Thursday, December 2, 2010

"You are not a billiard ball"

I first came across the delightful work "Eternal Man" (by Truman G. Madsen) on my mission. Unfortunately, in the intervening seven years (really ... seven?!), I've had little opportunity to revisit this excellent volume.

Until now.

Thanks to the ever-so-convenient Kindle, I recently rediscovered the magic of this booklet, which is chock full of delightful lessons and thought-provoking commentary.

Take, for instance, the following excerpt:
Freedom was not created. You are, and always will be, independent in that stage of development to which your voluntary decisions and divine powers have led. There are limits all along the way to what you can be and do. But you are not a billiard ball. No power in the universe can coerce your complete assent or dissent.

And another (just for good measure):
There is no creation 'from nothing.' There is ordering of elements: movement from simple to complex; growth from one degree to a greater degree, and from part to whole.

You are not just a product; you are an originator. In space you are coexistent with God. In time, you are coeternal with God.

Essentially, this little publication takes the Prophet Joseph Smith's teachings on premortal existence and applies them to (and uses them to answer) numerous problems posed by religion and philosophy over the last few thousand years.

For anyone interested in a better understanding of what it means to be an eternal being, I couldn't recommend the book enough. After all, where else would you find a host of well-reasoned arguments allowing you to stand up, face this crazy world and yell, "I am NOT a billiard ball!"?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fortune Tellers ...

Back at USU, my roommates and I decided to invite some other Bridgerlanders over to make fortune cookies (or it may have been that the other Bridgerlanders and I invited my roommates to join us ... not certain).

In preparation for that lovely event, my roommate (Benjamin Franklin Cummings, a.k.a. Ben of the Silly Laugh) and I set about creating some fun and genre-bending fortunes to stuff inside those delectable shells. As I was giving my inbox a much needed cleaning out, I stumbled across a few of these little gems and, in the interest of nostalgia and humanity, present them here for your viewing pleasure:

(1) On the side of the road, you will find a gift for your brother
(2) A new shirt will attract a stray flock of doves
(3) Beware the Ides of March ... or Brutus ... or both
(4) Neo-Nazi propagandists will give you legal trouble
(5) Swimming fully clothed will save your dog’s life
(6) Sneezing in class will incur the wrath of your professor
(7) You will be assigned to a new partner from a foreign land
(8) A long-forgotten math test will give you an ulcer (literally)
(9) Painting the walls blue will bring good fortune to you
(10) You will find love on the short bus
(11) A dead butterfly in Lichenstein will influence your stock options
(12) Your second class on Tuesday will bring a smiling face from a kind heart
(13) Under the light of the full moon, you will cross your future nemesis
(14) You will enjoy an exotic camel ride through Arizona
(15) A run-in with pagan idols will leave you naked
(16) A break down on the road less traveled will lead to fortune on the highway to hell
(17) Capturing snowflakes on the end of a pencil will guarantee grad school entrance
(18) You will find success working nights at McDonald's
(19) A completed Bachelors degree will give you nothing but trouble
(20) Seeking to become a True Aggie* will bring disastrous results

As you can tell from these tongue-in-cheek send ups, Ben and I saw fortune cookies (and astrology and ... etc.) was all a bunch of flim flam ... but at least we could turn it into some fairly funny flim flam ;)

* NOTE: Look here for a discussion on the hallowed tradition of becoming a True Aggie.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Those Wacky, Star-Crossed Lovers ...

In scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo - that impetuous boy and star-crossed lover - introduces himself to Juliet by saying
'Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear, That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops ...'
At that point, however, he is cut off in his love diatribe by a much more mature, much wiser Juliet when she says:
'O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circled orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.'
Romeo, probably a little disconcerted that his one true love has doused the flame of his poetic praise, nevertheless listens to her wise counsel and asks,
'What shall I swear by?'
To this, Juliet calmly responds:
'Do not swear at all; Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self . . . And I'll believe thee.'
After thinking about Juliet's musings this morning, I realized that in many ways, she is simply saying that a love that is true love does not need any vain affirmations. When we feel an incredible depth of feeling for another human being, one which may be described in the Greek as Agape -
the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance, we do not need to make any protestations through words or swear by any fickle and failing objects (celestial orb or otherwise) ... instead, we simply must let the love we feel grow and expand through whatever storm may come and through whatever obstacle we may encounter. Regardless of the circumstance, that kind of love will remain.

Not bad for a teenager destined to kill herself in the most unnecessarily tragic of Shakespearean suicides.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The innocence of youth ...

Just read an interesting piece on a thesis written by recent Harvard grad, A.K. Barnett-Hart.

Though I enjoyed the article, one of the most interesting parts for me was the cynicism exhibited in the last five words of the piece (to give the proper context, I preface these words with the paragraph preceding them):

“After writing my thesis, it became clear to me that the culture at these investment banks needed to change and that incentives needed to be realigned to reward more than just short-term profit seeking,” [Barnett-Hart] wrote in an email. “And how would Wall Street ever change, I thought, if the people that work there do not change? What these banks needed is for outsiders to come in with a fresh perspective, question the way business was done, and bring a new appreciation for the true purpose of an investment bank - providing necessary financial services, not creating unnecessary products to bolster their own profits.”

