Thursday, May 29, 2008

About a Boy

Ahh, memories. I remember quite vividly the feeling of graduating from college and getting my first big job at Motorola in Scottsdale. Tucson was a big highlight of my single adult life, and I miss the place a lot. But it was exciting to get into an apartment in west Mesa, and extend my single adult life, this time with more spending cash. I still remember the feeling of going to Motorola my first day, wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase, desperate to mask all of my fears and feelings of incompetence. Motorola back in 1996 was still a high flying large company, the biggest private employer in Arizona with thriving businesses in cellular, space, semiconductors, and defense. Remember Iridium? Motorola's vision of the future of telecommunications where everyone would own telephones that could link directly to satellites. Well, Motorola was in the middle of spending gobs of money on that technology while everyone else was going digital... I remember actually wishing I could be a part of that action.

Instead I joined the government group, the only group in the company offering new employees fresh out of college the opportunity to enjoy a three month training class where they could take all day classes and participate in a fake school-like project. It was Motorola's way to ease the transition from school to work. Really, it was a way for them to spend a portion of all that cash they were rolling in at the time.

It was during that training class that a representative from Valley Big Brothers Big Sisters did a presentation trying to convince a few of us to volunteer. Immediately, I was convinced, for some reason its far too easy to convince me to do stuff. But, this opportunity just seemed like an excellent opportunity to give back, and an opportunity to get some daddy preparation (at the time I was hoping marriage was soon to come).

I have always had this urgency to really make a difference, which is admirable, sure. But just making a some small intangible difference is not enough for me; I have to do something big, something that a made for tv movie could be made out of. Is that sort of delusional thinking common? I am not sure, but I am sure that it had something to do with the inordinant amount of made for tv movies I watched growing up. And I wonder if that is not one source of society's discontent. We immerse ourselves in fantasy so much, that we assume real life should work the same way.

Nonetheless, I was excited and inspired, so I jumped in, I became a big brother. I signed up, filled out the application, did the interviews, allowed them to perform all of the necessary background checks, submitted to the training, and eventually was to be matched to a little brother. For those of you who don't know how this works, its all about matching kids from single parent families with adults who can act as a mentor for the kid. This idea is a good one in most cases, I am sure. Statistically, the program seems to work. Statistics, however, are one thing. I was about to test this thing out for real. But its an impossible test to really take. We will never know how the trajectory of this kid’s life would have been if I had not been a part of it, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Regardless, I was in, and I was matched with a twelve year old kid named Thor (you know, I simply don’t remember why he got that name, I wish I would have written more of these things down). Thor was the oldest of four children, he had two brothers and a sister. His dad, sadly was in jail, Thor explained the situation of his early life, but I don’t remember the details. I do remember things weren’t so easy. His mom, though not educated enough to really enjoy a comfortable life, seemed to be managing at some level. They squeezed themselves into a low-rent two bedroom apartment they lived in the entire time I knew them. Interesting enough, they also happened to be Mormon.

It’s actually an interesting story to hear how the VBBS case worker decided to match me with Thor because we didn’t have that much in common. Thor really did not play sports, not the traditional ones anyway. He did love to roller skate, and do other more high-risk X-games sort of activities, but nothing traditional. He also loved to draw, especially comic book characters. I still have a couple of samples of his art. So, he was apparently tough to match, since most big brothers wanted a little to take to ball games, to play catch with. However, based solely on the fact that I loved to go to art museums, I was matched with Thor. But I wasn't matched yet, first Thor would have to approve me as his big. But I was committed; I could not back out after we met because that would mean just one more rejection in his life. He, however, could reject me. I’m not sure how common littles reject bigs, but I can imagine this not being very common.

I do remember that first day we met. I went to their apartment on Apache Boulevard in Tempe, so close to ASU. Thor and I talked at a picnic table outside his apartment. I don't remember that conversation much at all, but I do remember thinking he was a cool kid, but really most kids at twelve are cool. Thor liked me enough, I think his exact words were something like, “he’s nice”. And we were matched. I remember my first feelings were how desperately I wanted him to like me…

I do want to give you a quick run-down of my general approach to being a big brother with him, some of it was conscious, but most of it was sub-conscious, all of the issues I brought into the relationship:

1) I worried about spending too much on him initially, but eventually I just did. Its just easier. I had money, I lived cheaply in so many ways, so I had plenty of extra spending cash I spent too little effort keeping track of, and I spent a pretty decent amount of that spending cash on Thor.

2) I probably did 1) because part of me wanted Thor to like me. It’s a terrible way to behave, but I simply couldn’t help it. Like I said before, I wanted to have a pretty significant influence on him, I probably wanted that too much.

3) Similarly, I think my expectations were probably too high; I was hoping for too much of a payoff, especially early on. I just couldn't appreciate the moments I was having with him while I was having them.

4) My general approach was to include him in my life. I took him to events with friends of mine, even took him on some young single adult ward events, one most notably was a water ski trip. I took him to work with me on a "Bring your Child to Work day". All of my friends got to know him pretty well, and most if not all the girls I dated got to know him as well.

