Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Brown paper packages tied up with string

So I was recently talking with this nice girl, who I will call the Princess of Power. Having seen the number of books on my shelves, she asked me what my favorite book was.

I was not sure how to answer that question, and I guess I am still not sure. Is my favorite book the one that has made the most impact on my life, and the way I think? Is my favorite book the one that I have read the most times? Is it the one that I most frequently share with others? I don't know. But here are some contenders.

* the scriptures, obviously, especially the Book of Mormon
* The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan
* Inside Terrorism, by Bruce Hoffman
* Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld, edited by Hart Seely
* Tropical Gangsters: One Man's Experience With Development And Decadence In Deepest Africa, by Robert Klitgaard
* One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
* Prayers from the Ark, by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold, translated by Rumer Godden
* The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber
* Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams
* The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, by Max Brooks
* Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges
* Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
* Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
* Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

It's nowhere near a complete list, but I do love all of these books. I have read them all multiple times, they have all insinuated themselves into my neural net in some way, and I am happy to endorse them for your reading pleasure.

So, imaginary readers, what are your favorites? How do you choose? And what did I forget?

Incidentally, after our conversation, she gave me A Tale of Two Cities for Christmas, because it is one of her favorites. I've started reading it, and so far-- the best of times. But I hear it takes a wicked turn.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Moroni's strawberries

I taught the lesson at our ward FHE a couple of weeks ago, and I keep thinking about it. So maybe I should write it down and share it with you, my imaginary readers. So I will!

A lot of things in my life seem like they're coming to a close. The year is ending, my classes are wrapping up, I am getting ready to move, my dissertation is slouching towards completion. And other things have also finished.

In a sense, everything in this life is temporary:

As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

(Psalms 103:15-16)

And that makes me feel a little down.

But for the last few weeks, I've been thinking about this zen parable. Among other places, it's found in an episode of King of the Hill, where it is recounted by Kahn Souphanousinphone.

As a Buddhist, of course, I get comfort from a story. I don't need to tell you how much Buddhists love a story!

Anyway, story begins with man being chased by ferocious man-eating tiger. Tiger chase him to edge of cliff. Man falls off. Halfway down, he grab onto branch.

He look up, he see ferocious tiger. Now he look down, he see another hungry tiger, waiting for him on the ground below. Not a good place to be. He knows for sure he gonna die.

Then out of corner of his eye he see a wild strawberry growing on same branch. He pluck it and eat it. And it was the sweetest-tasting strawberry he ever had.

The man is still going to die. So why eat the strawberry? Because strawberries are good. Plus, you never know, right? Maybe the tigers will go away.

This makes me think of Moroni. He was in a giant battle where most of his people perished, and his father was apparently mortally wounded. But Moroni lived. And he wrote, on his father's gold plates. He says he is only finishing the record because his father commanded him, and that he expects that sooner or later he will be killed by his enemies. But he writes two chapters anyway, which end with a very powerful testimony and an emphatic Amen. The end.

But then we turn the page, and there's Moroni again. He's still alive, and still writing. He translates and edits the book of Ether, giving us fifteen chapters. And at the end there is a lone prophet, the only survivor of his people, finishing his record and burying it in the earth according to the Lord's commandments. It's a very poignant echo of Moroni himself, who surely expected that he would soon die. The end.

But we turn the page, and here's Moroni.

I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished...

Wherefore, I write a few more things, contrary to that which I had supposed...that perhaps they may be of worth unto my brethren, the Lamanites, in some future day, according to the will of the Lord.

(Moroni 1:1, 4)

So he keeps writing. At first, it's just a few little unconnected scraps. Then he passes along three letters that his father wrote him, years before. All three are profound and moving, and end powerfully. Any of them would have been a fitting way to end the record of Moroni's people, and maybe that's what he was thinking as he wrote each one. The end.

But then we get chapter 10, which he starts by saying that he will "write somewhat as seemeth me good... And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you." Then he makes a promise: Read this book, ask God if it's true, and he'll show you by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Like tens of millions of other people, I've read this promise and tried it. And I can testify that the Book of Mormon is true. And I can testify that God will reveal his truths to us through the power of the Holy Ghost if we just ask.

The chapter ends with Moroni bidding us farewell. We've seen this before. He's given us plenty of farewells and amens and closing testimonies. But this one really is the last one. He never got a chance to come back and add a few more words. This was his last strawberry.

