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Chaplain J. F. Coppedge
There's a disturbing story from World Magazine about what's happening in the military chaplaincy.  "Holding the Line" by Edward Lee Pitts begins:

This year: An Idaho Air Force base removes a painting called “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” because it references a Bible verse. The Air Force yanks off You-Tube a video tribute to first sergeants because its statement, “God created a first sergeant,” is “highly suggestive of the Book of Genesis in the Bible and has Christian overtones.” ...Last year: A superior tells an Air Force major to remove from his desk the Bible he had kept there for 23 years. An Army lieutenant colonel instructs his subordinates to recognize the “religious right in America” as a domestic hate group like the KKK and Neo-Nazis.

My father, a Navy chaplain after the war, would have a fit.  What is the world coming to?  Is this America?  I'm convinced he would consider such actions a sign the world is coming to an end.

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Leading a JPL tour, 2001
Further down the article, there's an explanation of the military policy that justified these responses to reasonable Christian influences by chaplains:

An Air Force statement this spring said service members could “express their personal religious beliefs as long as it does not make others uncomfortable.” 

Sound familiar?  That word -- "uncomfortable"  was Margaret's favorite word at deposition and on the witness stand.  Both Margaret and Carmen equated my somehow making them "uncomfortable" with "harassment."  

Pitts rightly asks the follow-up question: 

Many chaplains wondered who would be deciding what is uncomfortable—and would this definition change over time? 

Chaplains today are in the same pickle I was in at JPL.  There's no way they can know who is going to be uncomfortable.  The "uncomfortable" standard is an uncomfortable standard.  Unlike harassment, which was clearly defined in the JPL policy as something so persistent that it was "likely to interfere significantly" with someone's work, "uncomfortableness" is entirely subjective.  What you had for lunch could make you uncomfortable.  The style of clothes a coworker is wearing could make you uncomfortable.  Someone's voice pitch could make you uncomfortable.  Only the target knows; the "perpetrator" of discomfort cannot know in advance what will make someone uncomfortable.

The "comfort" criterion amounts to prior restraint on speech.  As I explained previously, Margaret and Carmen, despite their protestations that it was my "manner" not the "content" of my material that made them uncomfortable, admitted in testimony that what they were really uncomfortable about was that I would bring up subjects like ID and Prop 8 that they felt were "inappropriate" in the workplace.  

Watch out for that word "uncomfortable."  I believe it is going to be the next word leftists will use to persecute conservatives and Christians.  As we all know, the standard is unequally applied.  Nobody cared whether I was uncomfortable with the constant Darwin promotion at JPL.  Nobody cared if I was uncomfortable with the false allegations made against me.  All the pampering went to my accusers who used this vague word uncomfortable to deprive me of my rights.  

But where, in the Constitution or in common sense, does anyone have the right to be comfortable all the time?  The pursuit of happiness is not the pursuit of comfort.  It's the pursuit of eudaimonia, the good life.  The good life involves meeting challenges and engaging with people.  Much as we would like to be comfortable, we live in a society and culture that requires rubbing shoulders with those who disagree with us.  A good life involves progress in engaging with people on the important issues of society.  I'm sorry, Margaret and Carmen, if the thought of intelligent design made you uncomfortable.  I'm sorry for you. Ignorance may be comfortable, but it is not desirable.  I wanted to increase your eudaimonia with some knowledge about a subject of great interest and importance to everyone.  I expected that knowledge would increase your comfort in the long run.

This is the way liberals can shut down speech without having to think. By claiming that some topics made them "uncomfortable," Margaret and Carmen were able to close down discussion of intelligent design. They could have evaluated the evidence objectively and fairly, and told me they disagree.  They could have even said they prefer not to discuss it.  Instead, they charged me with making them uncomfortable, making me out to be a bad person for even bringing it up.  Wouldn't that be a convenient ploy in any conversation where the other person seems to have a better position than yours; smile and tell him thank you, then go tell his boss he made you uncomfortable.  Result: "This topic is not for further discussion" (my boss's words).

