Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Amazing Grace and Modern Conservatism

I've grown to like very much the 2006 film Amazing Grace, which stars Ioan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce (see the attached portrait of the real Wilberforce).  The film deals with Wilberforce's long crusade, and that of other like-minded individuals, to ban the slave trade in the British Empire during the latter part of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th.  As I have watched it a number of times, I have naturally asked myself, as a political conservative, where I might have fallen on the question of African slavery had I been alive in that period.  I like to think I would have been on Wilberforce's side, not only regarding slavery but also various other causes he championed, such as public education, humane treatment of animals, and the fostering of public and private virtue.  It's easy, however, for a modern conservative to doubt himself: whereas the Republican Party -- the only plausible haven for conservatives these days -- was born in the 1850s as the American anti-slavery party, it has allowed itself to be portrayed in recent generations as being anti-civil rights, which explains why African-Americans now vote almost monolithically for the Democratic Party.  

The resolution of conservative self-doubt lies, I think, in the sometimes-difficult distinction of those issues that truly entail basic human rights from those that do not, and in pointing out that not all social change constitutes social progress. I quote William F. Buckley, who once said that conservatives are "...stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."  My own analogy is this: if one desires the pendulum of social justice to stop swinging, and to arrive at its optimal state in the least amount of time, one doesn't give it a shove in the opposite direction; rather, one arrests the pendulum's movement and guides it slowly to its center of gravity.  That is, unless one has a vested political interest in keeping the pendulum swinging in order to agitate and thereby preserve a particular power base or set of constituencies -- which I view as the raison d'être of the present-day Democratic Party.  In days gone by, people like William Wilberforce (himself an evangelical Christian) represented a religious, principled political Left; in contrast, few of today's "progressives" seem to burden themselves with either religion or principles -- except, perhaps, a "faith" that all change in the direction of collectivism is for the better and that nothing about western civilization is worth preserving.

Were conservatives on the wrong side of history with regard to many social-welfare issues?  Given that programs such as Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, etc., are now considered sacrosanct and untouchable in the congressional budgeting process, the answer appears to be "yes."  However, will history judge such things as on-demand abortion, long-term welfare and unemployment benefits, lax immigration enforcement, government-run health care, golden-goose-killing taxation rates on corporations and wealthy individuals -- not to mention reductio ad absurdum concepts like eugenics and euthanasia -- to have been good policy?  To use another analogy suggested by a business professor of mine many years ago: Compare laissez-faire capitalism to a jungle and statist socialism to a zoo.  A jungle is full of predators, depredations, and large-scale anarchy wherein only the strong survive; however, it also represents freedom at its fullest.  A zoo, on the other hand, seeks to guarantee survival, order, and equity, but only at the cost of liberty, choice, variety, and mobility.  I maintain that the struggle between conservatism and liberalism isn't really about whether we should make our society a jungle or a zoo, but, rather, what characteristics our "game preserve" -- a cross between the two -- should have.  

Simply put, conservatives would prefer to have a system of government that allows at least some inequality of result in order (a) to preserve certain basic individual liberties, and (b) to promote industry, self-reliance, and some semblance of personal morality.  On the other hand, "progressives" seem to regard most individual freedoms -- at least, the ones that their political enemies cherish most -- and self-determination to be secondary in importance to wealth redistnbution and equality of result among the masses.  Admittedly, it's all a balancing act, but history is replete with examples of societies that erred too much on either the "jungle" side or the "zoo" side of the scale.  However, the problem with zoos, as any zoological park director will say, is maintaining a level of funding sufficient to sustain operations -- and what happens if you have to rely on the "animals" themselves to labor to generate that funding, at the same time you're incurring tremendous debt in the cause of coddling them and rendering them indolent?  Just ask Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, just about any current leader of an EU country, or even Jerry Brown....

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thirtieth Anniversary of the End of My Mission

At the Feria internacional de Santiago (FiSA) - Dec. 1980
On Paseo Ahumada with the old MTC district - Dec. 1980
On arrival in Albuquerque - Dec. 24, 1980
Today marks thirty years since I returned from my church mission in Chile.  I don't have to say that it seems incredible that so much time has passed since that occasion; I can still close my eyes and imagine myself in any one of my mission sectores, although it was only a short time after I returned that my mission seemed to have all been a dream -- a common phenomenon for returned missionaries.  To put some agonizing perspective on the time that has passed, I ponder what I would have thought if, on Christmas Eve 1980, I'd talked to someone who had come back from his mission on the same date in 1950.  I would have thought, "Man, you're old!" and couldn't really have imagined being similarly situated down the road.  I still have occasional dreams about being in Santiago and, oddly, I sometimes find myself "speaking" in Spanish to someone while I'm dreaming.

The top photo above shows me at the "Feria internacional de Santiago" or "FiSA," which roughly coincided with the end of my mission. (It wasn't, properly speaking, a "world's fair," but it might as well have been one for all the preparations that were made and the excitement it generated in Santiago.) My last companion, José Cerda of Viña del Mar, Chile, took this picture of me in front of the American pavilion.  (I'm wearing the light-gray suit I had made to come home in -- it's still the only tailored suit I've ever owned or am likely to own, although I didn't have to put on much weight before I could no longer fit in it.) The photo in the middle shows my old MTC district (L-R: Wayne Illes, me, Scott Kimball, Mark Anderson, Steve Timm, Joe Grigg), after getting together to have lunch on Paseo Ahumada, one of the big retail areas in downtown Santiago, on a p-day shortly before we all went home. (This wasn't the whole group, as one elder had gone to California on his mission, a second had already finished and gone home, and a third had been sent home several months earlier for reasons of immorality -- although by this time he'd already been back to Chile and had married his Chilean girlfriend.)  The bottom photo shows me, with my old friend Ken Foley, at the Albuquerque airport shortly after I arrived. What a disorienting day that was! And it was only about nine or ten days later that I had to return to BYU in Provo. (I never realized, before now, how sun-bleached my hair got in the antipodal summer, although I well remember how pasty-white my legs were from not seeing any sun for two years.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 2010 New Mexico Bowl

I attended the 2010 New Mexico Bowl game at University Stadium in Albuquerque on Saturday, December 18, which game pitted BYU against the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).  I'd originally planned to go with Darren and had purchased two tickets for that purpose; however, Chad and JoAnn Twitchell came into town for their son Paul's graduation from UNM, and I gave my ticket to Curtis Twitchell so that he and Darren could spend time together.  Thus I was expecting to watch the game on TV; however, Bye and Denise Manning, friends who once lived in our ward (but who have now lived in their hometown of Kirtland, NM for the last sixteen years), came down for the game and had an extra ticket because Bye's father had fallen ill and couldn't make the trip.  They called to ask if I wanted to go, and of course I did (although I drove down with Darren and Curtis -- we ended up parking at a hotel on Gibson and University and walking to the stadium from there).  Bye is a big BYU fan -- which I've always found slightly intriguing because he got his degree at UNM -- and they actually hold several season tickets for BYU home games.  (Needless to say, it's a significantly shorter drive from Kirtland to Provo than from Albuquerque to Provo.) He had a lot of inside information on the BYU team and individual players, which made watching the game more interesting to me.

