Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why I'm Sometimes Embarrassed to Say I Lived in Utah

At first I thought this was a story from the onion. Alas...


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Is Modern Society More or Less Violent?

Before the tragedy at Virginia Tech I was discussing with friends on whether society is more violent now or in the past. I am inclined to think that despite the violence we hear about and the violent movies and video games, we are a much more benign people today.

While our entertainment in movies and games can be violent, it is better than older forms. From the cultured French:

In 16th century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted on a stage and was slowly lowered into a fire. According to the historian Norman Davies, "the spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized."

Not to be out done, the British engaged in bear baiting. Bears were chained in a pit, and hunting dogs would be set on it until it was killed. A variation on this was whipping a blinded bear. A Spanish nobleman was taken to a show where an ape was tied to the back of a pony. He commented "to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs, with the screaming of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable."

More primitive societies today seem to be more violent. If you think football, boxing and cock fighting are violent, you should avoid kok-boru. This game is popular in Central Asia. A goat is decapitated and the legs are cut off at the knee. Eight players ride on horses and try to grab the goat and toss it through a stone ring. Whipping and punching other players are part of the game, and the only protective gear are World War II Soviet tank helmets. China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan all have national teams.

Edward Miguel of Berkeley did a fascinating study on modern witches in Tanzania. Families take care of the older relatives. When extreme rainfall is experienced (drought or flood) it becomes more expensive to feed the family. When these extreme events occur, older women are accused of being witches and killed by family members. In other words, when it gets to expensive to take care of the elderly they are branded as witches so as to justify their murder.

The Economist recently ran an article on honour killings in Turkey. The opening story was of a man who killed his sister because she eloped. He resisted killing her for three months because he loved her, "but then neighbours stopped talking to him, the grocer refused to sell him bread, the local imam said he was disobeying Allah, and his mother threatened to curse the milk she had breast-fed him." And so he put 7 bullets in her. A report that came out last August found that almost 1,100 honor killings happened in the previous five years, over four a week. Fifty-one of the killers were interviewed, and only three expressed regret.

While modern society is far from perfect, I feel that things are getting better. Though some of our entertainment is violent, it is fake. We don’t have social norms to kill family members if they do something disgraceful. If it becomes expensive to take care of someone, we don’t murder them in the name of witchery. While incidents such as Virginia Tech are tragic, the fact that it is so tragic shows how far our society has progressed.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Celebrity Actors & Their College Majors

Hey—since I missed my week of writing last week, I thought I'd offer this up. I didn't write it, but a friend of mine did. It was a nice diversion :)Have you ever wondered what major Hollywood stars studied at college? Sure, most were drama majors, and more than few attended schools that specialize in performing arts. However, some stars did study “regular” subjects and were working toward “regular” jobs before they got their big break.

read more | digg story


I have a little black book

I’ve been carrying it around in case of a writing emergency since about March last year. I wanted a portable outlet for creative thought, personal recording, and a sturdy archive for my spontaneous ideas and daydreams. So I bought it one day at Barnes & Noble.

It’s divided into several sections. Here is an example from each:

Business Ideas:

Local newspaper

Travel Dreams:
Northern Africa/Southern Europe tour: Morocco, Tunisia, Malta, Lybia, Egypt
Camels a must—travel part of the journey through the desert a la T.E. Lawrence
Sail to Malta

Brilliant Ideas:
Make a kite from scratch

I will refrain from example—this is more personal, like a more mobile version of my journal

He explained to them that history was like an old house at night. With all the lamps lit. And ancestors whispering inside.
“To understand history," Chacko said, "we have to go inside and listen to what they’re saying. And look at the books and the pictures on the wall. And smell the smells.” –Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things

Because sometimes I want to write, and I want to write now.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Worlds Without Number

One of the things I do when I'm bored is to browse the archive of the astronomy picture of the day website located on the left sidebar. Everyday there is a different picture, accompanied by an explanation, often with links to many other pages with information and background about the subject at hand. I followed a few the other day and found the first 5 million digits of e. The astronomers who posted it claimed that it can be used as a random number generator, as there are no correlations in the number patterns, it being an irrational number. Curious, I checked to see if it contained my parents phone number. It does. I checked our old house line, and it was there too. My current cell phone number is not, but the first 6 digits are. I checked two other friends numbers, and they are there. I just checked 10 more phone numbers, and the likelihood of any 7 digit number to be there seems to be 50%. For 6 digits its more like 95%. Is your number there?
There is a place where 0 appears 8 times consecutively, as does the number 9. The likelihood of this happening randomly is .1^8, or 1 in a hundred million, but the likelihood of this happening with any digit at some point in the the number e is 100% if you could ever expand it out that far. In fact, you could randomly pick a hundred digit number, and you could eventually find that number in the digits of e.

Moving on...

Heres a picture that I found cool:

This is Omega Centauri, the largest star cluster in our galaxy. It has been theorized that this cluster was once a satellite galaxy of our own galaxy, and was absorbed in a few billion years ago. Most astronomers think that is what will happen to the large and small Magellanic Clouds- small galaxies which also orbit our galaxy.
There are over 10 million stars crammed in a space about 150 light years across. To get a sense of how dense that is, consider that the nearest 10 stars to us are all between 5 and 10 light years away. 150 light years across means about 2 million cubic light years, which means if every star had its own .2 cubic light year, then the average distance between stars is .35 light years (near the center of the cluster, stars will be much closer than this, about .1 ly). What would our night sky look like if we lived in a star cluster like that? Maybe a little like this:

Many of the stars would even be visible during the daytime. It would probably be quite bright at night- many times brighter than a full moon-lit night. The prospect of sending spacecraft to neighboring stars would not be that daunting of a task- the trip would only take a few decades with current technology.

In other news, the eye of Sauron has finally been found:

Looking at pictures like the one below instills in me a sense of awe as to the vast scale of the universe. This picture is from a tiny patch of sky photographed by Hubble over the course of 10 days. Pictured are thousands of galaxies, many as they looked only a few hundred million years after the big bang.

But then I look at pictures like this, and I am reminded of the scripture "And worlds without number have I created..."


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Life as a Redhead

I’ve been reading Roots of Desire, a book all about red hair. In it are facts such as these:

Eve… is also frequently depicted wearing nothing but her long red hair. Judas Iscariot is painted as a redhead, as is Mary Magdalene. In Greek mythology, redheads turn into vampires when they die. During the Spanish Inquisition, flame–colored hair was evidence enough that its wearer had nicked hell’s fire and therefore had to be burned as a witch. An 1886 book by Augustin Galopin noted redheads as the strongest scented of all women. I learned that a person could be beaten “like a red-headed stepchild”; that, in 1912, phrenology revealed redheads make the best waitresses; that Hitler reportedly banned the intermarriage of redheads for fear of ‘deviant offspring”; that a Corsican proverb has you spit after passing a redhead; and that, in the words of an American political pollster, “you can’t sell one on television. They look fickle.”


Book of Mormon Game

My new obsession: this.


Sounds often heard at my client site

keyboard keys
email alerts
Puerto Rican Spanish
vibrating Blackberries
cackling laughter
the constant blow of forced air—sometimes hot, sometimes cold, always on
inane prattle
other people’s names directed at me
self-contradictory instructions
the clack of the laser printer
ear-grating accents
clichés of modern speech
microwave popcorn popping
grossly misused turns of phrase
less effective ideas
fingernail clipping
the badge reader beep


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mr. and Mrs. of Hosts

(if you are easily offended by the word "phallic", then READ NO FURTHER! Seriously.)

This is a short 10 minute play, set as a dialogue between a man and a woman, playing God and His wife, respectively. The set includes two stools, and nothing more. (The inspiration for this came as I was listening to the weekly "Ketchup" skit on a Prairie Home Companion. The thought of God and His wife bantering back and forth made me giggle. If you have never heard this skit, I recommend listening to one, since their voices are the ones I hear when I read what comes next)

So, Jim, I've been thinking about the exact placement of the big bang.

What do you mean by exact placement?

Well, I don't think it will look good right there. Put it here.
Why here? Here is the same as there, remember? I haven't started creation yet, so we're both here. And there. And over there.

Over where?


Oh... nevermind. Anyway, I've been looking through a few chapters of The Book.


Well... Oh never mind...

No, no, what is it?

(pause) um... Lord of hosts?


The Lord of Hosts?

Whats wrong with that?

Well.... darling, its a little..., it just sounds so overblown!

Not any more than Lord God almighty, or Alpha and Omega or The migh...

So which one are we going to use when we go out? That one? I can just hear my girlfriends laughing now- Why hello there Mrs. Of Hosts! So good to see you Mrs. Of Hosts!

Oh stop it. No one will do that.

How do you know?

I'm God.

You mean: Mr. Of Hosts.


And whats with the Eagle Nebula?


13.7 Billion years. Over near Earth.

Whats wrong with it?

Oh, nothings WRONG with it... its just so....

So what?

So... Oh Jim, I can't say it, it would make me blush.

