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20 August 2015 @ 02:05 pm
I took the day off from work today to be at the appointment where Ginny finds out what sex Ender will be. Enoch is hoping the baby will be a boy, Bea wants a girl. Whatever the finding is, one of the kids will be excited and the other will be disappointed.

Ginny and I both would rather have a girl, mostly because we like the girl name we've picked out, and still haven't settled on a boy name. In about an hour, we'll find out how serious we need to be about agreeing on choosing a boy's name.

There's a very small chance Ender turns out to be a hermaphrodite, and I don't think an ultrasound would be able to detect that. But that chance is so small I don't see much use in planning on it as a possibility. The odds of Ginny deciding George is a good name are probably greater than the odds of Ender being something other than either a boy or girl.
18 August 2015 @ 10:41 am
I recently came across an interesting read regarding the Star Wars prequels. The author compares the similarities between the six films of both trilogies, and makes the case that each prequel film is plotted as a chiastic compliment to an accompanying film of the original trilogy. That is to say, the plot of The Phantom Menace is structured in a way that compliments Return of the Jedi; Attack of the Clones mirrors The Empire Strikes Back, and Revenge of the Sith mirrors A New Hope.

I don't think the parallelism of Sith and Hope match up quite as well as the others, given the many obvious differences between each film. But the connections the author makes are quite apparent once they're seen.

Being relatively conversant with Book of Mormon studies for so many years, chiasmus is a familiar concept to me. As I read through the introduction of the essay here, I felt a twinge of excitement, thinking this might help explain why Star Wars resonates so easily among LDS fans. But I quickly slapped myself back to reality; Star Wars resonated so strongly with my cultural peers (well before the prequels existed) because of its universal themes of good overcoming evil, while most of the people who have shown their opinion of the prequels to me have been just as disdainful of them as the people whose opinions I see online. For example, my neighbor across the street was an English major before going to law school, so surely he must have an above average ability to appreciate complex narrative structures, yet thinks just as little of the prequels as the usual self-styled online film critic. It must be Binks Derangement Syndrome.

Ginny saw the essay first, and we were both quite pleased with how well it laid everything out. Our subsequent conversation about it ended up keeping me awake an hour later than what I consider my latest time for going to bed, but I don't regret having put the time into that. I consider it one of those happy coincidences (dare I say fate?) that Ginny and I have always been so like-minded about all the Star Wars films. It's like we both have this natural ability to see them for what they really are, and recognize what Lucas was trying to accomplish with them.

I have zero hope of Episode VII making any attempt to follow such a narrative pattern, much less that the subsequent movies will follow along. I'll be happy if they're any good, but at this point I'm assuming it's a matter of luck.
17 August 2015 @ 10:59 am
So the kids are back to school today. It's two weeks before September begins, so, no, not the Natural Order of Things. We decided to see how well things are with Enoch going back to the same school with Bea, instead of homeschooling him for another year. Part of the hope is that if things are better for him, he won't be in Ginny's hair all day when Ender comes along. He has a male teacher, and Ginny liked how he interacted with the kids when they met him last week at an orientation event. My elementary school had only one male teacher on the entire faculty, and he taught fifth grade. So definitely a rare breed.
01 August 2015 @ 06:06 pm
A package that showed up on our QA shelf at work this week was addressed to the office for BSA-LDS relations, coming in, coincidentally enough, the day after the Boy Scouts of America announced its decision to allow openly gay adults to serve within the organization, and an LDS Church spokesperson indicated dismay at the decision, as well as stating that the Church's leaders will be reevaluating its relationship with Scouting in the weeks following their July break.

Read on, if you"re prepared!Collapse )
25 July 2015 @ 01:20 am
I haven't been paying lots of attention to the 2016 presidential race so far. I don't even know which candidates I would like to see win, and trying to decide that seems a little pointless right now. I took an online quiz recently, which then matched up my answers compared to various candidate positions, and put me closest to Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. I guess that's nice, though I don't know very much about either person, and whether they end up as their party's nominee is hard to predict. So again, deciding which one I like most is a bit pointless right now.

