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Archive for February, 2012

On Saturday I went to Las Vegas’ annual Scottish Ceilidh with two of my children.  As always, it was excellent and we all loved it.

Performances included music and dance.  Music was mostly by a local staple, Desert Sky Pipes and Drums.  Here’s a clip of them doing their thing:

 

Most of the concert was bits of highland dance.  Though none of this weekend’s performers seem to have YouTube videos, these videos of a classic sword dance are very similar to what I saw:

 

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With apologies to Walt Whitman:

 

WHEN I read the learn’d bloggers;

When the assumptions, the speculations, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the insults and the grievances, to spread, magnify, and justify them;

When I, sitting, read the critics, where they lectured with much applause on the Internet,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d down in perfect silence at the scriptures.

 

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Deuteronomy 10:1

At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood.

 

1 Chronicles 22:2

And David commanded to gather together the strangers that were in the land of Israel; and he set masons to hew wrought stones to build the house of God.

 

I like the context in these–the stone being hewed is for the ten commandments and the temple.  Alas, if only Moses and the masons had been instructed to do their hewing gently…my blog could have the perfect verses!

 

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Consider the chart below:

 

 City

Has had only Democratic mayors since

Last time a Republican was mayor

Detroit

1962

1962

Washington, D.C.

1961

1883

New Orleans

1936

1872

 

Of course these examples are cherry picked, but they certainly do demonstrate some dangerous myopia.  One could argue that there are plenty of cities historically run by Democrats that have always had stable success, and I would agree.  Colorado and New England, for example, are full of such places.

But that’s not my point.  It’s not enough to show that strong populations can be primarily liberal.  Since the Democratic platform–and definitely the popular appeal it tries to campaign on–is that their policies are good for the poor, the “disenfranchised,” the lower class, isn’t it fair to check that track record?  Shouldn’t places run exclusively by Democrats be able to maintain prior success, or turn around problems those cities have had?  If things have gotten bad–awful–after 50-100 years of solid rule, shouldn’t this say something critical of liberal ideas?

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Last year I read this article about the many standard devices that are combined into a smartphone, and I considered getting one.  As I shopped around, though, a scary fact slapped me–while the initial cost of a phone could be reckoned with, the monthly fees would be impossible.

Articles such as here, here, and here tell me that most of you out there with smartphones are dropping about a hundred bucks a month to use those things.

So how is everybody affording this?  Whenever our water or power bills go up five bucks a month, we all complain about it until we’re blue in the face.  Riots practically ensue any time gas prices inch up a penny or two.

And yet, sometime in the last several years, as smartphones have become as common as ripped jeans, Starbucks cups, and lower back tattoos, the average American just happened to find an extra hundred dollars a month to spend, in the middle of the worst recession in 70 years?

Where the heck is all this new money coming from? Where was it before you had a smartphone and you were barely making ends meet?

I want answers on this because, without someone showing me the way that the rest of you are making this work, I have to assume the obvious–that millions of you are ignoring your budgets and sinking yourselves into debt each month so you can have the coolness and convenience of the fancy gadget that all the other kids have.

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A satirical web site has gone up inviting users to help the “many Mormons throughout history [who] have died without having known the joys of homosexuality.”  You enter a name, click a button, and the deceased will then somehow have the chance denied them in mortality.

I think this is a great idea.  Seriously.

The only problem is, this web site’s method isn’t truly analogous to what Mormons do in their temples at all.  Here would be a far closer parallel:

Users would first have to do research to identify their own ancestors who died without being able to try homosexuality.  After all, your motive in this project is to bless those whose lives led to your own.  This will require dozens and even hundreds of hours of interviews, online research, and contacting vital records departments.

Once you’ve identified your ancestors, you can’t simply click a button, though.  You must travel to a certain special place dedicated to this work, which will require you to set aside a few hours, on average.  Once there, the work itself involves a simple ritual, but one that must be done precisely, and repeated for each ancestor.

If you care about your departed forefathers being able to enjoy the same things you’ve been blessed to enjoy, then this effort should be a small price to pay.

