Monday, July 30, 2012

Similarities: Hindu and Mormon Scripture

I read the Bhagavad Gita some time ago, and wrote my impressions and favorite passages in a Previous Post.

 This last month I've been thinking about all the similarities between the Hindu Religion and the LDS (Mormon) religion. 

So I went back and found 10 themes or lessons in the Bhagavad Gita that have very similar messages in the Mormon canon of scripture.  With my limited understanding of Hindu, I have attempted to show the similarities I found:

1. How is Deity received when he appears amongst his followers, looking like them?

Gita 9:11 - “The foolish do not respect me in this human form, failing to know My supremely excellent form, that of the highest Lord of all creation.”
Krishna is the Lord of all creation, and is not respected when in human form.
John 1:10 -  “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”
Isaiah 53:3 – “He was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Christ created the world, and when he came in human form, he was rejected.

2. Man wants to see Deity, and asks to - but man cannot see Him with natural eyes.

Gita 11:4 - “O Lord, if You hold that it is possible for me to behold it, then, O Lord of Yoga, show me Your imperishable form.”
Ether 3:10 – “Lord, show thyself unto me.”

Gita 11:8 - “But you cannot view Me with these eyes of yours.  I am bestowing supernatural sight upon you – behold My divine Yoga.”
D&C 84:21,22 – “without the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; for without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.”

3. When Deity is seen, he is brighter than any light we have seen or can imagine.

Gita 11:12 - “Were the radiance of a thousand suns to blaze forth at one go in the sky, it might approximate the magnificence of this exalted being.”
Sanjaya describes the radiance and glory of Lord Krishna
JSH 1:16-17 – “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun…When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description.
Joseph Smith describes the Radiance and Glory of God and Jesus Christ

4.  Deity can forgive man of all sins.
Gita 18:66 - “I shall release you from all sins, have no more fear.”
D&C 76:41 – “He came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness.”

5. Deity on occasion asks man to do very difficult things - like kill.

Gita 1:35 - “These I would not wish to kill though they have risen to kill us.”
Arjuna is commanded to kill his brethren, and he asks if they can be spared, if he can be saved the task of killing them.  Krishna explains why he must kill them.
1 Nephi 4:10 – “I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.”
Nephi is commanded to kill a fellow citizen of Jerusalem, Laban, and makes much the same request as Arjuna, until the Spirit of the Lord tells him why Nephi must kill Laban.

6. Deity is eternal, and Man is also eternal.
Gita 2:12 - “There was never a time when either I, or you, or these rulers of men did not exist.  Nor will there ever be a future when all of us will cease to exist.”
Krishna explains that Diety and man have always existed, and always will.
D&C 93:29 – “Man was also in the beginning with God.”
The Lord explains to Joseph Smith that Man was with God from the very beginning.
Abraham 3:22 – “Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones”
The Lord shows Abraham the souls of men before they came to earth.

7. Diet, exercise, and moderation are important.

Gita 6:17 - “He who is moderate in food and play, disciplined in his actions, and controlled in sleep or keeping awake achieves a yoga which destroys all pain.”
Krishna teaches moderation in food, play, and sleep in order to destroy pain.
D&C 89 – All men who avoid Strong Drink, Tobacco, and Hot Drinks and also use grains, fruits and meats jusdiciously shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.”
 The Lord teaches Joseph Smith a law of health, and moderation in all things in order to gain indefatigable strength.

8. Very few people attempt to and will ever reach perfection.

Gita 7:3 - “Out of thousands of men, hardly one attempts to reach perfection."
Matthew 7:14 – “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. 

9. Deity asks us to remember him at all times.

Gita 8:7 - “Remember me at all times”
3 Nephi 18:7 – “If ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”

10. Man is what he believes.

Gita 17:3 – “Man is composed of his faith – as his faith is, so is he formed”
Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

The "Ideal" Amount of Government Assistance.

I recently had a discussion with some friends about how much to help the poor.  Do you give all you have, or do you give what you think they need?  Who determines how much is enough, how much is too much?
Most people believe in the principle of "Give a man a fish = feed him for a day, teach a man to fish = feed him for a lifetime."

In 2009 the U.S. spent $533 billion in government assistance for "the poor". 
That can be divided up into 2 main categories:
1. That which must be earned or worked for (pensions, unemployement) = $249 billion
2. That which has no earning or working requirement: $284 billion

So we pay for housing assistance, food stamps, WIC, welfare, foster care, shelters, etc...

How much should people receive?  I mean it, how do we determine how much assistance people should get?