I probably had sort of a secret sub-goal as well, one that I’m not very proud of, I probably used him a little bit as a way to get girls to like me. Remember the movie that came out a few years back, it was called About a Boy , it starred Hugh Grant. I guess you could say I was having a far less Hollywood version of that. I remember telling my sister this and she literally laughed out loud knowing how this would definitely be an impressive thing to do for many Mormon women, however, I don’t think it had much influence on Sara…

At any rate, I will not bore you with every last detail of our big brother/little brother experience, but I want to give you some highlights to maybe provide the general feeling of the experience.

Very poignantly, I remember shortly after we were matched, he would often say that now he had three brothers, I being the third. For some strange reason, I kind of blew that off. Again, my expectations were just way too high, I just couldn’t appreciate what I was getting at the time. Some time later, a woman called me to do an interview on my big brother work because she was doing some research on the whole program. I think she was attending NAU. I told her this experience, and of course she recognized immediately the significance. I wondered right then why I hadn’t.

One of the very first activities we did together was also very funny because it was a typical Scott Turley thing to do. Remember he was a newly converted Mormon. I’m not sure they attended much, but at the time he was in the Scouting program, and me, all Second Class scout of me, someone who knew nothing about Scouting at the time, decided we could work on his scouting requirements together. That lasted all of about one hour.

Instead, we tended to do easier stuff. We watched a lot of movies, we went out to eat a lot. Like I said, I took him with me to hang out with friends. We went to a Halloween haunted house. I did let him come with me and a few of my friends to see the very first Star Wars (the first of the last three released).

Once, I even took Thor and a friend of his to San Diego. We went to help Dicky, a work friend of mine re-locate there for his work. We helped Dicky move, stayed at his apartment and went to the beach. I was supposed to take him to Sea World or something big like that, instead he wanted me to spend that money on this remote control boat that they tried out in the water, I remember feeling very annoyed at that, but why. I should have just went with that. Thor and I did get in one of the only fights I remember getting in with him. Thor refused to take a shower at Dicky’s, something about not feeling comfortable showering in another person’s house. I think I finally relented, but there was some yelling involved, and he felt very bad about it.

I also remember trying to help him in school, working with him on Math, taking him out to dinner as an incentive and then working with him on those problems as we ate dinner. He was depressingly so far behind in school. I'm not sure how well he read. I bought him a book once as a gift, but I don't think he ever read it, he claimed that he lost it. I'm not sure he ever graduated from high school, I lost track of him before I could find out... The thing about school, and I'm guessing this may be a bigger problem for boys than for girls, is that if you fall behind, and especially as you get older, say junior high and especially high school, you're ego and pride get in the way. You simply do not want anyone to know how far behind you really are. And once your ego gets in the way, learning is almost impossible. And even though Thor and I were pretty close, he was ashamed to show me or anyone else (as far as I knew), just how much he struggled. I guess this is why early childhood education is so critical.

The cool thing about being in VBBS is you get a lot of free and discounted tickets to events. Cool, if your little actually likes the events you get tickets to. As I said earlier, Thor hated sports, but for some reason I had this weird obsession to attend stuff that was presented to us as gifts, and Thor (I’m not sure) didn’t always like to tell me no when I asked him if he was interested in something. I took him to a Coyotes game this way (our local professional hockey team). I also tried to take him to a Suns game. We had tickets in the suites, where you get free food while watching the game, but for he wasn’t at home when I drove by to pick him up. I was really frustrated knowing that those tickets could have been given to someone else, but looking back I should have realized he wasn't into the Phoenix Suns.

Thor was active. He liked thrills. He loved roller blading. I went to a few skating rink events with him where he would compete doing these kind of roller blading dance routines with other kids. Kind of hip-hop on skates. His younger siblings also did this. He was good on the ice skates as well. I also took him, multiple times, to the local rock gym to climb, which he really enjoyed, and where he showed some skill.

Also, its funny to say, I dragged him to museums, art musems, a classical music concert (while I was dating Sara), the Arizona Science center. One of my goals was to expose the kid to stuff that he wouldn't get any other way. He went along too, and I don't remember much complaining, but I'm not sure how much of it he was into.

Toward the end, as he was getting older, it got tougher to stay connected with him. We started having less to talk about, and probably I began to be less cool to him. When he was younger, I remember feeling he probably was proud to present me to his friends as his big brother, I wonder if I had that same appeal as he aged. Because I am a lot of things, but cool is not one of them. I made some attempts to do stuff with him regularly. I had this hair-brained idea to build a miniture house, complete with internal wiring, but this time, I wanted Thor to help pay for the materials, but he had no job, no way to do it, so that kind of fizzled.

We did get into a routine where we lifted weights together at a gym near my apartment, this was after Sara and I were married but before we had Elizabeth. I remember we lifted weights without saying a whole lot. It didn't last very long.

Also, I was terrible at getting him thoughtful gifts. His siblings also had various big brothers/big sisters as well. Some had multiple bigs as they inevitably moved on to other things for various reasons. There were a few times where we all would get together to do a gift exchange during the Christmas season, except I would claim I didn’t have mine and I would give Thor’s my gift later. I just couldn't do it, I couldn't compare what I would give Thor to what they would give Thor’s siblings. I think I always disappointed him a little in that department.

Soon after that, we had our first baby. Things got busier for me, and when I did try to call Thor, he stopped returning my phone calls. I think he moved out of the apartment at about that time. Soon after, I stopped calling at all, but I had Thor’s mom's phone number memorized, so I knew I had some way to reconnect if I wanted to. Some time later, I tried to call it, but the number was out of service. Thor and his family were out of my life for good.