What if he had quit before he got to that last chapter? The world would be so much poorer without these words. I'm so glad that he didn't give up. I'm so grateful that as long as he lived, he kept writing.

In Conference, President Monson said, "We never know how soon it will be too late." That's a pretty sobering thought.

The devil also tells me that it might be too late, and adds that I might as well give up. If the tide is coming in, there's no point in continuing to build the sand castle, right? Just let it go.

But the Lord's counsel is different. Our time here is limited, so hurry up and do something good! Be like Moroni, choose the right, be happy. Eat a strawberry. Hang in there. And who knows? Maybe the tigers will get bored and go watch King of the Hill.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

What to expect when you're not expecting

So, I am once again going to blog my thoughts from last night's addiction recovery group. Yay!

This week we talked about Step 3, Trust in God. In the words of the original Alcoholics Anonymous, this is the step where we make "a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."

As we read, something stood out to me. It came from a talk by Boyd K. Packer, in which he said:

Perhaps the greatest discovery of my life, without question the greatest commitment, came when finally I had the confidence in God that I would loan or yield my agency to Him–without compulsion or pressure, without any duress, as a single individual alone, by myself, no counterfeiting, nothing expected other than the privilege. In a sense, speaking figuratively, to take one's agency, that precious gift which the scriptures make plain is essential to life itself, and say, "I will do as thou directs," is afterward to learn that in so doing you possess it all the more.

The phrase that jumped out at me was "nothing expected other than the privilege." Maybe this was because I have been thinking a lot lately about some important relationships in my life, and the way these relationships are affected by expectations-- whether my own or someone else's.

For example, I have a roommate we can call Brooks. He's a real clothes horse; he likes to look good. He also likes to help other people look good. So when I leave for work in the morning, I'll often run my clothing choices past him, or ask for his advice. This continued coaching on style is a great benefit that I gain from his friendship. But I did not become his friend because I expected to get something out of it. And he doesn't expect that I will only be his friend so long as I get compliments on the ties he picks out. Of course this must be so, because friends don't treat each other as mere means to an end.

Unfortunately, my relationship with God is sometimes centered around expectations. My prayers are always most fervent when there is something that I want. To some degree this is unavoidable and even acceptable. After all, Jesus said if we want something, we should ask for it, expecting that it will be given.

But my prayers are not always going to be answered in the way that I would like. God gives good things not just to good people, but to all his children. And sometimes the things I ask for, I just don't get. Like, last year some goon stole my laptop. I asked God for it to be miraculously returned (and for the thief to get hit by a bus). But it didn't happen (as far as I know). That was hard. I don't know that I have ever prayed harder than I did in January and February of 2009. But, okay, maybe my desires were a little selfish.

On the other hand, and more to the point of our discussion last night, I have asked a lot of times for God to change my heart and free me of all the stupid self-destructive behaviors that have plagued me since I was a boy. I think that's a pretty good thing to ask for. But it hasn't happened yet, and sometimes that is hard for me to understand. I feel like I've put a lot in, and I want something out.

But that's not the way it works. I don't earn his grace. I draw near to God not in the expectation of being showered with goodies, but because I love Him.

I know He loves me, too, and he has promised me that in His own time, He will remake me into something new and wonderful. But waiting is hard. I don't know when that is going to happen-- and maybe it's wrong even to think that it will happen all at once. Maybe it happens bit by bit. Lots of important things happen that way. So, I wait. And I try to trust God, and keep drawing near to him, expecting 'nothing other than the privilege.'

And maybe a laptop.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

meine kleine kerzlein

Greetings, imaginary readers. I am sorry to have neglected you so long. But in my defense, you do not really exist. Also, I have been seeing this girl, who we will call Hello Kitty. She's very nice, and I like her a lot. Also, she speaks Japanese.

Anyway, HK and I were talking a while back about my calling. Right now I am a group leader for the church's Addiction Recovery program.

And one thing I love about being in AR is that I get to basically share my testimony, my faith in Jesus, every Thursday night. That's pretty great! And I was saying to HK how I wish she could come, just so I could share that with her. Unfortunately, the group I lead is just for men, so that's not possible.

But it occurred to me that I could blog it-- that I could write down here what I said there. So I decided to do that. And so now, two weeks later, I am finally going to give it a try. So here is one thing I have been thinking about sharing tonight at our AR group.

