Monday, December 22, 2008

Random Thoughts

I like to read the writings of Thomas Sowell (left), especially his "Random Thoughts" columns. I thought I'd do something similar today:

1. Why is it that Democrats think it’s evil “dynastic politics” when the offspring of Republican politicians seek public office, but that somehow it’s wonderful when the offspring of Democrats do so—even going so far as to support Caroline Kennedy for appointment to a Senate seat with absolutely no prior experience in elective office (not even as “co-president”)?

2. A generation ago, perhaps the biggest concern of environmentalists was particulate air pollution—i.e., smog, or soot in the air. Several decades of stringent air-quality laws have caused a tremendous reduction in particulate air pollution, leaving the current generation’s environmentalists with little to gripe about in that regard. Could this be the driving factor behind their seemingly zealous search for a new class of air pollutant—in this case, an old, naturally occurring substance called carbon dioxide, or what plants “breathe” to produce oxygen? Following a “logical” progression, one wonders what will happen when/if hydrogen-powered cars come on the market and become the prevalent form of human transportation. The product of hydrogen combustion is not particulates or carbon, but simple water vapor. If hydrogen-powered cars eventually cause elevated levels of O2 in the air—that is, what human beings and other animals need to breathe—will the next generation of environmentalists want to classify oxygen as a pollutant? (Consider that water vapor provides about 90% of the "greenhouse" effect that warms the Earth.) It sounds absurd, but then who would have thought thirty or forty years ago that people would be saying the same today about a relatively innocuous substance like carbon dioxide?

3. I’ve sometimes wondered why I don’t like to watch basketball anymore. Undoubtedly, some of it has to do with the insufferable attitude that so many of today’s athletes have, physically gifted and rich though they may be. (And don’t get me going on the notion that college and pro basketball players and teams from the 1960s and 1970s could match their modern-day counterparts—there simply is no comparison in terms of skills and athleticism, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool.) However, I think the real reason I don’t watch basketball anymore is rooted in three de facto rule changes that make all those sparkling moves possible. The first is that “palming” the ball is hardly ever called anymore. The second is that “traveling,” likewise, is hardly ever called, either before or after the dribble. And the third is that, thanks to “breakaway” rims, hardly anyone is ever given a technical foul for hanging on the rim, which in turn makes it relatively “safe” to dunk in traffic. Many actual rule changes have been instituted since the 1970s—the three-point shot, the “alternating possession” rule on held balls, the institution of a shot clock, the rules regarding how many foul shots are awarded and when, etc.—but the changes I’ve mentioned have made basketball, at all levels, a completely different game from what it once was. I’m not saying it’s worse, but it’s definitely not as interesting to me.

4. Concerning the passage of Proposition 8 in California and its chances of actually taking legal effect, I’m left wondering (a) when it supposedly became a “fundamental civil right” for someone to be able to marry another person of the same gender (given that marriage in general was never considered a fundamental right under common law), and (b) how a person can be a “bigot” for supporting traditional marriage between one man and one woman. Personally, I favor the idea of civil unions between homosexual couples, with all that implies, but, setting aside all religious considerations, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to reserve the term “marriage” for what it has always been. The fact that homosexuals want the courts to say otherwise is instructive with regard to their intent, which obviously is to use the courts to bludgeon society into accepting homosexuality as the functional and moral equivalent of heterosexuality—and, more importantly, to impose sanctions against individuals and non-government organizations that refuse to do so. That’s a scary thought, but when legislatures abdicate to the courts their responsibility to make policy decisions, there simply is no telling on what rocky shore the resulting tidal wave might throw us.

Monday, December 15, 2008

1975 Bi-Stake Holiday Tournament MVP

This photo of me has an interesting story. My mother took it in January 1975, shortly after our ward young men's basketball team won a two-stake, double-elimination tournament during the holiday break. I received the most valuable player award, which was not only a very exciting thing to me personally but one of the few times I can remember receiving, as a young man, positive feedback resulting from a church-related event or activity. I was a fifteen-year-old sophomore in high school (still about eight months away from his first set of contact lenses) who had, after some dithering, decided not to try out for the high school basketball team. (It was a decision about which I felt quite a bit of regret until just a few years ago, when I finally realized that it wouldn't have been worth the effort. Even if I'd played school ball, my high school had one of the best programs in New Mexico, blessed with both gifted star players [mostly jerks, unfortunately] and a lot of depth; I wouldn't have made the varsity team until I was a senior, and even then I wouldn't have played much.)  However, it meant a lot to me to be told I was a good player -- especially as a tenth-grader -- even if it was in the context of church ball.