So Phallic?

Well... Yeah.

Hey, I didn't plan it that way. It was complete coincidence. It was just a function of dark matter required in the sagitarius arm such that Earth's solar system would form on time, and the Arcturus solar system would even form at all! Any more and Earth will never have a moon and therefore no astronomy, no math, no lunar calendar, no passover... it all blows up! Any less, and the...

Ok! Ok! I got it. You didn't plan it (pause) Still, that sounds like something you would do just as a big joke. You men and your... unique senses of humor. Anyway, I've been crunching through some of those numbers you wanted...


No unicorns.


Nope. You'll get your horses, but they'll never evolve the frontal cranial horn. The mutations just aren't there- there's no way it can happen.


I'm so sorry Jim, I know how much those meant to you.

I know, I know, (sighs) its ok. (thinking) I'll still inspire a few myths though...

You do that. And the news isn't all bad! The duck billed platypus will probably work out. Thats good, right?

Yeah, I guess so. (chuckles) Man they're going to look funny...



So I was thinking the other day...

The other day?

Yeah, the other day.

Which one?

Oh I don't know, Jim, thats not the point...

I haven't invented time yet, so how could you be thinking the other day?

It was just a figure of speech, Jim!

So you were really just thinking about this now, since the other day is actually now?

What about tomorrow?

Also now.

What about when you initiate the big bang?

Well, it kind of, sorta, already...

You don't mean...! You didn't accidentally set it off did you?

No, thats not what I'm saying at all! I mean that even though we've been planning it all this long while, and it hasn't actually _happened_ yet, it already has happened, and in fact, is occurring right as we speak.

So it's too late to change anything?

No, of course not- we can call the whole thing off still if we want...

Oh, dear, that reminds me. I'm worried about Josh.

Oh. (pause) How is he doing?

(sigh) Hes fine. Hes still in his room. You know him, he'll never let on that anything is wrong. Its just, ever since he peeked at that middle chapter... he's been a little morose.

(pause)He knows he has a choice though.

Yes, yes, he knows that. Its not that he thinks theres a better way, its just... well, you would know how he feels right now...

(pause)I do.

Then, go talk to him! He won't come out of his room because he doesn't want his little sisters to see that he's been crying.

I'll talk to him.

Lucius has already been in to see him. Such a good boy. That seemed to cheer him up some.

Good boy, that Lucius. (pause) Do you think he's got it in him?

Who? Josh? Well, he's your son.

That he is.

I'm sure he'll do just fine.

I sure hope so.


Are you going to tell me what you were thinking about?

Thinking about? When?

The other day. I mean.. well you know what I mean...

Oh, right. Well, Jim, I was thinking about that passage in the bible.

Which one?

The one that goes: "consider---

No, I mean, which bible?

Oh, the Greek. I was thinking about where it says "Consider the mustard seeds of the field, how they grow, etc etc." I don't think it flows very well.


No, it doesn't flow well at all.

But the mustard seed will evoke images of fragile faith growing into a strong tree. Its very beautiful!

Sorry, Jim, it just doesn't do it for me.

Well Mrs. of Hosts, what would you put?

Har, har. No, the mustard tree was nice as faith, but we need an image of beauty in that passage. What about lilies? They will be beautiful! Whites, reds, large flaring petals- Consider the lilies of the field, how THEY grow! Isn't that a lot better than considering the mustard seeds of the field?

Well..., maybe...

Oh, Jim! I knew you'd agree! I'll send that up to the editing department right away...

Dear, I am the editing department..

Figure of speech, Jim.



Well the evolutionary biology department has finished their work and--

You have?

Yes, didn't I tell you? I've managed to evolve the human body up to the point we planned on. After that, its all yours.

And it'll be ready in time?

13 billion, 699 million, 522 thousand 625 years.

Doesn't that cut things a little close?

Well... yes, but that still gives you time to do your thing--

That gives me less than 8000 years! I gave you over 13.7 billion years, and you leave me less than 8000?!

Oh, you can do it, Jim, I believe in you. Now, we had to compromise on a few things.

Like what?

Well, dear, I'm afraid... that is, I'm sorry to have to tell you that...


Jim, dear, its just that there was no way I could make women as... bosomy... as you wanted. The numbers just didn't allow for it.

Oh. Well, thats ok, I guess.

And, the x-ray vision too. Not going to happen.

Well, I kind of figured that.

But, but I managed to squeeze in a few things that we discussed... at least I think I remember discussing them with you...

Oh no...

I've thrown in taste buds, and of course smell.

Did we really need those?

Oh, Jim! How can you say that? If they have lilies in the field, they won't mean anything if they can't smell them. And chocolate! How will they taste chocolate without taste buds? It was no trouble. Really. It only tacked on a few million years.

A few million?

Well, they'll develop along with hearing. Really Jim, it was nothing.

Alright then.

Oh, dear, look at the time- we'll be late for the party...

What party?

The boys are throwing a party. Josh has perked up a bit and Lucius is throwing him a party.

They invited us? Aren't we a little old for parties?

Now, Jim! We're not that old! We're still hip. We're still with it. Of course they wanted their cool parents there.

Would you stop it with the 61st century lingo?

As soon as you stop your bantering.

I don't banter. I'm God.

Fine, then, Mr. of Hosts, lets go before we're late.

Where is this party?

Lucius's place, I think.

Wheres that?

Right here, of course.

Oh. Right.

I think he has something to ask you, anyway.



Oh. Such a good boy.




I had another talk with Josh.


Yes- its been ages since we last talked about it.

We just talked about it.

I know that! But I talked to him, about... you know, and he's fine with it.

He is?

But, he asked me to ask you to change a few things.

He did?

Yes. Just a few things.

Like what?

Well..., he thinks you shouldn't be there.


Oh, Jim, try to understand- he doesn't want you to see him like that, and every son needs to get out on his own and feel like he's accomplished something, and, I was thinking about it and well, you don't have to be there. I mean, if you were there, it would only look like you were doing it for him and helping him out, and then it just wouldn't be the same...

(pause)I see your point. (another pause)Can he do it alone?

He has to. If its going to work, he has to.

(pause) Very well. What else did he want?

Well, now don't take this the wrong way, Jim...

What is it?

Jim, you know how tenderhearted he is. He's always liked his mommy...

Well he likes me too...

Yes, he _adores_ you, Jim, but he and I have always had a special bond that, that a boy can only have with his mother.

I suppose so.

Anyway, he wants to know...he wanted me to ask you if...I could be there with him.


Yes, dear.

I see.

Oh, Jim, I've looked the whole thing over, and it all works... Mike was planning on being there anyway to help him out, but instead, it will be... me.

I don't know about this.

He was _so_ insistent about it. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him I'd be there. He was so happy! He came right out of his room, and he and Lucius went off and started planning their party...

(pause)Well, I suppose we were going to have Mike there anyway... it might as well be you. If thats what he really wants...

It is, it is, I just knew you'd agree, Jim.


Well, when does this party start? We should get going.

Its starting now, Jim. And we're already here. Tuck your shirt in.

(pause) I love you Sophie

I love you too, Jim.


Friday, April 13, 2007


This is just because I felt like it

Happy Bright Eyes
Free Laughter
Full of Life, Full Life Ahead
Planning, Hoping, Dreaming, Believing
Newly married, starting life
We change direction
Surprises, disappointments
so dark, empty life
collapse in failure
nothing as planned, nothing counts
failure shame lack of faith
Silence inside
wish I never existed
hurt oh hurt
curled up inside
failure and tears
shared while wrapped in quilts
a friend with kind eyes
A hand
Grasping but I resist
Arms enfold but I fight
nothing will work, why try
His voice I obey
thoughts start again
try this
my wish not even hope yet
endless darkness
then a light
but it fades
still broken
so quiet not peace just empty
not good enough
try again
wish one more time
climb the mountain of darkness
no strength but that I borrowed
held up by other hands
light returns
the faded world is bleak
I ignore it anyway
live through it
keep living
it's not your fault
hold me hug me love me
I need a lot
I get more
I want again
I care again
darkness fades to only a fear
fear of its return
time helps to forget
life is grey
as a child all was good or bad
life was perfect or awful
now I grow up
life is always grey
there is always darkness
there is always light
lack of perfection
no longer means failure
as help takes leave
I stand on weak knees
I fall, but on my knees I find
there is still help
there is still strength
I try
I leap
I land
I stand
In light



Every time I study the New Testament, I am fascinated by the behavior of the Pharisees. The one term that seems to best describe them (besides “pharisaical”) is “self-righteous”.

Start tangent.
Actually, when I was younger, I didn’t think self-righteous had a bad connotation. I just thought if someone was self-righteous, then he/she was righteous even when by him/herself or something. That reminds me…you know how the Book of Mormon uses the term “dwindle in unbelief” to indicate a general diminishing of righteousness and belief in God? Well until I was probably 13 or so, I thought it was a good thing when the people dwindled in unbelief. I thought it meant that the unbelief of the people was dwindling. That’s good, right?
End tangent.