Ah, the innocence of youth.

This ideal-crushing, five-word jab represents one of the fundamental roadblocks preventing any real, productive change on Wall Street: Disbelief.

The world's financial players (and those who write about their exploits) frequently exhibit disbelief that anything can change ... and, what's worse, sometimes they exhibit disbelief that anything should change.

For instance, look at how quickly the financial institutions have returned to "business as usual" in the wake of the financial crisis. These "movers and shakers" of markets and economies seem to have no problem pushing the world to the brink of chaos and then, after complete disaster is averted, start the merry-go-round over again.

The fact is, Barnett-Hart slammed her hammer down in exactly the right spot: The culture of the Street needs to change. The devil-may-care, recklessness must be removed (and possibly penalized) and a new culture of personal, moral, and ethical accountability must take its place.

An important question, of course, is how that change should be accomplished. Should we simply rely on Big Brother to come in with its newly-minted regulations? Or, should we seek to help the players develop stronger self-regulation skills? In a prior post, I wrote that
[T]he effectiveness of a free market model depends not on an unbreakable tome of rules and regulations ... but instead on a system of internal ethical and moral controls that must be imbued into the very nature of the people who work within the market.

Thus, I tend to stand in the latter of those two camps. Perhaps, though, a third possibility exists ... replacing the current players with newbies looking to "provid[e] necessary financial services" rather than create "unnecessary products to bolster their own profits."

But whether we believe in change through an external regulatory clamp-down (the easy fix), an internal ethical overhaul (the more difficult, more lasting fix), or some combination of the two, we should believe in change (both it's need and it's possibilty).

And we should applaud those who earnestly seek it.

Indeed, what right do we have to denigrate or mock someone who, seeing the moral mess on Wall Street, wants to bring the Street "a fresh perspective" and "a new appreciation for the true purpose of an investment bank"?

Answer: None.

So I say, go get 'em A.K.

Let's get to work ...

Listening to "Conversations" this morning, I heard Elder Bednar share an experience from Sept. 11, 2001.

After the horrific events of that morning, Elder Bednar was set to meet with President Hinckley and other presiding leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that evening. He mentioned how eagerly he anticipated what the brethren would say about those events. At the meeting, President Hinckley said, quite simply:
We live in very troubled times. Now, let's get to work.

We do live in difficult, sometimes scary times; we are embroiled in the events of the last days ... the days when men's hearts shall fail them. We are surrounded by a state of constant change and turmoil. Truly, all things are in commotion.

But, we must continue on in the service of God. The work of the Lord is rarely easy or convenient, but, with faith in ourselves, faith in God, and faith in the future, we can (and will) have the strength to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

I believe that the answer to fear and uncertainty is to go to work. God's Plan will not be frustrated and He will continue to work for the eternal benefit of His children even as the world drops further into complexity and (eventually) chaos.

As we work in the cause of the Lord, He will help us be prepared for all that comes and will give us the courage to face the future without fear.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Life without Youtube ...

On March 25, 2010, Youtube suffered a minor (and temporary) outage.

The world trembled.
"YouTube is up again following a technical issue which has now been resolved," a spokeswoman for Google said in a written statement. "We know how important YouTube is for people and apologize for any inconvenience the downtime may have caused."
But do you really know how important YouTube is, Google? DO YOU!?

From talking cats to chubby dancers (dancing chubbily), YouTube connects us to all that is real and good and holy in life. To be deprived of its radiance - even temporarily - is almost more than we mortals can bear.

According to Google (that demigod of search engines), the outage was not caused by outside tampering. And, while it's good to know the Russians haven't hacked our system to the point of being able to interfere with our most basic, shared need, we can't help but feel a significant sense of loss for the time YouTube was down.

After all, you can never get that back.

But, somehow, we pulled through; somehow, we filled the gaping temporal void left by YouTube's catastrophic absence; somehow, we moved on.

Just don't let it happen again, Google.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chuckle-worthy review ...

Couldn't stop laughing when I read this EW movie review for Remember Me, starring none other than America's favorite vampire, Robert Pattinson:
As a shameless contraption of ridiculously sad things befalling attractive people, the engorged romantic tragedy Remember Me stands tall between those towering monuments to teen-oriented cinematic misery: Love Story and Twilight . . . the movie is one part "Love means never having to say you're sorry" and one part Edward's warning to Bella: "If you're smart, you'll stay away from me." ... [It is] a movie with all the hyperventilating hysteria of a 1960s teen-tragedy pop song and all the disposability, too.
Rotten Tomato Critical Score: 26% (a.k.a., certifiably ROTTEN).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On a Golden Springtime

In the springtime, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, a ding a ding a ding,
Sweet lovers love the Spring.

