Friday, December 30, 2011

New Pictures at Family Blog

I've added new pictures at the neglected family blog:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Music

Here's what I've been listening to (if you have Spotify, take a listen):

1. ELP's Christmas song is definitely not the song of a believer--but it's still classic Christmas. And it's the first progressive rock Christmas song (as far as I know). The vocals are fantastic. Just try to, uh, ignore the lyrics. :)

Emerson Lake & Palmer – I Believe In Father Christmas

2. Jackson Browne is quite different from most of what I listen to, but he has some fantastic songs, including this one. Again, not a believer (here he calls himself a "pagan")--but his message about the meaning of Christmas is right on.

"We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus"

Jackson Browne – The Rebel Jesus

3. California Guitar Trio (A Christmas Album)

California Guitar Trio – Greensleeves (What Child Is This?)

These incredibly talented guitar players do very intricate instrumental guitar music. This album is a bit simpler than most their stuff, and it's what I put on when I want to listen to my Christmas music and I'm worried about annoying other people with it. Compared to the rest of the albums here it's pretty mild. I didn't know one of these guys was a fellow Utahn when I discovered them--but there you have it. I recommend listening to the whole album (available in its entirety on Spotify).

4. Shadow Gallery--Christmas Day

Definitely light progressive metal. This one is actually one of my favorite songs by them. I find most of their stuff a bit too cheesy, but this song is great.

Shadow Gallery – Christmas Day (Act II)

5. Savatage--Dead Winter Dead

Okay, so this isn't really a Christmas album. It deals more with the evils of war. But hope is found on Christmas Day, and this progressive metal rock opera has a happy ending. The list on Spotify is not in order (which is horrible, since it is a rock opera and the songs tell a story--it's like reading a book with all the chapters out of order). You've heard "Christmas Eve" on the radio (it's the Carol of the Bells with electric guitar that gets played all the time around Christmas). The radio guys will say it's Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but Dead Winter Dead was the first time this gem was released. It actually led to the creation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and was included in their first album.

Savatage – Christmas Eve

And the most amazing song on the album--with hints of Queen, only metal, more intense, and, quite frankly, better:

Savatage – Not What You See

6. And, of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without Trans-Siberian Orchestra. They've got three fantastic Christmas albums. Electric guitars, intense lyrics, music that experiments with progressive rock, progressive metal, jazz, blues, classical--and it's all good. Some of it's heavily based on classic Christmas songs, but much of it is all or mostly original. The radio likes the traditional classic Christmas songs, while I favor the original ones. Most notably, they stay away from the non-religious Christmas songs. How many pop stars do the same? Some favorites:

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – A Star To Follow

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The World That She Sees

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Three Kings And I [What Really Happened]

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – What Child Is This?

And they can't stop from redoing Savatage favorites--here's the TSO version:

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Back To A Reason

And here's the Savatage version (which I prefer):

Savatage – Back To A Reason

These guys also put on a fantastic live show every year around Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Benefits of Good Credit

So as you know, I'm starting a new business. A new business, even a small one, has start-up costs. Not huge start-up costs, by any means--but, having spent all of our savings on school, and now being for the most part unemployed for the last several months (April's worked part time and I've made a little money doing contract work), we don't have money to start a business.

I figured I'd go to the bank and get a small business loan. Turns out banks don't like making business loans to new businesses, even just $4000 or so. Even if they did, the interest rate would be horrendous. But they don't. So that wasn't an option.

I hoped my parents would offer to lend me money, as they're not exactly struggling financially right now. So I hinted at it without asking outright. No luck, at least not initially.

Then I realized we kept on getting credit card offers for 0% APR for long periods of time (15 months, 21 months, etc.) We have great credit, so we get some nice credit card offers. I figure it's basically a loan, and if I can pay it off within the time limit, it's an extremely nice loan. So I applied for a couple of credit cards, including an American Express. I was expecting a $1,000 or maybe a $2,000 credit limit on each card, which is why I applied for two in the first place, but--we got the American Express today, and let's just say we'll probably use our American Express exclusively this year, both for personal and for business use. The credit limit is much, much higher than I expected. Our other credit cards (our faithful Discover and the backup Amazon Visa) will get very little use for the next 15 months. It's too bad we can't put our rent on the card...

The lesson? It pays to have good credit.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lowe's and Bigotry

If you haven't heard about the latest religious bigotry (and I'm not talking about Gingrich's otherwise inexplicable lead over Romney, although that's certainly interesting in and of itself), look to the major hardware chain Lowe's.

Apparently there's a reality show about Muslims in Michigan. They're pretty normal Americans, doing American things. Like almost all Muslims in America.

Apparently this made certain people mad (specifically, the Florida Family Association--another reason to distrust any group that has the word "family" in its name). The FFA believes that Muslims are dangerous, and that the show was misleading because it portrayed Muslims as being normal people. The group sent complaints to all the companies who advertised during the show, and then claimed they'd influenced those companies when those same companies failed to advertise during the show for next two weeks. Obviously, making such a claim is silly since most companies don't advertise repeatedly on the same show--but FFA claimed victory anyway.

Unfortunately, one company did cave in, and even admitted to doing so on Facebook.

