18 August 2014 @ 09:24 am
The kids started school again today. Bea is in kindergarten, so this will be the first time they'll be going to the same building. Ginny has been losing patience with the school's administration for a while, and there's been some distress about solidifying a transportation plan for taking both kids home at different times that doesn't include relying on her as a regular driver. Between those things, she was *this* close to homeschooling Enoch for at least this year. We'll see how things work out.

As for me, I drop them off at school in the morning (it's a charter school, so buses aren't an option). I took the day off today so we could go to the refurbished Ogden Temple's open house, and that means I'll be making a total of three trips out to the school to either drop off or pick up kids. It's a 20-minute drive one way, so you can do the math on how much time this will take. I admit, I haven't been at all happy about getting back into this morning schedule again, and I'm not the one who has to attend class.

Even if I did like the morning school drop-off routine, I still must point out the obvious: School in the middle of August is just plain wrong. Wearing white after Labor Day may not be wrong anymore, but going to school before Labor Day will always be wrong as far as I'm concerned.
I should have written this at the beginning of last year. I meant to, I really did, but never thought to do it when I was at the computer. But posterity will be curious in the future, so here it goes.

When 2000 began, everyone called the year "two thousand." Nobody said "twenty hundred" or "twenty zero zero," or anything similar. The following year was called "two thousand one" or "two thousand and one," again without anyone saying "twenty oh-one" or "twenty aught-one." Having experienced all those years myself, I know of what I speak.

The same pattern was followed all the way through 2009, with people pronouncing each year as "two thousand [insert single-digit number]." Then 2010 came along, and the variations began. Some people immediately switched to calling the year "twenty ten," while others stuck with "two thousand ten." Others used both forms interchangeably. I don't know what the ratio was of those who fit in any of those three categories, though I myself stuck to saying "two thousand ten," because I thought "twenty ten" sounded stupid.

I stayed with the "two thousand [number]" form until 2013, at which point I consciously made the switch to "twenty thirteen." One can only hold onto the form with more syllables for so long, and at that point we had made it to the actual teen numbers of the 2010 decade, which I thought was as good a place to adopt the "twenty [number]" form as any. I still hear people say "two thousand fourteen," and they're welcome to it. Perhaps there will still be some "two thousand [number]" holdouts as late as 2020 or even 2030, though I suspect the vast majority of people will have made the switch to "twenty [number]" by then.

So there you have it, future students of history. From 2000-2009, the years were pronounced as "two thousand [number]." From 2010 on, either "two thousand [number]" or "twenty [number]" is acceptable, though the higher the number gets, the more likely it is that the "twenty [number]" form will be used. The good news is, no one will face such a linguistic conundrum again until the year 3000 comes along. But even if time is measured with the same calendar at that point, and if our language hasn't evolved in such a way to sidestep the issue, I doubt anyone at that point will refer to what those idiotic simpletons from a thousand years before did to face such a situation.
19 July 2014 @ 12:34 am
This morning, Enoch started whining when Bea sat in the chair where he usually sits for breakfast. I responded to this by asking him who the chairs belonged to. "You and Mom," was the answer.

I affirmed that his answer was correct, and went on to remind him that both kids are allowed to sit on our chairs purely from the magnanimity of our hearts; therefore he should be thankful for being permitted to sit on a chair at all. I concluded by pointing out that there are kids in China who don't get to sit on chairs.

Enoch's response was, "Dad, what show are you quoting?"

This happened to me as a kid, too. I'd say something funny or clever. Mom would then ask what movie that came from, or where else I had picked up that line. It didn't matter if the line was a quotation from someone else or an original idea of my own; the reaction was the same.

I don't watch as many movies as I used to. And Enoch doesn't know most of the material from which I might happen to pull a quotation (I have a 28-year head start on him, after all). It's still funny that he makes the same assumptions about my clever sayings as my parents do, even though I'm unaware that they've discussed the matter between themselves.

For those who wish they had a greater ability for remembering funny or clever quotations, please note the curse I am afflicted with: If people know you have a skill for quoting others, they will assume all your clever statements will be quotations, no matter now original they may be.
28 June 2014 @ 01:29 pm
On this day a hundred years ago, the crown prince of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, was riding with his dear wife Sophie in an open-topped automobile through the streets of Sarajevo when a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed both of them. This event led to Austria's declaration of war against Serbia a month later, which began what has since been known as World War I.

