Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pushing Against the Boulder

Sometimes when I'm saying prayers, it feels like I'm pushing against a boulder. I'm asking for some things indefinitely, and while I'm hopeful, I'm not always (definitely) sure that those things will come to pass. I think part of that has to do with my own lack of faith, but I think part of it is just being unsure about whether what I'm asking for corresponds with the will of Heavenly Father. I try to pray at least a couple of times a day, and there tends to be a few things that I'm asking for at any given time.

And that's where the boulder comes in. I'm pushing and heaving, hoping that this massive object will move, feeling like there's no effect, but hoping that my efforts are, in fact, making a difference. Sometimes it'll take weeks, other times months, and still other times even longer - years, even.

Then, all of a sudden, that thing that I had been pushing against has actually been moving. I didn't know it, but my hands became calloused in the process and I'm able to push with greater frequency and force. Where my hands and shoulders may have been thrusting, now there are hand holds and indentations that allow me to get greater leverage. And after much time, effort, bruises and hardening of skin, muscles, and determination, the huge obstacle has actually begun to roll.

I've been thinking a lot about this recently with some prayers being answered after months of constant pleading. Some of these prayers weren't even for my own direct benefit, but I still never get tired of seeing how those prayers get answered and that thing that seemed so far off has actually been attended to by Father.

I thought about this last night as Amy and I were able to attend the temple. Admittedly, I got very little out of the endowment session itself, but once I got into that last room and began to think over some different things, I just felt so grateful to be there.

It reminds me of when Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John, and probably not knowing what else to say, but still feeling the magnitude of the moment, Peter says aloud, "Lord, it is good for us to be here."

I often feel that when I'm in the temple, and I think Amy and I always end up actually saying that to each other once we meet in the celestial room: "It is good for us to be here."

The biggest boulder in my life that finally moved was being single. Even though we're coming up on almost a year of being married now, Amy and I still remark to each other frequently about how we can't believe that we're actually married, and that time is now and we each have finally arrived. I think it's a little different when you get married a little bit later like we did. Some others will get married much later, and some not at all, but I think we're still further along in the spectrum than most LDS couples when it comes to age at nuptials.

It's different when you've had severe heartbreaks and actually consider that maybe marriage is not just around the corner, but you wonder whether it will happen at all in the way and to the person that you hope it will be.One thing that kept me going through all of my years of singleness was something my best friend said to me in Del Taco in Provo after my first real heartbreak: "If you want it that much and it is right, then imagine how much more the Lord wants it for you, who sees all things perfectly, loves you perfectly, and knows all things. It will happen, just trust in him and let him work in your behalf."

It's not far off from what one prophet of old said, "how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him."

During this Christmas season, it's a hard thing for us to imagine how much people looked forward to and yearned for the coming of the Lord. It amazes me to think about the believers in the book of Helaman, and faced not only with ridicule and scorn, but also with the prospect of death and how they must have agonized for the coming of the Lord, for the signs to be shown so that everyone might know that what they believed in and had been living for all of their lives was actually true. Then to imagine what that felt like as those prayers were finally answered.

At this time of year we celebrate all of the figurative boulders that have been and will be moved in our behalf. We celebrate the literal fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecies that have led each of us to this moment in our lives. And what's more, we celebrate the literal moving of that final boulder that would attempt to symbolize the squashing of all of the prayers and faith that sat in waiting in that garden tomb. But move, it did, and with it came, and will come, the evidence of our faith and of God's supernal love for us.

Have a merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Those Who Are In Charge

I thought this picture was really interesting. It's a shot from Earth's orbit of the power usage of North and South Korea. It helps illustrate a lot about the country's (North) lack of development. The CIA estimates that GDP in North Korea was $1800 per capita, which is comparable to what the GDP in the US was back in...1847. Unreal. (HT: Mark Perry at this post).

The editors at NRO have come out with this statement about how the US needs to take advantage of the shifting of power in that country due to the death of Kim Jong Il and apply some real pressure so that the country can make some real advancements.

It's amazing what is done by those who are in power. North Korea has been selling nuclear arms to hostile countries, it has openly killed South Koreans, and no one will do a thing about it. They are a legitimate threat to our peace, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. And even if they're not, they're a threat to their own people, right? This is the kind of case when it illustrates just how off base Ron Paul is as a viable candidate for the POTUS. He does have a lot of views that are quite commendable, but his stance on isolationism for the United States is completely unacceptable. It is not simply a matter of, if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone. That wasn't the case with either of the World Wars, and more recently with the terrorism that has visited our shores. Enough about that though...

I meant to get to this little excerpt about the treatment of a Chinese dissident:
According to reliable sources, Huang, while in prison, was transferred to the Liyang Psychiatric Hospital in Changzhou because he appealed his sentence and refused to kneel on one knee while speaking with prison authorities. After being returned to prison, he was placed in the strict supervision block, where he was subjected to torture and physical and verbal abuse, including beating, being shocked with an electric baton on his legs and mouth, having his toes crushed, and solitary confinement. During this period, he was forced to run 150 laps a day on gravel, and, when he could not run anymore, was dragged through gravel, which tore through his clothes.

The abuses and torture resulted in torn cartilage in both of his knees and torn ligaments in his legs. He developed traumatic arthritis and inflammation of the joints. At his worst moment, he was unable to stand to walk and lost some of his ability to care for himself. The prison hospital refused him treatment.
Again, this is from those who hold all of the cards. Even actor Christian Bale tried to visit a Chinese dissident and he was strong-armed by plain clothes officers of the Chinese government to leave the premises.

It's scary how much real evil is out there. Another example? Take Egypt. Read this post for more news on the crackdown on protests there, but I think more useful is the recent appearance by the interim Egyptian Prime Minister who broke down and wept openly in front of journalists, saying that the Egyptian economy is "worse than anyone imagines." It's really something for the leader of a nation to have that kind of breakdown in public. For more on that story, go here.

Anyway, that's a lot of what's wrong in the world.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We have been getting into the Christmas season quite well these last few weeks starting with having our fresh tree up by December 1st, which now is not as great with our tree going from a nice hunter green to a light shade of brown, but it's the spirit that counts, right?

This month has been great so far, though. There was Amy's work Christmas party, a few different get togethers with friends, but the Christmasy events have been really fun too. Just in case you had any doubts about it, the Silvas are very cultured people.Early this month we swung by Temple Square to check out the lights, and last week we caught The Nutcracker performed by the Ballet West dance company.

I hadn't seen it since I was really young, but I think the music is really great and although I probably wouldn't go and see ballet on a normal basis, it's fun to see something so classic performed that's so appropriate for the season. It's pretty amazing what they can do, and I can definitely appreciate that. The performance that we saw seemed like a pretty traditional version of it, which is neat to think that this is the same kind of dance that has been done for over a hundred years.

Last night Amy and I went up to Salt Lake to a local stake center to see a performance of Handel's Messiah. I had never seen that live before, and what I really liked about it was that it was a professional level performance just put on by some people in the community. The concertmaster is a lady that is actually in the Salt Lake Symphony, and it featured 70 voices in the choir, and 40 instruments in the orchestra, including a harpsichord! I thought was really cool. Not sure if I have ever heard one live before.

The story behind The Messiah is one that is really amazing. Handel, at 56 years old, in near poverty, and with no significant pieces to his name was commissioned to write a Christmas piece, and in 24 days he wrote the whole thing. Speaking of his masterpiece he said that if it only entertains, then he has failed; it should inspire men to be better people. It was pretty cool.

One of my favorite things, however, was watching a Charlie Brown Christmas yesterday. I read this article a few weeks ago and it gives a lot of great background to the special:

The executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.

“They were freaking out about something so overtly religious in a Christmas special,” explained Melendez.

“They basically wrote it off, like, hey, this is just isn’t going to be interesting to anyone, and it’s just going to be like a big tax write-off.”

Melendez himself was somewhat hesitant about the reading from Luke. “I was leery of the religion that came into it, and I was right away opposed to it. But Sparky just assumed what he had to say was important to somebody.”

Which is why Charles Schulz was Charles Schulz. He knew that the Luke reading by Linus was the heart and soul of the story.

As Charlie Brown sinks into a state of despair trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, Linus quietly saves the day. He walks to the center of the stage where the Peanuts characters have gathered, and under a narrow spotlight, quotes the second chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, verses 8 through 14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.
“ . . . And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” Linus concluded.

The scene lasted 51 seconds. When Linus finished up, Charlie Brown realized he did not have to let commercialism ruin his Christmas. With a sense of inspiration and purpose, he picked up his fragile tree and walked out of the auditorium, intending to take it home to decorate and show all who cared to see how it would work in the school play.