I've known several Muslims during my lifetime, some of them American and some not. I taught a discussion on my mission to a room full of Muslim men, and taught additional discussions to other Muslims. I have a friend from law school who is Muslim. And guess what? They're all normal people.

I can imagine the FFA complaining about a hypothetical show about Mormons, based somewhere in the Mormon corridor, because it didn't show extremist Mormons (otherwise known as polygamists). The complaint would be equally as silly. Their bigoted ideas about American Muslims is disappointing. Even more disappoint is that a major company, Lowe's, caved in to their demands and then tried to justify it. I can't imagine being a Muslim employee of Lowe's right now. And I won't be shopping there until they publicly apologize.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Attorneys aren't really that smart and other observations

I've done a little work for a local attorney lately. Nice guy. Older (he has great-grandkids). But I've noticed a couple of interesting things.

First, a client of his is convinced everyone close to her is out to get her, and he buys into her conspiracy theory. I think he's starting to realize he'll need a lot more evidence if he wants to present it in court, but I'm a bit surprised to see him hoodwinked by it. I've seen other attorneys forgo rationality when siding with a client, but not at this level.

Second, he asked me if I was LDS and said that I'd need to be to be successful in this part of the state. It might be true, but it's a distasteful reality if it is.

Third, he started talking to me about immigration. Let's just say that he heeds Fox News instead of the LDS church on this issue (which nobody blinks an eye at, even though not being LDS is a big stigma here). I countered by discussing my experience in Cincinnati as EQP working with illegal immigrants (throwing in my Mormon creds while disagreeing with his politics, to try to balance the argument out). He showed me a part of the Constitution that he believes allows states to throw out illegal immigrants without federal support, and I thought about it and told him that I doubt a federal court would interpret "invasion" as "illegal immigration," and that the founders certainly didn't mean immigration when they used the term "invasion." He said the federal courts wouldn't have a say on the matter, since it's a state matter. He was deadly wrong on that point, but I didn't respond to it. (When there's a question about the Constitution, federal courts are responsible for interpreting the Constitution--and this includes the definition of "invasion.")

In any case, I hope I'm able to stay rational and still find a client base here without listening to Fox News or talk radio. Maybe I should start keeping my moderate political beliefs to myself if I want work (even if they align 100% with the church's stance). This might be a struggle...

Going solo

So I've decided to start up my own law firm.

I've been thinking about it for a while, investigating what I'd have to do to get it started, how it would work, who my clients would be, and so on. April's working part-time, and will continue to do so until I start bringing in enough money for us to get by. We're low maintenance, so hopefully that won't be too long.

Part of my reasoning has to do with the fact that I've sent out hundreds of resumes, had a dozen interviews, and still don't have a job. Good grades and good work experience can't make up for a lack of connections and a poor job market. The job market for new attorneys is particularly awful right now--other friends who also excelled in law school but didn't have the connections are struggling too. At least one of them has started up his own firm. Job prospects for the future look slim--I'm already starting to compete against the next class of law school grads.

The other part of my reasoning is that solo work tends to be a lot more interesting than working elsewhere. I've done a little work for an in-house counsel at a medium-sized company in Idaho Falls, and I've done work a little work for the solo attorney in our small (population 4000) town. There is no question that the solo attorney gets more interesting work. To be honest, the business law stuff I've done for the company bores me to death. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten a lot of work at either place.

The solo attorney I've done work for is the only one in this town, and he only does law half-time. He's more than ten years past retirement age. Most towns in Idaho seem to have one attorney for every thousand people; our town has 1/2 for four thousand. I think the majority of people here go to Idaho Falls when they want an attorney; I'd be a more convenient option.

The big downsides: start-up costs. I'd need money for an office, phone, and internet (around $300/month total--pretty reasonable). I'd need money for advertising (website, business cards, small ad in phone book and some money for Google). Business license is cheap. A couple of bank accounts shouldn't cost much, if anything. Equipment might run me some money--a desk, a printer that can handle large loads and has cheap ink (lawyers use a lot of paper), a couple of chairs, frames for my licenses and degrees, office supplies. Total start-up cost would only be a couple thousand dollars, but I'd need to take out a business loan.

Also--it's risky. A regular job offers benefits including healthcare. This wouldn't. A regular job offers guaranteed income. This wouldn't--and some projects wouldn't see income for years (for example, a personal injury case where I get 1/3 of whatever my client gets, but I have to wait a long time to get it).

I'd also have to keep my moderate leanings to myself. Nothing would make me unpopular faster than telling my small-town potential clients that the only presidential candidates I would vote for are Huntsman and Obama.

On the upside, I would have a lot more freedom. And the money I made would be mine to keep--it wouldn't go to my boss. Plus, going solo is a lot more exciting than working for the man.

I hope to have things running before the new year. Wish me luck...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Ward Update

Well, the new ward is made up of parts of three old wards. Most if not all of the presidencies are in place. It's a ward with a good mix of people--some older people, some middle-age people, some younger people. Education, wealth, etc. is all over the place too.

