Saturday, December 24, 2011

End of Year Video

Each year, instead of a Christmas letter, each member of my family makes a video of all the things they did that year. Then they get put together and mailed out. It's pretty awesome.

Here is mine for this year.


video

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gathering

It is pretty simple to bin my friends into different groups: graduate school friends, FOB friends, Monticello friends, Bible study group friends, etc. The problem with this is that these groups often have very little overlap. This makes me sad at times since I think that all my friends would probably get along if they knew each other, but arranging friend-assimilation is often complicated.

I have tried a few times by inviting people from different groups of friends to events with other groups of friends, but I can't think of a single time that it has worked out. Perhaps the closest thing to success that I've had was my Break-the-Octoberfast/Sober Octoberfest where I invited a few people who were new members of the ward and now they seem to be friends with some of the other people that I invited, but I don't know that I can blame any of that on my pretzels and cider.

However, I realized today that Facebook actually does pretty much exactly what I'm trying to do. I can make muse with my status updates, and all the witty people I know from all aspects of my life comment on my status and other people's comments. It's like a very brief gathering of all my friends. It makes me really happy. Maybe someday I can host a movie night for a few regular commenters. Or maybe I'll just continue to let them hide behind a sort of translucent anonymity, and I can just pretend we are all friends.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Calling-monies

The thank-imony and friend-imony have received a lot of popular press through the years. Probably the number one context is Girls' Camp where allegedly hundreds of teenage girls cry while they talk about how much they love their cabin mates.

Another common testimony that happens though is the calling-mony, where a person stands in testimony meeting and talks about how important [insert stewardship] is. For example, the temple committee chair may talk about how they have been blessed by temple work or the ward mission leader might share an experience they had sharing the Gospel. Maybe the ward clerk will mention how MLS has changed their life. (Though as far as I understand, MLS is primarily a good tool for teaching long-suffering with an emphasis on the suffering part.) This past Suday, we had three people give calling-monies.

At first, I thought it seemed a little funny and insincere. If you are just sharing to encourage people to do their home teaching then maybe you are not sharing because you are moved by the spirit. Then again, if your assignment at church involves a certain aspect of the Gospel, I imagine you are more likely to have spiritual experiences associated with that aspect, and testimony meeting seems like a perfectly reasonable place to share how your testimony is developing.

Also, many callings in the church are associated with encouraging other people to improve their lives and serve others, and the particular testimonies shared this past Sunday were both humble and powerful. Their thoughts were actually highly motivating to change the way I live my life, and therefore they were appropriate and appreciated.

However, I don't think this is always the case. Clearly, testimony meeting is a time to share our personal convictions. I think it is also generally accepted that it is not a time to just talk about how much we love our friends or talk about or recent trip to [jealousy-inducing vacation spot/Church-history tour]. What is OK then for a testimony meeting in terms of content and motivation?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Marriage Rights

[This post has nothing to do with the Same-sex marriage debate.]

On Wednesday evenings, I go to a Bible Study with my roommate and a few other friends. We all go to different churches, so I think our conversations are always really insightful.

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with girl there. I had made a joke about how my roommate had been dating his girlfriend long enough and that it was time for him to get married. Since my roommate is only 25, she said that he was way to young to get married, to which I replied that more than half of my friends were married by 25.

What then followed was a pretty standard conversation that I have sometimes about how Mormons tend to marry younger due to cultural factors that stem from theological roots. As I was explaining the idea that marriage is an important part of the purpose of our existence on Earth, she brought up the point that she didn't feel like marriage was for everyone; she thought that marriage was a gift that a person might be lucky enough to be granted in life.

She then asked the question: "So do you think that marriage is a right?"

The question made me double-take a little. On one hand, I feel a little funny calling it a right since there are two people involved. On the other hand, there are all those statements about how if we don't have the opportunity to marry in this life, then we will not have those blessing denied us in the next. If we are promised something, do we have a right to it? She even asked the question, "So if you don't get married, does the church just arrange a marriage for you?" to which the answer is no... sort of. I guess we don't know the mechanism by which we are miraculously assigned a spouse in the next life (if that is in fact what happens), but this conversation got me thinking about how I think about marriage and how it is viewed in the Church.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lies

Today in Elders' Quorum, the topic was honesty. Through most of it, the teacher said fairly uncontroversial things, which was good because the Stake President was there.

