Friday, December 26, 2014

Our Thirtieth Wedding Anniversary

Pre-wedding studio photo, about November 1984
Dorine and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary on December 18.  My health issues resulting from the cruise we took to celebrate our 25th anniversary have sort of killed the idea of our taking another cruise -- or any expensive vacation, for that matter -- for number thirty.  As usual, I don't know where the time has gone.  I don't know what I did to be so lucky in selecting a spouse, but I can't imagine any other woman putting up with my foibles and shortcomings for so long while still prodding me, in sufficiently gentle fashion, to be a better person. I've never really been worthy of Dorine, but I am extremely grateful for her and for the positive influence she's been on all of our family members.  The attached portrait was from a photographic studio session a few weeks before our wedding in the Salt Lake Temple.  I have ballooned from 180 lbs to 240 lbs in the last thirty years, but Dorine possibly weighs 10-15 lbs more than when we were married.  When I see how most women let themselves go over time, I realize how much more blessed I am to be married to Dorine.  I'd like to think we have another thirty years in us, but I'm fairly sure I'm not going to live to age 85.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Trips to Las Vegas and Pinetop, AZ

Downtown Vegas at night
Mike on a Hike
Dorine, Judy, Mike in Pinetop
On our hike
A tree-hugger at heart

Working on crafts, Pinetop
At Walmart in Show Low

Recently I attended a class in Las Vegas, NV, and then, later in that same week, Dorine and I traveled to Pinetop, AZ for our annual "anniversary" trip with Mike and Judy.  I flew out to Vegas on November 30 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving); I stayed at the Embassy Suites Hotel on Paradise Road east of the Wynn (the old Desert Inn) golf course, which is also where my class was being offered.  (The class, the Institute for Supply Management's "Administering Contracts: From Award to Completion," taught by a fellow named Robi Bendorf, was really good, if slightly overlong.)  This was my first visit to Las Vegas in over eight years, and I was interested to look around and see how things had changed.  I had a rental car, so I drove downtown on Sunday night to find a buffet in which to eat and to walk around Fremont Street.  I ended up eating at the Golden Nugget buffet, although I might have done better going to Main Street Station.  

I strolled through various casinos downtown and found I wasn't even remotely tempted to play blackjack, as I once liked to do.  All of the downtown casinos were so dark inside that I could barely see; loud, thumping music blared from all sides; most of the casinos had at least one pit of scantily clad female dealers (the cocktail waitresses, what few of them there were, seemed to be modestly dressed by comparison); the principal thing being offered for sale, other than sex (or at least the prospect of it), seemed to be alcohol; the "Fremont Street Experience" light show was on continuously; and the entire pedestrian-only stretch of Fremont Street (between Main and Las Vegas Blvd.) was filled with street performers, musicians, and costumed superheroes and cartoon characters.  I can honestly say that if downtown Vegas had, in 1995, been the freak show and sensory overload that it is today, I would never have been induced to sit down at a blackjack table, or probably even to make a return trip to Vegas.  I can't even begin to fathom the ostensible marketing angle behind all these changes; the casinos must be targeting younger people -- I get that -- but is any of this stuff enticing anyone to gamble?  If so, it wasn't apparent to me, as most of the people actually sitting at the tables or slot machines seemed to be in their 40s and 50s.

After class on Monday the 1st, I first went to the hotel fitness center, then showered and set out walking toward the Strip to get something to eat; I couldn't believe how far Paradise Road was from Las Vegas Blvd!  The desk clerk at the hotel had told me that the dinner buffet at the Wynn was almost $50/person, which caused me to fear that the buffets at other nice hotels in the area (the Mirage, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace) would be equally expensive.  Consequently, I ended up at the Outback Steakhouse located inside Casino Royale, where I ate a New York strip, a baked potato, and a salad.  From there I walked to the Fashion Show Mall and wandered around there for a while; finally, I walked through Treasure Island (where I'd stayed 2-3 times back in the day), finding it to be just as dark and unappealing as downtown.  Then I called it a night and walked back to my hotel.  I'm sure I easily walked five miles that night, and this was after I'd already done almost three miles on the treadmill.

On Tuesday evening the 2nd, I went to the hotel gym again and then drove to the Las Vegas LDS Temple.  I'm not sure exactly how long it had been since I'd last been there, but I know it was well before the Albuquerque Temple opened in 2000, almost fifteen years ago.  I wanted to make the 7:00 pm endowment session, so I rushed out, going north on Las Vegas Blvd. and then east on Bonanza Road to its end.  I had a migraine en route, which made it difficult to see where I was going for a while.  I was delighted to learn that the 7:00 session was a Spanish-language session, although I had to reassure several people that, indeed, I could manage in Spanish.  Afterward, I drove to Sam's Town, located on the old Boulder Highway at Flamingo Road, intending to eat at the buffet; unfortunately, it was already closed when I got there, so I ate at TGI Friday's instead.  Sam's Town was the one and only casino where I might have been tempted to play blackjack if I'd had any money in my wallet -- it was well-lit, had a reasonable noise level, and had hand-dealt double-deck games with $5.00 table minimums and 3:2 payouts on blackjacks.  I didn't, however, feel like I'd missed anything when I left without playing.

