Thursday, November 29, 2007

I am Sparta!!!

The Spartans were known for their highly militaristic culture. From childbirth they were trained in a warrior culture that was highly brutal and highly centralized. The devastating effectiveness of the Spartans was a main reason the Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. For more information on this battle consult your local library or the IMax documentary, "300!".

I was raised in a similar warlike culture. The weather, remoteness, conservatism, and did I mention the weather, of upstate New York are an excellent breeding ground for a warrior class. From an early age of snow shoveling to the rites of passage of hunting, fishing, and cow-tipping. My cohort of warriors and I, pillaged our way through the rugged hills of this primitive backwater. Eventually like all beasts everywhere, we realized the greatest threat to our own kind came not from outside but from "the world's most dangerous animal", our fellow men.

This realization inexorably led us to challenge one another in feats of strength. Faced with the challenges we all strove with the legendary strength of farmboys to out do or rather do in one another. Leading us eventually to the greatest test of a man.....the football field.

Because we didn't have an organized football team from our high school we would play nearly every day after school. It was a wonderful experience.

That said I made a mistake this Thanksgiving morning. No I didn't burn the turkey, I didn't even make one if you'll believe it. Much worse than that I thought I was still in the shape I was at 17. This self-deluding machismo, coupled with the muddy weather made me even more reckless than usual(who doesn't like to dive into mud puddles?). As a result I was flying over the field pushing down anyone I could get my hands on. All was going smoothly until my head met my friend Craig's hip bone.

Now since Craig is about 7'6" and 130 pounds (I think that's like 5 stones for our British readers) he's mostly skin and bones. Unfortunately his skeleton is thick. This meant that when my head met his hip, his hip won. As I lied there sinking into the quick-mud (like quick sand but muddier), I had a few thoughts that I should share about myself.
"1. I really need to stretch before physical exercise.
B. I'm not really good at sports.
3. The ringing in my head is definitely not natural.
D. I wonder if I can feel my toes, yep there they are. Wow they're wet and cold."

In any case I bounced up after a few seconds and finished the game with renewed vigor. The good thing about being slightly concussed is that you are even more stupid than a normal 30 year old pretending he has football skills. All in all I should play that kind of football more often. What a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Eatin' Da Haggis

So my Scottish ancestors were a bunch of skirt wearing, sheep loving, guerrilla fighters. I'm not ashamed to admit that. They were poor people who eked a miserable existence about a cold unforgiving land. As with all poor people they ate what was available.

Now if you don't believe that this is true let me tell you something of some of the things I've eaten in my poorer days:
1. College: The Freshmen Year---I subsisted on spaghetti and "red sauce". The red sauce was an old can of prego to which I kept adding a bit of water and some crushed red pepper (this gave it flavor when it was little more than water and Red #5).
2. Mission: Cergy-Pontoise---Cockroaches mostly. Well okay we didn't purposely eat them but the apartment was so infested that I'm sure I consumed my fair share.
3. Childhood: Yes it's out of order but it's the most traumatic---My pet rabbits. That's right I ate bigwig. I also ate Wilbur, Peter Rabbit, Tom Turkey, and George the cow (that wasn't a fictional character, that's actually what we named the tasting cow ever).
My point is that you eat what you have around. That's the only excuse for people eating things like pork rinds, liver, and worst of all asparagus. Thus it's no surprise that my ancestors decided to boil a sheep's stomach (make sure the wind pipe is dangling out of the pot to let out impurities). Then chop up the kidneys, liver, and other internal organs and stuff them in the aforementioned stomach. I mean that makes perfect sense to me.

So when my dear friend Jen sent me a gummy haggis. You can imagine my joy. Not only would I get to eat the food of my ancestors, but I'd be able to do so in the fifth major food group, gummy. (I also loved the Nihlist gum, no flavor at all. It's horribly wonderful).

And so my dear Scottish friend Ian and I opened the package with all the glee and joy that our collectively nearly pure blood lines could express.

This was to be the culminating event of a rather fun party at the home of UsAndCats, though the cats surprisingly were absent (probably because of the people). The haggis looked to be the color I always imagined it.
Our very Anglo-Nordic friend Doug decided to join us in this rite of passage.

How could it go wrong.....

Well given my facial reaction you can begin to guess. What you don't see is me running to the trash to spit the whole thing out. I guess what we learn is that there's a reason that the Scots also invented Scotch.

Yet still the wives tried it...I think that's the best part of the whole thing.

(And yes that is pure hate shooting out of Wife's eyes at me).

Now for another video. Sorry to get you with two posts in one night, but I felt bad for neglecting my readership. I blame John for it. Stupid Facebook.