The bishopric is all over the age of 40 (and probably over the age of 50). I'm not terribly surprised about that. What did surprise (and, to tell the truth, disappoint) me was the makeup of the Relief Society Presidency and the members of the Ward Council . With the exception of the Elder's Quorum President, they're all over 40 (and probably all over 50) too. That includes the Young Women's President and the Primary President. The Relief Society President even told the sisters that she probably wouldn't remember their names if they're under 40. I wish there was a little more age diversity in the leadership--I'm a bit worried the ward leadership will fail to recognize the needs of the many younger people in the ward.

To the credit of the Elder's Quorum President, one of his counselors is a grey-haired over-50s guy. So there, at least, there is some age diversity.

Other than that, though, the ward seems pretty good. I'm definitely happy that the songs aren't all sung at 70% of the minimum recommended speed (a welcome change after the last Shelley ward). We'll see how things are going forward.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New TV

Not a great year for great new TV. There are some decent shows out there (Prime Suspect, Person of Interest), but it doesn't compare too well to past seasons. However, one new show is good--Grimm. Imagine Buffy (or maybe Angel--no high school cheerleaders here) combined with a good cop show. Now imagine that it somehow doesn't cater to the Twilight crowd. At all. If you're looking for romance with your werewolves, you won't find it with Grimm. The protagonist lives with his long-term girlfriend (who we don't see much of), works as a homicide detective, and--well, the supernatural elements are important, but I don't want to introduce any spoilers.

As far as violence, sex, darkness, etc. goes, I'd put it on the same level as X-Files. Some violence, a little dark, some good scares. And all four episodes (so far) are available on Hulu (although the pilot may not be there for much longer). Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Old Bishopric

Saw this article and it reminded me of my coolest bishopric ever.

I first attended this singles ward in the summer of 2002. I was there for just six or seven weeks in 2002, and my records were never officially there. The bishop (this guy) was good friends with my uncle, and definitely goes down as one of my favorite bishops. The younger counselor, David Holland (although we called him Duff) was a graduate student and hung out with us like he was just another student. The other counselor I won't bother naming, but let's just say he played some mean football back in the day. He's also the most famous person who's ever introduced himself to me (and in fact the most famous person I've ever met).

When I returned the summer of 2003, and stayed for 8 months, Mr. Football had just been released, but Duff and Bishop Stevens were still there. I got to spend some quality time around both of them, and they both made a big impression on me.

In any case, it's good to see old friends doing well for themselves.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Comparing Anti-Mormon Sentiments from Political Candidates

Let's take a look at how those running for the highest position in this country view Mormonism.

Obviously, Romney and Huntsman, both Mormons, defend the faith. Romney's attacked for it, and Huntsman calls the attacker a moron.

How did the rest of the GOP respond? Rick Perry refused to say whether Romney was a Christian or not. Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann also dodged the question. Those three have not said a single word of criticism to those who say a Mormon should not be president, despite ample opportunity (and direct questions from interviewers) on the topic. Their responses have been dodgy and weak.

Now, today, another candidate spoke up. Technically, he's not running for president--he's running for vice president.

"Vice President Biden denounced questions about Romney's religion, saying it is wrong and unfair to suggest the former Massachusetts governor shouldn't be president because he is a Mormon," states the article. Biden stated, "I think it is outrageous. I think it is outrageous." He also used the terms "embarrassing" and "preposterous."

I'm glad one of the candidates is standing up for us.

Monday, October 31, 2011

New Wards

Anyone ever been in a new ward? I don't mean a new ward for you--I mean a newly created ward.

In Cincinnati, we moved into a ward that had only been around for six months or so. The stake had taken a tiny downtown branch, combined it with the Cincinnati ward, and then split the Cincinnati ward into two wards--the Cincinnati ward and the Norwood ward. Sacrament meeting attendance varied from about 100 (when we first moved in) to about 60-65 (when we moved out). The change was mostly due to move-outs, very few move-ins, and a handful of deaths (something like 20% of the men in the ward--6 individuals--died while we were there, some older but some quite young). It was nice being in a small ward. It was a new ward, but most of the members came from the old ward and knew each other quite well, the exception being those from the inner city branch. I started working with a less active family that had belonged to the branch and discovered the father of the family had been in the branch presidency at one point--something not a single soul at ward council was aware of until I told them (in fact, they didn't even know who the family was). But for the most part the new ward was simply part of the old.

Yesterday, our stake in Shelley, Idaho had a meeting where they announced ward boundary changes. We live on a street that's full of 4-plexes on the north side of Shelley. The whole street is pretty new--five years old or so. The whole street belonged to one ward. Now, that ward has lost the entire street of apartments, and half of us in the apartments have gone to another already-existing ward, and half of us have gone into an entirely new ward. The neighbors right across the street will now be attending a different ward, and we'll be attending the brand new one. The new ward is new in a way that the Norwood ward was not--it appears that it was created from sliced off pieces of several different wards. We'll all be strangers to the majority of the ward. We'll see how that works out. We're definitely happy we're being sent to the new ward instead of being added on to an old ward.

Any experiences with being in a newly-created ward?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

LDS actors

What's up with the fact that so few active members of the LDS church are successful actors?

The list of less active or former members is pretty extensive: Amy Adams (star of Enchanted and the new Muppets movie, among others), Aaron Eckhart (an RM, and important roles in quite a few movies including Two Face in the last Batman movie), Katherine Heigl (Grey's Anatomy plus a bunch of mediocre movies), Mireille Enos (star of The Killing, a fantastic AMC TV show), and Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and star of The Dollhouse).

