Thursday, March 31, 2005

Girl Scout Cookies Are OVER!

I made the bank deposits today-- the Girl Scout Cookie sale is over!! It's been an interesting experience, to say the least. After what I went through with the ordering of the cookies, I thought the madness would be over, but unfortunately it wasn't.

The second training meeting was to tell us how to do the paperwork for the money. We were given a packet that contained our turn-in envelope, deposit slips, and directions for filling out the deposit slips. Except that my packet was the only one that didn't contain any deposit slips whatsoever. I don't know why-- our troop isn't a new troop-- but for some reason there were no deposit slips for our troop. I was told they would mail me some deposit slips as soon as they got them.

When I got the deposit slips in the mail, they had a different troop number on them, which had been crossed out and our troop number hand-written in. Soon after that, I received a phone call asking me not to use these deposit slips, as they might result in our money being credited to the troop whose number was originally on them. I was told that the correct slips would come in the mail soon. When no slips were forthcoming, I called and the lady was going to check on them. They told her that I should use those deposit slips and they would just be on the lookout for our troop's money in the other account in case anything went wrong. By that time, though, the cookie sale was nearly over and I was about to receive the last of the money, so I didn't make any deposits until after I received everyone's money.

Then the girls came to turn in their money. One of the girls' guardians had endorsed all the checks for me and provided me with an accounting sheet detailing the checks and cash. Another girl turned in checks that amounted to $28 more than she owed for the cookies I'd given her. I went over her order sheet and matched each and every check to an order that had been delivered, so I accepted the checks and gave her $28 in cash. The girl's sister is in our sister troop, and I think the orders must have been filled with cookies from her sister's allotment. This was the same family that called me in the middle of the cookie sale claiming they'd been shorted four boxes, but thanks to my cookie inventory and careful record keeping, we were able to verify that she had not ordered the correct amount of boxes from me. It happens all the time that people add up their order incorrectly-- I did it myself last year-- and a good Cookie Manager will have the paperwork to back it up.

I recorded all my receipts in my spreadsheet and set to work endorsing all the checks. I got them all counted up and sorted by amount. And then I re-read the directions, and discovered to my horror that I would be required to submit the checks, not in one big pile, but in a pile for each girl with an itemized list of the checks by value. I spent the better part of a day trying to uncollate the pile of over a hundred checks. It helped that I had the check totals for each girl, and that there were only five girls, and that one of the girls' guardians had handwritten "For Deposit Only" on the back of all her checks. Some of the checks I could place with a particular girl because I recognized the name on the check. The rest I did with a little mathematics.

I cannot for the life of me figure out why they think they need this information. The teller at the bank promptly removed all the paper clips I'd put on each pile, and stuck the checks in one pile. I asked her about it and she said the bank doesn't need the checks broken down by girl, only a list of checks. That must mean that Council or the Service Unit thinks they need the more detailed information; I don't know why they'd insist we take it to the bank as well. But it doesn't provide any useful information for them-- it would only tell them what each girl's total of checks was. Cookie sales per girl are tracked via the T-1 form that we use to order cookies; that was made abundantly clear to me by the ladies who decided I needed an extra case of cookies so that my girls would get more activity credits. Customer names and addresses are not supposed to be on the list of checks I'm required to submit, so the breakdown by girl can't be for creating a mailing list. The money girls owe for their cookies is tracked via the receipts we give the girls' parents, and if there are any discrepancies I am contractually obligated to fill them from my own funds, so they have no need to check my addition. The only reason we even need a breakdown of checks vs. cash is so that we can double-check our figures before we make the deposit. The breakdowns by girl are submitted after the deposits. So unless Council has some burning statistical need to know the amount of checks per girl, this information is utterly useless, and collecting it is a waste of our Service Unit Cookie Manager's time.

I think, though, that the real reason why we are required to turn in this information is that the people who are running this are excessively anal and have not thought this through with any degree of clarity. At the meeting where they were instructing us, they insisted that we had to use adding machines to make these breakdowns by girl, and that only adding machine tapes would be acceptable. When we protested that we don't have adding machines but we do have computer spreadsheets, their response was to offer to lend us their adding machines. Finally we talked them into allowing us to submit them as printouts from spreadsheets. This is the sort of reaction you'd expect from people who do it their way just because they can, and care less about getting the information they need and more about the way in which it's presented.

At any rate, it's over and all I have to do now is turn in my envelope with my receipt for the deposit and the stupid breakdowns by girl. Thanks to my good management, we ended up within 50 cents of our correct amount. The 50 cents was 50 cents extra, so we came out on top. The discrepancy was in Princess' cash, and I think the extra 50 cents might have been swept into her envelope when it spilled and I put it all back in.

I think that after all they've put me through I've earned the right to be a bit of a smart-@$$, so when I hand in my receipts I'm also going to hand in a copy of the spreadsheet I created to track all this. It does cookie inventory, tracks Gift of Caring and boothing cookies, and automatically adjusts the amount of money a girl owes as cookies are issued and returned-- basically everything a Cookie Manager might need. I don't usually bludgeon people over the head with my intelligence, but I just want to see the look on her face when I hand it to her, proof that I can be an excellent and effective cookie manager without doing it her way.

Terri Schiavo Dies

... and I think Frank J. has the most eloquent statement on it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Princess And The Crazy Opera

Princess' 2nd grade class was involved this year in the Opera By Children program, where children write and perform their own 10-15 minute opera. The opera was performed last night, along with three other operas from another elementary school's third grade classes.

The opera her class wrote was entitled "The Princesses And The Crazy Spell" and, as you would expect from being written by second graders, had an extremely whimsical and semi-random fairy-tale-based plot. It involved princesses, witches, knights, and the other usual fairytale suspects, and also (inexplicably) a seaplane and a hedgehog. The hedgehog rescues the four princesses from the witches by crossing a shaky bridge over a river of boiling hot lava (hot lava being the children's iconic representation of something scary and impossible to wade in). I tried to describe the plot to someone, and he said it sounded like a "bad acid trip". I'd characterize it as more like a really wacky dream, one of those that puts together snippets of everything you've been thinking about for the last few days.

Princess was cast as one of the fairies, and I designed a lovely flower-fairy costume for her, with a petal skirt and hand-painted wings. Alas, I did not get it done. The Girl Scout cookie sale is winding to a close, and I am swamped with paperwork. And I also had that show, and Easter which came early this year, and Spring Break, and this all came on the heels of that Girl Scout thing where Princess performed the Tinikling dance. At the same time I've had tutoring clients three or four nights a week and I'm still working on that order of beaded centerpieces for my aunt, and trying to get my new product line ready for the summer... bottom line, I got the wings done, but I didn't get a chance to paint them, and I didn't get the dress even cut out. So we used an old dress that I'd made for my sister's wedding a while back, and it worked out fine. It was just as well, because if she'd had a costume like the one I'd been planning, she would have stuck out like a sore thumb against the other fairies, who were also wearing dresses with net wings.

Of the four operas, I liked Princess' opera the best, and I don't think that's just because I'm biased toward my own child. Two of the other three operas were about life at their own elementary school and were so full of allusions to their school that they were practically inaccessible to anyone who was not familiar with that school's policies or its blueprint. The other opera was also a king/knight/dragon/princess type fantasy, but everybody just stood in a line and sang, and you couldn't tell who was supposed to be a dragon rider and who was a mere peasant.

One of the school-oriented operas really irritated me-- the entire 15 minutes was about kids painfully rejecting each other on the playground and in the classroom, with the last three minutes in the classroom. Once in the classroom, the snottiness was finally mediated by a teacher who gave the bulliest two kids a "refocus" (evidently some sort of punishment specific to their school)-- not for bullying, but for lying about their bullying, while the rest of the kids who had been little snots behind the teacher's back got off scot-free. I am glad that Princess doesn't have to deal with that kind of nonsense at the charter school, where that kind of behavior is not tolerated from the very beginning and there is no need for euphemistically-named punishments.

I also noticed that the kids from Princess' school sang much better than the other kids. The charter school has a music program, and it shows. The kids from the other school chanted tunelessly, while the charter school students were actually singing, and you could make out a melody. I don't expect second and third graders to sing very well, but at least with the charter school students I could tell that there was a melody, and most of the time could even make out when it was increasing or decreasing in pitch.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Who Is A Journalist?