Anyway, the Cougars throttled UTEP pretty good in the game, winning 52-24.  BYU's program looks to be on the upswing, given (a) the fact that they started the season 1-4 but won six of their last eight games (and they would have beaten Utah but for some freak mistakes and one very bad non-reversal by the replay official that left even the TV announcers speechless), and (b) the fact that they had so many freshman and sophomore starters this year.  Next year BYU goes independent in football, meaning it's free to schedule whomever, whenever, and can negotiate its own television-broadcast and bowl-game deals and not have to share the revenue with other conference members.  We may not ever see BYU's football team play in Albuquerque again, but, between ESPN and BYU-TV, at least we should be able to see all of their games on television.

I took the attached photo with my cell phone after the game, as a crowd was gathering for the awards ceremony.  Darren and Curtis were already down on the field, and I then went down to find them, which enabled us to exit the stadium in the direction of our car.  Later, the three of us (along with Dorine) met up with the Mannings to have a late lunch at Rudy's Barbecue on Carlisle.  Dorine commented on the fact that as she walked into Rudy's, various UTEP fans were walking out, whereas BYU fans were just arriving, which sounds about right -- the UTEP side of the stadium started emptying well before the game ended.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Adidas "Toque" Shorts

In recent months I started replacing all the old shorts that I'd worn to the gym for years and years.  Earlier this year, J.C. Penney stocked several colors of Adidas soccer shorts as part of a World Cup promotion; I liked them a lot, but they were expensive at $20/pair, and thus I bought my first pair, in cobalt blue, only after they went on sale for $15 each.  Eventually, after they went on clearance, I decided to buy all four colors that Penney's had (cobalt blue, navy, red, and black), paying only $10 for the last pair.

But that wasn't enough -- I wanted more colors!  An Internet search revealed that the design of Adidas short in question had a name, "Toque," but not too many places still had them in non-standard colors.  I had planned to ask for the additional colors as Christmas presents, but then my new boss gave all of her subordinates gift cards for as bonuses.  It hadn't occurred to me to look for Adidas shorts on, but a co-worker mentioned that one can buy almost anything there these days -- and it turned out that had a greater selection of "Toque" shorts than any other online seller I'd found.  So I used my gift card, and a little more, to buy three more pairs (in forest green, maroon, and orange [see illustration]), jumping the gun on Christmas a little.  (Dorine says I'm extremely difficult to buy Christmas gifts for, since I generally just go out and buy the things I want most for myself, without waiting for the holidays; however, that wouldn't have been the case in this instance but for the gift card that literally fell into my lap.)

I had already decided on colors before I placed my order on, but now I wish I'd got purple instead of orange.  If I'd been thinking and had realized that had purple (no other vendor I'd seen did), I never would have chosen orange -- especially since purple was the primary color of my high school and orange was a primary color of Dorine's high school, a big rival. (Ptui!)  Oh well -- I think seven pairs/colors constitutes an adequate selection!

(By the way, I know I'm not the only one in the world who likes the "Toque" shorts: when we were in Mexico last summer, my son-in-law Easton's brother Stuart was wearing a pair of red "Toques.")

[Update 1/4/2012: I've finally ended up with ten pairs of "Toque" shorts (cobalt blue, black, red, navy, maroon, green, orange, purple, white, and yellow) to go with three additional pairs of Adidas shorts (gray, Argentina blue, and the current Mexico "away" shorts in black, red, and gold) in other styles.  Anyone know where I can get a pair of brown Adidas soccer shorts, size XL?]

[Update 7/1/12: Here's a photo of all my Adidas shorts (except my black-and-red "Mexico" shorts -- think I'm obsessed?]
Note the puke-green pair -- often suits my mood

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The iPod and I

I’ve never been one to ride on the cutting edge of commercially available entertainment technology.  I listened to 8-track tapes until well after my mission; I didn’t transition very quickly from cassette tapes to CDs (nor from VHS tapes to DVDs); and currently I’m resisting the move from DVDs to Blu-ray discs.  One reason for this is that I’ve never been much of an audiophile or videophile; I simply don’t insist on having the best available sound or picture quality—“good enough” is good enough for me—especially if the new technologies are still in their “expensive” stages of development and proliferation.  (There were some notable exceptions.  First, I bought a second-generation Sony Walkman portable cassette player in 1982 for $120 [+tax], which was ruined later that summer when I took it to the lake and got sand in it.  And, then, Dorine and I bought our first VCR for $440 [+tax] shortly after we were married in late 1984, a two-head unit that didn’t even have a random-access TV tuner [it had sixteen presets]; later on, even well before DVD players came out in 1997, you couldn’t have given that VCR away.  It’s almost scary to think what one could buy today with that kind of money, especially if one adjusts for inflation since the early 1980s.)

It’s interesting to me that as portable devices that store digital audio and video files have become available/affordable, the need for elaborate, bulky electronic components has gradually diminished.  The iPod doesn’t provide state-of-the-art sound quality, but its compactness and portability have rendered large, component-based stereo systems almost completely obsolete.  I guess I’m waiting for some similar technology to come along that will do the same thing to DVD and Blu-ray players and elaborate home-theater systems.  Netflix’s internet streaming is only a small step in that direction—and we’ll never eliminate the need for large-screen TVs due to our inherent desire for bigger and sharper visual images—but I foresee a day in the next ten years in which we’ll have the “movie” equivalent of iTunes and an associated portable (iPod-like) memory device that can be plugged directly into a TV to display a movie.  Disk-style media may still serve a purpose, but, as is the case with CDs currently, video discs will generally be used only to upload files to our computer-based libraries.  Video and audio quality may not quite be on par with a Blu-ray player working in conjunction with a high-definition flat-panel TV and a high-fidelity home-theater system, but I expect some “ease of use” feature of the technology to offset any diminution in the overall viewing experience.

The challenge for the film and television industries—and, by extension, for the technology itself—will be how to discourage the sort of piracy that severely impacted the music industry with the advent of the iPod.  I suspect that the people who make and distribute films and television shows don’t want the technology to advance any further until better controls on sharing digital files can be implemented; however, I greet with circumspection the news that the government has recently seized control of certain internet domain names that are associated with file-sharing.  I suspect it is just the first of a series of increasingly autocratic measures designed to protect “Hollyweird"; however, the more stringent the government becomes, the more likely it is that people will rationalize piracy and other copyright violations as justifiable civil disobedience, forgetting about the whole notion of stealing.