So, Thor was twelve when we first hooked up in 1996, and the last time I've seen Thor was shortly after we had our first baby was born in 2001. So, we saw each other at least 3-4 times a month for a solid five years.

I'm terrible at taking pictures, and I'm sad to say I have so few pictures of him. One picture I do have of him, though, is a picture of him holding our baby Elizabeth shortly after her birth. It was probably one of the last times I’ve seen him.

I have had various attempts to do volunteer work in my life, in an effort to fill this internal need of mine to make a difference. I have learned through some of these experiences, that is enough to have a desire to serve, but it really helps to have skills. Good intentions are not always enough. Sometimes, I wonder if in your attempts to make a difference in another person’s life, how much do you let your own personal baggage get in the way. I know I try to give gifts, but sometimes, sadly, those gifts come with strings attached, and so they aren’t received with as much appreciation, and they aren't really as helpful as they could have been.

Mainly, I became a big brother to learn how to become a father. I am a father now, although my kids are now much younger than Thor was when he was in my life. I’m finding that a relationship between a father and his children are much different than the relationship I had with Thor. Something about being with your own children every single day, having your DNA in them, I think it makes the bond stronger, the connections easier to make because I think you have some understanding of them since they have a little of what you have. Some of the problems I had with Thor is that we were probably a little too different. I know he had his own issues, some of them major. His dad’s abandonment, his crazy apartment that was often very chaotic. His problems with school. He had no perspective, he knew nothing about money or what it took to make it. Most of these problems I really couldn't really relate to, and I did not have a good strategy on how to help Thor work through them.

But, Thor was very good-hearted, very generous (the television we owned for the first 6 and a half years of our marriage came from him), very self-confident, and in many ways, he was talented. All things considered, I really appreciated all of those experiences. I must say, though, every time I see that picture of Thor holding my baby daughter, I feel sad he is no longer in my life.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hookah Lounge

Sunday I found out through a member of my church that a public hearing was taking place to allow a Hookah lounge to operate across the street from Tempe High School, just down the block from where we live. It's item number 3 on the May 20th agenda.

The letter I wrote to the mayor, Tempe City Council, and those running in tomorrow's election is below (unfortunately I spelled Joel Navarro's name wrong and he didn't get it). Hut Hutson and Julie Jakubek actually responded back, funny since they are actually running tomorrow. Hut, the only incumbent running, promised he would look into it. I hope he does.


Dear esteemed Mayor, Tempe City Council, and those running for City Council:

I am a concerned resident in the city of Tempe in the neighborhood between Mill Avenue and the railroad tracks south of Alameda Dr. Our family has two young children, ages three and five and attend church with families who also live in the surrounding neighborhoods some of whom have children attending Tempe High.

It has come to my attention that the business HB is applying for a permit to operate a Hookah Lounge in the Walgreen's shopping center across the street from Tempe High school. The business also intends to extend operations from 3pm to 2am, opening its business just as the Tempe High School will be releasing its students from classes.

I am concerned because I frequent this shopping center often. The corner restaurant, El Penasco, is a local favorite for our family, and we sometimes walk their to frequent it and other businesses in the plaza.

About four years ago, we were looking to buy a house in the area. We did not want to follow the trend of many of my friends who were buying brand new houses on the outskirts of town. We chose Tempe because we love Tempe. We bought an old house in an old neighborhood because we liked the amenities of the city. However, one of the distinct disadvantages of being in this part of the city for us is the number of tobacco type shops close by. There are three, including this one that we could literally walk to from our house.

Much more important, having such a shop right across the street from a high school is a direct violation of city law. And for them to operate such a shop at 3pm so close to the hours of operation of a high school just violates common sense. I do understand the shop was operating before the city law to ban such establishments was in place, but the law was passed for a reason, and common sense needs to dictate in this case.

I strongly urge all on this list who have the power to limit operations of such establishments to locations not near our schools, and they especially should not be allowed to open as students are walking nearby.

One final note, I am a concerned and informed Tempe resident. I have researched those running for city council this Tuesday and I am planning to vote. I am generally excited at the direction Tempe is currently going, but I definitely want to see neighborhoods like mine looked after to ensure a safe, family friendly environment for all who reside here.

I appreciate your time on this matter.

UPDATE:

I was not able to attend the meeting that happened today at 1:30pm, but I did get an update from Ben Arrendondo, one of the councilman I e-mailed. His staff member called me personally and told me the request was approved and gave me a little more background:

HB, the company in question, opened its establishment in 2006 before the city ordinance was passed.

Local neighborhood residents complained to the city about this establishment being literally across the street from Tempe High school, and as a result of their complaint, they got the city to pass an ordinance prohibiting the sale of tobacco within so many yards of a school.

HB was able to remain open in their current location as long as they only sold tobacco products, not smoke them. Well, they've been smoking before the ordinance and since, and recently found to be in violation. Today they submitted a request to get an allowance for smoking. It was approved because they were able to show they were that type of establishment even before the city ordinance was passed.

The lady who called me was not aware of the change in the time they would be open, but I'm supposed to get a call back tomorrow.

