Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Last Day of 2008

Here it is -- the last day of 2008. It's been a good year, though one that went entirely too fast. Work seemed to absorb most of my attention (with Phoenix landing and all), and my children seem so old now. I'd love to snapshot this time right now, and hold on to it for a long, long time -- we're in a very happy place. Life is quite good -- my family is healthy, we're financially holding our own, our home is in good order, and everybody seems happy. It's been a good time. May 2009 be just as good!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Frangible

Frangible?! Huh?! Once again, I was reading my National Geographic magazine and this was in a headline. I thought this was a made-up word, but one that I could decode -- a cross between fragile and tangible. But still a made-up word, right? Well, one look at the dictionary proves it is not made-up. Something that is frangible is readily or easily broken. Nice.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Being Burned

Today is Christmas Eve, and it's been filled with all of the usual kind of stuff. Mostly, we've just stayed home and played with the kids. My wife did brave the grocery store -- and I do mean brave -- to get some last minute things, but aside from that it's been a day of play.

We've played on the Wii, I played two abbreviated games of Monopoly with my oldest son, we've read books, we painted a few ceramic Christmas ornaments (my snowman turned out great!), and mostly we've just generally been lazy. It's been a great day.

This evening we held a "Family Home Evening" about the birth of Jesus Christ. We discussed both the New Testament story from Luke 2, and also The Book of Mormon account of Samuel the Lamanite's prophecy of the coming of Jesus and the subsequent fulfillment of the given signs. It was crazy and fun, but the kids just couldn't really focus on anything. Strangely enough, my oldest, whom you would think would be the most mature of the bunch, and is in the know, was the most out of control. He just would not focus on the message, which, of course, keyed up his siblings. All told, though, it was typical of our Christmas Eve experiences ...

My youngest, however, finally understood that tonight is the night that Santa comes. It didn't really sink in until late this evening. After it did, though, he came to me with a really concerned look on his face and said, "I don't want Santa to be burned."

"Burned?!" I asked, somewhat in alarm. "What do you mean by burned?"

"I don't want Santa to be burned!" he repeated.

At that moment, it occurred to me that he had finally connected all the Santa details together. Santa comes down the chimney! Santa delivers toys! Our fireplace has been burning all day long! Santa is going to be burned to a crisp! Clearly, he had connected the dots and was a little upset by it all.

I assured him, "Don't worry, we'll turn off the fire before Santa comes."

"Okay, Daddy!" he said, and bounded off happy.

Fun times!

Fun With Ice

I ran across an article the other day about a man up in Alaska who, with his family (seven kids!), builds a giant snowman in his front yard. In years past, the snowman has reached in excess of 15 feet tall. I think it's nothing short of awesome, but apparently his neighbors disagree and he received a cease-and-desist order from the city when he started building the base of the one for this year. Here's the news article about it:

Giant snowman rises again in Alaska — mysteriously

Somehow, a giant 25 (!) foot snowman appeared in his yard last night. Totally awesome. I stumbled upon the following video, which really shows the sheer magnitude of this beautiful creation. Well worth watching.


After showing this to my wife, she remembered that when she was a kid her mother told her about ice sculptures that were made in Wyoming when she was a kid by people who just used a garden hose. I went searching online for this, and finally found one that took my breath away. Check it out:

Just the sheer size of this thing is astounding. I've spent a little time in Wyoming, and it can be cold like you wouldn't believe. Nevertheless, while I supposed making sculptures in this way was feasible, I'd never seen it done on such a grand scale. This particular one dwarves the truck in the foreground, and even the house in the background. Truly remarkable!

Monday, December 15, 2008

On Weight Loss: The End of One Road

I have concluded that I have finally reached the end of my weight loss journey. If you look at the chart, you'll see the slow and steady path that I followed -- click on it for a larger version.


You can see that I lost about a quarter pound each day while I was doing this "Phantom Weight Watcher" thing. I totally have to give credit to my wife, who made it possible. She cooked for me, encouraged me, participated with me (well, I participated with her, technically), and always reminded me to behave myself. I wouldn't call what she did nagging, just gentle reminding; which I was free to ignore (and sometimes did). She is a wonderful, glorious woman, and I am greatly in love with her.

I am now comfortably down in the middle of the "normal" BMI range, and am feeling pretty happy about how I look. I feel good, too, with good energy levels; and even though I get the same amount of sleep I did when I started this little journey, I don't feel quite as exhausted. It really is true that the extra weight doesn't help at all.

When I tell people that I lost 35 pounds, most people wonder where I had kept it all. I was never really "obese" before, I don't think, but I was "pleasantly" rounded -- I was well within the upper half of the "overweight" BMI range. Now, I latch my watch one notch further in, my belt three notches in, and my wedding ring has literally fallen off my finger.

Anyway, a few musings on this whole weight loss thing:

-- I believe that sustainable weight loss is not a matter of self-denial, but rather self-control. Following the "Weight Watchers" approach has worked really well for me. I'm a numbers guy by nature, so keeping track of things wasn't so difficult, but any diet that prevented me from eating what I love (ice cream! meat! peanut butter!) would not have worked for me. Instead of denying myself of these things, I just have to plan for it now.
-- Despite my great success, I wouldn't say that I'm happier now that I'm skinny than I was before. I was pretty happy before. I would say, however, that it is easier for me to do things than it was before and my stamina has increased. I can climb stairs easier, I sprint more readily, I walk faster than I used to, chasing my kids around doesn't seem like a chore, and I can now crouch or get on the ground (and back up again) a lot easier than I could before -- a very important thing when you have small children.
-- It really is flattering when people comment on my weight loss. Nearly everyone I know has asked me about it, and it always makes me smile. (Why, yes, I have lost weight! Thank you for noticing!)
-- My confidence level has gone up. No longer do I worry about what people think about my appearances, because I know I look good. Yep, I do, just ask me.

Everything I own is really baggy on me. My church suits are really bad, and I desperately need a new one. This whole buying a new wardrobe thing really stinks, but it is, in its own way, sort of fun, too. My wife, on the other hand, absolutely hates shopping for clothes. For men, buying a pair of pants is as easy as finding the right waist and length (okay, okay, if you really gotta make it hard, you might want to care about the style -- loose-fitting or regular fit), whereas for women, it's a far more complicated challenge. For her, though, she's been very surprised and pleased to try on sizes that she couldn't fit into even as a high school student.

Now my challenge is to learn how to stabilize my weight. It is a different task than losing weight, and I hope to maintain my weight between 140 and 145. It should be an interesting experience, too, and maybe I'll post some of the long-term results of that effort.

As it is, this particular experience is now at an end. When I find the right pictures that illustrate the story, I'll post a "before and after" entry. It's been good.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why My Three-Year-Old Makes Me So Happy

Most people think that three-year-olds can be holy terrors. Mine can be like that, but generally he's nothing short of delightful. Before he gets too old and I forget about it all (which is what everybody keeps telling me is going to happen, and I'm afraid they might be right), I wanted to itemize some of the things about my little man that make me happy.

-- He's not too big to sit on my lap when I read him a story.
-- He wants me to read him a story. Lots of them. All the time.
-- He holds my hand when we cross the street. Well, usually he holds just my pinky or my forefinger.
-- He is mostly potty-trained. We're still working on that ...
-- Whenever I'm doing something "boring" (i.e. grown up), he wants me to stop and play a game with him.
-- When he does something wrong, he gets upset because I'm unhappy, not because he got in trouble (not like his older siblings, who get upset because they got caught).
-- He learns things at an amazing rate, and surprises me all the time with things he knows that I didn't know he knows.
-- He expresses things using words that grown-ups wouldn't normally put together.
-- He doesn't know how to intentionally smile for the camera, which cracks me up.
-- His natural smile is simply heart-warming.
-- He's so cute and awkward when he walks or runs around. How he can stay upright with such a big head and such short legs, I don't know.
-- When he gets scared during movies, the only thing that makes him comfortable is to cuddle up nice and close next to me. Daddy is safe.
-- Give him a toy car and he can be entertained for hours.
-- His imagination is kicking into high gear, which means he can be downright incomprehensible during play time.
-- He needs me to help him button up his pants, tie his shoelaces, and zip up his coat.
-- Yesterday, he actually said, "See you later, alligator!" when I told him goodbye as I was off to work.

And finally:

-- Sometimes, out of the blue, he tells me he loves me, and I know he means it.

I love my little boy, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Testimony Meeting and Tears

Today was fast and testimony meeting at church. It was a time for people to get up to the podium and share their feelings about Jesus Christ, among other things, and their love for God and other people. It was a very nice meeting, with many tears shed (mostly, but not exclusively) by the women.

At one point, in the middle of one particularly tearful testimony, my three-year-old turned to my wife and asked, "Why is everybody sad?"

It was a cute and touching moment. My wife answered, "They're so happy, they're crying."