Give a single adult homeless male $1 per day, or $100, or $10,000, or $1 million.  What is the right amount.  What helps him enough to keep him alive, functioning, having some hope, moving forward, progressing, getting skills, getting a job, and getting off government assistance?
How much makes him complacent, lazy, even destructive?  Where is the line?

Should we give people enough to get up to the poverty line?  150% of the poverty line?  What is the supposed "magic number?"

Here's the problem.  I don't think anyone knows.

I honestly don't think that study has ever been done.  I don't think we have ever randomized people and said this group of 10,000 people get X, this 10,000 get y, and this 10,000 get z.  Give them all the same guidance, same programs, some access to skills training, day care, etc.  Which group does best?  Which group is the most independent/ has the highest quality of life / doesn't need government assistance  in 5 years, 10 years etc..?

I'm guessing that study would be very hard to do because there would be outrage that some people were receiving more money because of random selection.

Have we looked at it retroactively?  Has anyone looked at which countries, states, cities, etc... are giving the most money compared to local cost of living?  Have we followed the people receiving assistance to see what the result is?

We are spending $284 billion dollars per year to help people who did not have to work or do anything to earn their assistance.  We are helping them because we care, because we think it's decent, it's humane, it's what we SHOULD do.

Instead of spending all that money and never really knowing the results other than people survived...why not put some of it into a study, or into at least following the results of those we help anyway?

I want to do this.  I want to design this study, this research project.  I want to figure out how to REALLY help people with the money we are already spending.  Any suggestions?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Condoleezza Rice: An American Life

First - a quick aside:

This book reminded me of something.  I missed 9/11.
As I read about Condoleezza Rice and the clues that were missed, the warnings that were ignored, the hearings after 9/11, her testimony, the outrage, the invasion of Iraq, the question of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
I missed all of it.  I left for Brazil on 8/28/2001 and returned 2 years later.  I missed it all.

Prior to reading this book I knew very little about Ms. Rice.  I knew she was a black female who had worked at Stanford, been in the NSC and was the Secretary of State.  I also knew she was an accomplished Pianist.

That was about it.

I never knew she was born in Birmingham, Alabama.  Her childhood friend was killed in an act of racist terrorism when the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed.  Rice lived in Birmingham when Martin Luther King Jr. came and led his marches and wrote his "Letter from Birmingham Jail."  Her family moved to Denver when she was 13.  She was quite the figure skater, fairly fluent in French, and she became a very accomplished pianist. (She later played a concert with Yo-Yo Ma.)

At the University of Denver she was mentored by Josef Korbel (the father of Madeleine Albright).  Rice decided that rather than pursue Piano as a profession, she would study the Soviet Union.  In 1977 she was an intern in the Carter administration.  In 1981 she earned her Ph.D. in Political Science.

She was 28 years old, educated, accomplished... and a democrat.

Why did she become a Republican?  Two reasons in the beginning.
1. She didn't like Carter's foreign policy
2. Her dad was a Republican. (He had to be, when he registered in 1952 the democrats in Alabama refused to register blacks, so he registered as a Republican.)

Funny how things work out.

The book then takes us through Affirmative Action which helped her get hired at Stanford.   She was initially loved as an energetic young minority professor.  She made fast and powerful connections, and by 1989 she was asked to be the Soviet expert for President Bush 1. She as back at Stanford in less than 2 years, and decided it was time to expand her expertise to the corporate world. She joined the Board of Chevron, Transamerica Corporation, and Hewlett-Packard.  By 1993 she had tenure and was made the Provost of Stanford.  (the first female, first minority, and youngest Provost in Stanford history)

She was also resented.  Many thought she didn't deserve it.  She hadn't done enough, published enough, or been at Stanford nearly long enough.
Then she dug in and started changing things, which made her even more unpopular.  She was asked to balance the budget (Stanford was running a $20 million deficit per year)  She cut and slashed people and programs, even firing the highest ranking Hispanic woman at the University. (This led to hunger strikes by many students.)  In two years she reported a $14.5 million surplus.  She did her job, the administrators loved her, and many faculty resented and defied her.

In 2000 she took a one year leave of absence from Stanford to be George W. Bush's foreign policy adviser.  When he won the nomination she was asked to speak at the GOP national convention.  That's when she uttered the famous line: "America's armed forces are not a global police force."  How soon that would change.
When he won the election she resigned from Stanford and was appointed National Security Adviser.  (The first woman ever to hold that position.)

How did she get there?  She was smart, she was savvy.  When she was getting to know George Bush 2 they would often workout together.  He was impressed that she could be in the gym chatting about college football, and in the next sentence discuss the viewpoints of foreign governments.  She put people at ease, but could match wits at any moment.  She and Bush would become so close she was basically family.  She went on their family vacations, and was like a sister to both Bush and his wife.