I first began studying World War I in my early teens, and this entry is being written without consulting any references beyond a modern map (not that I really needed to look at the map, but I did). By the time I was 15, I entertained the thought that if I had an opportunity to travel back in time and change one thing in the past, I would stop this event from happening. I reasoned that if I could stop World War I from beginning, there would be no World War II, no Cold War (thanks to the Bolshevik revolution that was caused in part by Russia's involvement in World War I), no Holocaust, no rise of Nazism in Germany, no impetus for developing the destructive technologies that arose from all those conflicts (start with nuclear weapons and go down the list from there), and none of the deaths (over a hundred million) that were caused by these events.

Since then, I've concluded that if this assassination in Sarajevo had been prevented, it would have been a mere matter of time before something else had caused the war to happen. Austria had recently annexed Bosnia into its empire, and Serbia had ambitions of its own in that area. The Austrian empire was rather weak and unsound; its territory included the lands of modern Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and portions of Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Italy. Over a dozen languages were spoken in the realm, and nationalistic sentiments throughout Europe had been attracting people to identify with their own ethnic groups for generations. Its emperor was old, and beyond Francis Ferdinand the list of potential heirs to the throne was unpromising. Austria took an aggressive stance against Serbia for its support of Princip; Germany and Italy were allied with Austria at the time, and even though Russia had promised support of Serbia (mostly due to its own territorial ambitions in the Balkan region), German backing allowed Austria to act with more confidence than it would have had on its own. Russian backing of Serbia, in turn, encouraged the Serbian government to reject the demands imposed by its larger neighbor, Austria.

When Austria finally did declare war on Serbia, Russia responded by declaring war on Austria. Germany then declared war on Russia and its ally, France. Germany had already trounced France once before, in 1870, by invading and driving straight to Paris. Its standing war plan against France since then was to repeat their past success with another drive on Paris, though it intended to do so by passing through the Netherlands and Belgium, avoiding French defenses on their shared border. The plan was modified shortly before war became imminent, so that the Netherlands would be skipped and all their forces sent through Belgium. When war began and Belgium refused permission for German forces to pass through its territory, the Germans invaded anyway, causing Great Britain to declare war on Germany. The German offensive was stopped only 14 miles from Paris, and both sides adopted a defensive stance afterward, digging opposing lines of trenches that ran from the Swiss border to Ieper, by the North Sea. (The Flemish town of Ieper, or Ypres, as the French call it, was the only part of Belgium that was never taken by the Germans during the war. It was principally defended by Canadian forces.)

Austrian successes against Serbia and Russia were limited, and most Austrian victories were only won with German support. The Ottoman Empire (its territory comprised modern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan) was drawn into the war through German and Austrian encouragement; it had lost territory in the Balkans during the previous two decades due to nationalistic sentiments in the area, and also had a longstanding rivalry with Russia that was encouraged by German successes against them. Bulgaria was also enticed to join the war with Germany and Austria, both to open another front against Serbia and to support the Turks. These four countries were called the Central Powers, and their opponents became known as the Allies. Romania, Montenegro, and Greece would eventually join the Allies in the Balkans. Italy, although initially allied with Germany and Austria, didn't enter the war until 1915; when it did, it took sides against Germany and Austria, with promises from the Allies that the port city of Trieste and some other Austrian territory would be given to them after the war. Japan also entered the war near its outset, and promptly took over Germany's holdings within China.

Three years later, in 1917, the United States would be drawn into the war after having had enough of German submarine attacks against ships bound for Great Britain. The British had gained the upper hand against Ottoman forces in the Middle East by this time, heavy military losses and internal unrest caused by Vladimir Lenin and his ilk would soon take Russia out of the war, every German colony had been taken by the Allies except for German East Africa (modern Tanzania), and the entrenched armies on the Western Front had spent most of the time locked in a stalemate. The arrival of fresh American troops in France was enough to tip the balance in the Allies' favor, so that the war finally ended a year later, on November 11, 1918.

I bring up all these events to illustrate the domino effect that occurred from these entangling alliances. Pride is the common thread that holds these events together, in its various forms: nationalism, territorial ambitions, the desire to project a strong image, refusals to compromise. The reasons why some countries went to war are more justifiable than others; it would be foolish to claim a moral equivalence between, say, Belgium's reasons for fighting with those of Russia, even though they were both on the same side, fighting the same enemy.