On Wednesday afternoon the 3rd, I had a couple of hours before my flight was scheduled to leave.  I once liked the buffet at Mandalay Bay, on the southern end of the Strip, so I headed over there to see how expensive it was.  It turned out to have a relatively modest $32.95 price tag (only $3 more than the last time I was there), didn't open until 4:30 pm, and I didn't think I had time to wait.  So I left, getting stuck northbound on the Service Road to Hell and not finding a way back to the Strip for several miles.  By the time I got to the rental-car return, I was so distracted that at first I forgot to fill up the car with gas; I had to leave again and find a gas station before finally dropping off the car.  McCarran Airport was jammed with people, but I found a Pei Wei in which to have dinner, and my flight back to Albuquerque, though delayed, was less than half-full.  Las Vegas has definitely lost its shine for me!

On the late afternoon of Friday the 5th, Dorine and I hopped in the car with Mike and Judy and headed out to Arizona.  We took a route that my dad used to like -- west on I-40 to Exit 89, then south on NM 117 to Quemado (a winding road that made Judy, and especially Dorine, carsick on this trip), then west on U.S. 60 to Springerville.  After stopping in Springerville to eat at a Chinese restaurant, we passed through Eagar and headed west on AZ 260 to Pinetop, checking into the Worldmark resort around 10 pm.  It was a nice place, as are all the Worldmark resorts we've stayed in with Mike and Judy (who are Worldmark members).  We didn't do much while we were there -- that night, Mike and I watched a Clint Eastwood movie, Blood Work, while the girls watched Maleficent on the other TV.  The next day, after I went to the resort's small fitness room and ran, we drove in to Show Low to shop for food at Walmart and to get Blizzards at Dairy Queen.  In the afternoon, we went hiking in the woods behind the resort before watching the BYU-Hawaii basketball game on TV.  Alas, the two nights passed all too quickly, and before I knew it we were back on the road to go home; strangely, the drive home seemed shorter than the drive down.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

(I Hope) All Dogs Go to Heaven

Mischa as a puppy, ca. 2005
I took our dog, Mischa, in to be euthanized today.  Sometime back, she'd run across a "foxtail" weed, almost certainly in our back yard, and it had become embedded in her neck.  As was the case with her diabetes, we didn't know what was causing the open wound in her neck (and perhaps were derelict in addressing it) until there was nothing we could feasibly do about it.  Our daughter Heidi, Mischa's original owner, took her to see a couple of veterinarians, and both diagnosed the foxtail in the neck; however, one wanted to do surgery, whereas the other, noting that Mischa was almost ten years old and was diabetic and blind, recommended euthanasia.  We dithered, knowing we would not pay thousands for the surgery but still not having the heart to put her down.  But, after giving her three or four courses of expensive antibiotics, and knowing they were just a band-aid in any case, we finally faced up to the inevitable.  I have to admit that yesterday I tried to euthanize Mischa myself, overdosing her on insulin in the expectation that it would put her in a coma and allow her to slip away relatively painlessly; however, it didn't work, probably partly because I fed her a fairly large quantity of sirloin steak as sort of a "last meal."  Thus, today we called Vetco, a limited-service animal clinic here in Albuquerque, and they said we could bring Mischa in to be euthanized if we came within a half-hour.  Dorine knew she didn't have the heart for it, so she didn't go with us.  I got to say my good-byes to Mischa in an examination room for the few minutes before the sedation took effect, and then the attendant took her into another room to administer the coup de grรขce while I left, crying for only the second time since I started taking Zoloft. Mischa suffered a lot in her last couple of years of life; I'm glad she doesn't have to suffer anymore.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sports Talk Radio and Other Banalities

1. Mike and Mike In the Morning.  It's hard to say why, but I turn on ESPN2 in the mornings when I get up to go to work, just to listen to a couple of minutes of "Mike and Mike In the Morning," the ESPN Radio talk show hosted by Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic (see photo).  It certainly isn't because I care about the subject matter; while I get that people want to see sports events (especially the highlights) and hear sports commentary, a talk radio show exclusively devoted to sports still seems utterly pointless to me at this stage of my life.  However, I feel a certain fascination with the notion that, somewhere, there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of people -- overwhelmingly guys, one would assume -- who care enough about sports to listen to radio personalities blather about them for hours on end.  Don't get me wrong: "Greeny" and Golic are good at what they do and complement each other perfectly; it's just that what they do is the very height of uselessness.  (Of course, this is coming from someone whose favorite television show is truTV's "World's Dumbest....")