When Bush 2 was inaugurated they were excited at their opportunities.  They could spend 2001 making policy, mostly domestic.  The world was good, the US was powerful, and they could really get some things done.
Then 9/11 happened, and it was discovered that Rice had ignored the warning signs, even a specific warning in July that al Qaeda was planning an attack on US soil.
She would spend years defending and questioning her actions.

As this biographer tells it, she then became almost a "Yes Man" for Bush.  Whatever he wanted, she propelled him in that direction. She wasn't a curbing or correcting force, she was a jump start and full throttle engine going whichever direction he wanted.  When he received reports of Iraq's possible involvement in the attacks, or the risk of WMDs, she told him to believe it, and to go to war.

She did many good things, but her time as NSA would always be tainted by her failure to prevent or
 even acknowledge the risk of the 9/11 attacks before they occurred.

When Bush 2 won re-election she was appointed Secretary of State. She had the most "no" votes of any secretary of state in this century.  Democrats made their viewpoint clear - she had screwed up, and everyone knew it.
Rice worked hard to help Iraq establish it's own government.  She battled Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and many others.  They tried to push her one way, circumvent her when possible, and completely disregard and ignore her oft times.  She stood her ground, and eventually Rumsfeld resigned as the Secretary of Defense.
She did well as Secretary of State, but didn't seem to realize what a public figure she was, and that politics is perception.

When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, she didn't figure she really had a role to play as Secretary of State, she was supposed to deal with foreign matters.
She seemed to forget the fact that she was the highest ranking black official in the country, and New Orleans would cause a racial outcry against the Bush administration.  When she spent the days after Katrina going to see Monty Python's "Spam-a-lot" on Broadway and shopping at expensive shoe stores - she was destroyed by the media.

She tried to help Bush with his race problem, but it would all come too late.  The Katrina response was terrible, and it was seen as white people ignoring the needs of blacks who were in crisis.  She was an outsider.  She was a Republican.  She was Bush's subordinate.

This biographer really works hard to show all sides of Condoleezza Rice.  The book details her work, her personal life, her relationship with the Bush family, and her battles with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Stanford faculty and others.  She was not always right, but she was always attempting to do the right thing.  She worked hard, made tough decisions, and tried to fulfill her roll as she saw it.

The book ends with the end of the Bush administration - and Rice saying she's never running for National Office.

Will she be Romney's VP?  She says no.

We'll see...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: Outliers

WOW – talk about a book that makes you stop and think.  This is a book about the best of the best, the people or groups that are so good - they are “outliers.”  They are so much better or different than the rest of us - that they are almost impossible to ignore.

Why were the Beatles arguably the most successful band in history?

Why did Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have so much success?

Why are Asians so good at math?

Why are most Canadian hockey players born in the first half of the year?

If you are like me – you read that last question and went, “huh?”  Exactly. 
Shouldn’t the most talented players who work the hardest also be the best hockey players?  Why should the month they were born matter?

Well  - in Canada you can play competitive hockey starting at age 10.  The cutoff date is Jan 1st.  So if you were born in December, you will be the youngest and likely smallest on your team.  If you were born in January, you will likely be the biggest with more physical maturity than the rest of the kids.

So – starting at age 10 – guess which kids look the most talented?  Which kids look like the best players, get the most playing time, the most coaching, the most practice?  The kids who are naturally bigger and better because of their age.  So what happens after 5-10 years of this?  They become the best players, the most advance with the best skills.
Hence, most Canadian Hockey players were born in the first half of the year.  The country has inadvertently decided to ignore the talent in the last half of the year by only having one league, with one cut-off date.


Why are Asians so good at math?  Is it IQ?  Is it upbringing?  Is it school?  Is it genetic?
Nope – it’s language.  It’s how you say the numbers.

Why in English do we call 11 “eleven?”  Shouldn’t it be “one-teen?”  Why do we call 15 “fifteen” instead of “fiveteen?”  Why do we make up new words and change the spelling.  Why do our kids have to memorize 28 different words to count to 100? Guess how many words you need in Chinese dialects, Korean, and Japanese?  11.  The words are 1 through 10, and 100.

What would we call 11?  Ten-one.
25? Two-ten-five
67? Six-ten-seven

Then when we did math we could say the numbers and the math would be self explanatory.  What is two-ten-three plus five-ten-four.
Add 2 and 5, then 3 and 4.  You get 77, (seven-ten-seven)

Asian children are better at math because they spend their time doing math, not translating 28 words into numbers… and then doing math.