- William Shakespeare

My friends, today I have but one purpose in this little post ... and that is to wish you all my love on this most beautiful of Spring-ish days! There is sunshine in my soul and happiness in my heart and I hope that the whole world can rise up with me in song and praise of Him who grants us this yearly renewal!

On a golden springtime, underneath the ground, a tiny seedling lay asleep until the sun shone down. Awake, awake, O little seed! Push upward to the light! The day is bright, with all your might, push upward to the light!

On a golden springtime, Jesus Christ awoke and left the tomb where he had lain; the bands of death he broke. Awake, awake, O sleeping world! Look upward to the light. For now all men may live again. Look upward to the light!

On a golden springtime, in a forest glade, the Father and the Son appeared as Joseph knelt and prayed. Awake, awake, O nations all! Receive the gospel light! The gospel true is here for you. Receive its glorious light!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Creation and the World of "Jack the Dripper" ...

Abstract expressionist painter (and all-around splatter genius) Jackson Pollock is often credited with inventing the technique of working spontaneously with liquid paint (a.k.a. "action painting").

But last Friday night, I think my friend Michelle and I perfected it.

After a little bit of furniture shifting and a trip to Home Depot to buy some supplies, I taped plastic drop cloths on the walls and floor to create a temporary, non-"apartment deposit destroying" Art Studio (the plastic definitely kept the painting project from morphing into a Spring Cleaning project).

Here is the room pre-action:

Because "splatter painting" is supposed to release the inner self (that is, the supremely creative child-like self from many decades ago), I tried to stock the table with some unconventional (and fun) tools of the trade. In addition to paint and brushes, we also had scissors, balloons, a toothbrush, spoons, a funnel, a spray bottle, tape, and airsoft guns.

In Round 1, we started with a variation of a "splatter paint" idea I saw in "The Princess Diaries." After using the funnel to put paint in the balloons and taping those balloons to a canvas* on the wall, we shot at the balloons with my friend's Airsoft gun ... Best. Artistic tool. Ever.

This artistic "Biathlon," which created a vibrant and unique splatter scheme, was, to put it in one phrase, totally wicked! And it left lots of little pools of paint littering the floor like a multi-colored mine field. Having inadvertently created such a perfect art palette, in Round 2, we did what came naturally ... we dropped a new canvas on the ground and started making "Foot Art."

Here is the finished product:

After the first two rounds, we (and the art studio) were knee deep in the the Art of Entropy.

To kick off Round 3, we dropped another canvas on the ground and tried a bit of drip painting (inspired by old Jack). A rousing round of joyous spontaneity! Fun twist, though, after we finished dripping, Michelle grabbed the spray bottle and sprayed part of the canvas causing the colors to blend together in an even more interesting panorama.

Finally, in Round 4 we decided to limit our color scheme to blue and red and created a mirror image painting by splattering one half of the canvas and then folding it over. We ended up with a sort of artistic commentary on political (Democrats v. Republicans) and scholastic (BYU v. U. of U.) rivalry:

After all was said and done, we taped the four pieces to the wall so they could dry ... **

... and paused for a moment to appreciate the art (pondering? planning future projects? posing for a picture?):

During the night, as we got messy, made mistakes, and had an altogether brilliant time, I wondered why I had done so little visual art over the past few years. Now, it's true that law school doesn't lend itself to Art Jammin' nearly often enough ... but I realized (after some thought and a bit of conversation) that I actually began to let go of art back in eighth grade when it dawned on me that my very limited, "traditional" artistic talent was likely to pull down my GPA (pretty sure my lowest grade ever was in art class that year).

Now, that's not to say I don't like to get creative ... even law school lends itself to interesting & innovative outlets (just look at the "Death Concert" some of my friends put on). I think, though, that I hadn't done much visual art because I let that negative, eighth-grade response from my art teacher get me down.

Fortunately, though, on Friday, I rediscovered the joy of artistic creation. And what profound joy that is. As Pres. Uchtdorf told the sisters in a recent General Relief Society Meeting:

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.

Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty.

... You might say, “I’m not the creative type." ... If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit daughters [and sons] of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.

... What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. ... Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside. ... The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create. That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come.***

I for one am definitely going to let that inner me - that creative me - out far more often. Not just in painting or in writing (though I'm planning to do more of both), but also in the ways I interact with people; in the way I approach my calling; in everything I do. And hopefully, with a little practice, I'll begin to become more like my "endlessly creative" Father in Heaven.

* NOTE 1: The "canvas" was actually a bed sheet cut in four pieces ...

** NOTE 2: One of the best part's about Friday's art extravaganza is that the floor itself became a piece of art, combining the best of all four sessions and providing a rare glimpse at the artistic process ...

** NOTE 3: For a really inspiring Mormon Message based on this talk, click here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yeah, I could use some of that ...

Two of my very close friends, Shandy and Rachel, recently went on a Carribean cruise; my brother Mike and his wife, Dede, did the same.