Hmm. He seemed confused. I don't get it, either, kid.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Eye Pain - Part 2

I finally made it to the doctor yesterday, who told me that I have what's known as a "marginal corneal ulcer." This link clearly and concisely talks about it. The doctor gave me two different medications to take. He indicated that I secondarily also have "blepharitis", which has exacerbated the problem, though I seem to have a very mild form of it.

Interestingly, the doctor said that I have a high pain tolerance as most people, when afflicted with these ailments, are typically in to see the doctor immediately and are largely incapacitated. When I told my wife this, she nearly snorted in derision. She knows me much better -- I'm a total wimp when it comes to pain, who will take a sick day if I feel even slightly sniffly.

After taking the medication, my eye is now looking quite normal with the redness nearly all gone. I am supposed to take these two eye-drop medicines four times a day, which is something I really don't like doing. My eye still feels a little "warm", and I have a little bit of light sensitivity, but I'm in pretty good shape now. Unfortunately, the doctor wants to see me in a week (instead of saying, "Come back if you have any further troubles!"), which means I may be in for a long treatment.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Impecunious

I read this in National Geographic today. Thought it was a good word:

Impecunious : having very little or no money usually habitually : penniless

Good stuff.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

600 Pound Gorilla

We have an expression at work when we refer to the "600 Pound Gorilla". You can probably imagine the answer to the question: "What do you give a 600 pound gorilla? Anything it wants."

Generally, at work, there are at times missions or projects that are, for whatever reason, the most powerful, politically and economically. These projects tend to consume the resources of less-politically important projects, and I mean both money and people. Also, whenever a key technical trade-off needs to occur, they typically will win any tug-of-war.

Well, I was reading the news today, and I stumbled on this article:

Barbie beats back Bratz

When I read it, the thought that came to my mind was this expression. So, let it be known that Barbie has a new career now, and one that I'm sure will be on the shelves of your local toy store very soon: "600 Pound Gorilla Barbie."

Eye Pain

Yesterday I woke up with some severe pain in my right eye. It felt like there was a piece of dirt in it that I couldn't get out. My eye was blood shot and I found myself blinking constantly or keeping my eyes closed when I could. I had a lot of work to do, so actually got ready in the morning normally and headed out, but before I got to the freeway I realized I was driving with my eyes closed half the time, and it just wasn't safe to go any further. I turned around and came home and spent the balance of the day trying to stay out of bright light, blinking, and doing my best to keep the pain down. The weirdest part was that the eye wasn't dilating the same as my other eye, largely remaining closed up.

Mid-day, things seemed to be a lot better, but by the evening, it got worse again. Right before bed, I finally put on a warm compress on my eye, which seemed to sooth it a little, and I finally went to sleep.

This morning, I woke up with my eye slightly less red, and the pain is largely gone. I am now blinking a little more normally, but there was a bit of puss in the eye, and I still have great sensitivity to bright light. Right now my computer monitor is turned down to about half brightness, because it hurts to keep it brighter than that.

I'll be keeping warm compresses on my eye roughly hourly and trying to feel more normal. I just hope it continues to improve. Yesterday, I decided NOT to go to the doctor because I was feeling better, but in hindsight, I wish I would've gone. I don't have a name for what ails me, and now the ophthalmologist isn't available until Monday. That's life, though. Luckily, I have sick time available at work, and I'm finding myself needing it right now.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Interesting Article About Prop 8

Sore losers won't let go in California

By Lee Benson
Deseret News
Published: Monday, Dec. 1, 2008 12:08 a.m. MST


Here's what I don't get about California and the recent Proposition 8 vote: Why all the commotion over yet another passage of yet another marriage amendment?

This was the 30th time a state has placed either a constitutional amendment proposal or its equivalent on its ballot, and the 30th time the amendment has passed.

Thirty straight wins is formidable. It's downright Globetrotter-esque. The New England Patriots didn't even go 30-0.

In twenty-nine of those statewide votes, nobody threw a tantrum.

Granted, early polls predicted California would be the first state to buck the trend, and it did come fairly close with just a 52 percent passage, which tied South Dakota for the narrowest margin of victory among the 30 votes.

But in the end, half a million more Californians voted for the amendment that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman than voted against it. The final tally was 5,387,939 to 4,883,460.

Statistics intrigue the old sports writer in me, and I find the numbers that make up the 30-time winning streak very intriguing.

The great marriage election debate, and the streak, began with Alaska and Hawaii in 1998, continued with Nebraska in 2000, then Nevada in 2002, followed by 13 more states in 2004 (Montana, Oregon, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Michigan and Utah), another two in 2005 (Kansas and Texas), eight more in 2006 (Virginia, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee), and finally Florida, Arizona and California in 2008.

In all, 58,911,741 Americans over the past decade have cast votes on the issue.

The overall score is 37,662,846 to 21,248.894.

If it were a football game, you'd change the channel in the third quarter and watch something else.

Some states have passed their amendments by huge margins, led by Mississippi at 86 percent and South Carolina and Tennessee at 81 percent each. Six states came in below 60 percent — California and South Dakota at 52 percent, Arizona and Colorado at 56 percent each and Oregon and Virginia at 57 percent apiece. Most margins of victory have been in the 60s — Utah was at 66 percent, which made us pretty close to normal.

Overall, 64 percent of Americans who have voted on the matter are in favor of defining marriage as a one man-one woman exclusive.

That's more than 11 percentage points higher than the 52.7 percent mandate for Barack Obama.

And no one's protesting in the streets over that one.

But California won't let it go. The whining is enough to make a soccer player envious. Lawyers are headed to court to block the proposition. Others are demanding that the vote go back on the ballot in 2010. Proponents of Prop. 8 are being singled out for abuse by opponents.

Sore losing is having a field day.

Evan Wolfson, a California-based gay-rights lawyer who heads a group called Freedom to Marry, said, "There's something deeply wrong with putting the rights of a minority up to a majority vote. If this were being done to almost any other minority, people would see how un-American this is."

Polygamists of the 19th century might have something to say about that. And a thousand other minorities you could name who have had to fall in step with the majority.

How are you supposed to decide stuff? Rock-paper-scissors? Duel at dawn?

Wolfson sees the amendment(s) in terms of discrimination against gays who want to be married while not seeing that the absence of such marriage amendments would be discrimination against not only those who prefer marriage to be defined between one man and one woman, but against untold numbers of children whose world would be greatly changed as a result.

And that's a minority that can't even vote.

You can't have it both ways. Those voters in favor of the amendments aren't voting against gay rights, they're voting for a marriage tradition as America, and America's children, have long known it.

Voting for it in huge numbers, in fact.

Everyone seems to get that but California.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Space Shuttle Landed Today

I was sitting in Priesthood meeting and suddenly the whole building shook. We all looked at each other, wondering at first if it was an earthquake. Sadly enough, I didn't know that the shuttle was landing today, and I certainly didn't know it was going to be landing at Edwards Air Force Base, an hour away from here. One of the "old guys" in the ward (the Elders were meeting with the High Priests Group) knew it was coming back today, and even knew that the weather was bad in Florida, so the shuttle was likely to be diverted to land at Edwards -- hence the sonic boom that shook the building. So much for me being the space nerd.

Check out the video of the landing. It's beautiful:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday, Indeed

My wife stayed up way late on Thursday night figuring out what things she wanted to buy on "Black Friday". Her strategy was pretty much just to go online and buy things there, rather than to actually risk life and limb in any of the physical establishments. By and large, her approach worked. She stayed up, figuring out item numbers and shipping fees, etc. What vexed her the most was that the online prices for JC Penney didn't match the advertisement we received. So, no shopping from JC Penney; their bottom line will be closer to the red side because of that.

In fact, the only time she went out at all yesterday was to go to Walgreens where they were selling a particular item she wanted to pick up for Christmas gifts. With very few crowds, it seemed to be the "right" place to be to avoid the insanity.

The kids and I stayed home. All day. We put up Christmas lights all over the outside of the house, even in places we hadn't put them previously (the outside patio and the peak of the front of the house). We played on the Wii, played games, and just generally goofed off. It was awesome.

Our day was certainly better than this poor fellow's:

Stampeding Holiday Shoppers Trample Man at Wal-Mart

Thanksgiving Redux

I got up and went to the Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving morning. I took my frisbee and cones in hopes of being able to play Ultimate Frisbee instead, and I had been assured there would be enough people there to play. It didn't really work out. Everybody showed up and decided they would rather play football first, then play Ultimate afterwards, which I knew translated to: "We'll play football now for two hours, then it will be too late and we'll be too tired to play Ultimate later." It wasn't worth my time to stick around waiting for that to happen, so I just gathered up my frisbee and my cones and came home.

I'm not really surprised. Many people said they'd like to play, and I know for a fact that many of the people who were there really like Ultimate, but there's just no way to compete with football on Thanksgiving morning. I was disappointed, but as I said, not really surprised. I could've joined the football game, too, but I decided my wife would prefer me home, and I didn't really want to play, anyway.