I now have fourteen days to appeal the approval if I'm so inclinded. I'm currently in contact of my neighbors to assess their feelings.

I appreciate the comments in the post about Hookah lounges in general. However, I do feel that repetitive exposure to certain products has an effect on behavior. I think this is why businesses blast commercials at us constantly trying to get us to partake in their product. Its why tobacco companies can no longer advertise on television. Tobacco is an incredibly addictive and harmful substance. High school kids are not mature enough to really make good decisions about tobacco largely. I know many people now addicted to tobacco all because of stupid decisions made in high school.

I do not feel there's anything we can do about the Hookah lounge now, but I'm hoping a compromise decision can be reached. Where they at least are not allowed to open business until 7pm.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Religious Faith Quandaries

Probably my favorite show on any media is one that can be listened to on NPR Saturday afternoons at 2:00pm, or for me podcasted and listened to at my convenience, This American Life . The radio show is organized each week around a theme, having multiple stories around that theme, about usually ordinary people in America, but usually, these ordinary people are having very extra-ordinary experiences, very different from my own. So, I usually thoroughly enjoy these glimpses into other people's lives. A few episodes ago, they did a show entitled Nobody's Family is Going to Change. The title they took from this book and each story revolves around the idea that it is sometimes useless to get someone else to change.

One of these stories documents the relationship between a brother and a sister: the brother a recent charismatic born-again convert, the sister, a lesbian. And it is this conflict, between religious certainty and more of a rational skepticism, and a general tolerance of each other's point of view, that I want to spend some time discussing. Because at some level I can really relate to this conflict, having my own personal experiences with it.

But first, let me give you a summary of the show. The story is narrated by the sister, and she describes how while they were growing up, before he left home for college, the two were extremely close. However, in his freshman year in college, as a result of some major emotional struggles, culminating in an intensely personal, spiritual, emotionally charged experience, the brother converts to Christianity and joins a charismatic church. As a result of this conversion, he completely embraces his faith to the degree that he drops out of school and moves to a farm in Alaska owned by this church to live a communal lifestyle with other believers, abandoning his family in the process. Meanwhile, his sister embraces lesbianism, and moves to Europe with her girlfriend. In time, she finally makes a visit to the farm to visit her brother, trying to figure out what happened to him, to make an attempt to reconnect their once close relationship, and to convince him to accept her choices as much as she hopes to accept his. She even made a movie about this trip.

It was absolutely fascinating to hear their conversations in real-time as she attempts to get him to accept her as she is, which is impossible for him to do. In fact, earlier, he made a trip to visit her in Europe, shortly after his conversion. Needless to say, he was judgmental of her situation. What's also fascinating is how she describes the differences each took in dealing with their problems, her time spent working through problems with a therapist, his consultation with the Bible to find answers.

This whole dynamic is interesting. According to the narrator, before his conversion, he was very non-homophoboic, very accepting, and they were very close. However, as she makes the attempts to visit him and talk with him, she discovers the details of his conversion. How his freshman year was unusually difficult; how he was struggling with depressive thoughts; how he has this religious, very spiritual experience; how through this experience, he felt in a very direct and undeniable way, God's love for him; how through additional experiences he was led to this charismatic church; and how through a relationship from this woman who kind of mentors him, he decides to move to the farm.

You see, what is fascinating here is that he becomes a Christian because of an emotionally-charged spiritual experience. I am not sure the extent of the intellectual process involved, it seemed obvious that he studied the Bible pretty intently thereafter, but it seems definitely secondary for him. Nonetheless, he seemlesly adopts all of the doctrines of the church almost without question.

And that's what is interesting to me, that when you experience spiritual conversion to a faith, to a church, and establish both an emotional and a spiritual connection to a particular sect, the intellectual conversion just sort of follows. So, of course he would come down hard on his sister's lifestyle, because it's in the Bible plain as day and I'm sure his pastor preached a sermon on it one Sunday, and it all made sense, and of course it must be true because God led him on this path.

I must confess I don't know these people, I only heard a brief summary on a radio show, so I'm extrapolating here, but stuff like this has happened to me and I bet it has happened to you. In fact, in many ways, I can relate to this phenomenon more so than most because of the religious faith I belong to. Growing up in a non-Mormon town where I had a lot of non-Mormon friends, and being the sort of combative know-it-all kid I was, I got into plenty of religious debates, and I always felt like I was at the disadvantage. You see, the Mormon faith makes some pretty big claims on divine revelation, prophets, priesthood, and being the only true and living church. It's in the first section of the Doctrine Covenants, our church being "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—". So, in a debate on church doctrine, all one of my detractors had to do was find one example where my church was wrong, and the major premise of my church falls apart as well.

In contrast, the Protestants have it easy. Most of them simply say that as long as you believe in Jesus Christ (and since most people in Yuma, AZ do), you have nothing to worry about. That churches here on earth are a man-made invention, flawed to be sure, mere tools to help us mingle together, strengthen one-another, but the truth lies only in the Bible and in our relationship with God. We largely agree on this point, but it's just our church takes the additional rather significant step that God in His wisdom and mercy talked to one fourteen year old boy back in the early 1800's and through him started a divinely directed church.

