Saturday, December 27, 2008

Previous ties to this blog: zero



Perhaps I'm a horrible person, but I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from reading and making fun of this editorial from the Church News that I read on my mission (I actually taped it up on my refrigerator so my companion and I could enjoy it every day). It is a good message and all, certainly one I wholeheartedly agree with: our service and good deeds can have long-lasting positive impacts on people for years to come. However, I really must take exception to the fifth-grade-esque, ridiculous tone of the whole thing. "Why Norway? Because it was there. And they wanted to see it." I'm sorry, but I will always laugh whenever I think of that line, as well as many others from this gem.

Ironically enough, this is probably the only Church News editorial to have a lasting impact on my life, and I'll probably never forget it :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Random thoughts before Christmas

I saw a bald eagle swoop down onto the road and carry off a live squirrel about 30 feet ahead of the car I was driving in yesterday. No joke. It was awesome.

I don't know why I love my home ward so much, but I do. It might be because I'm not particularly good at meeting new people, so at my home ward everybody already knows me so I can just chat with anybody. Also, it just seems a bit more laid-back than my BYU ward.

I can't get Sufjan Stevens' song "Sister Winter" out of my head (it's the last video in the previous post, the one with the weird writing with hearts dotting the i's). It's... kummitav. Haunting is the English word there, I believe.

I've missed reading. For some reason, I did almost no reading this whole semester (the incessant rss feed-reading that I'm addicted to doesn't count) but during finals week I read two or three whole books ("Goodbye, I Love You", "Picasso's War", and "The da Vinci Code" in case you were wondering. I recommend the first one a ton, the second one if you're interested in art history/Picasso/the Spanish Civil War, and the last one if you enjoy terrible writing). It was great. Now I've started The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and soon Kite Runner too. I've also been reading Walden for over a year, and I'm getting close to done! [Random tangent off a random thought: I used to get in trouble in elementary school for reading books while the teacher was teaching.]

I foolishly made a New Year's resolution last year to not play Minesweeper for a whole year (I was super addicted), and then even more foolishly, I didn't break said resolution. And to top it off, I just ended up getting addicted to Freecell instead, which I kind of hate but can't stop playing. So once 2009 arrives, pretty much the first thing I'm going to do is play me a game of Minesweeper on expert. I hope that doesn't make me a bad person. Isn't it kind of like a dog returning to his own vomit?

I'm off to a multi-family Christmas party where I'm giving away a spiderman ball, a Batman disc launcher I got for free out of my grandpa's box of Honey Nut Cheerios, and a $3 cd with 88 jokes on it.

Addendum: The best part of the movie The Santa Clause is how even though they crack jokes about Neal's ugly sweaters the whole movie, it's really the mom's clothes that are ridiculous.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Sufjan Christmas

I absolutely love Christmas music, and possibly the greatest Christmas album ever is Sufjan Steven's. I highly recommend purchasing it, it's a great deal to get 42 awesome songs for just fourteen measly bucks. But I decided to include a few videos here of some of his songs from it. I don't think any of them are the official music videos, but I think they're pretty good.











Man, that's good stuff!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just Wondering


I've noticed that in the Daily Universe (and I assume it's the same in other newspapers) they print the answers to the previous day's Sudoku puzzles. Is it just me, or is that really pointless? Assuming you do Sudoku, either you got them right (in which case you know you did because you can look at them and make sure the columns, rows, and squares all have the requisite digits 1-9), or else you didn't get them due to lack of time, desire, skill, or whatever. In either case, why look at the answers? If you got them right you already know it. If you didn't, looking at a big square full of numbers doesn't tell you how to do it, it just shows you a solution exists. I think we can safely assume that if they put the puzzle in there, it has a solution--though putting in an unsolvable one might be a funny trick to play. But the point is: either way you haven't learned anything. Am I missing something? Does anyone ever care about the answers to yesterday's Sudokus? Should I care that no one should care, yet they print them anyways?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

An Elder Wirthlin Sampler

I think Elder Wirthlin was my favorite apostle, so I was shocked and saddened to hear it announced in my Computer Science 404 class on Tuesday that he had passed away Monday. I figured I'd do a little sampler of some of the talks that he's given that I've enjoyed a lot.
  • This one really spoke to me: even though I'm a weird freak, I belong. I often think of his symphony of piccolos analogy.
    Concern for the One: "Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole."
  • This talk pretty much sums up my philosophy of life and the importance of humor.
    Come What May, and Love It: "Have you ever seen an angry driver who, when someone else makes a mistake, reacts as though that person has insulted his honor, his family, his dog, and his ancestors all the way back to Adam? Or have you had an encounter with an overhanging cupboard door left open at the wrong place and the wrong time which has been cursed, condemned, and avenged by a sore-headed victim?