People learned a number of wrong lessons from the war. Most notably, there were those who considered the destruction that occurred--over 15 million killed, the breakup of four empires (the Austrians, Germans, Russians, and Ottoman Turks), and newly developed weapons like tanks and poison gases--and concluded that this was the war to end all wars. After the Treaty of Versailles was adopted in 1919, French general Phillipe Petain remarked that it wasn't a peace settlement, but rather a 20-year cease fire. He was proven correct as Germany went to war again 20 years later, almost to the day, partly motivated by resentment over the vindictive measures placed upon it by that treaty.

Considering how many countries became involved in the war, either through their own designs or through their proximity to belligerent neighbors, I'm confident that if Austria hadn't gone to war against Serbia for the reasons that it did, another incident later, in another country, would have set off a similar chain of events. Communism's alluring ideas may have overtaken Russia at another time, as was the case in China. Eugenics and its scientific pretensions would have continued to inform fashionable Western thought until the Holocaust or a similar event would discredit it. Many of those things I once thought to prevent by stopping that assassination would have happened in other ways. But the event that happened in Sarajevo on this day a hundred years ago was a decisive moment that would change the course of history in ways we are still dealing with today.

I feel a bit awed to think it was so long ago. All the people who fought in World War I are now gone, though I've seen and known of a few who were alive at that time. One of my history professors in college remarked that things from his own lifetime aren't old enough to be considered history, and I feel some agreement with that sentiment. I've always had the attitude that 20th century events are all modern history, with eyewitnesses still living who can inform their juniors about what they've experienced. But as the events of the previous century fall further back in the past, I find myself having to rethink my perception of how long ago that time really was.
22 June 2014 @ 11:11 pm
A couple of good quotes were repeated in church today, both of which are so relevant to modern circumstances I felt like repeating them here.

First, Jeffrey R. Holland's most recent ceneral conference address gave us this gem:

it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds (See Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today (1978), 15–16).

Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes--and this seems the greatest irony of all--these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of “comfortable” God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. Does that sound like “comfortable” doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in?

And what of those who just want to look at sin or touch it from a distance? Jesus said with a flash, if your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off (See Matthew 5:29–30). “I came not to [bring] peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34), He warned those who thought He spoke only soothing platitudes. No wonder that, sermon after sermon, the local communities “pray[ed] him to depart out of their coasts” (Mark 5:17). No wonder, miracle after miracle, His power was attributed not to God but to the devil (See Matthew 9:34). It is obvious that the bumper sticker question “What would Jesus do?” will not always bring a popular response....

Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).

The other came from Ezra Taft Benson's classic "Beware of Pride," given at the April 1989 general conference:

Saul became an enemy to David through pride. He was jealous because the crowds of Israelite women were singing that “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7; see also 1 Samuel 18:6, 8).

The proud stand more in fear of men’s judgment than of God’s judgment.... “What will men think of me?” weighs heavier than “What will God think of me?’...

Fear of men’s judgment manifests itself in competition for men’s approval. The proud love “the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42–43). Our motives for the things we do are where the sin is manifest. Jesus said He did “always those things” that pleased God (John 8:29). Would we not do well to have the pleasing of God as our motive rather than to try to elevate ourselves above our brother and outdo another?

Some prideful people are not so concerned as to whether their wages meet their needs as they are that their wages are more than someone else’s. Their reward is being a cut above the rest....

When pride has a hold on our hearts, we lose our independence of the world and deliver our freedoms to the bondage of men’s judgment. The world shouts louder than the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. The reasoning of men overrides the revelations of God, and the proud let go of the iron rod.