Now, it might be the fact that I've been buried in Delaware snow for the last three weeks and, consequently, would happily trade my in my little brother for three days at the beach (sorry Tim ;), but after looking at all those absolutely fantastic photos (see below for samples imported from Dede's blog), I have decided that I will positively, definitely, absolutely, 100% for certain, surely go on a cruise sometime in the next two years.


Sunset from the boat.

The cleaning people actually make towel animals for your enjoyment! Every day!

Tulum ruins ... those Mayans sure did build 'em to last.

Mike & Dede before their first formal night (just like Prom ... but on a boat!).

Monday, February 15, 2010

China '06 Part II: "Of Walking Marriage and Novocaine Noodles"

During my first two-month stint in China, Josh and I traveled to numerous cities: Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanchang, Anyuan, Lushan, Guilin, Yangshuo, Kunming, Lijiang, Chengdu, Leshan, Xian, Beijing, Dalian, and others.

All were amazing ... all expanded my view and vision of the world ... but my heart will always belong to Chengdu.

And so, largely inspired by that wonderful city, I present Part II: "Of Walking Marriage and Novocaine Noodles" (Originally written June 5, 2006):
Good morning my loved ones and etc.,

As Josh and I were traveling on the sleeper train from Kunming to Chengdu (in the Sichuan Province), we decided to calculate the amount of time we will have spent traveling (via train, plane, automobile and bus) when this trip is said and done - it was an astounding figure. But before I tell you, go ahead and make some guesses. No, really, I'll wait (if you get within three hours, then you should treat yourself to a cookie, or some fried eel).

O.k., here it is ... after we land at SLC on Saturday, June 24, we will have been traveling for a total of 187 hours (not including all the inner city bus, taxi and subway traveling that we do). For those non-math geniuses out there, that's more than an entire week of traveling - 7.79 days to be exact. Fortunately, on each trip, we usually would have been sleeping for 8 hours anyway, so it's not as bad as it sounds. Plus, riding trains is a blast (especially when the other passengers try to teach you their convoluted card games - which are actually very fun).

Speaking of games, Josh and I learned how to play Ma-jiang the other day. It's actually surprisingly fun - kind of like rummy with little tiles instead of cards. At nearly every park in China in the evening, hundreds of little old aunties and uncles get together to play the game (either that or Chinese chess, which is also amazingly fun).

Because I don't have a ton of time today, this week's installment of Chinese culture corner will just be a hodge-podge conglomeration (does anyone know how to spell that correctly?) of a few interesting observations I've had and stories I've heard over the past week or so. Don't expect rhyme or reason, but their might be method to my madness.

Here in Sichuan, there is a minority people called the Mosuo. They live near a lake about eight hours north of Chengdu. The people have a custom which they call "Walking Marriage," which resembles actual marriage the same way a dung beetle resembles a dove. Basically, men or women will go to different houses, sleep with the person in that house and leave the next morning hoping that the female half of their equation is pregnant. No one gets married, and during their lifetime, each person will have sexual relations with dozens of different people. Basically, it's a system for creating bastard children and eliminating the family unit - hmmmm, seems questionable to me.*

Sichuan is known throughout China for their spicy foods. They have a special powder here which they add to their food that acts like novocaine, numbing the lips and mouth. It's not anything near as bad as going to the dentist (which I hear is what happens to people in the seventh circle of Chinese hell), and the slight numbing sensation actually feels kind of cool. The food here has been spectacular and, I must hasten to add, cheap.

Speaking of cheap is really synonymous with speaking of China. The country thrives on illegal books and DVD's that are sold in legitimate stores and malls in every city (the other thing common to all cities is a statue of Mao Zedong, the former head tyrant of China). The fake books and DVD's seem so much like the real ones, that it's nearly impossible to know which are which without seeing the price. Copyright infringment is rampant and the government does almost nothing to stop it - bad news for artists, good news for poor college students.

The family unit in China is very different than in the states. Despite the one child rule, once you get out of the major cities, most families actually have two or more children (especially in the rural areas). Extended family members in China are almost as close to each other as immediate family members are in the states. Children revere their parents and are expected to do everything they can to take care of them when they get older. Instead of old folk homes, grandparents will come and live with one of their children and continue to maintain an active lifestyle, going out into the shops and using some of the extremely strange exercise equipment they have in every park in China (the equipment seems like the result of a couple Chinese engineers looking at pictures of American exercise equipment, and then making something that looked similar but that had no functional value. I love these parks).

Well, my time is nearly up and Josh and I want to go check out a few places before meeting up with some expats we met at church the other day (they're taking us out for Sichuan hot pot, which is supposed to be liquid fire). I hope you are all having a great summer. Drop me a line if you get a moment and let me know what's going on in your life (or lack thereof).

Lots of love from the giant American panda,


P.S. If all ya'll have any questions about this place, let me know and I'll either find the answer, or make something up.
* NOTE: As with most things in life, the idea of a "walking marriage" is far less black and white than my 24-year-old-self realized. I cannot be the one to judge a people so unique as the Mosuo ... nor should I.