Another word that can be used as a hammer against certain viewpoints (i.e., conservative and Christian viewpoints) is "civility."  While leftists can breathe fire and cause vandalism in support of their attacks against Prop 8, just the offer of information in favor of it is considered by leftists to be uncivil.  One of my favorite political cartoons shows how leftist moral standards are applied.

See also these articles addressing problems with the "uncomfortable" standard in the military chaplaincy on Family Research Council and Townhall.com.

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At Mooney Falls June 2013
Cancer News

This week I had 5 doctor visits and an MRI.  My surgeons, pleased (and amazed) with my progress, discussed plans for the future.  While sticking with the "standard of care" (the octreotide injections every 4 weeks), we know it will not prevent the metastatic tumors in my liver from coming back.  Since they are slow-growing, though, and since I do not have symptoms of carcinoid syndrome right now, there is not a rush to try the more aggressive targeted therapies yet. Good news: one of the primary blood markers for tumor activity has been dropping since surgery and is now in the normal range.  In addition, I've regained most of my weight since February.  I'm walking 2-4 miles a day and eating healthy food.  This should help my immune system fight the tumors. On Friday I had an MRI to try to get a better glimpse at how many tumors remain. 

City of Hope continues to be a world leader in cancer research.  A friend from Sunday School contracted another kind of cancer and is getting good treatment there.  Another friend showed me an article from CBS Los Angeles that sounds too good to be true: a discovery at City of Hope that might not only cure cancer, but obesity as well!  (Obesity is not my problem.)  Another report from The Independent described another miracle cure being considered. In addition, a Phase III trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is testing the efficacy of Lutetium-177 radioisotope therapy on neuroendocrine tumors like mine; this treatment has been shown effective in Europe.  Often hopeful treatments that work on mice turn out to have serious side effects when tried on humans, but one of my surgeons said we know much more now than we did 10-20 years ago and fewer mistakes are being made.  The question for me is whether one of these targeted therapies will become available in time for me.  Only my primary care Physician (the Lord Jesus Christ) knows for sure.

Scary thought: one of my surgeons said that on the day of surgery I was probably as little as a day away from complete bowel obstruction from the primary tumor pressing on my small intestine.  The Lord brought me to the right doctors at the right time; otherwise I could have died in February.  Praise God; I am so thankful to be given this extension of time, and need your prayers that I will use it wisely.

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Cast into the black hole
JPL Update

I visited face-to-face with four JPL Christian friends near the lab on Monday (July 15) and was so encouraged by their faithfulness in prayer for me.  The one who was familiar with my work in Cassini said there was no question about my reputation for technical competence.  In addition, I received a very encouraging email from a coworker, now at another job; I didn't know was a Christian.  He described me as "hard working" and "competent".  In his opinion, it was my stance on Prop 8 that caused me the most trouble.  He himself was aware of strong animus against Prop 8 around the lab.

One anecdote he shared that I didn't know about is pretty revealing about the retaliation going on behind the scenes after the lawsuit was filed:
Several months before you were fired you helped me with the FSW computers. The second time you came into my office to help me, I was brought into a conference room by Nancy (I think that was her name, I can’t quite recall her name, she sat across the hall from Donna, the secretary). All the doors were shut and I was told not to work with you because people there had issues with you. I asked her what those issues were but she declined to mention her rationale. Instead she told me that a lot of people are upset by you and she said that people had refused to work with you and that I should not work with you because you were causing “serious” problems for the team. The conversation was extremely uncomfortable for me. It was all so vague to me but she was adamant that I not work with you. She told me to ask the other SA’s for help if I needed help.

This goes to show that the managers were scheming to turn people away from me in those final months.  Not surprising, since JPL's lawyers were meeting with the Cassini managers and my line managers specifically about my lawsuit from March to December of 2010.  We found that out in depositions, but because of attorney-client privilege, we could not determine the content of those meetings, only the general subject matter and the participants.  One can only imagine how they plotted to get rid of me while covering their tracks to prevent charges of retaliation.  It worked; they got away with it at trial.  The judge would not allow us to speculate about what they plotted.