2. Planet Fitness.  Dorine and I continue to go regularly to Planet Fitness on Eubank Blvd. to work out.  Unfortunately, the (new?) owners recently "refreshed" all the cardio equipment and replaced even the newer treadmills with Cybex machines, which aren't as cushioned as the "Life Fitness" machines that I favored and don't have the nifty little iPod connectors/chargers that the latter had.  Moreover, none of the new treadmills is positioned directly in front of a mirror; my previously being able to see my reflection seemed to help me maintain my balance while running, so that's gone.  Anyway, I'm having to work my way through some changes.  My brother-in-law Mike and I went and scoped out the Planet Fitness on Juan Tabo Blvd.; not only does it have the same Cybex gear, it has very bad parking and much less interior space than the Eubank location.  (Incidentally, last night I made it to "Level 5" for 2014 in the Virgin "Healthmiles/Pulse" program, and I still hope to reach 500 miles for the year, mostly on the treadmill, mixed in with some walks and hikes.  I lack only about 40 miles, which is pretty good for a year in which I had hernia surgery and took three long vacations.)

3. Working Off-base.  My current job as a buyer at Sandia National Labs is the first position I've had at Sandia where I haven't physically been located on Kirtland Air Force Base.  Boy, is it easier to get to work in the morning without having to go through the base gate!  The Air Force is occasionally "eccentric" in the way it regulates base traffic -- often, I'm convinced, simply to remind non-military personnel who has the power -- but working outside the gate makes that a moot issue most of the time.  Security isn't quite the same, obviously (there have even been one or two "active shooter" incidents off-base in the last ten-plus years), but the sheer convenience more than makes up for it.

4. "And makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of...."  One of the sad facts about the long-term use of prescription sleep medications is that one develops a marked tolerance for them, such that they become much less-effective over time.  (Just try and make the case to a doctor, however, that you should be able to up the dosage!)  A few years ago, I started taking diphenhydramine hydrochloride, an over-the-counter antihistamine, with my prescription meds to "reinforce" the latter's effects; well, now I've begun to take doxylamine, another OTC antihistamine sold as a sleep aid, sometime before taking the other two meds to ensure I become drowsy at bedtime.  It's fair to wonder if this is how Michael Jackson got on the path that ended with his needing injections of fricking surgical anesthetics to be able to sleep at night.  It's also something of a comfort to know that I'll never have the means either to pay off a doctor to medicate me or to buy larger supplies of Temazepam on the black market.  However, given the manner in which a decent amount of sleep -- even if it's chemically induced -- tends to ameliorate my mal de debarquement symptoms, it would be a sore temptation, in other financial circumstances (and despite such fine points as its being illegal and grounds for losing a security clearance), to do either of those things.  The medical professionals and pharmacists with whom I've consulted simply don't get it...and meanwhile my battles rage on.

5. That Politics Slop.  The most dismaying thing about the political situation in the United States is the growing tendency toward polarization, especially the ascribing of evil intentions to one's political enemies and the ramming through of mono-partisan measures, legislation, or judicial "super-legislation," damn all the consequences and burned bridges.  It has long been the case that Democrats regard "bi-partisan cooperation" as situations in which their colleagues opposite cave on all points of the Democratic agenda, but something about the current political environment has grown uglier.  It's easy to despair (a) when a Democrat president takes action on illegal immigration in a manner timed precisely to stick it in the eye of the incoming Republican Congress, and (b) when objective facts and morality are sacrificed on the altar of a "higher truth" that bears little resemblance to the real world.  Having an African-American president has, oddly, caused race relations to be the worst they've been since the 1970s -- is that the "hope and change" Obama promised to deliver in 2008?  A real leader would feel chastened by having lost control of both houses of Congress during his tenure as president, but Barack Obama barely acknowledges that reality and almost certainly won't compromise any part of his ideology.  As commentators have noted repeatedly, Obama seems to believe that the general arc of history is bending his way and that the short-term ramifications of his actions, or the actions of other world leaders, are unimportant.  That may work for philosophers and sociologists (and "community organizers"), but it's a completely inadequate way to run a country or conduct a foreign policy.  Given the state of things, "gridlock" between the Congress and the president is probably the best possible outcome.,  As the old medical dictum states: "Primum non nocere." ("First, do no harm.")