And our church, through revelation to prophets does have a lot of complex doctrines, not completely understood by anyone I know, which is exciting to have room to grow and expand in an organization. But its tricky. Despite all of the doctrinal complexities inherent in the church, mainly members of the church are directed to keep it simple, rooted in simple expressions of faith, rooted in emotional and spiritual experiences. In our monthly testimony meetings, we are asked to keep our messages short and focused on simple expressions of faith in God, Jesus Christ, and in the Divine mission of the church on the earth. As missionaries teaching prospective converts, we stick to six simple discussions, based solely on core principles of faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, scriptures, prophets, and revelation. We ask the person to pray, and as directed by their own convictions make the choice to act on the emotions and feelings they experience as they search. That's it.

But what's interesting to me, in the context of this essay, is what we don't do. A convert is never asked if they are comfortable with the church's polygomous history, or what they think of the historical controversies surrounding the Mountain Meadows massacre. Many times, a prospective convert will hear about this or other issues from a friend or pastor either before or soon after the conversion at which time they are forced to deal with it, but the missionaries never bring it up. And its probably a good thing too because these issues are difficult to explain and basically get in the way of what's important, a person's personal journey to establish a relationship with Deity.

But contrast that with someone like myself who grew up in the church or someone who has been a member for many years. I have heard so many explanations of polygamy from these people and even have come up with a few of my own, none of them, to my knowledge, are officially church endorsed. But because the person has an emotional connection to the faith, they feel compelled to close the loop intellectually as well, and then talk themselves into some pretty crazy mental gymnastics in their attempts to do so.

I am only using the example of my faith because it is my faith, but we all have examples. Let's take politics. Isn't it strange to you that as soon as you declare yourself to be a liberal (for example), you almost always automatically become pro choice on abortion, anti-death penalty, pro progressive tax code, pro strict environmental laws, pro-increase the minimum wage, etc., etc., etc. Somewhere a long the line, you probably had some sort of emotional conversion to the Democratic party, maybe a particular political leader was particularly inspiring, maybe the group of friends you associate with were influential, maybe your parents were Democrats and raised you that way. But because of something more emotional than intellectual, you find yourself compelled to close the loop 100% of the way, and basically adopt the complete party line, hook, line and sinker. And your voting record bears it out.

This is not meant to be a criticism, it's incredibly easy thing to do. In fact, I have been a registered Republican most of my life and in those years I had a pretty consistent Republican-oriented voting record. I really can't remember ever voting for a Democrat until around 2004 or so. It was then that I registered independent, and have tried to vote that way. More recently, almost entirely because of Barack Obama, I registered Democrat, and found myself sympathizing more and more uniformly with the democratic side of the argument on so many issues. I have to keep reminding myself to stay independent in my thinking.

But there is another political component to my point. One of my first blog posts, I entitled it, "Are Democrats Smarter than Republicans", consisting of my personal political history. Well, one of the points I never really got to there and I'm getting to here, is that the Republican party has largely become the party of faith, while the Democratic party has become the party of intellectual reasoning.

The clash between the brother and sister of This American Life happens all the time in Congress, on Fox News, and in our communities. You are un-American if you don't wear an American lapel on your jacket and attend a church pastored by Jeremiah Wright. John Kerry was pillored in the 2004 debates for bringing up the idea of using a "global test" before we invade another country. And Bush's invasion into Iraq, as ill-thought out as it was, and this medieval like Crusades aspect to it.

Even the economic debates has this religious versus secular feel to it. The Republicans view always boils down to keeping the government out of the market and this almost religious faith that the free-market model will solve all of problems of poverty, family, and country. And the Republicans have been largely effective in labeling Democrats as elitist socialist, who want to grow government at the expense of our liberty.

In fact, most of the Democratic arguments I read are much more moderate. Most support the free market, but see its limitations in certain areas, so they support regulation, and government constraint, and to help "smooth over the rough edges" of the free market.

Now I'm not saying the Republican point of view is necessarily wrong and the Democratic view is right. I definitely see the religious point of view healthy and necessary in the political sphere, and I largely disagree with some attempts to eliminate religion from the public conversation. And sometimes, the more simple, religious approach is also the right approach.

To wrap up, I want to talk a little more about something personal to me that really fits into this theme, the issue of homosexuality. This issue has so many elements of religion and secularism and it rips the two right down the middle, motivating politicians to ammend constitutions, and religious groups to push legislation. To many religious groups, including my own, this is a clear cut case of taking a morale stand against something that is morally wrong. But if you take the religious argument out of the equation and look at it with only your secular eyes, the Democratic argument seems make more sense. There does seem to be rather strong evidence that points to strong homosexual feelings in certain people at early ages. And to suppress those feelings seems to lead to a lifetime of heartache. Admittedly, I'm completely naive on this issue.

The Mormon church has made some pretty emphatically clear statements on gender and sexuality. In fact, just a short time ago, it published The Proclamation on the Family where it says in no uncertain terms:

"Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."

and

"We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife."

and

"The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity."

Pretty clear stuff. And I do feel a religious, spiritual, and emotional connection to the doctrine behind these statements. But I do know people that I highly respect that have close homosexual friends, and largely because of those friendships believe in their heart of hearts that their sexuality is an intrinsic part of their identity. In fact, I have met some of those homosexuals, and would agree these people seem to be good in every possible sense of the word, as far as I can tell.

And also consider this story about transgendered six year olds. How, I want to know do you square this example with the statements in The Proclamation of the Family?