Tonight we are talking about step2, which is hope. In step two we come to believe that God can restore us, free us from our addictions. This is not always easy for me to believe, in large part because these patterns of thought and behavior have just been with me so long. It seems that I am always fighting myself, that my first impulses are always wrong.

For example, I have a bunch of quizzes that I told my students last week I would grade and return today. Last night I started on them, but I got tired of it and quit without finishing. I went to bed early, telling myself that I would get up early and get them done. When I woke up at 6:30, instead of getting up right away which is what I do most mornings, I went back to bed because I didn't want to work on them.

So when I got up, I told myself I would give myself a little time and then get them done in time for the big class, which meets at 11. Well, at 10, I hadn't started grading, so I said I would get them done in time for the section meeting at 3. And then I put it off a bit, and then it was lunch, and then I decided I'd better shower, and suddenly it was 1:30 and I had only 45 minutes to grade before I had to go catch the train. The whole morning had slipped away from me.

I decided to sit down and send out a quick email to let the kids know they wouldn't be getting the quizzes back today as I had promised. And my first impulse was to make an excuse, to lie to them and say that I had graded them but wanted to make sure that my scores were in line with the other TAs. I had used this excuse before, and it was plausible enough. But why lie? It doesn't make the kids any happier than the truth. They just want their quizzes back, and if they don't get them then the reason is more or less irrelevant. It's just that my impulse, honed by years and years of covering for my addictions (like procrastination!) is to lie.

So anyway, I was typing this out, and somehow my pinkie hit the stupid button on my laptop keyboard that makes the web browser go back one page. (I hate that button.) And when I went forward again, the lie I had typed was lost. And as I started typing again, I thought better of it and told them the truth. I was not handing the quizzes back today because I had not graded them. And I sent it off, and felt better.

Is that enough reason to hope? After all that disfunction, after all that self-destructive behavior, after all that indulgence of my addiction, can I find a ray of sunshine in the fact that I wrote the truth after the lie serendipitously disappeared? Yes. I have hope because I told the truth, even if it not at first. I have hope because I let myself feel bad about covering up my addiction in time enough that that guilt could motivate me toward better behavior. And I feel hope because of that providential little accidental bump of a key.

I know God is looking out for me, always. I know that he has sent his Spirit to light a little candle in my heart and show me a better path than the one I am inclined to follow. I know that each time I chose to follow that better path I become a better, happier man. And as I continue to make these choices, my inclinations change, too, through the power of Christ's love and his sacrifice.

Yay hope! Yay candle! Yay me!


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No easy answers

In the latest (surprisingly non-sexual) Weird Japan News, it seems there is a problem with people who are so afraid of the world that they become hermits, shutting themselves up in their own bedrooms. Something like a half a percent of all Japanese apparently fall into this category, which in the US would be like a million people or more.

I was going to recommend that they get outside, take walks, and maybe take a nice relaxing dip in the hot tub every now and then. But maybe that's not such a good idea, either. Maybe a hobby? Something constructive?

Let me know if you have any solutions we can pass along to our Japanese friends.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mike Meyers looks uncomfortable for some reason

So, um... this happened...

Kanye? You got any thoughts?

Cogent, as always.


Friday, June 04, 2010

We Don't Take Kindly to Your Type Around Here

As my imaginary readers know, we don't take kindly to bigots around here-- especially bigots who want to represent the Party of Lincoln. Man, forget that noise.

So when I read about a jackass in South Carolina who called one of his political opponents a "raghead" because her parents are Sikhs from India, yeah, I was pretty mad. How mad? So mad that, Obama-like, I am leaping into action with the awesome power of talking about things.

So although I don't know much about Nikki Haley, I am happy to announce that this blog is officially endorsing her in the race for Governor of South Carolina. Also, this blog is officially endorsing the jackass, state senator Jake Knotts, for a catapult ride to the center of the Atlantic ocean. And I think the Railsplitter would be happy to stand alongside me and pull the lever, for both of them.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Good news, everyone!

As you may have read, human beings with ancestors from Europe, Asia, or the Americas probably have a little Neanderthal DNA. This incredible news might also make you ask yourself if your special someone is a troglodyte of some kind-- not that there's anything wrong with that. Thanks to science, Gattaca-style genetic testing is now available from your local pharmacy in a handy over-the-counter kit.

If any of this piques your curiosity, you might also be wondering if you are a nerd. Well, fortunately for you, there's also a test for this. Actually, there's probably a few ways to know...