There's not a single active LDS actor who can compare with any of the above actors. And I believe the experience of Kirby Heyborne (The Singles Ward, the R.M., The Best Two Years, Saints and Soldiers) is one reason why.

As a struggling actor, Heyborne takes the jobs he can get. He can't afford to be picky. So when Miller Lite offered him a chance to make some money (so he could support his family) by playing a small role in a beer commercial, Heyborne accepted. The reaction in much of the LDS community? Outrage. Even BYU refused to allow Heyborne, a temple recommend holder who, besides being an actor, is also a musician, the chance to play music at BYU because of the commercial.

Meanwhile, I know Mormons who work for casinos (especially in Las Vegas). I know of Mormons who sell alcohol and tobacco (the owners of a chain of grocery stores in small town Idaho, for example). And, most interesting, just a few miles north of Shelley, where I'm currently living, is a Budweiser plant. Shelley is about 15 minutes south of Idaho Falls, and the Budweiser plant is right in between Idaho Falls and Shelley. And Shelley is 82% LDS (I think the actual numbers are probably even higher). So how does this Budweiser plant operate? Who runs it? Who grows the barley that is processed into beer at the plant? That's right. Mormons. Who cares? No one. Mormons are creating the raw ingredients, processing them into beer, and then selling the beer, and yet no one blinks an eye. And yet Heyborne is attacked pretty ferociously for being in a commercial. Like the farmers and factory workers, he's just trying to make a living and support his family. Unlike them, he gets attacked for it.

Back to the subject at hand: why are so many LDS actors inactive? No doubt some of it has to do with the nature of the film industry. But I think the larger problem is this--we as Mormons are too judgmental, too quick to attack LDS actors for acting in what we view as questionable roles. Maybe if we took a different approach we could hold on to actors with LDS backgrounds.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Elder Oaks on Religious Freedom and Politics

Elder Oaks (who, unlike say President Faust or President Uchtdorf, is clearly a Republican) was interviewed a little while ago by Hugh Hewitt. A few things stood out.

1. A caller (probably LDS) asked, "Is there a line that’s drawn between morality and politics, for example, having political views, the left and the right, you have two public figures like Glenn Beck and Harry Reid who are diametrically opposed to one another. Is there a line that has to be drawn for Mormons in politics?"

Notice carefully how Elder Oaks responds. "We have, as prominent Mormons, Mitt Romney and Harry Reid. They are obviously at opposite ends of a political spectrum. We’re proud that our religious causes such, or brings forth such capable men. And we’re also grateful for the demonstration that the church does not dictate a particular political philosophy, but it trains people, with greater or lesser degrees of success, to be moral and responsible people, and to function wherever their conscience takes them on the political spectrum."

First, Elder Oaks totally ignores the mention of Glenn Beck. Second, he calls Harry Reid a capable man. I'll let you draw your own conclusions on why he totally ignored the mention of Glenn Beck, but I'm glad he did--Mitt Romney makes a much better comparison to Harry Reid.

2. Elder Oaks also discuss a Supreme Court case that greatly eroded religious freedoms, Employment Division v. Smith. I've talked about that decision before. Elder Oaks admits confusion as to why the author of that decision, Justice Scalia, a man Elder Oaks usually agrees with politically, made such a boneheaded decision. (They don't mention the fact that all of the other conservatives on the Supreme Court agreed with Scalia, and that the only dissenters were three of the four liberals). I really wish they would have discussed this issue more, but to do so would've required attacking conservatives on the Supreme Court, so I understand why they didn't. This was, after all, a conservative radio show.

Elder Oak's money quote: "And in Employment Division v. Smith, the United States Supreme Court dragged religion out of the sanctuary, and said you’re in effect, you don’t have any more free speech rights than people generally. You don’t have the right to override state laws any more than any other person does. And it just deemphasized religion very significantly."

My questions for Elder Oaks: Why do you think the conservatives on the Supreme Court deemphasized religion so significantly? Why did the three dissenting liberals do a better job of defending religion than the conservatives? I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have an answer to that. My thoughts are that it might have to do with the total lack of religious diversity in the Supreme Court (9 Justices, and every single one is either Catholic or Jewish). With enough political power, you don't have to worry so much about your person religion practices being protected--and Catholics and Jews certainly have a lot of political power in the U.S. I have to admit, however, that I, like Elder Oaks, am at a total loss for why the conservatives on the Supreme Court attacked religious freedoms to the extent they did.

Any ideas?

Meanwhile, I'll join with Elder Oaks, and I will continue to hold that decision up as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in recent history.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


A recent New York Times article profiles Mitt Romney's LDS leadership side in Boston. He was a bishop and stake president there, and, as is to be expected, people had both positive and negative things to say about his time spent volunteering for the church in leadership positions. Overall the article is more positive than negative, and it's clearly written (or edited) by someone very familiar with the church.

One of the quotes in the article that caught my eye was this (from Sister Dushku, who I believe is currently the Relief Society President of the stake, and whose daughter all Joss Whedon fans should know).

“Mitt is the type who liked to be called Bishop Romney or President Romney."

