1. I keep feeling like I should have a lot to write, but I've had great difficulty in organizing my thoughts. The new year, 2012, is one that I approach with more than a little apprehension: not only will it bring an election with tremendous implications for the future of this country, but it's almost like I sense a lot of bad things in the offing. Much is being made of the Mayan calendar's "running out" later this year, as though the Mayans were predicting the end of the world. I don't buy the idea that they knew something we don't, but I have ample reason to worry about several family members for whom 2012 could be a "make or break" year.
2. The attached picture was taken in early 1974, when I was on the basketball team in ninth grade at my junior high school. It was the only year I played on a school basketball team, and this photo of me, making a layup after stealing the ball, was published in the school annual. I wasn't a great player by any means, although I would have been good enough to play at my high school, at least at the C-team and JV levels, if I'd stuck it out. I was nothing if not insecure in those days, however, and I would have required a lot of encouragement from the coaches, something they really had no reason to provide to a marginal player. (I also would have considered it an intolerable come-down to play on the C team after my brother Kelly had played on the JV in his sophomore year.) Instead, church basketball had to suffice for me, although I now wish I'd never played basketball at all -- I still encounter people at church meetings and functions who (justifiably) regarded me as a jerk back in the day, and who obviously continue to do so now, on the basis of the hyper-competitive games we used to play. I simply cannot consider it now to have been worth the strife it caused then.
3. A few weeks ago I sat in a Sunday School lesson in which the dichotomy between works and grace was discussed. The teacher noted that someone, an evangelical Christian, had stated to him that Mormons don't believe in grace and instead believe that one's works are the only thing that matters. It occurred to me that an evangelical -- much like the Russian who, upon viewing his first baseball game from the left-field bleachers, wondered why almost all of the players continually massed in one small portion of the field of play -- would have limited experience, and thus a skewed perspective, concerning LDS church doctrine. However, I also asked myself what reason most Christians would have to conclude that the LDS church really does believe in the Atonement of Jesus Christ -- that is, his grace -- as anything more than (a) the means by which almost all of mankind will be resurrected from the dead, and (b) a sort of triggering mechanism that enables people to reach the highest heaven by virtue of their own works, which are necessarily judged in absolute terms without regard for individual circumstances. To illustrate the point, let me put Christ's "Parable of the Talents" into what I regard as Mormon terms. Suppose the minimum threshold for entering into the joy of the master is the earning of five talents for him. The servant who is given five talents is thus operating at a decided advantage compared to the servants who are given two talents and one talent, respectively; in fact, it is virtually impossible for either of the latter to reach the five-talent threshold imposed by the master. In the end, it doesn't matter that the servant with two talents doubles that amount for the master; rather, he winds up under more or less the same condemnation as the servant with one talent who has buried it and earned nothing. Of course, this "version" isn't the church's official view of things, but it more or less conveys the overpowering sense of hopelessness permeating most LDS lessons, sermons, and conference talks on the topic of eternal life. I can think of at least two friends from my teen years who went inactive in church precisely because the church made them feel like losers who were beyond hope -- which, it seems to me, is the opposite of the lesson we should be learning from the Atonement.
4. Every time I drive out to my daughter Devery's home, which is located on Albuquerque's west side near the intersection of Coors Blvd. and Montano Blvd., I feel very thankful not to live on the west side myself. And Devery has it good, living not too far from I-40, compared with the poor inhabitants of Rio Rancho, who have roughly a five-mile drive in any direction (south on Coors, east on Paseo del Norte, or north on S.R. 528) -- generally in bumper-to-bumper traffic -- to access a true freeway. One has always been able to buy more home for one's money in Rio Rancho, but, even at this late date, it comes with a steep price in the form of a horrible commute on busy throughways that even one small accident can snarl for hours. I'll take our older home in the northeast heights, and my fifteen-minute commute to work, anytime.
5. I continue to suffer from various health issues. Since I wrote about going off sleep meds back in August, I started taking them again after about only seven weeks, and now I've gone off them again in the interim. Needless to say, I feel very uncertain of my ability to stay free of the meds long-term, simply because I haven't succeeded in sleeping without them; however, it becomes clear at some point that they are doing at least as much harm to me as good, and I feel I have to stop taking them. On this go-round, however, I haven't noticed any improvement in my mal de debarquement dizziness, which still, after two years, shows no signs of going away. And I've started having an increasing number of aches and pains in my lower back and hips, which are probably the result of mild arthritis (and which are certainly aggravated by the additional weight I've put on in recent years). The soreness in my back and hips has made it more difficult to do even low-impact "cardio" exercise like riding a stationary bike.
6. I've read with interest some of the recent news coverage of the extraction of petroleum and natural gas by hydraulic fracturing (or "hydro-fracking"), which entails the underground introduction of a pressurized liquid to create fractures in rock strata in order to release fossil fuels. Some reports have stated that "fracking" has the potential to increase domestic production of oil and gas significantly, in turn enabling the U.S. to reduce drastically its dependency on foreign sources. Of course, now the anti-energy Luddites of the Left are doing all they can to link "fracking" to groundwater contamination, and even to the occurrence of earthquakes, something I might have been inclined to have concerns about, too, if it weren't for the utter predictability of it all. The notion of "peak oil" -- i.e., that petroleum production has hit its peak and therefore will, from now on, tail off in marked fashion -- becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if every bit of new technology must be eschewed whose effect is to increase oil production or facilitate its delivery.