And one of them is this: Have you ever thought that online dating sounds like a good idea, except that it has too much personal interaction? Well, now you can hire your very own digital Cyrano to spam sweet nothings to all the internet honeys out there. The downside is that one of them might get interested and want to interact with you in meatspace. But I hear robots are getting very advanced.

In fact, why not buy a robot to do your housework? Well, it might mangle all your delicate fleshy bits with its cruel metal claws, but then again, it might not. Either way, it beats washing your own stupid dishes-- am I right? Plus, it frees up your valuable time and brainpower to dedicate yourself to more vital pursuits.

Progress marches on!


(UPDATE: Bonus video designed by science especially for female humans!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Missed headline opportunities

I know that most newspaper editors try to sound like they're, like, professional and serious and all that crap. But please, imaginary readers, peruse this story and see if you're not just a little disappointed by the headline.

So give it a think and then put your best effort in the comments. Winner gets a lifetime supply of vegemite.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

As the old saying goes

American kids are fat. Doctors say it's because they're not getting enough sleep. I blame the parents. They're the ones who drag kids out of bed at unreasonable hours to take them to crappy failing schools where they will get picked on by bullies.

Why not let them sleep in and skip school? School is prison. And kids are smarter than we think. Even babies are pretty sharp. So let your children run wild and free.

Just not, you know, too wild.


UPDATE: Now with adorable child video.

Friday, April 23, 2010

This one's for the hippies

So it was Earth Day. Now, I am a Republican, but I'm not opposed to the earth, strictly speaking. And lots of experts and admirable people are very worried about the earth. But it's always a good idea to do some critical thinking, since experts and admirable people are not always right.

So, here are a few things to think about. First, by most measures, the Earth is in better shape than it used to be. Second, recycling trash is often more wasteful and harmful to the environment than just throwing it away. Third, modern cars emit less pollution while speeding down the highway than cars did fifty years ago when they were sitting in the driveway. A lot less.

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep trying to improve and protect our environment. On the contrary, I think that God has called all of us who live here to take care of this place. Plus, it's just a beautiful, weird world we live in, and there's so much we don't understand. I think we should try to preserve its wonders.

But, as I said, there's a lot we don't understand. And it's not hard to imagine how we might foul things up, even if our intentions are good. The fact is, our own political system has become so complicated that its workings can not be comprehended, not just by citizens but by the policymakers themselves. And that makes me confident that the laws we pass are doing a lot of good for the activists and lobbyists who help write them, rather than hopeful that they are doing a lot of good for than the environment.

It's a thorny problem, but most of us can agree on the desired outcomes at least-- healthier planet, healthier humans. So as we're trying do devise policy solutions, let's think carefully and be prepared to question our own preconceptions, not just the preconceptions of those we disagree with. And let's speak clearly, and keep our discussions open and civil.

And anyone who can't agree to that is a dumb stupid idiot.


Saturday, April 03, 2010

It's like rain

So we had an EQ gathering today before Priesthood Session, and there was loads of food. Each of the four singles wards contributed something. I think. It may have just been the senior primary and the two junior primaries, but not the nursery. I don't know.

Anyway, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I had a slice of pizza (Papa John's, not bad) and about halfway through a burrito I realized I was getting full. But burritos start falling apart as soon as you start biting into them, and so I decided to finish. But then I still had like three or four inches of sandwich from Subway which I had not even started. I thought about throwing it away, but that seemed wasteful. (Yes, I know, it's no more wasteful than having a fat man who is already full eat it.)

So I set it down on the folding chair next to me during conference. And I kept looking over at it, and sometimes I could smell the jalapenos. So I would remind myself that I was not really hungry, and that I could always have it after conference if I felt hungry then.

But then I got tired of waiting and decided to just eat the stupid thing.

It was right when Elder Uchtdorf was starting his talk. He was telling this story about a researcher who gave marshmallows to little children and told them if they would wait a few minutes without eating the first one, they would get a second one. Most of them, of course, at the marshmallow before the second one could show up. And then the researcher tracked these kids over decades and found that impatience correlated with all kinds of problems for these kids later in life.

My sandwich tasted terrible. Mostly the bread was all soggy. Maybe I waited too long to eat it. Or maybe I didn't wait too long enough!


Monday, March 22, 2010

Very well

In the gracious spirit of collegial accommodation for which I am well known, I would like to acknowledge the victory of our dear leader and his allies in Congress. Although I fear that the bill will not have the salubrious effects its proponents claim, I hope for the sake of this great country that they are right. Let us go forward into this bright new dawn, together.