Self-righteousness is a funny thing. We all know what the word “righteous” means. But self-righteous may be a little harder to define. I will define self-righteousness as the act of thinking oneself better than someone else because of one’s own perceived righteousness compared to another person. Defined this way it obviously contains elements of pride, namely comparison and judgment of others. In other words, self-righteousness is a sin. Now here’s the funny part about self-righteousness: Try to think of someone you know or in the scriptures that is self-righteous, for example we’ll use the Pharisees. Now, aren’t they wicked, you know, being self-righteous and all? Oh wait, now we are self-righteous because we are thinking ourselves better because we think we are more righteous than they. This is different than say, theft or cheating. The act of pointing out the theft or cheating of someone else doesn’t make one a thief or a cheater.
Now I’ll back up a bit, because I did try to pull a fast one. In the above logic I equated recognizing a sin of another and recognizing that we don’t commit that sin to thinking that we are “better” than the other person. That is not necessarily true, though it sometimes is. In fact, I think the very moment when one makes that leap of thinking they are “better” than someone else because of one’s perceived comparative righteousness is exactly when that person is self-righteous. (Just to make sure we are rigorous, let’s define better as “of more value or worth as a person”.)

I first recognized this phenomenon a few years ago when I was still a BYU student. I was visiting an apartment of girls one evening. Some other boys were there visiting as well. On of the boys had to go to the bathroom, and since he lived on the other side of campus, he asked the girls if he could use their bathroom. Remember that the BYU Honor Code strongly discourages having boys use the bathrooms in girls’ apartments (and vice versa) but allows it if “courtesy dictates” or something like that. So one of the girls went back to the bedrooms and took a poll of her roommates who had already retired to their bedrooms for the night. Some of them were in pajamas, getting ready to use the bathroom, etc. So they weren’t comfortable with the boy coming back to use the bathroom. The girl came back and politely refused the boy and told him he’d have to find somewhere else. I volunteered the bathroom at my apartment. The boy accepted, but was visibly angry. He used our bathroom and then we went back to the girls’ apartment, the extra walking time between the two apartments being about 1 minute round trip. When he returned, he called the girl self-righteous for not letting him use the bathroom, adding that if a girl asked to use his apartment bathroom, he would never refuse.
I am almost sure I was the only one present to notice the irony. The boy was trying to let everyone know how much “better” he was because he wasn’t self-righteous like this girl. In reality, of course, the girl didn’t pass judgment on the boy for asking to use the bathroom. She merely exercised her right to refuse politely, and showed no aspects of self-righteousness. The boy’s attempt to point out self-righteousness in someone else was itself self-righteous.
Of course, this incident wasn't really isolated. There are certainly many BYU students who are self-righteous, as well as many who are quick to point out self-righteousness when they see it. Maybe it just gets talked about so much that people sometimes forget what it really means.

To me, it seems like the cure for self-righteousness is humility. Actually, I guess true humility can be thought of as the antidote for all forms of sin (inasmuch as all sin stems from pride, the opposite of humility.) In other words, as we encounter people in our lives who are sinful in ways in which we are righteous, we must remember that we are all imperfect. We can recognize the evil and destructive power of sin made manifest in people’s lives, but we must also recognize that they have the ability to repent and gain eternal life just as we do. When we hate the sin but love the sinner, we are not being self-righteous, but Christlike.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Week of Writing

Weak of writing is
my hand today, exhausted—
have you seen my time?


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Polish Post

So I didn’t write this. Jon will have to fill in the details, but someone in his mission wrote an essay comparing Polish driving to Communism, complete with footnotes. I found a copy I have a few months ago, and for the betterment of society I scanned it and transformed it to a word document. It’s a little lengthy for a blog post but well worth it if you have time to kill or want to procrastinate (so pretty much everyone here). I changed some spelling and grammar, but everything else should be as it was written. If there are any typos, let me know.

Poland Warsaw Traffic as a Product of the Communist System

Kenneth John Hartvigsen

being an exploration of a number of illogical discrepancies in the driving mind compared and contrasted with historical applications of communist rule.


In this thesis, the author will explore a number of traffic anomalies, misjudgments, and violations, and their relationship (if any) to the once Communist System. It is not the aim of this paper to pass judgment on the communist system (hereafter referred to as “The System”), to label, or demean the population of drivers in the city of Warsaw Poland, nor to shift blame for personal deeds onto any government system. Indeed this paper was undertaken in a hope to research, and through research to bring a new level of understanding regarding the burgeoning society of drivers in the city of Warsaw.

The author, at the onset of this work, acknowledges an unsure variable, or possible bias, in the research group; this being that the author is an inhabitant of the city of Warsaw. However, the author feels that said possible bias should be overlooked for such a general observational research project, for the following reasons:

1 – The author is not a long-time resident of Warsaw, having lived within the city boundaries for less than one year. Furthermore, he did not reside in the test area during the time of the System. This clearly allows the author to enjoy and “outside” point of view, from the vantage point of the inside.
2 – The author at the present time is not, and has not been, a driver on the Warsaw streets. Yet, he has on many occasions had the advantage of being the passenger, providing an un-compromised examination of road activity.

The observation of Warsaw road condition as it exists today comprises the main body of the research for this paper. These observations were made over a span of ten months, from January to November of the year two thousand. During that time the road were observed under a variety of weather conditions. This was done in order to grasp an overall average of driving behavior. While such a process would be unsuitable for any specific and conclusive work, the abstract Research goal the author was well served by this “detached” method of observation. In addition the observations were made from a variety of locales throughout the city, in nearly every dzielnica (a Polish term, similar to the meaning of district, or borough) and from a number of distinct vantage points. That is to say, as one walking on the street, while sitting on a bench in a park or at a bus stop, while riding a bus, while riding a Tram, while riding in a car.

While the author alone remains responsible for the research and conclusions contained in this report, he feels obliged to give credit and thanks to a number of individuals for various contributions to the work These include Natalie Noel for the inspiration required to undertake such a task, and Steven Katz, for his financial assistance, including the management and direction of funds and contributions necessary to the work. Beyond those named, a debt of gratitude is owed to Jon Fredrickson, whose groundbreaking work in Male Bathroom Psychology was in many ways a spring board to this project.

The Following traffic occurrences will be sited in the work:

The unofficial creation of a second lane, on a one lane road, which only accommodates your car

Failure to merge into the left lane, when the right lane is ending, until the right lane has abruptly ceased before you

Honking your horn at another car, whose driver has no control over his personal progress, ie in a traffic jam, or when a car’s engine has stalled/killed

At a crosswalk, when a car has stopped to allow the safe passage of a pedestrian, and a second car chooses to pass the first car, instead of stopping in turn behind it

Double parking on a one-way road

Driving on the sidewalk

Each of the above mentioned traffic occurrences will be discussed using the following pattern:

1) A description of the specific behavior will be given (any name of people or places will be changed as they do not contribute directly to the understanding of the act)

2) A fact (historically attested) about communism will be presented, in comparison, or contrast ot the driving behavior

The author reserves the right to deviate from the above established pattern when deemed necessary for further exploration, or deeper understanding. Any such deviations will be explained, and validated within the work.

I. Spontaneous “Second Lane” Creation

1) This specific driving act begins with a road comprised of two lanes of traffic, traveling in opposite directions. One car (Car A) is traveling in one of the lanes (there is no relevance as to which direction car A is heading) at a normal (gauged by the flow of traffic) speed. As is customary, Car A is staying on its side of the median, separating its lane from that of oncoming traffic. Another car (Car B) is coming up behind Car A. Car B, with no warning, or explanation from common road practice, or laws of automobile engagement, pulls up along the right side of Car A, spontaneously creating a second lane of traffic in the same direction. Often this act causes distress, as a road with only two lanes has no space for three cars traveling abreast of one another, car A frequently within very close proximity of the oncoming traffic.

2) When viewing the above behavior, the author is reminded of the 1917 revolution. One must concede that said revolution took place in Russia, an different country from the study group. However, as it was the beginning of The System it certainly has had a lasting effect on the cultural mind set of Eastern European peoples.

I don’t believe it is hard to imagine Car B as a group of enthused Marxists, disenchanted with the self glorifying position held by Car A. They push him out of power, and into oncoming traffic. It is only through sound judgment, and quick hands that Car A is able t\o escape unharmed.

It is then with hindsight that we may fully enjoy the irony of the moment, when yet another car (Car C) comes up along Car B, the young upstart himself now dodging for his life.

II. Merging... Eventually

1) It is not unusual in any major city, to find one lane of traffic merging into another. (1) For this example, we will assume that the right lane is merging into the left; that is to say, at the end of the block on which our example takes place, there is no far right lane. As a number of cars travel down the other several lanes (apart form the far right, or “Lane X”) a few cars, although aware of the road’s shifting identity (a sign is posted) will drive down Lane X, to the very edge of it’s existence. Then, at literally the last minute, these cars will turn on their turn indicators, expecting to be let into the next lane of traffic.