One nine-year-old little kid, the son of a big football fanatic, actually said that Ultimate was for wimps, or something like that. I kinda flew off the handle, and told everybody that Ultimate was a far more active sport than football, in which you spend 90% of the time standing around waiting for something to happen, and it requires a heck of a lot more effort to play Ultimate than it does to take 20 minutes to figure out where to throw the ball. Everybody quickly clammed up, and I think my point was well made. (Yeah, right. I'm realistic enough to know that the point received was: "This guy's crazy, don't say anything bad about Ultimate.")

Okay, I'm a little sore about the whole thing.

But the rest of the day was wonderful. My wife worked hard all day putting together an awesome meal. It was in keeping with our weight loss plan, and we didn't put on any weight as a result of it, yet it was a meal fit for a king. Everything was very tasty. We had turkey, rolls, stuffing, homemade (!) cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and green beans. For dessert we had apple pie (we ate the pumpkin pie the night before!). Everything was homemade and absolutely delicious. We got out the new fancy dinnerware and the pretty goblets, and opened a bottle of Martinelli's grape juice (um, not homemade). It was a wonderful meal. My wife is simply awesome for doing what she did.

The rest of the day we just goofed off. We watched a bit of TV (including the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which the kids quickly grew bored with; and "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving"), played games, and just generally goofed off. It's been the best holiday we've had in a very long time -- no plans, nowhere to go, and nobody to entertain (not that we don't like doing that at times ... it just takes the pressure off not to). It was just me, my wife, and the kids, doing nothing and enjoying each others company. It was a great day!

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Pig In Your Pants

No joke, this is the exchange I just had with my youngest son:

My daughter: Dad! He has a pig in his underwear! [She's referring to a little plastic toy pig.]
Me: What do you mean he's got a pig in his underwear?
My daughter: He put a toy pig in his underwear!
Me: [Son], take that pig out of your underwear!
Youngest son: [He gives me a blank look.] But why?
Me: You shouldn't put anything in your underwear.
YS: Oh.
Me: Take that pig out of your underwear.
YS: I can't!
Me: What do you mean you can't?
YS: It's stuck!
Me: Come here. I'll help you. [I take the pig out and buckle up his pants.]
YS: Dad, unbuckle my pants!
Me: Why?
YS: So I can put things in there.
Me: That's what your pockets are for!
YS: [He shows a dawning expression.] Oh! I forgot!

Gotta love kids! But seriously, it's never good to have a pig in your pants.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Meteor

Okay, I'm not much of one to propagate and embed videos from YouTube, but this one was a keeper. I actually stumbled upon this from ew.com, believe it or not, which had a caption that reads: "A meteor hurtling out of the sky, as captured by the dashboard camera of a police car in Edmonton, Canada. I think this looks cooler than anything a Hollywood f/x shop could've produced." Yeah, I'm with whoever wrote that. Check it out:

Thanksgiving Preview

Tomorrow's Thanksgiving. That means the following:

-- The Annual "Turkey" Bowl will begin at 8 am. This year, we'll be having an Ultimate Frisbee game on the side, for those who would rather do that. Since tomorrow will be the one year anniversary since the last football game I played where I broke my finger, I think I'll participate in the frisbee game instead. (Not that I wouldn't rather do that, anyway ... ) It's raining now, so it might be kinda soggy (though it should clear by then), but, being guys, it's still "game on!"
-- A big meal is planned, though with being on a diet, everything will pretty much be healthy. I think it will be a feast even so, because my wife is incredible and cooks really well.
-- We'll probably watch TV, maybe a parade, and play on the Wii most of the day.

It will be awesome.

And I'm not going to think about work or the economy or the rest of the world at large. It's just me, my family, and a whole lot of goofing off (in between cooking and cleaning).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Extracurricular Burnout

The Holiday season is upon us. With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming, the kids have time off of school, and we are all looking forward to some good family time. One of the reasons it will be so nice is because the extracurricular activities that the two older kids have been involved in have come to an end. My daughter's soccer is now done, and she's going to take a break from gymnastics for a while, too. My oldest son's karate is also on hiatus for a few months, so all that is left is scouts (cub scouts for my oldest son and girl scouts for my daughter).

Finally - finally! - we will be able to spend some evenings doing absolutely nothing. No homework, nowhere to take the kids, and nowhere we need to be (well, most of the time). My wife and I have been so overwhelmed lately, that we feel perfectly happy just rebelling against all of it, and staying home. We have no plans to go anywhere for either of the two holidays, and at this point we're delighted.

Of course, this might change after only a few days being cooped up with the little rascals. I have no doubt that they will drive us insane with a constant stream of requests for time on the Wii or for playdates, all because they're boorrreed! Well, let it be. It will be nice to be bored for a change. I think the library will continue to be a good friend of ours (especially since all the kids are book worms), and we will probably find some daytime excursions to take.

But the point is, we won't be obligated to do anything, and that will make all the difference.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stock Market Craziness

A little while ago I got into the stock market, and immediately lost money. And I've kept losing money ... a lot of it ...

But I'm not really panicked. I think I made some really good choices in the stocks I picked (solid companies with good reputations, deep pockets, and sound business plans) and even though the prices are still sinking, I have time on my side. In fact, my biggest frustration today is that I don't have more money to buy more stocks. As the prices keep falling, things are becoming better bargains, and the long-term prospects look brighter.

Wow, it really is true ... it's tough to make money if you don't have any.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Orson Scott Card - A Hero of Mine

Do you know Orson Scott Card? Probably not personally. He's a science fiction writer best known for the book "Ender's Game". He has seen quite a bit of success in his professional career, though honestly I've not really enjoyed too much of his writing, despite being a major science fiction fan. It's just me, I'm sure, as he's won numerous awards, but I just don't really enjoy most of his books.

When I was in college I actually had the chance to sit and visit with him for a while, though I'm quite sure he wouldn't remember me if I walked in his front door. It was one of those "meet the author" kinds of events at Utah State University for my "Philosophy in Science Fiction" class. (Yeah, can you believe I got so lucky as to get college credit for that?! Totally sweet.) During the meeting, I wasn't so impressed with him, as he seemed a little ... fringe. Nevertheless, a person is more than a first impression, and more than a good (or otherwise) book.

So it was when I stumbled across his monthly column with the Deseret News that I was mildly curious and began to follow it. As time went on, my uneasy opinion of him began to dissipate, and now it has flourished into unmitigated appreciation.

You see, "Brother" Card is a member of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As such, he and I share similar feelings about most moral issues and most especially about this whole Proposition 8 thing. He has dedicated many of his recent monthly columns to the issue, and I couldn't help but appreciate his latest one. Check it out here -- it's worth reading.

What I think I've appreciated the most is that he is a very deliberate person. He makes no assertion without some evidence or a balanced argument. I like that forthrightness. I may not like too many of his books, but I think I can like him. His willingness to stand up for what he believes in, and to use whatever influence he may have to push forward what he thinks is a good agenda is admirable, to say the least, and I think it is heroic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's a Tough Time on Mars

A few days ago, it was announced that the Phoenix mission is effectively over. This wasn't a surprise to anybody, as it was known that the mission would end about now anyway due to bad power margins. Indeed, some engineers quite accurately predicted the end of the useful mission.

Well, today it was announced that Spirit also has had some power issues. The rover has been in the middle of a dust storm in Gusev, and apparently hasn't had enough power to continue normal operations. The following news article tells the story pretty well:

NASA rover low on power from Martian dust storm

PASADENA, Calif. – NASA's Spirit rover, which is nearing its fifth year on Mars, is struggling to survive after a dust storm sapped its power, mission scientists said Tuesday.

The solar-powered Spirit produced only 89 watt-hours of energy last weekend, half the normal amount it needs to function. The culprit was a dust storm that moved over Spirit's site near the Martian equatorial plains, blocking sunshine from reaching its solar panels.

To prevent Spirit from depleting its batteries, ground controllers commanded the rover to turn off heaters that warm various instruments. Engineers also instructed the spacecraft to cease communications with Earth until Thursday.

"This is a very dangerous time," said project scientist Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission. "If we don't hear from it on Thursday, we'll be extremely concerned."

The Spirit news came a day after NASA declared an end to another Mars mission, the Phoenix lander, which lasted five months. Phoenix was parked in the arctic plains and not expected to survive the Martian winter, but a dust storm there hastened its demise.

Scientists said there was reason to hope that Spirit could pull through. The latest Martian forecast suggests the dust storm over Spirit appears to have abated. Spirit's twin, Opportunity, which is exploring on the opposite end of the equator, was not affected by the storm.

Even if the storm passes, there could be damage to Spirit's instruments or a delay in getting the rover moving again if its solar panels remain dusty, Banerdt said.

The Measure of the Obama Presidency

President-Elect Barack Obama has his work cut out for him. He'll be taking the oath of office at a time when the country and the world is reeling from a financial crisis. The country is fighting two "wars", and the American public has very poor confidence in the elected leadership of the nation. "Culture wars" are running rampant, and there are very wide rifts in American society. It's been a long time since the gap between "red" and "blue" was so large, and the last time the country was led by so many Democrats was in the Carter years ... not a good precedent to follow.