While I'm fine with calling bishops and stake presidents by their title, I'm not sure how I'd feel being in their position and being called by a title. (Just one of many reasons I hope I'm never bishop or stake president...)

I currently teach 11-year-old boys, but in my last ward I was in a leadership position, and was occasionally called "President." I was okay if the stake presidency called me "president," but I strongly disliked it when members of my ward did. It seemed to create a false barrier between me and them. I wanted to be friends with those in the ward, and calling me "president" may have lent me some undeserved authority but it did not help my goal of becoming closer to those I was responsible for.

And notice how the scriptures always refer to spiritual leaders by their first name, generally without any kind of title...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Anti-Mormonism at the Values Voter Summit

There's been a lot of talk in the national media these past couple of days about some anti-Mormon discourse at the Values Voter Summit. The Values Voter Summit is a conservative event that is supposed to focus on--big surprise--values. Specifically, conservative values. Almost all of the Republican candidates for president showed up and spoke, including Romney, Perry, Cain, Bachmann, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum. In other words, it's pretty much guaranteed that the person who will run against Obama participated in this event.

Now most of the media focus on the Values Voter Summit has been on the guy who introduced Rick Perry to the crowd--a guy who told the crowd they should vote for a real Christian and later stated multiple times that Mormonism is a cult. Unfortunately, the media hasn't been paying as much attention to a much more dangerous speaker--a guy by the name of Bryan Fischer. Remember, both of these guys shared the stage with the Republican candidates. They aren't some KKK dudes protesting on the fringes--they're invited speakers at a mainstream Republican event.

I'll let you go elsewhere to find out about Rick Perry's friend, Mr. Cult. The more dangerous man is Bryan Fischer. Romney's team realized a few days before the Summit that Mr. Fischer, an official at the American Family Association, who was scheduled to speak after Romney, might be a problem. Romney, to his credit, even mentioned a "poisonous" speaker he would speak after he did. I wish Romney would have refused to come unless Fischer was uninvited, but his mention in his speech was better than nothing.

Mr. Fischer has stated that non-Christians do not have First Amendment (ie--religious freedom) rights, and that Mormons aren't Christian (and also aren't entitled to the same religious freedoms under the First Amendment).

Imagine, for a minute, the consequences if Fischer's delusion was true. No freedom of religion (or at least limited freedom of religion) for minority religions, while mainstream Christian religions (or at least those who Fischer believes are mainstream) have complete freedom of religion. The thought terrifies me. I don't like to use the term un-American--I think the term is over-used--but in this case it clearly applies. Even if we ignore the fact that many of the founders were not traditional Christian, the very language of the First Amendment does not discriminate between different religions. All religions are to be treated equally--none favored, none disfavored.

Even worse than Fischer's un-American beliefs about the First Amendment is the fact that he was invited to speak at the same event and on the same stage as Romney, Perry, and the rest of the Republican presidential candidates. In what sick, demented world is that okay? Someone who has such a corrupt understanding of the First Amendment, and the other Republicans have him out in the open, center stage, voicing his opinion? He should be uninvited, out on the fringes with the KKK. The Republican party does itself no favors when it shares a stage with such a man.

Republicans who belong to minority religions (Mormons, Muslims, etc.) need to realize that not only does much of their party believe they belong to a cult, but also that some in their party--mainstream enough to be invited to speak at a big conservative summit like this one--believe that minority religions aren't entitled to the same rights as mainstream Christianity. It's an uncomfortable reality, but it's one we need to be aware of.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Past 3 Years

Three years ago I was just a few weeks into law school, I was becoming the mortal enemy of my Torts Professor, who thought me an idiot and made fun of me in front of a large group of my peers, and I was studying harder than I'd ever studied in my life. I'd applied to a number of law schools, but I applied late in the game (which meant some schools wouldn't even consider my application, and other schools had already filled up on their average students and were saving their last few slots for exceptional ones--and as my undergrad grades weren't exceptional, they didn't accept me). A handful of quality law schools did accept me. Of these, the University of Cincinnati was both the most affordable (in-state tuition the first year, some scholarship money, and public) and best (most highly ranked--on par with the University of Utah Law School). It was a long ways away from home, but April and I visited beforehand and I was very impressed by the law school--much friendlier than my visit to the U of U. April interviewed and found full-time work (which changed to Saturday-only work once Peter was born).

I made a handful of friends. Four of us formed a study group (the only two Mormons in our class, plus two religious Catholics--Sam and Jesse--who were both around my age and both married). I never felt very smart in our study group, so I was surprised when I got back grades for the semester--I was in the top 10% of my class. The other members of the study group had also done well, especially Jesse, who was first or second in the class (out of about 120). Best of all, I got an "A" on my Torts exam, and therefore an "A" in the class (shocking my professor, I'm sure).

Second semester I also excelled, again making (just barely) top 10%. Peter was born half-way through the semester. Soon after exams ended, I found a job with a law firm (I was the only first-year student they interviewed, but somehow managed to beat out all the second-year students). At about the same time I was also called as Elder's Quorum President in my small ward. I worked full-time that summer, and kept working part-time when I returned to school in the fall. My grades dropped a bit (down to top 15%, and then my last semester down to top 20%). I spent a second summer at the law firm, and continued working there until I graduated. I also continued serving as EQP. A few months before I finished law school, the Cincinnati office of my firm laid off two of their seven attorneys. They informed me they wouldn't be able to hire me as an attorney after law school.