Friday, January 29, 2010

China '06 Part I: "The Pros and Cons of Eating Horse ... "

Last night I had a short, but lovely conversation with my good friend Amy Cluff. During the conversation, she reminded me of a series of e-mails I wrote to some of my friends and family about three and a half years ago during my first visit to China (along with my former roommate and mission companion Josh Law).

As Josh and I traveled from Shanghai to Nanchang, Guilin, Kunming, Chengdu, Xian, Beijing, and Dalian, I would send little tidbits of our adventures back home about once a week (mostly so my mother would know I hadn't been killed ... or forced into involuntary servitude in Tibet).

I thought I had lost these stories forever, though, when the e-mail account I used while traveling through China was shutdown shortly after I returned home and started law school (thanks USU ... whatever happened to "Aggies all the way," eh?).

Amy brightened my entire night, though, when she informed me that - wonder of wonders - she still had a few of the e-mails in her account and that she would pass them along.

In honor of that discovery, I'm posting them here for your viewing pleasure (and to make sure that I don't loose them again ... because I'm convinced that nothing short of a worldwide apocalyptic meltdown will ever put a dent in the eternal vitality of the blogosphere).

As you read them, though, keep in mind that these are just a few of my impressions of China at the time. In a land as dynamic, multifaceted, and fantastic as China, things are bound to be different from year to year, city to city, and person to person.

With that, I introduce Part I: "The Pros and Cons of Eating Horse" (Originally written May 26, 2006):

Greetings to all my loved ones and etc. (if you happen to fit in the latter category and would rather not receive these amazing, weekly e-mails, feel free to send me either a scathing rebuke or cookies with a note explaining why you no longer are an "etc."),

Again I greet you from the land of a thousand different ways to prepare rice. Right now, I'm at a pretty chill hostel in Guilin listening to the sweet sounds of Messr. Jack Johnson - the king of acoustic bliss - and healing after a day of mountain biking in Yangshuo (about an hour away). If ya'll ever come here (and how could you resist after reading all these pro-China infomercials I keep sending), skip Guilin and go to Yangshuo. The mountains there are inconceivably amazing. Pictures, even the thousand word variety, don't do a bit of justice. The whole place feels like a Dr. Seuss book, or a Salvador Dali painting. China would be worth it just for Yangshuo on a clear night in June (or May, as the case may be).

Josh is doing well and we're pumped, jazzed and ready to go to a small group Church meeting tomorrow. This is the first branch that we've been able to attend since coming to the land of the little ones, and I'm beyond excited. But before I lose ya'll with the mundane details of my glorious vacation, I should move on to this week's installment of Chinese Culture Corner. The topic: food, glorious food.

China has about four thousand years of food history, give or take a millennium. During that time, they've developed their food system internally with very little help from other countries/cultures. Real Chinese food is an entirely different world than that nap-scat excuse for egg rolls that we have back in the states.

They eat everything here. No, really ... everything. In the last three weeks alone, I've eaten pig feet, chicken feet, cow tongue and stomach, goose, pigeon, eel, every variety of weed imaginable, dog and horse. We've been in restaurants that sell monkey, cat, rat, bat and __________ (use your imagination). The funny thing though, is that they make it all taste really good, with a few notable exceptions.

Exception 1: Chou Dou fu - basically a type of deep fried, fermented bean curd, the smell from one of the shops selling these beauties is probably the chief punishment of the fifth level of hell (Dante's version). I really don't think anybody eats the stuff. They just keep it around so the foreigners will have something to write home about.*

Exception 2: Bitter Melon - the name says it all. Why, oh why, do they eat this paltry excuse for a plant? After eating them, I'm convinced that bitter is the only taste that won't rise with us in the resurrection.

Exception 3: Liver - it was bad in the states and, owing to the great variety of animals it can come from, it's even worse here.

Other than these beauties (and boiled eggs, which are absolutely revolting no matter what anyone says), the food has been stupendous to a fault.

One of the great customs they have over here is toasting the good health, long life, good education, etc., of nearly everyone at the table. At random points throughout the meal, someone will stand up, call out another person's name and say something like, "I bless you to have fish all throughout the year," or "I bless you to have good health and keep progressing." Then the other persons will say something back to them (often in the form of a self-deprecating joke) and they drink. Because most everyone drinks alcohol at these kind of dinners, you can guess that they have a lot of toasting ... All night long.

At most Chinese restaurants, people sit at a round table with a lazy-Suzanne in the middle. The food all goes in the middle and each dish is spun around from person to person, again and again, and everyone eats what they want straight out of the dish with their chopsticks. For the most part, they order way more food than they could possibly eat, and everyone eats until they're eyes bulge out for lack of internal space.

And since I can hear some of you asking the question, yes, I'm losing weight here. Really.

Owing to the fact that my time on the internet ends in six minutes, I'm gonna rap this up with one last praise of Chinese food - it's so friggin' cheap. A dollar or less a meal and you're stuffed to the rafters.