6. Bill Shunn and The Accidental Terrorist.  I used to correspond regularly with a fellow named Bill Shunn, a science-fiction writer who kept a website called Mormon Matter and had posted a hilarious Mormon-missionary memoir that he called Terror on Flight 789.  Bill had very publicly left the LDS Church, and Mormon Matter was the forum for his "apostasy"; he was a smart, friendly, and funny guy, however, and I felt particularly drawn to him.  Around 1999, Bill started turning his original missionary memoir into a full-blown book, The Accidental Terrorist, which I found engrossing and hugely appealing (although it became slightly less so as he edited it down for length to try to make it more saleable).  Through the years, he seemed to be on the verge of selling the book several times, but always the deal fell through -- confirming my opinion that the American publishing industry is run by a bunch of nincompoops who are completely oblivious to their marketplace.  He did, however, podcast The Accidental Terrorist a couple of times and thereby found a loyal, if not overly broad audience.  Bill and I don't communicate very often these days, as I think we both found we had less in common as the church grew smaller in his rearview mirror.  However, once in a while I still visit his blog, Inhuman Swill (an anagram of his name, in case it wasn't obvious), and I saw a few weeks back that he'd finally determined to self-publish The Accidental Terrorist in 2015, which made me happy.  (He plans to go whole-hog and work with a professional editor to put out the kind of end-product a large publishing house should have produced years ago.)  I wrote to congratulate him and assure him that I would buy a copy of the book, and he was gracious in telling me I'd played a role in his writing it in the first place.  (I hope he thinks that's a good thing -- his frustration at not finding a buyer must have reached the boiling point at times.)  I very much look forward to reading it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

2014 Elections

Another midterm election, another Republican clean-up.  I don't expect much to come from the GOP's taking control of the Senate (with a pick-up of at least seven seats and possibly as many as nine); however, President Obama won't be getting many of his judicial nominees through now, and I expect the Keystone XL pipeline to be approved next year for construction, possibly over the president's veto.  (The thoroughly loathsome Harry Reid will no longer be running partisan interference as Senate majority leader, preventing bills passed in the House from coming to the Senate floor and thus shielding the president from having to veto popular legislation that offends his liberal sensibilities.)  It is vexing that Obama still seems to think he can declare an amnesty for "undocumented workers" by waving his executive wand.  The only thing that could salvage the legacy of his presidency now would be for him to be made a "martyr" through impeachment, but it would be just like him to lay down bait for just that eventuality.  (And, sadly, it would be just like many 'Pubs to take that bait.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Trip to Los Angeles, October 8-12, 2014

Dorine, Murray, Cait
Darren and Cait's place in Lawndale

Going to see "Meet the Mormons"
Street view of the house (in back)

"How did he do such terrific stunts...?"

"It's not the years, honey--it's the mileage"
Me with Murray
On Hollywood Blvd.

At Redondo Beach
At In-N-Out Burger in Kingman

Redondo Beach
Hollywood Blvd.

Dorine at Redondo Beach
Getting ready to leave

Google Earth view of Darren and Cait's house
Hollywood Blvd.
Watching "Rudy"

Getting ready to leave
Getting ready to leave

Dorine was off work on Thursday, October 9, and Friday, October 10, so we decided to travel to southern California to visit with our son Darren and his wife Cait.  We waited too long to get decent airfare, so we finally decided to drive to Los Angeles and back. Ultimately, Mike and Judy decided to go with us, with (a) Mike driving his Lexus the whole way out and back, and (b) Dorine and me paying for gas.  Mike had a cousin in SoCal whom he wanted to visit, although, serendipitously, it turned out that Mike and Judy's oldest son, Ryan (along with his wife Kaylee and daughter Maycee), were planning a trip to Disneyland from SLC and would be in LA at the same time.

We left Albuquerque on Wednesday afternoon the 8th, driving to Phoenix and staying the night at a Worldmark resort there.  We got on westbound I-10 the next day; unfortunately, we pulled into LA at rush hour and spent the next hour trying to dodge traffic jams as we wended our way to the 405 freeway and Rosecrans Avenue, the exit nearest to Darren and Cait's house in Lawndale.  Dorine and I spent three nights with them, sleeping in their spare bedroom on an air mattress.  We didn't do a whole lot -- a little sight-seeing on Friday morning with Cait; a little shopping on Friday afternoon after Cait went to work; a trip on Friday night to the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center in LA to see Meet the Mormons, the new feature film produced by the LDS Church; and a drive on Saturday with Darren and Cait to Hollywood, where we saw the Hollywood Wax Museum, part of the Walk of Fame, and Mann's Chinese Theater.  (Later, we met up with my old friend Galen Kekauoha at the Universal Studios "Citywalk," where we ate lunch at Tony Roma's and visited for the better part of two hours.  Unfortunately, I forgot to get pictures there as I ought to have done.)  Finally, that evening we drove to Redondo Beach, where we walked around the pier for a while.

Mike and Judy (who had done Disneyland on Friday night, then went to hear Sheri Dew speak on Saturday evening) came and got Dorine and me on Sunday morning, and we drove all the way home from there via I-15 and I-40.  I'm glad Mike and Judy could go, as their conversation definitely relieves the tedium of long hours in the car, and my being behind the wheel on such a lengthy trip would have done a large number on me.