Near the end, however, he brought up the subject of why people think it is OK or necessary to lie. The obvious ones came out quickly (e.g. to get ahead, to conceal something, to hurt someone), but I think that there are many reasons that I lie that seem less malevolent.

1. Humor: Sometimes lying is funny. I have been known to tell people that I used to be a World Champion African Stick Dancer but broke my knee in the 7th grade (when I was being chased down by an angry group of Tanzanian rebels)... and it would go on from there until it got so ridiculous that the person I'm talking to realizing that it is a lie. You would be surprised, by the way, on how far you can get before people will call you on it. You would be astounded on how much farther you can get if you insist on it even after they call you on it the first time. I think this is funny but harmless.

2. Convenience: Sometimes it is just easier to say one thing when another is more accurate. For example, I sing in a choir that meets twice a week in the evenings. Often, I'm asked by people if I'm free during that time. If I say I have choir, this often leads to a longer conversation about my choir that I don't want to have because I have other things to do. In fact, they probably don't even care to know about my choir, but they are obligated to ask if I mention it. So I usually tell people I have class, though technically it's not like a class that you register for and stuff.

3. Telling stories: It is relatively common to hear people say that you shouldn't let the truth get in the way of a good story. I don't mean that you should tell stories that are completely not true and pass them off as truth, but oftentimes the details just get in the way. So if a story is actually about my brother-in-law's second cousin's dog, in my version, it will usually be my cousin's dog. Or if the timing of a story would require less explaining if the whole thing happened over the course of a week instead of a month or a day, it will happen over a week. (If the most important part of the story is that it happened over a week, then I don't change that part, but if explaining the characters or setting of the story is noncrucial, and it turns a 15 second story into a 30 second story, I think an adjustment makes everyone better off.)

4. Avoiding hurt feelings: People sometimes call me and I'm still in bed and I try really hard to have a normal voice when I answer the phone, but usually I fail. Then they ask if they woke me up, and I say "No I've been up for a little while now." This makes them feel better and it makes it so we don't spend the whole conversation with them apologizing for pulling me out of bed. Really, I reject about 90% of the calls that come through my phone. If I answer, you shouldn't feel bad; you should be flattered that I wanted to talk to you. You are more important than sleep or anything else that I could be doing right then. (On the other hand, if you call and I don't pick up, you shouldn't feel bad either. I don't like talking on my phone if there is anyone within 20 feet of me, so if I don't answer, I'm probably in some crowded place (like class or something).)

I'm sure that there are lots of other justifications. My general view was that when it comes to lying, I follow the "no harm, no foul" principle. However, remember how I said the Stake President was there for this meeting? After my comment, he raised his hand and pretty much called me to repentance. All of his words were generally addressing the quorum, but he just looked straight at me the whole time.

He seems to think that Honesty is a virtue unto itself and that we should try to be completely honest even when our dishonesty is not hurting anyone. I suppose I can see where he is coming from. I need to think about it a little more though.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

12 Steps

Hi. I'm Xister and I'm a Netflix-oholic.

I think that the first step is to acknowledge you have a problem.

I realized over Christmas break that I had watched way too much TV on Netflix this past semester. The first sign to me was when my sister recommended the series Battlestar Gallactica (which was great, by the way) and I got through the whole thing from beginning to end before she finished it herself. I think it took me a little over 3 weeks.

I've made adjustments this semester and have cut back significantly, but until recently, I've been nervous to actually look up how much TV I actually watched. This week, I was finally brave enough to look up the stats.