[Update 12/7/10: My 500MB iPod "Shuffle" finally ran out of juice last night after it stopped registering on the computer or charging a couple of weeks ago.  I'd used it at the gym for what must have been upwards of five years, but, alas, iPods don't seem to be engineered to last indefinitely.  I still have a three-year-old 2GB "Nano" that works, so at least I have another option.]

[Update 12/21/10: I've noticed that at least some flat-panel TVs now come with USB ports, but only for display of .jpg files (i.e., still images).  What I'm anticipating is that future-generation TVs will be able to "play" movies directly from an iPod-like "flash" memory device via a USB interface; I also suspect that the movie and television industries are already actively resisting the idea.]

[Update 1/21/11: I got an 8GB iPod "Nano" for Christmas, primarily because Kiley had lost my older 2GB "Nano" at church; however,the people who found the older "Nano" finally returned it to me -- they evidently saw that it had some tracks on it that I had done under my own name and deduced that it belonged to me.  The new "Nanos," by the way, are pretty amazing -- 8GB in a device that's only about 1.25" square and perhaps 0.33" deep.  It has so much memory that it holds my entire iTunes library, which consists of some 1500 songs.]

[Update 5/25/11: I got a Blu-ray player for my birthday this year (to go with the flat-panel TV I got for Christmas), and last week I bought my very first Blu-ray disc, Sherlock Holmes, which Walmart was selling for $10.  Interestingly, I've found my eyesight is so bad that I can't tell the difference in picture quality between a regular DVD and a Blu-ray disc, at least when both are played on the Blu-ray player and the flat-panel TV, unless I'm within 2-3' of the screen.  I guess I won't "waste" my money on more Blu-ray discs.]

Monday, November 22, 2010

November Cabin Trip with Mike and Judy

The cabin
In the kitchen/dining area
At the overlook
At Treasure Falls
Dorine and I spent the weekend in Colorado with Mike and Judy at the cabin, which of course is a few miles south of Pagosa Springs.  It was a nice, laid-back time and I enjoyed getting out of town for a couple of nights.  The photos above show (a) an outdoor view of the cabin, (b) Mike, Dorine, and Judy in the kitchen/dining area after finishing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, (c) me at the overlook up the road from Treasure Falls, which is en route to Wolf Creek Pass, and (d) all four of us at Treasure Falls (taken by a family visiting from Texas).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November Update

It seems almost pointless now to talk about what's happening in our family and what's coming up, as very little is going on and even less is in the offing.  Dorine and I are planning to go to the cabin in Colorado later this month with Mike and Judy P_____, but that will be a weekend jaunt consisting of two nights only.  (Dorine has a vacation day she could use, but Judy, like Dorine before her, just hired on with the public schools as a full-time educational assistant, and she obviously doesn't have any vacation saved up yet.)  The holiday season is almost upon us, but I can't seem to care much about it aside from the time I'll have off work.  I'd like to plan a longer trip somewhere -- besides Utah, that is -- but I seem to be the only one in our family who has any real passion for travel.  I long intended to take my mother down to Ruidoso (Downs) to see the Hubbard Museum of the American West, but Mom, now almost ninety years old, is simply too weak to make the trip, and I find little joy in traveling by myself.

Chris, Kristy's husband, is still running his own auto-repair shop on East Central, something he seems to have been born to do -- although that doesn't always translate into a fat living, especially in hard economic times.  Heidi and Dion have had a few disagreements, arising mostly from differences in values, both personal and financial; Dion's got a great heart and, from what I've seen, a strong work ethic, but his and Heidi's priorities don't always mesh well.  Devery and Easton are now living in their home on the west side.  Easton's dad spent several weeks, with their help, renovating the inside of the home -- they did a lot to it -- although they still need to re-roof before they'll be able to take out their own mortgage loan on the property.  Easton's job with Bradbury Stamm seems to be going well.  Darren is still at BYU and is doing very well in school; he plans to take a lot of hard classes next semester and will probably need to quit his job in the dining room at the, Cannon...Center.  Kiley seems to be adjusting well to college at UNM, although she doesn't seem to care much for being a music major.  Her erstwhile boyfriend Erich came home from the MTC only a few days before he would have left for Australia; he was suffering from "separation anxiety" and had become quite ill, and now it seems less likely that he'll give it another go.  (I have two comments to make.  One, it was a good thing that I left home for freshman year before I served a church mission, as I had that year to overcome my own "separation anxiety," which was pretty profound at times.  [I cashed checks on at least two occasions for bus fare home before allowing myself to be talked into staying at BYU.]  And, two, for some reason the church called Erich almost six months before the day he reported to the MTC -- what good could be expected to come from forcing him to wait such an inhumane length of time?)

The grandkids are all doing well, and Mason and Tyler (see photo above) recently had their first birthdays.  (That's no optical illusion -- Mason really is that much bigger than Tyler.)  Both are about the cutest little boys imaginable.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Random Thoughts, Part 5

1. The subject of vote fraud has come up several times already in this election season, and Election Day isn't even until next Tuesday.  I think fraudulent voting is almost exclusively the province of the Democratic Party.  First, who regards it unnecessary -- even "intimidating" -- to require documentation of one's citizenship to register to vote, and then of one's identity to cast a vote?  A person almost can't urinate in this country without showing ID, yet we're to believe that the exercise of the greatest privilege of citizenship should be accomplished without the slightest proof of eligibility?  And, pray tell, what eligible citizen is going to feel "intimidated" by having to show at least a driver's license or other government ID before he can vote?  (On the other hand, who benefits when dead people, non-citizens, convicted felons, and impersonators vote?)  

And, second, when was the last time anyone saw a Republican come out ahead in a vote recount where he wasn't ahead in the count initially?  I can think of three dubious examples off the top of my head, however, where a Democrat "magically" won a close election after trailing in the first count: (1) the Washington governor's election in 2004; (2) the Minnesota senate race in 2008; and (3) the New Mexico portion of the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore got the nod due to some late-arriving (i.e., late-manufactured) votes.  In fact, I believe the biggest reason Democrats were so upset about George W. Bush's victory in Florida in the 2000 presidential election -- which, of course, put him over the top in the Electoral College -- was that they thought the "fix" was in and, for once, the system didn't permit the theft to take place (though not for lack of effort on the part of the Florida Supreme Court). 

2. The other lovely thing the Democrats are wont to do is flout election laws, a prime example being the completely illegal substitution of Frank Lautenberg for Robert Torricelli as the Democrat candidate for senator in New Jersey in 2002.  The scandal-ridden incumbent Torricelli, who had secured the Democratic nomination unopposed, was going to lose to his Republican opponent, so the party apparatus convinced him to renounce his candidacy and then, with no primary and well past the deadline prescribed by New Jersey law for replacing him on the ballot, put forth Lautenberg as its candidate.  Predictably, the New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the Democrats that the law wasn't really "the law" (and, after the 2000 presidential election debacle, the last thing the U.S. Supreme Court wanted to do was get involved in another election controversy, so it denied certiorari), and thus the Dems kept the seat.  Now we find out that Bill Clinton has tried to convince Kendrick Meek, the African-American Dem candidate for the Senate in Florida this year, to quit the race so that the white "independent" (and former Republican In Name Only) Charlie Crist would stand a better chance of beating the Republican Marco Rubio.  Sometimes if seems as though there simply are no means (legal or extra-legal) that are not justified in the Democrats' eyes when it comes to their achieving the ends of power and control.