There has been a lot of debate lately over what, if anything, differentiates journalists from bloggers. Some, noting that journalism and blogging overlap quite a bit, say there is no distinction-- that bloggers are amateur journalists. Others argue that people who write news articles for a living are journalists, but amateurs are not. This may seem like an unimportant distinction, but it is starting to be important because many state laws protect bona fide journalists from having to disclose their sources. Three bloggers are currently being subpoenaed by Apple Computer, which wants them to be forced to disclose their sources for some leaked confidential information. So how do we decide who is a journalist, qualifying for source protection, and who is not?

I'd like to make an analogy with medicine. Lots of everyday people engage in what might be loosely called "the practice of medicine," even though we require a license to practice medicine. Am I practicing medicine if I recommend that my friend give an antihistamine instead of a decongestant to her daughter with a runny nose? Am I practicing medicine if I give someone herbs or supplements for a specific ailment? Am I practicing medicine if I perform basic first aid on an injured person? Most people agree that these are not instances of practicing medicine and are not subject to regulation and licensure. For those who do practice medicine, we have licensure requirements. The requirements vary from state to state but usually are not terribly taxing (at least, not compared to going to med school). Some states also license herbal and homeopathic practitioners. In return for proof of training and subscription to a code of ethics, people are allowed to practice medicine legally.

Maybe we ought to license journalists as well. Perhaps a licensed journalist could take an ethical oath similar to the Hippocratic oath, pay a licensing fee annually, and receive the rights that journalists have to conceal their sources. You wouldn't have to be a paid journalist to qualify as a journalist, and those who are concerned with ethical standards in journalism can make sure there is some sort of ethical oath as part of licensure. Anyone can have a blog, of course, and say whatever they want on it; but only licensed journalists would be allowed to conceal their sources. In regard to election campaigning, we could require licensed journalists to declare their support for a candidate as an in-kind contribution, but not require it of unlicensed journalists.

What do you readers think?

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Letter To Lemony Snicket

[Note: If you've read the series and the Unauthorized Autobiography, this will make much more sense to you.]

Dear Mr. Snicket,

I was reading your Unauthorized Autobiography, and I came across something that just rang where my brain should have been, somewhere between my ears. In "The Wide Window," I noticed that Ike Anwhistle, formerly the husband of Aunt Josephine, is introduced to the unfortunate series for the first time. If he's an important character, is he the one who rescues the Baudelaire children in the end? I know he's supposed to be dead, but Sebald is too, right? Right after he used the Sebald code in "Zombies In The Snow," wasn't he killed, or found dead at any rate? I hope my phone will ring sometime with your answer to my pressing question. I can only pray you have got my message.

[Wacky Hermit]

On The Nightstand

I haven't done an "On The Nightstand" post in a while, even though I have been reading a bit. So here are a few books that have recently been on my nightstand, but are mostly back at the library now.

I finally got around to reading Old Man's War by John Scalzi. It came highly recommended in the blogosphere. It's an interesting premise-- you have to be 75 to join up in the army-- and as science fiction goes, it's pretty well written. But it reminded me why I'm really not into the whole SF genre any more. Once you've read Asimov, nothing else compares-- and Asimov is dead, so once you've read all his works, you're done.

I should say, though, that I don't really like fiction books to begin with. I used to read a lot of fiction, especially science fiction, when I was a kid. I found that it colored my view of the world too much. I started thinking the world really was the way the authors said it was. But then I realized it was like watching too much TV-- you start to be unable to tell the difference between what you have watched and what you have actually seen. When the kids ask you if you've ever seen a shark, you have to think: did I really see a shark, or did I just see one on TV? Because if you say you have seen one, the follow-up questions will be "Where?" and "Did you touch it?" and you won't be able to answer.

I also took a few minutes to read David Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries. It's cute and short, and the kids got a real kick out of the illustration of the lady wearing the toilet seat as a headdress. It's a fictional account of a future archaeologist who excavates a motel and comes to all the wrong conclusions about the nature of the room and the purpose of the artifacts found therein. There's a whole section describing items in the museum gift shop, with toilet coffee mugs and toothbrush earrings and such. It really makes you wonder what the ancients would think about our King Tut T-shirts and Mayan glyph pencils.

I actually bought two books. I almost never buy books; partly because I'm cheap, and partly because shelf space is so limited in our house that I have to be really choosy about which books I feel I really need to have on hand. If I just want a good read, I go to the library and check a book out. But I did end up buying Quickbooks 2004 For Dummies, and Color By Accident by Ann Johnston. The former I got with one of Favorite Hubby's gift certificates (every month, if his department meets his quota, they all get a $25 gift certificate to this local bookstore which is not FH's favorite, so he let me have one of his gift certificates.) The latter I ordered from Amazon, because every Google search I did on low-water immersion dyeing turned out to recommend either that book or Paula Burch's excellent website.

Some of the reviews of Color By Accident said that Johnston really got into the chemistry of dyeing, but evidently the reviewers and I have different ideas about what "really getting into" entails. I was kinda hoping to use taking up dyeing as an opportunity to redeem myself for the C I got in Mr. F---'s AP Chemistry class in high school, so I was a bit disappointed in the lack of chemistry detail. (Just for the record, it was only a C because everybody else in my 5th period class was cheating off those in the 1st period class. If I'd been in the 1st period class, I'd have gotten a B, but Mr. F--- flat-out refused to curve the classes together to counteract the incentive to cheat.)

And lastly, I finally got around to reading The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (#3 in the Series Of Unfortunate Events). The only reason I read it was to see if I could find any of the Sebald Code in it. I've been re-reading the entire series now, looking for scraps of Sebald Code. Since the indicator of the start of the coded message is the sound of a bell, I thought The Wide Window might have some, since it takes place by Lake Lachrymose and involves boats. I found a couple references to bells, but none of them was followed by a coded message. It would be really cool if Snicket had embedded spoilers or other secret messages in the text of each book using this code, but it appears he has not. That's too bad-- the existence of such messages in the books would have increased my estimation of the author quite a bit.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Craft Show in Ogden

I spent a lot of time and effort getting ready for the show I did on Saturday in Ogden. Alas, it was in vain. You could count on one hand the number of customers who came to the show, even though it was advertised. The good news is, I was able to sell a few things to the other vendors and make back my booth fee.

The bad news is, I don't have two things I was hoping to get out of this show. One, of course, was the money to fund my venture into scarf dyeing; but there are always other sources of money. The other was something more valuable-- information. I needed the information that only customers could give me-- what they look at, what they handle, what comments they make while they're looking and handling. That information could be the difference between a success and a failure at Summerfest (assuming I'm accepted at Summerfest) or some other big show.

I did get a couple of ideas. One was that I need to make more ponchos that larger women can wear. I've had a couple of larger women try on my ponchos, and by the looks on their faces I can tell that they've tried on lots of ponchos and none of them fit right. When I think back to all the ponchos I've seen, I notice that they are mostly cut for skinny people. So plus size ponchos would be a good thing.

The other idea is that I need to find some Sonshine-proof way to put up my mirror for people to admire themselves in the ponchos. Suggestions are welcome...

Friday, March 25, 2005

Show Prep

I'm getting some last-minute things ready for my craft show tomorrow. It is my first out-of-town craft show and I hope it goes well. I am hoping to raise enough money to buy the supplies I need to make merchandise for Summerfest.

I spent all of yesterday evening setting up my new system for tracking sales, which I have shamelessly copied off one of the ladies in my Craft Show Crafters Yahoo group. I got some removable stickers, printed the item numbers and prices on them, and stuck them on the hanging tags. When I sell the items, I will remove the stickers and place them on a paper. That way I will know what has sold and can enter it in quickly and accurately into Quickbooks.