I genuinely hope that the creators and users of this site will upgrade their satire and find a richer spiritual experience through their service, as millions of Latter-day Saints find in baptism for the dead.  Then, I think, we’ll have more to talk about.

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This week, Nobel prize-winning author of Night Elie Wiesel asked the LDS Church to stop doing proxy baptisms in its temples for Jewish Holocaust victims.  Apparently, an errant church member erroneously entered such a name into our database, though no baptism was actually performed, as that would have violated a church policy that already bars such work for Holocaust victims.

  • Baptism for the dead is being described in some places as an “obscure” practice (such as in this First Thoughts piece here), perhaps in an effort to make something so strange seem less embarrassing to Mormons, or to shield Mitt Romney’s faith from criticism.  On the contrary, baptism for the dead is so mainstream that congregations frequently organize trips for groups of teens to go to the temple to do them.  There’s no reason to hide a belief that’s actually quite wonderful.
  • The Mormon practice of baptizing people on behalf of those who have died is a means of answering the question, “Since Christ said everybody had to be baptized to be saved, what happens to people who died without the opportunity?”  This practice is the world’s only real answer to that: an attempt to offer a chance of salvation to those in the next world who would like it.  No wonder Joseph Smith wrote of baptism for the dead, “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of” but that it constitutes “a voice of gladness for the living and the dead.”  (Doctrine and Covenants 128:9, 19).

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From a great essay at  Segullah:

Input always travels the path of least resistance. So the second time we see the new image, it will travel the same route. And before long, the new neural pathway has been stimulated enough to “desire” of itself continued activation. A habit is born.

After that, when the brain is not currently occupied, we long for that image. That is why we constantly check our phones or email. That is why, when we have a free moment, we click onto a favorite blog, check facebook, and tweets, or any other source of input we frequent. Without realizing it, we have begun to crave these places of input, hunger for them, to the point where they can surreptitiously dominate our time.

Tina said the only way to counterbalance this is with ancient and modern scripture. We must expose our brains repeatedly to the image or sound of God’s words. Printed, glowing on the page, read aloud, or discussed with friends. That is where God’s Spirit lives. It is where His mind and will can rise out of the texts we read or the conversations we share, and filter into our lives, allowing revelation to move through us.

And the money quote: “The battle today, between Babylon and Zion, is being waged between the synapses of our brains.”

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The recent kerfuffle over SOPA got me thinking again about how relatively free the Internet is–not in terms of cost, but as a beacon of freedom.

Consider three of the online world’s greatest success stories, Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Ebay.  Each exists with minimal interference by the managing authority–those who run each site merely set up the forum and restrain abuse (in Wikipedia’s case, by checking edits to articles for accuracy; in Cragslist’s and Ebay’s by monitoring legality and honesty of postings).  Other than that, users are free to participate and contract with each other as they will.  The managing authorities of each site generally stay out of people’s way and let them live.

Isn’t that how government should work?  Maintain a framework for successful societal operations, as per the constitution, but otherwise stay out of the way?

If someone points out problems with these sites (like a Craigslist killer), I’d respond that punitive regulation causes more problems than it solves (OSHA, anyone?).  The freest society is the one that causes the fewest problems.

Truly, the Internet’s success is due to the unfettered innovation of individuals (Facebook, anyone?).  I think it would be hilarious to see a satire of what Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Ebay would look like if they were run by liberal governing ideals.  Does anyone really think that heavy-handed interference and proscription would make them better?

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An amazing lump-in-your-throat sports story from Yahoo!

It was nearly midnight on Wednesday. Doc Rivers had to go.

He needed to hightail it back to Boston, where the Los Angeles Lakers are waiting to take on Rivers’ Boston Celtics on Thursday night. But that reality could wait a sweet moment longer. Right now, Doc was not an NBA coach. He was a deliriously proud dad. And he was not leaving the Dean Smith Center until he had a chance to embrace his son, Austin, after he had the basketball moment of a young lifetime.