3. I recently watched the film Quadrophenia, the 1979 production of The Who's "rock opera" of the same name.  (Of course, the screenplay isn't really opera, since, unlike in Tommy, the music only provides the backing track to the story.) It's set in mid-1960s London, when various groups of young people in Great Britain were trying to find an identity through fashion, music, drug use, Lambrettas, and various other media; however, the real story in Quadrophenia is the decline of England in the post-World War II era.  I'm not the first to say it, but Great Britain chose decline, as its rising generation was filled with self-loathing over England's imperial and class-divided past.  The process of decline is ongoing in Britain to this day, as the government, now faced with choices rising from decades of deficit spending to fund its "nanny state," has elected to slash defense spending to near-helpless levels.  I foresee a very dark future for England, which at the very least will involve an existential civil war between the "yobbo" criminal class and second- and third-generation immigrants, mostly Muslims.  Which one is left standing at the end is almost inconsequential to the demise of western-European democracy and, indeed, civilization.

4. I wonder if we'll ever really see the rise of hydrogen-powered cars.  The regulatory environment for a new automotive industry will strongly inhibit private investment, and the government will never provide the impetus for that kind of innovation, especially as greater percentages of tax revenue have to be used to service debt previously incurred.  Rather, the emphasis will be on mass transportation, smaller habitations, lower levels of consumption, sharply curtailed child-bearing, and, in general, a lower standard of living.  When you come to view human beings as a parasite on Mother Earth, instead of her greatest resource, why wouldn't you try to halt their spread?  (Various entities, both government agencies and NGOs, have also been trying to unlock the secret to nuclear fusion -- which, of course, would provide the means for generating unlimited electricity with no radioactive byproducts -- but I see that effort eventually going by the wayside, too, and for the same reasons.)

5. I've now been released from my temple calling, although it was left open that I could return if either (a) I started feeling better, or (b) Dorine became available on Wednesday nights to work in the temple with me on the same shift.  Since I have no real reason to think either one of those conditions will ensue, I think I'm done.  I will miss it in some ways, and I really didn't mind it when I was there; however, given that I spent the rest of the time dreading it, releasing me was the right thing for the temple presidency to do.  I've gained a new appreciation for Job of the Old Testament -- worms aren't eating my skin, but reverses in one's health tend to have a corrosive effect on one's faith, and it isn't something I needed at this point in my life.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Our Pets

I've found it somewhat annoying that Dorine and I accumulate pets, not by choice, but by default when our kids have left home.  It's sad, in a way, that the pets we've been landed with don't get as much love as other people might give them, although we certainly don't abuse them.  At this writing, we have three pets: (1) an old gray cat named "Baloo"; (2) Darren's old leopard gecko "Gekker"; and (3) Kiley's (and Heidi's before her) miniature pinscher "Mischa" (or "Meisha," as Kiley prefers to spell it).  Baloo, who must be about fifteen years old now, is clearly on his last legs.  Once a fierce fighter (and adventurous -- we had to bail him out of Animal Control multiple times when he was younger after neighbors, who evidently objected to his killing doves and pigeons in their yard, trapped him and delivered him to the pound), he never leaves the yard now and is constantly hungry.  We've doubled his allotment of "soft" cat food to a full can -- two servings -- a day (in addition to the dry food that he now only eats when he has no alternative), but he simply never gets full.  The fact that he's become thin and extremely scraggly suggests either that his digestive system isn't working properly (meaning he just poops his food right out before he can absorb much in the way of nutrients) or that he's hyperthyroidic (meaning his metabolism is running at warp speed despite his recent indolence).  If I were my sister Kristen, I'd have long ago taken Baloo to the veterinarian and would be spending hundreds of dollars on medication for him.  But, alas, I'm not Kristen, and whereas we're willing to spend a little more on food to try to assuage Baloo's hunger, there's no way we'd consider incurring big vet bills and medication costs to attempt to improve his health or extend his life.  

I can't remember when Darren got Gekker, but I'm sure it was at least 11-12 years ago.  Dorine had initially understood that leopard geckos have a lifespan of 2-3 years, which was probably all we could reasonably expect Darren to care about him; however, it wasn't much later that Dorine found out that leopard geckos can live upwards of twenty years.  We have a "cricket account" with a local pet store, and crickets seem to provide a healthy diet for Gekker; anyway, he's still going strong.  (At one time we had two other leopard geckos, Zoey and Spot, but I can't even recall what happened to them; I assume we gave them away.)

Mischa (see photo) is probably the most exasperating of our pets, as she, if left alone inside to roam around, will invariably upset all the trash receptacles in the house to get at anything that smells remotely like food (and you'd be disgusted to know what she thinks smells like food).  She would be fat as could be if she were allowed to eat as much as she craves, which is why she generally gets only limited quantities of dry, weight-control dog food.  She's a smart little thing, however, and she clearly recognizes me as the "alpha dog" of the house -- for one thing, she loves to sneak out the front door and go explore the neighborhood, and my going out and yelling at her is the only thing that makes her see the wisdom of coming back immediately; and for another, she laps up any affection or attention I pay to her (which she hardly ever gets from me at this juncture, mostly because I feel like I have to go wash my hands after touching her).

I shake my head when I see how many people treat their pets like children, largely because they can't be bothered to have actual children, and thus their pets take on the role of surrogates.  I much prefer children and grandchildren to pets, however, and I look forward to the day when we no longer have any of the latter (and we can't be saddled with the ones that our kids no longer want).

Friday, October 22, 2010

The 2010 Mid-Term Elections

Well, we're less than two weeks away from the 2010 mid-term elections, and I'm interested to see how it all turns out.  It appears that the Republicans are a near shoo-in to regain a majority in the House of Representatives, although the Republican candidate in our district (NM-1), Jon Barela, has been polling behind the one-term Democrat incumbent, Martin Heinrich.  (On the other hand, the polls I've seen were conducted by what I regard as left-leaning organizations, so I don't give them much credence -- it won't surprise me if Barela wins, and by a comfortable margin.)  The big question is whether the Republicans will win enough Senate seats nationwide to regain control of the "upper chamber."  The 'Pubs would need to pull out a number of close contests that are, at best, toss-ups even with the ill winds that are blowing for Democrats this year, which include those races in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, Washington, West Virginia, and California.  (Neither of the New Mexico seats is in play this year.)  I personally would find it tremendously gratifying if both Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer were sent packing, even if control of the Senate stayed with the Democrats.  As for the New Mexico governor's race, it appears that Republican Susana Martinez, currently the district attorney in the 3rd Judicial District (Las Cruces and environs), will defeat Diane Denish, the current lieutenant governor whose dreams of being governor were ruined first by inquiries into Bill Richardson's ethics and now by what only can be described as the Obama Economy and the Great Democratic Legislative Overreach of the 111th Congress.