When CBS executives saw the final product, they were horrified. They believed the special would be a complete flop. CBS programmers were equally pessimistic, informing the production team, “We will, of course, air it next week, but I’m afraid we won’t be ordering any more.”

The half-hour special aired on Thursday, December 9, 1965, preempting The Munsters and following Gilligan’s Island. To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Anyway, we don't have much left on our Christmas event plates besides time with family and presents and such, but all of that is probably the best stuff anyway.

The Charlie Brown special is really great because even all those years ago people felt like Christmas was being overrun by all of the commercialism, and lucky for us, there was a man like Charles Schulz to help us collectively regain our bearings and realize what the season is really about.

So go watch your It's a Wonderful Lifes, Christmas Carols, or Charlie Brown Christmas specials. And don't forget to crack open your scriptures to those wonderful words penned by Luke and the other prophets and apostles. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Condemn Not

I hate when people misuse the scripture talking about judging. Not everyone has the JST for that scripture that includes the adverb "righteously," but still, you'd think it's intuitive. Obviously you have to make judgments, the caveat is the nature of your judgments. I prefer to think of it as condemn not, and that helps me figure it out.

There have been a few things in the last week that has made me think a lot about this topic. The first one being the signing of Albert Pujols (yes, that's pronounced "poo-holes") by the Angels this last week. A lot of people are jumping on him, mainly in St. Louis, because he seems to be leaving the Cardinals not only for greener pastures, but just plain ol' more green. The result has been a barrage by him and his wife saying that they didn't do it for the money.

Leaving that rationale aside, is there anything wrong for him doing it for the money? The Angels offered him $40 million more to play for them, and that's not including the continued involvement that the club wrote into his contract once he retires from actually playing baseball. $40 million is a sum I can't even comprehend, but what about a 20% increase. Wouldn't most people choose the higher offer if they were given the choice between $50k and $60k a year?

There are many other factors that went into that decision, and I think the thing that bothers me the most is that people are applying to others criteria for behavior that they wouldn't impose on themselves. I'm sure that I fall for that tendency myself, but this seems to be one of those things that's really easy for me to pick out because I tend to think about these personnel moves so often.

The other instance comes from one of the recent ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries that they had recently about Todd Marinovich called The Marinovich Project. He was a former Raiders QB so that's why the story piqued my interest, but it was an incredible story about the development of Todd as a can't miss prospect for the NFL. He grew up in Newport Beach, played at high school powerhouse Mater Dei, went to USC and won the Rose Bowl his freshman year, succumbed to drugs and seemingly wasted his talent and opportunity.

I thought he asked the most interesting question though: Just because you are good at something, does it mean that you were meant to do it?

In the film he goes on to talk about how when he was on hard times many people would look at him with derision and openly criticize him for wasting what he had. I really felt for him. What is it like to be forever known for and judged by people for the worst thing(s) you have ever done when you have paid your debts for those offenses? That's a question I've wondered a lot about.

I know this is an area that I need to work on a lot myself. It's so easy to cast aspersions when we're on the outside looking in. I just thought these were two very interesting instances of that phenomena. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Freaking Out

I have been checking feverishly the last several days and Sportscenter to see what was going to happen with the big free agent signings for the Angels. I had a feeling that something big was going to happen, and even aside from the Angels interests I have, I was interested in seeing where Albert Pujols was going to go. Just as a fan, it was going to be huge news if he was going to be moving anywhere. For you baseball uninitiated, it's as big as Wayne Gretzky moving to Los Angeles after his time with Edmonton. Pujols is one of the best players of the last 50 years, easily. He just came off a World Series performance where he had one of the greatest games in World Series history with his 3-home run outburst in Game 3. The guy is amazing.

But I didn't think there was any realistic chance the Angels would sign him. Not in a million years. We have been swinging and missing a lot on the big guys the last several years. I thought at most we would pick up CJ Wilson and add depth to our starting rotation. I thought that was both realistic and very good for our ballclub.

So you can imagine my reaction this morning when I woke up and checked first thing on for any updates about the free agents and baseball winter general manager meetings and discovered this kind of headline:

Sent From Heaven: Albert Pujols signs with the Angels for 10 years, 250 million.

And then this was my reaction:

Is that not the funniest thing you've ever seen?

And THEN, they signed CJ Wilson shortly thereafter, adding to what was already their greatest strength.

Some baseball commentary: I just can't tell you how big this is. The best and brightest star of the last ten years signing with your team for the next ten years. It remains to be seen if this will really be beneficial over the next ten as it was for the last ten, but still, you can't doubt that adding someone of his caliber to your roster completely changes the make-up of your team. With just his added presence in the line-up we shore up our greatest weakness, and all of a sudden, our "stars" that were carrying us before have that huge burden lifted immediately from their shoulders and if they can just go back to having what is for them average years, then the Angels will surely be in contention.

I'm pretty sure this move will precipitate further moves with either Trumbo, Morales, or Bourjos. We could end up moving those guys in their positions, or even to other teams. We got bullpen help, upgraded our catcher, and here is one thing that no one else has mentioned yet: We still have what is widely regarded as the best prospect in all of MLB only a year or two away from becoming a mainstay in our lineup in Mike Trout.

I desperately want to be there for the first home game at Angel stadium.

And as I said before, this is in addition to securing for ourselves an ace in Wilson who would be the number one starter on many other pitching staffs, and he comes in probably as a number 3 or 4 starter. Unbelievable.

It's just so wonderful. I want to go to spring training. I want to live in Southern California this summer. I want I want I want.

The landscape of the American League has dramatically changed on this day.


Now it's just time for the Lakers to follow suit and pick up Dwight Howard and CP3.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Around the Web

Some interesting articles from around the interwebs. This article talks about how higher taxes drive down home values. With having few other ways to account for budget shortfalls in government, oftentimes money is stripped from homeowners through property taxes. I know that is certainly the case in places like California where so much is committed to government spending without other sources of revenue. Property taxes are hugely expensive, and have become worse over the years, and this helps to relieve government debt. It wasn't an issue before when property values were soaring, but is felt now when homeowners are looking for ways to absorb losses from their home equity.

This article is an op-ed from the Professor over at Harvard whose students walked out on his economics lecture. Not sure how many of you heard of that, but the students were trying to express solidarity with the OWS movement. The professor is an adviser to the Romney campaign, and he gives a very measured, thoughtful response, mainly, "know what you're protesting." He mentions:

[My] reaction was sadness at how poorly informed the Harvard protesters seemed to be. As with much of the Occupy movement across the country, their complaints seemed to me to be a grab bag of anti-establishment platitudes without much hard-headed analysis or clear policy prescriptions. Ironically, the topic of the lecture that the protesters chose to boycott was economic inequality, including a discussion of recent trends and their causes. 

I loved this article from Michael Lewis about the 1%. He's the same guy who wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side. He has also written some other pieces about the economic crisis and writes for Bloomberg. I really like his insights. In this piece he writes from the perspective of the 1% and writes ironically. It's great. An excerpt:

Hence our committee’s conclusion: We must be able to quit American society altogether, and they must know it. For too long we have simply accepted the idea that we and they are all in something together, subject to the same laws and rituals and cares and concerns. This state of social relations between rich and poor isn’t merely unnatural and unsustainable, but, in its way, shameful. (Who among us could hold his head high in the presence of Louis XIV or those Russian czars or, for that matter, Croesus?)

The modern Greeks offer the example in the world today that is, the committee has determined, best in class. Ordinary Greeks seldom harass their rich, for the simple reason that they have no idea where to find them. To a member of the Greek Lower 99 a Greek Upper One is as good as invisible.

He pays no taxes, lives no place and bears no relationship to his fellow citizens. As the public expects nothing of him, he always meets, and sometimes even exceeds, their expectations. As a result, the chief concern of the ordinary Greek about the rich Greek is that he will cease to pay the occasional visit.

That is the sort of relationship with the Lower 99 we must cultivate if we are to survive. We must inculcate, in ourselves as much as in them, the understanding that our relationship to each other is provisional, almost accidental and their claims on us nonexistent. 

Very clever writing.