    "There is an antidote for times such as these: learn to laugh."
  • A great charity talk, and it was the backdrop for the indelible Conference moment when he started shaking during his talk (apparently due to locked knees--also see this moving write-up of the talk) and Elder Nelson got up to support him so that he was able to finish it. A beautiful example of charity in action.
    The Great Commandment: "True love lasts forever. It is eternally patient and forgiving. It believes, hopes, and endures all things. That is the love our Heavenly Father bears for us. We all yearn to experience love like this. Even when we make mistakes, we hope others will love us in spite of our shortcomings—even if we don’t deserve it. Oh, it is wonderful to know that our Heavenly Father loves us—even with all our flaws! His love is such that even should we give up on ourselves, He never will."
  • I remember my mission president speaking on this topic when I was on my mission, and I really enjoyed the idea, and this Conference Address from Elder Wirthlin had a lot of the same thoughts (and now I can't remember which came first!). Either way, great stuff.
    The Abundant Life: "The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a religion of mourning and gloom. The faith of our fathers is one of hope and joy. It is not a gospel of chains but a gospel of wings.

    "To embrace it fully is to be filled with wonder and to walk with an inner fire. Our Savior proclaimed, 'I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.'"
Also, I'd recommend this post of reminiscences of Elder Wirthlin. I'll miss his awesome spirit, but now he can be with his wife, and the church will move on and we'll get even more great new leaders.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Clarification

It has come to my attention that my brother and my sister both thought the title of my blog to be "Another Country Heard From," when, in actuality, the title is "Another County Heard From" (no 'r' in county). I got the phrase from Catch 22, where it appears repeatedly in the last chapter (or two? I forget) of the book. Basically it means yet another person chimes in. I like the explanation of the meaning of the phrase and explaining its history from everything2.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Love It

I don't who or know exactly why, but someone put what looks to be a homemade blanket-ish covering over the bus stop I pass by every day on the way to campus. I love the colors!




Does anyone know if this serves a (pragmatic) purpose, or did somebody just want to decorate the city a bit and make our lives a little more beautiful? Either way, thank you!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

'We Never Said Anything About Gay Divorce' says CA Supreme Court

Michael and Justin Wilson were both devastated and flummoxed Thursday upon learning that their marriage in California is indissoluble. They were married less than two months ago, but their previously picture-perfect relationship took a turn for the worse in recent weeks, ending with the pair mutually deciding that divorce would be for the best. After being rebuffed by the local city hall, where they were told that no paperwork for divorce of homosexual couples exist, they took the matter to court. In a surprise move from the California judicial system, however, a unanimous Supreme Court declared that despite their previous May decision making gay marriage legal in the state, the decision made no provision for the annulment of such a union. For Michael and Justin, this means that, for now, they will remain legally wedded despite their loathing for each other.

Interestingly, both the more conservative and liberal justices of the court came to the same conclusions, though for differing reasons. Judge Corrigan, usually considered conservative on social issues, authored the majority opinion, reasoning that divorce rates being as high as they are, "the state of California has a compelling interest in reducing the occurrence of this tragic event as much as feasibly possible." However, Judge Moreno, widely hailed as a progressive voice on the court, issued a different opinion in which he stated his belief that true equality for homosexuals requires that they "go through the same struggle that straight couples had to fight through in the 1970's before they can claim the right to divorce their partners." "Gays and lesbians," he continued, "want to be treated just like everyone else, and just giving them divorce rights without a comparable legal battle would be discriminatory and unconstitutional."

In a press conference after the result was announced, Justin stated that although he understands the rationale behind the decision, he strongly disagrees. "I can't stand Mike anymore," he said while choking back tears. "I just never want to see that pompous little snot again--is that so wrong?" The Wilsons' lawyers have stated that they plan to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, potentially creating the opportunity for the nation's highest court to give gay Californian couples the right to divorce without actually recognizing their right to marry in the first place.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Tortured Nation


Here's a link [update: Internet archive version] to an article that came out today in BYU's Political Review. I co-wrote it with my friend Ryan.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Finally!