I guess my point is you just don't. In a recent Paul Graham essay entitled Lies We Tell Kids, he says, "Very smart adults often seem unusually innocent, and I don't think this is a coincidence. I think they've deliberately avoided learning about certain things. Certainly I do. I used to think I wanted to know everything. Now I know I don't."

That's all he says about that, and he moves on to the next thought. That idea is fascinating to me because it rings so true. It reminds me of this poem from a book written by the recent American poet laureate, Ted Kooser, on pornography, entitled a Deck of Pornographic Playing Cards, and it goes like this:

We were ten or eleven, my friend and I,
when we found them under a bridge,
on top of a beam where pigeons were resting.
Someone had carefully hidden them there.
On each was a black-and-white photo,
no two cards alike. We grew quiet and older,
young men on our haunches, staring at
what we feared might be the future.
The pigeons flapped back to their roosts,
rustling and cooing. The river gurgled
as it slipped from the bridge's cool shadow.
There were women with big muzzled dogs,
women with bottles and broom handles.
Stallions stood over the bodies of others.
The women smiled and licked their lips
with tongues like thorns. We grew old.
We were two old men with stiff legs
and sad hearts. We had wanted to laugh
but we couldn't. We had thought we were boys,
come there to throw stones at the pigeons,
but we were already dying inside.

The image of these boys growing old in that moment of accidental knowledge is pretty startling for me, and I think that is the point maybe. That maybe it is important to understand some things, but better not to understand many other things. That it's more important to feel love, to feel spirituality and emotional connections with heaven, than it is to get caught up in debates that have no answers.

What makes the Proclamation on the Family so powerful for me is that it emphasizes strong families that are lasting and enduring. I just don't think it's especially helpful to use it as hammer to pound an anti-gay argument down someone's throat. We all make very personal decisions on these issues, and it can be very difficult to make sense of why one person chooses a lifestyle completely different from our own.

So, I think in day to day living, in our association with our friends and peers, it's pretty clear that we should follow principles of compassion, empathy, and love. In matters of public policy I wish there was more room for politicians to simply say, "you know this is a tough issue and I'm just not sure what the right answer is".

Really, truly, what is the best way to deal with abortion or homosexual marriage. The answer is probably to error on the side of compassion and tolerance, not being afraid to compromise to get stuff done, to admit that we live in a wonderful country filled with incredible people having all sorts of religious, spiritual, and intellectual points of view and its our opportunity to understand one another in the spirit of friendship and humility.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers Day

Since it's Mothers Day today, how about I leave you with a few articles I read recently that were so incredibly well-written they blew my socks off, they were all written by the same woman and dealt very much with women issues:

This one is about the best article I have ever read about abortion, both sides of the issue.

This one will scare you silly if you have daughters. It's all about the dangers of the internet.

This one describes just how latching herself to a creep like Bill Clinton ruined Hillary.

Have fun and Happy Mother's Day.

-Scott

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Turley's Disney Family Vacation: A Way Too Detailed Recap

Last weekend, I was forced into a family vacation to Disneyland. Ok, I wasn't really forced into it, but it definitely was not my first choice. My wife's family had this master plan to go to Disneyland originally in December. But in December we, the Turley family, did not have the funds, so it was postponed to May, and now that its May, we just got back from our trip. So, Sara's parents, sisters, aunt and uncle arranged their work and school schedules to accommodate a vacation to Disneyland, and of course, so did we.

I guess I had sort of bad feelings about Disneyland. For one, there are many other ways I would have preferred spending all of that money, so many other places that would have been more exciting for me to visit. Second, the last time I went to Disneyland I went with a girl I was dating well before I met Sara. This girl was nice and everything, but deep down I knew it wasn't going to go anywhere, and I had absolutely nothing in common with the group of her friends who were also going. I left that trip with this feeling that, sure it was fun and all, but I didn't really feel like I gained anything from it. Like it was this short term fun fix that was over immediately, with no satisfactory after taste to savor later on.

On top of that, Sara read this book, right after we got married called Disney Unmasked (or something like that, I couldn't find it on Google, so I'm wondering if it's out of print because, really, who honestly doesn't love Disneyland) that disparages Disneyland as an over-crowded, money-making at all costs, cover up scandals and accidents mess of a park. On top of that, when I told my sister we were heading to Disneyland, she said, "you know, I don't think we'll ever go there." She described the slightly trashy quality of all amusement parks, how everything is way overpriced, and how at the end of the day, there are many other things that are just more fulfilling and enjoyable, at least for adults. Her trick is to make sure their son never hears about Disneyland so he doesn't know what he's missing. You know what I say, good luck with that.

So, needless to say, I had some negative feelings going into this vacation, but I knew at the very least, it would be fun for me, even if it would be this kind of candy kind of fun, the kind that leaves you a little sick afterward, and at the very least it would be great fun to see my two young kids (one of which has this Disney princess obsession) having a great time. And, you know what, I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with every single one of Sara's family members, so I was looking forward to seeing them.

