27 May 2009
25 April 2009
18 February 2009
I gave Kristen three gifts, and she gave me permission to share her favorite one with the world. Let me preface all of this with a word of caution: if you have not seen the movie Nacho Libre, the chances of you understanding what I have done are slim.
Microsoft has this new experimental software called SongSmith, and I think it is pretty sweet. You can sing into a mic and the software will detect the key you're in and generously supply you with a solid-gold karaoke backup track.
Instead of my own voice, I injected Nacho's heart-felt ballad to Encarnacion into the SongSmith. This is what it pumped out.
* Note: It loses the beat halfway through, but don't fret; it finds the beat again just in time.
02 February 2009
We'll miss you, Maurice.
18 January 2009
We picked up Maurice (named after the french phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty) from the Michigan Weimaraner Rescue yesterday. We not only got a great dog but also went to P.F. Chang's and Wendy's. All in the same, awesome day.
Maurice is settling into his new home and routine. He's an older fellow, between 4 and 6 years, but when you see him leaping in and out of the ample snow in our backyard it's hard to think of him as anything but a puppy.
Many people out there (you know who you are) contributed to the Maurice fund in various ways. Thanks. And Janell, he wore his coat on the walk today and was by far the most fashionable dog in the vicinity.
08 January 2009
03 December 2008
18 November 2008
Cook up a beet.
Add in some fresh bass.
Add texture with some major and minor gourds (stay away from diminished gourds).
Mix in a sweet mellow tea.
Layer some hominy over the top.
Mix until it reaches the desired consistency. Remember that it's all a matter of taste.
Do this over and over again until you master it.
Now it is ready for public consumption!
13 November 2008
Timp in the Fall.
While living in Utah, I used to climb Mount Timpanogos on a regular basis. My life came close to ending more than once on the slopes of Timp (e.g. falling into a cravasse, almost sliding off a frozen waterfall, getting caught in a violent electrical storm near the peak). This only made me want to go back more and more; I wanted to conquer every inch of the mountain. I lost count after the 30th time. After a while that mountain started to feel like my friend, and I would miss it like I missed a friend. I'd miss the heavy, wet air in the Aspen Grove valley; I'd miss the refreshing break of First Falls, and how the paved trail would gradually submit to stone and root; I'd miss the dizzying cliffs looming on every side, just far enough away that smoke from the latest forest fire would collect and give the slabs and clinging pine trees a hazy sheen; I'd miss the smell of fresh peppermint and sage, the crunch of pine-needle or the clack of shale under foot; I'd miss the comfort of sitting for lunch at the old shack overlooking Emerald Lake; and I'd miss the consistent burst of freedom as I perched on the peak looking down on the flat, busy valley filled with miniature people with miniature destinations. Everything just felt bigger and more substantial up there.
During this John Muir-ish phase of my life (I hope I hope it's not dead yet; just give me a mountain), I was a bit more prone to poetry. Recent events brought to mind one of the poems that I wrote in a fit of frustration over the fact that I always had to come back from the mountain, back to what I was trying to escape in the first place. It's a poem about trying to straddle a line. I hope it brings a needed change of tone to this blog. I don't consider myself a poet, so judge charitably if you must judge.
sometimes I drive until there’s no more road,
toss the world into my briefcase, seal it up,
and step out of life into life where things are
where pines bow to sprouts in their might
and waterfalls don't boast to dewdrops of strength
and streams don't care to compare their length
but wind and wash and splash bubble run
and giggling trickle when water-time’s done
so when I ascend in the lines laced on stone
to cloudrings and spires and being alone
on the peak in the hall of the mountain king
and with him behold vibrant, prolific spring,
I often extend with my finger and touch
the lip of a petal, a blossom or such,
when then from my finger fade flesh, blood, and bone
so I see as I’m seen and I know as I’m known
and this wildflower withdraws her disguise
to welcome my newly elysian eyes.
Blushing, she curtseys in windbending grace
then fades back into her floral-mask face
I look at my hand, I look at the tree
and notice that he has been studying me
he knows I have pierced it, the thickness of flesh,
if but for a moment, my self-speak is fresh
like something I babbled a day after birth
or eighty-one eons before there was earth.