Well, that does it for this week. For the time being, live long, prosper, grow a beard or whatever floats your boat.

Lots of love,

Matt "Footloose and Fancy Free" Wright

P.S. If you eat dog meat and cat meat at the same time, are you gonna have an internal brawl in your belly? Now that's food for thought.
* NOTE: I didn't actually eat Chou Dou Fu until July 2009. Up to that point, I never had the guts to give it a go. Now, having experienced it first hand, I can personally witness that it is among the MOST DISGUSTING FOODS EVER INVENTED (this includes Balut and Caterpillar Fungus).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quotable Quotes: The New Yorker (01-18-10)

  • Olson's team will argue that marriage is a malleable institution, shaped by shifting notions of gender, race, and property, while sexual orientation is innate. And the defendants will likely argue that marriage is immutable, and sexual orientation is a performative act, a chosen identity.
  • "You gotta help me stop looking up stuff I don't actually care about."
  • Children (and cool grownups) of the eighties remember a brightly lit room with fifties wallpaper, whose inhabitants included a talking chair (Chairry), a talking clock (Clocky), a talking globe who sounded like Henry Kissinger (Globey), a window with goodly eyes (Mr. Window), a blue genie head in a bejeweled box (Jambi), a cow in a tiara (the Cowntess), and a robot (Conky) who dispensed a daily "secret word," which, when it was spoken, would make all of the above scream real loud.
  • It was at this point that I decided to kill him. After all, would the world really mist this fatuous little suppository, with his preening self-confidence and emetic cuteness?
  • Our ability to take any pleasure, or even interest, in shows like this - in which participants are depicted as energetic but essentially aimless, oblivious of their own deficits, and delusional about their attractiveness and their importance in the world - hinges not on our ability to identify with them but on our ability to distinguish ourselves from them. Unless the show manages to make us feel as though we were anthropologists secretly observing a new tribe through a break in the trees, it hasn't done its job.
  • "In an effort to be more transparent, I've grown back my evil goatee."
  • "A question that so evenly but intensely divides the country is not one that should be decided by the courts nationwide," Eskridge said. "It's the mirror image of the mistake the Bush Administration made by trying to introduce a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman."
  • [H]e's not just a social grub but a raving paranoid, endlessly mouthing something about attempted homicide by a Hereford.
  • We seem to have been cursed with a new kind of film: the brown-and-white movie. What's so appealing to filmmakers about these post-apocalyptic tales, anyway? In the past decade or so, the world has been meteored, quaked, lavaed, nuked, melted, frozen, Godzilled, and repeatedly turned into New Jersey or New Mexico.
  • Iraq is clearly not an easy place to write a novel these days.
  • They're a few minutes' walk from the ocean, yet we've never seen them go swimming - they just slop around in their rooftop Jacuzzi, whose presence is so central to the men's seduction ritual that it's practically a character in the show.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Of Snickets and Snapdragons ...

Serious, unadulterated love.

Last night I picked up Book 10 in a Series of Unfortunate Events ("The Slippery Slope") and read through some of the pages, rediscovering the joy of that wry and witty wordsmith. In honor of that rediscovery, I provide some of the prettiest passages and choicest clauses from the Series (the books are chock full of this kind of magic):

Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like.
Having an aura of menace is like having a pet weasel, because you rarely meet someone who has one, and when you do it makes you want to hide under the coffee table.
Books about law are notorious for being very long, very dull, and very difficult to read. This is one reason many lawyers make heaps of money. The money is an incentive - the word 'incentive' here means 'an offered reward to persuade you to do something you don't want to do' - to read long, dull, and difficult books.
We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.
It is very unnerving to be proven wrong, particularly when you are really right and the person who is really wrong is the one who is proving you wrong and proving himself, wrongly, right. Right?
If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats.
Stealing, of course, is a crime, and a very impolite thing to do. But like most impolite things, it is excusable under certain circumstances. Stealing is not excusable if, for instance, you are in a museum and you decide that a certain painting would look better in your house, and you simply grab the painting and take it there. But if you were very, very hungry, and you had no way of obtaining money, it might be excusable to grab the painting, take it to your house, and eat it.
The moral of 'The Three Bears,' for instance, is 'Never break into someone else's house." The moral of "Snow White" is "Never eat apples." The moral of World War One is "Never assassinate Archduke Ferdinand."
Shyness is a very curious thing, because, like quicksand, it can strike people at any time, and also, like quicksand, it usually makes its victims look down.
Just about everything in this world is easier said than done, with the exception of ‘systematically assisting Sisyphus’s stealthy, syst-susceptible sister,’ which is easier done than said.
A cloud of dust is not a beautiful thing to look at. Very few painters have done portraits of huge clouds of dust or included them in their landscapes or still lifes. Film directors rarely choose huge clouds of dust to play the lead roles in romantic comedies, and as far as my research has shown, a huge cloud of dust has never placed higher than twenty-fifth in a beauty pageant.
It's hard for decent people to stay angry at someone who has burst into tears, which is why it is often a good idea to burst into tears if a decent person is yelling at you.
"People aren't either wicked or noble," the hook-handed man said. "They're like chef's salad, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict."
Perhaps if we saw what was ahead of us, and glimpsed the crimes, follies, and misfortunes that would befall us later on, we would all stay in our mother's wombs, and there would be nobody in the world but a great number of very fat, very irritated women.