So it is with great interest that I intend to watch Barack Obama as he leads the country. I am worried that he will press every far-left liberal policy he's wanted to (but I think he'll be temperate), and I hope that Congress will act rationally at this time and appropriate keep him in check. It is truly the Democrats chance to shine ... or to go down in flames.

However, with all of this, I wanted to highlight some thoughts I had about how we can meaningfully measure the success of the Obama Administration. I tried to come up with concepts that are not party-specific (after all, despite my Republican leanings, I'm not formally aligned with any party), but couldn't create criteria that are wholeheartedly objective -- many of these must be measured subjectively.

So, here we go. At the end of Obama's term (whether it be "first" or "last"), consider the following questions:

-- Has the U.S. economy stabilized, and is it growing to the benefit of American citizens?
-- Has the standard of living continued to increase, with those who want to want to and can work working, and the level at which poverty is measured rising?
-- Do Americans have the ability to secure for themselves appropriate health care?
-- Are Americans safer within the borders of the United States, free from terrorist attacks of any kind; and largely when traveling abroad?
-- In making Americans safer, have any rights outlined in the constitutional amendments been curtailed, particularly freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and due process?
-- Has the ability of Americans to have dignity in their lives been improved?
-- Has America socially moved towards a culture of responsibility for their life choices, economically, politically, socially, morally, and spiritually?
-- Has the concept of "minority" groups become more irrelevant?
-- Has the reputation of the U.S. improved throughout the world?
-- Are the American borders secure in such a way as to protect American lives, to secure American interests, and to ensure America's sovereignty?
-- Has America stood up for and protected those who are incapable of doing so for themselves, generously giving of its means to create a better and safer world?
-- Is American primacy in education, particularly with regards to science, engineering, and manufacturing; been strengthened and improved?
-- Has the spirit of exploration and scientific advancement been nurtured?
-- Has America found a more appropriate balance of independence and globalization with regards to foreign, energy, and economic policies?

Well, that's my list. Where will we be in four years?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pre-Teen?!

My oldest child, my firstborn son, is 9. Yesterday he asked me if there was a name for youth that are older than kids but younger than teenagers. It was with great pain that I answered that the word for youth of that age is: "Pre-teen". My son is a pre-teen?! I was telling a friend about that this morning and his answer was perhaps a bit more accurate: "Trouble".

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Phoenix Mission is Over

Mostly. The orbiters will keep listening, just in case Phoenix gathers up enough energy at just the right time to talk to them, but the chances are pretty slim. The news article says it well:

NASA can't reach Mars lander, ends mission

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – NASA scientists said on Monday they could no longer communicate with the Phoenix Mars Lander and were calling an effective end to its five-month-plus mission on the Red Planet.

Mission engineers last received a signal from the lander on November 2, the space agency said.

As anticipated, the seasonal decline in sunshine at the space probe's polar landing site is providing too little sunlight to recharge the lander's batteries, a situation that occurred three weeks earlier than expected because of dust storms, NASA said.

"We are actually ceasing operations, declaring an end to operations at this point," said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix mission project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

NASA said the project team would keep listening for signals from the lander over the next few weeks in hopes it manages to revive itself and "phones home," but engineers believe that is unlikely due to worsening weather on Mars.

Launched in August 2007, the spacecraft landed on Mars in late May, touching down on a frozen desert at the planet's north pole to search for water and assess conditions for the possibility of sustaining life.

Phoenix has since recorded snowfall, scraped up bits of ice and found that Martian dust chemically resembled seawater on Earth -- adding to evidence that liquid water capable perhaps of supporting life once flowed on the planet's surface.

The lander also returned more than 25,000 pictures from the planet.

By late October, the probe had already surpassed its expected operational lifetime by two months.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fairy Crazy

My daughter recently purchased with her birthday money a new Disney movie called "Tinkerbell". It's a movie about Tinkerbell from the Peter Pan storyline. It's actually a delightful little story about the difficulties of trying to fit in, and about using the talents you have to do good. I really quite enjoyed it.

My seven-year-old daughter, however, not only enjoys it, but is completely convinced that fairies are real. The other day I was talking with her about how fun it would be for her to catch a fairy so she could use the pixie dust to fly to school. I thought she was pretending that they were real, but she really isn't! She honestly believes that they are real, and has been chattering non-stop about how she wants to capture one. She has been putting shoe boxes with their lids propped up all over the house and yard so that if a fairy goes into one, it will knock the lid closed while it's inside and get trapped. She believes that she sees them at her window at night flittering around outside her window, glowing in the darkness.

To be honest, it's really quite cute. I'm a little concerned, though, because she's seven and I don't think it's quite normal to be gathered into a fairy tale this way. She's always had an overactive imagination, however, so I'm not totally surprised. If it wasn't so adorable, I'd be upset by it. In the last few days, I haven't been able to bring myself to crush her enthusiasm on the topic, and have carefully steered her older brother from giving her too much grief. (Too be perfectly honest, I'm a little concerned that actively dispelling this particular bit of fantasy at her age might shatter other not-truisms in her life with which I'd like her to pass through the holidays intact. *wink*)

I did tease her a little tonight that if she does catch a fairy, I'm going to shake all the pixie dust out of it and sell it on ebay. She was horrified by the thought, but I was insistent that people would pay millions for the chance to fly around and that there were major industrial applications to which the stuff could be applied. She was not amused in the least, though her older brother got a kick out of my line of reasoning.

In any case, I think we'll let her come down from this one on her own. Her traps, no doubt, will remain empty (hopefully she doesn't catch a mouse or something ...) and I'm sure rationality will eventually settle in. In the meantime, I don't see any reason to deprive her of the happiness she's deriving from this flight of fancy.

Kids can be so adorable.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Worst Restaurant Salad Ever

Red Robin: Asian Chicken Salad

It seemed like they took bagged salad from a grocery store, dumped a few chopped peppers on top and a can of mandarin oranges and called it good. Even the dressing was unremarkable, certainly less flavorful than stuff you can get from the grocery store. And for $10 a salad, it was a major rip-off. To make matters worse, my wife's chicken (what little there was) had three short, black hairs cooked into the top of it. Totally gross.

We only went because the kids had coupons for free meals that they earned from school. They still have a few more, but I don't think we'll be going back.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Post-Proposition 8 Tantrums

The gay and lesbian community in California is throwing a temper tantrum. They were unable to prevent Proposition 8 from passing and now they're doing everything in their power to get it overturned -- just like they eventually did the proposition that the majority of Californians passed back in 2000. You could use a lot of phrases to describe what is happening, but the one that comes most to my mind is this: "sore losers".

Some news articles:
-- Calif. gay-marriage ban creates legal uncertainty
-- Thousands Protest Gay Marriage Ban In L.A.
-- Gays vow to keep fighting for right to wed
-- Prop. 8 protesters target Mormon temple in Westwood
-- Gay rights backers file 3 lawsuits challenging Prop. 8
-- Why Gay Marriage Was Defeated in California

These people just can't let it alone. Between filing lawsuits to try to get the courts to dismiss it, to picketing a Mormon temple (like that's going to do any good), to going on the airwaves to tell everybody that their rights have been trampled, it's clear that this fight is far from over. The media doesn't help -- most of the links I just cited are clearly written from a liberal, pro-gay perspective. Very little of it could be considered balanced journalism, and I would have failed high school journalism had my writing made so many blatant assumptions about the position of the reader.

But, hey, I suppose they're entitled to throw their tantrums, though I find it disgusting that they just can't simply accept the will of the people. Frankly, I'm alarmed by all this ... after all, if they could get the proposition from 2000 tossed out, why not this one? This link, however, gives me hope, which states, in part:

The right to amend California’s Constitution is not granted to the People, it is reserved by the People. The Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged the reserved power of the People to use the initiative process to amend the Constitution. For example, when the Rose Bird Court struck down the death penalty as a violation of fundamental state constitutional rights, the People disagreed, and in the exercise of their sovereign power reversed that interpretation of their Constitution through the initiative-amendment process. Even a liberal jurist who vehemently disagreed with the People’s decision on the death penalty, Justice Stanley Mosk, nevertheless acknowledged the People’s authority to decide the issue through the initiative-amendment process.

May it be so this time.

God help us.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's Done - Proposition 8 Has Passed!

Proposition 8: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California.

Well, it's done. At least for now, until the "No" folks find some other legal way to skirt the will of the people. Proposition 8 passed -- not by much, but it passed. The California state constitution will include those words above. I believe the voter margins would have been higher had the campaign been a level playing field. The use of words like "discrimination", "rights", and "bigotry" are powerful, and have been spread liberally by the "No" campaign, even when none of them are truly applicable. They make good buzz-words, though, and are politically potent, and that's clearly why they used them.