I speak to the king who is there at my side
we walk in the glory of reverent earth
and witness her ceaseless demise and rebirth.
I stare at my mask of the world
asleep in my briefcase where I left it curled
so foreign, so alien, dirty and cold;
I suppose I’ll wear it until I'm sufficiently wise
to live with the king in his natural land
while walking and touching the world with my hand.
June 16, 2002
11 November 2008
* I would be happy to have a guest post something of a similar nature that gives the LDS a chance to see the world from a different perspective.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God's eternal plan.
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. "Children are an heritage of the Lord" (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
09 November 2008
So much harm has been done on both sides because of a failure to understand what Prop 8 is really about. I am so deeply saddened by the events of the last few days. In my honest opinion, Prop 8 never should have been proposed – and the CA Supreme Court’s In Re Marriage Cases decision shouldn’t have been what it was. Both were rash and reactionary. I don’t blame anybody for being angry about the passing of Prop 8, but I am sad that the LDS church has been targeted as a scapegoat toward which all the fury of the last days has been launched.
There are two intertwining pictures (moral and legal) of the situation that we need to see separately before we can see the whole scene clearly.
The moral picture:
The unfortunate truth is that, on a moral level, the LDS worldview is an affront to the queer worldview, and vice versa. There doesn’t seem to be any getting around this. We would all like to downplay this and instead emphasize the love that we have for all people regardless of their sexuality, but when you get down to brass tacks, the LDS doctrine of eternal marriage is so foundational, so central that there is no chance of changing it without entirely distorting the entire LDS worldview. This doctrine is that marriage is a covenant between God, man, and woman. All three elements must be there for it to work. This covenant, if the couple is faithful to it, will extend their relationship past death and into the next life, for eternity. And just as we are the spiritual children of God, this couple will spend the rest of eternity creating spiritual offspring and working to lift them and bring them joy. But creating offspring requires a man and a woman. Where do gay people fit into this picture? They have been given a particularly difficult test, and must fight against their natural attractions, hope and work for change, and trust in God. It isn’t a sin to be attracted to the same sex—but it is a sin to act upon this attraction. According to the LDS worldview, what doesn’t sound fair in this life will always be weighed in the balance by God.
The queer worldview obviously doesn’t recognize any reason to not pursue romantic relationships with those of the same sex. There is no reason to think that gay attraction is different than straight attraction, speaking in terms of intensity, richness, and power to motivate. The love two gay people have for each other is equally life-defining, and their commitments are just as meaningful. These are plain facts, and most thoughtful LDS folks recognize this. But to ask the LDS church (or any other church) to accept these facts as an argument that they should allow gays to be married within their temples and chapels would be nothing less than asking them to render their entire belief system meaningless.
I’ve focused on the LDS as an example (since the LDS church seems to be the primary target of demonstrations lately), but much of what has been said about the LDS can be said about many other Christian religions, even if they don’t share the doctrine of eternal marriage. There are many worldviews, most of them religious, that are simply incommensurable with the queer worldview.
These are the foundations of the so-called “culture war” in its present incarnation. Above all, it is a battle for a certain moral status. Nobody wants to have their most precious beliefs and practices labeled as immoral. If a gay lifestyle is moral, then it is immoral for religions to exclude them on the basis of what makes their lifestyle qualify as gay. On the other hand, if such exclusion is moral, it is because a gay lifestyle is immoral.
This leads to embarrassing and inflammatory exchanges. A common one that I see goes as follows: A Christian strikes a simile between homosexuality and, say, pedophilia. This is the worst possible thing to say to someone who is gay. The Christian is clumsily trying to make the point that, according to the Christian view, a gay lifestyle is a kind of sexual sin. Meanwhile, the gay person has just been compared to a pedophile, and can’t help but perceive the Christian as immorally intolerant.