The book is good.  It gives many great examples.  I think the last 2 or 3 are a stretch, like the author needed another 50 pages and really came up with some off the wall ideas.  But other than that it is a worthwhile book.

I recommend it.

(Here is the article from ESPN about the book and the Hockey Players.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Journey of Talent, Luck and 10,000 Hours

Recently I have done well in a few speaking engagements / competitions.

1. A competition to see who could present a medical research article the best. You had to choose an article, then give a 10 minute PowerPoint presentation about it, and answer questions from a panel of judges.
 - I earned 2nd place.

2. "Resident Research Day." Participants had to prepare a poster to present their original research or a case study. Each presenter would have 7 minutes to present, and 3 minutes to answer questions.
 - I earned 1st place.

3. I gave a short funny speech at Graduation to honor/roast  the outgoing program director.
 - it was well received.

Since then I have had professors, colleagues and others tell me what a great job I do.  Residents from other programs mention it to me as well.  Some are even telling me "well, we kind of expected you to win that," "you're a natural," and things like that.

I appreciate the compliments but I try not to think about it too much because I get prideful pretty easily. (my wife can verify that fact)

THEN - a few days ago I started reading the book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. He makes a few very good points

1: There are many talented people. Talent rarely makes the difference between those who are good and those who are great.

2: Becoming great at something takes more than talent, it takes 10,000 hours.  He says masters and experts have spent 10,000 hours practicing and preparing their craft.
 (If you practiced 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, it would take you 10 years to reach 10,000 hours.)

3. Becoming the best at something takes luck.  You have to born in the right place, have the right opportunities and the right people helping you along the way.

This made me think - I haven't been presenting medical literature anywhere close to that long, but have I been practicing? What opportunities was I lucky enough to get?

Practice Presenting:

I'm a Mormon; born and raised in a Mormon family. That means that at age four I started standing up in front of 100 kids every few months and reading a scripture or short talk my parents helped me write. By age twelve I was speaking in front of the entire congregation of kids and adults to give a seven minute talk I'd written myself. From age fourteen on I was asked to go visit three families every single month, and help present a short spiritual lesson from the church's magazine. Then I was asked to give longer talks, longer presentations. When I went to college I was asked to teach a class of fifty of my classmates every Sunday for an hour. When I was nineteen I went as a missionary to Brazil. For two years I was asked to walk the streets and teach strangers ten hours a day, six days a week. I was knocking doors, trying to engage people in religious conversation and convince them to listen to me, let me in their home, read my materials, and invite me back.
I've since been asked to teach more lessons in church, visit church members weekly in their homes and teach them short lessons as well. My religion has been vital to my ability to present.

Yes I decided to stay in the religion and believe it - but being born into the religion was pure chance.

When I was eight I started performing in small theater productions. By High School I was acting and singing in two full length musicals per year.

At age fourteen I joined the debate team. I presented arguments and debated information every day in class, and every month in debate competitions throughout the state.

I didn't love debate, but along with it came speech competitions. So I signed up for "Oratory" and "Impromptu" competitions. Oratory meant I had to prepare and present from memory a ten minute persuasive speech. I usually earned 1st or 2nd place. Impromptu was a five minute speech with only two minutes prep time. I wasn't very good, I never won, but I sure liked trying.
(I dropped debate because I was starting to argue about absolutely everything with my family, and I was really quite annoying.)

I joined choir. I was lucky in that my junior high and high school had amazing music programs. I got used to performing in front of huge groups, important people, and in important and famous places. In high school I performed in the State Capitol, in multiple chapels, synagogues and cathedrals; and the most famous concert hall of all - Carnegie Hall.

I continued singing in College. I went to a church sponsored school (BYU-Idaho). I sang in concerts of course, but every year I also went to church head quarters in Salt Lake City and sang for the president and other leaders of my church at a dinner. (It's like a Catholic singing for the Pope and the top Cardinals) - It was a very big deal.

I sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during a worldwide broadcast, and sang at the worldwide church conference three different times.

In short - I've had practiced singing in from of very large audiences, and for very important people.

I have also had a lot of practice talking to people who really don't want to talk to me.  Besides being a proselytizing missionary,  I was later a door-to-door salesman. I sold security systems from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. six days a week for three months. I learned how to get people's attention quickly, how to smile and use body language that would put people at ease. I knew I had about ten seconds to remove all animosity and make them feel like they were chatting with a friend on their doorstep - or the door would be slammed in my face.

In short - I have spent a LONG time learning how to present information to large groups, to strangers and to important leaders.