2) This behavior seems to be a parallel of the communist ideal, that all people are equal. The cars driving on Lane X expect to be treated just as the cars in the other lanes, regardless of their individual standing; where they come from, where they are going. Is it a bitterly funny coincidence that the other cars in the example allow the cars in Lane X to merge whenever they please? Perhaps just as the car’s drivers once though nothing amiss, as their colleagues collect wages and benefits from jobs that at times, they weren’t really completing.

The author is also reminded of the social mind trap, as the mentioned cars prefer not to act on their own, to improve the situation. Instead, they ask for other drivers (society at large) to make allowances and efforts for them. All of society giving a little, for the well-being of the “Party Bosses,” who play the games, with their own rules.

III. Honking in a Traffic Jam

1) There are many times and places, where movement in one’s car is not determined by personal will alone. We must take for example, a crowded parking lot, where many cars are crowding toward few open spaces; a turn lane, whose progress is impeded by pedestrian crossing the street; a traffic jam. As cars sit, waiting for those blockages to naturally fix themselves, other cars begin to hon. Despite the fact that there is no way for the first group of stationary cars to move, there second group will ask them, via horn, to “Get to Business!” (2)

2) The author finds this act to be very unusual, given the now historical fact of “waiting on line.” As has been highly documented in popular culture and scholarly works, it was common for inhabitants of Communist occupied territories, to have to wait in extremely long lines, for food, and other necessary commodities. The author, having not lived under The System would suppose that the experience of having waited in these lines would instill the virtue of patience. Or yet again, perhaps it is the forced waiting that the drivers recall, as their cars come to a stop. Perhaps they honk in proud decree that they have waited enough, and that there time is now!

The author sees yet another possibility in this traffic occurrence, which has been termed in other scholarly works “The overactive desire toward democracy.” (3) Just as in a true democratic state, all members of the population have the right and privilege of voting, and “having their say,” all of the cars in this example seem to take advantage of this new free voice society in a startlingly enthusiastic way. Especially in today’s technologically advanced world, it is no stretch of the imagination to view the car as an extension of the driver; “Does not [our very] existence and being… provide for us, the freedom of [speech, and expression]”? (4)

IV. Passing at a Crosswalk

1) First we must imagine a crosswalk; that is, a painted barrier on the street, which allows people to cross on foot, unharmed by traffic. It is important for this example that we do not confuse a crosswalk with an underground tunnel, or a skyway. At first, a person is waiting to cross the street; he must be careful because this crosswalk is not governed by a traffic signal. The walker must wait for a break in the traffic, or trust a thoughtful driver, who has stopped for the benefit of the pedestrian. One car (Car A) sees the pedestrian waiting to cross, and begins to slow his car. As Car A comes to a complete stop, the pedestrian begins to cross in the appropriate area. Then, another car (Car B) comes from behind Car A. we can only assume that the driver of this car sees Car A, and the pedestrian, the fact being that in most countries of the world, and eye examination is required before a license to drive will be issued; yet Car B does not slow down, does not stop, but chooses to speed up, and pass Car A. In the process, the pedestrian is unharmed, but certainly left shaken.

2) Stalin.

The author feels that no more can, or should be said.


V. Double Parked on a One Way Road

1) Adding to the overall confusion of the Warsaw streets, is the existence of a number of one way streets; that is to say, a street with only one lane of traffic, only traveling in one direction. In this simple, yet outstanding traffic occurrence, a car (Car A) is parked along the side of the road, in an appropriate (even marked) parking place. Car A is in no way an obstacle. Then another car (Car B) parks along side Car A (this behavior is sometimes referred to as ”double parking”) – not in a marked parking place, but in the middle of the one lane of traffic. Suffice it to say, this can be the cause of a great deal of confusion.

2) “My time is more important than your time!” (5) – The rallying cry of a new capitalist society! We must not overlook that the severe oppression on the Polish people has finally fallen to the wayside, revealing a vital child, quite bent on righting the wrongs of its fathers. This new society, and new ideal, doesn’t’ seem to stop running, not for an instant. If there’s nowhere to park, I’ll park in the street. My time is more important than your time.

This behavior, tends to spark another unique reaction. As stated before, there is little chance of slowing down a Warsaw driver, once he’s going. Therefore, when someone is parked in the street, we must find another way to go. Perhaps...

VI. Driving on the Sidewalk

1) The author wishes to stress that this particular deed is not as common as the others treated in this paper. None the less, it is too common to be overlooked, or considered a “fluke.” It is indeed as simple as stated, when a car’s driver feels that his progress had been impeded, he will occasionally drive off o f the road, on the sidewalk, on grassy areas, on triangular paved traffic medians.

Perhaps the most puzzling thing to the author about this severe action, is that it in no way inspires negative attention from other drivers. There will be no horns honked, no sideways glances thrown. The driving world in general finds no fault in this driver, or the driver’s act.

2) After searching through a number of the most recent and up-to-date scholarly works on the aftermath of communism in Eastern European society, along with a thorough examination of the original and seminal communist works (including M.V. Bergsten’s monumental exploration, Marx... Sharks... Battle Carts) the author is convinced that this is just stupid. There is no excuse, or explanation. It is stupid, stupid, stupid.


The author (as stated in the introduction) intended this work to help build a bridge of understanding to the world of Eastern European Driving. He intended for this to be the first in a long line of specific investigations into the Polish driving mind. The author has since had a change of heart.

There is no hope in understanding the drivers of Warsaw. There is no hope in explaining the things that they do, or the way that they think. The author had a great desire to understand the things which he saw, d hoped to find a greater corn-on by searching the past.

Instead the author has found a new and searing confusion, a blotch an his own consciousness, a darkness of the mind. He feels now to have made of himself quite a fool. He failed, and if this paper bad not taken so much time and effort, on the behalf of so many, it would be stricken from the record.

Let this work now stand as a record against the author, and his foolishness. He begs of you to stay off of the Warsaw streets, and not to study their wary, or thought…

Do not do as I have done.

Kenneth Hartvigsen
Warsaw Poland
November 2000

(1) Rules of the Road: A Layman’s Guide; Heath R Hall, Gladstone Publishing 1937
(2) The Cry of the Horn; Stone Lampert, Outland Publishers Lt. London Aukland Santa Fe 1976
(3) Hey Mr. Democracy! A children’s guide to politics; Samuel Trenton, Sleight & Manham ltd. 1965
(4) Chicken Hand Sally: An Eskimo Faerie Tale; Elizabeth Halbert, North Sea Publishers Inc. 1928
(5) Galaretka, Świat, Moja Opowieść; Aleksander Dzylet, Lampstand Publishing 1994


Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Can you keep a secret? Well, I learned a doozy a couple weeks ago. It's a secret so big, in fact, that it has been kept through centuries, passed down by many famous men and kept secret in smoky boardrooms until now.

Sound familiar? Then maybe you watched the same movie I did. The Secret, as advertised on, is a movie in which scientists, philosophers, visionaries, and others tell you about The Secret (which is, of course, accompanied by dramatic music every time the words are spoken).

I pause here to apologize to those who truly love the movie. I want to make it clear that most of the sarcasm I express is about THE MOVIE, not about the idea of the Secret.

That aside, it was the cheesiest movie I've seen in a long time. For the first ten minutes, various people tried to impress you with the importance of the secret by naming famous people who have known it in the past, by showing pictures of laughing old white men with cigars in a smoky boardroom, and by playing dramatic music while testifying of the power of the Secret in their lives.

One man claimed that he always drove straight to the parking spot he wanted, and it was always open for him because he knew The Secret. Another story was of someone who wanted to make more money that year - he became an author and fabulously rich with The Secret. The movie spent a lot of time emphasizing richness, plenty, and beautiful beach or yachting vacations. It took nearly the first 10 minutes to even get to the name of the Secret. In fact, I've been doing the same thing - annoying, isn't it? Okay, fine, I give - the Secret is "The Law of Attraction".

At first I thought it was a dating technique, or a way to be popular. But "The Law of Attraction" is simply this: if you are thinking about something, you are creating certain vibrations that go out into the universe, and the things you are thinking about are attracted to you because of those vibrations. The Universe, in essence, grants you your every wish - just like Aladdin's genie - but only if you ask it correctly.

Are you serious? How lame is that! What a joke! Who would believe something like that?

Oh, wait a minute, what happens if you replace "The Universe" with "God", and replace "grants you your every with" to "grants you the righteous desires of your heart"... So maybe my initial reaction is similar to how some people view religion?

I thought about how "The Law of Attraction" compares with my views of how God answers prayers. They both require faith - faith in God is believing that he hears and answers my prayers for my eternal good; faith in "The Law of Attraction" means that you have to believe that the things you are thinking about will happen - if they don't happen, you must not have believed it. They both require asking - asking God means praying to him; asking "The Universe" means thinking positively about what you want to have or what you want to happen.