Monday, January 25, 2010

France's Blossoming Burqa Ban ...

Passing laws to punish those who force women to wear a burqa? That, I may understand.

But this?

Banning the burqa across the board? Even for women who WANT to and CHOOSE to wear it? Fining them? Preventing them from using government transportation or picking up children from state-sponsored schools?

A nation that not only rejects religious freedom, but seeks to punish religious expression, walks the road to social chaos. After all, a people will only stand by so long and watch as precious, life-affirming agency gives way to secular insecurities . . . at some point, watching will not be enough.

And the actions that follow - as they inevitably will - may make us all regret the attitude of France and other self-styled secular nations.

NOTE: I do recognize that, in many countries, women do not have a choice of whether to wear the veil or not. Those nations too must change. The key is recognizing that the burqa is not the problem . . . laws that remove a person's right to religious freedom (in either extreme) are the problem.

In that context, it would seem that France is more like Iran than it would like to admit.

The Realities of Spiritual Rebirth ...

One of my favorite stories from the Book of Mormon has to do with King Lamoni's father and his conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through a series of events, Lamoni's father,* the king over all the land of the Lamanites, is brought face to face with Aaron, son of the King over the Nephites. Aaron, who is already many years into what would eventually become a fourteen-year mission, was led by the Spirit until he came to the palace of the King.

When Aarono arrived, Lamoni's father, who had recently encountered Aaron's brother and fellow missionary Ammon, was "somewhat troubled in mind" because of Ammon's powerful words and his generosity to the King's son, Lamoni.

After a series of questions and answers, Lamoni's father offers what, in my mind, is one of the most beautiful prayers in all of holy writ (especially considering that it was offered by a person previously unfamiliar with God or His Plan for His children). He said:
O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.

Notice that in this prayer, Lamoni's father (whose faith already appeared far greater than II think even he realized) didn't say "I will give away SOME of my sins to know thee" or "I will give away THOSE SINS THAT I'M NOT PARTICULARLY ATTACHED TO AT THE MOMENT to know thee" .... he said "I will give away ALL my sins."

Elder Christofferson provided an insight that, I think, squares well with the idea of giving away all sins - holding nothing back. In the April 2008 General Conference, Elder Christofferson said:
About a century before the birth of Christ, King Benjamin taught his people of the Savior’s advent and Atonement. The Spirit of the Lord wrought such a mighty change in the people that they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Because of their faith in Christ, they said, “We are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments … all the remainder of our days” (Mosiah 5:5).

. . . The case of Alma is also instructive. As he and his companions went about seeking to destroy the Church of Christ, they were rebuked by an angel. . . . [Then, a]fter “repenting nigh unto death” (Mosiah 27:28) . . . there came to his mind the sweet message of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. . . . Forgiveness came to him, and he stood and publicly confessed: “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.”

. . . Being born again, unlike our physical birth, is more a process than an event. And engaging in that process is the central purpose of mortality.

At the same time, [however,] let us not justify ourselves in a casual effort. Let us not be content to retain some disposition to do evil. Let us worthily partake of the sacrament each week and continue to draw upon the Holy Spirit to root out the last vestiges of impurity within us.

True repentance, real rebirth, experiencing that mighty change of heart ... all require a complete change. It is gradual, yes, but it is complete ... honestly renouncing the desire to do evil ... fully rejecting the yearnings of sin.

Nothing less will be good enough.

Now, I am (seriously) the first person to realize that we are all human and we all make mistakes. Even after we've been touched by the Spirit and imbued with that desire to change, we will fall again. I'm sure that even Lamoni's father, King Benjamin's people and Alma the Younger continued to make mistakes throughout their life.

But the point is that their trajectory - their hope for eternal life - did not change. They still wanted to be (and do) good.

Throughout their life, these great people moved further along the road of righteousness towards that heavenly destination. And that, I believe, is what Elder Christofferson is telling us: Casually cutting away our sins here will never be enough to bring the hope of eternity into our life.

If the change only sticks where its convenient or if the rebirth only affects those parts of us we're willing to give up at the moment, we may find ourselves stuck in the rather disfavored ranks of the Lukewarm:
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Rev. 3:16).

And, when all is said and done, that probably ain't the best place to be.

* NOTE 1: Unfortunately, at no time in the Book of Mormon do we learn Lamoni's father's name. Thus, like most of the great women who inhabit the Book (including the mothers of the young men who battled together under the command of Helaman . . . all of whom were amazing, strong, selfless and, unfortunately, nameless), we'll have to wait for the next life to be formally introduced to this great man.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Thought on the Special Election ...