The tournament itself was an adventure. Our first game was against 5th Ward (of the Albuquerque Stake) at the Haines Street chapel, which we won by, I think, six points after struggling against their full-court press. The next evening, we lost a close game to 7th Ward (of the East Stake) at the Eubank chapel, then immediately we had to rush back down to Haines Street to play 4th Ward (of the Albuquerque Stake) in a late losers-bracket game; I remember winning a real nail-biter on a teammate's late free throws. 7th Ward went on to lose to 8th Ward (our arch-rivals from the East Stake, and the ward with the most good-looking girls, including Dorine), so the next day we played 7th Ward one more time, again at the Eubank chapel, this time winning by a few points. That put us in the championship game against 8th Ward, although of course we needed to beat them twice to win the tournament. We won the first game at the Eubank chapel, but apparently no one had contemplated the need for an "if" game, as there was another activity scheduled at the Eubank building that afternoon, and the tournament organizers had to scramble to schedule the Haines building for the last game. We managed to win that game, too, which was a very sweet feeling -- made positively exquisite by my winning the MVP trophy.

After my mother shot the photo above with her Kodak Instamatic camera, that particular roll of film lay in a drawer, forgotten, for what must have been six years. I can remember coming home from my mission in late December 1980 and going with my mother, sometime in the next few days, to the old Skaggs drugstore down in Fair Plaza (at the intersection of San Pedro and Lomas in Albuquerque). Skaggs had some ridiculous special on film development and prints (something like a dollar a roll), so my mother took her old rolls down to have them all developed at once. Needless to say, the resulting pile of photos included this one -- time had caused the negative to fade somewhat, but it was an amazing feeling to see it, not knowing it existed, after six years! It brought back nice memories then, and it still does so today.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Photos from the Cabin and Pagosa Springs

Here are some photos from our trip to the cabin with Mike and Judy. The first shows Mike, Judy, and Dorine having ice cream at the malt shoppe. (They serve huge sundaes and cones there!) The second shows the view east from the malt shoppe on the eastern end of Pagosa Springs. (Pagosa is a very pretty town in the wintertime.) The third is at the underground candy shop near the movie theater in downtown Pagosa Springs. (We bought a bunch of fudge there.) The fourth shows Dorine and me on the deck at the cabin. I had a fun time and wished we could stay longer!

The Albuquerque Youth Symphony
Luminaria Fundraiser

Here's a photo that Dorine took of the assembly line at our luminaria "workhouse" on Saturday morning, December 6. The sand pile pictured was already significantly smaller at that point in time than it was when we started at 7:00 am, and I'm sort of amazed that the sand was completely gone, and that all our deliveries were made, by 1:30 pm. We had an extremely hard-working, competent crew! Likewise, all of our preparations and planning paid off; Dorine deserves most of the credit, especially for learning how to use Microsoft's "Streets and Trips" to make the delivery routes. Dorine received several compliments from people assigned to work at our house regarding how well-organized everything was. I think we only had about 760 dozen luminarias to assemble and deliver, whereas some workhouses had double that number -- which explains why we ended up at another workhouse in the afternoon, and why Zach and I ended up making a few deliveries in the South Valley at the end of the day. It will be interesting to see how much we earned toward Kiley's Australia trip -- hopefully it will have proved to be worth our while!

Monday, December 8, 2008

At the Cabin with Mike and Judy

Dorine and I are spending a few days at Pinegrove Cabin (near Pagosa Springs, CO) with Mike and Judy P______. This trip is in lieu of our usual trip to Ruidoso, NM to celebrate wedding anniversaries. (This month marks 34 years for Mike and Judy and 24 for Dorine and me.) It's fun to come up here, and Mike and Judy are always good company. The attached image from Google Earth shows the neighborhood in which the cabin sits -- it is the smaller of the two structures pictured in the bottom center. (The larger structure is inhabited year-round, at least for now.) Access from U.S. 84 is from the right (east), and one must cross the Rio Blanco on the whitish-colored bridge. You can also see the Rito Blanco, and its confluence with the larger Rio Blanco, in the upper part of the image. The cabin property takes in most of the land between the river and the road, along with much of the wooded hill at the bottom of the image; thus there are plenty of places to play, hike, and hide away. I look forward to going into town this afternoon to shop and knock around town.