As I look at the issues the Church is facing right now (at least within the view of the media, for what that's worth), I've seen some suggest (or threaten) that the Church will lose its members if it doesn't change its positions regarding things like same-sex marriage and ordaining women to the priesthood. I don't consider the latter issue to be an issue as much as a pride-laced misunderstanding. As to the former, well, the Church isn't about to redefine chastity to match a shift in popular opinion--or, at least, the opinion of those with the loudest voices and the stronger arm in governmental organizations. The risk of losing some followers is a real and painful cost of discipleship, but sacrificing our integrity--sacrificing one of the principles that defines us as disciples of Christ--for the sake of a few followers is ultimately a much higher cost, and one we cannot afford as a church and as individuals. I know our prophets and apostles know this, but it's always reassuring to hear them say it.
16 June 2014 @ 01:56 am
As I was getting dressed for church in the morning, I found I still had a bunch of ties in my jacket pockets from the wedding trip. I had taken about five different ties out there, with the idea that I would pick the one with the color that best matched what everyone else was wearing. I only found out the official wedding colors when I asked Ginny the night before our departure, and I wasn't included in any official wedding photos anyway, but a good scout is prepared!

One of the ties I brought was the hideous, green and orange polyester number I got from an old member in the last area of my mission. I initially picked that one to wear on the wedding day, just for the fun of seeing everyone's shocked reactions. We arrived at the church without anyone noticing my hideous tie, besides Ginny, of course; she thinks the tie is just as hideous as I do, if not more so. After sitting around for ten minutes or so, Ginny's dad finally noticed the tie and commented on it. "Nice tie," or words to that effect.

Ginny's mom then had her attention directed to the tie, and she agreed that it was a nice tie as well. A bit opposite of the reaction I had expected, to say the least. I should have remembered that both of them had lived through the 1960s and 70s, where colors like these--and worse, if such a thing is possible--were in style. So they've been desensitized to bad fashion much more than I have.

I switched to a tie with less obnoxious colors afterward. Ginny told me I should keep the obnoxious tie, so that it could divert future photo viewers' attention from the other bad clothing choices on display, should any unofficial photographs include me in them. (If they're not bad clothing choices now, wait 30 years and they will be.) I have a little more self-respect than that.
20 May 2014 @ 08:11 pm
Went with the kids to the Sacred Gifts exhibit at BYU yesterday. Enoch was very well-behaved, Bea not quite. They both said they liked the paintings, and Enoch brought up the experience without prompting when Ginny's mom took him home from kindergarten today.

For me, being relatively untrained in art appreciation, what stands out to me about seeing these paintings is how well the images seem to pop out from the surface they're painted on. Or, put another way, they have a depth to the image that I don't seen in their print reproductions. Simply magnificent. I also can't look at paintings like these without marveling that the art world has lost its way so thoroughly during the past hundred years.

We also took the kids to the university library and showed them the Lloyd Alexander room. I've been reading the Prydain books to them (just started Taran Wanderer last week!) and was so pleased that they could make this extra connection with the author. I'm sure they hardly realize the significance of what they saw, but hopefully they'll remember it--not just the Alexander memorabilia, which they'll see again, but these original paintings, which will require a lot of world travel if they want to see them again.
05 May 2014 @ 12:19 pm
I almost brought this up in my previous entry, but decided not to overwhelm the first topic with a second one.

I don't understand why people are bothered about the addition of midichlorians to Star Wars in the prequel movies. Some say it de-mystifies the Force. I wonder if the same people think knowing Bernouli's Principle de-mystifies flight, or if knowing the properties of light and refraction de-mystifies rainbows.

Maybe it's because they weren't mentioned in the older movies? Well, Obi-Wan had no doubt that Luke had potential with the Force, knowing who his father was. And Luke's trainers apparently didn't seem to think he needed to know why the Force was strong with him; after all, they didn't think he needed to know who his father was. In the prequels, showing a thriving and advanced Jedi order, it's not unreasonable to see them knowing of a scientific correlation between a person's physiological makeup and their ability to use the Force.

It also helps explain the Jedi younglings, and mattered very much to the plot of the story. When Qui-Gon discovered Anakin and took him to the Jedi Council, one of their objections to training him was that he was too old. Seeing how young the children were in Yoda's class, it's safe to assume they were taken from their families before they were old enough to remember much about family life. They didn't want people with emotional attachments to anyone outside of the order. Anakin's attachments to his mother, and later to his wife, were the things that caused problems between him and the rest of the Jedi. Having no experience with the kind of emotional attachments gained from family relationships, his Jedi peers were incapable of understanding Anakin's problems or knowing how to help him cope with them. And finding children young enough to be taken from their families, while knowing of their ability to use the Force, is most easily done by measuring their midichlorian levels.