I worked hard to make Prop 8 pass, though, distributing materials, knocking doors, visiting with friends, neighbors, and co-workers; and writing checks. I posted signs on my front lawn and spent the past two mornings putting up more signs along streets near my home (most were stolen, by the way -- an illegal activity on the part of the "No" campaign).

Am I shouting from the rooftops proclaiming how "justice has been served!", as I expected the "No" campaign would have done had they won? Absolutely not. I am pleased, to be sure, but I will just continue to quietly teach my children my own values and my own beliefs without fear of the schools filling their heads with stuff with which I disagree. I teach them tolerance and love of others, but I also teach them that you can love a person without loving what they do, and that a lot of what people do is wrong -- the scriptures and the prophets tell us so.

But I'm sure this isn't really over. I think we won this battle, but the war is far from over. Those who persist in behaviors that are against the laws of man and of God will never stop trying to convince those who don't that what they do is right. Consider the words from 2nd Nephi chapter 28:

19 For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;
20 For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
21 And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
22 And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.
23 Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.
24 Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!
25 Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!
26 Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!
27 Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!
28 And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.


Words to ponder. Time will tell how things work out.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's On My Mind?

I haven't posted for a few days because things have been busy, or I've just been too distracted to formulate a blog entry. To this end, I'm recording, for posterity, what is on my mind on Monday, November 3rd, 2008:

-- The election tomorrow will tell us who will be the new president for the next four years (with all that that implies), and if marriage will still be defined as between a man or a woman in California (vote YES! on Prop 8!!).
-- The stock market is still wobbly, but now that I'm invested in it, it seems to be more on my mind than I expected. Did my stocks go up or did they go down today? How much will the dividends be worth? How can I minimize my taxes on the earnings? Are there other stocks that seem safe that maybe I should consider? Have I made bad choices?! (And will the election tomorrow cause a surge on Wall Street? Please, please, please ...)
-- My work assignment is potentially shifting, with, perhaps, a raise and a need to back-fill. In addition, one of the people I have working for me is having a baby in January, and I need to find somebody to come in temporarily to help pick up the slack.
-- Halloween was a lot of fun. The kids had a great time and were, from oldest to youngest, Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, and Dash from "The Incredibles". I made it through with only minimal weight gain. We have huge bowls of candy that the kids are slowly working through (and my wife keeps taking some and freezing it for later use). With my diet in-progress, I find the things I miss most are peanut butter-related chocolates: peanut butter M&Ms and Reese's peanut butter cups.
-- I'm now over 30 pounds lighter than when I started dieting this past May, meaning that absolutely none of my clothes fit me right anymore. It's getting really bad, but I'm not done losing weight (about 5 more pounds to go!) so I don't want to buy new clothes, yet. My wife's in a similar condition, but her wardrobe seems more flexible than mine.
-- My work changed my email system from Eudora to Microsoft Outlook. It's got some features I like and others I hate, but I'm managing. My productivity has tanked this past week, though. I'm trying to get things done a little more efficiently, but it's a weird time right now.
-- Daylight Savings Time happened and it seems the kids have adjusted pretty quick. My wife and I? Not so much. We stayed up "late" last night trying to reset our bodies, but we woke up on full-speed at the "usual" time this morning, which means tonight we'll be one more hour tired by the time we go to bed.
-- With the holidays approaching, it seems life gets busier, though really it's just the same but feels busier. We are anxious for soccer to end for my daughter since that seriously cramps our style, especially on Saturdays. We also are looking forward to having ward families over for dinner, just as a get-to-know-you effort. My wife and I haven't been social that way in a long time, but want to start getting back to it. With no biological family around, we have created a circle of friends that we consider our "adopted" family.
-- I held a little party for my wife last night in celebration of her birthday. I invited eight different couples over for dessert, and explicitly stated they could bring their children (it being Sunday and all, with babysitters hard to come by). In all, we had about 20 kids and 18 adults in the house. The intent was to eat dessert, have adult socialization, and let the kids play. I think it was a greatly successful party, and my wife was moved that all these people came to our house just to wish her a happy birthday -- she was nearly in tears when they sang happy birthday to her. In attempting to bake the two cakes for the party, my wife (who is, without a doubt, the chef in our family -- and baked all the cupcakes for the kids) pretty much hovered behind me the whole time, anxiously giving me advice and instructions on what to do. I desperately needed it, and was grateful for it, and it is clearly evident that I am incapable of planning a social event without her involvement. I'm delighted that she's my better half and I look forward to many more birthdays to come. I'm glad I had the chance to throw that little party to express that, and I now have ideas on how to do it even better in the future.
-- I haven't done any family history in weeks and I have so much to do. I interviewed my parents and my grand-aunt when I was in Utah a few months back, and I still haven't transcribed that. Oy. So much to do.
-- Our savings are drastically reduced. We recently paid the mortgage, paid the property taxes, paid the homeowners insurance, paid the auto insurance, had new tile floors installed in the kitchen and entryway, replaced the garage door (it was broken), finished purchasing the last bit of food we need to get a "year's supply", and invested in the stock market. This pretty much means that our savings account has dramatically shrunk. I'm not complaining about any of these things, as they are all good or needful things (except the garage door bit ...), but it just means the numbers on the monthly statement are smaller than we are comfortable with. Unfortunately, when this happens, my wife goes into "I'm so stressed about money that I can't buy anything" mode, and then complains bitterly when I buy something for her because she works so hard to save money. Seeing as she needs a whole new wardrobe to fit her newly-trim physique (looking good, babe!), the next few months are going to be interesting. Gratefully, Christmas shopping is pretty much already done (thanks again, honey!).

That's pretty much all that's on my mind right now. Later!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Stock Market

I am now officially a stock trader. I put in a few hundred dollars and purchased some stocks the other day ... and immediately lost $20. It seems like a good time to buy, with all the shakiness of the economy and all the stock values depressed. So I figured I'd throw my hat into the ring and see what happens. I won't be doing active trading, but just watching it carefully and when the stock value rises above a level I've already decided upon, I'll sell. Of course, that may take a few years ... or many years ... but it seemed like the right move to make.

And maybe there will be a surge after next Tuesday's election ...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tolerance of the "No" Campaign

I've spoken before in this space about the difference between tolerance and acceptance. I've stated that Proposition 8 is not a question of tolerance, as traditional marriage can certainly co-exist with same-sex partnerships without bloodshed, and has for many years. Instead, Proposition 8 is about stopping the legal enforcement of acceptance of same-sex "marriage" as equivalent to traditional marriage upon every person in the state of California.

I spent some time last Saturday on a street corner waving a sign that simply said "Vote Yes on Prop 8!" It had no additional wording, and for any passerby who didn't know what that was, it wouldn't have told them enough to make an informed decision. Nevertheless, what I experienced was that nearly everybody that drove by seemed to know what it was. Interestingly, a very good percentage of the people who drove by actually honked in approval. Many passed by without honking, and didn't respond either way. Nevertheless, it was the minority that I wanted to speak about today.

You see, the minority was extremely negative to me and the others with me. We often received stern looks, the "finger", shouts of "bigot!" (mis-applied and mis-used, mind you), and more thumbs-downs than you can shake a stick at. Interestingly, demographically, the bulk of the people who responded in this manner were teenage kids too young to vote, or women driving alone in their car. Not once did I see a heterosexual couple with kids in the back seat give a negative response. What does that say about this issue?

Our little sign-waving party, our demonstration, went on peacefully and respectfully. To those who agreed, we smiled and nodded, and to those who disagreed, we ... smiled and nodded. We respect the right of others to disagree, but really, really hope that most people agree that traditional marriage should be preserved.

The "No" campaign says that this whole issue is one of tolerance. I believe that, too, and I really do not have any problem with people who practice homosexual behavior in privacy. I just don't want that minority of people to re-define for the majority what marriage means. It's not about "rights", as the "No" campaign will shout until they can't shout any more. Homosexuality is a behavior, and an arguably deviant one. In this way it is much like drinking alcohol which, despite its largely social acceptance, is not a good thing. Regarding alcohol, I respect people's freedom to choose, but I draw the line at teaching my kids in school that drinking alcohol is good. In much the same way, I can tolerate gays and lesbians just fine, but just don't teach my kids that same-sex "marriage" is good and right and normal.

Nevertheless, this is an election. Ultimately, the will of the people will be expressed next Tuesday. I really hope it goes as I want it to, but I fear that it will not. In the meantime, I am exercising my right to demonstrate, to be active in the political process, and to engage my friends, neighbors, and, yes, total strangers in a dialog to explain to them why I feel the way that I do.

As I've stated before, I've put signs on my front lawn urging others to vote "Yes on Prop 8". Four times my signs have been stolen. Once the sign has been mangled and left in my driveway. If the "No" campaign is all about tolerance, then why do they keep stealing my signs?! Attempting to deprive me of my constitutional right to express my religious beliefs and my freedom of speech does nothing but hurt your point of view. And trust me, I've got plenty more signs, so it doesn't do any good.