And lastly, this one about the pro-life 'good war' and the anti-same-sex-marriage 'bad war.' The pro-life is enjoying some pretty widespread support, and as far as the social conservative movements goes, it is both a winning and more easily supportable cause than the anti-SSM movement. For one, the victims of abortions are obvious, but the homosexual marriage victims less so. The author gives some very thoughtful insight:

After more than a generation of no-fault divorce, the very concept of “traditional marriage” is seeping out of our cultural DNA, replaced, sadly, by the core conviction that marriage is no longer a covenant, but a contract — specifically a contract for the fulfillment and enjoyment of adults. Our churches not only acquiesced in this cultural change, many of them continue to facilitate it even as they argue against same-sex marriage. There are many taboos in the modern evangelical church, and one of them is “judging” anyone’s divorce. Even wayward and unfaithful spouses will rationalize their betrayals through long lists of real and imagined slights, and church discipline for adultery and divorce is largely a thing of the past.  

What kind of message does this send? Imagine the incredulity of a Christian college student — themselves too often the product of a broken home, where they had a front-row seat to their parents’ contentious festival of self-love — watching a thrice-married fellow congregant rail against gay marriage. It just doesn’t add up.

The battle over marriage, frankly, needs to broaden. We shouldn’t necessarily speak of “defending traditional marriage” when traditional marriage has already been mortally wounded by no-fault divorce. Perhaps we should instead emphasize marriage restoration over marriage defense. What do social conservatives want? To restore marriage to its rightful place and definition in our culture (which includes defining it as a covenant, not a contract) and to repair what is broken. To be sure, making and winning such an argument is an immense cultural challenge, but as the pro-life movement has demonstrated, courage, persistence, and truth can turn the tide. 

Couldn't agree more.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Best in Worst Christmas Things

There are some monumentally bad, but amazing Christmas songs out there. My friend Doug posted this one on FB this week:

Dave likes to send me a link to this website this time of year, which features some pretty awful remixes and original work as well. Unfortunately, nothing is posted on YouTube so you'll have to visit that site to partake of that treasure. As a preview though, one of his songs borrows heavily from Depeche Mode's People are People, but titled, Jingles Bells Jingle. Good stuff.

Although The Biebs' Christmas song Mistletoe is reasonably catchy, don't let that distract you from the pure awfulness of his rendition of Drummer Boy:

And just in case you're still searching for a gift idea, try this one. Totally not a joke:

Have a merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Very Vegas Thanksgiving

This was my first year heading down to Las Vegas as part of the Polley-Walton-Redford-Thompson Thanksgiving party. It's an every other yearly tradition for Amy's family to go down to stay in Vegas and celebrate the holiday with her mom's side of the family.

Between Amy's family and my connections with the Redford side, I knew that I was going to really enjoy the weekend. I wanted to get a lot of video of the weekend, but as it turns out, I messed up the two time-lapse footage that I was going to use and just quit trying in frustration after that. Turns out, not even Amy really does much photo-documenting during the weekend. There would have been a lot of fun videos to capture, but so it goes.

Anyway, so here are a few brief highlights from the weekend:
  • 55 people staying in two houses next door to each other. The Redfords and most of the Thompsons in the neighbor's house, and the Waltons, Polleys, and a few Thompsons in the Polley home. Amy and I were lucky enough to get put into an office with glass doors, but more importantly, also houses two main computers which everyone likes using, so we didn't really have a private space. It was fine for most of the weekend, except for when I started to get sick at the end and just wanted a place to lay my weary head.
  • Visit to Grandma and Grandpa Polley's graves. I have had very little interaction with Jim Polley prior to this weekend, but I was really impressed with him. We arrived at the cemetery with the entire family (including family dog) in tow. It was a nice Fall evening in Vegas, as every night and day was during this trip, when he introduced us to the burial sites of his parents. "This is my mom and dad," he said, voice cracking from his obvious affection, and I think at that moment everyone felt the love that binds not only those adult children to their parents, but everyone present to each other as they continue on with this Thanksgiving reunion in their absence. It was really touching.
  • Much food, many games, and many pies. Most of the family played volleyball Thanksgiving morning, which was really fun. Volleyball is not one of those sports that I think I really get into, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. There was a ping pong tournament which crowned the dark horse candidate Mark Redford as the champion. The Walton boys started off strong, but had a rough final couple of matches. One of my favorites ended up being horseshoes. It's just fun. It just is. There weren't as many board games as I would have liked, but we managed to keep ourselves occupied. 
  • Probably my favorite part was getting to spend a good chunk of time with Greg. It's so funny that we each happened to marry cousins, and it's funny how close you can be to certain people and forget that until you start spending time and realize how well they know you. I just really loved that.
You know what else was funny? Teenage boy affection. I got along pretty well with the Polley twins and it's funny to me the way that boys show affection. Every time one of them would walk past me he'd hit my arm or kick my foot, but then other times be just really nice and asking personal questions. That grudging respect is funny to me.

Amy and I grabbed some sushi with some Redfords one night, and then Chinese with her family the next night. I was able to go running outside every day that I was there, which kind of surprised me that I was so motivated. While the temperatures were inviting, the terrain was boring. Ah well.

And there you have it. Sorry for no visuals, but it turned out to be a pretty great weekend.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Our California Adventure

CA Adventure by silva888

Thoughts from Around the Web

Mark Steyn is a really great writer over at NRO. He posted some thoughts here about the Penn State scandal, and had this to say:

Defenders of McQueary and the broader Penn State protection racket argue that “nobody knows” what he would do in similar circumstances. In a New York Times piece headlined “Let’s All Feel Superior,” David Brooks turned in an eerily perfect parody of a David Brooks column and pointed out, with much reference to Kitty Genovese et al., how “studies show” that in extreme circumstances the human brain is prone to lapse into “normalcy bias.” To be sure, many of the Internet toughs bragging that they’d have punched Sandusky’s lights out would have done no such thing. As my e-mail correspondents always put it whenever such questions arise: “Yeah, right, Steyn. Like you’d be taking a bullet. We all know you’d be wetting your little girly panties,” etc.

For the sake of argument, let us so stipulate. Nevertheless, as the Canadian blogger Kathy Shaidle wrote some years ago: “When we say ‘we don’t know what we’d do under the same circumstances,’ we make cowardice the default position.”

I quote that line in my current book, in a section on the “no man’s land” of contemporary culture. It contrasts the behavior of the men on the Titanic who (notwithstanding James Cameron’s wretched movie) went down with the ship and those of the École Polytechnique in Montreal decades later who, ordered to leave the classroom by a lone gunman, meekly did as they were told and stood passively in the corridor as he shot all the women. Even if I’m wetting my panties, it’s better to have the social norm of the Titanic and fail to live up to it than to have the social norm of the Polytechnique and sink with it.

That’s the issue at the heart of Penn State’s institutional wickedness and its many deluded defenders. In my book, I also quote the writer George Jonas back when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were revealed to be burning down the barns of Quebec separatists: With his characteristic insouciance, the prime minister Pierre Trudeau responded that, if people were so bothered by illegal barn burning by the Mounties, perhaps he would make it legal. Jonas pointed out that burning barns isn’t wrong because it’s illegal, it’s illegal because it’s wrong. A society that no longer understands that distinction is in deep trouble. To argue that a man witnessing child sex in progress has no responsibility other than to comply with procedures and report it to a colleague further up the chain of command represents a near-suicidal loss of that distinction.

A land of hyper-legalisms is not the same as a land of law. I’ve written recently about the insane proliferation of signage on America’s highways — the “Stop” sign, the “Stop Sign Ahead” sign, the red light, the sign before the red light instructing you that when the light is red you should stop here, accompanied by a smaller sign underneath with an arrow pointing to the precise point where “here” is . . . One assumes this expensive clutter is there to protect against potential liability issues. It certainly doesn’t do anything for American road safety, which is the worst in the developed world. We have three times the automobile fatality rate of the Netherlands, and at 62 in the global rankings we’re just ahead of Tajikistan and Papua New Guinea.

But that’s the least of it: When people get used to complying with micro-regulation, it’s but a small step to confusing regulatory compliance with the right thing to do — and then arguing that, in the absence of regulatory guidelines, there is no “right thing to do.”

In a hyper-legalistic culture, Penn State’s collaborators may have the law on their side. But there is no moral-liability waiver. You could hardly ask for a more poignant emblem of the hollow braggadocio of the West at twilight than the big, beefy, bulked-up shoulder pads and helmets of Penn State football, and the small stunted figures inside.

And Jeff Jacoby had this to say in his article about American optimism:

Reno isn't the only Commentary contributor who points to America's ability to assimilate outsiders as a singular advantage in the present, and an ongoing reason for optimism about the future. Yes, remarks Harvard's Joseph Nye, China can draw on a talent pool of 1.3 billion people, "but the United States can draw on a talent pool of 7 billion." From every corner of the globe, dreamers, strivers, and self-starters have been willing to uproot themselves for the chance to make a better life in this astonishing land of opportunity.