Regarding President Obama, his residing for so long in an ivory tower, where never was heard a discouraging word, has left him almost completely clueless about our country in general.  If Obama were Bill Clinton, he'd be certain to pivot to the center now in order to position himself to win in 2012, but he's so certain of his own intellectual superiority and the self-evident brilliance of his ideas that I think re-election is only a minor concern of his.  The irony is that with a Republican majority in the House, and at least a non-filibuster-proof Democrat majority in the Senate, the economy is almost certain to start rebounding -- not due to anything the Democrats have done, but as a result of what they're no longer going to be able to do -- which rebound, the mainstream media will assure us, inures to Obama's credit.

Others have asked this question, but it bears repeating: Why are the Democrats seemingly so eager to follow the European model when many EU countries, from Germany to France to England to Greece, are admitting it doesn't work and are trying to move back in a more free-market direction?  We have the benefit of being able to look across the Atlantic (or, simply, to California) and see our future -- why do the Democrats insist on averting their eyes?

[Update, 11/3/10: Well, things went well nationwide for the Republicans, as they picked up at least 61 seats in the House, including one in New Mexico, and at least six seats in the Senate.  Susana Martinez, the Republican, likewise won the governorship of New Mexico.  However, I am mildly disappointed that Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer both won re-election to the Senate, and that Martin Heinrich will still be the congressman from our district.  Perhaps, with the new redistricting to happen next year, the new governor can help push a few Democrat strongholds into one of the other districts and thus make our district more 'Pub-friendly.  Still, it's a hopeful sign that the Dems will no longer be able to jam unpopular leftoid legislation through Congress for the next couple of years -- and we no longer have to put up with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.]

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Homosexuality--pardon my ignorance, but....

I've mentioned homosexuality in a number of previous posts on this blog, but up to now I've side-stepped addressing it directly.  However, a number of things that I've read or heard lately have got me thinking about it, and perhaps this post will help distill my thoughts in that regard.  My "default" opinion regarding homosexuality and gay people in general is informed by my Mormon upbringing, and of course the church teaches (a) that although a person may be particularly "susceptible" to temptation of a homosexual nature, no one is "born that way"; and (b) that homosexual conduct is, by its very nature (or its going "against" nature), wicked and sinful.  (It was instructive that one of the seventy gave a talk in General Conference several years ago in which he implied that homosexuality was, or at least could be, an innate characteristic.  But in the very next conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer, the senior apostle, pointedly scotched that notion.)  Reinforcing the church's position in my mind, at least, has been the fact that I'm about as "straight" as I can be and have always been repulsed by the idea of having sexual relations with another man.

Still, I've known quite a few gay people in my lifetime, and the paradox for me has always been that these people, with a couple of irritatingly militant exceptions, seemed like pleasant and thoughtful company.  A few were queer as the proverbial three-dollar bill -- such as my old boss's wife's associate, a real "flamer" who helped her run a charitable foundation here in Albuquerque.  Others showed few, if any, signs of homosexual tendencies -- such as the church missionary with whom I went through the MTC in 1979 (and who [i] projected a very orthodox, spiritual image to all who knew him, and [ii] spoke admiringly of an older friend/advisor of his who, I believe now, was probably his "mentor" in matters both personal and sexual).  And, finally, some showed signs that were only apparent in retrospect -- such as my friend Dickerson Watkins, with whom I palled around a lot in my singles-ward days in 1981-1984 (and who, I found out recently, was killed in Houston in 2006 by a hit-and-run driver).  I never stopped to question why Dickerson didn't seem to have much interest in girls -- in fact, at the time it seemed entirely reasonable for him to avoid them in light of the frustration they generally caused me to feel -- but I found myself thinking, after hearing that he'd come "out" and was living with another man, "Yes, I can see that now."

Thus I was interested the other day to read the theory (stated by a poster on a website that I read quite frequently) that homosexuality manifests itself in our society in a sort of standard bell-curved distribution.  According to this theory, the "outliers" on one end of the distribution were clearly born to be homosexual and could never have been anything else (think Boy George and Ellen DeGeneres), whereas the "outliers" on the other end of the distribution may, due to strictly environmental factors, have dabbled in homosexual behavior but decided it wasn't for them (think Jon Moss and Anne Heche).  And most of the broad "center" of the homosexual population is, therefore, influenced by a combination of innate and environmental factors.  Although this theory comports with neither LDS church doctrine (which still suggests that homosexual tendencies and, especially, practices are signs of moral weakness) nor the prevailing politically correct dogma (which seems to insist that environment is irrelevant to the discussion and that all gay people are simply "born that way"), it makes intuitive sense to me.  On one hand, I can't reconcile the notion that all homosexuals are grimy perverts with my generally pleasant personal interactions with them, nor does it seem entirely reasonable to judge the sexual proclivities of others by my own orientation and upbringing. 

On the other hand, it seems absurd to suggest that all gay people are equally innately disposed toward homosexuality, as I feel certain that most people know, for example, either (a) a lesbian who turned to homosexuality after being molested or raped at a young age by an older man or (b) a gay man who was recruited and seduced, also at a young age, by an older man.  My own half-sister Joan, who lived all of her adult life as a lesbian (after being molested as a young girl by a stepfather), confessed once to my mother that if she'd had her life to live over again, she'd have got married -- that is, to a man -- and had a family.  And the fellow I knew long ago as a missionary had, at the time he died from AIDS a number of years back, abandoned his homosexual lifestyle and been rebaptized in the LDS church.  It's difficult to gauge how much a natural predisposition may have impacted their lives, but to say there was no choice involved, or that environment or events in their lives had no role, is to fly in the face of all logic and reality.

A more-pertinent question to me is what will happen if, over time, public attitudes and/or activist legal precedents bring great socio-legal pressure to bear on the LDS church to accept homosexuality and encompass it doctrinally.  It's reasonable to argue that the church's (a) abandoning plural marriage in the 1890s, (b) reversing in 1978 its long-standing ban on conferring the priesthood and extending temple ordinances to persons of black-African descent, and (c) "softening" certain temple ordinances in 1990 (and at various stages thereafter) to remove controversial -- and, to some, offensive -- material, were more the result of societal and political pressures than divine revelation.  From this point of view, then, it's plausible to believe that the church will eventually alter its stand on homosexuality, and I know at least a couple of Mormon families with gay relatives who seem to be banking on it.  (On the other hand, the church was partly responsible for the non-ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment back in the late 1970s, which non-ratification seemed to deflate feminist protests against the church for its not extending the priesthood to women.  In that light, it doesn't appear wholly inevitable that public opinion will continue to incline increasingly toward homosexuality.) 

