine (likely the most respected medical journal in the world) is as guilty as the rest.  32% of all trials published in their journal were solely funded by drug companies.
NEJM even changed their policy in 2002 to allow authors to write about products in which they had a financial interest.
Journals make HUGE money from advertisements and reprints.  If they publish a study beneficial to a drug company - that company promises to buy reprints in order to show them to physicians.
The Lancet made over £1.5 million on orders for a reprint of just one of their editions.  - p. 65
The Annals of Internal Medicine lost over $1 million in advertising revenue after it published a study that was critical of industry advertisements. - p. 65
Journals have a financial interest in making their article abstracts sound beneficial for new drugs.  Reprints will be ordered.  The more they allow a study to minimize or hide side effects - the more money they'll make.
Journal corruption is just one small chapter in this book.  Gotzsche also details corruption in clinical trials, seeding trials, TV ads, the FDA, patents, professional organizations, and even CME (Continuing Medical Education.)

Doctors have to stay current.  To keep our board certification we have to log hours of continuing education.
60% of all CME is paid for and provided by drug companies - so guess what most of us are learning?  Exactly what they want us to.
Drug companies are not changing.  They get caught in their fraud and they either say it was "one bad apple" or "mea culpa: we've now changed our ways."
It's all lies.
If you look at the 3 years span from 2010-2012 you'll find these cases:
 

2012: Abbott paid $1.5 Billion for Medicaid fraud

2012: Johnson and Johnson fined $1.1 Billion for hiding side effects
2011: GlaxoSmithKline paid $3 Billion for illegal marketing of off-label drugs.
2010: AstraZeneca paid $520 Million for fraud
2010: Novartis paid $423 Million for illegal marketing
the list goes on...


They aren't changing.  Drug companies know how to make money - and these lawsuits are already factored in to the profit predictions.  They know that these fines are worth it.  The fraud makes them more money than they will ever be fined.

This book made me look at my life.  I'll graduate from fellowship in four months and begin my career as a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.

I know there are good medications.  There are caring doctors.  There are honest people working as drug reps.  There are intelligent and ethical researchers at the FDA and at pharmaceutical companies.  There are honest, discerning journal editors who want to publish the truth.

I simply don't trust drug companies to give any of these people accurate information.

Peter Gotzsche's book is heart-breakingly accurate.  I highly recommend it.

(Because of this book, I have started a facebook group for prescribers called "Doctors Without Sponsors" to help increase awareness and encourage others to decrease their reliance on drug companies' information and money.  I also recommend signing this pledge: http://noadvertisingplease.org/sign/)