Practice Researching:
(I'll make this section more succinct)

In debate class in high school I learned how to research topics - and really dig deep to find important information.

In my genetics class in college I learned how to read a scientific journal article (and I was graded on my analysis of a new article every month)

After my junior year of College I had a paid internship at Idaho State University.  I worked hard to understand a project and sector of research I knew nothing about.  I learned how to study voltage gated sodium channels, their mutations, and temperature dependence. (sounds fun I know)
I then made a poster and a powerpoint presentation and presented the research at multiple research conferences and for all the biology students at my university.

In medical school I was asked time and again to read reseach articles and present them the next day to the treatment team.  I usually had twelve hours to prepare.


I enjoy presenting.  I volunteered to do a case conference for my residency.  I volunteered to present a Grand Rounds for all mental health workers in the State of Nevada (which I completed in January)
I volunteered to compete in the two competitions mentioned at the beginning.

After I spoke at graduation a fellow resident remarked: "That was really good, did you practice that?"

I was surprised for a moment.  I thought  "are you kidding me? I practiced this thing five times on my own and rehearsed it with my wife and later with a friend."
I responded "yeah, I ran through it a few times."

I realized then that maybe everyone else doesn't practice.  When I write a talk for church - I use a stopwatch a time myself at least twice.  I time each section so I know how long each section will take - then if I am short on time I have sections I can cut and I know exactly how long I have left.
I practice everything.  I practice lectures, I practice speeches, I even practice jokes.  My wife listened to my 65 minute long Grand Rounds presentation at least 5 times (she is a very patient woman).
The two competitions I mentioned at the beginning - I rehearsed them with other faculty, my wife, my friends, and by myself - multiple times.
My wife often catches me talking to myself, running over past speeches and conversations in my head.  I review what I didn't say quite right, and how to correct it next time.

My Point:  I still practice... a lot.

I've reached the point where I enjoy it; it doesn't make me nervous.  I don't know if I'm an expert.  I don't know how many hours I've practiced (maybe 10,000?),  but I know it is much more than natural talent.  It is also much more than hard work.  It's also luck - I have been in the right situation, with the right mentors, at the right moments.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Review: The House of God

I did not finish this book.

I rarely say or type those words.  When I pick up a book on purpose - I finish it.  Sure I've been handed a book by a friend that I read a few pages and then given it back.  But when I decide to read something - I finish it.  I slogged through 864 pages of Anna Karenina and hated nearly every page...but I finished it.

When I was offered a copy of "The House of God," I jumped at the chance.  I've heard of this book since I started medical school.  Every medical student has because it's famous.  It's called the "Catch-22" of medicine.  It debunks the "heroic doctor" myth and shows medicine how it really is down in the trenches.

When I was working in my first hospital as a medical student I heard about the dark humor in the book.  Example: The jokes about how to "turf" a patient to another specialty using the motorized hospital bed.  The idea is basically that old people always fall out of bed, or as the book says "GOMERs go to ground."  So if you want them turfed to Orthopedics - you raise the bed high enough that they'll break a hip when they fall out.  If you want them turfed to Neurosurgery you raise the bed high enough to cause a brain bleed when they fall out.

Even in the book this is portrayed as sadistic humor only funny to overworked interns.

The book has much more than that.  The author creates now famous acronyms to describe the most typical patients.

LOL in NAD = Little Old Lady in No Apparent Distress (but you have to admit her becuase she has some vague complaint and will not go away.  Just try to avoid running any tests - or then you'll have to treat what you find - and make her worse)

GOMER = Get Out of My Emergency Room (old dememted patients bordering on death, but they never do because doctors are great at keeping them alive)

The book also presents the "laws of the house of god "as told by the senior resident. 

A few are:


Seriously - I think the creators of the comedy T.V. series "SCRUBS" took half of their ideas from this book.  Scrubs is a hilarious show, but I can't recommend it to my family or friends - because there is too much stuff that's just wrong: Inappropriate, macabe, and just plain offensive.

This book is worse.

The three line introduction is vulgar.  The first paragraph is bordering on pornographic, and it only gets worse from there.  The book may have gems, it may have won awards, it may be sadly hilarious for medical professionals, but it is not for me.

I understand why people liked it, and why they recommended it to me.  But it's just too gross, too unfeeling, and too sexual.

I'm sure I'll still hear medical students talking about "GOMERs", and "Orthopedic Height" for the hospital bed.  We'll talk regularly about hoof beats being a sign of horses, not zebras.  And I'll remember the good lesson:  that often the best medical care is to do as much nothing as possible.

I'll remember all those things, and probably appreciate them - but I'll never finish this book.