Massachusetts state senator Scott Brown defeated Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in a stunning, unpredictable finish.

This you know.

Why he won? Well ... they say it all comes down to independent voters.* Refusing to affiliate with a particular political ideology, such voters look to issues and candidates instead of blindly touting the party line. In yesterday's election, they looked, I guess they looked at the issues ... and decided to stick it to a Democrat-controlled legislature by destroying the filibuster-proof supermajority.
"Independents like the checks and balances of divided government. They dislike the ideological arrogance and legislative overreach that comes when one party controls both the White House and Congress."
So they say.**

Well, all I can say is ... Bravo, Massachusetts.***

In recent years, I've begun to view myself as a political moderate who leans conservative on almost all social issues (and many economic ones). I am not extreme, however, and believe, above all, that the genius of our political system comes from balanced government. I don't believe that much good comes when one party (Republican, Democrat or any other) maintains plenary control in Washington.

That is why I applaud the recent election results.

Well, that and the fact that I really don't like the idea of a sitting president trying to sway voters with open endorsements of particular candidates.

Still, between Obama's endorsement of Coakley and his ill-fated trip to Denmark last fall, its becoming more and more apparent that the President may not be the guy you want stumping for you (Bill Thompson: "So say we all!") .

* NOTE 1: "They" are "the media." I guess one nondescript term works just as well as another ...

** NOTE 2: Again, "the media."

*** NOTE 3: One article covering the senate race in Massachusetts included an excellent quote by now-Senator Brown. The article stated:
Asked in a debate last week if he was willing to sit in Kennedy's seat and block health care reform, Brown replied, "With all due respect, it's not the Kennedys' seat, and it's not the Democrats' seat, it's the people's seat."
Indeed, not even the late Ted Kennedy could overcome that logic.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quotable Quotes: The New Yorker (01-04-10)

  • If you want to see Hollywood at the last gasp of its otherworldliness, consult the photograph of [Grace] Kelly and her fellow presenter, Audrey Hepburn, backstage at the Academy Awards in 1956 ... Both are in profile, gazing in expectation, and both wear white gloves. They could be at their first Communion.
  • The right-wing hippie is a rare bird.
  • He led with an epigram attributed to Margaret Thatcher: 'The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.'
  • For people who think that Vampire Weekend is making music that's inauthentic to us, the question is 'What is authentic to us?' Is it the Rolling Stones - some version of black Southern music? There are probably a lot better reasons why you could say we're not good.
  • It's a mixed-use facility: retail space, low-rent housing, luxury apartments, and an area set aside for making steel.
  • The [Grace] Kelly effect is not unlike the James Dean effect ... whereby a few brief hours of screen time continue unquenchably to burn.
  • To some, Whole Foods is Whole Paycheck, an overpriced luxury for yuppie gastronomes and fussy label-readers.
  • [N]othing can undo the movies that we are led to in our youth, or the skein of impressions that they leave.
  • During a famous exchange with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock argued that 'if sex is too blatant or too obvious, there's no suspense. You know why I favor sophisticated blondes in my films? We're after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they're in the bedroom.'

Of destinies, obligations, and responsibilities ...

This morning, while listening to Elder Dallin H. Oaks' conference talk from last April, I came across a rather interesting point.
Unfortunately, some Latter-day Saints ... choos[e] ... to fix their priorities on the standards and values of the world. Jesus cautioned that Satan desires to sift us like wheat (see Luke 22:31; 3 Nephi 18:18), which means to make us common like all those around us. But Jesus taught that we who follow him should be precious and unique, "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13) and "the light of the world," to shine forth to all men (Matthew 5:14, 16; see also 3 Nephi 18:24).

... [W]e are called to establish the Lord's standards, not to follow the world's. Elder John A. Widtsoe declared, 'We cannot walk as other men, or talk as other men, or do as other men, for we have a different destiny, obligation, and responsibility placed upon us, and we must fit ourselves [to it].' That reality has current application to every trendy action."
Certainly, the idea is not new. Disciples of Jesus Christ, of course, must live in such a way so as to "be in the world, but not of the world."

I guess, though, I had never really thought that one of Satan's chief means of bringing about the destruction of the souls of men would be to simply help each of us adopt the ways of other men to the point that, in the end, we were just another common person in the crowd.

So, I began to ask myself:
(1) Do I watch the same things that other people watch?
(2) Do I dress the way that other people dress?
(3) Do I spend my money on the things that other people spend money on?
(4) If I look, sound, and act like all other people, what is it, exactly, that distinguishes me from all those who do not know (or live) the Gospel?
Sobering questions (Sobering answers?).

Seeing that January is the time of year many people use to re-evaluate their life and make all those glorious New Year's resolutions, maybe its time to consider ways I can more fully fulfill the "destiny, obligation, and responsibility" I have to be the salt and light of the world - a unique, precious leader in the cause of righteousness.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christmas Morning Blues ...

Even after Santa comes, it ain't always happy times in Whoville:

Thanks for sending this one along, Aunt Leslie!