Cait and Darren seem to be doing fine.  Darren is waiting for a security clearance in his job (working for Boeing in El Segundo), and he rides the Metro to work every day.  Cait, in addition to her part-time "nanny" job, is looking for another job to do during the day, and she'd like to start graduate school soon, probably at UCLA.  Their home, given the sky-high rents in LA, is the right combination of size, affordability, and location.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Latest

Me and my bubs
1. Work around the house.  Dorine and I have done a few things around the house, like putting up a new Rubbermaid shed in our back yard, installing galvanized-steel turbine attic-ventilation units on our roof (in lieu of the busted-up plastic vents that were there previously), and putting in a retaining wall (of bricks) around our shade tree in the back yard in order to plant a flower garden there.  However, the biggest thing we've done is to sign a contract to have vinyl soffits and aluminum fascia installed all around the house, and to have the stucco repaired/re-done.  The trim on our house has been a weather-beaten disgrace for the last ten years, so the new, maintenance-free soffits and fascia will do a lot for our home's appearance.  And the stucco has been flaking off for some time, necessitating repairs (consisting of a power-spray followed by patching and the application of a sealant/adhesive, followed by a new layer of a sprayed-on stucco-like plastic coating with a lifetime guarantee).  After we did quite a few things to the inside of the house, it's nice to be able to turn to the outside, although the final step would be to landscape our (comparatively large) back yard.  We need to re-rock much of it, re-surface my basketball court (even though I don't use it anymore), and possibly even take down the old junipers along the power-line easement at the back wall (assuming we could also raise the wall by 2-3 rows of cinder blocks).

[Update 9/14/14: All of the work is done now that we contracted for, and it all looks great. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that the deal to put up white aluminum fascia didn't include replacing the silver-colored, galvanized-steel "drip edge" coming out from under the roof shingles. So we still have work to do, and, as of today, I plan to replace the drip edge myself, assuming we can find "white white" materials for it,]

2. The mid-term elections.  The 2014 mid-term elections will be interesting for me, simply to see whether the Republicans can re-take control of the Senate.  It's been almost a foregone conclusion for the last year that the 'Pubs will gain enough Senate seats to do that, although the media are sowing a few seeds of doubt now that it's coming down to it.  In a way, a Senate majority doesn't really matter, since the House of Representatives will almost certainly remain under Republican control, and there's virtually no way the GOP will gain enough Senate seats to be able to over-ride a presidential veto -- all of which means there won't be any more partisan legislation getting through Congress before Barack Obama leaves office.  Still, Republican control of both houses of Congress would mean no more appointments of radical judges, and it would presumably discourage President Obama somewhat from ignoring the separation of powers and imposing by executive fiat that which his party cannot get through Congress -- especially concerning illegal immigration.

3. Another new job for brain-fogged me.  I have changed jobs again now at Sandia National Laboratories, finally going back to Procurement and handling Just-In-Time (JIT) contracts and transitioning into the role of buyer for inter-agency agreements (IAAs) where "other" government agencies (i.e., not the DOE/NNSA) do work for Sandia.  (The latter have to be done using the DOA/NNSA as an intermediary, meaning the process is almost infinitely more complex than the old "Federal Agency Order" process that was still in place when I left Procurement in 2005.)  I don't know what to say about the fact that I've changed jobs three times in four years, except that it's obviously a pretty good indicator of my overall health and the cognitive funk in which my mal de debarquement has situated me since the life-altering cruise that Dorine and I took with Mike and Judy in January 2010.

4. Another guitar, another amplifier.  I recently acquired both a new guitar and a new amplifier.  I bought a Mexican Fender Telecaster from my nephew Aaron, a 1996 model made before the Fender factory in Mexico started including the traditional "through the body" string-routing feature on the Telecasters that it made.  It needs some wiring work, as both the volume pot and the tone pot cut in and out, but otherwise I like it.  The amplifier I bought was an Acoustic G100FX combo amp that I picked up at Guitar Center during its recent Labor Day sale.  In no way did I need a new amplifier, but sometimes a bargain is just too hard to pass up -- in this case, a $250 amp that was selling for $120.  The G100FX is not a "modeling" amplifier like my others; although it still has a lot of features -- and, boy, is it loud!  With the "gain" all the way up, the master volume only barely has to be "on" to produce an ear-splitting decibel level.  I'm constantly amazed by how inexpensively one can pick up a very good guitar and a very good, powerful amplifier these days.  I paid roughly the same nominal amount, $120, in 1978 for a small Peavey practice amp (which, coincidentally, was one of the first amplifiers on the market with a "gain" knob).  It was the first decent amplifier I owned, but it was under-powered for live performances and had no on-board effects outside of reverb.  Now, in 2014, I've paid $120 (or about $33 when adjusted for inflation since 1978) for something that's overwhelmingly better.  Remarkable!