Okay, comrades?


Sunday, March 21, 2010

You go to blog with the links you have

...not the links you might want or wish to have, as The Donald once said. So here are some links I have.

* The magic age for women to start settling is 30, in case you were wondering. White women, in particular, should start having babies immediately.

* Global warming-- the movement, not the phenomenon-- has been reported dead. Like Mark Twain, I suspect that these reports are greatly exaggerated.

* Americans are exceptional in some ways, but not in our ever-feebler grasp of English. Canadian students are apparently just as stupid as we are, and for the same reason-- TEXTING! (Also: TWITTER!)

* Even though terrorists probably won't attack us through the internet, the internet is turning people into terrorists. (Are you people getting the message? Technology is BAD!)

* Also, hand sanitizer does not actually sanitize your hands. Although it apparently tastes great.

* A retired American general says that the presence of gay soldiers in the Dutch armed forces caused the failure of peacekeepers to prevent a massacre 15 years ago. The Dutch, of course, completely deny these allegations and promise to scratch his eyes out if he keeps it up.

* China's economy is in big trouble, but Lyndell's is doing super awesome.

* Lastly: for my homeboy Rambo, who is just now discovering the joys of BSG, a video...



Friday, March 12, 2010

The new math

What is less than three?

Two are. One is, too.

Learning is hard.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Beatles two-fer Tuesday

Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. What's wrong with that?


(Update 11:47 AM: Now in glorious functional video!)

Sunday, January 24, 2010


This is the best reason so far to avoid seeing Avatar:

Lucas added: 'I liked it. I make movies like that, so I can appreciate what James Cameron went through to do it. It worked well in 3D and I'm happy it's so successful.'

How happy was George Lucas after watching Smurftanic? Happy enough that he now plans to remake all six Star Wars movies in 3D.

Thanks a lot, Cameron.


Friday, January 22, 2010

More bullets, more points

* I am glad I am not French, and that I do not shout at my wife.

* Scientists who want to live in a moon hole should be careful and have it checked out thoroughly before they move in.

* How many European countries have more prosperous populations than Kansas? One. Rock chalk, Jayhawk!

* I don't believe that religious people are dumb. But that Pat Robertson certainly is a ninny.

* Q. How many airline personnel does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A. That's not funny! (In related news...)

* Boy, I really thought we had plateaued out on this unemployment thing. Maybe not.

* There is a guy who is an expert on labor policy whose name is Sherk. Hilarious! Also, he has some point about unions or something.

* Interesting thoughts about immigration from Mark Krikorian. He's an opponent of illegal immigration, so don't read what he says if you expect that it would make your head explode. The one sentence that really made me think: "5 billion people are poorer than the average Mexican." Huh.

* How funky can an eighty year old recording of a Ukrainian harmonica group be? Very, very funky.

Peace, love, and all that other good stuff.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Grasp the broom of reform

Today I get to do something I hardly ever get to do-- cast a vote in a competitive election. In fact, I think this might be a first.

I turned 18 in Kansas, and went to college in Utah, both of which are thoroughly Republican. How thoroughly? In 1992, Perot beat Clinton in Utah. And Kansas is so dominated by Republicans that some dumb Democrat went and wrote a book trying to explain it.

I've also spent almost 8 years in Massachusetts, which is practically a one-party state. It's the only state that voted for McGovern in 1972. When I pick up a ballot out here, I see mostly uncontested elections. And contested elections are as likely to have a third party candidate as a Republican.

So it's amazing to me that today I can cast a vote in an election that the Boston Globe now says is "up for grabs," although less than ten days ago they had Democratic candidate Martha Coakley up by 15 points.

The whole country is watching, and I get to be one of the lucky ones to vote! I don't know if I have ever been this excited to cast a ballot.

Yay democracy!


(Update 3:00 PM - I voted! And my roommate went with me to cancel out my vote! Hooray! Long live the republic!)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy New Year!

So, this is 2010. I always thought by now the future would have arrived, and then blown up and left civilization a devastated ruin. Well, there's always next year.

In the meanwhile, I am thinking about resolutions. After all, if a stupid prion can adapt and change, why can't I?

So, my imaginary readers, what should I resolve to do in 2010? And what have you resolved to do (besides be less imaginary and more real, of course)?