My point is that the church could abandon polygamy, then reverse its policy on blacks and the priesthood, and then change temple ordinances, and still plausibly claim it hadn't really changed its doctrine -- even though at one time these things certainly were regarded by most church members as doctrinal in nature.  However, a reversal of the church's stand on homosexuality would constitute a seismic doctrinal shift, leaving rubble that could not simply be swept under the rug.  Just how the membership at large would react to such a shift, regardless of their personal feelings on the matter, is difficult to say.  Some people already claim that today's Mormon doctrine is a watered-down version of what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught.  And I look at the present-day Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- which tellingly has changed its name to the "Community of Christ" -- and see an organization so watered-down that it has almost no reason to exist, at least separately from any number of protestant churches.  (It was formed in the 1860s as a sort of "patriarchal revival" of the church that Joseph Smith had started, but it has since all but abandoned any pretense of adhering to his prophetic legacy.)  

Could the LDS church follow suit?

[Update, 10/22/10: I've become more aware that there is a significant dissident "Mormon intellectual" movement, as is manifest in publications such as Sunstone and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.  It's evident, judging from the tenor of these publications and various symposia or conferences associated with them, that if their publishers and contributors had had their way, the church would have long since embraced homosexuality, extended the priesthood to women, rejected the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and injected all sorts of other "progressive" notions into the church's teachings.  In other words, they would have watered the church down every bit as much, or even more so, than the "Community of Christ" has done to itself.  Two thoughts occur to me as I write this.  One is that there is nothing in this world so tedious as a Mormon who fancies him- or herself an intellectual, especially about LDS theology and cosmology.  And the other comes from the famous quote by William F. Buckley that he'd sooner entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 (or was it 2,000?) people listed in the Boston phone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.  Well, notwithstanding the issues I have with church membership, I'd sooner see the LDS church run by the 400-or-so new missionaries who will report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo next Wednesday than by the "Mormon intellectual" community.  There's no question it would be in better, safer hands.]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hike to Cole Spring PG via the Faulty Trail, 10/8/10

The pictures above are cellphone photos taken on my hike in the Sandias with Dorine on Friday, October 8, 2010.  It was the fall holiday for the Albuquerque Public Schools, so Dorine had the day off; however, since it was my "on" Friday, I had to use a vacation day.  I had long wondered about the condition of the Cole Spring Picnicground, possibly the prettiest such place in the Sandias, given that about eight or nine years ago, a landowner in the area had blocked off the road leading to the picnicground to vehicular access.  (This is a sore point for me: rather than force the issue with the landowner -- there had been public vehicular access to the picnicground for at least forty or fifty years prior to the landowner's action, leading to the conclusion that, if nothing else, a public right-of-way had been established by prescription -- or even share the costs of periodically grading the road, the U.S. Forest Service essentially rolled over.  The unofficial policy of the USFS seems to be that anything that reduces use and impact is, ipso facto, a good thing, even if it entails being metaphorically sodomized.  There's your government, hard at work protecting your interests!)

Our five-mile route to get to the picnicground avoided private land entirely -- we started at the South Crest Trailhead at Canyon Estates, hiking up to the southern terminus of the (lower) Faulty Trail and then going north several miles on the Faulty Trail to the streambed that marks the short descent into the picnicground.  My question about the state of the picnicground was answered immediately: the USFS hasn't made improvement one since the last (and only) time we had a family picnic there in roughly 1991.  In fact, it appears that the feds are allowing the picnicground to fall apart and fade back into the forest, as it is almost in ruins at this point.  Still, Dorine and I were able to enjoy a nice, quiet lunch there; I took my backpacking stove, and we heated up some soup and ate it with blueberry bagels with strawberry cream cheese.

As for the hike itself, it was manageable for me.  I let Dorine lead and set the pace the entire way -- thankfully, she doesn't walk as fast as Jimmy Romero or John Brewer -- and, apart from a couple of places, there is no sustained uphill hiking on the route we took.  In short, it was a beautiful ten-mile walk in the woods to and from one of the most picturesque places in the entire range, and I got to share it with Dorine.  The low-res photos above show (a) Dorine sitting at the dilapidated table at which we had our lunch, (b) one of the stone staircases from what was the parking lot to the lower level of the picnicground, and (c) me sitting on the extant outlet for the spring itself.

[Update 3/11/11: Here is a photo from the above-mentioned picnic we had at Cole Spring in ~1991.  It should be obvious why I rave about the place -- it is an awesome picnicground, or at least was at one time.]

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Evolution of Victimology in the United States

The concept of "victimology" (defined by Webster as "the claim that the problems of a person or group are the result of victimization [i.e., being made victims by some other person or group]") has long been a huge component of American culture.  We simply wouldn't be the same country without the constant clamor for favoritism or reparations by various groups claiming to be victims of one invidious sort of discrimination or another.  In fact, under-representation relative to the general population -- of almost any type, in almost any activity or field, of just about any group constituting a minority -- is regarded by the intelligentsia as prima facie evidence of unlawful and/or immoral discrimination.  (But just try to posit that the relative lack of white guys in the NBA somehow violates the law.  [That's a joke -- the NBA, like all professional sports leagues, is a meritocracy, and rightfully so.])

With that in mind, it's interesting to note that not all the "victimized" are regarded as equal; in fact, there seems to be some trendiness associated with a de facto hierarchy of victim groups.  First, it was black people who reigned supreme.  (They had obvious disadvantages in America after three centuries of slavery, and then another century of Jim Crow and other practices constituting institutionalized racism -- although it's natural to wonder at what point we will really judge individuals "by the content of their character" and not by the color of their skin.  By modern lights, non-meritocratic favoritism of any kind must be considered suspect.)  In recent years, homosexuals seemed to displace black people at the top of the "victim" heap, which probably left a lot of the latter feeling a little bewildered, wondering how they were eclipsed by a group that isn't distinguished by race or ethnicity.

However, the "victim" flavor of the month now seems to be Muslims, which is an exceedingly curious phenomenon to me.  As at least one commentator once noted: just as "gay" used to be the "new black," now "Muslim" seems to be the "new gay"; in other words, "Muslim" has become the victim group that trumps all other victim groups when they contend among themselves.  Okay, take it as read that Islamist terrorist groups and jihadists don't speak for all Muslims and that they're perverting Islam as a religion. However, by any reasonable western standard, Islam is still misogynistic, homophobic, intolerant in at least a hundred other ways*, and authoritarian.  Which begs the question: why does the west (especially Europe, but increasingly the United States) bend over backward to accommodate Islam when the latter is so indisposed to assimilate or even to tolerate liberal western values (such as -- let's see -- not killing a daughter or sister who does something displeasing)?