I finally got an Obama sign! So if you're driving on Freedom Boulevard in Provo around 900 N, look for it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I Just Found Out I'm From Fake America

That's right: I, being from McLean, VA, a mere 15 minutes from Washington D.C., am not really an American. Crap. I guess they can't vote my absentee ballot for Barack now.



I do love the Daily Show.

4th Time Around

Well my pal Caitie made me post the 4th picture from my 4th iPhoto album and explain it. Well, I don't have iPhoto, but I chose the 4th picture from my 4th most recent Facebook album. And here it is:



This was taken at about 6:45 am the Saturday before this semester began. The guy in the picture is Justin Jensen, who was my companion in the MTC (which felt like eternity), and the girl is AnnaMarie Jensen, his current companion (for eternity). We were in Mark Holdaway's car on our way to hike Timp (which, by the way, was brutal). I'm not sure why Justin was making this face, I seem to remember that maybe it was kind of in the middle of making some other face and I just caught him at an awkward moment. But really, he's just like that, so this picture captures his personality quite well. He's awesome.

Also I think the reflection of the hand in the window is kinda creepy. Happy Halloween!

p.s. I tag Diana and Benjo and anyone else who may or may not be reading this.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Articles of Impeachment


Let's be honest. Forget how kooky Kucinich can sound sometimes: he does make a very good case for impeaching President Bush. Here's a page where you can either buy the print version for $12 or download a free pdf of his 35 articles of impeachment. It's long, but just browsing the contents is impressive to start with. Bush has brazenly and openly defied US law, not just once, but many many times. I'm about a fifth of the way through it, and it's good stuff. Also, I didn't realize that you can impeach the president even after he/she leaves office. Let's do it!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why I'm Against the US Government Spying on its Citizens

Well, when you put it like that, who wouldn't be against it? Unfortunately, the government doesn't call it spying, it calls it surveillance. That makes it sound more official and necessary and safe.

Some friends have asked me recently my position on this issue, and I've told them I'm against it, but I haven't really been able to succinctly explain why. This blog post is an effort to do that. Hopefully it will help me organize my thoughts into a coherent argument. This is a pretty long post, so if you want the executive summary, just skip to the last two paragraphs, but I'd really recommend going over the whole thing.

First of all, let me define what I am talking about so we can all be clear on it. I'll just quote from the first paragraph of the wikipedia article on the subject as an intro:
The NSA warrantless surveillance controversy concerns surveillance of persons within the United States incident to the collection of foreign intelligence by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) as part of the war on terror. Under this program, referred to by the Bush administration as the "terrorist surveillance program", the NSA is authorized by executive order to monitor, without warrants, phone calls, e-mails, Internet activity, and text messaging, and other communication involving any party believed by the NSA to be outside the U.S., even if the other end of the communication lies within the U.S. The exact scope of the program is not known, but the NSA is or was provided total, unsupervised access to all fiber-optic communications going between some of the nation's major telecommunication companies' major interconnect locations, including phone conversations, email, web browsing, and corporate private network traffic.
So basically, the US government got access to most all of our private communications and was able to look through them for signs of terrorism. All of this was completely unknown to the public until the New York Times published the story in 2005. There were (and are) arguments about the legality of this, but thanks to the amendments to the law concerning government surveillance (FISA) passed this summer, it is now legal, though in my opinion still unconstitutional.

So why am I against this practice that the Bush Administration says is vital to the war on terror? As long as I'm not a terrorist, I have nothing to worry about, right?

The first problem I have with warrantless wiretapping is that it runs completely counter to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. One of the big complaints of the American colonists in rebelling against England was the use of writs of assistance. These little things were like warrants, only the Brits didn't have to be specific about what they were looking for and the writs didn't expire. Americans didn't like that, and cited them as an example of British tyranny and one of their reasons for the revolution. Then, when they succeeded in forming their own country, they wrote something called the Fourth Amendment that requires the government to have probable cause to conduct a search, ensures the warrant is limited in scope, and a law enforcement officer must swear to the information given in asking for the warrant, making someone responsible for the search. Today our government is doing something very similar to using writs of assistance; true, they don't knock down our doors looking for whatever they want (they still need a warrant for that), but they do secretly listen to our phone calls, emails, and other communications. That is just as invasive, and just as contrary to the Fourth Amendment, in my opinion.