I also have spent the last few days completely re-organizing my item list and price levels. It was quite an overhaul, but it really needed doing and should streamline things somewhat. I made all my items into sub-items so that they would be more visually organized on the item list and I can find them easier. Then I fixed my price levels so that my default level shows the price on the sticker. When I do craft shows, I usually include sales tax in the price on the sticker; but when I invoice it in Quickbooks to record the sale and the sales tax, I have to use different prices than the sticker prices because Quickbooks doesn't know how to handle prices which already include sales tax. Consequently there is a lot of rounding error and I frequently have to add in one-cent adjustments to these invoices. I found a way around it, though-- I made the standard prices to be the sticker prices, then I made a price level that is the correct percentage lower than the sticker prices so that when it is invoiced and taxed, the total comes out to the sticker price. I set up one for Logan sales tax and one for Ogden sales tax (the show this weekend is in Ogden). Now, if I want to add a location without changing my sticker prices, all I have to do is quickly set up a sales tax item for that location's tax amount, and a price level with the corresponding percentage decrease. Quickbooks will then automatically calculate my sales tax liability.

I still haven't balanced my accounts, though; but I'm afraid that will have to wait. I have to make sure everything is ready by this evening for Easter as well as the show. That means laundry, Easter eggs, candy, food for the big Easter dinner, etc. etc.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Good First Step

Iowahawk provides us with a list of endangered vegetables. I say that's a good start-- but I won't be satisfied until all our vegetable brothers and sisters are safe from the horrible deaths they meet at the hands of Big Agriculture. We vegetable rights activists will protest all forms of vegetable murder until we empty the charnel houses grocery stores and all vegetables die natural deaths at the hands paws of rabbits. We will then eat the rabbits.

Never forget the Vegetable Rights Slogan-- you're only one car accident away from being a vegetable yourself!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

On Terri Schiavo

I have mixed feelings about the Terri Schiavo case. On the one hand, I think the court system has failed Terri Schiavo. It allowed inadequate protections for her interests. On the other hand, when bad laws are made based on one extraordinary case, all of us are affected to one degree or another.

I am clear on a few points, though. First, I don't think a feeding tube is an extraordinary life-saving measure in the same way that a respirator is. My justification for this view is that we don't let infants starve because they can't feed themselves, therefore not being able to feed yourself is not on the same level as not being able to breathe for yourself. My own little nephew A---- spent quite a lot of time in the hospital on both a respirator and a feeding tube. He wasn't in a persistent vegetative state, thank God, but I am glad that my sister and her husband didn't take the view that he ought to starve or be allowed to quit breathing just because he couldn't do it on his own. Little A---- is a blessing and he has already started serving a purpose in this world. Even while he was at death's door, he was fulfilling the mission the Lord sent him here on earth to do. I saw it in his eyes on the day he was blessed, before the illness struck him. He had an old man's eyes, the eyes of one who was bracing himself for a large dose of suffering, but understood that it would turn out for the good. I was amazed when I saw that in his eyes-- I'd never seen it in a baby before, but there it was nonetheless. I'm still convinced, as I was at the time of his blessing, that he knew something like this was coming.

The second point I'm clear on is that human life has value far beyond its utility. I am reminded of the story of a man whose wife was in a nursing home, stricken with a debilitating disease that didn't permit her to interact with her surroundings or recognize her husband. Nurses asked him why he kept coming back to visit her every day, even though she didn't know who he was. He said, "She may not know who I am, but I know who she is," meaning that even if she didn't show any activity she was still his wife and was still due the respect that her office commanded. I know my family believes in this because we all castigated my grandfather for "moving on" with his life and new girlfriend while my grandmother, who could no longer respond to her environment, was in a nursing home. She wasn't in a persistent vegetative state either, but we all knew who she was and didn't abandon her even though she didn't know who we were. Michael Schiavo has repeatedly showed his disrespect for this principle and has behaved in exactly the opposite manner from the noble man in the story.

Last, I am clear that if there is doubt, we must always err on the side of life. If we go against the will of the Lord in letting someone live, the Lord has his own ways of correcting our mistake. But if we willfully end life against the will of the Lord, the mistake cannot be corrected and will be credited to our eternal account. Determining the Lord's will is a tricky business at best, and the death penalty is a debatable question for that very reason. But the Lord specifically made an exception for the deliberate killing of the clearly guilty, and has shown us examples of where, when a person or people were wicked beyond rehabilitation and doing great evil, they were dispatched "home" to where the needs of their soul could be dealt with in a manner not injurious to others. There is no such exception in scripture that would allow the deliberate killing of the innocent, who are doing no evil but whose lives have an undesirable effect on the lives of others.

Even a "vegetable" can still have an impact in the world-- witness the number of people who are now discussing end-of-life issues with their loved ones in the wake of the Terri Schiavo case. Terri Schiavo may or may not have any brain left. But that someone so disabled has managed to affect the life choices of millions is proof positive that she still has purpose, even if she is not conscious.

Global Warming: Not An Issue Of Good Or Evil

Once again, Orson Scott Card hits the nail on the head, this time with regard to global warming:
Ruddiman's thesis -- which is controversial, as all new ideas are -- is that the beginning of human agriculture added just enough greenhouse gases to the atmosphere to make a significant difference in global climate.

In other words, his thesis is that, far from beginning with the industrial age, human influence over global climate has been continuous since we first started changing terrains in order to grow ever greater quantities of dietary staples. We have always affected the climate; only the degree of the effect has changed over time.
...maybe we could stop thinking of it as good and evil and, as Ruddiman suggests, simply measure what the climate usually would be, compared to what it is; isolate the causes of the difference; and then make rational, calibrated changes based on the desired outcome.
When we have enough reliable data, let's make our decisions based on informed consensus rather than the religious fervor of Enviro-Calvinist fanatics -- especially since their god is an imaginary "state of nature" that does not include civilized, industrialized, mobile, and reproductively enthusiastic humanity.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

I was a freshman in college during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Many of my suitemates had relatives in the Los Angeles area. They tried to call home to find out if their families were safe, but they couldn't get through the busy phone lines. So we were reduced to watching the TV with bated breath, to see if we would catch a glimpse of our home neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Blanca (another suitemate) ran down the hall, whooping it up about the coming "revolution". She was excited that "white people" were going to pay for some sins or other, and she didn't seem to notice the mortified looks on her L.A. suitemates' faces, only one of whom was white. Their families were in real danger, and she was all excited because "the Man" was getting it stuck to him.

Later that day I was walking across campus and my route, by necessity, took me past a demonstration. I walked as far around it as I could, and as I passed a rock was thrown in my direction and missed my head by only a couple of feet. After that, I tried not to stay out after dark, and if I had to be out after dark, I kept my hand on my knitting needles at all times, lest someone mistake me for a "white" person and proceed to perpetrate the "revolution" on me personally.

Every so often, students would march on the university offices and sit in demanding an end to tuition increases. They would chant and hold signs. They would chain themselves to chairs. They would sit there ignoring their studies and missing the classes they had already paid for, until the university officials would say the right words to them to persuade them to go away feeling as if they'd spoken truth to power, which in the end was what they'd really come for. And the next year, tuition went up as scheduled.

Blanca and the protesters sicken me. These people have no idea what a revolution is really like. I know this because I know about their upbringing; it is quite a lot like mine, and I have no idea what a revolution is really like. But at least I have the humility to acknowledge when I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. I have never seen a real honest-to-goodness revolution, but I imagine they're not near as exciting as running down the hall whooping, or throwing random rocks at "the Man". From all the accounts I've heard and read, real revolutions are actually pretty scary, with people really getting shot at instead of just imagining they're being oppressed. And they last for years and years, not months or days; or else they don't make the headlines as revolutions, but are only called revolutions by history books.

My best guess is that these self-proclaimed revolutionaries were very excited by the prospect of a "revolution" because they wanted to change the world without putting in the hard work necessary to actually do so. If you could hitch your wagon to an up-and-coming movement, get in on the ground floor so to speak, and ride it all the way up to power, you'd be set-- and you wouldn't have to think up a single original idea or accomplish one meaningful thing. All you'd have to do is make up a clever sign or think up a new way to shock people.

It is very exciting to protest, to feel like you're involved in something big, to feel like you're making a difference. I'm not saying that everyone should just submit powerlessly to whatever the government decides, or that they should just sit down and shut up if they don't have large amounts of power. But let's not confuse protest with actually making a difference-- and let's not confuse a nationwide navel-gazing party with a real revolution.