The answer, I think, lies in the old adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."  Partisan hatred, particularly that aimed at conservatives by "progressives," has made for some strange bedfellows, and none are stranger than those who would share a bed with the abjectly intolerant in the name of "tolerance."  Islam may be antithetical to virtually every value ostensibly held by the Left, but, well, at least Muslims aren't lousy, rotten conservatives who believe in American exceptionalism and the inherent decency of their country.

* I found one prime example in a news story I read a couple of weeks ago. In it, a Muslim man was reported to have registered some kind of official complaint concerning how he was offended when some non-Muslim woman bent over within his sight and he was thus "forced" to contemplate how that woman uses mere toilet paper to clean herself after defecating and doesn't wash herself with water (at least until her next daily shower -- which, I'll warrant, is more frequent than the average Muslim woman in the third world bathes). You can't make this stuff up!

[Update, 10/21/10: National Public Radio has fired Juan Williams (one of its African-American commentators) now merely for stating -- regretfully, it must be added -- that he personally feels nervous when he gets on a plane and sees a passenger dressed in Muslim clothing.  I rest my case -- the Left's obeisance to Islam is so complete that they'll eat their own over it.]

[Update, 9/17/12: It occurs to me to mention that conservatives have their own strange bedfellows in the culture wars, a good example being Ted Nugent, a person who, by his own admission, is about as libertine in his sexual habits as one can possibly be, but is, at the same time, an ardent advocate of the Second Amendment, a foe of drug use, and a strident fiscal conservative.]

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Seeing a Neurologist

I have now had an initial consultation with a neurologist about my (self-diagnosed) problems with mal de debarquement.  He did a cursory neurological exam on me last Tuesday, September 28, and ordered blood tests and an MRI of my brain.  I had the MRI done on Friday, October 1, and I expect the neurologist to get the results of both the blood work and the MRI in a day or two.  Finally, I have another appointment with him in mid-November to run electrical tests.

All of this is a process of elimination, and if all goes as I expect, we'll have eliminated multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, brain cancer, etc. as causes of my condition.  Which will leave me in the same boat (no pun intended) I've been in since January, with an extremely debilitating malady for which there is no affirmative method of diagnosis and no real treatment.  I almost wish I had some fatal illness, as I don't want to live like this indefinitely.

The doctor's neurological exam did reveal some loss of feeling in my lower extremities, something I already knew about (and which pre-dated my dizziness), as I have a constant burning sensation in my feet.  I'm interested to know if the blood work will reveal the origin of this peripheral neuropathy.

[Update, 10/8/10: The results of the MRI and most of the blood tests came back.  The MRI showed no sign of a tumor or damage from a stroke, and the blood tests have come back normal thus far.  Just what I expected.]

The Stationary Bike versus the Treadmill

I've now been riding a stationary bike for my exercise, instead of running on a treadmill, since roughly the beginning of July.  This was a big change for me, since I'd run on treadmills since the early 1990s -- first at home in our garage and then, beginning in December 1999, at a gym.  However, two factors finally convinced me to switch to the bike: one, with a bike I constantly have five points of contact with the apparatus (compared to only one, or even none, with the treadmill while running), making it highly unlikely that that my mal de debarquement dizziness would cause me to fall off; and, two, the bike is much easier on my joints.  (I finally pulled an achilles tendon on the treadmill, which pull I aggravated every time I ran; the only way I could get it to heal was to do some lower-impact exercise, and the bike fit the bill.)

A big change for me was how I'd measure progress with a stationary bike; I mean, with running I'd simply count up the miles I ran, but a mile on a bike is a totally different unit of measure.  I quickly decided just to bike for thirty minutes on each visit and go as far as I could at a certain of level of resistance that is neither too easy nor too difficult.  And that's where I'm at.  My brother Kelly gave me a nice stationary bike that he was getting rid of, so I actually have a "home" option now, too, although (a) it doesn't have an odometer (making me "guess" about the mileage), (b) I had to go get a "gel" seat cover for it, since it has a "prostate punisher" racing seat on it, and (c) I generally just go to Planet Fitness with Dorine and Mike and Judy P______. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Analogy

This post (with only slight editing) comes from an entry that I wrote in my journal on August 17, 2010:

I was thinking of an interesting analogy involving the church last night.  I was remembering how I took Darren out to the Albuquerque Academy [exclusive private school] when he was finishing fifth grade and had him take the entrance exam there.  What I didn't know at the time was that AA didn't (and still doesn't) have merit-based financial aid, and though Darren was accepted, we didn't qualify for need-based financial aid (by most people's standards, we were, and are, pretty well-off, although of course our paying tithing and having four kids at home at the time made us a lot "poorer" than we appeared on paper).  I came to the conclusion that AA was a rich kids' school, and that the school administration was doing what it had to do to keep it that way.  Oh, it provided "scholarships" to less-well-off kids as a means of avoiding the "elitist" label and to assuage the consciences of the elitists who ran the place, but the fact of the matter is that it purposely made the financial burden of attending school there so inordinate to the means of the middle class that the middle class would be greatly discouraged from sending their kids there.

I'm sure there are middle-class families who make great sacrifices to send a child or two there (the D_____s [members of our ward], for one, sent both S____ and J____ there, although I understand that they were sufficiently "paper poor" that they got half-tuition scholarships based on need).  However, I keep coming back to this idea that the middle class must make wildly disproportionate sacrifices to send a kid there.  (Clare S________ [a lady I used to work with] and her husband send two kids to AA -- she works full-time largely so that they can afford it.)

Anyway, there's the tie-in to the church in my mind.  Clearly, there are three "spiritual" classes in the church: (1) the "upper" class, for whom serving in church callings is not much of a burden or stretch; (2) the "lower" class, who, being low on resources, aren't expected to do much (but who are, still, allowed to feel good about themselves); and (3) the "middle" class, who are judged to have resources but who, in fact, aren't as "gifted" spiritually as they seem "on paper."  The latter, in which group I fall squarely, can fully participate in church membership and even be highly thought of, but they must sacrifice at a level which is inordinate to their means.  Clearly, some do, but most end up questioning the whole notion whether the rewards are worth the sacrifices, and thus they "renege" on making those sacrifices.

Is going to AA that advantageous to a kid?  The quality of education there is presumably high, but are the marginal (i.e., incremental) academic benefits worth the price?  I'd say probably not, as it is possible to get a decent education in the public schools for a kid who is disposed to seek it out.  But there is one clear benefit to kids who do go to AA -- I haven't met an AA grad yet who didn't have an extremely high opinion of himself, and self-esteem (even if not fully merited) can, of itself, be a great reward.  Those who do fully "participate" in church membership, holding down heavy leadership positions, tend to acquire great self-esteem as well (regardless of how good people they really are), but I am of the opinion that the calling doesn't make the innate person.