I ran across an interesting article on how we should disagree, but not be unkind. It's worth reading, I believe. There is just over a week until the election. I hope it goes my way. It might not, and for that I would be extremely sad, and more than a little anxious. Between now and then, though, I will indeed disagree with the "No" campaign, with every breath; but you won't catch me being unkind.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why the Moon?

It's been a while since I actually posted something on space, so I'm rectifying that. I stumbled upon this today, and I thought it was interesting. I'm more of a Mars guy, myself, but going to the moon doesn't disturb me at all. I'd like to go ... but only if my wife can come with me ...

Check out the following presentation:
Why the Moon?
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: research science)

My Barack Obama Nightmare

Okay, so this is a political commentary on Barack Obama (more on the socialistic tendencies of Democrats, really). This is just what my dream was last night -- no embellishments -- you can read into it what you want.

I found myself in the wilderness, dirty and smelly, with a bunch of other people -- two girls and four guys that I didn't know. These people were all as dirty and smelly as me. The girls were both Caucasian, there were two black men, a Hispanic fellow, and man from Asia (my dream wasn't specific about where in Asia). We were a multi-cultural bunch, and got along quite well, though the girls didn't like me. (I think I was a teenager, so their attitude was what I was used to ...)

Anyway, my dream was basically about us walking north, crossing mountain ranges on the way. We were originally somewhere in Arizona and we needed to get north really badly. As it turned out, President Barack Obama had apparently nuked all the middle latitudes in an effort to curb global warming. I'm not quite sure how that would help, but apparently Mr. President did. It had the effect of making the mid-northern latitudes really cold. So most of our trip was spent going through snow-covered hills. We didn't really run into too many people, just pristine forest and hills with no people allowed (we were interlopers). Thankfully a few people in our group were good at catching animals, otherwise we all would have starved.

Once we got further north, we were above a town. The snow didn't make it down to the town, and we were excited, because this was where we were going -- Casper, Wyoming. Why Casper?! I have no idea, but we knew that once we got there all our troubles would be over. In my dream, Casper was a big college town, and once we got there, we could apply to be students.

Apparently in my dream we were not citizens in Barack Obama's country. But it didn't really matter. Once we got to Casper, we could say that we wanted to be students. The school/government would then have to take care of us. We snuck into town and while we were walking (remember, we're filthy and stinky, so we kind of stand out), people were glaring at us in anger, but were afraid to say anything to us. I guess they weren't allowed to.

So we finally make it to some kind of dormitory. It's a huge building, and once we get there, some scruffy kid welcomes us in. We're grateful and he tells us to go downstairs to his room and shower. His room! We found out that individuals don't have their own rooms, and it was his turn to take in any new arrivals. So we all head down to his room (which is downstairs and is really quite big -- more like a concrete entry to a big building) and go to some gigantic communal shower. Girls and guys shared the same shower because in this new government there was to be no difference in how the different sexes were treated -- I was a teenager, though, so I was cool with that. It was clear by this point due to my nonchalant attitude on the matter that I was neither an adult nor married (but marriage didn't appear to matter in my dream).

As we're there, we find out that our days of being hungry, cold, and dirty are over. Barack Obama's government will take care of all of us -- feed us, clothe us, and house us -- so long as we stay students in Barack Obama's country. Hey, it sounded good to me, so I was in!

Anyway, that was my dream. I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. I won't be voting for Barack Obama.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Going to the Movies Alone

I'm on a business trip this week. Typically when I'm out of town, I go to a movie or two at a nearby theater. Most of the time, I travel alone, so find it most convenient to go to the movie theater alone. Tonight I went to go see "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (it was silly, but I still kind of liked it ...). On the way out, I was noticed by a teenage girl who was standing with two friends of hers (a guy and a girl). Right as I'm about three feet away, she says, "Can you imagine going to a movie by yourself? That would be so wrong!"

I about turned around and told her I was on a business trip from out of state and being in a movie theater by myself watching a movie I want to see is better than being in my hotel room by myself flipping through 80 channels and not finding anything good to watch. I was stunned by her flippant comment, not because of what she said, but because I was right there! Totally rude.

Nevertheless, going to the theater by myself doesn't bother me. The first time I did it (nearly a decade ago), it was kind of strange, but I found that it wasn't too bad. I don't have my kids wrestling with me (who are too hungry, or too scared, or have to pee at the best part of the movie, or laugh too loud, or ask strange questions out loud) and I can completely block out everybody around me and simply enjoy the movie. Granted, I always would prefer to have my wife with me, but I find it quite convenient to go see movies that she wouldn't want to see in circumstances like this. In this case, she had taken the older children to see it a few months back, and I didn't see it at that time -- this was my chance to catch up.

Anyway, just something funny. I really don't think I'm a freak for doing so, but I have to ask: do you ever go to the movies by yourself?

(Oh, and after the movie, I came back to the hotel room and watched "Speed Racer" -- also kind of silly, but again, I kind of liked it! Now I'm really tired, it's late, and I'm going to sleep ...)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Synchronized Swimming and a Halloween Party

Tonight was the Ward Halloween Party. We had probably 150-200 people there (I'm bad at estimating crowds) and it was pretty fun. There was a lot of chili to eat and a video that illustrated many of the "Scary Hidden Talents" of the ward members. Some were indeed very scary, like one woman who seemed to be able to move her eyeballs independently of each other; but others were just cool, like one kid who could leap and flip in the air repeatedly.

After the video, the Bishop, his 2nd Counselor, the Ward Clerk, and the High Priest Group Leader (the 1st Counselor and Elders Quorum President had a conflict -- yeah, like a football game and work were more important ... priorities, people!), and I performed some "synchronized swimming". The video tells it all.


This is something that the Activities Committee Chairwoman found out about, and she foisted it upon us. At first, I was really quite unhappy about being involved in this, but after it was all over, I'm actually quite glad that I participated. It was a good, fun time. I'm the one who is on the left most of the time, and the shortest one of the bunch. I think it turned out pretty well!

After, the kids went outside to the parking lot where they went "Trunk-or-Treating", where many people had their car/truck/van trunks opened up and were passing out candy. Instead of going house-to-house, the kids went vehicle-to-vehicle and acquired an enormous amount of candy. They were so tired afterward, even after consuming so much sugar which should have kept them awake, that they went to sleep right after they came home. Pretty funny. Is there such a thing as a sugar-induced coma?

It was a good night.

Television Review: Crusoe

I'm really not much of a television watcher; there isn't very much on TV that captures my interest -- mostly because of the paucity of science fiction fare that is on network television. Nevertheless, the commercials for "Crusoe" caught my attention, and as my wife was out for the evening (for a "Girls Night Out", whatever that is ...) I was at home by myself with the kids soundly tucked into bed. Normally, I'd find some family history to work on, a video game to play, or just read a book, but I thought I'd watch this show just to see how it went.

And honestly, it went very well. I really quite enjoyed it! It was definitely the "cleanest" television I've seen in a long time. The typical things that turn me off on a television show, such as gore, sex, and language, were nearly completely absent. That's not to say that there wasn't violence and innuendo, but it wasn't in the in-your-face, let's-see-how-far-we-can-push-the-boundary kind of way.

I found the dialog to be crisp, the backstory compelling, and the overall structure of how the episode was put together to be refreshing. The narrative couldn't help but use back-flashes to help anchor the story, which some may feel is derivative or a weak story-telling tool. However, I felt that there needed to be some way to explain how Robinson Crusoe got where he was, and why he was the way he was, and I thought they worked well. His motivations would have been a complete mystery without it.

In any case, I do look forward to watching the next episode. For a guy who follows fewer than 5 television shows at any given time (I was down to 3 ...), it's a pretty big accomplishment to find a television show that is entertaining without feeling cheap. However, it's because of the aforementioned "cleanliness" of the show that means it probably won't last very long.

To make matters worse, I actually liked it, which definitely puts a death-knell in it; my history isn't too good (remember Jericho? Enterprise? or -- let's go way back -- Space: Above and Beyond?). But I've been surprised before -- Lost has been a pleasant surprise -- and I hope I am surprised again and that this show lasts for a while.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"No on Prop 8" Nonsense

In my previous post, I simply indicated that my "Yes on Prop 8" signs had been stolen. I made no diatribe about how Prop 8 was a good thing, nor did I suggest that everybody should vote "Yes on Prop 8" (I'll say it now, though: "Vote YES On Prop 8!!!").

Nevertheless, somebody left a comment on that entry that contains clearly copy/pasted content from the "No" campaign outlining several of the claims from the "Yes" campaign, and attempting to debunk them. Well, I'm going to take a little bit of time right now to debunk the debunking. (Seriously, why these people continue to harrass my family-friendly blog is beyond me -- can't they tell my mind is made up?)

I include the content in it's entirety, highlighted in italics, with my position immediately after each segment. Here goes:

If Proposition 8 passes, the law will change to designate an entire class of people as unequal to, as less than, every other class of people.