"Optimism, by nearly all accounts, has been an integral part of our national DNA," writes James Ceaser, a scholar of American politics at the University of Virginia. The crises of the moment -- a limping economy, soaring government debt, a stifling bureaucracy -- are undoubtedly serious. But they are far from insoluble, and they certainly aren't grounds for terminal pessimism.

The nation that transformed an undeveloped wilderness into history's freest, most prosperous superpower; that overcame the cancer of slavery; that trounced totalitarianism; that still inspires the persecuted and downtrodden -- that nation isn't about to fade to gray. We have licked worse problems than those we face now.

Optimistic or pessimistic about America's future? The Gipper had it right: Our best days are yet to come. This nation has had a remarkable run, but you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Round-Up

Random bits:
  • So among the worst passwords of 2011 are the typical "1234" or "password" but I guess a lot of people are also using "monkey," "dragon," "trustno1," and "letmein." I love those. I hope some of you are using them. I think I might pick one of those up.
  • The Denver Broncos keep winning. No explanation whatsoever. It's so weird. That is all.
  • I hate BYU's sports schedule. I don't care about any of these games. Have you seen the basketball schedule? How in the world am I supposed to be interested in a win against Dixie State or their game tonight against Longwood? Where in the world is Longwood? I've never even heard of that school. Don't worry though, tomorrow we play powerhouse New Mexico State in football. Look out Aggies! You'll be the second team of Aggies we'll beat this year. Yay?
  • I can't believe how spoiled some people can be by just a little success from their sports teams. I had some back and forth last night with a guy on Facebook about the Angels being able to bounce back after last season. He thinks we're in bad shape as an organization, but they've made the playoffs in 6 of the last 10 years, and the 2002 World Series is still pretty fresh on my mind. How bad can they really be doing, right?
  • The Help. We saw that movie earlier this week and I really enjoyed. I really like the lead, Emma Stone, and I love movies that take place in the South, and I love stories about race relations. While there is still much progress to be made, it's amazing to think of all of the progress in just the last several decades. In the lives of many people still alive, things have gone from intolerable to pretty good. Very good movie though. For a time I was pretty fascinated with literature from black authors, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and the like. Here's a famous one by Hughes that I always liked: What happens to a dream deferred?

    Does it dry up
    like a raisin in the sun?
    Or fester like a sore--
    And then run?
    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over--
    like a syrupy sweet?

    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.

    Or does it explode?
  • Not sure how I missed this song before the last couple weeks, but I just love it. Have a good weekend, y'all.

Keystone Pipeline Nixed Until After the Election

Something that's kind of crazy that you maybe haven't heard anything about? The pipeline Keystone pipeline that is supposed to be built between Canada and the US that would not only provide thousands of jobs, but also increase our energy independence. Go here for a story from the WSJ, here for one from The American, and one by Charles Krauthammer at NRO. I'm going to include some excerpts from each story without distinguishing. I don't really want to take the time to divide it up. It's all worth reading though:

Within days of the Keystone decision, Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, said his country would divert sales of the Keystone-intended oil to Asia. Translation: Those lost American blue-collar pipeline jobs are disappearing into the Asian sun. Incidentally, Mr. Harper has said he wants to turn Canada into an energy "superpower," exploiting its oil, gas and hydroelectric resources. Meanwhile, the American president shores up his environmental base in Hollywood and on campus. Perhaps our blue-collar work force should consider emigrating to Canada.

Recall as well the president's gut reaction in 2010 to the BP Gulf oil spill: an order shutting down deep-water drilling in U.S. waters. The effect on blue-collar workers in that industry was devastating. Writing in these pages this week, Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski described how Mexico, the Russians, Canada and even Cuba are moving to exploit oil and gas deposits adjacent to ours, while the Obama administration slow-walks new drilling permits.

Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Henninger argues that President Obama is leaving private sector workers out to dry on Opinion Journal. Photo: AP.

No subject sits more centrally in the American political debate than the economic plight of the middle class. Presumably that means people making between $50,000 and $175,000 a year. The president fashions himself their champion.

This surely is bunk. Mr. Obama is the champion of the public-sector middle class. Just as private business has become an abstraction to the new class of public-sector Democratic politicians and academics who populate the Obama administration, so too the blue-collar workers employed by them have become similarly abstracted.

Here comes the craziest twist: if the opponents of the XL succeed and prevent its construction, there is a strong possibility that Alberta’s oil sand-derived oil will be piped westward to Canada’s Pacific coast and loaded on supertankers going to Asia, to feed China’s grossly inefficient industries.

And there is more. The XL is to deliver an equivalent of about 6 percent of total U.S. crude oil consumption in 2010, a small share that the country should be able to do without. Indeed, it could have done that already in the past if it had steadily improved the performance of its vehicles rather than keeping it flat for two decades between 1986 and 2006.

    The new pipeline would add just over 1 percent to the already existing network of crude oil and refined products lines that crisscross the United States and parts of Canada.

Either way, the United States will need oil imports for a long time to come, as even the fastest conceivable transition to non-fossil energies cannot be accomplished in a matter of one or two decades. If the United States chooses to cut itself off from its largest, most reliable, and most durable supply of crude oil, from where will it, with its continuing high use of transportation fuel, get its future imports? Crude oil production in two other major U.S. suppliers in the Western hemisphere, Mexico and Venezuela, has been declining (by, respectively, more than 20 percent and more than 15 percent between 2005 and 2011), and in the Middle East the United States faces enormous competition from China.

So what happened? “The administration,” reported the New York Times, “had in recent days been exploring ways to put off the decision until after the presidential election.” Exploring ways to improve the project? Hardly. Exploring ways to get past the election.

Obama’s decision was meant to appease his environmentalists. It’s already working. The president of the National Wildlife Federation told the Washington Post (online edition, November 10) that thousands of environmentalists who were galvanized to protest the pipeline would now support Obama in 2012. Moreover, a source told the Post, Obama campaign officials had concluded that “they do not pick up one vote from approving this project.”

Sure, the pipeline would have produced thousands of truly shovel-ready jobs. Sure, delay could forfeit to China a supremely important strategic asset — a nearby, highly reliable source of energy. But approval was calculated to be a political loss for the president. Easy choice.

It’s hard to think of a more clear-cut case of putting politics over nation. This from a president whose central campaign theme is that Republicans put party over nation, sacrificing country to crass political ends.

It's pretty huge news that really isn't making the rounds. This is the American president sabotaging our interests for the sake of his political career.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

We're Going to Disneyland!

For a few weeks I had been begging Amy to go down to California because the Raiders happened to be playing a Thursday night game against San Diego down in San Diego. There aren't a lot of opportunities for me to see my guys and I wanted to take the opportunity to do so. She wasn't convinced until she learned that Scott and Elisha were coming down to go to Disneyland, and that we wouldn't be seeing the Reids at all over the holidays, so we made a weekend of it.

We flew in Thursday and took advantage of some of the somewhat shady deals that people advertise on Craig's List to get some discounted tickets. It's a lesson in economics really. Charge exorbitant prices for something that's in high demand and someone else will figure out how to make a buck supplying it for a cheaper price. The nice part is that I now have my buddy who works at the Grand California that I can call on for when we want to visit the park in the future.

It was a lot of fun to visit. I hadn't been in a couple of years, and I was never really a Disneyland veteran like most of the people who live down in Southern California. I never got an annual pass, but now it seems like everyone I know who lives down there has one. My brother, best friends, single friends, everyone.

The really great thing about Disneyland is that everything is so professionally done. The rides are good for mid-level type of thrill-seeker, but the decor, the shows, the look and feel of everything is absolutely top notch. My favorite has always been the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Toy Story. The holiday decorations were really amazing, especially on Haunted Mansion. We didn't get to see It's a Small World, but I'm sure that was great too.

It was a really fun weekend. I enjoyed the parks more than I thought I would, but the sad part is that my sole reason for wanting to in the first place - Raiders game - didn't even happen. My brother wasn't up for spending up to $100 for tickets to the game when they hadn't been looking so great. Turns out Carson Palmer really turned it on, Michael Bush killed the Chargers, and the Raiders pulled out the win. Happy for the win, disappointed I wasn't there in person. I can't believe that.

There will be some video up shortly, but just wanted to get something posted because it's been a long time since I've come back around.