Till next time, thanks for reading, thanks for your prayers, and be encouraged that I am doing well.  I hope you will be a regular reader of Creation-Evolution Headlines at http://crev.info where I report on science news just about every day.
"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our heart unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
"The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16b).
God bless you on the trail,
David Coppedge
 
 
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I've owed my readers some news for over two months now.  SInce I have been silent on this blog, some have worried if everything is OK.  The short answer is, yes!  I am recovering well.  The picture above was taken June 19 of me jumping off a 60' cliff called "Skydiver Leap" into a deep pool in Havasupai Canyon (a tributary of the Grand Canyon).  It was my ninth time there (first time in 1988).  On this expedition I carried a pack 20 miles and hiked an additional 15 miles on a great trip with over a dozen young adults, one of whom I was able to lead to Christ one night at Havasu Falls.

Just prior to that trip I had a good 3-day camping jaunt up the California coast with a friend from Australia, another hiking buddy and two nephews.  These were my first chances to get away since surgery.  I'm posting photos from these trips on my Flickr page over time: see them here-- http://www.flickr.com/photos/psa104/ .  One coastal photo caught the eyes of over 3,000 viewers.

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Mooney Falls is a 200-footer.
Cancer Update

I'm feeling strong, walking 2-4 miles a day and eating healthy food.  Though I'm not out of the woods, I've recovered remarkably well so far, thanks to the prayers of many people and the grace of God.  Just 3.5 months ago I was helpless in a hospital bed, and now look!  When my oncologist saw these pictures of me hiking, doing handstands and cliff diving, she said it made her day! 

I'm on long-term treatment with octreotide, a chemical that mimics a natural enzyme with receptors for the tumor cells in my liver.  It's supposed to shrink the tumors, or at least inhibit them from growing.  In late May, I had to inject myself three times a day for two weeks.  Now, every 4 weeks I get a shot in the gluteal muscles that makes me sore for about a day, but then I feel fine.

Neuroendocrine tumors, like those embedded in my liver, are usually slow-growing.  The octreotide is probably just buying time until more targeted therapies become FDA approved.  Some of them look very promising.  One available already follows the octreotide to the tumors with a radioactive isotope payload that can kill the tumor cells without harming healthy tissue.  A better isotope is now undergoing a Phase III trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The most interesting targeted therapies are the T-cell immunotherapies and oncolytic viruses. The T-cell therapy trains your own immune system to fight the tumors.  The oncolythic virus therapy uses a custom virus that finds the tumor cell and kills it, releasing copies that attack nearby tumor cells.  A test of this virus at the University of Uppsala in Sweden has proven effective in mice.  Researchers are seeking funds to begin Phase I trials in humans.  Unfortunately, these "miracle cures" are years away.  We should pray that they become available soon, not just for me, but for many others suffering from cancer.

In mid-July I will be meeting with my surgeons at City of Hope to learn about treatment options.  Most likely they will recommend staying the course with octreotide for now.  You can continue to pray that it will be effective, and buy me as much time as God's perfect will requires for me to work, and that I will use my time wisely.

JPL Status

Some reasons for my silence have been (1) busy with other writing, (2) the blog software for this site is lousy, buggy, and lacking in features, (3) uncertainties about how many are reading it.  I've been questioning whether a blog is the best way to tell the story of my trial.  It's time consuming, for one thing, and I'm not sure readers are getting the whole story with occasional bits and pieces in reverse chronological order.  The blog software is rigid and inflexible, making it hard to write and hard for readers to find the whole story.  I know I spoke of another episode coming up, so I apologize for keeping you in suspense if you were following it.  I do intend to write more.

