Thursday, March 24, 2011

Temple Trip With the Young Men and Young Women

A few nights ago I had the privilege of going with the young men and women from our ward to the L.A. Temple for a night of performing baptisms for the dead. It was an awesome trip. I drove 6 of the young men with me -- boys between 13 and 17 -- on the quick drive down to the temple.

Nobody had a "real" camera, so I ended up taking pictures with my DroidX, which has an 8 mega-pixel camera on it. (Still absolutely love it. You want one, you know it.) Here's the result (click for full-size picture):

After that, we went inside to perform the baptisms. Two of the youth had a whole pile of names that they wanted to be done, which were supplied to them by their loco-for-genealogy grandmother. I ran the names upstairs to have the cards printed for them, and returned with a stack of roughly 60 cards that were relatives of these two youth.

One of the counselors from the temple presidency came down to the baptistry and told us a story. He explained that an uncle of his was nothing short of a villain, and how when he, the temple presidency member, had joined the church he firmly believed that nobody would want this man's temple work done because, frankly, everybody believed he was going to hell anyway. He then explained that he eventually came to realize that those who never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this life have the opportunity to do so in the next, and that the baptisms we do in the temple afford those who have heard that Gospel and accepted it in the hereafter an opportunity to receive the saving ordinance of baptism for themselves.

Once he finally came to this understanding, he himself did the work for this villainous family member, and had an exceptionally moving spiritual experience where he felt that his uncle had accepted the Gospel and was so very grateful for the opportunity to have his sins washed away. He reminded us that we here on Earth are not to act as the judges of people's hearts and minds, and that that privilege is reserved only for the Savior. It is our obligation to do the work and make those opportunities available for those on the other side, and allow the infinite Atonement of the Savior to work.

It was a great story, and the youth seemed to understand that the names for which they would be doing the ordinances weren't just names on a piece of paper, but rather names of actual people who have passed away, who had lived lives with experiences both good and bad that we can't begin to guess at.

After this, several of the men who were with us took some of the youth to do confirmations, and I went to the baptismal font with several others to help the youth actually be baptized. We started with those who had brought the names, and it was a great experience for them (and for those of us who were there). The man who was in the font did a great job with each of them, explaining how to stand and how to go all the way under the water appropriately, and took his time with each of the youth.

I recorded that the ordinances for each name had been performed, while two others acted as witnesses that the ordinances had been performed properly. The experience was great for each of the kids, who seemed happy to be there. For a few of the youth, it was their first opportunity to do baptisms for the dead, and for others, they were well-familiar with how things went. Several of them seemed honestly moved to be there, and I was pleased to find out that some of them had prepared themselves to have a spiritual experience by fasting throughout the day.

When all was said and done, each of the 23 youth had been baptized and confirmed for about 10 people for each ordinance, including those 60 or so relatives from the youth who had their own family names to do.

As we separated to go home, each of the drivers selected someplace to go for dinner with the boys. For me and my car full of ravenous teenage boys, they wanted to go to Souplantation for dinner because they wanted all-you-can-eat. It took us 20 minutes to get there, and then they all concluded that $10 was too much for them to pay for dinner. So, we made our way over to In-N-Out -- another 20 minutes -- for burgers and fries. We went through the drive-through, which worked well, but the timing wasn't so good for one of the young men in my van, who was diabetic and had elected to fast that day (which didn't go well). Unfortunately, there wasn't anything I could do to help him, except to get him home as quick as I could, which didn't go well due to the excessive traffic.

Despite the difficulty in getting home, I have confidence that, at least for those in my van, the experience was a great one, and I am very grateful that I had the ability to be a part of it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Nuclear Power

A very good friend of mine is kind of a nuclear nut. He loves the stuff, and can rattle off how different radioactive isotopes decay quicker than he can tell you his phone number. (Okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration ...) In any case, in light of the mess that is Japan in the aftermath of the 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, I was curious to know what his thoughts were regarding the explosions at the nuclear sites there.

And, of course, he not only has thoughts, he has insights. I highly recommend that all 2 of my regular readers take a look at his two (as of now) posts regarding the nuclear reactors there:
The content of these posts are very informative and explain much about what has happened and why much of the media-induced panic shouldn't be.

My friend is a huge advocate of a "new" style of reactor that uses thorium, called a "Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor", or LFTR. This reactor is a much safer, much simpler reactor, without all the mess of weapons-grade waste products being created. The technology has been around for decades, but the political will to build them just hasn't been there. Perhaps this disaster can help some of the right people see some sense, and put some weight behind this technology.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Books to Make You Panic

... Or Books to Encourage You To Be Prepared

I love my family, and I always worry about their well-being. I also love to read books, particularly science fiction books. Sometimes, these science fiction books are set in the not-so-distant future and describe Really Bad Things happening. I'm reading such a book right now, which is making me think about ways I can better prepare my family for just such a catastrophic event. As I was writing this blog post, it occurred to me that it is fairly rare that a book does this to me, and I can actually count them on one hand. Here they are for your amusement:
  • One Second After, by William R. Forstchen. This is the book I am reading right now, which describes the events in a small North Carolina community in the aftermath of a nation-wide electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack. It makes me concerned about being able to store refrigerated medications in a no-longer-electrical world, having enough water available for my family, and storing fuel for both cooking and transportation. It has also caused me to contemplate my own powerful dependence on electronic devices, most especially including my car.
  • Mariposa, by Greg Bear. This is a book I read last year, which describes a near-future history where the ability to create biological weapons becomes more available to terrorist groups. It makes me concerned about my ability to keep my family isolated in the midst of a highly communicable disease.
  • Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. This book I read several years ago, which describes the aftermath of a cometary impact on Earth. It makes me concerned about having a long-term store of food and water, as well as bringing into question my ability to protect my family from those who would take what we have.
These three books have caused no small amount of thinking on my part. My wife and I already do try to keep a supply of food, at the council of our church (see here for tips), but we are notably unprepared in storing water (which is very bad given where we live in the desert) and fuel.