I think the theories differ in the source of their power - the power behind answers to prayer is God; the power behind "The Law of Attraction" is "The Universe". The conditions for an answer are also different - for God to answer us, we must have faith in Him, and we must be seeking a righteous desire; for "The Universe" to answer us, we must have faith also, but there is no limit on what we may receive. Also, the answers themselves are different - God answers prayers, but not always with what we think we want; "The Universe" answers prayers with anything we can think of.

Don't get me wrong - I do believe that positive thinking makes a huge difference to us. If we believe in ourselves, we have the courage and the will to try things we never would have otherwise. It's been proven, especially with athletes, that visualizing actions is a very effective method of improving those actions. Also, positive thinking is an antidote to depression, it is related to charity in how we view the world and others, it is a useful tool, and it makes life a lot more fun.

But The Secret views more like a strange infomercial, which claim is backed up by the various learning products advertised on the official website, as well as the numerous other teachers who are willing to take your money in order to teach you how to use The Secret.

Well, I'm sure there are other interesting tangents to take, but it is getting late, my laptop battery is running low, and so it is time to wrap this up. In summary, although the idea is interesting, I just don't accept The Secret as the movie presents it. And refusing to believe it means that it would never work for me anyway. The fantastic claims made by the visionaries, philosophers, and even a quantum physicist just don't work for me, no matter how mysterious you make it sound and no matter how many pictures of wealth and prosperity you show me.


Goals, planning, and Free Time

I shamefully hang my head as the first Salsa Night Blogger to bust a suspense date (that's government contractor lingo for miss a deadline). On this Tuesday morning, I lamely make up for it by posting something I wrote over a year ago, a little after I first moved to this area. What follows is a short personal essay on how I must manage my time in order to accomplish my goals. It came from some moments spent musing after I wrote down several of my goals. The essay reflects what those goals are; it's interesting to see what I've accomplished since then (being accepted to GMU, for example) and what I still really need to work on. It's also a valuable meter for me to gauge how well I've been using my Free Time--how true to myself I've been.

Anyway, here it is:

I have reached a point where I need to lay down a plan for keeping these goals central in my life—I need to plan out my weeks and days so that I can be doing what I have said I want to do above. Of course, I am hesitant to do so. A strictly regimented life has never appealed to me. I have always valued what I conceive to be Free Time.

The problem facing my valued Free Time is what I end up doing with it. Quite often my Free Time becomes Wasted Time; I while away hours on television or inane movies or even too much reading. My precious, untouchable Free Time must be touched and tempered in order to protect it. What’s the point of discretionary time if it becomes lost to indiscretion?

Another problem arises: some of the activities I have listed under goals lose some of their intrinsic value if they become too structured. For example, to me there is value in picking up a book simply because I feel like reading. Reading is a metaphysical activity that transports me to other places and allows me to be other people. There is something magical about it. Part of that magic would be lost if it were scheduled to begin and end at predetermined times. I must be able to decide when I will leave and how long I will be gone. Sometimes ten minutes is enough, and sometimes an hour is too little. And reading is just one example; there are a number of things that just cannot be scheduled.

I think the solution lies in leaving some Free Time. A little here, a lot there. Watch a television episode in one instance, or read for a bit. Go on a date or out to a movie in another instance.

In addition, as little as possible needs to be set in stone. The most important things should be, such as scripture study. Others that take a certain amount of time might need to be more strictly scheduled as well; working out at the gym requires travel time, an hour or so of workout, plus showering and more travel time. It needs a place in the schedule so that it doesn’t interfere with other things and so that I can be sure to do it.

Aside from the things that must or ought to be strictly scheduled, perhaps the rest can be handled as Joseph B. Wirthlin suggested in his October 2003 conference talk entitled “Three Choices.”

We become masters of our lives…by focusing on first things first. We all have a pretty good idea of the most important decisions we need to make—decisions that will improve our lives and bring us greater happiness and peace. That is where we should start. That is where we should place our greatest effort.

Each night before I go to bed, I take out a small card and write a list of the things I need to do the next day in order of their priority.

…In the morning, I check my card and put all my efforts into the first item on the list. When I accomplish that item, I move on to the second and so on. Some days, I finish every item on my list. On other days, some tasks are not completed. I don’t become discouraged, however, because I’m focusing my energies on the things that matter most (Wirthlin 2003, 80).

So maybe up until I take the GRE, studying for it will take a higher priority than practicing the guitar. I may still have time for it after studying, but I may not. That will not mean that the guitar has disappeared from my life, nor that I have used my time poorly. One will take priority over another. If I find that I’m never playing guitar or that I wish I could play more, I can reevaluate my priorities.

As I look back over my goals and the associated activities, I think that scheduling for the present will be somewhat easy. I think that there will still be plenty of Free Time. I think that it will also feel Free because of how I will prioritize and not necessarily set a time. Everything’s going to be okay—I’ll progress, waste less time, and still feel Free.


Wirthlin, Joseph. 2003. Three choices. Ensign: 78-81.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Truth (hurts) in Advertising

We have a bottle of tablets that claims it can fend off the common cold. A few weeks ago I was desperately trying to prevent the onset of a cold that ominously was beginning to tickle my sinuses, inconveniently right before our stake choir was scheduled to sing The Messiah. Both my wife and I had solos in the performance, and I was NOT going to be sick. Without realizing one had to immerse the tablet in water before consumption, I took a cautious bite out of one of the large, quarter sized orange chunks. I chewed it for a few seconds, wondering why I was salivating like a dog surveying a juicy prime rib, until I noticed the pill was fizzing in my mouth. They used to make candy that was called something like 'sour bombs' that I would eat, only to spit them out, trying diligently not to gag. These were a distant, bubbly cousin. I spit the little bit out, and, having failed at plan 'A', I commenced plan 'B' and dutifully began reading the instructions. Oh.... you dissolve it in water.

I dropped the tablet in a glass of water, which immediately began hissing and spitting at me like an angry cat. As I waited for it to do it's thing, I picked up the bottle and read the advertisements emblazoned on the wrapping. "Guaranteed to stop a cold in its tracks!", "Say goodbye to colds!", and, almost as an afterthought: "Designed and formulated by a second grade teacher!". I paused. Was this their attempt to inspire confidence in their product? Why would I be impressed that a pill I was taking for my health was designed by an elementary school teacher, (and only a second grade teacher at that)? I could just imagine the other situations in which you might hear that statement, and wish you hadn't:

Brain surgeon: "Don't worry Mr. Smith, these surgical instruments were designed by a second grade teacher!"

Army chief of staff: "Don't worry Mr. President, the nuclear weapon we'll use in our counterstrike was designed by a second grade teacher!"

A high school teacher- even that would be a little better. Probably not a middle school teacher (at least, not MY middle school teachers). Not that elementary school teachers are dumb, nay, I respect anyone who can handle a classroom full of ritalin dependent smelly children, but lets face it- smelly children are their specialty; not designing the chemical makeup of a product designed for general consumer use!

I remember when I was in elementary school, I thought my teachers were pretty smart. They knew everything: math, science, spelling, random facts meant to impress us into silence, politics, you name it. My music teacher was especially cool. In fifth grade we all had to choose to join either the choir, the orchestra or the band. I picked the trombone and stayed with it for two years. I remember thinking my teacher must have been REALLY smart because he knew how to play ALL the band instruments. I ended up doing very well- those two years were my first hint that I would later develop a talent with music. That did not come for several years, however, since I thought only nerds stayed in band (I had not embraced my nerdiness as I do now).

I quit band in middle school- middle school has that tendency to suck the life out of anyone; and I did not resume it in high school even as I began to teach myself the piano and realized that I had an ear for music. My big break came at the end of my junior year when I became involved in the stake musical. My friends and I didn't take it too seriously, and for our audition a friend and I "sang" Michael Jackson's Billy Jean. My friend hummed the bass guitar background while I shrieked out in my loudest falsetto possible: "Billy Jean is not my lover. She's just a girl who says that I am the one, but the kid is not my son! WHOOO HOO!" That last part was not accompanied by a patented Michael Jackson crotch grab, but that did nothing alter to the look of shock (and awe) on the stake youth committee's faces. I did not get a major part. They put me in the dancer section.

As the rehearsals progressed through the next few months, I began to be appalled at the complete lack of talent among the guys who had been picked for the major parts. One of them couldn't even hold a tune! I knew I could do better than that. So one day when one of them wasn't there, I grabbed the microphone and showed the youth leaders what they had missed out on. The notes came out pure and true, even the very high ones. I shocked even myself. By this point in my life, I had never, NEVER sung out loud before (the Michael Jackson thing was NOT singing). I was far too introverted to even think about raising my voice, especially in song. Singing is what either cool people (or people too nerdy to care) could do. So after all those long 17 years of not singing, I was surprised to learn that I could. When I finished the song, there was silence, with most of the people there staring at me. The jaw of the play's director hung open. Then there was one of those sappy movie moments where everyone claps for you, a la Hagrid at the end of the second Harry Potter movie. It was rather embarrassing for an introverted lad like me.