On the other hand, here is another common exchange: A gay person mocks the Christian for the outdated, unenlightened, and dangerous belief that correct standards of moral conduct come from a God. The assumption—sometimes explicitly stated--is that the Christian cannot think independently. Meanwhile, the Christian can’t help but find confirmation that the moral pathway the gay person has chosen is a result of self-absorption; a result of being distanced from God. As these sorts of exchanges become more common (and they are, thanks to the ubiquity and the anonymity of the internet), the framing of the issue becomes solidified and the opposing views become mutually reinforcing.
Now, some gay people will be fine with the Christian position. They will see their orientation as just one more effect of mortality; as something that can and must be resisted; as something that can change through the power of God. On the other hand, some Christians (gay and straight) will be fine with the queer position. They will see no reason for gays to change, and no reason for the church to exclude gays from religious ceremonies and practices. I feel like we need to listen closely to these people who are managing to live in both worlds. They may have something to teach us about how to defang a discourse that is becoming increasingly militant.
The legal picture:
I’m no legal expert, but I’ve tried to study and understand the layout of the legal issues surrounding Prop 8. This is my limited understanding of it. Skip to the end if you just want my analysis of it.
· 1999. CA State Legislature enacts legislation that creates a statewide domestic partnership registry. Domestic partners are defined as “two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring” (Family Code 297). There are numerous requirements for registration: age, living situation and expenses, must be same-sex or over 62 yrs old, unrelated by blood, not married or part of a domestic partnership, etc. This legislation grants to same-sex domestic partnerships most of the legal rights and protections enjoyed by civil marriages. Some substantive rights (state health benefits for partners and hospital visitation rights, for example) remain only the rights of civil marriages.
· March 7, 2000. The electorate passes Prop 22, which adds a bit of language to the California Constitution’s Family Code (section 308.5): “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Since 1992, Family Code section 300 (and prior to that, the Civil Code section 4100) has stated: “Marriage is a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capable of making that contract is necessary. Consent alone does not constitute marriage. Consent must be followed by the issuance of a license and solemnization as authorized by this division, except as provided by Section 425 and Part 4 (commencing with Section 500).”
· 2001, 2002. Legislature slightly expands the rights of domestic partnerships.
· 2003. Comprehensive domestic partnership legislation with the California Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, the provisions of which “shall be construed liberally in order to secure to eligible couples who register as domestic partners the full range of legal rights, protections and benefits, as well as all of the responsibilities, obligations, and duties to each other, to their children, to third parties and to the state, as the laws of California extend to and impose upon spouses.” (Italics added.) (Stats. 2003, ch. 421, § 15.) . In short, the only difference between a marriage and a domestic partnership is the name by which it is called. (There was a lingering discrepancy in the way taxes were filed, but legislation eradicated this with an amendment in 2006. Later, nine other legal differences—not necessarily in terms of imbalanced rights—were enumerated by the CA Supreme Court in In Re Marriage Cases (2008, pp. 42-43). These were largely seen as technicalities by both sides of the debate.)
· 2004. In Lockyer v. City and County of San Francisco, the CA Supreme Court decides that SF public officials acted unlawfully by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This was appealed. The Court of Appeals upheld the decision. This decision was challenged, bringing the case to the CA Supreme Court.
· 2008. In In Re Marriage Cases, the CA Supreme Court (in a 4-3 decision) rules that marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens by the privacy, free speech, and due process clauses of the California Constitution. To justify sidestepping the current definition of marriage (as defined in the Family Code), two steps were necessary: (1) they established precedent with Perez v. Sharp, in which the CA SC ruled that the failure to recognize interracial marriages was a breach of the constitutional right “to join in marriage with the person of one’s choice” (at the time, the CA Constitution stated that marriages of a white person “with negroes or mulattoes are declared to be illegal and void”), and (2) homosexuals seeking same-sex marriage were found to meet the requirements for quasi-suspect classification, which allowed the court to apply the strict scrutiny standard. This standard is applied when a category of people are deemed to be discriminated against by existing legislation. Dissenting opinions questioned not the moral trajectory of the decision, but the judiciary propriety of it.