On watch instantly alone, I watched 23 seasons of various TV shows and 8 movies. This adds up to 244 hours or about 16 hours a week. If you include the DVDs that were shipped to me, I watched 5 more movies and 2 more seasons. I also followed 5 shows on Hulu. This means that my TV watching was about equivalent to a part-time job. My mother pointed out today that in this time, I could've have become conversational in a foreign language. (If only I had watched all these movies in Spanish.)

I don't really know what happened to me. I used to be such a responsible kid. Lest you are quick to judge me, I feel like I have a defense that makes me seem only a little ridiculous. First, I was really burnt out last semester. I had not had a chance to rest during the summer, and I never really got the chance to take a break before classes started. Second, most of the time which I was "watching" these shows, I was also doing other things (like studying, cooking, folding laundry, etc.). Third, a lot of the TV I watched was during holidays when you are supposed to relax already. Fourth, the quantity of Netflix that I watched means I was only paying about 10 cents an hour for their services. And fifth, I really have cut back this semester. It is already half-way over and I've only watched 2.5 seasons of TV shows and 1 movie.

In any case, I'm not sure why I felt the need to expose this in the blogosphere (it is probably one of the 12 steps too), but it sort of legitimizes my efforts to move on. I've taken up swimming to fill the time that I used to use on TV, and it's going well. Last week, I got to the point that I can swim a whole mile, which means I'm about ready to sign up for my triathlon. See? I'm a good kid.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cities (and a little bit of ethics)

Last semester, I took a class from this guy. He is actually this intense.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-february-14-2011/edward-glaeser

After seeing this, I decided to read his book because several of his claims seemed a little far fetched. It's well-written, but he doesn't cite many of the studies that he refers to. He is a very smart man, however, and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in a lot of circumstances (i.e. that he is controlling for the right things and that the effects that he claims to be measuring are actually what he is measuring).

However, yesterday as I read it, I came across a passage where he was talking about the fall of Detroit. As evidence, he says that "the current median income in Detroit is $33,000, which is about half of the US average." I assume he means the US mean income because the median is around $40,000. It is odd to me that he would try to compare median and mean incomes when the mean of income data is systematically higher than the median (and particularly since comparing medians would have also supported his point). What he said is true, but it is definitely misleading.

So question one: What do people think about Glaeser's claim that large cities are better for the economy, mental and physical health, the environment, etc.?

Question two: To what degree are authors accountable to avoid true but misleading information, especially when the audience of the writing is primarily people who should be able to recognize this?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Cruelest Month

In high school, two of my sisters took a course where some guy read some poem. I don't know who the guy is or what the poem is or anything beyond the first line, but my sisters would often quote the first line in a dramatic British accent: "April is the cruelest monTH."

That guy was totally wrong. It's February.

February is cold. February is dark. February is the time that school work seems to start piling up and there is no break in sight. February is the third lap of the 1600 where you are already exhausted, but you realize that you have to do again what you've already done, except that you can't breathe.

Anything that might seem a little bad in another month is awful in February. I have nothing against Valentine's Day; I actually really like being single. However, since it is in February, Valentine's Day makes me forget all the independence singledom affords and makes me wonder why I'm not dating anyone. (The answer is that I don't really go on many dates.) I'd probably be more patriotic if Presidents' Day was in March.

Anything that seems awesome in another month is just mediocre in February. I was wandering though town the other day thinking about how much fun my life is currently, but it was odd because I still felt a little glum. I couldn't figure it out until I realized that it is February.

A funny thing about February is that, since I don't pay much attention to my feelings, I usually don't notice that I'm depressed until I recognize external signals. The main one is that I make lots of useless purchases. At BYU, this was mostly office supplies. Today I bought a pair of scissors and some mechanical pencils. Recently though, I'm starting to buy more expensive things. I got some goggles on Monday and I'm about 1/2 inch from buying a computer monitor today. It's not like I think, "I depressed... I think I'll buy something." Rather, I think "I really need this thing," and then in March I look back a realize that the previous month, I spent $800 on Red Vines or model airplanes.

Maybe I should buy one of those sunlights. They are only like $100 and they will make me feel better. And while I'm online, I should get one of these, and one of these, and a few of these...