Then there's Donald Trump. He's made some rather unflattering statements about illegal immigrants from Mexico (saying Mexicans aren't sending their best to America, but rather their rapists, drug dealers, and other such criminal scum), and then insulted John McCain by saying he's no hero for getting captured in Vietnam. I hear people are getting excited about this kind of rhetoric, and that his standing on opinion polls is currently ahead of any other Republican candidate by double digits. I haven't looked at those polls or other data sources, but still, I just shake my head at the whole thing.

My opinions about our illegal immigrant situation has undergone some moderation over the past ten years, but even if Trump had made such statements when I was fresh out of college and more idealistic about things, I would have thought his words shocking, inappropriate, and unwise. Hispanics may get less attention as a minority group in America compared to blacks, but they're growing quickly, and any political party interested in having a future would do well to show hispanics that they have a place at the American table.

What amazes me most is that there are any people at all who agree with Trump's statements. For years, I've heard liberals say that conservatives are xenophobic racists, and I inwardly protest at the idea. Now, to see people supporting Trump because he says such ugly things--I emphasize, supporting him not despite such statements, but because of them--I can't help but feel disgusted and disappointed that such liberal slanders turned out to have any basis in reality. Now, realizing liberals were right about conservatives in this area doesn't mean I'm going through an identity crisis; as long as liberals oppose liberty (for example, the Second Amendment) and celebrate immorality (most recently, same sex marriage) I will never identify with them. But if Trump ends up being the kind of person the Republicans choose for their candidate, I'd rather throw my vote away on a third party candidate than ever consider voting for him.

Ginny and I have both felt rather baffled by the whole situation. Then recently I came across a column on LinkedIn, which offered an explanation similar to what we've been thinking. First, a rambling introduction, but then the author explains his idea, which is that Trump is using the same strategy as the people who send out emails pretending to be Nigerian royalty:

The Nigerian 419 strategy is to have a misspelled email from the son of some deceased Prince who needs all your bank info in order to release $20 million that he will eagerly split with you.

Then he steals all of your money.

Why is the email misspelled? After decades of Nigerians sending the exact same email, why is it always mis-spelled? And, by the way, the OFFICIAL LANGUAGE OF NIGERIA IS ENGLISH.

There's a simple reason. Anybody in the top 90% of rational people know that a misspelled email coming from a Nigerian prince is a scam.

The Nigerians don't want to deal with those 90%. Even if you sent a perfectly spelled letter with a much more realistic story, those 90% will figure it out. Then the scammer will have wasted his time. He doesn't want to waste time.

Then he applies the Nigerian royalty logic to Trump's campaign:

He is saying the most stupid, most outrageous things because he's immediately filtering out the 90% that will never like him anyway.

The 12% that are left have managed to jump over AMAZING hurdles to keep liking him. Who could possibly like him after this?

There are clearly ZERO other candidates for these 12%. Trump represents exactly what they are thinking and he used the fastest approach possible to identify those 12%.

Because of the Idiot 12% - In the first weeks of February, Trump will come in a respectable, 2nd or 3rd in Iowa, New Hampshire, and definitely South Carolina (which after 150 years finally admitted they belong in the United States and slavery is bad).

Then he will drop out of the race and form a third party. Once he forms a third party, he will be able to raise a ton of money, appease his ego, scam people for the next decade, and enter the next stage of his insane career.

Ginny's take on the matter is that he's just a troll. But instead of inflaming message boards online, as most garden-variety trolls do, he's inflaming the presidential primary process of a major political party, because he's a self-absorbed jerk with a lot of money who's doing this just because he can. But no matter his motivation, the Republicans are making themselves out as fools for even giving him the time of day.

My own explanation for why he has so much more apparent popularity than the other candidates is quite simple. Right now, there are 16 candidates vying to become the Republican nominee. Most of them are fairly similar to each other on most issues. So when one person jumps out from the rest of the herd and (in this case) plays on some of the people's basest feelings, that gets noticed. Never mind that the vast majority of the party faithful aren't following along, because that majority is split amongst 15 other similar candidates who have chosen (so far) not to rile people up with crazy and undiplomatic ideas.

Despite such an explanation, I still have unanswered questions. First one is, besides Donald Trump, what does Donald Trump stand for? In other words, what does he intend to bring to the presidency, besides his own arrogant self? I've called Obama our Narcissist-in-Chief on numerous occasions, but Trump could make him look the picture of meekness in comparison. So, what will America gain (and what will it lose) by having Trump as president?