Finally, Austin emerged from the Duke locker room in sweats and walked 20 feet, back behind a black curtain, to see his family. They briefly relived the shot that became an instant classic in Blue Devils lore, the long 3-pointer that swished after the buzzer and shocked North Carolina 85-84 in one of the wildest installments in this endlessly compelling rivalry.

The shot:

 

The 1992 Christian Laettner shot mentioned in the article:

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Last week I found, courtesy of Facebook, a new-ish blog run by a friend from church.  She’s chronicling her family’s efforts to maintain healthy eating habits, but this little blog is already much more than that.  Each entry gives easy recipes, yes, but the site itself also houses advice on where to find affordable whole foods (even giving specific product brands), and other suggestions for eating this way.  Plus, the stories and pictures of her family learning to eat better makes for terrific reading.  It’s fun, engaging, inspiring, and highly recommended.

I admit I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet, but I will soon.  After reading Born to Run a couple of months ago, I’m excited to add chia seeds to my diet, and I see them mentioned on Feeling Good Through Food.  Also, I have something of a hobby of making up improvised, healthy smoothies–throwing whatever looks tantalizing into our blender.  For this, also, this blog appears to have things to say to me.  Looking forward to seeing a lot more of it!

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In a classic fifth season episode of The Simpsons, we see brief glimpses of conventions held by the two major political parties.  The Republican convention is a scene of unmitigated evil.  The Democratic convention is shown as a bunch of goofy losers who can’t do anything right.

If those stereotypes held true, then Nevada’s Republican caucus last weekend must have been organized by Democrats.  Actually, that’s the best explanation I can think of: our caucus was so disorganized, so poorly advertised, and so confusing because our political opponents sabotaged it somehow!

But sadly, no, it was our own fault.  The Republican party has a long history of incompetence in Southern Nevada, but this event may be the pinnacle of that shoddy record.  (more…)

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I have a secret.  It’s James Gough’s young adult fantasy novel Cloak.  It’s a terrific read and a solid entry in a trending genre but, thanks to Gough being a new author and Cloak being put out by a small press, you’ve never heard of it.  It’s a secret I’d love to have more people in on.

Cloak is one of those stories that’s so simple that its value may go unnoticed at first.  The novel’s main conceit—that many people among us throughout history are secretly human/animal hybrids, hiding the special abilities this gives them—is so clever that one wonders why it’s never been done before.

But of course it has been done before.  What sets Cloak apart is how much Gough delights in exploring a world in depth that has only been dimly illuminated before.  Animal-based fantasy novels often have mad doctors and super powers, but this is the only one I know of which has both.  Cloak is The Island of Dr. Moreau meets the X-Men.

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A few days ago, I noted that the plot for the movie Chronicle is very similar to the plot for Carrie.  That reminded me of another similarity.

I read The Hunger Games a couple of years ago and really liked it.  But the basic template was not new.

A tyrannical government in a future dystopia recruits teenagers to compete in a brutal game of elimination where only one person gets to survive.  This was also the plot of Stephen King’s 1979 novel The Long Walk. This was originally published under a pseudonym, and was actually the first novel King ever wrote, drafting it in college, before he started Carrie.  I haven’t read it since high school, but I remember liking it.  Maybe I’ll give it another look some time.

 

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Public Schools Teaching Ethics?

In 1938, a Mormon apostle spoke at a training for teachers of religion classes in the church, and asked if their job was merely to instruct students in good behavior.  He said:

The teaching of a system of ethics to the students is not a sufficient reason for running our seminaries and institutes. The great public school system teaches ethics.

The great public school system teaches ethics?  Indeed, our campuses even used to have classes named “Ethics.”  How deeply this role of instructing students in proper conduct was integrated into our secular discourse should be clear from how easily this apostle references it, as if no one could disagree with so obvious a fact.

But when was the last time any religious leader was able to say that the “great public school system” already taught students acceptable ethics?  For that matter, when do you think the last time was when a religious leader called our public school system “great?”

In the seventy plus years since that statement was made, I wonder what exactly has changed that this statement now seems so quaint and obsolete.

 

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