Well, if I'm not a terrorist, what do I care if the government listens in on my phone calls to my friend Nadejda in Estonia? You might also ask those uppity colonists in 18th century America what they were so worried about; after all, if they weren't smugglers, British police wouldn't find anything illegal in their houses and they would be fine. Well, there is the principle of privacy (A man's house is his castle, right?), and especially the abuse thereof. I think we as a people today tend to just trust the government to do what is right, but that is not a very wise idea. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, or in the words of Joseph Smith, "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." In plain English, government officials will do misuse their authority.

Right now I'm going to go into a bit of a detour and talk about the ways that our government has abused (and continues to abuse) its powers of surveillance, especially in counter-terrorism situations. For past examples, just look at the FBI's COINTELPRO program. No really, read that wikipedia article, it's an eye-opener. Methods used by the FBI against targeted groups (many of which were non-violent civil rights groups) under this program included:
  • Harassment Through the Legal System: The FBI and police abused the legal system to harass dissidents and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, "investigative" interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters.
  • Extralegal Force and Violence: The FBI and police threatened, instigated, and themselves conducted break-ins, vandalism, assaults, and beatings. The object was to frighten dissidents and disrupt their movements. In the case of radical Black and Puerto Rican activists (and later Native Americans), these attacks—including political assassinations—were so extensive, vicious, and calculated that they can accurately be termed a form of official "terrorism."

That's right, the FBI resorted to terrorism to fight terrorists and hate groups. Read a little more about what they did to the Black Panthers [NOTE: I am not saying the Black Panthers were good: I strongly disagree with a lot of their policies, and they would have been a fine target for legal and constitutional surveillance; the point is, the FBI did some horrible and very illegal things to them].

OK, sure, the 60's were just crazy. But nowadays, that kind of crap doesn't really happen, right? Well... recently in Maryland, for one example, Thomas Hutchins, the State Police Superintendent, ordered his forces to secretly infiltrate anti-war and anti-death-penalty groups. That enough is troubling to me. I have participated in anti-war marches, and I am staunchly against the death penalty and am involved in my college's chapter of Amnesty International. I don't want secret government agents in there watching what we do and keeping notes on us. I am not a terrorist! But that in itself isn't the most outrageous part; not only were these groups infiltrated and tracked as if they were criminals, their members were put in the national terrorism database and the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area database! Now these people will get hassled when they try to fly, when they ship a package, and who knows when else. These people, even the police admit, had no involvement in violent crime whatsoever. They were trying to lessen violence in the world, for crying out loud! But when the government has power to watch and harass these kinds of groups, there are officials who will. That should not be legal.

Depressingly enough, that is not the only example of government abuse of power in recent days. In a matter more directly related to this post (yes, I have been on quite a tangent, sorry), it has just come to light that the NSA Warrantless Wiretapping program was abused by operators listening in on calls from US servicemen stationed to their spouses back home. While I think it's highly unlikely that our soldiers are terrorists, that's not even the worst of this story either. The operators would tell each other to listen in on the more, ahem, intimate conversations between them. Just for fun. That is just plain messed up. Now look, I'm not saying every one of these operators does this, or that the government's plan in enacting warrantless wiretapping on Americans was designed to do this, but my point is that things like this will happen. Personal conversations will be shared or laughed at or leaked onto the internet or whatever. It's just not a good idea to have the government listening to them in the first place if you believe you have any sort of right to privacy. (For more details on this, read this ACLU press release)

Now coming back to the issue at hand: giving the government unfettered access to our communications without them having to give any evidence someone might be a terrorist. If we give the government even more power to secretly listen in on our communications, are we supposed to just trust that they won't hassle and intimidate non-violent groups that oppose some of their policies? You know, like they have done and are doing? If I call my friend Carl about my opposition to the execution of Troy Davis and plan a march to raise awareness for it, will the government put me on a terrorist watch list? Hopefully not, but Maryland did it and still doesn't see anything wrong with it. I don't see anything in the federal government's past or present actions to prove that they would not do very similar things, things which have a chilling effect on free speech.

Then there's the humanitarian groups and journalists whose work is directly hindered by warrantless wiretapping. Since this post is getting long, I'll just say that there are people who document human rights abuses and journalists who have contacts overseas, and they need to guarantee strict confidentiality to their sources. Since the warrantless wiretapping bill passed, they've been having a lot of trouble getting people who are willing to talk to them. For more info on this, see this article.