Places of Holiness

If you guys can forgive me for a moment I'm going to be serious. Yes I know it's rare but I'm feeling old and introspective. When I was 13 years old and my little sister 8, our parents sent us away to Florida for what seemed like two months though I'm sure it was more like two weeks (which is a long time for my grandparents to put up with us. Perhaps they were more patient than I remember). This was right before my older brother moved back in after living in Colorado for a couple years. Which means they had several weeks childless...hmmm another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

In any case after wWe drove up from Florida to New York to meet my parents. I believe somewhere outside of D.C. While there we did the normal hajj-like visit to the Mall separating the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial. This was before the WWII memorial was put in mind you.

As I might have mentioned, this is a place of innate holiness to most Americans. The museums, monuments, and memorials of the D.C. area connect us with our common heritage and experience. That most of this heritage was tempered in the furnace of war might explain much of our foreign policy and the fratricidal rage that's destroying our political system. But I digress.

When compared to the beauty and grandeur of the new World War II memorial, which by its very architecture insuates that it was the last Just war, the Vietnam memorial is a simple, moving, and stunning critique of an unjust conflict. Carved in black rock are the names of all the men who died in a conflict, which based on the starkness of the memorial, seemingly had no utility but as a killing field. Of course being the brilliant mind you all know and love, I internalized all of this as a 13 year old.

Okay maybe not. In fact I remember that I stood there bored out of my mind with the lines at this memorial and the lack of interesting reading (I was already a museum nerd). That said I noticed something odd. My parents reaching out and touching names on the wall. My mother crying and my dad more stoic than usual. I didn't understand it all then, but I did understand that this was holy land. This was the type of place that could move men's souls to the very core.

There are places like this for people of every stripe. One of the difficulties that divides humanity is finding solace in places that don't have an intrinsic tie to your own culture or beliefs. I suppose that's why Jerusalem will never be at peace because it's intrinsically holy to too many people. That said I think all the monuments constructed to help man reach the ineffable have their place and are part of our common heritage. It's just for us to realize it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What did YOU do for date night?

Stewart and I settled in for a quiet night this evening watching 'The Battle of Algiers'. It was on the to buy list before and has only moved closer to the top after tonight's viewing. Tomorrow night, you ask? Maybe 'Indochine' or 'Dr. Stragelove'.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Temple Sacrifice and Cancer Survivors

That might not be the best title for this post. The Google authorities are probably wondering, "Is he suggesting we build a religious structure to offer sacrifices to cancer survivors? Or perhaps that we sacrifice cancer survivors?" Well kind of. I say we make it a religion that requires human sacrifice, but not of cancer survivors but of politicians. I would hope that we would be successful enough in eliminating all politicians that this faith would die out like the Shakers did. Seriously who thinks celibacy is a formula for long term religious expansion? I can imagine proselyting for them:
Missionary: "And so you see Mother Anne Lee is the second coming of our Lord?"
Proselyte: "Wow. Well that makes sense. That plus the rounded barns and the really cool furniture I'm in. I can't wait for my wife and I how we'll have and raise our future family Shaker."
Missionary: "Oh oops I might have forgot one teeny, weeny point.
In case I ever do seek public office let me put a disclaimer on the previous post. "What the future congressman (senator, president, world overlord) meant to say was that all politicians are obviously chosen by God (in the case of Republicans) and have an undying loyalty to the principles of equity and justice (in the case of Democrats (gotta cover both my bases if I run)). He was in no way imputing that they are sleazy opportunistic self-aggrandaizers, who seek to further their own interests regardless of the good of the common man." Not much of an apology is it? Oh well they're not much in the way of human beings so I guess we're fair.

Now let me get to the main point of this post. No it's not about Wife jumping out of an airplane or about our recent travels. Those will all come in a December post. I like to let things cool for a few months before I write about them. Instead it's time for me to tell you what to think about the books that I've been reading.

(Here's where I wait for your cheering to end. You guys really are the best.)

Now the last two books I read were quite different. One appealed to my heretical, or at least heterodox, side. The other made me scared about getting old. Let's start with the boring one, that way those of you who are impatient can just skip the next few paragraphs and move on to the better of the two, or the photo links at the end.

Hamblin and Seeley, the authors, provide an excellent overview of the centrality of the Solomonic temple through history. Starting with the evolution of Israelite temple cult through the consolidation and centralization of worship in Solomon and much more profoundly in Josiah, the authors describe the importance of the First and subsequent temples as the contact point between divinity and humanity. They then go down through the centuries and examine the role this temple took in defining the places and systems of worship of the three great monotheistic faith families, along with its effect on the esoteric traditions.

Along the way Hamblin and Seeley provided wonderful iconic evidence of the temple through the many thoughtfully selected plates included in the book. These were largely images unknown to me. They provided excellent support for the arguments being made.