I did a few interviews in Ohio and Kentucky, but was unable to find work. With no job prospects, we decided to move back to Idaho. I'd interviewed at a couple of jobs in Idaho over Christmas break (in Twin Falls and Pocatello), but no luck. With far fewer jobs available due to the job market (which hit both attorneys and new graduates particularly hard) my competition was much stiffer. Once we moved back I applied for jobs and studied for the Idaho Bar. Degen (pronounced "Day gun") was born. I interviewed for jobs in Twin Falls and Boise, again with no luck. I took the bar, April started working per diem at a nearby hospital (hospital jobs seem to be recession-proof), and I've been a stay-at-home dad since. I spend several hours a day searching for and applying for jobs, do the shopping, cooking and dishes, and take care of a two-year-old and an infant.

After the bar, I drove down to Carson City, Nevada for an interview, and the Geo's transmission decided to go out on me 40 minutes outside of Twin Falls. Tow, transmission replacement, rental car, and an extra night of hotel ran about $1,400. We thought about just getting rid of the car, but we can't afford a replacement right now, and it's our only vehicle. I thought that after such a difficult experience things would get better (maybe, for example, I'd get the Carson City job), but no such luck.

I did pass the bar. Of course, it's the Idaho bar, and most the people I was competing against were graduates of a bottom-of-the-barrel law school (the University of Idaho), but it was still a relief to pass.

Last week I talked over the phone with an attorney in small-town Montana; it was basically an interview, and he invited me up to Montana for a second, in-person interview. The day before the interview he called me to tell me he found someone else for the position. The next day, a job opened up in Boise, and I set up an interview for that. Again, the day before the interview (today), I received a phone call telling me the job had already been filled. I'd already paid for the hotel room (and it's not refundable).

So I'm incredibly frustrated at how things are going. When I started law school, the economy was fine. UC grads were getting good jobs. It's not like I went to graduate school to study English or History--I did graduate work that almost guaranteed a decent job after graduation. And I worked incredibly hard for three years so that I could get a good job. Now, with a moderate amount of student debt, two kids, expensive car repairs and two cancelled interviews, not to mention an empty bank account, I'm struggling. I'm applying for jobs as far away as rural Alaska and D.C. (and for graduate work in Belgium). I enjoy being closer to family, but part of me wishes we'd stayed in Ohio, where I had friends nearby and a friendly, welcoming ward to go to each Sunday.

If you hear of a job opening that has anything to do with the law--even if it isn't specifically an "attorney" job--let me know. And I'll keep searching, applying, and (hopefully) interviewing. Wish me luck. In this economy, I'll need it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Music To Avoid

In church today, a woman told a story about her college days and a roommate who played hard music too loud. The intended message was that hard music is bad and makes the spirit leave. I think that's the wrong approach to take when evaluating music.

From the LDS church publication, For the Strength of the Youth, which seems to be the most authoritative church statement about music:

"Choose carefully the music you listen to. Pay attention to how you feel when you are listening. Don’t listen to music that drives away the Spirit, encourages immorality, glorifies violence, uses foul or offensive language, or promotes Satanism or other evil practices."

It's usually pretty clear what music "encourages immorality, glorifies violence, uses foul or offensive language, or promotes Satanism." At least if you're paying attention to the lyrics. But how to evaluate "music that drives away the Spirit?" Can music drive away the Spirit if it doesn't encourage immorality, glorify violence, etc.? Probably, although perhaps not as often as we think.

Elder Gene R. Cook spoke once to my mission; he stated that, due to an interaction he had with a famous rock star, he and his family never listened to rock music. (Personally, I think the rock star was probably just having some fun with Elder Cook at Elder Cook's expense, and Elder Cook took him seriously when he should have realized the guy was pulling his leg, but whatever). Contrast that, however, with Brother Richardson, a member of the Sunday School General Presidency. While details like a General Authority's tastes in music are generally not well-known, I took a class from Brother Richardson at BYU prior to his call as a General Authority. My notes from that class clearly indicate that Brother Richardson is a Styx fan. Not exactly the stance Elder Cook takes. I think that as we have more and more General Authorities who were teenagers in the 60's and 70's, more and more of them will be rock fans.

One trend I have noticed--people who don't like rock or hard music are very quick to identify their dislike as "music that drives away the Spirit." I think that's a bit dishonest (whether they realize it or not). I don't like country--in fact, I cringe when I hear country. I don't like most pop. I don't like rap. But as long as that music doesn't fit any of the categories listed above (encourages immorality, etc.) I'm probably not going to say that it drives away the Spirit. I just don't like it.

The true test for whether music that doesn't encourage immorality, etc. drives away the Spirit? First, do you like the genre? If you don't, you might have difficulty determining whether it drives away the Spirit or if you just don't care for the genre. Second, if you like the genre, do you feel the Spirit withdraw when you listen to it? There's one classic metal band that I get "bad vibes" with when I listen to. I love the sub-genre, the vocalist has a great voice, I like the music, but I just don't like the feeling I get when I listen to them. Some of their songs might "promote evil practices." But much of their music doesn't, and I still get those bad vibes. That's clear evidence of music that drives away the Spirit. The ugly feeling I get when I listen to country? Not so much. That's just a matter of taste. As is, I think, most people who claim that a whole genre of music drives away the Spirit.