And finally, there's the question of effectiveness. Does having the government listening to all our calls make us safer from terrorist attacks? One of the operators who participated in the program thinks the opposite is true. ABC News interviewed a U.S. Army Reservist who won the NSA Joint Service Achievement Medal in 2003 who said "By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it’s almost like they’re making the haystack bigger and it’s harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody." When you know you're going to be putting hundreds of thousands of innocent people onto your possible terrorists list, how will that help you find the actual terrorists?

So I think that captures pretty well why I'm against the government listening in on the private conversations of us, its own citizens. It's unconstitutional, it will be (in fact, already has been) misused to the detriment of our privacy, and it generally makes the search for actual terrorists more difficult by introducing lots more useless data. I am certainly in favor of vigorously rooting out and prosecuting terrorists, but treating all US citizens as suspects is not the way to do it.

I remember a few days after the FISA amendments were passed this summer, my friend Nadejda called me from Estonia. We had a nice conversation, but once we hung up it immediately struck me that someone who I will never know could very well have been listening to everything we said. That is just creepy, and, quite simply, unamerican.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fractals in Nature


In case you needed any more proof that fractals are everywhere in nature, I've spotted yet another one, and it's right here in Provo! That's right: a perfect Mandelbrot fractal on the pavement outside the Smith Fieldhouse at BYU. It's a miracle! The Church is true!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Barack Obama Quote Generator

I thought this was a pretty fun idea: generate a quote that sounds like it came from Barack. It's based on an mad-lib idea, and it turned out pretty well for me:
Generate a Barack Obama Quote!




"I think it's time we had a national conversation about negativity. We need to get past all the lies and recognize that we are our own best hope for overcoming Republicans. We need liberals, not murderers. Liberals are our kindness. And we need to have change in negativity."
Generate your Barack Obama quote at Buttafly.com




On another note, didn't that first debate suck? Boring, arguing over semantics, neither side looked particularly interested to be there, no one would take any responsibility for the financial crisis, etc. Don't get me wrong, I thought Barack did better, and I'm planning on voting for him, but it wasn't a great showing in my opinion.

Friday, September 19, 2008

America's Use of Torture in the War on Terror

I got to present information on/lead a discussion about the "enhanced interrogation techniques" the CIA uses on enemy combatants. The main discussion of it is (or will be, hopefully) over at the BYU Amnesty blog, but I figured I might as well share it here too since it took a while to put together.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

6 Queer (as in weird) Things About Me

I liked this idea from a friend's blog (hope you speak Estonian; if not here's her translation into English) and figured I'd give it a go. So here are 6 somewhat strange things about me:
1. I count steps. Mostly on staircases, though often in between cracks on the sidewalk too. I can tell you how many steps there are up to each landing of the huge stairs south of campus at BYU (I restart counting at each landing, so it's not a total, but I could easily add them all up).
2. I like math. And the more useless and theoretical the math is, the better. Putting it into practice for a real-world situation drains most of the fun out of it.
3. I don't like TV. Anymore, at least. The only thing I watch ever is C-SPAN (only if there's interesting on--not just senators talking to the camera about earmarks in an empty Capitol) and maybe SportsCenter. I do still quote the Simpsons a lot though.
4. I'm a Mormon and a Democrat. I don't think that should be weird, but apparently it is.
5. I read Mormon history blogs for fun (e.g. Juvenile Instructor) despite the fact that I have no expertise in the field whatsoever.
6. I use the Linux operating system (GNU/Linux if you're a purist), Ubuntu in particular.

And yourself? How weird are you? Answer in the comments, or else on your own blog but leave a link to it here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Onion reject

Subway reaches out to Dyslexic LGBT Community with New Sandwich

America's dyslexic homosexuals have long been neglected by advertisers who have thought the demographic too insignificant to devote resources to. However, recent estimates pin their numbers at a minimum of 1,350,000 in the United States alone, and Subway is thought to be the first large American company to begin marketing to this perenially overlooked minority with a new menu item targeted towards them. The sandwich, dubbed the "Great Bacon, Lettuce, & Tomato" sandwich, or GBLT, will be offered at all locations nationwide starting next Monday. Initial reaction from the gay dyslexic community has been positive; many said they were pleased to see the ubiquitous acronym finally in the correct order and plan to purchase the sandwich as soon as it goes on sale. Subway has brushed aside criticisms from some who claim that this promotion is designed to take advantage of disabled persons, saying in a statement that "homosexuals have long suffered discrimination, and those afflicted with dyslexia are often at an even greater disadvantage than others in the gay community. This is an attempt to even the playing field for them." Subway has confirmed that the sandwiches will be stored in a closet and come out to be served to customers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Anonymous haiku

Found in the ward newsletter today [describing a recent Sunday]:


Air conditioning failed
High councillor on the stand
Ah, eternity

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The stem cell research of vegetarianism

I've decided that whether or not to eat eggs while on a vegetarian diet is analogous to the stem cell research debate. Are eggs chickens?