In any case, I clearly have made the decision that the disproportionate sacrifices I'd have to make to break into the "elite" ranks of church membership are simply not worth the rewards, and perhaps it's simply because I've never fully bought into church doctrines.  I seem to think that the alternative (the "public school" option, if you will) is just as good, and a whole lot less-expensive.  That says a lot about my testimony or lack thereof.  But it is really difficult to be lukewarm as I am, feeling that even if the church is true, my paying tithing, attending church, working in the temple, doing home teaching, etc., isn't buying me anything outside of keeping my marriage together.  In fact, it makes my life miserable to such a degree that I often wonder if my marriage (or, by extension, my life) is worth keeping together.

I feel like Clark Gable (as Rhett Butler) at the end of Gone With the Wind, when he tells Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett O'Hara/Hamilton/Kennedy/Butler), "No, I'm through with everything here.  I want peace.  I want to see if somewhere there is something left in life of charm and grace."  I feel the same way about the church -- I'd like to live out the rest of my life (the church having mucked so much of it up to this point) trying to find charm and grace, instead of hating the world.

[Update, 9/27/10: The logical conclusion of my having decided that the Albuquerque Academy is an elitist institution, then comparing it to the LDS church, is that I think the latter is also an elitist institution, and I'm not sure I'd go quite that far.  There obviously are plenty of elitists in the church, but the people whom I describe above as the "spiritual middle class" of the church are, and heretofore always have been, its lifeblood, paying most of the tithing, holding most of the callings, making most of the home-teaching visits, bearing most of the guilt trips, etc.  The observation I would make, however, is that if this type of person isn't already a member of the church, the likelihood that he would be receptive these days to the missionaries and their message is slim.  Just as the Albuquerque Academy was way too expensive for us, the sheer expense of church membership (and tithes and offerings are just one part of that expense) is simply too great for most people compared to the perceived incremental benefits.  And thus the "lifeblood" of the church drains away, drop by drop.]

[Update, 10/2/10: I was impressed by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk in General Conference this morning, in which he actually acknowledged, and expressed gratitude for, the contributions made by the "little people" in the church.  What a rarity....]

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Artist as a Growing Boy


These old photos show me at age 11 (Fall 1970) and age 12 (Fall 1971), respectively.  (Look how much darker my hair got in just a year!)  Both were taken by my mother -- obviously on Sundays, as I'm wearing what was church attire for me at the time.  (I always shake my head at the fact that Aaronic Priesthood holders are now "required" to wear white shirts and ties to administer the sacrament in church.  Heck, I'm not sure I owned a white shirt until I went on my mission, and I hardly ever wore a tie, to church or anywhere else, until I was much older.)  I was always thin, although by today's standards I wouldn't be considered painfully so.  (I remember that the girls next door, who were anything but svelte, thought they were being cute one time by requesting information on the Charles Atlas body-building program in my name and having it sent to my address.  I seriously considered returning the favor by requesting information on some weight-loss program in their names, but I never got around to it.)

The photo on the left, taken when I was in sixth grade (which I can tell by the octagonal wire-frame glasses I'm wearing), shows me with my very first electric guitar, a single-pickup Harmony (model "POS") that my mother paid $15 for at a garage sale on the next street over.  I can't remember whether I really knew any chords at the time, but, regardless, I didn't start playing a lot of guitar until I was about 14, when my brother Kelly went on his mission to Taiwan and left his 12-string acoustic guitar behind.

The photo on the right, taken when I was in seventh grade (which I can tell by the plastic "aviator" glasses with the photo-gray lenses), shows me astride Kelly's Honda 350 motorcycle.  I wasn't actually riding it, although I had a deep lust at the time for a motorcycle of my own, voraciously reading various motorcycle magazines every month; my parents finally bought me my Honda CL-70 the following summer.  I almost "inherited" the 350 when Kelly went on his mission in September 1973 -- I did get to ride it for a short time after he left, which was a real thrill for a 14-year-old -- but my mother quickly sold it to a guy in our ward who was a couple of years younger than Kelly.

It's interesting to take note of the cars in the background in the two photos.  On the left, the gold car is my brother Jeff's 1968 AMC Javelin, which he later painted maroon (and which stayed in our family for a while after it suffered a wreck that mashed in the passenger door -- it was one of the cars in which I learned to drive).  The car behind it is my father's 1952 Chevy (called "Bartholomew" by my cousin and me), which he bought from an older lady who supposedly won it, brand-new, playing craps in Las Vegas.  (I remember taking "Bartholomew" on a joyride up in the "mesa" with my friend Ken Foley, shortly after I got my driver's license in 1974.  The car didn't have a current registration, so we switched license plates with another car; of course, I ended up getting pulled over by a cop -- my first time -- and being cited for having the wrong tags on the car.  Ken and I scrounged the money to pay the fine so that I wouldn't have to confess to having taken the car without permission, and I didn't tell my mother about it until years later.)  On the right, the light-colored car with the dark roof is my brother Robin's (1970?) Ford Maverick, which he drove for a number of years, and the car behind it and to the right is my parents' old 1965 Ford station wagon, which was our "family car" from roughly 1967 to 1973.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hike in the Sandias, 9/3/10

Satellite View of the Trail
Typical Stretch of Trail
Well, on Friday I tried hiking in the Sandia Mountains for the first time this year.  I felt like I'd been doing a little better, off and on, in the previous few weeks and wanted to see how I'd fare on the trail, so I made plans to hike the Embudito Trail with John Brewer and Jimmy Romero.  Notwithstanding the fact that we got a late start (due to an appointment Jimmy had with the eye doctor), our plan was to hike all the way to South Sandia Peak and back, but it was apparent early on that I wasn't going to make it that far.  In fact, for a while I thought I was going to have to turn around where the trail crosses over to the south side of the main drainage, which (at least according to the guidebook) is only a couple of miles into the hike; finally, however, after gobbling a couple of handfuls of trail mix I was able to keep going all the way to Oso Pass, but I simply couldn't have made it to the Peak, which is two really brutal miles beyond the Pass (see attached photo of South Peak taken at Oso Pass).  I told John and Jimmy that they should go "tag" the peak and catch up to me on the way down, but the hour was getting late and they decided to turn around with me.  The hike down was easier on me than the hike up, but, frankly, I was amazed, given how bad I'd felt on the ascent and the steepness of the trail, that I made it up as far as I did.

I've never had much in the way of aerobic capacity, but the difference between what I could hike last year and what I can do this year is stark. "Disembarkation Syndrome" truly has left me feeling twenty years older!  I'm left wondering if I'll ever see South Peak, my favorite place in the Sandias, again, as there is no easy route to get there (in fact, Embudito Trail is probably as "easy" a route as there is).

View of South Sandia Peak from Oso Pass
View up Embudito Canyon from Near the Drainage Crossing