There ya go.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sports Innocence Lost

Some time ago I was listening to sports talk radio and they were talking about when each of them had lost their sports innocence. You can probably figure out what they meant, but just in case it's not clear, they were referring to that point in time when they had realized that the sports world isn't entirely magical. Athletes are people and sometimes they are unfaithful to their wives, sometimes they cheat, and sometimes people associated with sports can be more than selfish.

I don't remember what their various responses were, but for me it was easy to pick out exactly when my sports innocence was lost. 20 years ago yesterday was the day that Magic Johnson announced that he had contracted the HIV virus and that he would be retiring from professional basketball. I was 11 years old at the time and the Lakers were just coming off their NBA Finals loss to Michael Jordan's Bulls. I remember sitting on the leather couch and watching the screen and having no idea what HIV or AIDS was, and wondered how something could be so serious that it would derail the career of someone so iconic who was not far removed from the peak of his athletic abilities.

I had never even heard of the disease before then, didn't know how it was contracted, or what it was capable of doing, but if it could pull down both Magic Johnson and the Lakers, then it was something really serious.

If I had to name another time, I think I would have said either Bo Jackson destroying his hip in the AFC Championship Game against the Bengals or OJ Simpson's epic drive in Al Cowling's Bronco. I loved Bo for obvious reasons (Raiders RB and EVERYONE loved Bo Jackson), and I loved OJ because of the Naked Gun movies. Those movies came at the perfect time for a boy my age. Each of those events I remember very vividly.

Anyway, I bring this up not only because it was the anniversary of that announcement, but because of some of the recent swirling going on with Penn State and Joe Paterno. I am not a fan of Penn State, and I wouldn't even say I'm a huge fan of college football, but the news about the possible blind eyes that were turned about the defensive coordinator and former heir apparent of Paterno sexually abusing young boys is just heartbreaking. On more than one occasion I've heard of people refer to Penn State with reverence, even calling it Camelot. It's such a sad story to associate with the program and with Joe Pa only because he was otherwise probably one of the most revered people in all of college athletics.

It's just a sad thing to lose your innocence. What's weird is that sometimes it feels like you can lured back into believing that some things are just unthinkable, and then it happens, and you're left with nothing but heartache. It's a sad time for those boys and for Penn State.

Provo Halloween Half

There has been a theme for me this year of not preparing very well for my races. I had been running in the weeks leading up to this one, but not as regularly as I would have liked. With a pretty steep drop in elevation, about 2000 feet over the 13.1 miles, I thought it was going to shred my quads just like the Deseret News Marathon did. That one only had 1000 more feet in elevation drop, but then again, twice the distance. I also played a soccer game the night before, and although that one was too tough, I thought maybe I was self-handicapping too much to have a decent race.

Turns out I was okay. I thought I would come in somewhere around 1:50 or so because I felt less prepared for this one than I was for the Thanksgiving Point Half, and I ended up finishing that one in 1:48. The race started out right next to Aspen Grove with a temperature somewhere around 35 degrees or so. I've learned this past year that race temperatures aren't that big of a deal to me unless they are really cold ( below 30, apparently, for me) or really hot, anywhere above 85 degrees.

I didn't end up having anyone run this one with me, but I did bump into a few people I knew during the race. I ended up recycling an old mad doctor type costume I had used a few years ago and I think it worked out pretty well. Costumes are funny, because there are different audiences for each. There is the funny costume crowd, but there is also a very loyal gross costume crowd that really appreciate blood and gore. Turns out my fake blood splattered all over the front of my scrubs did the trick for these people.

I tried to hold myself back over the first several miles where the descent was steepest, but I still ended up running about seven and half minute miles over the first six miles, which was when we exited into the Provo Canyon.

Sam Cassell hitting the game winning shot: Large Marbles
My favorite: The chicken-walk
High-steppin to the end zone

The race is really spectator friendly as it follows along the Provo River Trail. I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again, I LOVE LOVE LOVE running along the Provo River Trail. It's scenic, downhill, and just wonderful to run on. With so many parking lots scattered throughout the canyon, Amy had an easy time finding me and getting pics of me. As a result of that, I ended up coming up with as many different kinds of run-bys that I could.

Once I finished I couldn't believe how good I felt. I finished somewhere around 1:43. I didn't feel a huge need to stretch or even sit down, which turned out to be good because I had to spend the next 45 minutes sorting through bags to find my own because they were so disorganized. They still don't have race results posted even. It's a very poorly managed race. It's funny, but every time I finish one of these I have very specific complaints and suggestions that I'd like to make. It really makes me want to organize one of these some day to see if I could put together a better race. In any case, I had more fun at this race than I have had in a long time. My energy felt great, legs never gave me a problem, and I just really enjoyed the course. I'll most likely end up doing this one again. Oh! And I can't forget to mention the shirt and medal - two big reasons why I even wanted to run this one in the first place - black, longsleeve shirt with skull and crossbones, and a medal to match it. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Round-Up

Couple of articles that I thought were interesting:
  1. This one by Charles Krauthammer about who is responsible for us losing Iraq. This excerpt, to me, is the most significant part:
    The second failure was the SOFA itself. The military recommended nearly 20,000 troops, considerably fewer than our 28,500 in Korea, 40,000 in Japan, and 54,000 in Germany. The president rejected those proposals, choosing instead a level of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

    A deployment so risibly small would have to expend all its energies simply protecting itself — the fate of our tragic, missionless 1982 Lebanon deployment — with no real capability to train the Iraqis, build their U.S.-equipped air force, mediate ethnic disputes (as we have successfully done, for example, between local Arabs and Kurds), operate surveillance and special-ops bases, and establish the kind of close military-to-military relations that undergird our strongest alliances.

    The Obama proposal was an unmistakable signal of unseriousness. It became clear that he simply wanted out, leaving any Iraqi foolish enough to maintain a pro-American orientation exposed to Iranian influence, now unopposed and potentially lethal. Message received. Just this past week, Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurds — for two decades the staunchest of U.S. allies — visited Tehran to bend a knee to both Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

    It didn’t have to be this way. Our friends did not have to be left out in the cold to seek Iranian protection. Three years and a won war had given Obama the opportunity to establish a lasting strategic alliance with the Arab world’s second most important power.
  2. And this other one by Victor Davis Hanson about how Obama has staunchly resisted the wake-up call that last November's midterm elections were. An excerpt:
    Aside from the fact that the midterm referendum clearly illustrated that the proverbial people wanted a change in Obama’s policies and voiced that desire by, in the president’s words, “shellacking” his party, LaHood’s allegations about Republican partisanship, even if they were true, still make little sense. From January 2009 to January 2011, Obama controlled the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Congress passed everything he asked for in order to revive the economy and, he said, to create jobs: Obamacare, more stimulus, new regulations, serial $1 trillion–plus deficits, almost $5 trillion in new aggregate debt, and record extensions of unemployment insurance and expansions of food stamps. Nothing seemed to help.
  3. And lastly, I think this one should be the most upsetting. From the guys at Powerline, they talk about how the Solyndra execs ended up leaving with taxpayer money. Lots of it.  It's amazing that this company handed out such large bonuses to its executives and with hardly any passage of time, months only, they went bankrupt. An example:
    Karen Alter, senior vice president of marketing, received two $55,000 bonuses on April 15 and July 8 of this year, on top of her $250,000 annual salary.
    And there's more in there about that. 
I'll get to my experience running the Provo Halloween Half Marathon this weekend, I think. Just wanted to drop that on y'all.

This song has been my anthem this week.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Around the Web

You know what's crazy? The world oil boom that has been going on. This post talks more about it. Do you know where it's not happening? The middle east. This has huge implications on world events and all the strife that is happening overseas. It's happening mostly in Canada, the US, and Brazil. There is more oil here in the United States than in all of the middle east combined. And for all of the efforts to curb drilling in Alaska and in other places, it has been exploding in North Dakota. It is so big there that there is actually a budget surplus. They are considering repealing state income taxes because there is an overflow of money. The state has a real estate shortage, and unemployment is down to 2-3% statewide. You know what else they're good at? Education. People are flocking to North Dakota. Weird, right? You won't see me there, but it's amazing what's happening.

Only a few decades ago the middle east became relevant in global economics because of the huge oil reserves found in those countries. Those countries and their issues won't disappear, but they won't have they same effect on the rest of the world that they do now. 

This article is pretty interesting. It talks about "fracking," and how all of this money went into clean energy, but the real breakthrough came in traditional energy - oil. I'm going to post a good chunk because I know very few of you will follow the link, but it's worth learning about:

Venture-capital investing is inherently high-risk, so it shouldn’t surprise or bother anyone that many of these startups failed -- some rather spectacularly. Solyndra, the solar-cell company, for example, went bankrupt even after receiving a $535 million in loan guarantees from the U.S. Energy Department. But similar failures happened during the dot-com bubble. Remember and its infamous sock-puppet TV ads?