UPDATE: I am (was) hopelessly ignorant of the actual process of chicken egg-laying, as my friend Riin kindly points out below. As this site explains:
An egg is a single cell. Just like in a human, that egg cell must be fertilized by a sperm cell in order to grow into a baby. If there's no sperm present, which there is not in an egg-laying operation, the eggs laid are unfertilized. They are not unfertilized *babies,* they are unfertilized *cells.* This is similiar to when a girl or a woman has her period; the egg she released that month didn't get fertilized, there is no potential baby and the egg is flushed out of her system.

So I guess we can change the question to: are you okay with eating chicken periods?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rapper's Delight: An Analysis

I love the song Rapper's Delight by The Sugarhill Gang. It was one of the first popular rap singles. Here is a little analysis of some of the song's high points as well as a discussion of some negative aspects as well. Just for fun.

If you haven't heard this song, you really must. Go download it or find a friend who has it or whatever. You won't be disappointed.

My first reason for liking this song is: Positive messages
Ahhh, the days before gangsta rap. Most people today don't even know there is a different kind of rap because nowadays gangsta rap has completely taken over the rap scene. But before N.W.A. and the late 80's, rap was just like any other genre--some good, some bad, some positive, some negative, etc. For example, take a look at these lyrics from Rapper's Delight:
A Skiddleebebop, we rock, scooby doo,
And guess what, America, we love you!

You don't really hear that so much anymore, do ya?

There's also a much more unifying message about race:
See, I am Wonder Mike, and I'd like to say hello,
To the black, to the white, the red and the brown,
The purple and yellow.

None of this divisive crap, just universal love towards all colors. Wonderful!

And then, there's also the tidbit about the father of one of the rappers giving him advice based partly on the Bible:
And from the time I was only six years old
I never forgot what I was told
It was the best advice I ever had
It came from my wise, dear old dad
He said, "Sit down, punk, I wanna talk to you
And don't say a word until I'm through
Now there's a time to laugh, a time to cry
A time to live and a time to die
A time to break and a time to chill
To act civilized or act real ill

A positive role model father figure! You don't get much of that in today's rap either. I like the tough love, too, calling his son a punk but giving sage advice at the same time.

Another good reason to like this song: It's fun!
I love this little riff on the beauty of music told in good-natured, simple rhymes:
I say a can of beer that's sweeter than honey,
Like a millionaire that has no money
Like a rainy day that is not wet,
Like a gamblin' fiend that does not bet
Like Dracula without his fangs,
Like the boogie to the boogie without the boogie bang
Like collard greens that don't taste good,
Like a tree that's not made out of wood
Like goin' up and not comin' down,
Is just like the beat without the sound, no sound


Another reason: There's also a fun food story (which I can relate to, being super picky myself):
Have you ever went over a friends house to eat
And the food just ain't no good?
The macaroni's soggy, the peas are mushed,
And the chicken tastes like wood
So you try to play it off like you think you can
By saying that you're full
And then your friend says, "Mama, he's just being polite
He ain't finished, uh-uh, that's bull!"
So your heart starts pumpin' and you think of a lie
And you say that you already ate
And your friend says "Man, there's plenty of food"
So you pile some more on your plate
While the stinky food's steamin', your mind starts to dreamin'
Of the moment that it's time to leave
And then you look at your plate and your chicken's slowly rottin'
Into something that looks like cheese
Oh so you say "That's it, I gotta leave this place
I don't care what these people think,
I'm just sittin' here makin' myself nauseous
With this ugly food that stinks"
So you bust out the door while it's still closed
Still sick from the food you ate
And then you run to the store for quick relief
From a bottle of Kaopectate
And then you call your friend two weeks later
To see how he has been
And he says, "I understand about the food,
Baby Bubba, but we're still friends"


And the last reason I love it is: The beat. Just makes me wanna groove!