I do have some news to share.  Another system administrator I knew at JPL emailed me out of the blue a couple of weeks ago.  He had read the trial decision and parts of this blog, and was quite upset by the negative reports about me JPL's lawyers told.  He said he had the utmost respect for me and never considered me overbearing or demeaning.  "This character assassination of you is completely bogus," he said.
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I was glad to hear from this co-worker, Paul, who had been laid off in 2008, not long before my troubles began.  We got together for lunch last week in Glendale.  He repeated his opinion that he looked up to me as a senior system administrator who was highly regarded by others in the Network and Security Group.  Turns out he is also a Christian, and a talented jazz trumpeter with two excellent albums.  He gave me one, and I gave him my album Classic Adventures.

Paul said he remembered me as a calm person, never angry, never talking down to others.  I appreciated his input, telling him that are only a limited number of people who were there and know the facts and characters in the Cassini environment.  Because of the costs of deposition, we couldn't afford many character witnesses at trial (just Bruce, Jennifer and Ron).  We couldn't call on my Cassini friends to testify without deposing them first.  It would have been an imposition on their time and a possible threat to their own jobs to have them testify against their employer.  JPL, by contrast, could call on anyone they wanted without deposing them first, and offer them a free day with pay to testify against me.   Because of this imbalance, I have been collecting unsolicited positive comments about my work from several JPL co-workers.   I would like to share them with you in a future post, just for the record.

Paul corroborated other things from our side of the story, such as the fact that Cassini's Holiday Party had been called "Christmas Party" before 2003 but was changed due to political correctness.  He also gave his opinion of the team lead who was selected after I was demoted, saying he was not as qualified as JPL's lawyers made him out to be.  He also agreed with my impression that this person was an opportunist.  Paul was not surprised that he had testified against me in court. Additionally, Paul corroborated that JPL lied about the importance of Linux being a skill necessary for the future of the Cassini mission.  JPL claimed that Linux was essential, and because I was not as knowledgeable about it as another SA, that's why I was ranked low and laid off. Paul and I knew that was false; Cassini had determined to stay on Solaris 10 (a subject I was highly qualified on) till the end of mission. Out of the nearly 200 computers in Cassini, only a couple in one office used Linux, and those two were administered by a part-timer.

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Flight: The Genius of Birds
Other Good News

Another good thing that has occupied my time over the last 3 months has been assisting Illustra Media with their latest intelligent design documentary, Flight: The Genius of Birds (see trailer and ordering information on illustramedia.com).  This latest addition to their growing ID arsenal is really exceptional: cutting-edge science, stunning photography, and a powerful ID message all wrapped in a compelling narration with beautiful music.  Illustra's producer, editor and production team have outdone themselves again!  This is a film that informs and inspires, like its predecessor Metamorphosis  The Blu-ray edition of Flight just came out.  What a treat of sight and 5.1 surround sound!

My role was science consultant and fact-checker.  I discovered some of the amazing facts about hummingbirds, starlings and arctic terns featured in the film, and about bird anatomy.  In addition, I spell-checked the script and subtitles, assisted with a photo shoot and some of the interviews, and quality-checked the test disks before publication.  Lad Allen wanted to list me as "Associate Producer" in the credits but I talked him out of it, thinking two other mentions (science consultant and board member) was plenty.  The credit really goes to Lad Allen and Jerry Harned, two of the finest Christian film producers in the country today.

And thus my story circles round; it was the Illustra films Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet that cost me my job at JPL.  Well, if they think these wonderful films are harassing, then chocolate is nauseous and a rose smells putrid.  The rest of us know a good thing when we see it.  I hope you will support Illustra's great ministry by buying their products and sharing them with the widest audiences you can.  Become a fan on their Facebook page, and order a pile of their films today!

I hope you will be a daily reader of Creation-Evolution Headlines where I report on news from the science journals each day, adding "color commentary" to liven things up a bit.  It has RSS and a Twitter feed @crevinfo.  My personal Twitter is @psa104.

Tell next time, thanks for reading, and may God richly bless you!
"Then He [Jesus] spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1).
Dave Coppedge