5. Darren and Cait in California.  Darren and Cait are now out in the Los Angeles area in southern California, although they've had major difficulties getting into a rental home.  (Not only are the rents high, but owners can afford to be extremely choosy about their tenants.)  They've now been "accepted" to rent a home in Hawthorne, but it wasn't available right away.  I hope they like it out there once they get settled in; obviously, there's a lot more to do in California than in New Mexico or Utah, but the downsides are the huge crush of people and the high cost of living.  (L.A. probably would have overwhelmed me had I ever taken a job out there.)

6. Our home, my refuge.  Sometimes I think about our home and how much it means to me; I love being here more than anywhere else.  It isn't the newest, the biggest, or the nicest home -- not by a long shot -- but it is my refuge from the world and everything in it.  All the things we've done to the interior of the home since we bought it in 1991 have made it much more livable.  I think it's interesting that when we moved in, the entire house was covered with carpet outside of the entry-way, the kitchen, and the bathrooms.  Now we only have carpet in the bedrooms, and we'll soon be laying down laminate flooring there, too.

7. The Middle East.  President Obama's record in office, especially with regard to foreign affairs, speaks for itself, but his biggest legacy of failure will likely be found in the Middle East.  His phrase "leading from behind" basically has meant "letting the Middle East go to hell in a hand basket while lolling around on the golf course."  And still the president's minions have the bald-faced temerity to blame it all on George W. Bush -- six years after the latter left office.  Obama is finally making noises about attacking ISIS, the worst of the Islamist would-be governments (which recently published videos of the beheadings of two American journalists), but I wonder if it isn't just a ploy calculated to blunt the outcome of the mid-term elections.

8. Race relations and the use of "disproportionate" force.  The recent killing of an African-American, Michael Brown, by a policeman in Ferguson, MO has started to bring a few things into focus for me.  I think I understand the frustration young black men feel when they are stopped by cops, or otherwise fall under suspicion, due to their skin color.  On one hand, if one goes by crime rates and conviction rates, young black men commit a much-greater percentage of crimes, compared to their representation in the greater population of the U.S., than do other demographic segments.  On the other hand, does the justice system unfairly target African-American males, and does such a bias explain the disparity in prosecutions and incarcerations?  I don't pretend to know the answer to that question, but I have two observations to make.  First, there is evidence that Brown, like Trayvon Martin before him, violently attacked the person "profiling" him before taking gunfire.  Being unfairly targeted, even on the basis of race, doesn't (and shouldn't) entitle one to inflict serious bodily harm on the person doing the profiling.  (Martin could simply have returned to his father's girlfriend's house, and Brown could simply have gotten out of the middle of the street and onto the sidewalk.)  And, second, it is true that both Martin and Brown were unarmed when they were killed, and it may be true that they had both been wrongfully profiled on the basis of race -- but does that definitively preclude the "profilers" from using "disproportionately" deadly force in self-defense?  That seems to be the position of the people who advocate punishment for the non-African-Americans who killed Martin and Brown.  It reminds me of the common "progressive" criticism of Israel when it responds to rocket attacks from Gaza.  Israel, which apparently doesn't have the right to exist (and it wouldn't exist, if it granted the so-called "right of return" to all the Arabs who claim to have been displaced by the creation of a Jewish state after WWII) -- much less to maintain control of the West Bank and the Golan Heights as defensive positions or the spoils of past wars that it didn't initiate -- is perpetually in the wrong.  Therefore, when attacked, it has no right to respond with greater force than that with which it was attacked.  And, after the last round of Hamas rocket attacks, some "progressives" went so far as to assert that Israel should share its "Iron Dome" missile-defense system with its enemies.

The thing that bothers me most about recent reports of police shootings is the cops' strong propensity to empty an entire clip of bullets into the people they shoot, which can only come from their training.  We've all heard the old saws "If you're going to shoot, shoot to kill," "Dead men don't testify," etc.; however, it shouldn't be the cops' job to kill in potentially life-threatening situations, but merely to halt the threat.  It seems like there's an increasingly large number of situations in which one bullet, or even a warning shot, could have accomplished the latter.

9. "If You Could Hie to Kolob".  I've read various news stories lately about the near-certainty that planets revolving around distant stars are sufficiently Earth-like to support life.  Of course, the contention of the LDS Church has always been that there is practically an infinite number of such worlds.  As the Mormon hymn goes: 
The works of God continue, And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression Have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter; There is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit; There is no end to race.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Falling off the world, &c.

My brother Kelly, a physician and anesthesiologist, recently moved in quite precipitous fashion from Utah to New Zealand.  His motivation in doing so was simple: to escape from a court order awarding alimony -- a lot of it -- to his ex-wife Kit, from whom he's been divorced now for about five years after about 33 years of marriage.  When I was practicing law (1989-1992), the firm I worked for handled quite a few domestic-relations cases; on several occasions I witnessed a phenomenon that I called "falling off the world," which entailed a man's leaving a lucrative career, and taking some relatively menial job, simply not to have to pay much, if any, support to his ex-wife.  I never would have guessed that a much more literal example of the phenomenon -- involving geography, not a drastic career change -- would occur in my immediate family, but indeed it has.  Kelly's present wife Michelle is planning to join Kelly in New Zealand shortly, along with (she hopes) her three kids; Kelly's youngest son Casey will probably join them this fall.