What is worrying is that almost a decade of energy investing hasn’t produced any home runs -- no green-energy equivalents of eBay, Amazon, Google or Facebook. The modest, incremental advances we have seen don’t perceptibly move the needle on the energy problem.

In the meantime, however, a real revolution has happened in traditional energy -- one that poses a serious challenge to companies and investors betting on alternative energy. This breakthrough is arguably one of the greatest advances in energy production since the 1960s. And it came not from a Silicon Valley company, or from MIT or Stanford, but from George Mitchell, the son of a Greek goatherd who immigrated to the U.S.

After graduating from Texas A&M, Mitchell tinkered with a variety of long-known techniques that had never been used in combination. One of these was horizontal drilling, which originated in the 19th century, was adapted for oil production by the Soviets in the 1930s and was perfected by oil drillers in the 1980s. A second idea was to inject fluid into the rock to fracture it into lots of pieces, thus allowing the gas and oil inside to flow more easily.

A third technique that Mitchell tried was adding sand to the water to help prop open the cracks that formed in the rock. Together these approaches, collectively called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” allowed drillers to inexpensively recover gas from tight shale rock.

Not so long ago, many people believed that the cost of oil and gas would rise indefinitely, thus supporting the market for alternatives. Mitchell’s miracle has changed that calculus, much to the chagrin of the Silicon Valley venture capitalists who caught the green-energy bug."

Anyway, kinda neat.

Lastly, there is this article that I shared on Facebook last night that asks the question, are public teachers underpaid? The answer, as you might guess from knowing anything about my politics, is no. It's an interesting article though, and if you read, you'll be ready to respond to all of the annoying Facebook posts about how nobody appreciates teachers and they are grossly underpaid and all that garbage. After posting it last night, a couple people commented at length on it, asking questions that were actually answered in the article itself, not the blurb that's posted in that link. What's interesting to me is how emotional the conversation gets anytime anyone mentions anything about teachers and education. It surprises me that the subject is as touchy as it is. I'm excited to watch Waiting for Superman.

For all of you who made it this far, congrats. I feel like no one ever gets through these politics/current events posts.

Is it possible for feet to look gay?

Because I think these do. I was looking for the white cotton, striped socks that were so common in the 70s and 80s, but seemingly impossible to find now, and I came across this pic. Those are supposed to be a man's feet, but those socks and that pose make me wonder.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I don't have much to offer today. I was going to post some stuff about the oil boom in the Americas and an article about pulling out of Iraq, but that is completely unrelated to the holiday at hand. My two favorite days to be driving around are on Valentine's day and Halloween. I love looking in the car next to me and seeing someone in full get-up. It's so fun. This morning while walking to my office I saw a couple of guys, one sitting on the other's shoulders, and they had a long black robe-type thing. The best was that I was approaching them from behind, so I only saw the 11 foot or so long cape draped behind as they were walking on campus. Love this day. Hope you enjoy it, too.

Don't be lame and not dress up or not go out and do anything. At the very least, watch a scary movie, read a scary story, hand out candy and try to scare kids, but just make sure you do something! I was so mad at my roommate's last year when we came back from our Halloween festivities and they were just sitting around on the couch watching The Bourne Supremacy.

Don't be lame. Have fun tonight. Play some tricks or give someone some treats. Don't be dumb.

Have a good one, y'all!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Here Comes Halloween

So what happened? I don't know. I just haven't been much for blogging lately. I am, however, quite disappointed that I haven't done more to honor what's one of my favorite holidays.

We actually haven't even really done much Halloween stuff. It wasn't until last week before we actually did anything at all related to the holiday, and usually I'm quick to post Werewolves of London on here and announce the arrival of the day on the first of the month. I haven't even read a scary novel this month like I've done for the last 3 or 4 years. I know. Something is seriously wrong.

Part of this is because we've been busy. Another part is that my wife and I have different perceptions of what Halloween should be. I like scary Halloween. I like haunted houses and scary movies. Amy likes funny Halloween. So this leads to a clash of what our costumes end up being. I'm learning how to handle it. But don't worry, someday I'll be a mummy, frankenstein, and skeleton. It's inevitable.

I think this is mostly reflected in our upbringings. She grew up in a nice household. Not that mine wasn't nice, but mine didn't have the same standards when it comes to movies and such, nor did she have an older brother 8 years her senior who had her watch all of the scary movies that he would watch. She and I were watching Scream the other night and she was hidden behind her computer screen most of the night flinching at even the sounds of the slasher film, whereas I wasn't phased at all. I don't know. I'm just densensitized in that way, I guess. I was the 10-11 year old kid who reveled in reading the scariest ghost stories I could find alone in the dark in a house by myself. I just loved that stuff. That's where our differences lie. She's nice. I'm the soulless monster who is looking for the scariest thing he can find just so he can feel some kind of emotion, even if it's only fear. That sounds like a scary story right there.

Also, I LOVED the Twilight Zone. Couldn't get enough of it. I would watch the Twilight Zone marathons all day long when it would happen on Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. I lived for that. Which brings me to my next thing: Something Halloweeny that I think is worth reposting is this short story by Jerome Bixby, which Twilight Zone episode had the same name - It's a Good Life.Such a creepy story. Here are the opening few lines:

Aunt Amy was out on the front porch, rocking back and forth in the highbacked chair and fanning herself, when Bill Soames rode his bicycle up the road and stopped in front of the house.

Perspiring under the afternoon "sun," Bill lifted the box of groceries out of the big basket over the front wheel of the bike, and came up the front walk.

Little Anthony was sitting on the lawn, playing with a rat. He had caught the rat down in the basement--he had made it think that it smelled cheese, the most rich-smelling and crumbly-delicious cheese a rat had ever thought it smelled, and it had come out of its hole, and now Anthony had hold of it with his mind and was making it do tricks.

When the rat saw Bill Soames coming, it tried to run, but Anthony thought at it, and it turned a flip-flop on the grass, and lay trembling, its eyes gleaming in small black terror.

Bill Soames hurried past Anthony and reached the front steps, mumbling. He always mumbled when he came to the Fremont house, or passed by it, or even thought of it. Everybody did. They thought about silly things, things that didn't mean very much, like two-and-two-is-four-and-twice-is-eight and so on; they tried to jumble up their thoughts to keep them skipping back and forth, so Anthony couldn't read their minds. The mumbling helped. Because if Anthony got anything strong out of your thoughts, he might take a notion to do something about it--like curing your wife's sick headaches or your kid's mumps, or getting your old milk cow back on schedule, or fixing the privy. And while Anthony mightn't actually mean any harm, he couldn't be expected to have much notion of what was the right thing to do in such cases.

That was if he liked you. He might try to help you, in his way. And that could be pretty horrible.

If he didn't like you ... well, that could be worse.

I'm also more than a little upset that I missed two different zombie runs that are held in the state of Utah. I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of these especially since I am both a runner and a fan of all things Halloween.  Night of the Running Dead is one of them.

Lastly, here is a surprisingly catchy zombie love song a friend of mine turned me onto this morning.