The next year, I joined every choir that my high school offered- Jazz Choir, the advanced Chamber Choir, the beginning choir- all of them. I soaked it up. I learned how to read music, I learned all the vocabulary, I desperately tried to make up for a decade of lost time. In my freshman year of college, I started my own a cappella group that performed as far away as Santa Monica (about 30 miles from my school). I was a music machine- nearly every minute not spent in class or on homework was spent on either writing, directing or planning something for the music group.

Then, after my mission, nothing. I sang in church, I had a few a cappella singing experiences occasionally (one with Jared as we tried to woo prospective girlfriends), but nothing like what I had thought I would be doing at the height of my brief a cappella career. Now, ten years after those initial High School and college experiences, countless opportunities have been squandered and valuable time wasted that will never come again. I think of all the BYU choirs I could have joined, the nearly free music and voice lessons in the form of college credit that passed me by, the Provo city choir, Orem city choir, Sandy city choir, Utah Chamber Artists, even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, all gone.

Gone, but not quite. There was still ward and stake choir. Our current stake performs The Messiah every two years. The first time two years ago was a great learning experience as I had always heard of the song, but was only familiar with the Hallelujah chorus. This time, I came prepared to try out for a solo (dragging Jenny along with me). I got the one I wanted, and spent two months sneaking in times when I could practice alone at home with no one but Lucy to hear me (and maybe a few annoyed neighbors). I decided I would pretend to be an opera singer, since I had now squandered my chance to actually BE one. I listened to the CD literally a hundred times, and tried to mimic the bass soloist to the last intonation and diction. The work paid off. Both Jenny and I (who also worked very hard for two months) did very well.

After the performance and standing ovation, A lady approached me, introducing herself as a representative of the Sandy city chorus and orchestra. She wanted me in the chorus. I knew I would be leaving Utah soon and didn't want to start one more thing I had to commit time to in the middle of writing a doctoral dissertation, but something was calling me. The feeling of missed opportunity had been building for months now as I was practicing the Messiah, and seeing another friend, only 17, commit to paying hundreds of dollars for opera lessons after barely discovering his love of music arose in me a sense of profound regret. Why had I not done that? How could I find something I was really good at and by all accounts in love with, and then virtually ignore it for ten years? I accepted her offer and joined the Sandy city choir.

As I played catch-up (again), trying to learn the Verdi Requiem, I was struck by the beauty of the bass solos and wanted to try out as the soloist, however, I did a little research and discovered that the tenor soloist already chosen was the head of the opera department at the University of Utah. A little out of my league. No, I said, enough wasted opportunity. No more. The worst the conductor can say is no. I called him. Can I try out for the bass solo for the Verdi Requiem? Sure, I'd love to hear you sing. Do you have something prepared? Yes, I've been practicing the Confutatis solo. Great! Now, lets see... What can you tell me about your background? Where did you study? Um... I didn't really study. I'm kinda self taught. Oh... I see. Well, I've already got someone who I had planned on giving the solo to, but I'd love for you to come in and let me hear you anyway....

His voice did not trail off, but my attention did. I realized that while the past ten years weren't exactly a waste (heck, I got married, had a kid, served a mission, got a degree, and almost got a graduate degree (not in that order)), but one of the parts of my life that I feel real passion for and could have been much more developed was, sadly, not. For the next few years, I will have to advertise myself to choir conductors as a person who missed opportunities, who could have been great, but is now merely good. And that hurts.


Thursday, April 05, 2007


It is a little-know fact that ants are not, contrary to popular opinion, color blind. The truth is, ants enjoy color. The world, from their perspective, shifts through a series of intensely saturated hues: warm browns and greens broken up by expanses of grey particulate and blacktop; flashes of red often mean food; and the sky, blue, can change to the threatening pink of barefoot flesh at any moment.

Unfortunately for the ants, it was one of those moments. Quick thick shadows blocked the sun as the giant human toddler squatted next to the mounded entrance to their nest. The brown dirt, carefully arranged by the home guard so as to provide an elevated perspective of the surrounding terrain, was unceremoniously swirled by a thunderous digit at least ten ants in diameter. The pinkish hue of human flesh instantly brought a sense of heightened panic to the nest. Ants scattered as their mandatory military and emergency survival training kicked in.

The toddler, intrigued by the flurry of activity brought about by a simple touch, squealed in delight. The sharp sound cut through the ants’ network of communication, disorienting those unfortunate enough to be outside the nest at the moment. Their morning chant dissolved into a cacophony of high-pitched squiks and squeaks as the ants desperately strove to regain their equilibrium. At the nest, the singer ants cautiously ventured closer to the entrance. They redoubled their efforts: “hiss squik pik squeak” echoed out across the grass, a call to their lost brothers.

But at that moment, the toddler laughed, and the ants knew that their message had been lost. Underneath the earth the laugh shook the larvae who quivered with instinctual fear. The laugh descended onto the throne where the swollen queen lay, uncaring. It found its way into the storeroom where those working paused, grateful in a sense that they rarely saw the fabled sun. Under normal circumstances it might be difficult for one ant to assert its consciousness and reflect upon its own individuality, but the laugh of a toddler had the power to remind them of their own mortality. In facing death, ants, like the rest of us, live a bit more fully, a bit more aware of their own specificity in the universe.

Outside the nest the pace of chaos quickened. Toddler palms patted at the entrance, scattering sand and dust to the wind with their colossal blows. Toddler shoes threatened to flatten the ants with their pink gummy soles. Debilitating bombs of toddler snot fell amidst the wreckage of the nest, immobilizing any ant unfortunate enough to be caught beneath their salty slime. The ants still tried to find the entrance of the nest, climbing on each other in a determined frenzy as they sought the now-collapsed doorway. They, each individually, knew their death was imminent and unavoidable.

The shadow lifted; the air cleared. The home guard began to organize itself once again, routing ants through the nest as they cleared a pathway to the surface. The singers found each other and clicked in unison, resuming their morning chant. Those outside the nest slowed their frantic search and, calmed, picked up their bits of seed and soil, working. The dead were soon carried by a passing wind.

From a distance, the toddler looked back at the nest, clutching tightly to the freshly-picked flower of a spring dandilion.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Father for a year, plus 2

Kiya turned one year-old today. I find it amazing that a year has passed since she was born. I was so nervous and anxious. But she came out beautiful and healthy. She's now quite the little chunk. She's stronger than she realizes. She's so curious and sometimes very determined. She's a good girl, though, and typically when she knows we don't want her doing something, she'll stop it. She's really trying to walk farther and farther every day (about 9 steps last night). She's really trying to say things, be expressive, and responsive--almost in a conversational way at times. Monday night she wasn't sleeping too well. I wasn't either so I got to just sit and hold her in her room in the rocking chair. There's something about having a baby rest on you, be supported on you, rely on you for comfort, that helps to put the day-to-day things into perspective.

Being a father was something I always wanted as long as I can remember. I still remember being worried as a little boy when I realized that I'd grow up to be a daddy and not a mommy, because I was so much closer to my mommy. I had more tender feelings for her, and I wanted my kids to have those tender feelings for me too. I have since realized that is possible, too, as a daddy, and I have very special feelings for my own father. When I was 15 or so, I wrote an essay for school called "The Desire to Bear", or something like that, where I described my feelings about why I wanted to be a father--to help another grow, to mold and teach them. I don't know if that essay got preserved anywhere (can't find it electronically anyhow). It took me a little longer than I planned to actually be a father. I had expected to go to school, go on a mission, get married while still in school, and maybe even start having kids while in college. I always thought that I'd have a kid by 25. Well, I turned 26 and still wasn't married...

However, Jared has been a blessing. He helped me catch up on lost time. Since he was born in 2002, that actually puts me about right. Just so happens I didn't know him yet, though! I picked things up with him when Heather and I started our relationship, and officially when we were married July 2004 (so Jared was already 2). It was definitely a learning experience, and continues to be so. Having not gone through the first two years, Heather had to be fairly patient with me. I'm getting to fill in those missing 2 years now with Kiya. It is definitely a different experience. Although I love that Kiya is "blood-of-my-blood", Jared is the one that evoked my first paternal instincts, joys, and frustrations. He is sealed to our family and will be the main example for those that follow. When I came into the picture, though, his personality was already shining through. He's a people person through and through.

Kiya's personality is just beginning to emerge. It's amazing to see. At times I see her mischievous, curious, thoughtful, fun-loving, considering, wondering, and just observing. And more often than not, there's a bit of attitude and sass mixed in. Everyone always says that she looks exactly like me, which I'm not sure is good for either of us, but I love it anyway. Seems like she may be tending more toward the personality of her mother, though. She has that "go get 'um", can-do attitude. If she falls, rarely will she even put on any negative expression at all. If the legs fall short, well then the arms and knees still work great! She's gotten so fast on those things. She's also taken to pulling herself up at one of the backyard windows and just staring out, or hitting the window and waving and trying to talk. I think she mostly does it when Sienna, the dog, is out there.