My other question, and this one is more immediately relevant, is what does Trump hope to accomplish by his recent statements? If he wants Republicans to look like xenophobic racists, and wants to drive our growing hispanic population toward the Dimocrat party--a party gloating and cackling with glee at this development, I might add--he's sure doing a first rate job of it. Perhaps he really wants another Dimocrat president; without the hispanic vote, Republicans certainly won't have any chance at getting a president elected in the future. Even when he doesn't get the nomination, the party will have been tainted for having given him any support at all.

When liberals speak of Donald Trump, surely they must have Colonel Klink's famous line in mind: "When you have a man like that for an enemy, you don't need any friends."
18 July 2015 @ 11:36 pm
Last month, some loser went into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine worshipers there. The attacker was white, his victims were black, and he had been said to have done his foul act in hopes of starting a race war. There were also some earlier pictures taken of him with the battle flag used by the Confederate States during the Civil War. Since then, there has been much discussion about the use of that flag, which I of course have some thoughts about.

The Confederate battle flag, for those who don't remember, is red with a diagonal blue cross, with thin white lines separating the two main colors, and 13 white stars arrayed along the cross. Not to be confused with the official Confederate flag, which was similar in design to the United States flag, but with three red and white bars (a red bar on the top and bottom, and a white one in the middle) in place of the 13 stripes. The battle flag's design came about because the "stars and bars" flag was too easily confused with the "stars and stripes" flag when seen at a distance. For those with some intermediate knowledge of the Civil War, both flags are well known, though my own observations indicate that most people know only about the Confederate battle flag, and don't have much awareness of the stars and bars flag.

Much of the recent talk about the Confederate battle flag has been about banning its use completely. Retailers are now refusing to sell it. Companies that produce the flag or use it in their products have been pressured to stop doing so. In an act of civil disobedience (and one which I approve of), a girl climbed a flagpole at the capitol in South Carolina and took down the battle flag that had been flying there. The governor of that state indicated a willingness to stop displaying the flag, and after some deliberations the state legislature chose likewise.

Banning the flag completely is an overreaction. Attempting to erase its existence is futile, and also pointless. Seeing the flag doesn't make people racist; they're perfectly capable of doing that without seeing such a relic from the past. Part of the furor was over a upcoming computer game about the Civil War, because, horror of horrors, that war was all about the Confederate States fighting against the Union, and in such a setting it would be inappropriate not to show the flags of both sides. Instead of erasing offensive symbols from their historical settings, let us give them a good hard look; study them; learn from them; and resolve not to repeat the wrongs of the past when we see them.

The thing I don't understand at all is why any state in the South would fly the Confederate battle flag--or any other Confederate flag--at any government property. Those flags represent a political entity that rebelled against the United States, attempted to become a sovereign nation, and failed. Seceding from the Union was an act of treason, and thus the Confederate flags are symbols of traitors. In no way is it appropriate for a state government to openly display a treasonous symbol. If private citizens want to display it, that's their choice. If Confederate flags are put on display at Civil War battlefields, museums, or other locations relevant to the history of the Civil War, that's appropriate (alongside the stars and stripes, to keep things in context). But flying Confederate flags on state government land should be considered tantamount to treason; the racist connotations that flag conveys is mere icing on the treason cake.

But, but, Southern pride! State's rights! Now, and? Why is evoking memories of a war lost for the cause of slavery the thing in which Southerners take the most pride? There's no reason to be proud of a war that was lost. There's doubly no reason to be proud of supporting slavery. As for state's rights, the main right the southern states were concerned about was their right to continue slavery. It's so ridiculous when people argue that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery, but over state's rights, because the right those states were concerned about was their right to keep slaves. I know I just said that, but I'll say it again. The Civil War was fought over slavery, and over the states' rights to keep slaves. So it was fought over slavery and slavery. Not convinced? If I have to, I can bring out the quotes from the various state governments when they declared their intentions to secede from the Union, and highlight the parts where they themselves say they're joining the Confederacy because of slavery.