However, the song isn't a perfect paragon of positivity. Indeed, one could argue that you can see in it the seeds of the more negative themes that have come to dominate rap music today. For example, there's a touch of homophobia that makes me cringe every time I hear it:
[speaking to Lois Lane about Superman] He's a fairy, I do suppose
Flyin' through the air in pantyhose

In contrast, of course, to his own ├╝ber-manliness, naturally.
Then there's the beginnings of the bling attitude (one rapper boasts: "Hear me talk about Checkbooks, credit cards, mo' money / Than a sucker could ever spend") and the objectification of women ("if your girl starts actin' up, then you take her friend").

Overall, though, it's a true classic. It makes me smile every time I listen to it. Plus, it's epic, stretching out for over 14 minutes! Now, I'm no prude about music, nor a gangsta-rap hater--I listen to 2pac, Eminem, and Notorious B.I.G. (hence the URL of this blog)--but I do mourn the lack of more positive voices in the rap genre. There are a few, to be sure, but they are the minority; virtually all the most popular rap songs today are about money, women (the objects, not the people), cars, killing, and swearing.

So this post is to the good old days, when rap music could be clean, funny, and positive. May they come back again soon! Do you have any regrets about the music industry in general or the state of rap in particular? Any songs from the past you feel should be celebrated? Let me know!

All lyrics quoted here courtesy of http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/kangaroojack/rappersdelight.htm

Sunday, June 29, 2008

War in Iran, coming soon!

Courtesy of our wonderful Bush administration, we're now funding covert operations in Iran designed to destabilize the government, as reported by the New Yorker. Apparently we haven't learned anything from our 1953 coup of the same country that led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and understandably strong anti-American sentiment. And, not learning anything from supporting sketchy organizations in the past, we're supporting terrorist groups there today: Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi dissident groups, which have in the past given us Ramzi Yousef--convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings--and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--the mastermind of 9/11 and one of the few people the Bush administration considers bad enough to admit that they waterboarded him.

And by all appearances, this is all being actively sought by Bush and Cheney. I am not making this stuff up, unfortunately. Read it and weep.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Gospel and Escher

Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.

--Joseph Smith, from The Teachings of Jospeh Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith, pg. 137


I was looking at some Escher prints and it reminded me of some random gospel connections in some of his work. For example, this first one, called "Circle Limit III" is how I've always envisioned God's omniscience. We are like the little fish things in the print: it looks like our universe extends infinitely in every direction--and it does!--but God is outside of it and looking down on it, so he can see everything in it all at once. And at the same time, he doesn't know everything, but he does know every possible thing going on in our universe. Just like we can see everything in the fish things' universe all at once but if we look up off the page we can't see everything at once in our universe.


This next one is what I think of as hell: always going in circles, perhaps with a false sense of getting somewhere and surrounded by people who think the same, but never progressing at all. The weird hoods that hide the climbers' faces just makes it better. I think Satan is one of the guys just sitting there beneath, watching or moping.

What do you think? Are my theological musings pointless or inspired? How do you try to comprehend the infinite? Have you ever used art or any other medium for trying to understand the eternities?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Longest one-syllable word

I had always heard that "strengths" was the longest one-syllable word in English, with 9 syllables. The other day, I noticed that "straights" also has 9 letters. I wasn't sure if that was a word, but if "gays" is, and if "marrieds" is (I hate that word, definitely a pet peeve of mine), then "straights" should be. A quick google search confirmed that "straights" is indeed a word in semi-popular use, but it also turned up a whole bunch of other one-syllable, 9-letter words, and of course Wikipedia takes the cake with the most comprehensive discussion of the topic, replete with some possible 10- and 11-letterers. Who knew? Also, random question: what are your favorite bits of English word trivia? Or am I the only nerd in that regard?

p.s. I love the Wikipedia "list" articles. They just make me laugh.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

Absolutely

Just read a quote I really liked from Boyd K. Packer in the most recent Ensign.
I seldom use the word absolutely. It seldom fits.
I like the humility in that statement--tacitly admitting that there's a lot we don't know for certain. And at the same time, it also expresses conviction that there also are some absolutes, some certainties to be found in this life. For example, in the Ensign article it's from, Who Is Jesus Christ?, he immediately goes on to use the word 'absolutely' twice in talking about the necessity of the atonement. I think the acknowledgment that there are few absolutes makes those few all the more precious. There may not be many absolutes in life, but the ones that we do have are firm.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Delight

In Sunday School last week we read one of the scriptures where Nephi says his soul delights in x. I realized that he uses that phrase a lot and I did a little search of the scriptures to see what he delighted in, and it was quite the impressive list, I thought.