The funny thing in all of this is that, while genres like metal might get attacked more than they deserve, genres like pop, which are overflowing with the "encourages immorality" bit, are often seen as harmless. I can honestly say that my large progressive/power metal collection is very very light on encouraging immorality, foul language, violence, and Satan-worship. In fact, if immorality is mentioned, it's more likely to discourage the practice than it is to encourage it. And, other than the one band mentioned above, I haven't eliminated any of my music due to language, etc. Even my heaviest music is low on the categories mentioned in For the Strength of Youth.

The take-away message? Don't assume that your dislike of a genre corresponds directly with the Spirit withdrawing. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's morally bad. And you might want to pay more attention to the lyrics your kids are listening to than how much you don't like their favorite genre.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What I've been watching

Veronica Mars: available on Hulu. Think Buffy without the vampires and more solo. Or what Nancy Drew would be like in real life. Recommended by Jay, and I really liked it too.

Falling Skies: a sci-fi set in the very near future, following an alien invasion. Spielburg's involved, and it's actually a very professional TV show. There are some pretty significant similarities to John Christopher's Tripods books (anyone else read those as a kid?) A large group does its best to stay alive. It's more character-oriented than action-oriented; action freaks might find it a bit slow (I think the pace is perfect). And one of the actors is Moon Bloodgood, who has a winning streak--all three of the TV shows she's starred in are great (Day Break, Journeyman, and Falling Skies). I think she's a character actor (all of her characters seem to have the same personality), and her three series are all modern-day sci-fi shows, but she does a great job in all of them. I highly recommend this. The last few episodes are available for free on TNT's website.

I gave up on V a long time ago. It had potential, but it failed. I'm starting to give up on White Collar too. It's not as much fun any more.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review of Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime is a service Amazon offers--for $80/year, you get quick free shipping from Amazon (Amazon only, and not other sellers at Amazon). You also get to watch a selection of TV shows and movies for free.

First, the shipping. $80 is a bit much to pay for free shipping if you're just a casual shopper, especially when other sellers often offer cheaper prices than Amazon. We regularly buy diapers and wipes from Amazon (they have good sales, and you can "Subscribe," get an even better deal, and then cancel the subscription once the item ships). I very occasionally buy other items that are on sale (or that I need on emergency basis). Not enough to warrant paying $80. But, students get Amazon Prime free for a year (minus free TV/movies). And after my free one year subscription ran out, they offered me another year for half price. $40 for free shipping and free TV/movies. I did the math, and it's still not a bargain, although I think we'll come out a little bit ahead with all of the diapers we buy. What about the free TV/movies? Isn't that a big deal?

Not really. The selection isn't great unless you're a Doctor Who fan. Lots of British stuff. Not much else. The most popular TV shows right now are Doctor Who, Monty Python, Torchwood (a Doctor Who spinoff), and the Terminator TV show. Unless you like British TV (some of it, admittedly, is pretty good), you'll be disappointed by their selection of free videos. You're better off sticking with Netflix. Even if Netflix rates have gone up.

If you're a student, and you buy from Amazon, go for the free year. If you regularly buy from Amazon, consider it. If you buy from Amazon occasionally and you're a huge fan of British TV, it might be worth it. Otherwise, don't bother.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


My heart goes out to Norway today. This peaceful, beautiful, civilized country has been rocked by two terrorist acts that killed about a hundred people. Norway has about five million people, so per capita this terrorist act killed twice as many Norwegians as the 9/11 acts killed Americans. Even worse, most of these killed were young people.

Disturbingly, initial news reports from certain sources immediately blamed Muslims for the attack. Rupert Murdoch has been in the news lately for some horrible things one of his newspapers in England did; his newspapers and radio stations (Washington Post, Fox News, and others) were the primary (although not the only) news sources blaming it on Muslims.

It turns out it was a Norwegian. A gun-loving, immigrant-hating, apparently fundamentalist Christian, white guy. Not surprising, since almost everyone he killed was pro-immigrant. And all of a sudden instead of a "terrorist," he's a "madman," and many newspapers somehow don't substitute "Muslim" for "Christian" or even "fundamentalist Christian"--they just leave out his religion altogether.

Perhaps it's a lesson. In the Western world, far-right Muslims aren't the only ones capable of horrific terrorist acts. Far-right Christians are also very capable (remember the Oklahoma city bombings?)

Immigration issues in the U.S. are also quite heated, even though the number of immigrants is probably decreasing right now (mainly due to economic conditions). I was too quick to judgment in blaming the Arizona shooter for being like this Norwegian (when it appears that the Arizona shooter was indeed just a madman, who believed crazy things from both the right and the left). But we need to be on guard here, and watch out for those who get so caught up in anti-immigration rhetoric that they take their guns and their bombs and cause terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, please join me in prayers for the good people of Norway.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Help! I'm Being Persecuted!