If the South wants to display a flag they can rightly be proud of, I'm more than happy to point out that they already have the Moultrie flag. It's blue, with a crescent in the upper corner next to the hoist, with the word "Liberty" on the crescent. It flew over Fort Sullivan (later renamed Fort Moultrie, after its commander) in Charleston harbor in 1776 when a fleet of British warships attempted to attack the city, and was shot down during the bombardment. Sergeant William Jasper then ran into the line of fire and raised the flag, helping to rally the defenders until the British withdrew. The design for South Carolina's state flag was inspired by this flag, and when contemplating the heroism and patriotism associated with it, choosing the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of Southern pride instead is incomprehensible.
A few weeks ago, Ginny got a calling in church to put together the program for sacrament meetings. My mom had that calling when I was a teenager, and Ginny had the responsibility before when she was a student in a college ward. The best part is that she can do it from the comfort of home--except for the actual printing of the program and subsequent folding, which takes place at the church's library room, and which duty I have been obliged to perform. Being the Sunday School president, I conveniently already have a key to the library, as well as a key to the ward clerk's office when more paper is needed. Nice how that all works out.

Anyway, when she got the names of the speakers for this Sunday's meeting, it was a married couple, and the husband's name was given first when the bishop's counselor texted her the information. Ginny has often thought it rather silly that when couples speak, the wife always speaks first and often feels obliged to introduce her talk by telling the congregation a few things about both of them, including how they met if they've been recently married. (When we spoke at our married student ward at BYU, Ginny spoke first, but I did all of the talking about ourselves, since I like doing that kind of thing more than she does.) As she pondered aloud to me whether she should follow custom by putting the wife down as the first speaker, or put them in the order the names were given, we both decided to do the perverse thing and see what happened. As I reasoned to her, either they (the couple, the bishopric, or both) will follow the printed order, or they'll ignore it and have the wife talk first anyway.

The person conducting the meeting announced the speakers in the order they were printed on the program, the husband talked for the majority of the time, then there was a musical solo (a song called "Heavenly Father Loves Me") before the wife spoke. When she got up, she started talking about ways that she knew Heavenly Father loved her--things such as not having to spend two hours at church anymore worrying about her talk before having to give it, getting to hear a beautiful song before her talk, and the fact that she was talking after her husband. Prior to the meeting, he had expressed some concern about her not leaving him enough time to say everything he wanted to. But with him speaking first, that problem was solved.

Getting to see how this sequence of events played out from such a unique perspective was quite pleasing to me. On the one side, convention was bent while following instructions a little too literally, while from another person's perspective, the resulting decision was seen as an inspired manifestation of divine love. I can't help but smile as I consider the whole thing.
03 July 2015 @ 11:52 pm
I was a little surprised to hear that President Packer passed away this afternoon, though not that surprised, considering he was 90 years old and had been showing some signs of slowing down in recent years.

In the initial reactions and reports I've been seeing in the past few hours, I've mostly noticed mention of classic talks such as Spiritual Crocodiles and The Mediator, as well as references to some of the more controversial topics he's spoken about.

During my high school days his "spiritual crocodiles" lesson was adapted into a video which became one of the more popular videos in the seminary classes I attended, and I think that's where Elder Packer started becoming a favorite apostle of mine. He definitely attained that status during my mission, as I read a pamphlet-sized adaptation of his book The Holy Temple and perused many of his talks from old conference reports found in the apartments where I lived.

A woman in my ward (Jerry Matheson) had served as his secretary until she retired right before my mission. She told us he would write about 40 drafts of the talks he prepared before delivering them at General Conference, and that thought and care often came to mind as I reviewed them as a missionary. This also set me up for disappointment about ten or so years ago, when he spoke at a regional conference and mostly told stories about some of the early settlers in Mantua, Utah. The research was apparent, but I struggled to find the moral and spiritual point to those stories.

One thing I noticed in his talks--and I've never seen anyone else bring this up--is the recurring tale of his encounter with a Japanese orphan he was unable to assist at a train station following World War II. He mentioned it in 1984, again in 2002, and in a similar talk given in 2012. I've heard many people characterize President Packer as one of the more rigid hardliners the Church has had, though such a characterization must needs be balanced against the touching and sublime way he spoke of and to the children.