  • 2 Ne. 11: 2, 4-6

    • 2 And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words...
    • 4 Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ...
    • 5 And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers; yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death.
    • 6 And my soul delighteth in proving unto my people that save Christ should come all men must perish.


  • 2 Ne. 25: 4-5, 13

    • 4 ... for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.
    • 5 Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah...
    • 13 ...Wherefore, my soul delighteth to prophesy concerning [Christ], for I have seen his day, and my heart doth magnify his holy name.


  • 2 Ne. 4: 15-16

    • 15 ... For my soul delighteth in the scriptures...
    • 16 Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord...


  • 2 Ne. 31: 3

    • 3 For my soul delighteth in plainness...



Nephi was a pretty optimistic guy, I guess. I wish I could be so positive! Also, I found it very interesting that all of the references say "my soul delighteth..." In my scripture search, I almost included 2 Ne. 9: 49 which says "my heart delighteth in righteousness..." (emphasis mine), but then I realized that Jacob, Nephi's brother, is the one speaking in that chapter. So clearly this proves that the Book of Mormon was the product of multiple ancient authors. Q.E.D. Ok, I wouldn't put it forth as ironclad evidence, but I did think that was cool.

The point is, let's all try to find a bit more happiness in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fun with online translators

Every few months I remember about these things and have some fun. Online translators that can go through multiple languages (e.g. google translate) can generate interesting stuff when you send some message through a couple of times with different languages. I took some great lines from one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, and here is the result.

Original text:

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways,
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests,
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans,
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleeding,
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley,
I met a young woman whose body was burning,
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow,
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinking,
But I'll know my song well before I start singing,
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.


output (after multiple iterations through various tongues):
Oh, where are you, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, when I was younger self?
I bought Ido boring page 12,
I went there and gave me six - sliding on the road 8
I am in the middle of seven sad forests,
I am in front of a dozen dead sea,
I am 10,000 miles to the cemetery in the mouth,
I saw people bangeulreul hammer, bleeding,
It is a crying clown alley,
My wife is the new traffic hot
I met a young woman, but I want Rainbow
Secondly, I panic until he began sinking.
I know that the song, but before you start to sing,
This is very difficult, is a single disk, hard disk,
Come autumn rain will be difficult.


and after one more translation into Japanese and back to English there were a few more nice additions:
Oh, where are you, my son naive?
Oh, when I was younger himself?
I bought Ido boring page 12,
I was there and I was six - sliding on the road 8
I am in the middle of seven sad forests,
I am in front of a dozen dead sea,
I am 10,000 miles in the cemetery in the mouth,
I have seen people bangeulreul hammer, haemorrhage,
It is a crying clown alley,
My wife is the new Hot-transport
I met a young woman, but I want Rainbow
Secondly, I panic, it began to decline.
I know that song, but before you start to sing,
It is very difficult to have a single CD-ROM, hard disk,
Come fall, the rain will be difficult.


What can you come up with?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Google for President!

Why can't the government actually do something to encourage the development of alternative energy sources? Our dependence on foreign oil is easily one of the biggest problems in our country, and yet Google is doing more to help solve it than the government. Kudos to Google, anti-kudos to Bush/the federal government.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Remembering


Gordon Bitner Hinckley died today at the ripe old age of 97. He was the only prophet and president of the church I ever knew. Some things I really liked about him:
his sense of humor
his voice: warm, gentle, sometimes cracking, always loving
his testimoney: direct and powerful
his optimism

The world is not quite as good a place as it was yesterday when he was still here, but it is a vastly better place than it was 97 years ago, due in no small part to his magnificent life. He can now be with his amazing wife again, so I'm sure he's happy.

While reading Psalms today I came across this verse that I think sums up what Pres. Hinckley might have been able to say in his last days to the Lord: "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nobody Knows

I thought this was a good review of Nobody Knows: The Untold History of Black Mormons which I had the opportunity to see last weekend. I loved it. What are your thoughts? Want to see it? I want to buy it when it comes out on DVD.