Dyeing To Meet Ya

I didn't care what else didn't get done yesterday-- I had to dye. I just couldn't keep my hands off those silk scarves. And here they are:

The peacock blue one is a rayon/silk burnout velvet. It was dyed with just one color with a low-water immersion technique so that it would have light and dark patches. The chartreuse one is 8mm silk habotai and barely weighs anything (11 grams before dyeing). It was supposed to have patches of golden yellow and peacock blue, but I let the dye sit too long before "fixing" so the colors blended instead. Next time I'll "fix" it right away so that the colors don't have a chance to blend too much.

Monday, March 21, 2005

World Turned Upside Down; Still Works Same Way

I made a list of the dyes I'd need to make all my wonderful scarf ideas. Then I went onto Dharma Trading's website and added up the prices of all these dyes. It came to upwards of $100. That was when I decided I'd need to learn how to mix my own color blends.

Dyes, as it turns out, mix according to the subtractive theory of color mixing. The primary colors of dye are cyan, magenta, and yellow. This is very different from what we are taught as kids, which is that red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors, or from what we know from our experiences with TV, which is that red, green and blue are primaries.

When I was a kid I just ate up the RYB color theory. I loved it. I could mix yellow and blue clay and get green. I could mix yellow and blue paint and get green too. I could even get various shades of green depending on the proportions of the mix. So when I went to the science museum and they assured me that green was a primary color and I could mix it with red to get yellow, I just kind of blinked at them. Green and red makes brown, not yellow. Green and red are opposites on the color wheel. Everybody who's worked with poster paints knows this. Even though I saw the green and red light mix to make yellow, I wrote it off as a matter of personal opinion. Maybe green and red makes yellow-- for you. For me it makes brown. Then I sectioned it off in my mind as something that didn't apply to me. OK, maybe red light and green light makes yellow light. But I don't paint with light, now, do I? So I don't have to think about it.

I'm now having to defeat my natural defense mechanisms against experiences that don't mesh with my ideas in order to learn the CMY (cyan-magenta-yellow) color mixing system. As anyone who has had to defeat these knows, it is extremely difficult. We posit systems of how the world works as a necessary lubricant to our everyday lives. We want the world to work in an orderly fashion. Once we've decided which schema the world follows, we reject utterly all the other schemas. And yet, we notice that there are people out there who accept other schemas. We suppose they must be ignorant, immature, or simply misguided, because they obviously don't understand how things work and they are just clutching to their schema out of habit. Of course, that doesn't apply to our schema-- we cling to it not because of habit, but because it's true and it's the way the world works. We've proved it with our own experience. Or at least it feels like we've proved it with our own experience, when in fact it's the other way around-- we've proved our own experience with our theory.

But reality doesn't work the way we want it to work just because we want it to. If we could think the world into submission and make it do our bidding, the earth would have had to shift geometries over the centuries as it vacillated between round and flat. Color doesn't change the way it works just because I accept a different set of primary colors. And yet, when I try to wrap my mind around the CMY system, it seems as if the world has turned upside down. Magenta and yellow make red. If you mix in cyan, which to my eyes is a kind of blue, you should get purple, but instead you get black. It makes some sort of sense to me, but in a warped, mind-blowing way that just feels wrong, like putting a left shoe on a right foot. I can memorize the color combinations and recite them, but they just don't make any sense when I try to think about them. It is the same dissonance that Newtonian physics saw in Einstein or that the mathematical community felt with Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. Everything you know is wrong, but nothing has changed.

But I also know that CMY theory is just a theory-- it is not an infallible system that can produce any color in the world or adequately explain which dyes will mix to produce what is perceived as red. Ultimately, the struggle to accept an alien idea is the first step in the struggle to accept that the world doesn't follow our rules, no matter which way we frame it. The world can turn entirely upside down-- but it still works the same way it always has.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bagel Hits BOTM

Bagel has discovered the world of Beverages Other Than Milk (BOTM).

It is always a poignant moment when the nursing mother discovers that her child wants to explore other beverage options. For many months she's taken pride in nourishing this tiny person solely from her own body. She makes many sacrifices, rearranges her schedule, and misses lots of meetings so that the baby's needs can be taken care of. She develops a special relationship with her little Nursin' Person. And all of a sudden her little Nursin' Person is telling her he wants to see other people.

I try really hard not to take it personally. After all, he has to wean sometime before his senior prom. And it's not like he will be totally weaned. He still starts and ends every day with a long, comforting drink of fresh warm milk. And it's not like this is his first experience with the bottle. But starting to give your baby a regular non-milk feeding has a sort of end-of-an-era feel to it, like life has somehow moved on too quickly.

Aside from that, we now face the daunting task of finding BOTM that our little gourmet Bagel will deign to drink. We've already tried juice; he doesn't like it. He will drink the dark corn syrup-water that was prescribed for him by the doctor. The dark corn syrup tastes a lot like molasses, so I've thought about trying molasses-water because molasses has calcium and other stuff in it. We haven't yet tried Kool-Aid or Tang, but I hesitate to give him more sugar-waters to drink. (Also, after you've dyed yarn with Kool-Aid, you think twice before serving Kool-Aid to your family.) We've speculated that he might actually drink dealcoholized wine, if it's a good year and it's served at the correct temperature. I'm at a loss to think of other BOTM that he might try. Besides juice, milk, sugar-waters and dealcoholized wine, what else is there?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Pirate Party

The pirate party went well.

These are some of Sonshine's friends decorating their treasure boxes.

This was the short-lived moment of opening the treasure chest after the treasure hunt. The treasure box was made out of a cardboard box and a cardboard flat (which provided the curved top), assembled with masking tape and spray-painted brown. Lock and band detailing on the lid were added with a dry-erase marker. We filled the treasure chest with Ring Pops, plastic gold coins, butter rum Life Savers, and round chocolates.

Top view of the cake. The ship is a plastic toy ship that I got on clearance after Christmas. I just frosted the cake, stuck the ship on top, and squirted the rest of the frosting around it.

Princess plays violin to entertain the guests, while Bagel bounces in his new bouncy swing.

We sent the kids home entirely high on sugar. They each dug into one of their Ring Pops from the treasure chest, and then we fed them cupcakes and juice. We sent them outside to play ball and games and hack at the remaining snow with their pirate swords, but they were still wired when they went home for dinner.

The family dinner which followed the kids' party included buffalo "parrot" wings, "fingers" in barbecue sauce (little smokies sausages), and fresh banana peppers. These last were provided mostly for the fig leaf of serving a vegetable with so much meat. My mother was at the party; you can't serve a meal of only meat with your mother in attendance, even if the meat is all your kids will eat.


"If it wasn't for disappointment, I wouldn't have any appointments."
-- They Might Be Giants, "Snowball In Hell"

This has been a very tiring and disappointing week.

I've been operating for the last few weeks now on about 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Bagel has been horribly constipated. We called the doctor and on his advice gave Bagel several bottles of corn syrup in water. Bagel, as it turns out, loves the corn syrup, but only if it is served in a bottle with the proper shape of nipple. I knew there were certain glass shapes that had to go with certain wines or liqueurs, but who knew there was a proper nipple for corn syrup water?? Bagel is still passing occasional and really dry stools, but at least he's no longer in pain.

Because Bagel had been in pain, he had required holding during most of his waking hours, which meant I didn't get anything useful done until after he went to sleep. I still had to keep the laundry going, fill my weekly quota of crown centerpieces, get some products ready for the show next weekend, get my Summerfest application in, do research for my new product line, administer and grade the 6th grade Math League competition, and prepare for Sonshine's pirate party (which is today). I didn't get to bed until about midnight every night, and I still didn't get everything done. I haven't even started Princess' opera costume, worked on any of the million sewing projects that need doing, or gotten the house cleaned up for the party.

The pirate party is going to be fun. I've never had such a high percentage of invitees RSVP before! I didn't get the pirate flag made, but it will still be a fun party.

Girl Scout cookie sales are all over but the collecting of the money from the girls' deliveries. The cookies are now all gone.

I've tricked out my knitting machine with a new carriage and a row counter, and it is now about as sweet as these little toy knitting machines get without homemade modifications. I can produce ponchos faster now... if I can find the time to work on them. I also got my shipment from Dharma Trading with the scarf blanks and dyes. I desperately want to start work on my scarves, but with the party and all, I won't have time until next week. And next week is Spring Break for Princess, which means that I get to break up fights between Princess and Sonshine throughout the entire day from dawn till bedtime, instead of only between after school and bedtime.

