Sunday, August 31, 2008

Proposition 8 at the grassroots

Recently I spent several mornings talking with voters door to door about Proposition 8, which would amend the state constitution to say that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. My walks were part of a group effort by people from multiple faiths. We were canvassing neighborhoods and learn which registered voters are in favor of Proposition 8 or still undecided. These voters will receive more information and get-out-the-vote reminders as the election nears. A classic grassroots campaign.

While talking with voters about Proposition 8, I realized several important things:

  • Many people are confused about Proposition 8 or do not know what it is. As I introduced myself and began talking about the proposition, I could tell many voters were trying to size up which side I was on. A number of people wanted me to clarify whether a Yes vote was "Yes on traditional marriage" or "Yes on same-sex marriage" before they gave me an answer.

    This means that the grassroots voter education movement is extremely important. People need to know exactly what they're voting for or against when they encounter Proposition 8. In this way, Attorney General Jerry Brown's biased reword of Proposition 8 may actually help the proposition more than it hurts it. Although Brown's "eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry" phrasing casts the proposition in a negative light, it makes it clear what "Yes" and "No" votes mean.

  • Proposition 8 has a good chance of passing. Very few people are undecided about Proposition 8, and opinions run strong among both supporters and opponents. At many houses I visited, voters would tell me their opinions on Proposition 8 before I even asked. This causes me to believe the outcome will be similar to that of Proposition 22, a similarly worded law that was passed by 61 percent of California voters in 2000.

    Sure, things are a little different this time around. Proposition 8 would carry more weight as an amendment to the state constitution, and public sentiment seems to be more open to same-sex marriage than it was eight years ago. But will this be enough to sway the outcome? Somehow I doubt it. Our canvassing effort only sent us to the houses of registered voters, and the majority were strongly in favor of traditional marriage. I'll admit I was assigned to precincts whose demographics are socially conservative, but it was comforting to realize that many folks have not changed their minds on this issue.

  • Apathy is the most dangerous opponent of Proposition 8. Because most people's minds are made up about the issue, Proposition 8 will be decided by how many people from each side show up at the polls. At that point it won't matter what the media thinks or says about same-sex marriage or even what popular opinion is on the issue. It's all decided by who registers and who shows up (or mails in their ballot). In this way, our democracy is beautiful. It requires you to care about local, state, and national affairs enough to make an effort to get to the polls. If there's any issue on the ballot that merits a supportive effort, it's Proposition 8. Please do all that you can to support its passage on Election Day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I gotta go my own way...to sleep

For one year of my baby daughter's life I was at a severe biological disadvantage when it came to putting her to sleep. But now that she doesn't nurse as much we've discovered that we can sway her into a slumber with some soft music. I'm all over that. Nothing beats dancing with my baby girl.

She doesn't go out without a fight, though. For a while we had a CD of soft music I had made for my wife that was pretty effective. "Sailing" by Christopher Cross would always take her out. But after a few weeks she caught on to us and would writhe in protest upon discovering our intent. So we had to find a new tactic, and a new song.

Lately the breakup scene from High School Musical 2 has done the trick every time. Some nights it takes a few go-rounds, though. Did you know that this song starts 1:22:14 into the DVD? My wife and I have that figure memorized.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Death of a sax man

This week saw the unfortunate passing of talented saxophonist LeRoi Moore of the Dave Matthews Band. Moore, 46, died from complications related to an ATV accident he was in earlier this year.

I am not a Dave Matthews Band fanatic; many of their lyrics have an overly gloomy tone that I've never really felt was “for me”. However I will acknowledge that the band has created some very complex and beautiful music, due largely to Moore’s woodwind efforts on all ranges of saxophones, the flute, and even the penny whistle. To me, DMB’s finest moments came after Dave stopped singing and LeRoi started jamming with violinist Boyd Tinsley and drummer Carter Beauford (one of the best in contemporary music).

Moore is to be commended for using the saxophone in alternative music and for introducing the instrument to a wider audience.

Multiple tributes to LeRoi Moore have appeared on YouTube. The one below contains a soaring solo from the song “Spoon”. It reveals Moore’s background in jazz and is representative of many of Moore’s solos in DMB’s live recordings.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pinkberry smoothie: Smooth, but not pink

Had another Southern California experience a few weeks ago visiting my first Pinkberry. This is a minimalist, hip frozen yogurt establishment that currently exists only in California and New York. It’s designed to make you feel cool enough to shell out a few more bucks to get Cap’n Crunch and kiwi fruit on the side of your Green Tea flavored yogurt. For the Word of Wisdom compliant, there’s regular frozen yogurt, shaved ice, or a smoothie, which is what I tried.

The Pinkberry smoothie is not pink, but it definitely has berries in it. I think its purple color and abundance of hard seeds come from the blackberries. The smoothie has a very milky taste which I wasn’t crazy about at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I really want another one. It may be time for another family trip to Victoria Gardens

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How much does a Mormon bishop get paid?

Mormon congregations are divided into wards, usually comprised of several hundred members. The leader of the ward is the Bishop. The Bishop helps ensure the ward members' physical and spiritual needs are taken care of. The Bishop spends many hours each week counseling individuals about their families, marriages, spiritual questions, assignments in the ward, relationships with other ward members, financial struggles, etc.

So how much money does a Mormon bishop earn? The answer is nothing. Even stake presidents, which oversee multiple wards, are not compensated for their time. Unless they're old enough to be retired, bishops and stake presidents work at full-time jobs to provide for their families. In fact, you might be working alongside a Mormon bishop at your day job without knowing it.