The analogies and parables he created have often been first-rate. Consider the restored gospel as a piano keyboard, with 88 keys capable of creating a huge variety of beautiful music, and the problems that come when people limit themselves to just a few favorite keys, or even just one key. Or there's the analogy of our body being like a glove, and our spirit like the hand that fills and animates that glove. While Shakespeare said all the world is a stage, Elder Packer compared our existence to a three-act play, where our mortal lives comprise the second act, we don't remember what happened in the first act, and most people don't have a script to help them get through the second act, let alone know what they can expect from the third act; yet the scriptures and continuing revelation are like a script that can help us make sense of what's going on in the play of life. How we present the gospel to others can be like serving a slice of cake on a crystal platter, or throwing the cake by the fistful; the content is the same, but how it's delivered makes a huge difference in how others accept it. Explaining how the Holy Ghost feels is like describing the taste of salt to someone who doesn't know what it tastes like.

While many know him for his endeavors in painting and wood carving, he also tried his hand at poetry, which was put to good effect in his talk "Washed Clean" from the April 1997 conference. I could point at a few of his talks and call those my favorite talks; this one would qualify as one of those.

I've heard some people talk of how the Church's leadership has tried reducing the number of meetings members are expected to attend, though as I write this, President Packer and Elder Ballard are the only ones I can think of who have articulated this in formal church settings. President Packer spoke to this issue, reminding leaders "to carefully consider the home lest they issue calls or schedule activities which place an unnecessary burden on parents and families." In that same talk he told us (twice) that "when you schedule a youngster, you schedule a family—particularly the mother." I haven't had to schedule activities for youngsters in the Church yet, but it's a line that has stuck with me all the same.

He also helped me understand one source of discouragement I experienced as a missionary when he said, "No matter if the Church grows to be a hundred million (as it surely will!), it will still be no bigger than a ward. Everything needed for our redemption, save for the temple, is centered there." I don't expect I'll ever see most of the people who claim membership in the Church, and even with all those millions, they're still a tiny portion of the world's population. But as I served in small wards and smaller branches, and saw very few people with any interest in learning about the gospel, realizing that the Church is no bigger than a ward helped me understand some of my doubts in the Church's ability to expand and bless increasingly more people.

I'm thankful for the things I've learned from this humble servant of the Lord. Another realization is that with President Packer's passing, President Monson is now the only person left who was called as an apostle before I was born. How long it will be before an apostle is called who's younger than me remains to be seen, though none will ever be a complete replacement for President Packer. He was one of a kind, and I'll miss hearing him, as I do with the other apostles who have died in recent years.
03 July 2015 @ 08:38 pm
I've had Gettysburg on my mind for much of the day, this being the anniversary of when that battle concluded. I pondered playing the excellent 1993 movie of the battle (the narrative of which was shaped by Michael Shaara's excellent book The Killer Angels) for the kids, but wasn't sure how interested they'd be in it. They know very little about the Civil War and the context in which the battle was set, and the numerous scenes of character development (e.g. lots of talking) in between the fighting over those three days would likely try their patience. I trust they'll be old enough to appreciate it in the not so distant future.
18 June 2015 @ 11:21 am
Why is today significant? It's the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.

Is it a good thing he was defeated? To that question, I'm not entirely sure. Throughout his reign, he had been a threat to the status quo throughout Europe, carrying the ideals of the French Revolution to other nations and breaking the traditional structures of power along the way. On balance, I would say those were good things, particularly as they advanced individual liberty. And when comparing Napoleon with other conquering generals with dictatorial powers, I can't think of anyone else preferable to be conquered by. If there are any, they don't occupy a very large list.

One of the net benefits of Napoleon's rule was making the Dutch (among others, I'm sure) take on surnames. Prior to his conquest of the Low Countries, the people there identified themselves as [name] son of [name]. But then surnames became required, and genealogists can rise up and thank him for making at least some of their work easier. Some of the Dutch, of course, took this new requirement in a humorous direction by taking on names like Naaktgeboren, which literally means "born naked."

But whether Napoleon's loss at Waterloo was for better or for worse, this is the day to commemorate it. I'm not sure what else I can do for that besides take note of it here, but at leas that's something.