I got a wonderful taste of Spring Break today. Princess called me from school to tell me that she'd twisted her ankle so badly that she needed to go home. I thought she might have a touch of Fridayitis, so I told her I'd pick her up in an hour when I come up to the school to present Math League awards to the 6th graders. She was hopping around so violently that she was injuring other parts of her body, and wincing horribly every time anything came within a foot of her ankle. I had to leave Math League early because Sonshine pitched a horrible screaming fit after not being allowed to check out books at the school library. On the way home from the school, he managed somehow to steal Princess' shoe from her foot while they were both strapped into carseats in separate rows and on opposite sides of the van, and she was bawling. Since he did it just to make her miserable, I took his shoe too, and then he too was bawling. They both bawled like hound dogs all the way home. Then when we got home, I let them have the remainder of my horchata and laid down for a nap. When I awoke, I discovered that they had spilled the horchata all over Sonshine's raincoat, taken the dripping raincoat down the hall into the bathroom, washed it off, carried it dripping with water back down the hallway, and set it down on top of one of the ponchos I was working on. And in the process, they kicked over my purse and knocked everything in it all over the floor.

Why do I bother taking a nap? There's just even more work to do when I wake up than there would have been if I had stayed awake.

My back has been a mass of pain, to where I can't decide whether I want to painfully sit, painfully stand, lay down and try to sleep while in pain, or walk around in pain. Since I already had a chiropractor appointment scheduled after Math League, I took Princess to the chiropractor, who predicted she would have a miraculous recovery later in the day. And sure enough, by about 8pm, she was dancing around. I knew the chiropractor was right, of course. Her twisted ankle didn't seem to stop her from chasing her brother around the house and fighting with him. I fell asleep on the bench at the chiropractor's office. When I woke up, I realized that I'd fallen asleep because it was the first time all week that I had been able to lay down and relax.

So now the week is almost over, and I'm disappointed. I didn't get to do the things I find fun. Once again, I've spent my entire week in service to the people I love, who then turn around and take me for granted most of the time.

Oh well. Maybe next week.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

K-Mart Ripped Me Off!!

I am totally exhausted and our tax refund came in, so I decided to spend my morning out shopping. I'm searching high and low for decent summer clothes for Princess, and I decided to go to K-Mart. And what do I find there, but some ponchos that are exactly like my asymmetrical ponchos. And I mean exactly. I didn't count the rows, but the stitch count is exactly the same, and they're using a 3x1 mock rib just like me.

Damn You, K-Mart!!!!!!!

Of course, the K-Mart ponchos are nowhere near as nice as mine. They're in a rayon/cotton boucle, and they decided to make the fringe out of cut pieces of the same boucle. The first time that poncho is washed, half the fringe will shred away, and the second time the other half will shred away. But the clock has started ticking on my design. If it has hit K-Mart, it doesn't have much of a shelf life left.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Car Ribbons

OK, by now everybody has probably seen those magnetic yellow ribbons (or variants thereof) proclaiming support for our troops. I have to confess I have not one, but two on my van (one is yellow and the other is red, white, and blue and says "God Bless America"). Loads of people bought them to show their support for-- wait for it-- the troops. Then other causes took up the meme and made pink ribbon magnets for breast cancer, red ones for AIDS, even puzzly rainbow ones for autism awareness.

And now the trend has reached the "critical mass" (pun intended) that it takes to spawn pointed parodies. The Jesus Fish has its Darwin Fish, which in turn has its Jesus Fish Eating The Darwin Fish. The yellow ribbon magnet has Sporting such slogans as "My Ribbon Is Better Than Your Ribbon," these self-referential ribbons are a tongue-in-cheek way to poke fun at the trend.

I don't mind, by the way, that these ribbons are making fun of me and millions of other patriotic Americans like me. If you can't laugh at yourself, you only place yourself in opposition to the other people who are laughing at you.


I was poking around on the 'net and thought, "Hey, I should mozy on over to see if Summerfest has their vendor applications yet." For non-Cache-Valleyites, Summerfest is the big art fair and music festival in mid-June in Logan. There are hayrides, live music, lots of great food including Favorite Husband's favorite funnel cakes, and lots of really beautiful stuff for sale. I'd heard a rumor that vendor spots were running something on the order of $400 and I thought I'd see if it were true. Nope-- vendor spots are only $150! That put it in my price range for a big show (which, as I noted in the post below, I can only feasibly do if I drop the crocheted items from my inventory and take up something more profitable). "This is cool," I thought, and downloaded the application. "I can use the profits from my Easter show to buy materials for the new line of scarves. Now when is this due?"

And that's when I went "Eeeeek!" because it is due Tuesday.

Summerfest is a juried show, which means that they want pictures of what you are selling so that they make sure it's not total schlock and will preserve the reputation of the show. I have pictures of ponchos, but I don't have any pictures of the scarves because I haven't made any yet. I immediately placed my order with Dharma Trading for some dyes, chemicals, and scarf blanks so that I can work up a prototype as fast as possible. But the soonest it could arrive is Tuesday, and then I'd have to do the dyeing and get a picture of it over to the office by 5pm. Our mail arrives in the afternoon, right before I have to leave to take Princess to violin lessons. There's no way in hell I can get the prototype done in time to get a picture of it in to the jury by the deadline. And according to their rules, you're not allowed to sell anything the jury hasn't had a chance to look at and approve.

I wrote an e-mail to the lady in charge asking if I could turn one of my pictures in a day late. When I hear back from her, I'll update the post.

UPDATE: I got really impatient (Nooo, Wacky Hermit impatient???) and called the office to ask my questions. I can submit the pic of somebody else's scarf, and all should be well.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Gray Is The New Black

I've been trying to decide what colors of yarn to buy to make ponchos. I want to make a whole bunch of ponchos because they are more profitable than the oven mitts and dishcloths, and also because after having made a few thousand oven mitts and dishcloths, I'm thoroughly sick of them. I'm also thinking of taking my product line in the direction of dyed things rather than handmade things. I found some really neat silk/rayon burnout velvet scarf blanks that can be easily dyed to produce a two-color effect. I've heard rumors that these scarves are highly fashionable, selling for upwards of $50 at department stores, and are being worn in bright accent colors.

I'm thinking that anything I can make 20 of in my washing machine and sell for $15 each is a good product. If I could make that kind of quantity, I could do larger shows. And unless I can come up with a product that I can make in large quantities, I'm pretty much stuck doing nickel-and-dime business at the Gardeners' Market. The Market is fun and it's profitable enough that I'll keep doing it, but it's not exactly bringing in wheelbarrows full of cash. I'd really like to do an all-weekend show like Summerfest.

Anyway, I've been looking at the Pantone color forecasts for this spring and fall, and I notice that gray is being used as the "new black," i.e. the color that "goes with everything". (Mim, who dresses almost exclusively in gray, is very excited.) I personally like charcoal gray with a bluish cast, but it seems the fashionable palette has more of a medium gray with a yellowish cast.

So, readers, which gray should I choose? The charcoal or the lighter gray, or both? And which colors do you think would make good velvet burnout scarves?

UPDATE: I had a brainstorm and thought about dyeing the scarves in three shades of the same color. For example, a tomato red, a brick red, and a scarlet red. Then the scarf would match all different types of red. This idea seems to be playing well with the couple of friends I've bounced it off of. If I do this, what colors do you think people would like? Red, obviously, but maybe blues? yellows? greens? grays? (maybe not grays because scarves are colorful accessories)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Kiddie P0rnogr@phy

You'll have to pardon the extraneous characters in the word above. They will appear throughout the post in an effort to ward off evil Google searches.

Sonshine has been utterly obsessed with this Hot Wheels movie we rented for him. He watches it all the time and flies into a rage if (God forbid) his sister might want to watch something else or Mom might want to turn it off. The movie contains no objectionable content, of course, but something about it was bothering me, so I thought about it for a while and it came to me. The movie is like p0rnogr@phy, but for kids-- the music is cheesy because nobody's really going to pay any attention to it anyway; and what little plot there is, is merely a flimsy excuse for yet another sequence full of action. And it is the action, really, that is the entire point of the film. It has to be-- there's precious little else in it.