So why do bishops make the effort to serve? I would guess this scripture in the Book of Mormon reflects the attitude many bishops have about their church service:

"And now, if we do not receive anything for our labors in the church, what doth it profit us to labor in the church save it were to declare the truth, that we may have rejoicings in the joy of our brethren?" (Alma 30:34)

Because most bishops also hold a full-time job, their church service is done mostly on nights and weekends, supported by patient wives and children who sacrifice their husband and father so that he can help other ward members. This takes an extraordinary family effort, which is not unnoticed by the Lord. I've heard bishops' families talk about the divine help they've received in working together to help their husband or father fulfill his calling as a bishop, which usually lasts 3 -5 years. This article contains a particularly touching story about one bishop's wife realizing the importance of her sacrifice.

I have served as secretary to several Bishops and I can attest to the effort they devote to their callings. As secretary, my assignment was to help the Bishop organize his calendar; if someone needed to visit with the Bishop they called me and made an appointment. So I knew how much time the Bishop was devoting each week to visits. Or so I thought. Often the the Bishop would show up at our weekly planning sessions and start talking about additional visits he had made the past week that I knew nothing about. Some people don't want to call the secretary and they go to the Bishop directly, and often the Bishop was inspired to stop by and visit members on his own. That's the diligence offered by many bishops in the Church.

To learn more about how Mormon church assignments are made and carried out, see Serving in the Church at Mormon.org.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Manufactured Landscapes: Images of industry in the new China

If watching the Olympics has piqued your interest in modern China, you'll be fascinated by the 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes and the China-related exhibitions of Edward Burtynsky.

Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer whose interest is portraying "industrial incursions". Consequently Burtynsky found all kinds of inspiration in China, a nation powered by coal that manufactures enormous amounts of goods not only for the United States, but for its own population of over a billion.

In Manufactured Landscapes, director Jennifer Baichwal follows Burtynsky through China and Bangladesh as he performs his work. We see endless ranks of uniformed factory workers, eager residents chipping apart e-waste for scrap metal, aisles of crates at the port of Tianjin, new ships built to transport the goods, old ships broken apart with bare hands and a blowtorch, residents displaced by the Three Gorges Dam who are forced to tear down their home cities, mountains and mountains of coal extending into the horizon, shantytowns in the old Shanghai overshadowed by new skyscrapers just blocks away, and so on. If this imagery sounds depressing, it can be, but as Burtynsky's assistant explains to some skeptical Chinese coal field administrators, through his camera lens, "he'll make it look beautiful."

Neither Baichwal nor Burtynsky preach about what they are showing. They present the story with pictures and allow the viewer to grapple with the awesome and disturbing feelings the images invoke.

Viewing this film will forever change the way you understand the stamp "Made in China". One lesson I took away from Manufactured Landscapes is that everything we consume, from food to electronics to electricity, has a beginning and an end that we rarely see. The beginning and the end places may not be pretty and they may be far away from our homes where we consume the item. This makes it easy to forget the environmental and human cost of what we consume, which might rise far above the sticker price at Target or Wal-Mart.

Manufactured Landscapes is appropriate to watch with older children (toddlers will lose interest) and will provoke some good family discussion from the very opening scene.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympics in Heaven: How will this happen?

I spent part of this evening watching the parade of athletes in the Olympic opening ceremonies. The mix of nations, peoples, languages, costumes, and religions in this parade is always thought-provoking. As a Christian, how do you reconcile the fact that billions of people on the earth, from many of these nations, will not fully learn about the teachings of Christ during their lives, even though His is the only name under which salvation can come? Will they be condemned for this in the afterlife?

An excellent commentary from LDS Newsroom, titled Everyone Else Makes Such Lonely Heavens, describes the Mormon belief that a just God could not condemn his children for something they have no control over in this life. The article gives a brief but accurate overview of the Mormon belief in performing baptisms on behalf of people who have died, so that they can have the opportunity to accept Jesus after this life. The doctrine of baptism for the dead upholds the Christian belief that salvation must come through Christ, without unjustly condemning those who did not have the opportunity to hear about or accept Christ's teachings in this life.

For more on this subject you can also see a video clip on Mormon.org: What happens to people who've never heard of Jesus Christ?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Brigham Young University: The nation's top party school

For the 11th year in a row, Mormon-operated Brigham Young University has earned #1 on the Princeton Review's list of Stone-Cold Sober Schools. BYU did well in a number of categories, causing university spokesman Michael Smart to remark, "We maintain that [BYU's] top 20 rankings for happiest students and best quality of life go hand in hand with being considered Stone-Cold Sober".

He couldn't be more correct. The Stone-Cold Sober list is often contrasted with the Princeton Review's list of Party Schools, which generally gets more publicity from the media. I noticed that BYU did not appear on this year's list of party schools, but I believe this could be an error.

It depends on if a "party" is defined as having alcohol or if a party is defined as having fun. If a party is defined as having alcohol (a dangerous definition, especially for a publication aimed at high-schoolers like the Princeton Review), then BYU doesn't belong on the list; but if a party is defined as having fun, then BYU should be at the top.

I haven't seen a place in the world where people have more fun than at BYU, and this all happens without a drop of alcohol. I loved living in (the old) Helaman Halls and (the old) Glenwood Apartments, well-known centers of said fun. Despite all the pressures of schoolwork, those were some of the most spontaneous and carefree times of my life.

It's easy to have fun at BYU because the students share a common commitment of faith and values, and most are genuinely kind and willing to make friends. From snowball wars to Creamery runs, from football games to tunnel singing, from "Dining Plus" to Fall Fling, from intramural ultimate frisbee to "Ward prayer", from midnight pranks to midnight runs to Denny's to midnight renditions of "The Saints Go Marching In" at the Library, there's not a school the Princeton Review could name that has a bigger party than BYU.

Did I forget some reasons why BYU is THE top party school? Go ahead and list them here.