It makes me wonder all sorts of things, such as how desperate our neighbors might become if the grocery store no longer had food for them to purchase on a near-daily basis and the eating-out establishments were to close. Would they try to take what they know we have? I'd like to think we'd be willing to share, but would I do so if the Really Bad Thing that happened didn't look to be resolved any time soon, and we needed to be prepared to dig in for the long haul?

A few years back, I attended a training class sponsored by CERT (see here for details), where I learned all sorts of things about how to help in the event of an emergency. We talked about all sorts of scenarios, including earthquakes (the most likely event for where we live), building fires, and chemical spills. The one thing that the trainer, a fireman, kept saying throughout the course was that when things get really bad, "We ain't comin'." This was a good reminder to all of us in the class to pay attention, as in the event of a major disaster of any kind, the firemen, policemen, and hospitals will be so overwhelmed that we should have no expectation that they will come to save us.

Having read these books, I feel a bit wiser as to what to expect, but one thing these books don't really talk about is how specific groups of people would band together for their common good. I think specifically of my own church, which has a very clear organization of authority and an infrastructure to look after and care for the needy. This organization is no small thing, with tiers and redundancies that flow all the way down and ensures that every single person that is a church member has several people looking after them.

I have no doubt that if any of these Really Bad Things were to happen locally, my church would be a source of order and help for the entire community. We see evidence of this whenever an earthquake strikes in some of the more obscure places in the world, from Haiti to Samoa to Indonesia. This is not to say that the church can swoop in wherever there is trouble and make everything better -- clearly this is not the case (see: Haiti) -- but it certainly can be a moderating influence to help avoid the bands of marauding hordes that these books suggest will roam the countryside eating everything in their way.

Even so, there are plenty of things to be learned from them. First and foremost is that one's priority will naturally be to look after oneself and one's own. This natural instinct will drive the behavior of those who have and those who have-not in dire circumstances, which means that one can, if not plan for it, at least anticipate it. Read into that whatever you will.

As for me, these books encourage me to be better prepared.

When Discovery Ends

Okay, so the title of this blog entry is intended to be clever, believe it or not. That said, I have been thinking a lot about the end of the Space Shuttle program, and it's long term implications. With Shuttle Discovery touching down for the last time, prior to becoming a museum piece after having spent a cumulative year in space, only a few more Shuttle flights remain until the program ends.

When Discovery launched on February 24th, I was at work and turned on NASA TV to watch the launch. I was terribly disappointed by the coverage. I know that NASA likes to portray a professional, we-do-this-all-the-time attitude, but watching the launch coverage was about as exciting as watching grass grow. It's no wonder the American public is ho-hum about the ongoing space program. The NASA PR people just can't seem to figure out how to make the whole thing exciting. The irony is that the public really does get excited about it, despite the failures of the NASA outreach folks.

Here it was, the last flight of one of the most iconic spacecraft ever built, and there was nothing discernible in the way of fanfare and glory. I quipped to a friend that day, "So this is how America's space dominance ends ... with a yawn." I was a little miffed at the time, but several weeks later, I still don't apologize for it.

I have written in this space before (here and here) about my thoughts on the Obama Administration's handling of the Space Shuttle retirement. I do appreciate and understand the rationale behind it, and I still have high hopes for the future, but I still worry.

Thus far, even the best of our nation's private industry hopes, namely SpaceX, has yet to produce a human-rated launch vehicle. When it does, it will be more of a throw-back to the Apollo era than anything akin to what the Space Shuttle represents. Listening to the radio the other day, some space pundit said that "the Shuttle could do anything except leave low Earth orbit." That last "except" is a big one, but the first part of that quote (the emphasis was his ...) is nothing to scoff at.

So, even though NASA doesn't seem to have any clue how to gracefully retire the thing, I'm doing my best to help my children appreciate the end of the era. And it really is the end of the era. For the foreseeable future, with no end date in sight, our great nation will have no means to delivery people into space. That's just sad.

But that didn't stop me from taking my kids out on Tuesday night to watch the bright spots of light rise above the horizon as Discovery passed overhead, followed shortly thereafter by the International Space Station. We went to a nearby treeless/lightless park and oohed and aahed in excitement. The kids tried their best to find them in the binoculars, which they quickly, wisely abandoned; and I could only grumble when my oldest son, the dope, announced he left his glasses behind and couldn't see a thing. Even so, the children all thought it was great stuff, and I hope it will have some positive effect on their hopes and aspirations for the future.

And I will continue to do so, because I'm a conscientious parent. Even and especially since NASA can't figure out how to do it ...

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