The AYS luminaria fundraiser on Saturday went very well. We finished our orders at around 1:30 pm, although then we were assigned to another "workhouse," and Zach and I ended our day making deliveries in the South Valley using maps that provided very few reference points. (Not knowing the area very well, it took us over an hour to find the last house on the route, by which time it was after dark -- very frustrating!) Thank goodness it's over now!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Inter-Holiday Family Update

I can't think of anything in particular to write about, so I'll post a general sort of update. I'm sad today because I found out that Mike Prairie, the senior manager I've supported at work, died over the long weekend from his brain cancer. We knew he was ready to check out because his aggressive chemotherapy regimen had failed to arrest the growth of his tumor(s), but his death at this juncture was still a surprise, given that it came so soon after he stopped receiving treatment. If nothing else, I'm glad that his suffering was cut short -- anyone who's had to watch a loved one die of cancer knows that death itself can be a blessing.

Last week, I was able to exchange my existing "VPAP Adapt SV" breathing machine for one of the "enhanced" units; I owe both A&R Medical Supply and Resmed a debt of gratitude for working together to make that happen. So far, it appears that heightened pressure settings do help me significantly, although I'm currently experiencing yet another health issue that's impeding my sleep: debilitating stiffness and pain in my left hip that seems to be radiating from my lower back. I saw a doctor about it this afternoon at my employer's medical clinic; he diagnosed it as probable sciatica and gave me a stretching regimen and a prescription for a strong painkiller (which, for obvious reasons, I want to use only sparingly).

We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner at home with much of our immediate family and various members of Dorine's extended family. (My mother elected to stay home and cook for my sister Kristen and her family.) I'm looking forward to my extended Christmas/New Year's holiday from work, but there are still a couple of intervening events this next weekend. First, we have to get through the Albuquerque Youth Symphony's luminaria fundraiser -- we'll be busy inasmuch as our home will be one of a number of "workhouses" where luminarias are assembled and from which vehicles will make runs to deliver them. And second, Dorine and I will be driving to Colorado to spend time at the cabin with Judy and Mike P______; hopefully, we'll get to leave on Saturday afternoon after all our luminarias are made up and delivered, as three nights up there sounds much better than two! (This cabin trip will be in lieu of our usual "wedding anniversary" trip to Ruidoso -- it didn't make sense to spend a load of money on a cabin in Ruidoso if we could stay at our cabin in Colorado for "free.")

Devery and Easton went to Tucson to spend Thanksgiving with his family; however, they'll be coming here for Christmas, partly because Devery's cousin Hillery P______ is marrying her fiance Kevin John on the 27th in the Albuquerque Temple. Devery will finish her BSIS degree this semester and is interviewing for jobs in the Utah Valley/SLC area. We thought that Darren would stay in Jesus de Otoro through the end of the year, since he'd been trained in how to conduct tithing settlement; however, we found out today that he was transferred last week back to the Tegucigalpa area and is training another new missionary, Elder Rose from Morgan, UT. (The photo above was taken from Darren's mission's blog -- Darren is the second from the right, and I'm assuming the elder on the far right is Elder Rose.) Kiley has been pretty sick and has been struggling to manage all that she has on her plate; sometimes it seems like neither Dorine nor Kiley nor I get nearly enough sleep at night.

I don't have much of a Christmas wish list this year. I need another pair of running shoes, and I could always use an iTunes gift card. I'd really like to get my "old" Line 6 guitar amplifier repaired, as the newer one I bought doesn't produce the same heavenly tone (with a touch of chorus, a little digital delay, and some reverb) that made me fall in love with the "old" one. Knowing the cost of electronics repairs these days, however, it would probably be less-expensive to go on eBay and buy another of the old model.