I have a particular dislike for merchandising flicks like Yu-Gi-Oh, which exist solely as infomercials for their products. But this Hot Wheels one is different-- there's quite a bit of product promotion, of course, but what really chaps me is that the film uses a fantasy to create a constant need for action, a dependency on it, that will hopefully be channeled into the activities the film promotes. In that respect it's exactly like p0rn0gr@phy, even though it has no sexy images. Hot Wheels' creators hope that kids' interests will be channeled into buying more and more Hot Wheels products, while porn0gr@phy channels adults' interest into more and more extreme sex.

Maybe I am overreacting, but I sure don't like the change this film has wrought in Sonshine. Since the day he first watched it, he has been extra aggressive. Today he actually drew blood on one of Princess' friends. I don't know about anyone else, but I am creeped out by this Hot Wheels film. I don't want my son (or any kid) to think that he has a need for increasingly extreme action, or that buying products will satisfy his new need.

Official First Word

Bagel has officially said his first word. It is "dada." He actually has been saying "dada" for about a week, but I needed to confirm that he was saying it only in reference to his father and not using it for light fixtures, cookies, and strangers. So far he only says it while looking straight at Dada. So I'm going to "call" it: the Official First Word.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Best Weapon

This is one of the best weapons we have against terrorism. (Link via INDC Journal)

I'd like to see this show aired in the U.S.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Eat An Animal For PETA!

March 15 is the Third Annual International "Eat An Animal For PETA" day. Everyone eat meat! Spare your vegetable brothers and sisters! Oh, and while we're all being activists, stand up for vegetable rights!

Let's all take this day to be a solemn day of remembrance for our vegetable brothers and sisters who bloodily sappily perish every day in restaurants, homes, farms, and gardens around the world. Remember, you are only one car accident away from being a vegetable yourself!

Link via Instapundit.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Bills I'm Watching

UPDATE 3/8: The legislative session is now over. If there's a special session and any of these bills get taken up, or if any that passed get vetoed, I'll see about resurrecting this post. But for now, here are the final results.

Here is a list of bills I'm watching in the Utah Legislature's 2005 session:

HB4 (requires mediation in certain divorce cases)
My opinion
Status: passed

HB25 *substituted (allows licensing and practice of midwives)
My opinion
Status: passed House, circled in Senate (twitching, but not completely dead?)

HB 84 (Holding students back if they can't read on grade level)
My opinion
Status: passed House by a slim margin, died in Senate

HB 129 (Permits school uniforms and dress codes in public schools)
I'm fer it.
Status: passed House, died in Senate

HB 131 (Makes expressing certain points of view within 100 feet of a health care facility or place of worship subject to civil lawsuits and punitive damages)
My opinion
Status: died a merciful death in the House

HB136 (Allows charter schools to give admissions preference based on geography)
I think it's a good idea but needs to be more flexible in how the boundaries are drawn; I've already e-mailed my opinion to the legislator that drafted it.
Status: passed

HB198 (Kicks the MD's off the naturopathic formulary advisory peer committee, and replaces them with naturopaths)
Sounds like a good idea to not have on the committee people who don't know jack about what the committee is discussing and are likely to be hostile to the committee's purpose.
Status: passed

(allows Utah residents/foreign citizens who are here legally to get driving privilege cards with proof of foreign citizenship)
My opinion
Status: passed

HB260 (attempts to set up a database of pornographic websites and bully ISP's into being scared to allow any pornographic content on their servers)
My opinion
Status: I think it's dead.

HB316 (creates driving privilege cards specifically for illegal aliens, along with a program to educate them on Utah driving law and English language)
My opinion
Status: died

SB83 (Stronger standard for the state to prove negligence in medical decisions by parents)
My opinion
Status: passed

SB227 (establishes a driving privilege card for non-citizens)
My opinion
Status: passed and signed

I've only gotten through scanning about half the house bills and none of the senate bills, so I'll be updating this post and bumping it to the top for all the rest of you Utah legislature watchers (how many of those are there? One? Two?) If a bill comes up for a vote, I'll let you know the results.

UPDATE 2/21: I don't think I'll be having any more time to devote to reading additional bills, but I'll keep these updated until they all are voted on, or the end of the legislative session, whichever comes first.

Monday, March 07, 2005

In Frank J.'s World

If you haven't yet, go over to IMAO and start reading Frank J.'s "In My World" series. He's not been quite up to his usual standard lately because he's spending all his time flirting with Sarah K., but this one is back to his usual level of comedic brilliance. My favorite line from the most recent:
"So how are we going to stop the Democrats from... uh... stopping us?" Bush inquired.

"We have the most evil nine-year-old in existence campaigning for us," Rove intoned.

"And, best of all," Cheney added, "he's working solely for Yu-Gi-Oh cards."

"What in God's name are those?" Bush asked.

"No adult knows," Cheney answered.

Read the whole thing.

Scripture Study: Mormonism and Vegetarianism

A few years ago I was involved with a group of LDS people who-- how can I put this without inciting people's prejudices-- are very interested in preparing for the Second Coming of Christ with large reserves of food and ammunition. A lot of them were politically very far to the right and form the model for the class of people I lovingly refer to on this blog as "people who think Clifford the Big Red Dog is a Communist plot" (I should note that I refer to them thusly with my tongue in cheek and a friendly grin on my face, but it's only funny because it's not too far from the truth). These were some of the friendliest, nicest, most generous people I ever met. They could rant like lunatics about how the unprepared will perish at the end times, but they would give you the shirts off their backs. And they had some intriguing insights into LDS doctrine and the nature of prophecy.

Anyway, one of the topics we discussed was vegetarianism and its compatibility with Mormon doctrine. The Mormon dietary code, the Word of Wisdom, is popularly known for its prohibitions against alcohol, tea, coffee, and tobacco. What is less well known, though, is that it is a complete dietary code that enumerates just as many foods that are good to eat as it does foods that are bad to eat, even going so far as to recommend drinks made from barley (verse 17).

Here's what the Word of Wisdom has to say about eating meat: (verses 12-13)
Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
Another passage from the Doctrine and Covenants on the eating of meat is this from D&C 49, which I just came across today as I was re-reading the D&C, put me in mind of this discussion. It was debated quite thoroughly, and in particular the part I've emphasized: (verses 18-19)
And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;

For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.
Since the Word of Wisdom is quite clear that God intended meat to be a human food, and since practicality would dictate that in times of famine all bets are off when it comes to what people will eat, the debate largely centered around how much meat should be eaten in the everyday diet in times of plenty. Some maintained that meat was a food solely for times of famine, and our everyday diet ought to be a vegetarian one. Others thought the comma in D&C 89:13 was extraneous and the passage meant that meat "should not be used only in times of winter," but should be used regularly so that when the times of famine came, our digestive systems would be accustomed to eating it. Still others interpreted the phrase "forbiddeth to abstain" in several competing ways, some saying the Lord wanted us not to interfere with those who choose to eat meat, others saying that it meant we were not to interfere with the choices of vegetarians, and still others thought the phrase "that man should not eat the same" meant that man should not eat meat because it is not ordained of God. The debate got quite lively, and since many of the people in the group were very much into herbal and vitamin supplements and organic foods, was full of references to nutrients and pesticides.

As I was re-reading Section 49, though, I finally realized what it was that the debaters were missing. If you read the section from the beginning instead of focusing on those couple of verses, it becomes clear exactly what the Lord meant to say. The section is a mission call for three specific members to go preach the gospel to the Shakers. The part about forbidding to abstain from meat is #2 on a list of three specific Shaker doctrinal points the missionaries are to address. The others are celibacy and the reincarnation of Christ as a woman, which (along with vegetarianism) were tenets of Shaker doctrine. The section provides a point-by-point refutation of all three of these beliefs. So it is clear to me that the Lord was intending to say that (in contrast to Shaker belief) people can indeed eat meat, but nothing more elaborate than that. And that is entirely consistent with what is laid out in the Word of Wisdom, which is that meat is a food that man can eat without any moral qualms.