I'm grateful to be a father, and for Kiya. For her love and sweetness. I pray that I can fulfill the great responsibility it is to be her, like Jared's, father. I love them both. I love my wife for blessing me with them, and for seeing me for more than I see myself.


If you need some motivation for April 15

Keep in mind why you must pay taxes, Donald Duck style.

“Every dollar you spend for something you don’t need, is a dollar spent to help the Axis.”


Tuesday, April 03, 2007


The sunlight swirled in a halo of sparkles, framing the shadowed face. Anna sighed and turned the silver frame slightly to the right, away from the open window. Now the image before her was clearer. She brushed her dark bangs to the side and carefully drew sea-green lines along the upper edge of each eye. Hazel eyes stared at themselves; then her gaze dropped to her mouth. Picking up the same tube of lipstick she had worn at her wedding, Anna dashed it across her lips and turned towards the door. She picked her way through the dirty clothes dropped haphazardly across the floor, and pulled the door close to shut behind her.

"Steve," she called out, "Are you almost ready?"

"Sure," came the reply, "just as soon as I can find my scriptures. Would you check the baby's room?"

"Okay." Annie headed into the purple and green nursery, picking up a few toys and dropping them into the rainbow-colored toybox as she looked for the worn black leather case. A giggle halted her search - she pivoted on the ball of her left foot and strode purposefully back down the hall.

"What are you doing in here?" Anna asked as she re-entered her bedroom. "Oh no!"

"Mama pway!" and the giggle sounded again. In the middle of a pile of white T-shirts and socks, little Emily was dressed only in her diapers as she flipped through the pages of a small, leather-bound book. Surrounding her on the floor were the contents of Steve's scripture case. A small tearing sound brought Anna's eyes back to her child, and she hurried forward to rescue the books from Emily's possession.

"I found them," Anna called out, "but I need a hand."

"Coming," came the reply.

A minute later, Steve pushed his way in the door. Wading through the overflow from the laundry hamper, he grabbed his scriptures, papers, pens and pencils. As he repacked his scripture case, Anna managed to get the squirming baby back into her Sunday dress. With a sigh, she realized they were going to be late again. As her family trouped out of the bedroom, Anna took a last look in the mirror. She knew what she would see - a harried expression, sweat beads beginning to form along her brow, and her hair escaping from it's tidy clip into a fuzzy mess. Her reflection frowned back at her as she hurried out the door.

Walking into the Bridgeton 3rd Ward, Anna slipped into a bench in the back and put down her baby, the diaper bag, and the CTR-5 lesson materials. They had already missed the sacrament. Anna wished fervently that they could move back home, where her family lived. One glance at the rest of the chapel confirmed her feelings - she would never fit in here. Just look at Sister Pinnat, with her Nordstrom's dress so obviously coordinated with a designer bag and tasteful navy pumps. Or Sister Freegle, with her three sons lined up and paying close attention to the speaker. The bishop caught her eye as she looked around the room - flushing, Anna sank into her seat and opened the diaper bag.

Five minutes later Anna was in the foyer, trying to calm Emily down while deciding whether the bump on her head was going to bruise or not. After changing a diaper in the mother's lounge, Anna looked at her reflection over the sink. She reached up to reposition her hairclip, and tried to ignore the rest of the reflection looking back at her disapprovingly.

When sacrament meeting finally ended, Anna gratefully turned Emily over to the nursery leader, Sister Johnston, and walked to her Primary classroom. Four eager faces looked up at her as she walked in.

"Good morning, Sister Prentis," their cheery voices rang out.

"Good morning everybody!" Anna replied with an easy smile. She loved this part of her day - and the kids loved her right back. They had an opening prayer, and then they talked about faith. The lesson never really went as planned, but the four and five year olds always asked a lot of questions. They especially loved scripture stories and chances to act them out. After 40 minutes, Anna was feeling much better. She sat with her class through Sharing Time and Singing Time, prompting her class to answer questions and singing along enthusiastically.

At the end of Primary, Anna headed to the nursery to pick up Emily. She had to get her home, fed, and into bed quickly for her afternoon nap. Steve would be home in an hour, after finishing up in the clerk's office, and she wanted to have tidied up a few things by then and have lunch ready. Juggling two bags and a baby, Anna headed towards the door.

"Anna..." At the sound of her name, she turned around to find Sister Johnston behind her. "Anna, your Emily is such a sweetheart. We love having her in nursery. Today she was the first one to invite the new Anderson girl to play with her; Emily just gave her a big hug and brought over the toy blocks she had been playing with. I just wanted you to know you have a very special girl, just like her mom."

Anna blinked wish surprise, and managed to stutter, "Th-Thank you."

Thirty minutes later, she was at home and Emily was tucked in for her nap. She paused at the doorway to her room, and took a look at the mess. It was time to find the floor again. As she carried an armload of laundry over to the closet, her gaze caught on the reflection in her mirror, and she smiled as she remember the nursery leader's comments. Her reflection smiled back at her.


A Worldwide Church

This story in the sidebar was interesting. It discusses the growth of the church's perpetual education fund and how it is laying the groundwork for the future leadership of a worldwide church. 27,000 loans have been made so far, and in some areas of the church that have received loans (Northern South America was mentioned as a main beneficiary) more than 10% of the bishops and stake presidents were recipients of loans. Considering that the program only started in 2001, even though 10% is a large number it surely is only the beginning and is bound to swell in another 6 years.

An interesting remark was made by John Carmack, the emeritus Seventy who heads the program:

The church is at a stage, Carmack said, where it is time to trim the parts that are peculiar to the United States and not relevant to the international church.
"We simplify and find what is essential for salvation and church government and what is unessential," he said.
As the church grows to be an international church rather than a Utah church, what are some of those things that are peculiar to the institution and culture (and even doctrine) of the church that will drop by the wayside? Obviously the leadership of the church will begin to be called more and more from members outside the U.S. (all five seventies who were called this last conference were not from the US), but what else might change? Some might argue that the 1978 extension of the priesthood to all males regardless of color was the first major thing to change, being that the old policy grew out of the general attitudes of Americans in the 1800's (ignoring the question of why the Lord would wait until 1978 to inspire the church leaders to change the policy). Looking through the archives of Brigham Young's papers and sermons, it is rather obvious that the policy was culturally based rather than having been received as a direct revelation. It is safe to say that if the church had been restored in say, Nigeria, there would have been no ban (though there might have been a ban going the other way).

What are some other aspects of the church peculiar to the U.S. that might change?

24th of July celebrations?
A new hymn book that does not include patriotic music (or at least one that has a whole section of patriotic music from many, many countries)? Or even locally produced hymnbooks that have (doctrinally appropriate) music unique to the culture they will be used in?
A change to the three hour block?
An activity for the men that is comparable to enrichment night (how to take apart an engine night, how to cook a nice meal when your wife is gone(or even when she's there)night)?
Conferences based somewhere other than Utah? (If in 2050 there are three times as many mormons in Mexico as in the US, why not?)

What else?

(This was just a short brainstorm, and I don't think all these things will change or are even connected to North American culture, but its a place to start the ensuing catty fight where Randy accuses me of apostasy for daring to suggest that the priesthood ban was culturally based rather than divinely inspired. Bring it on Randy.)


Tuesday's Post

Hey everybody - since I started my post as a draft a while back, it's actually partway down the page - titled "Reflections".

I did manage to escape from the procrastinator's theme, but one of my favorite T-shirt slogans has always been:
"Procrastinators Unite! ... Tomorrow"

And on the funny T-shirt note, I really like this one too:
(front) "There are only 10 kinds of people in the world."
(back) "Those who know binary and those who don't."

And other funny quotes (I'm just rambling now):
"The future isn't what it used to be."


Monday, April 02, 2007

I work best under pressure

is the procrastinator's self-consoling lie. I know because I use it so often and so well. Take tonight for instance:

You may notice, if your time-telling senses are keen, that I'm writing this post at a little after 11:15pm, EDT. Why did I procrastinate the posting of my post? Because of the paper I procrastinated turning in until today.

It gets worse.

That paper was actually due more than a week ago, but due to my procrastination and the subsequent underestimation of how long it would take to write it and still stay caught up in my regular reading and homework while continuing to faithfully serve my employer 40 hours a week, it became late. I talked with the professor and she kindly gave me an extension--to today. The extension was granted last Wednesday, and I finally wrote the paper this afternoon and evening after work. "It's okay," I thought to myself as I walked to the public library to sequester myself, "I work best under pressure."

But as I finished up the ninth page of my essay, put the finishing touches and formatting on it, and did a quick re-read, I realized that it had turned out the same as nearly every paper I write. It was pretty good. It had a solid introduction and thesis and a well written, snappy, and organized first half. Then it starts to lag. The language isn't as sharp, the thesis isn't tied in as well, and it kind of starts to ramble. By the end I do a good job of tying everything back into the main thesis, but there's sort of a diaspora in the last half that requires a gathering at the end.