So, Sara did some research on the park and was feeling pretty overwhelmed. We did do some high level planning to avoid Disneyland at the busiest times of the year, and to avoid the weekend as much as possible. So, we chose to arrive on May 1st, to attend Disneyland on Friday and Monday, leaving the weekend for some LA fun. Sara and I both knew, however, that that was not going to be enough planning. Disneyland is pretty much packed all year round, so we needed to have a plan, and with twelve people involved, the plan would have to be really good to avoid chaos, confusion, too much walking, and too much line waiting. A tall order; Sara was stressed out. So, I stepped in.

Good luck for me because I came across a really cool software package, RideMax, and I was instantly hooked. This software was written by a computer scientist who loves Disneyland. He somehow managed to obtain the wait time for every single ride at all times of the day, during all parts of the year. The user then only had to input a day of the year she would be attending the park and all of the rides she wanted to fit in on that day, and the software would spit out an itinerary that would optimize the wait in line time.

GEEK ALERT: This was very cool, because this was, in essence, a real-world example of the classic Computer Science , Traveling Salesman Problem. To find the exact optimal solution for this problem is actually considered algorithmically impossibly difficult to solve in a reasonable amount of time even for a computer given the number of rides to evaluate grows over ten or so. So, the designer of the software uses some sort of heuristics to come up with a reasonable approximation to the optimal solution. Enough said, I was hooked.

So, I must have spent a few solid hours just entering in rides and looking at the results over and over again, in this sort of trance. This was going to be fun. Let's see how well this software actually works.

So, to optimize the number of rides visited in a day, you have to be prepared to arrive at Disneyland early, about an hour early. You then have to be prepared to race to one of the most popular rides first thing, then dutifully hit as many rides in the morning as possible, when the lines will be reasonably short, then take advantage of the FastPass and the Fast Pass loopholes in the afternoon, and then coast on into the evening hitting either the less popular rides, or taking the hit waiting in line for a more popular ride you missed earlier. At this point you're too tired to walk around anyway, and waiting in line seems like a reasonable thing to do.

So, this is what we did. We raced to Peter Pan first. Why not the famous (or infamous) Finding Nemo ride? Because if you don't run to Nemo first thing, being among the first group to ride the very first departure of those dastardly submarines, the line grows pretty much instantly to 45 minutes or more and stays there the rest of the day. You basically have to beat everyone else there who are also showing up early to do exactly what you're trying to do. Since we had kids in a stroller, we opted out of that rat race. So, off to Peter Pan and a five minute wait in line. Then, in rapid succession, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Dumbo's Flying Elephants, and Storybook Land Canal Boats, but wait, that last ride took longer than the software predicted, and we arrived at Alice in Wonderland late only to see a 30 minute wait time, way over the predicted time. We adjusted, and skipped this ride. Half the group enjoyed the Matahorn Bobsleds, the kiddie/parent half went to Pinochio and Snow White's Scary Adventure (way too scary for Joshua who backed out whimpering, "I'm too scared")...

Then, it was time to begin piling up Fast Pass passes for the busy afternoon. The runners (me and Sara's dad) went to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to get the first fast pass of the day, while the group agreed to meet us at Indiana Jones for the scheduled ride there in the late morning. But BTM RR had a 10 minute posted wait time... strange. We got the FP's anyway, then ran to Indiana Jones only to find a 35 minute wait time. AARGGG, the software was wrong again. We should have just ridden BTM RR, and gotten the fast passes for Indiana Jones. But no problem, the whole family jumped on the Pirates of the Carribean. But that ride was way too scary for our kids (something Sara predicted, but I said, let's just give it a try and see how they do). As the ride ended, Elizabeth looked at me in tears exclaiming, "why did you make go on this ride"?

Ok, we re-grouped, Indiana Jones was down to a 20 minute wait time, and the group hit that. Then we enjoyed the RailRoad roller coaster, a ride that even Elizabeth loved. We even hit it twice, once with our fast passes and another in the regular line, since it was still only 5-10 minute wait. Then lunch. Fast Passes for Splash Mountain, Fast Passes for Space Mountain, woops, Space Mountain was broken... The software didn't know about that...

Good thing we had fast passes for Splash Mountain, because while the masses were waiting for an hour, we sped to the front of the line. I road with Lizzie, and she loved it, except for the end when you take the huge drop, at which time she broke down yet again in tears, but this time for only a few minutes and was quickly comforted by the singing characters at the end, and when asked if she liked it, she answered with an emphatic yes, so we'll count that one a success.

By this time, we were all pretty exhausted, but we had a lot of park left to experience. We got Fast Passes for Buzz Lightyear, and checked up on Nemo, ugh 45 minute wait. We road Buzz Lightyear, and checked on Nemo, ugh 45 minute wait. We went to Toontown, Lizzie spent some time with Princesses at this sponaneous dance/story telling show, while Joshy and I tried our luck at Mickey's house, uggh long line, more wandering. We went back to check on Alice, 15 minute wait, let's do it, and that was a cool ride. Time to check on Nemo, ugh 45 minutes, well let's just absorb the wait. At this point, we were too tired to do any more wandering. Well, we waited a solid hour, but got on the ride and enjoyed it. That submarine ride was pretty cool with all of these Nemo characters animated right in the water, as the sub floated around the pool. Very cool. After that, the day was done (at least for the Turley part of this group, the others pressed on).

So, that was a pretty detailed blow by blow of our first day at Disneyland. Unfortunately, I was so obsessed by schedule, I probably forgot to actually enjoy the park. But I think most everyone had a rather enjoyable time, and I learned a few lessons for Monday.