Have a good one, y'all!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Throughout the Universe Displayed

I haven't really gotten back into the writing portion of this blog. Not sure why. Anyway, I wanted to make a note about our most recent trip to Havasupai. Well, more the first night of the trip. We arrived sometime around midnight (the last three words are supposed to be sung to the tune of the song with that title) to the Hilltop. It was a weird evening driving through Peach Springs, finding the nearest gas station to the reservation, and then driving into Supai country. I actually wanted to write a short story about the drive, a kind of ghost story. Maybe I still will. Maybe. The parking lot was quiet, and we happened to pull into the area that is designated for tribe members only. The moon waxed that night to nearly being full. It was cold, but camping cold. The kind that you can get away from when you're zipped up in your bag, especially if you're in a tent. Our car didn't bother with the tent, which would have been a mistake except for that when I woke up in the night and stared at the night sky after the moon had set, the sky was still entirely lit up with all of the stars. It was amazing. I have this experience and same line of thinking every time I go camping. The hymn How Great Thou Art floods my mind, I wish that I knew about every star and every constellation and related mythology that litters the sky, and I think about how anyone could ever look at something like that and not believe in God. And every time I start into this train of thought, I think about what it must have been like for Abraham laying down to sleep on a nice summer night in the desert of the middle east, and it seems perfectly obvious to me why he was such a star gazer and how he so easily understood the grandeur of the heavens and man's insignificant place within it all. This time, however, I started to think more about a friend of mine who ended up leaving the Church because he couldn't reconcile his understanding of the world with the gospel and God. He shared with me a story before, probably more faith promoting than historical, about how one of the great scientists of the world, Galileo or someone else, had built a model of the galaxy with the planets and their orbits and such, and left it out for another friend/colleague of his to discover. The friend marveled at the display as he happened upon it, and then asked the scientist where it had come from, to which the scientist replied, 'what do you mean? It appeared here the same way that you assert that the actual galaxy appeared - out of thin air.' The response is meant to be absurd. Of course someone created it. Something that complex doesn't just appear. But my friend has lost sight of that. Having recently read from Alma 30, I thought about Alma's challenge to Korihor to disprove God, and then his statement that "all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator." It's so true, isn't it? It's funny to me that we're cast off in this lone and dreary world, but then you go to places like that - see the skies, the waterfalls, and the deep turquoise water - it's hard to believe that we were relegated to this space, that this is the least of all the prizes that God has for us. I am glad that Amy's one criterion for our marriage was that we go camping at least once a year. Being outdoors really helps me to get outside of myself and realize how much more is out there. In a funny way, it's nice to be made to feel insignificant like that because it lends truth to the fact of God's existence.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Honeymoon in Cancun (baby!) Video

The clips from this video were taken with the Bloggie (may it rest in peace) that Dave so kindly gave us for our wedding present. If it weren't for that little guy, we wouldn't have any pictorial or video remembrance of our honeymoon, so we're glad that we had it for the amount of time that we did...even if it was only about 9 days.

Anyway, this vid feels very home movie to me a la the Wonder Years where everything is sped up and not the best quality, but fun nonetheless. Here you go.

Honeymoon by silva888

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Havasupai Video

I kind of disappeared there for a bit, eh? We went to Havasupai last weekend and tonight we had a dinner with everyone to swap photos and such, so I wanted to wait to debut this video until I showed it to everyone else. It really is fun figuring this stuff out, and I think with every video I"m learning more about this stuff. I've got myself a fun little project upcoming that will hopefully improve some of the quality of these videos.

Anyway, without further adieu, here it is! Voila!

Havasupai by silva888

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Daily Dozen

I think for almost the last year now I've been looking at Nat'l Geo Traveler's Daily Dozen. They are reader/viewer submitted photographs from around the world, and they have new ones each week. I thought that I used to like photos, and then I met the Walton family, and now my appreciation just doesn't compare.

Anyway, we've had a fun house guest these last few days and he was showing us the other night some of his latest pics. They, of course, are really good. So impressive.

Anyway (again), I came back this week to the daily dozen and some of these I thought were just so cool. Just yesterday we finally got back our GoPro after sending it in for some warranty servicing, and for a moment I actually thought that it might have been lost in transit, but it showed up in our mailbox much to my delight. I'm so excited to have it in Havasupai this weekend.

So this first photo was actually taken from a GoPro sequence. How awesome is this?

The eerie Northern lights:
Although the size of the waves might make you think that these kids are about to get swallowed up and drown in the depths of the sea, you can see from their expressions that those kids are actually playing in the waves:
I'm really excited to be headed down to Havasupai this weekend. We have a fun group, and it's just a good setting for some great photography and videos to be had. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Feels Like the First Time

I heard about this over the weekend, but only just now saw the video. This is probably the sweetest thing you'll ever see.

Here's an article that has a little bit more to say about it. The woman speaks very clearly and in the article she mentions that she's always worked really hard at her grammar and speaking so that she would fit in. It's just such a sweet moment. I dare you not to cry.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Say it Frenchie, "Colmar!"

We left for Colmar, France on Monday morning. The forecast suggested that we pick another day, but with the rest of our week already planned out, there wasn't much maneuvering we could do so we went ahead and made the trip to Colmar.

That was the exact right decision. It turned out to be a beautiful day and although I really did love the rich greens and beautiful mountains and countryside that Switzerland offered us in our weekend there, I really fell for Colmar with its half-timbered buildings and bright colors and canals. The town really does look like an amusement park setting with the buildings slightly leaning slant-ways after having stood for hundreds of years, the building facades shining bright colors, and French youth everywhere. It's just a beautiful little town.

It's in a part of France that sits near the German border, and over the years has exchanged hands between the two countries a number of times so it has characteristics of each country. What's really fun about traveling to all of these places is just the novelty of everything. There's nothing like the "first time" and when it turns out to be something so exciting to begin with, it only heightens the experience.

We spent the day walking through the town listening to Rick Steves' narration. Lunch was served at a little shop with outdoor seating, which is so very typical of European dining, and some partook of some savory sausage crepes while I had a delightful grilled panini. Most of the day was spent walking the streets and just looking around. Rick Steves suggested we visit the Unterlinden Museum as it was one of his favorites. He set my expectations high, and while the museum was interesting, I thought there would be more. More of what, I'm not sure. Just more. It was still good though, but that was towards the end of the day my dogs were barkin'. We met up with the rest of the Johnsons at the park that was situated near where the cars were parked.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Great, Great Night for Baseball (not so much for Boston....YES!)

Okay, let's get something straight. My team had nothing to do with last night's drama, but that's just the magic of sports. I was trying to tell this to some friends of mine the other day. It's not just the competition, or the excitement of your team. It's everything that's involved with it. There are teams and rivalries, big names and snubs, and the most amount of drama you can imagine. The most amazing part of it all? You can't script any of this stuff. Sports are so much better than anything else you will ever watch or participate it because it not only becomes a part of you, the craziest things happen and you can never anticipate that kind of outcome.

A team with over $160 million in payroll, the Boston Red Sox, were practically handed the World Series trophy before the season even began, and for four months the regular season, all those prognosticators looked to be spot on. And then September happened.

The team that had been the best suddenly became the worst. They had a 9 game lead for a playoff spot and then when 7-19 in September to fall into a tie with the Tampa Bay Rays who have a quarter the Red Sox payroll. 6 months of regular season play and a 162 game season come down to one last game for two teams battling for either a playoff berth or a playoff for the playoff berth. It's unreal. I had to teach my class while everything began to unfold, but I was checking on the scores all along the way. When my class started, the Rays were losing 5-0 and Boston was up 3-2. Finish class and all of a sudden Tampa is down 7-6 with one inning, and Boston and the Orioles are in rain delay. Race home to find Tampa has tied it. Flash to the Sox-O's and watch their collapse in the bottom of the 9th inning. 4-3 Orioles. Game change to Tampa Bay in the midst of Evan Longoria's at-bat when he hits a home run in the bottom of the 12th to win the game and get the wild card spot that the Sox had choked up. As close as that is to read in text was how it happened in reality. 3 minutes after the Sox blew their 9th inning lead Longoria hit a walk-off home run. Unbelievable.

I wish there was a better quality video, but this will suffice. The guys on Sportscenter are always kind of juvenile, but I loved Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt because you can see that their reactions are so genuine. And Scott Van Pelt's lines are priceless. My favorite that's not in this video was, "I wanna vomit and I don't even have a dog in the fight."

"Sports are better than anything else. Always." Truer words have never been spoken. I remember when Bo Jackson destroyed his hip in the playoff game against the Bengals when I was 8 or 9. I remember when Francisco Cabrera knocked in Sid Bream with David Justice running up his back in 1991 to win the NLCS in the bottom of the ninth. I remember a lot of sports night. And I'll remember this one for many years to come. Just amazing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Europe Video

My first attempt at putting together one of these videos. I'm no Dan, but this was fun. I'm really looking forward to Havasupai now.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A few things...

Oh man. Is it a perfect Fall season or what? I can't believe the weather lately. I had my first full week of running last week since probably weeks before the Deseret News race and it felt amazing. I had a six mile run up towards the mountain near us and it was awesome. Climbed 400 feet, sun was setting, and I was just cruising. It felt perfect. I started thinking while on that run that I might never train intensely enough to ever qualify for Boston or do an Ironman, but I think I will always run, and probably always run marathons for as long as my body and time will allow. It feels so good to just be out there moving, sweating, and just feeling good. I'll have more about how to get started running, or to run more, in a post forthcoming. I've been thinking about that one for awhile.