It's easy to suppose that when the Jedi order was first organized, there would have been a great deal of concern in having a "superior race" of Force-users who would intermarry, have more Force-sensitive children, and dominate all the lesser beings around them. There's evidence of such a caste system in place within the movies, but imagine how much worse it could be if the Jedi were deliberately having children of their own. No, it's not unreasonable to suppose that they struck a compromise with the rest of the population by agreeing to not have families of their own, while taking the random children from the population with proven potential for the Force. The Jedi certainly wouldn't want to make any mistakes in choosing children who proved unable to use the Force, any more than a family would want to give up a child to the Jedi, only to have it returned a few years later as a Jedi reject, with all those years of childhood missed in the process. Seeing the size of the Jedi order in the prequels, and considering how many trillions of people they were drawn from across the galaxy, it's apparent that Force sensitivity is relatively rare when allowed to occur randomly. But not rare enough for the Jedi to become extinct. If it was rare enough, they could easily lift the ban on reproducing until their numbers become sufficiently replenished.

So I imagine that when children are born anywhere within the Republic's jurisdiction, it's common procedure for them to have a blood test taken, and midichlorian levels evaluated. If the number is high enough, off to the Jedi they go once they're done with diapers. Otherwise, they live a normal life with their own family.

It's clear from the movies that everyone has midichlorians. It's also clear that midichlorians aren't the Force. Consider the following quotes.

"The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together." --Obi-Wan in A New Hope

"My ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it. Makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us." --Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back

"Midichlorians are a microscopic life form that reside within all living cells.... Without the midichlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force." --Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace

Jedi are only more adept at using the Force because they've learned how to feel it and control it. It's easier for them to do those things because a higher level of midichlorians makes it easier for them to feel the Force. But if the Force is an energy field created by all living things, it's not much of a stretch to assume that the Force is a constant, or at least as much of a constant as things like electromagnetism or gravity. Just as a high concentration of mass generates more gravity, a high concentration of life generates more Force. By this logic, feeling and controlling the Force on a planet full of life, like Dagobah, is much easier than it would be in space, or on a desert planet like Tatooine or Geonosis. This helps explain why Yoda strained less to lift Luke's X-wing out of the swamp than he did when he stopped that machinery from crushing Obi-Wan and Anakin on Geonosis (this thought just occurred to me while writing this; I doubt the filmmakers had that in mind when both scenes were created).

This also means that anyone can become a Jedi. Han Solo, not believing in the Force and having a naturally lower midichlorial level, could become a Jedi if he put in the effort. It would be much more difficult for him than it is for Luke or Leia, because midichlorians, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility. Some people seem bothered by the idea that Jedi are born that way instead of having to work that way, but I submit that they only look at the midichlorian issue on a superficial level, instead of taking everything Qui-Gon said about them and considering the full ramifications of his statement. The fact remains that in the real world, people are born with a lot of attributes that can only be changed through concerted effort, if they can be changed at all.
03 May 2014 @ 11:53 pm
After Revenge of the Sith came out, I have wondered whether Darth Plagueis or Darth Sidious was the one who caused Anakin's birth. As Palpatine tells Anakin while they're watching Squid Lake, Darth Plagueis had found a way to manipulate the midichlorians to create life. He also said that Plagueis had taught his apprentice everything he knew, after which his apprentice killed him in his sleep. The implication here is that Palpatine was that apprentice, and thus knows how to manipulate midichlorians the same way his master could.

I'm open to the possibility of either person being the one who caused Anakin's conception through their meddlings with the Force. Ginny thinks Sidious was the one who did it. He had an apprentice of his own who was trained well enough to face two Jedi at once, and this only nine years after Anakin was born. Maybe nine years is more than enough time to train a Sith apprentice to such a level; Yoda told Luke that learning to use the dark side of the Force is quick and easy in comparison to learning to use it for good. But, considering how many years it takes to train a Jedi youngling, nine years might not have been enough time for Darth Maul to learn all the skills he had.

So let's say Sidious caused Anakin's conception and subsequent birth. It adds another reason, beyond his interest in Anakin's talent for using the Force, for his early notice of and interest in Anakin. Since he said Plagueis already knew how to do such a thing, what if there are other people out there who were conceived seemingly spontaneously during Plagueis's lifetime? Such fun story possibilities.