Ultimately the group came to the consensus, as in the New Testament debate over whether people who didn't keep kosher could be good Christians, that it really doesn't matter so much what you eat as it does that you are keeping the more important commandments, and that quibbling over exactly how much one eats of which food is divisive and detracts from the real mission of the Church. As long as one strives to do the Lord's will and to bring our will in line with His, He will forgive us our more whimsical interpretations of ambiguous words.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Lord's Scourge

It's very appealing to our human nature to believe that if we perform a certain set of actions, that the Lord will automatically be pleased with us and will grant us blessings. The set of actions varies from time to time and from religious tradition to religious tradition, but the problem is still the same: merely performing these actions does not bring us to the true repentance and humility that are the Lord's criteria for righteousness. After a while we start to set up a social environment where those who don't perform the actions (or who appear to not be performing the actions) receive social penalties like ostracism or reduced status. The Lord has made it perfectly clear that engaging in this sort of discrimination is unrighteous (Luke 18:9-14, Jacob 2:13-14, Alma 31 and 32).

Fortunately for us, the Lord provides an antidote. The situation of the righteous is always precarious, and this is by the Lord's design. When we who say we wish to be righteous refuse to kneel before the Lord, he has a tendency to start exerting more pressure on the tops of our heads to remind us. When the situation expands beyond a problem with individuals to a pervasive societal trait, He will bring in another group of people to scourge the self-righteous into a realization of what is really important. Often the scourging is done by people whom the self-righteous perceive as filthy barbarians. This is to remind them that even "filthy barbarians" are the Lord's children, and in fact are being more righteous than they.

I can tell you from experience that being a scourge is one of the most difficult assignments the Lord can give you. It pains me to have to fail students, especially those who work hard but for one reason or another can't do well enough to pass. At one point I asked the Lord why I have to do this, and for that particular semester and that particular student I was informed by the Lord that this was to be a sore trial on this student, and by being the instrument of inflicting it, I was actually doing the Lord's work.

Genghis Khan found himself in a similar situation, albeit one with more earth-shattering consequences than an F grade. When proud nations on his borders picked fights with him, he prayed to the Eternal Blue Sky and received the answer that he was to go and fight, and would conquer them. The Lamanites were also called to be a scourge of God to the Nephites. The Nephites lived in constant danger; if they were truly righteous, the Lamanites would join them rather than fight them, but if they became exclusionary and proud the Lamanites would destroy them, with the Lord's blessing.

Let's all take today to think humbly and honestly about ways in which we tend to drag down our religion by tying it to the baser aspects of our human nature, and think about what we can do to combat this tendency, lest the Lord find someone willing to scourge us with His permission.


Favorite Husband is quite distraught. His CD burner is permanently broken after one of his favorite audio CD's exploded inside it.

Yes, that's right. It exploded. Into little, tiny pieces, none of which is over one inch in length. He wasn't using the CD at the time. I heard the drive whir, then POP, and the drive whirring stopped. I thought the sound had come from the computer, but FH assured me that it didn't. Later, though, when he tried to open the drive and had to open it manually, pieces of his disk came out.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's random stuff that ought to be scientifically explainable but nevertheless happens for no apparent reason that anyone can fathom. I wouldn't go so far as to call these things "acts of God" because that phrase is usually reserved for much larger weather phenomena or things that are not scientifically explainable. But if you've got a better explanation for a CD exploding inside a drive, I'd love to hear it.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

This Year's Garden

Today we are planning the garden and starting seeds. I've got 48 square feet planted in various varieties of garlic in hopes that the Law of Large Numbers will ensure that I'll have an adequate harvest, and I'm also going to plant the usual suspects (basil, yellow pear tomatoes, and zucchini).

I made the mistake of promising the kids they could each grow one of whatever they wanted in the vegetable garden this year. Princess, of course, wants to grow Blue Ballet squash; she grows it every year, and we cook it at Thanksgiving and decorate it like a turkey. Sonshine, however, said he wanted to grow potatoes. I asked him why potatoes, and he said because he likes them. I researched a couple of varieties and I decided on Yukon Gold. I thought the early harvest would be great for Sonshine (who got really impatient last November when he tried to plant a "popcorn tree" by burying unpopped corn kernels).

I've never grown potatoes before, so I hope they're easy. I've heard you can grow potatoes in stacks of old tires. We are going to need new tires on the van soon, so I thought maybe I'd ask to keep our old tires to grow potatoes in. The other option I'm considering is building some wooden frames out of 2x6's or some such thing, to stack over the garden bed and gradually fill with dirt. If I do that, I might also be able to grow leeks next to the potatoes. I love leeks. I grew them one year, but I just mounded the dirt up on them as they grew, and it could only get so high. I thought maybe if I put the dirt in higher and higher frames, they could get fat and plump and white.

I am also planning to work on the tulip bed. Last fall I wanted to surround it with cinder blocks (the poor man's rampart blocks), dig up all the old bulbs, and plant new ones. I got all the cinder blocks and all the bulbs. But I only got half the cinder blocks laid, because we had a really wet October and it was difficult to work on the muddy bed on the few days I had to work on it. And I didn't get any of the new tulips in, so I gave the bulbs away. I traded last fall for some xeriscaping perennials that I also wanted to plant in that bed. I was disappointed that I didn't get them in last fall, but now I'm glad I didn't because somebody came through with a snowplow right over the garden bed to plow a path to the fire hydrant. The plants would have been razed to the ground.

All I Know About Pruning I Learned From A Google Search

Today I pruned our plum tree. I'm sure I did it all wrong and at the wrong time. I've never pruned a tree before, which is why our tree was so desperately in need of pruning. When I asked at the garden store how to do it right, they just said "you prune it into an open vase," which made me picture a very attractive floral arrangement of budding branches on my kitchen table, but was utterly useless when it came to selecting which branches to cut off.

So I did a Google search on "open vase pruning" and got some vague idea of what this "open vase" shape meant. And armed only with a little hand pruner and a saw, I set out to perform surgery on a poor helpless live tree. I'm sure that if the tree had legs, it would have tried to run away.

I have come to the following conclusions:
(1) If we're going to have a tree that tall, we really ought to invest in a sturdy pair of long-handled pruning shears that can handle the thicker branches.
(2) I really, really, really need a garden mentor who can walk me through this sort of thing.
(3) God help me when I try to grow potatoes.

Friday, March 04, 2005

No Pledge (Again)

Once again, it's pledge drive time at our public radio station, and once again I will not be pledging.

I do like NPR; I must listen to it more than I thought, because the other day I caught Princess humming the "Morning Edition" theme song. But they already have my money, since they're supported by tax dollars. And their claim that they are accepting private donations is bunk; maybe small individual donations are private, but they're essentially selling advertising space to ADM and all those other firms that get their names announced regularly. If they're gonna sell advertising like everyone else, that's fine; but they ought not pretend they're just being really grateful for donations when they announce the names and slogans of their donors over and over and over.

During pledge week, they spend half their time begging for money, so the news programs I like to listen to have only a limited amount of time to present their stories. So I was surprised when the first fifteen minutes or so of the news tonight was entirely devoted to how "town hall" meetings like the one President Bush did are staged events and the people there were "not a random sample" (like they're supposed to generate a random sample from voter rolls and then compel attendance of everyone selected?). They gave the everything-but-the-pap-smear-results treatment to every single person who was selected to ask the President a question. This is what they wasted their limited news time on?? Hello, everyone with half a brain knows these things are staged. They were staged when President Clinton did them too, but NPR didn't pull the credit reports of everyone who spoke up.

I know I shouldn't be surprised; I roll my eyes at liberal idiocy that I hear on NPR almost as often as I roll my eyes at conservative idiocy on Rush Limbaugh.

Baby Scientific

Bagel has found a new calling. He has decided to become a scientific instrument called a Mommy Proximity Detector. If his mommy goes out of range, his cry alarm goes off. Unfortunately, his proximity radius knob seems to be stuck at 1 foot for the last couple of days. If you have experience with Mommy Proximity Detectors, do you know where I can find the proximity radius knob? I'm thinking it might be at the bottom of a bottle of liquid Benadryl.

Diversity Of Opinion

It never ceases to amaze me what the human mind is capable of coming up with in its quest for discerning order in the world. The world is so full of diverse opinions! Human thought can produce everything from science to conspiracy theories.

We may laugh at some people's opinions, because we just know they're wrong. We may think the world would be better off without certain opinions being in it. But all of these have a role to play, and it often is not obvious except in centuries of hindsight what role it was.