I've only gotten details of the court case from Kelly, and while I'm mindful that there are two sides to every story, I'm naturally inclined to view things from my brother's perspective.  Divorce law in the mid-1980s, when I was in law school, was trending toward "remedial" alimony, which had the intent of granting an ex-spouse only the time and means necessary to get a college degree (or otherwise to prepare him- or herself for gainful employment).  That was in contrast to the traditional obligation of support that lasted indefinitely while the ex-spouse remained single, but which ended as a matter of course if/when the ex-spouse remarried.

Well, the court order that Kit's lawyer obtained for her (after Kelly supposedly defaulted on responding to her divorce petition) set the notion of "remedial" alimony completely on its ear.  Not only did it purport to grant to Kit one-half of Kelly's earnings in perpetuity -- no mention of her going back to school or even earning her own living, despite her heavy, long-standing involvement in network marketing -- it also provided that, should she remarry, Kelly would still be obligated to make up any difference between her new husband's earnings and what Kelly would otherwise have to pay her.  (Kit did indeed remarry, although she's since had the marriage annulled -- which seems perfect inasmuch as it allows her to pretend it never happened.)

There is no question that Kit was entitled to something from Kelly; after all, she provided encouragement and moral support for him to get through medical school and residency, and she quit college to stay at home to raise their six children.  Nonetheless, the divorce decree essentially made Kelly a slave to Kit's will -- despite the judge's later finding, after an evidentiary hearing, that Kit had purposely understated her personal income and assets in her original court filings -- and shouldn't a person be free at some point to live his own life and move on from the past?  Evidently Kelly did not accede to all of the court's orders, and Kit filed repeated motions for enforcement, even having the sheriff serve at least one writ of execution to seize property from Kelly's house (scaring Michelle and her kids half out of their wits).  The last straw for Kelly, however, was a motion to place his medical practice in receivership, with Kit herself as the administrator having sole discretion to decide how much pay he would get.  I'm not too sure that any man, facing a similar situation (and an unsympathetic judge who might just grant such an outlandish motion) and having the ability to do so, wouldn't emigrate to a different country.

What options does Kit have now, aside from being content with having forced Kelly to leave the country?  A divorce decree from America is almost certainly not going to be enforceable in the courts of New Zealand, nor will a criminal contempt-of-court citation form the basis for extradition (even assuming the two countries have a pertinent treaty).  It's possible that an arrest warrant could be issued that would prevent Kelly from returning to the U.S., but I think Kelly already factored that into his decision to leave.  I think it's more likely that Kit will seek (further) retribution through LDS church channels, hoping to have Kelly excommunicated for failure to comply with "the law" and for leaving her "destitute."  (Kelly told me that before he left, Kit's stake president called him up and more or less threatened him with that very thing.) 

Kelly's experiences point up two things for me.  First, one should take real care in choosing a spouse and not marry anyone in whose eyes it is definitially impossible to measure up.  (Kelly has told me that if he'd waited even six months longer after his church mission to become serious about a girl, he never would have married Kit.  That may be an exaggeration, but I do believe it's true that Kit, who's never lacked for self-regard -- in contrast with her almost-complete lack of self-awareness -- and has a talent for projecting an aura of great spirituality, fit a certain idealized image that Kelly had of himself coming off his mission and returning to BYU.  In retrospect I can see the match was weird from the get-go.)  And, second, the more money a couple has, the more likely it is that a divorce will be anything but amicable.  Lots of disgruntled people would like to get revenge against an unfaithful or abusive "ex," but in most divorce cases there is no mechanism for doing that; obviously, no court will grant a literal "pound of flesh."  Money and property, however, can provide great leverage, and it's no wonder that billionaires' divorces tend to drag on for years, even decades.  (Was Kelly abusive or unfaithful to Kit?  At least one of our siblings claims to "know" he was both, although he has denied it in conversations with me.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Family Campout at Paliza, July 25-26, 2014