My take: Gays and lesbians are not a "class" of people, any more than pet- or gun-owners are. They are "normal" people (or so they say) who choose to participate in behavior that most other people don't consider to be "normal".

In the eyes of the law, gay people will be seen as inferior to everyone else.

How, exactly? California law already very clearly provides protections against hate crimes and does not diminish the rights of gays or lesbians as individual citizens.

And when opponents of gay rights see the idea that gays are inferior validated by the government, it will allow them to continue on their path of dehumanizing gays and lesbians.

Dehumanizing? Seriously? Who's doing that? I have several co-workers that are gay and while I do not agree with their chosen lifestyle, I do not consider them any less "human" than me.

That's what denying a class of people an equal right does.

Since when is marriage a right? Marriage is no more a right than holding a valid drivers license. It is a social institution. To have a valid drivers license, you must obey by the rules of having a drivers license or you can not have one. Marriage has always been defined as between a man and a woman -- that is the rule of marriage and if you can not abide by that rule, you do not have a marriage. You can not redefine it. The second you do, the word "marriage" no longer means what it did and it becomes something different.

The lifestyle that grown and consenting adults choose to live is up to them -- that is their right, and one I would not deprive them of. However, you can not equate a chosen lifestyle with a "right".

It dehumanizes them, and it is dangerous.

There's that dehumanizing thing again. Repeating it doesn't make it true.

It is the dehumanization ...

I repeat, repeating something doesn't make it true.

... of a group that creates a culture in which people feel that it is okay to yell epithets at others in public; that it is okay for kids to be bullied and beaten at school; that it is okay for a jeering mob to incite a gay 17-year-old to commit suicide by jumping off a building. (Read the news.) These things happen because gays are demonized.

No, these things happen because people are people, who need very little excuse to behave badly. Kids are bullied and beaten at school for being overweight, dressing badly, or just having freckles. Teenage suicide happens for many, many reasons. Your argument that things like this happen because "gays are demonized" is ridiculous -- people are teased and belittled all the time for any attribute or behavior that is considered out of the ordinary. Consider a "goth" young man who can't get a job because of the way he dresses, or the pretty young woman who gets whistled at when walking down the street, or the friendless young man who stutters. In the first case, the choice of the young man has consequences on his life; in the second and third case, there are more biological reasons for the consequences they experience.

Gay and lesbian behavior is just that, a behavior -- like dressing like a "goth" -- and arguably a self-selected behavior that when "out of the closet" presents to the larger population a manner in which the gay or lesbian person is out of the ordinary. Is it acceptable for people to tease or belittle anybody who is out of the ordinary? Absolutely not, but it is unreasonable to expect that it will not happen -- we do not live in a perfect world. Should we provide protections for people who choose to engage in behaviors that are out of the ordinary? That depends on the behavior at hand, and today's society has concluded in the affirmative for gay and lesbian behavior, as evidenced by the plethora of laws on the books to protect them. But I see no way that this means that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to participate in the institution of marriage -- their behavior breaks the rules of that institution.

And gays are demonized when they're made out to be an inferior class of people. And they are made out to be an inferior class of people when they are not allowed the same rights as everyone else.

Again, gays are not a class, and marriage is not a right.

IN ADDITION, PROPONENTS OF PROP 8 CONTINUE TO LIE IN THEIR TELEVISION ADS:
Fiction: Teaching children about same-sex marriage will happen here unless we pass Prop 8.

Fact: Not one word in Prop 8 mentions education, and no child can be forced, against the will of their parents, to be taught anything about health and family issues at school. California law prohibits it, and the Yes on 8 campaign knows they are lying. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley has already ruled that this claim by Prop 8 proponents is "false and misleading."

Ah, but you see, this may be the case today, but we are thinking about tomorrow, when all it will take is one gay or lesbian couple taking a case to the very same San Francisco Supreme Court that struck down the 2000 proposition and insisting that "their child" is being taught that "their marriage" isn't equivalent to a traditional marriage. We can easily foresee that this court would then state that if marriage is to be taught at all, all forms of marriage must be taught. Regardless of what California law states today, in the face of the California constitution (which currently remains silent on the topic -- we hope to fix that: Vote Yes On Prop 8!!), the Supreme Court would likely continue with precedent; if they've already said that same-sex marriage is "constitutional" today, they will say the same thing when this hypothetical but not unrealistic case comes forward, thereby eventually overturning other California laws that are out of line with their previous ruling.

Fiction: Churches could lose their tax-exemption status.

Fact: Nothing in Prop 8 would force churches to do anything. In fact, the court decision regarding marriage specifically says "no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs."

Again, this may be the case today, but tomorrow will likely tell a different story. Those who are convinced that Prop 8 will hurt gays and lesbians aren't realizing the precedent that has been set by the California Supreme Court and the greater hurt that will come to everybody else if Prop 8 doesn't pass. In stating that a traditional marriage-only concept is unconstitutional, they have opened the door to all manner of litigation that will eventually enforce the formal acceptance of gay marriage, not merely its tolerance. There is a very clear distinction between the two. I have no concerns tolerating it, but I can not in good conscience accept it. That is my religious belief, and this very clearly is infringing upon my 1st Amendment rights.

Fiction: A Massachusetts case about a parent’s objection to the school curriculum will happen here.

Fact: Unlike Massachusetts, California gives parents an absolute right to remove their kids and opt-out of teaching on health and family instruction they don't agree with. The opponents know that California law already covers this and Prop 8 won't affect it, so they bring up an irrelevant case in Massachusetts.

I think I've said enough about what may happen in the future that I want to protect against. In a way, the actions in Massachusetts has been "helpful" in that they have been showing us very clearly an example that I do not want California to follow.

Fiction: Four Activist Judges in San Francisco…

Fact: Prop 8 is not about courts and judges, it's about eliminating a fundamental right. Judges didn't grant the right--the constitution guarantees the right. Proponents of Prop 8 use an outdated and stale argument that judges aren't supposed to protect rights and freedoms. This campaign is about whether Californians, right now, in 2008 are willing to amend the constitution for the sole purpose of eliminating a fundamental right for one group of citizens.

Again, marriage is not a "right"! I understand why the "No" campaign keeps using this word (to give them more bang for their political buck), but they are using it erroneously. And, yes, this campaign will show what Californians, right now, in 2008 really want.

Fiction: Unless Prop 8 passes, CA parents won't have the right to object to what their children are taught in school.

Fact: California law clearly gives parents and guardians broad authority to remove their children from any health instruction if it conflicts with their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

Didn't they already say this?

AND, ADDITIONALLY:

Fiction: Civil unions and domestic partnerships give gay couples the same rights as married couples.

Fact: In the few states in which civil unions or similar domestic partnerships exist, same-sex couples are granted the same rights as married couples but only on the state level. There are hundreds upon hundreds of federal benefits that do not apply to those couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships.

The state level is exactly what is at hand here -- this Proposition is a state proposition and will do nothing at the federal level. If the "No" campaign has a beef with the federal laws, they're fighting the wrong war here. Ironically, this "Fact" is exactly what the "Yes" campaign has been promoting -- Prop 8 seeks not to harm same-sex couples in any way, it only seeks to protect traditional marriage. Prop 8 will not harm same-sex couples or reduce any of their rights (I use this word correctly here) or benefits.

And, just what are those hundreds upon hundreds of federal benefits that don't apply?

PLEASE VOTE NO ON PROP 8. Please do not allow blatant discrimination to be written into the law. California is better, smarter, and more humane than that.

This is not discrimination. It is simply protecting the traditional definition of marriage. Is California better and smarter? We'll see. Is California more humane? What, are you pets to be treated humanely?! Are we taking all the gays and lesbians out and publicly whacking them with sticks? Nope, we just want them all to leave the rest of us alone.

Vote YES on Prop 8!

Monday, October 13, 2008

My "Yes on Prop 8" Signs Were Stolen!!

Yes indeed, I had two signs out on my property and they were both stolen. I have heard an unsubstantiated rumor that the "No" campaign has encouraged their minions to take down signs that they find from the opposition. The interesting part is that these signs were both very clearly on my property -- one even fairly "difficult" to reach -- so whoever did this most definitely broke the law. A good friend of mine has had many signs stolen from his property, as well. Should I take down signs that I see for the "No" campaign? I'd love to! However, for this battle, I'm going to stay on the moral high ground.

It is curious how the "No" campaign says this is all about tolerance, yet those who are against Prop 8 can't tolerate my constitutional right to freedom of expression, spewing vitriolic hate against every sentence I articulate in support of Proposition 8. I need to go pick up a few more signs to put in my front yard ...

Fire Season is Upon Us

Well, the first local fire of the season has started. It is over off I-210, which is the road I take to work. I left for work this morning at about 6 am and after spending an hour on the freeway, most of the time at a complete standstill, and not actually leaving the Santa Clarita Valley, I decided it wasn't going to get any better and so I turned around and came home. I'm glad I did. Apparently things are really congested on all alternate routes and it is taking people hours to get anywhere.