I read the most interesting article today about Bush 43. You can find the article here. W is a very impressive man. I haven't gotten into his biography that my brother gave me for Christmas, but now I'm really looking forward to it. About Obama, Bush said, “No matter who wins, when he hears what I hear every morning, it will change him.” I thought that was a really telling line about why Obama has pursued the foreign policy that he has, and this was something I said even before O got elected to office. Getting daily reports of national security threats changes your perspective on things. But how about a brief excerpt from the lengthy article:
The president gestured for me to sit facing the beautiful, sunny vista, and he sat facing me, his back to the yard. We lit up, puffed on our cigars, caught up on family news, talked briefly about my memoir and my column in the Post-Dispatch, which he had read. I could think of only one question to ask him: “What is it like to be president of the United States?”

President Bush leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees, and stared at me intently. “Are we off the record?”


And he began to talk—and talk and talk for what must have been nearly three hours. I’ve never told anyone the specifics of what he said that night, not even my wife or closest friends. I did not make notes later and have only my memory. In the journalism world, off the record is off the record. But I have repeatedly described the hours as “amazing,” “remarkable,” “stunning.”

President Bush—and he was, no doubt, by then a real president—talked expansively about Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, China, Korea, Russia. He talked about his reelection strategies, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, WMD and how he still believed they would be found, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Vladimir Putin. He talked about his aides and how tough their lives were, the long hours and stress and time away from their families, about how difficult it was for his daughters. He said that compared with everyone around a president, the president had the easiest job. He was the same confident, brash man I had met years ago, but I no longer sensed any hint of the old anger or the need for self-aggrandizement.

As he talked, I even thought about an old Saturday Night Live skit in which an amiable, bumbling President Ronald Reagan, played by Phil Hartman, goes behind closed doors to suddenly become a masterful operator in total charge at the White House. The transformation in Bush was that stunning to me. Perhaps a half hour into the conversation, we were joined by Bush’s campaign media adviser, Mark McKinnon, whom Bush had nicknamed “M-Kat.”

“M-Kat used to be a Democrat, too,” Bush quipped, referring to me. “I converted him.”

After about an hour, Bush said that Laura was out of town and asked if McKinnon and I would like to join him for dinner. We did, of course, and we moved into the residence dining room, where Bush sat at the head of the table, McKinnon and I on either side, while the president’s black cat, Willie, lounged on the far end. Really, he just kept talking. I thought perhaps it was my naiveté that was making the evening seem so remarkable. But when the president was called away from the table for a few minutes, I asked McKinnon if working in the White House was as demanding as Bush had said. He said it was, and then he got a sort of faraway look in his eyes. “But then you have an evening like tonight,” I remember him saying. I left the White House in a daze. I even got lost in the pitch-black darkness and had to drive around the small parking lot for a few minutes to find my way to the gate. I called my wife, and she asked how the evening had gone. I couldn’t answer.

“I’ve never known you to be speechless,” she said, genuinely surprised.

I finally said, “It was like sitting and listening to Michael Jordan talk basketball or Pavarotti talk opera, listening to someone at the top of his game share his secrets.”
Cool, right?

My teams mostly fared well over the weekend. The Angels shot themselves in the foot by giving up 4 runs in the 9th to the lowly A's to fall two games back. Darn that Jordan Walden. His 10 blown saves cost them the playoffs.

But BYU did great and we have the luxury of deciding on a whim to go to the games. Without tickets or any advance thought, we showed up at the stadium and bought tickets for $5 a piece off some guy. Fun game.

Even better? I think I can start to hold my head up high after the Raiders beat the Jets yesterday. Darren McFadden is the real deal. If he stays healthy, he's an MVP candidate, and I don't think I'm one to throw around that kind of claim lightly.

Lastly, this song. I can't get enough of the new Sublime album. They return to fill a void in music that only they can fill. Great punk/reggae sound. Love it.

Have a good one!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Warren and Obama Are Dummies

Hopefully you've heard of some of the news recently regarding Obama and his recent proposals. I'm not even sure how else to label them. Economic? Reform? Jobs things? Not sure. Anyway, much publicity has been directed towards Warren Buffets comment about how the rich need to shoulder more of the burden for government revenues, i.e. taxes, but his own situation is very unique indeed. The most controversial comment that Buffet made recently was about how he pays less taxes than does his secretary.

Thanks goodness for these guys and their dumb comments, right? Because of them, a lot of people have been fact-checking recently because it just doesn't seem to make sense. How can one of the richest people in the world be getting away with paying less than someone who maybe doesn't even make .01% of what we makes in a year? It's jarring to think, so as a result, a lot of people followed up on it.

This story from MSNBC gives a good overview. The truth is the wealthy bear most of the burden. From that article:
The 10 percent of households with the highest incomes pay more than half of all federal taxes. They pay more than 70 percent of federal income taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Economist Larry Kudlow elaborates further saying that the top 1% pay 40% of all the taxes, and 50% of income tax filers don't pay any taxes at all.  He also says in this post:
No one even knows what the targeted group is going to be. A New York Times story suggests that the Buffet tax will hit three-tenths of 1 percent of taxpayers, which could be 450,000 people out of 144 million tax returns.

A Wall Street Journal story suggests the Buffet tax would have hit just 22,000 people in 2009, those households making more than $1 million annually and paying less than 15 percent of income in federal income taxes. According to the Tax Policy Center, doubling the tax burden of those 22,000 would raise just $19 billion a year. How silly is this?


And Paul Ryan makes another key point: Tax investment more, and you’ll get less of it. If these kinds of tax hikes are ever passed, the economy will be doomed to stagnation over the long-run. Penalizing incentives will do that. And lower growth means higher deficits.

Why in the world doesn’t President Obama follow the overwhelming consensus for fundamental tax reform to lower marginal rates and broaden the income base? Economists of all stripes agree on this.

At the end of the day, it sure looks like our president wants to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and large corporations in order to spend more and enlarge the size and scope of government. From the standpoint of jobs, growth, and prosperity, it just won’t work.

And I thought this blogpost was especially insightful from Mark Perry over at Carpe Diem. He cites a couple of WSJ articles that I can no longer find. But here are some excerpts from the post:
(WSJ: Millionaires Go Missing)"Those with $10 million or more in reported income fell to 8,274 in 2009 from 18,394 in 2007, a 55% drop. As a result, their tax payments tanked by 51% (see chart, from $110.8 billion in 2007 to only $53.7 billion in 2009). These disappearing millionaires go a long way toward explaining why federal tax revenues have sunk to 15% of GDP in recent years. The loss of millionaires accounts for at least $130 billion of the higher federal budget deficit in 2009."

(Perry) Even taking every last penny from every individual making more than $10 million per year would only reduce the nation's deficit by 12 percent and the debt by 2 percent.  There's simply not enough wealth in the community of the rich to erase this country's problems by waving some magic tax wand."

Bottom Line: As the WSJ points out, "If Warren Buffett wants to reduce the deficit, he should encourage policies to create more millionaires, not campaign to tax them more." 

And here's another post where Perry relates a Canadien perspective on the Buffet case. His point is mainly that Buffet pays too little in taxes, not because he's so rich, but because the US tax system is so poor.
The Obama plan to simply increase personal income tax rates on the rich and hike capital gains and dividend taxes will hurt rather than help growth. Higher personal tax rates will reduce the incentive to invest by entrepreneurs, who are most responsible for growth.  Capital gains and dividends (subject to federal-state personal tax rate of 20%) are currently highly taxed at more than 50% once taking into account the 39% corporate income tax rate that reduces the amount of profits distributed to shareholders or reinvested by the company. More double taxation of dividends and capital gains hurts the economy.

Already the highest-income taxpayers — about 5% of taxpayers — pay almost 60% of U.S. income taxes. The bottom half of the population pays only 3%. So any tax increase imposed on high-income earners should be in areas where some, like Warren Buffett, are paying far less than other wealthy individuals. Warren Buffett’s 17% tax rate results only because he gets a large number of breaks that other wealthier Americans, like doctors, cannot use.

Which gets to the main point. The United States needs major tax reform, rather than playing at the edges to make the system more progressive than it is already. U.S. income taxes are complex, inefficient and highly unfair. The statutory rates, once taking into account federal and state income and payroll taxes, are already high, even with the Bush tax cuts.  The problem is that too many targeted preferences reduce the amount of taxes paid, undermining economic growth.

The list of special preferences in the United States is mindboggling and could fill a book on how not to run a tax system. A major tax reform that lowers rather than increases personal and corporate tax rates and eliminates a number of special preferences would make the tax system more efficient and fair, and it would grow revenue over time by growing the economy.

Anyway, if you didn't watch it last week, watch this video now. It does a really good job encapsulating what needs to happen with tax reform and why.