· 2008. Proposition 8 is passed by a 52% to 48% majority. It amends the state constitution with the following language: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
The most basic summary of the situation I can muster is this: the California Supreme Court entered the fray of the culture war by granting same-sex couples the right to marry because of the validation and sense of approval that it would bring to the union of same-sex couples. Proposition 8 is largely (but not entirely) a response by the other side of the culture war to deny that affirmation. It is also a response to what many perceive as judicial activism on the part of the CA Supreme Court.
Now, my personal view: In light of the fact that the most recent research has shown that children raised by same-sex couples show no deficits in any of the relevant categories by which society measures the success, value, and contribution of one of its members (http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/policy/parents.html); in light of my opinion that, in the vast majority of cases, sexual orientation is not something that is consciously chosen; in light of my expectation that, while scientific research isn’t presently conclusive with regards to the hormonal or neuro-anatomical foundations of homosexuality, it will be in the near future; in light of my conviction that the moral and religious beliefs of one group—even if it is the majority—should not dictate the rights and freedoms of another group (so long as those rights and freedoms do not impinge upon the rights and freedoms of anybody else, and I don’t see why they need to in this case); and in light of my conviction that the historical and cultural values associated with marriage can only make spouses better people, I support the right of same-sex couples to be married.
Many members of the church will disagree with me, and may even think that I’m displaying a lack of trust in the direction of the Prophet. I certainly don’t see it that way. The reasons for which the Prophet and Apostles urged Californians to vote ‘yes’ on Prop 8 have not, in my view, been articulated as having originated from a desire to exclude gays and lesbians from any sort of state-offered right or validation. The doctrine of the church is clear on this point: we should not seek to impose our moral or religious views on other groups by legislative means. Since this is largely what Prop 8 is about, I can only assume that the motivation to vote ‘yes’ rather originates from an effort to protect the interests of the Church.
At any rate, I can envision a situation where secular society affirms the value and validity of same-sex marriages, while the rights and privileges of religious institutions are untouched—most importantly in this case, the privilege of making moral distinctions based on sexual conduct.
This is why I voted “Yes” on Proposition 8. Let me explain. I sincerely want marriage to be extended to same-sex couples, but not like this. There are plausible arguments that if Prop 8 hadn’t passed, a number of churches and religious institutions would have been forced to drop any distinction between a same-sex marriage and a heterosexual marriage. There is no fear that this would, say, force churches to marry same-sex couples. However, there is a fear that, for example, the adoption agency run by LDS Family Services would lose its state licensing and would be forced to shut down (something like this happened to a Catholic agency in Massachusetts). Many religious schools may have lost tax-exemption. There are other fears, but it this category of side-effects that seems most likely and most unacceptable to me. And then there is the original In Re Marriage Cases decision. Much of the reasoning was sound, but I tend to agree with the dissenting opinions: the court overextended its reach and engaged in judicial activism.
I fully expect same-sex marriage to happen in the next 10 years. It will happen. I hope it can be done with an eye towards protecting religious freedoms. I hope it can be done through the legislative branch, not the judicial branch. The culture war has boiled over and become a legal battle. These differences in moral judgment won’t go away soon, and we need to be expertly careful in how we go about securing the rights of all people to hold and express these moral judgments. In the meantime, I hope we can all agree that this is just a sad situation, and that we should all work to understand each other a little more, and be angry with each other a little less.
05 November 2008
Because PBS (pork-barrel spending) is such a crucial issue, a few lab buddies and I have committed our time and efforts to the cause of PorkBusters -- a political action committee devoted to the eradication of earmarks and PBS. We also happen to find the imagery of the term "PORK BARREL" quite hilarious. Try whispering it into an unexpecting colleague's ear, and you'll get a glimpse of the joy that we feel on a daily basis here at the lab. We guarantee that your colleague will also find it comical, and will only respect you more.
We had a pork-barrel party on election night. Only pork products were consumed, and we made sure that all of the funds used to purchase the goods for the party were earmarked from our stipends and scholarships.
While watching the election results roll in, the conversation turned to the topic of the American flag. As Canadians, they were curious about why so many Americans are anxious to display their flag. I did my best to explain the special brand of patriotism that belongs to Americans. It got me thinking.