Hanging out
More hanging out

Sam, Kiley, and Joey
Noelle and Tyler

Joey parked on the water

Kayla toasting a marshmallow

The old folks
Dorine and I took our annual overnight family camping trip on Friday, July 25; usually we go to Villanueva State Park, but this year we decided to go to the Jemez Mountains instead.  Heidi, Devery, and Sam and Kiley, and all of their kids, ended up going with us.  We weren't sure where we'd end up, but I had the Paliza Campground in the back of my mind.  Paliza was the site of several church fathers-and-sons outings that I'd attended (both as a son and as a father), as well as one of Darren's 11-year-old scout campouts in 1999, although I hadn't been there in a long time.  I was afraid the place would be packed on a Friday afternoon, but what we found was strange: although the USFS has obviously spent a lot of money improving the campground, it was semi-closed -- gate closed to vehicular traffic, no running water, bathrooms locked, and no resident "campground host."  A sign said the campground was still open to walk-in camping, so we looked around and decided to stay at the host's site just inside the gate; thus we didn't have to carry all our gear and food very far.  There were quite a few people camping in the area, but only one other party stayed in the campground proper -- which was probably fortuitous given all the noise the grandkids made.  It was inconvenient not to have access to water, and to have to do as the bears do, but otherwise things worked out well and we enjoyed ourselves.  I do still think that the best camping option is to go to a state park and get there early, but there are lots of nice USFS and BLM campgrounds in New Mexico, too.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm not a poet...and boy do I know it!

The Bard
When I was younger, having studied Spanish and English literature in college, occasionally I took a stab at writing the odd sonnet or two, although iambic pentameter has never exactly rolled off my tongue (or pen).  I didn't finish many of them, but here they are in their utter shamelessness:

The first was a joke (an obviously bawdy one) on the subject of BYU coeds; in fact, one could consider this my contribution to the "BYU coed joke" genre.  It also tries to make a joke of the relative social status of scholars versus athletes at BYU (although anyone who's gone to school there knows the opposite standing is closer to the truth -- not to mention the fact that, on average, BYU coeds actually are, and always have been, quite attractive):

 Scholar: "Why art thou, Sirrah, seeming pale and wan?
                I deign to hazard one shrewd guess in haste:
               This...B.Y.U. has put a bitter taste
                Into thy mouth; from thine eyes light is gone
                Because of hags as these, that o'er thee fawn."
Athlete:   "Your Honor speaks aright; indeed, I've fac'd
               Such sights and horrors as have never pac'd
               The long, dark halls of sicken'd minds! Ah, sawn-
               Away would I see these, my precious jew'ls--
               And, yea, my with'ring-though-yet-worthy tools--
               Before to such an evil-visag'd strumpet
               Be giv'n unfetter'd use of this, my trumpet!"
Scholar:  "What voids lie in the heads of bloody fools
               Succumbing to the grov'llings of such ghouls?"

The second one is a lover's lament (it's funny how nothing in this world causes the muse to descend more than unrequited love), written to a girl who didn't merit nearly so much creative effort on my part:

The night elapses slow; my thoughts are drawn
To times now fading in dark shades of gray,
In which you might have brought me light of day,
But that your fleeting love was here and gone
In merest moments. Would I'd seen the dawn
That came to life a sunset; then I'd say
The girl I loved did take my pain away--
But you did not. Nor did you look upon
This soul as one whose pure, impassion'd love
Could take you to planes outside and above
Your mundane concept of fulfillment, joy;
Instead, to you I was a little boy.
   Yet someday, say my feelings, I will prove
   This love wind, rain, and darkness cannot move.

The third combines three sentiments: (1) my love for Dorine; (2) my struggles through the years to know God; and (3) my distaste for sanctimony and the corrosive effect it has on my faith:

In trusting childhood I have bared my soul
To you, my evergreen, resilient jade;
Break not the moods that cast their cooling shade
On lives tormented by the flaming coal
Of worldly cares. I strain to reach my goal
To rise and meet the God from whom I've strayed.
But, yet, we know us not, though He has made
His light, at times, to shine upon a knoll,
In fading shades that color Heaven's bowl
At twilight's dying last. I feel betrayed
By those who claim to know Him but would wade
In methods of ungodliness. What toll
Might He force me to pay, if I elect
To derogate the tenets of their sect?

The fourth reflects my love for hiking in the mountains, still one of my passions in life. 

In coolest mountains I find youth anew--
The trail's the place to which I, hurried, run,
Encumber'd by the ghosts of deeds undone,
To cast aside a heavy load. I rue
The day in which inside an office zoo
I landed, longing for the shining sun,
Desiring water clear yet having none.
I dream of plunging into sky so blue
It nearly drowns me in its airy deep,
Of climbing on a winding path so steep
I lose my breath from effort and from awe.
Adventure waits, yet time reveals a flaw:
I'm stuck again inside this place, asleep,
With only longings in my heart to keep.

The last is, simply, a tribute to my father, written before his death: 

My father--all your years have told a tale
Of simple values whose profound intent
No longer holds its place in people bent
On taking what they can from life, who rail
On moral others, thinking, without fail,
To give no answer for their lives misspent.
Responsibility--it came and went,
A concept cast aside like last week's mail.
And there you were to take a lion's share,
So much I'm struck at all you've had to bear.
Yet honor and integrity make light
A burden that would otherwise delight
A masochist's most fond, intense desire;
I pray the Lord to lift you ever high'r.