Some headlines:

Daily News: Wind-whipped Marek Fire chars 3,000 acres

LA Times: Wind-whipped Marek fire closes the 210 and 118 freeways, area schools

CNN: Santa Ana winds could stir 'sleeping giant' blaze

CBS2: Fierce Winds Fuel Marek Fire, Homes Destroyed

CBS2: Officials Investigate Possible Arson In Marek Fire

The winds really are blowing out there. I'm in my living room right now, and I can hear it whistling past the chimney -- that's not such a good sign. With the Santa Ana winds blowing so strong, it will be difficult to contain the fire. Ah, life in Southern California!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hannah Montana Birthday Party

My daughter turned 7 last week. For her "friends" birthday party, my wife had the idea to let her invite some friends over for a "fake" sleepover, where they would all arrive in their pajamas with pillows in hand, watch movies, and goof off. By and large, it's been going pretty well -- they're all still downstairs as I type this.

My wife and daughter agreed that the party would be themed on Hannah Montana, which seems to be such a culturally significant force in my daughter's life that she squealed in delight at the prospect, despite having only seen a few of the episodes in her entire life. Her whole attitude is clear evidence of the power of peer pressure -- even at such a young age.

Nevertheless, the six girls who were able to come tonight were all delighted to arrive. Four of them watch Hannah Montana regularly, and three of them actually arrived wearing Hannah Montana pajamas. It's shocking how inundated these girls are with Hannah Montana paraphernalia.

In any case, they're having a really good time. My daughter asked to have hot dogs, grapes, and French fries for dinner, which all the girls were happy with. Then they put most of the lights out and watched a few episodes of Hannah Montana. Interestingly enough, most of the girls quickly got bored with that. Instead, they wanted to just play games and be silly. Ironically, my daughter is the only one being a stick in the mud, as the games that the girls are playing are "boring". It's a classic "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to" moment (kudos to my wife for this observation!).

Still to come tonight they will play more games, including games with glow sticks. They will also eat some cupcakes that my wife placed in the tops of ice cream cones and covered with frosting and silver sparkles -- they look like microphones! My wife intends to get them to sing "Happy Birthday" to my daughter into their "microphones" before eating them. It should be a hoot. Afterwards they'll watch while my daughter opens presents.

All in all, it seems to be going well. It is way after my daughter's bedtime, and it shows. She is grumpy, opinionated, and demanding right now, which cracks me up. She was so excited about having this late party, and at this point, she pretty much just wants to go to bed.

Tomorrow will no doubt be very interesting. She has a soccer game at 9:15 in the morning, and she has not yet had a good game due to various reasons (too much heat, too late in the day, too close to a meal ...). Because of this, she really does have a bad attitude about her soccer games, which just saddens me since she has so much promise. I have absolutely no doubt that her attitude about soccer tomorrow morning, because of this late party, will continue in that trend ... Ah, well, she's happy tonight! (Sorta!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Death by Falling

Have you ever noticed that in most movies where there is a villain, they are usually dispatched by falling? I call this the "death by falling" phenomenon. I noticed it many years ago, and still find it to be true. Consider a smattering of Disney movies (and this is by no means an exhaustive list):

-- Snow White (witch chased over cliff by dwarves)
-- Peter Pan (evil Captain Hook falls off ship into crocodile infested ocean)
-- Sleeping Beauty (bad dragon stabbed to the heart and then falls over cliff)
-- The Great Mouse Detective (bad rat falls off the clock tower)
-- The Rescuers Down Under (bad guy falls into crocodile infested river then over a waterfall)
-- Beauty and the Beast (bad guy falls down gully)
-- Atlantis (bad guy falls to lava cone)
-- Enchanted (dragon falls off building)

It's not just a Disney phenomenon, either. Consider the dispatching of Elsa in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" as she falls down a bottomless pit, or Ra's al Ghul crashing down from an elevated train in "Batman Begins". Just last night, my wife and I finally watched "Iron Man" and, sure enough, the bad guy was dispatched by falling into a huge "arc reactor." Never will you see the protagonist dispatch the bad guy (or bad girl) by simply pulling a trigger when the enemy is standing, disarmed, in front of them. That wouldn't be sporting or proper -- we don't like our protagonists to be cold-blooded killers.

Anyway, it's just something I noticed.

Babe

Apparently, my three-year-old was at preschool the other day and was having a conversation with his teacher when he announced, "My mommy is so happy!"

"Why is your mommy so happy?" she inquired.

"Because she's married!" he says.

The teacher then went on to ask what his mother's name was, to which he replied, "Babe!"

The teacher got a good chuckle out of that, as did both my wife and I. Apparently I call my wife that far too much in the presence of my children. My older kids are unphased by it, but it seems I've confused my youngest. Very funny.

(As a side query, just how exactly did the word "babe" come to mean an attractive young female?!)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Out Shopping

My wife is out shopping tonight. Since we both have lost about 25 pounds, our clothes just don't fit us anymore, and we are in great need of just a few "in between" clothes until we get to where we want to be and can then shop with confidence. She's supposed to get me some new T-shirts, and she says she had a productive trip, but she isn't home yet to show me the results.

In the meantime, I took the time to do a lot of things that needed doing. I paid some bills, scanned some family pictures, and did a little online shopping for my wife's birthday party. The kids were zombies watching Aladdin (which they hadn't seen in ages because it was "too scary", but now, for some reason they can't explain, it's just fine ... go figure), so I was able to get an early start, and it's been a productive evening.

Now if I just would've had time to play a video game or two ... too tired now, though. I'm going to go to bed and read a book.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What's in a Name?

My daughter is a silly little almost-seven-year-old. The other day, she came home and told me that she doesn't like her name. After very, very much discussion, I finally learned that she doesn't like her name because ... wait for it ... because she doesn't think she can hear very well. Huh!?

She's complaining that her hearing isn't very good because she can't hear what other people are whispering about, and can't read lips. I tried to tell her that when other people are whispering to each other, they don't want her hearing what they have to say, and that there are very few people in the world who are good at reading lips, but there's no convincing her.

I believe that she hears just fine, but most of the time she doesn't listen very well. There is a fine distinction there, that's for sure, but again, there's no convincing her. She is a very obstinate little girl, who has turned into a book worm of the best (worst?) kind -- a focused and determined reader who can ignore everything happening around her. We'll probably end up taking her to the doctor and have her hearing formally checked before she'll even consider the fact that her hearing is fine. Even then, she may not believe us, because she's still convinced she can't see well, despite passing with flying colors the vision tests they just did at school.

Anyway, so back to the name thing. She's been complaining that she wants a different name. We told her that when she's 18, she can pay the thousands of dollars it takes to make a legal name change. She didn't like that idea very much.

When I started one particular conversation, I flippantly said we could call her "Rose" because she's pretty, smells good (most of the time), but can be all prickly, too. To my astonishment, she loved the idea, and now she keeps complaining that we don't call her Rose. This name is unacceptable for a variety of reasons, but secondarily because I have another relative very close to me with that name.

Primarily, however, the name is unacceptable because it isn't what her mother and I named her. We gave her the name she has for a very good reason, and we love it. It is a cute name with a cute name-fragment that we call her most of the time. It matches her perfectly, and we have absolutely no intention of abandoning it on some youthful whim.

Even so, my wife and I have been having some interesting conversations with her. We spent some time talking with her about how names don't really matter, and I related a story to her that I had once read about a man who named one of his sons "Winner" and a different son "Loser", wondering if their names would define their person. As it turned out, things were exactly opposite in the long-run: Winner went to jail, and Loser was quite successful in life. This conversation mellowed her a little bit.

We even looked up what her name meant, and it turns out that her name is a diminutive form of a name that means "Pearl". Strangely enough, though we didn't know it, it turns out that with this meaning my daughter is named for one of her great-grandmothers (which makes her name just as good as her older brother's, which is from one of his great-grandfathers). When I shared this with her, she got contemplative.

During this last day, she hasn't been asking too much about it. My wife and I have pretty much decided to ignore any future pleadings to call her something else. We won't even entertain the conversation because it just upsets her; we will instead change the subject when it comes up. After all, she's got a perfectly good name which we love, and, well, we are her parents and that's what we call her.

Once I suggested that we should call her Malfooney Bibblesnap. She didn't like that at all.

...

So this post doesn't make much sense. On the one hand, I'm telling her that her name doesn't matter, but on the other hand I'm telling her that her name is important. So, whatever. It's late at night and I'm tired.

Bottom line, the most important name is her last name. I would that she would respect it, and set a good example so that people would always associate the family name with honor and reverence. I once started telling her about this, but it soon became apparent that she is just too young to comprehend that principle -- or at least was not in a fit frame of mind to comprehend it. Many phrases come to mind, such as "Remember who you are!" and "What are you doing with my name?" Useless to an almost-seven-year-old

It's a phase. It will pass.

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