Specifically, I've been thinking about the role that the extreme left- and right-wing opinions play. I know some people would rather do without one or the other (or both), but I think they are more important than they're given credit for. They serve as bumpers that keep the bowling ball of politics from rolling into either gutter.

Righties ridicule environmentalists as effete NIMBYs with more concern for spotted owls than for other people, but the environmentalists' counterarguments add to the much-needed conversation about the proper stewardship of the land. Likewise, citified lefties may be disparaging of Wal-Mart as lowbrow culture schlock; like the kids on the schoolyard making fun of the fat kid, they would only find something else to make fun of if there were no Wal-Mart, because those they consider "lowbrow" continue to need to buy their stuff somewhere, and still have the culture that is being considered "schlocky." The counterarguments to this position point this out-- but would not be entered into discourse if it weren't for the criticisms of the left.

We can only engage in meaningful dialogue when our positions are challenged. We need dissent. We need a diversity of opinion. We need people who think the PATRIOT act makes model rocketry illegal, and we need people who think that a background check is taking away their Second Amendment rights. All of these people, along with those of us with more moderate political opinions, make up the American nation, and we can't do without a single one.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Light Bloggage

Bloggage may be light the next couple of days as I take some time to recuperate from the madness of earlier this week and to catch up on some neglected housework.

Three of the thirty Holy Spirit Crown Centerpieces are complete, but I will have to work at a frantic pace to finish the entire order in time. Unlike my crocheted goods, I can't work on them while I gather blogfodder, so... sorry guys! but you're not the ones paying me.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Different Point Of View On Recycling

... in this article by John Tierney. While I don't entirely agree with him, I think he is spot-on in his assessment that recycling can actually be a form of materialism.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

On The Nightstand

This week on the nightstand is Food In History by Reay Tannahill. Wow! This book is so packed with information, I don't know where to begin! I summed it up for Favorite Husband like this: "You know how you complain when I serve the same thing less than two weeks from the last time I served it? Well, you've got NOTHING to complain about, because you're eating better than some ancient nobles!"

This book discusses not only what foods people ate in the past, but the effect that technology, war, and trade had on food, and the effect that food had on these as well. It is not centered on European cuisine, but comprehensively covers the entire world. If you have ever wondered who had noodles first (the Italians or the Chinese), if you have ever wondered what people ate a long time ago or (like my kids asked me just the other day) how long chopsticks have been in use, this is the book for you.

Testimony Time

Once a month, the part of a Mormon church service that usually contains scheduled speakers on scheduled topics is opened up to the congregation, and anyone who wants to get up and speak may do so. People talk about their religious experiences, about ways in which the Lord has touched their lives. We call this "bearing testimony." It is usually done in conjunction with our monthly fast, on "Fast Sunday".

I rarely get to participate in this-- it seems like I'm always taking Sonshine to the bathroom or trying to get Bagel to settle down in the mothers' room*. On the few occasions when I get to spend the entire meeting in the chapel, it's usually not Fast Sunday. And when I feel ready to bear my testimony, it's usually not Fast Sunday. If I were fasting on a schedule, I might be ready to bear my testimony on schedule too; but I can't fast at all when I'm breastfeeding and running around after preschool boys. So I'm going to get up on my own little podium here at the Organic Baby Farm, and bear my testimony right now, because I can.

I know that a lot of people have doubts about the origins of the Church. And quite frankly, I'd wonder about you if you didn't have any doubts the first time you heard the story. It is, by any measure, a quite fantastic and unusual story. If you are credulous enough to believe it all the first time you hear it, you should probably be kept away from television commercials.

And yet, I have no doubt now that it is true. This was not always the case. I thought that Joseph Smith must have had a hallucination instead of a vision, but the Gospel was nevertheless true. Then I realized how absurd that was. If Joseph Smith had a hallucination and yet was in touch with the God who could give him eternal truth and would not lie, then surely God would have told him the truth about his hallucination. Either it was a hallucination and the Gospel was the work of men, or it was not a hallucination and the Gospel was the work of God. I had no doubt that the Gospel must be the work of God-- its design and principles bore none of the imperfective hallmarks of the work of men, although its implementation by men did.

Shortly thereafter, I was having hallucinations myself from a medical condition. And I had also had a vision, a very small, very personal one, in answer to prayer. And then I knew that Joseph Smith must have had a vision, and known that he had a vision, because there is no way anyone who has had both could confuse one for the other. They are very, very different. The best way I can think of to describe it is a hallucination seems real because your brain is trying to connect the hallucination with your real life; you see things as if they were real. With a vision you see the real things, and you see the vision things. It's like you open up a second, orthogonal set of eyes. Hallucinations are "seen" with the same eyes that you use every day.

I did not understand how I could believe so strongly that Joseph Smith had had a vision, and at the same time not have the slightest clue why or how he had. It was very confusing. But with a lot of scripture study, I was able to figure it out.

The early members of the church stand in stark contrast to today's clean-cut Mormon image. Some of them did some very dubious things. Sometimes they made up stuff, like people living on the moon, and other people believed it and thought it was part of the Gospel. (Even today some people still believe it's part of the Gospel, although they're mostly anti-Mormons.) Often they misinterpreted scripture or behaved in ways that don't make sense in today's world. How could the Lord possibly work through them to build His kingdom? Surely He could have found better people, who would never misunderstand what He said, who would never willfully act out of anger or malice, who under His tutelage would never make a single mistake?

Well, actually, no. How many perfect people do you think there are on this earth? How many, if confronted with a request from the Lord, could actually perform to that kind of exacting specification? The early members of the Church were people just like you and me. They found themselves in the exact same position that I found myself-- they knew they had the truth within their grasp, but their human failings kept them from fully embracing it. Their cultural traditions (which were different from ours) got in the way. Their emotions got in the way. Their physical needs got in the way. Their own ideas got in the way.

And that is what the Gospel is really, fundamentally all about. It is about transcending our cultures, our emotions, our needs and our own ideas. And it is a learning process. It was a struggle for them, as it is a struggle for us today, to set aside everything that is non-essential to our spiritual development-- and even more so for them than for us, because they didn't have an institution or tradition to fall back on when they needed a rest from their demanding labor.

This is mankind's universal struggle. It is present in every religious tradition. The Buddha was once a man who, like me, strained at the yoke of his immaturity. Mohammed thirsted for truth in the desert, and received it at the hands of an angel. It has been the one desire of all mankind to connect with something higher than themselves. Whether they are taught to call it Truth, God, Enlightenment, or what have you, they all yearn for the same thing: to master themselves in pursuit of the divine. We all yearn for the same thing. And we all find ourselves in the same situation: we fail at it, and fail miserably, and yet the Lord still loves us and forgives us our sins and, most importantly, still shows trust in us to get up and try again, to do it better this time.

Joseph Smith and the early church members were no exception.

When we look at it from that perspective, then, we can get to know the early church members and Joseph Smith as people, not as paragons or archetypes. We can see where they failed and where they succeeded. We can learn from their example. And we can understand how terrible they would feel if we uncharitably hung their failures on the wall and pointed to them as proof that the Gospel can't be true.

It is my sincere desire that all who seek knowledge will not listen to rumor, but will go straight to the source of Truth and ask Him for guidance. He will never lead us astray, but like the Father he is, he will embrace us and answer our sincere questions.

I write these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Lest anyone think women are segregated off from the general Mormon experience, I should explain that the mothers' room is a room for mothers with crying babies. Ours is equipped with a diaper change table, a sink, rocking chairs, and a loudspeaker so the mothers can hear the meeting. The object of the mothers' room is to help the mothers' duties interface with their attendance at the meeting.

Just The Facts, Ma'am

Here's an interview about statistics on Mormons and their lifestyle. I'm a big fan of statistics, so long as they are collected and analyzed in good faith, with as little bias as possible, and acknowledging what bias they might have. This fits that description.

The twenty-five-words-or-less version: Mormons are mostly just like everybody else, but they get married younger and have more babies.

I would also like to add that I would be curious to know if the suicide rate in Utah is higher than in the nation because we have a higher percentage of young people, who are statistically more likely to commit suicide. I know that Utah's got a much higher percentage of the population under the age of 18, and I wonder how much of the higher rate can be explained by demographics.