By the time the paper is completed, it's nearly zero hour and time to turn it in. I can fix minor spelling, grammatical, and mechanical errors, but the style would take too long to revise. So I turn in a pretty good paper instead of a great paper.

I whip up a pretty good post instead of a great post, or a well thought-out, planned post.

But it's okay, that's just the way I work. I work best under pressure.



Sunday, April 01, 2007

Just Another Essay

What makes it so hard to write? Why do I sit here for hours looking at a blank screen, occasionally typing out sentences, only to delete them and resume my internet browsing? Good heavens, I've written stuff before- but it was never really planned. I'd be sitting there doing something unrelated, only to receive a sudden inspiration, a sudden idea that, once the writing process started, just flowed onto the page like...

'Like what'? He thought as he leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled in front of his chin, glancing from his computer to the window and through the window to his yard, his garden, his tiny newborn plants.

'Like the jelly from a jelly doughnut dribbling down my chin? No. Like water from a broken dam? Right, no ones heard THAT one before. Like gas flowing from the nozzle of... ok this is getting ridiculous. Lets back up.' His gaze rested on the small youthful peach tree, whose blossoms were fat, ready to burst.

'how about ...'

...a sudden idea that, once the writing process started, bloomed onto the page like a spring bud that ....

'No, I like flowing better.' He backspaced, replaced the bud with the jelly doughnut, saved his work and stood up. He paced back and forth, wondering where he was going with his essay. He had been assigned to write a personal essay weeks before, but he had only started it just now, the day before it was due- and now he was stuck on the first paragraph.

'Why is this so hard?' He sat back down and opened another candy bar. 'Why can't I just write something like a story, or something I'm actually interested in? Essays require thought and prose- but if I could just tell a story, I could let the plot drive my writing!'

Just then, there was a knock at the door. He jumped up, not having expected any visitors that day, and walked over to open the door. It was the mailman. He accepted the package, thanked the mailman and closed the door. The package was small, the return address somewhere in Italy.

'I don't know anyone in Italy. Strange ...' He sat down, and with his keys, ripped open the wrapping. It was a small cardboard box. He opened it, raising his eyebrows as he picked up the old, rusted key inside, and began reading the accompanying letter written in long, flowing script:

To whom it may concern,

I have been followed for several days now. I believe whoever is following me is aware of the progress I have been making, and of my recent discovery. My research assistant disappeared the same day we made the discovery, and I fear going to the police since my enemies are powerful and I don't know the extent of their influence. I have invested too much time, energy, and blood into this project just to give up now, and so I send this part of my discovery to you. I don't know you, but my secretary has assured me that he would find an able recipient of this treasure. Please read the engravings on the key, and you will know what to do.

Farewell, may God protect you in your upcoming journey.

Be careful in whom you place your trust.

"Okaaaaay ...." He murmured audibly, staring at the letter incredulously. It was written on paper that appeared to have the letterhead of an Italian law firm at the top. He turned the letter over and saw more writing, though much more hastily written:

Giuseppe- Forse un giardiniere? Atto rapidamente !

"Okaaaaay ...." He looked up, an eerie feeling having settled over him.
'Who gets ominous letters from Italy about discoveries, being followed by enemies, strange keys... ' He tossed the letter aside and picked up the old, rusty key. It wasn't like any key he was familiar with, but rather large, reminiscent of the skeleton keys one sees in old movies. He looked at it closely, and could barely make out an inscription:

N38 00.292'
W78 27.101'

The absurdity of the situation needled him, and yet he couldn't help thinking about what to do next with this mystery that had so suddenly presented itself. Should he call the police? The FBI? The Italian police? No, that would be stupid- the writer of the letter didn't even trust the Italian police. 'Ok, now I'm going crazy. Me? Call the Italian police? What is this, some kind of ... Da Vinci code-esque April fools day joke?'

The doorbell rang.

'Another visitor? They can come back. What were those numbers? They look like coordinates. Could they be gps coordinates? I suppose I could google it...' He sat down at the computer and typed in the numbers. Google quickly gave the reply.

'Virginia. Monticello. Why would someone send me a key with the coordinates of Monticello on it?'

Knocking at the door.

'Why don't they go away? Monticello. That was Jefferson's house, wasn't it? Or was it Franklin? No, it was Thomas Jefferson. And what about that Italian? Forse un giariniere? Forse? Force? Giarginiere? Giardia? No, the -iere ending is like our -er. Gardener? Force a gardener? Quickly? I don't get it.'

More knocking, very insistent this time. He went to the window and looked out, There were two men standing on the porch, one of them talking on a cell phone. Very suspicious. Remembering the words of the letter, he slipped the key and letter into his pocket, and quietly left through the backdoor, crossed the yard, hopped over the low fence into the neighbor's yard, and from there to the street. Unsure of where to go, and feeling increasingly apprehensive as he looked over his shoulder to assure himself he was not followed, he walked down the street to the library. He went to the back and sat down at a computer. He typed in 'Monticello', and began reading. Fifteen minutes into his study, his cell phone rang. It was the carpet store, wondering if there was a better time for the work crew to come by to measure for the new carpet.

"The work crew?"

"Yes, sir, they went by your place half an hour ago but no one was home. You told us the afternoon was the best time to come by. Is there a better time we could come?"

"The work crew? Oh. No, if they could go by right now I could go meet them there."

"Ok, if now is fine, I'll call them and send them back over."

"Thanks. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Bye." He hung up the phone and, sheepishly, left the library and started toward home.

'I can't believe I actually took it seriously. It's got to be an April fool's joke the wifes pulling on me. Wow, a little elaborate for her ... I should really get home and finish that essay- well, start that essay. Oh, but what if the letter WERE real? That would be a cool story. What would Monticello have to do with anything? And why Italy? What would the key be for?' He continued his walk home, daydreaming of a mystery full of strange codes and ancient secrets buried in a Monticello garden as he passed the cherry trees lining the street, blossoms already faded and leaves beginning to poke out. They were planted in a straight line on both sides of the street, and he looked up and down, appreciating the beauty of the freshly fallen carpet of blossoms. He noticed a white car half a block behind him, driving very slowly. He stopped. The car stopped. He looked past it, and continued his gaze to the other side of the streeting, pretending to gawk at the trees, and resumed his walk. He glanced to the side and noticed peripherally that the car had resumed it's slow pace as well.

'They found me!' He panicked, and broke out into a run. He dodged onto a side street, and into a convenience store, ducking into one of the aisles. Peeking up, he saw the car continue rolling slowly down the street, and then peeled away suddenly. It was gone.

'What is going on? Were they really following me? This is absurd! Who is "they"? I think I need a vacation' He regained his composure, and stepped out of the store.

There they were. One coming in from the left, the other from the right. The same men at the door. It was too late. They walked up to him.

"Are you ... the Gardener?" Asked one of them- the rather burly one with the moustache. The other stared intently, his hands fingering something in his pocket.

"What do you mean, am I the gardener? Who are you?"

The two men looked at each other, nodded, and the shorter one asked,

"We know about the package you just received. We know about the key. We've been sent to pick you up. Please come with us. Now." He motioned to a car in the parking lot, whose doors suddenly opened with two more black suited men stepping out. Acting on instinct, he bolted, dodging the larger man, and ran back to the street. He heard shouts behind him, and an engine revving. He ran faster, turned the corner, and saw a familiar car. It was his wife's. He flagged her down, and jumped in before she could stop.


"What's the matter?" She asked, vaguely smiling.

"Drive! I'm being followed!"

She looked at him, and chuckled as she stepped on the accelerator.

"You've been procrastinating again, haven't you? I told you to start that essay weeks ago. How much have you written?"

"Drive, woman! This is not the time to be pestering me about essays! I'm being followed!"

"Riiiight...." she chuckled again, pulling into their driveway as he watched to see if they were followed. They were not. He rushed them into the house, and her the whole story, to which she shook her head and said,

"I really think that you're just trying to get out of writing this personal essay."

"But... but.. the letter! The key! The men who called me the Gardener! I'm not just making this stuff up!"

"Ok then, show me the key."

He fumbled in his pockets. It was gone. It must have slipped out while he was running. The letter too.

"I lost it. But I swear I had it! I ..." He trailed off, looking around the room for the box it had come in. It, too, seemed to have disappeared.

"Honey, why don't you just go sit down and at least get a start on that thing. I promise that when you finish, we can take a little vacation. Just you and me. Maybe we can go finish planting the garden later? Maybe a little trip to Monticello?" She winked at him.

"Why are you making fun of me? This is serious! It really happened!"

"I'm sure it did, dear. Now, go sit down, write a few pages, and then we can go to bed. Oh, did the carpet guys come by yet?"

He stared at her, mouth wide open. He shook his head, slumped back down at his computer. jelly dribbling down my chin. But then it smears all over and gets your hands sticky, and some drips on the floor only to be tracked around, making a big mess. I end up on the floor with rag in hand, cleaning it all up, swearing never to eat jelly doughnuts again.