When Kris and I went to Europe a few years ago, I attached a Canadian flag patch to my backpack. A number of folks had suggested doing this to avoid catching any of the fabled anti-American sentiment that is so rampant in places like Paris. I don't know if it helped, but I did it -- I tried to hide the fact that I was American.
I'll be honest. I still find politics repugnant. As I listened to McCain's beautiful concession and Obama's inspiring acceptance, I wondered why that tone couldn't have been the tone of the campaign. Why not? Are so few American's swayed by generosity, honesty, and love, and so many Americans swayed by hate, suspicion, and fear that those who would lead our country are now counseled that the most effective campaign strategy is to drag an opponent's name through the mud? Why does this work so well? Forget the promises that are impossible to keep. Forget the irritating slogans and catch-phrases. Forget the emotional fortress that candidates, of necessity, build up in order to survive the pervasive, invasive scrutiny of the press -- but which simultaneously leads to a detached (and detaching) calculus that weighs the political ramifications of every . . . single . . . word. No wonder George Bush's ability to articulate his thoughts has steadily deteriorated over the last eight years. Forget all of this. The one thing that aggravates me the most about politics is the meaninglessness of the discourse -- on both sides of the podium. It's gotten bad: I've caught myself trying to deconstruct what a candidate means when he says he is a "straight-shooter." Call me old-fashioned; I just don't think semantic flexibility is a skill we should seek in the person who makes some of the most important promises on earth. I don't put all of the blame on the politicians themselves. After all, it works. Maybe that's what frustrates me most.
Now I'll be even more honest. Living outside of the US for this past year has given me time enough to reflect upon the past eight years, and to do it from a pseudo-outsider's perspective. There have been times when pictures of that American flag conjured up feelings of embarrasment, doubt, and cynicism. I'm not the type to demonize George Bush and his staff, but some heart-breaking mistakes were made. Who is America? Do we break international agreements and torture our prisoners? Do we fight (bravely) in a war that was started under false pretenses? Are we reviving imperialism? Are we going to define ourselves through a war on a group of terrorists? Do we really care about the poor in our country? Do we try our best to give immigrants the same freedoms we all enjoy? Do we care about this beautiful earth and the animals that share it with us? Do we do our best to both understand and teach our children about that beautiful earth, the history of mankind's works upon it, and the cultural skills and arts that help us see aspects of that beauty and history that are difficult for us to see? Do we care about the world outside of our borders? Are we really so vain and greedy that we're willing to live a lifestyle that we can't possibly afford? Is this America?
I suspect there are many good and honest people that haven't had this dilemma. But there are enough good and honest people -- Americans and non-Americans -- that have had this dilemma, so much so that an immense pressure has been building up, and we just heard a deafening cathartic sigh last night. I've been honest about my distaste for politics and the bleakness of my recent views of the US. I don't know if I'll ever enjoy listening to a politician tell me why I should make him my leader, but I do know that the American flag has taken on a new significance for me over the past few weeks. Last night I watched the American people solidify a sense of America's identity that has been fuzzy for some time now. I'm glad Obama won. He'll do a great job. But the reason that the American flag makes me warm inside isn't because of Obama. It's because of the Americans who gathered in the streets, lined up at the booths, and put a black man at the head of a country whose history needed this. I love my country.
I'm gonna go out and buy an American flag as soon as I can find one here in Canada.
* Side note 1: My sincerest apologies if you started singing Neil Diamond while reading this.
* Side note 2: Ever since I've started getting more vocal about my love for the states, I've been getting more and more emails from a Russian dating agency telling me that there are lots of Russian women who want to date me. Most of them are named TatianaG, apparently. I have little doubt that these women are, in fact, spies. One hundred points to Russia for creativity. MEMO TO OBAMA: If you're anxious to protect America, forget about Al Qaeda. Focus instead on the TatianaG cell.
* Addendum to side note 2: I must make it clear that these emails are unsolicited spam. I have the best wife in the world, and I hate borscht. And I hated Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. And Putin sounds like a euphemism for passing gas. And Sputnik is a stupid name for a satellite. All points awarded to Russia are hereby rescinded. Sorry for any confusion.