All that said I felt that the book would have benefited from a discussion of the broader array of drama worship native to the region in the pre-temple era and how it affected temple worship. By ignoring this aspect of worship, the authors started the story in middle. Furthermore while the authors were in their element in describing ancient Christian, Judaic, and Islamic usage of the temple, their arguments were somewhat lacking dealing with modern incarnations of temple worship. Given that both authors are Mormon, their section on Mormon temples was woefully inadequate and came off as more of an advertisement for the virtues of Mormonism than as a true evaluation of the status of Solomon's temple in Mormon temple worship. Likewise, other contemporary movements were passed off as simple millenarianism or pop culture fads, without a true sincere evaluation of the place of Solomonic worship in said movements.

As with many books trying to cover such a vast historical swath, Solomon's Temple tends to fade toward the end. Instead of simply discussing the differing views of various Christian, Islamic, and Judaic traditions about the destiny of the temple and Temple Mount, the authors conclude with a moralization about how the unifying theology of the temple is incongruous when opposing the eschatological currents in the three monotheistic faiths in question. This leads them simply to conclude that only a true understanding of the temple will lead to peace on the Temple Mount. True though this might be, the editorializing of this conclusion is out of place given the rest of the works and detracts from its overall strength.
Told you that would be boring. Good job slogging through it though. The funny part is that I get criticized at work sometimes for writing emails that are too technical...can you see that at all in the review you just pulled your hair out to get through? Academia ruined my writing style, but I digress (and still don't know how to use commas).

The author and I are roughly the same age and worked together as missionaries in France. Through the years we've emailed periodically but cannot be accused of being exceptionally close. That said you can imagine my surprise when I got an email with the title of her soon to be printed first book. It appears that somewhere in the periodic emails I missed the one that said "HEY I'VE GOT CANCER". I suppose she had other things on her mind, although this is a big blow to my narcissism as you can imagine.

All that said it was booth fascinating and terrifying to read the story of her struggle with cancer and its aftermaths. Fascinating because of Steph's personality, I don't think I've ever seen her sad or down and her own account reflects this resilience of character. Frightening because she's my age and if my gray hairs weren't making me feel my mortality, reading the account of a friend who actually walk up to the ledge of mortality and spit over the side (if it had been a male friend going through the same thing I would have said pee over the side) is truly frightening.

In the book Steph didn't hold much of anything back, in fact I now know more about Steph than I ever really wanted. Still it was an amazing account. The only complaint I had was the quality of the printing. There were a few typos but I'll blame that all on PublishAmerica. Still it was heartfelt and touching to read about her experience.
Okay no more book reviews for awhile. I think I've bored you enough for the time being. By popular demand here's the skydiving photo album and the post sky diving celebratory s'mores party.
Collins trip CD

Please note that there's a ton of photos in the skydiving album, watch them in slideshow format with a minimal time delay and they'll look like a flip book. I promise.

No videos today you guys have already dealt with way too much of me.

Now playing: The Roots - The Seed (2.0) Ft Cody Chesnut
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Don't Cry For Me Oh Canadia!

Canada should be considered America's hat, the 51st state, the great trailer park to our north. The two countries already share common defensive agreements and (kind of) a common language. They should share a common military, a common currency and a common border policy. In fact there should be no border crossing between America and Canada. Americans/Canadians should be able to cross the border at will and get jobs on either side without need for a Green Card, Blue Card, or any other color card. Yes Canada should be broken into pieces with each province becoming another state/territory of the United States.

(Alternatively we should jettison everything south of the mason-dixon line and form a United States of Hockey)

There I said it. According to Google Analytics we rarely get Canadian hits, so I'm guessing I won't get too many incensed Canadians threatening me with hockey sticks.

Canada and the US have the longest contiguous border of any two nations on earth. To put it in perspective, if Canada were Germany and the US were France, the Germans would need ten men to take the border instead of their usual three. It's that big a border.

Not only is it a huge border but it's also a very profitable one. While southern sister-loving, chaw-chewing, gun-toting, cross-burning bigots might not like to admit it, but Canada is more important to the northern economy than they are...almost makes me wish we'd let them secede but I digress. There are many cities in the northern tier that have positioned themselves as suburbs of Canadian cities. What other reason do you have that can you explain Plattsburgh, NY?

All of that said we spent a good weekend in Canada last month (October 2007). We crossed at Niagara like so many others and would have wasted reams of cellulose if not for the invention of digital cameras. The falls were awe inspiring, if a little wet and cold.

As to Canada itself. I have to say I envy their level of tolerance and social welfare. Not like the American side where they even detain peaceable Englishmen.

Also in the US, people like the one you see below would have been shipped to Guantanamo and water boarded (That's not torture though because Bush says we don't torture, thus and therefore water boarding isn't torture. You'd think you pinko liberals would have figured that out by now.) In Canada this kind of militant looking weirdo is just celebrated. I'm sure my mother is proud.

I am not the Unabomber. Just an FYI there people.

And now for one of the greatest moments of my life:

(I was long since asleep because baseball on tv is so boring. Still GO SOX!!!!!!!)