So, onto Monday (by the way Saturday and Sunday could not have gone better for us. They were equally fun and relaxing, a most excellent way to prepare for another theme park onslaught to come on Monday. Saturday, we spent 3-4 hours at the beach and didn't really do anything else. Sunday, we went to church, a cemetery to see Sara's grandparents, a scenic park, then a little family party where we ate junk food, watched a movie at the hotel, and planned for Monday).

So, Monday, we entered an itinerary for California Adventure in the morning, and a Disneyland wrap up in the evening. We had a lunch with the princesses planned in between. California Adventure was absolutely great fun in the morning. They opened up a small section of the park a half hour early, and we got to be practically first in line for Soaring Over California (we arrived about 30 minutes early this day instead of the hour). And Soaring Over California really soared. It was my favorite ride in the park, and our kids loved it as well. It was absolutely cool, a ride where you actually feel like you're flying over some of the most scenic parts of California, complete with all of the smells and you even experience the wind in your hair.

After that, we hit ride after ride after ride with absolutely no line. We also saw show after show. The Bugs Life Show was the coolest. The princess lunch was next and Lizzie got to have her picture taken with Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and the Little Mermaid, and we got to spend a lot of money for this experience, but Lizzie loved it, and she owes us big time...

We also tried to get both kids on the Grizzlie Raft ride, but they denied Joshua because he was an inch too short, and he was devastated, exclaiming, "But I'm a big boy" over and over again, crying the whole time, we were on the ride.... The ride was incredibly tame too, so I'm not sure what the point behind the height restriction was.

That evening, we took full advantage of fast passes to get another shot at Indiana Jones and Space Mountain (fully repaired). We tried to get Lizzie to ride Space Mountain, just as the park was about to close, but she backed out right at the last minute forcing Sara to hike all the way in to retrieve her.

At this point, I must also say, that Sara was an absolute trooper, being pregnant, she was restricted from so many of the rides and she did not complain once.

So, that was Disneyland, in all of its gory details. As for Ridemax, it cost $15 dollars to use it. For those of you not experienced with Disneyland, I would recommend it highly. But use it as a guide and not as the Bible. That was the mistake I made on Friday and learned from on Monday. RideMax is not Disneyland scripture, remember that.

The general high level idea behind it as far as I could tell are as follows:

1) If you can sprint to Nemo to get on the very first ride, go for it, otherwise avoid it, or do it like we did it and just take the hit at the end of the day when you're tired anyway (preferably on a not so busy day, Monday would have been preferable to Friday for example).

2) Keep mornings busy doing many rides with short lines, since the park is at its least busiest in the mornings.

3) Stack up Fast Passes for the afternoon/evening. You cannot get more than one Fast Pass at the same time, but you can use Fast Passes any time after the alloted time it reserves for you. We had a Fast pass to be used from 11-12 AM but they still let us use it at like 3pm, so that is a fantastic loophole to use.

4) You can also use the afternoon/evenings to see shows or the parade. The park is busy and many lines are long at this time, especially on Friday.

5) Just enjoy yourself, and try not to get too overwhelmed.

I want to end this post with one final thought. My parents basically had two sets of kids, my two older sisters, a big gap in time, then me and my younger sister. My two older sisters also left the state before Karen (my younger sister) and I were even able to sniff high school, so they became these kind of mystical legendary figures to us. We only saw them maybe a couple of times of year, which really enhanced them in this mythical way for us.

My two older sisters are also these arty types, who kind of in their DNA really enjoy going against the grain, and growing up, in my little mind, I considered them to be the absolutely coolest people on the planet. Needless to say, they had a pretty monumental influence on me, and it's been a little tough to shake that influence, to become my own person. It hasn't been all bad, don't get me wrong. Through them, I've been exposed to a lot of cool things I never would have been exposed to otherwise, theater, art, music. But as far as I can remember they have always had this kind of rejection attitude toward anything considered mainstream or pop. At least that has always been my impression of them, I know now that this is probably a drastic over-simplification.

I still have this memory where I think I asked Shelley, my second oldest sister this rather vague question. She was in high school, I was in junior high I think. I asked her if she could give me a description of the kind of music she thought I liked. And she kind of dismissively said, "oh, you like pop". I was crushed. Pop wasn't cool.

At any rate, I have to say (and ironically, I'm wondering if my sisters wouldn't agree with this), that pop is cool. Disneyland rocks. I love Disneyland. I love the characters, Mickey and Minney, the princesses, the happily ever after endings, the fantasy of the whole enterprise. It is a place where dreams really do come true, or at least a place where you can pretend they do. I love the rides, the thrills, the crowds, the expensive food, the long lines, the commercialism. I love it all.

And more than that, I love pop culture. I love watching TV. I love Lost, I love Heroes, I love Friday Night Lights. I love pop music. We just purchased the latest Amy Winehouse record, the one that won all of the grammy's and I love it, I can't stop listening to it, over and over again. I recently purchased a duet by Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson, entitled "Because of You" on iTunes, and I love it. I love action movies: Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men. I loved, loved Rocky I, II, III, and IV, and I loved that song "Eye of the Tiger" growing up. Yes, I said it, I love Disneyland, and I am glad we went, and I'm sure we'll go again.