A recent blog post on a Mormon blog (written by a guy who's the brother of a friend from high school) got me thinking about persecution. More especially, how the people who most often complain that they are being persecuted against are not the people that are the most persecuted.

I remember a friend from Wisconsin saying that one day some racist graffiti aimed at blacks appeared in his school's bathroom. The community outcry was enormous. Eventually, the perpetrator came forward--a black student who wanted to raise awareness of racism. Meanwhile, no one said a word about the persistent racist anti-Hmong graffiti in that same bathroom. No one seemed to care that real persecution was being dealt to the Hmong minority.

I'm not trying to say that racism against blacks doesn't exist. It does. I've seen it. But when our society sees that racism, it usually takes notice and pushes back. Meanwhile, groups that are persecuted more frequently usually endure their persecution in silence.

Another example is seen in the comments of the above-mentioned blog post--repeated graffiti on a Muslim mosque. Persecution? Yes. Complaints of persecution? Not so much. But we can imagine how other religious groups who are not persecuted (or persecuted to a lesser degree) might react--they (or at least many of their members) would be quite angry and complain publicly.

Now I realize that many fellow members of the LDS church are having a hard time with a recent musical. I think the musical is in poor taste. But I'm not going to call it persecution. Persecution, to me, is more than just making fun. Persecution is calling a peaceful religion "dangerous." It's destruction of property. It's denying people jobs or services. Does it happen to the LDS church? Sure. But it's relatively rare, and those who persecute members of the LDS church are generally branded (justly) as bigots. But when Islam is called a "dangerous" religion, as it often is? Fewer people come to its defense.

A little over a year ago I was visiting an EQ meeting in a ward I didn't belong to. The subject of homosexuality came up, and the class members started talking about how much homosexuals were persecuting members of the LDS church. I should add--this ward was in an area that's overwhelmingly LDS. I doubt any of these men were friends with someone who was openly homosexual. And I'm certain that an openly homosexual person living in their neighborhood would face constant harassment (heck, I know for a fact someone in that neighborhood was harassed--graffiti again--for just being English). But, somehow, it was them persecuting us.

Now I realize that a few members of the church have lost their jobs due to their involvement with Proposition 8. I also am confident that there are other isolated incidents of homosexuals persecuting members of the LDS church. But these class members weren't talking about persecution they had experienced, or that someone they knew had experienced. The persecution was pretty far removed from their actual lives. And yet they were still spending the majority of a priesthood meeting complaining about it.

Had this discussion occurred in my ward at the time, a place where people knew me well enough to take me seriously, I would have spoken up. After all, I had classmates and friends who were homosexual, and I sure wasn't being persecuted for being LDS. As I was a stranger, I pretended the baby I was holding was acting up, and I walked out.

Perhaps, as members of the LDS church, we should focus more on making the places we live more welcoming to all peaceful people, and less on complaining about being persecuted.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Yet Another Church Statement on Immigration

This one's actually fairly specific and detailed. The question I have is why the church needs to keep making statements on immigration. Actually, I think I already know the answer--they keep on making statements about it because the members of the church ignore or skew the previous statements.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Vaccines and the LDS Church--The Early Years

In the early 1900's, smallpox was a dangerous disease. Fortunately, a vaccine existed. The vaccine was rather primitive, and, like today, many people believed for various reasons that it was better to not take the vaccine.

In the late 1800's, the LDS church's stance on vaccines for smallpox was unclear. Charles W. Penrose, editor of the Deseret News at the time, took a vocal stand against the vaccine, placing his faith entirely on priesthood blessings instead. He later became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, replacing Abraham O. Woodruff. Woodruff also refused to become vaccinated. He was made a member of the Twelve at the age of twenty-three, and died less than eight years later, in Mexico. Cause of death? Both he and his wife died of smallpox. Had Woodruff been vaccinated, there is a very good chance he would have become the president of the church. His suspicion of medicine, and his over-reliance on faith, resulted in his early death and changed the course of church history. Had he lived as long as Penrose lived, for example, he would have been prophet from 1945 to 1965--twenty years. George Albert Smith would never have been prophet. David O. McKay would have been the prophet for only five years instead of nineteen.

Joseph F. Smith noted in 1910 in the Improvement Era (the church magazine at the time) that his guardians had vaccinated him against small pox as a child, and "I am as satisfied as I can be that had it not been for vaccination, I would have had the disease in very bad form. I believe that our elders ought to be vaccinated. Now, I know that this will not be in accordance with some people's views. We receive word that many of our elders, who have failed to attend to this matter, are exposed to the disease and become affected with it; and recently a number of them have had to be taken to the pest-houses to be cared for."

By 1926 (and perhaps earlier) it was standard for LDS missionaries to be vaccinated for smallpox.

In fact, around that time the church supported compulsory (forced) vaccinations for smallpox. Utah, however, still refused to make a compulsory vaccination law until 1931, when they were forced to do so by the federal government.

I'm having difficulty tracking down a date for when the church officially started supporting compulsory smallpox vaccinations. If anyone can find more details, let me know. I should point out that Joseph F. Smith became the president of the church in 1901, but I am not certain when his views about vaccination were first publicized. I therefore do not know if Woodruff was ignoring advice from his superiors when he refused to receive the vaccination.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Having driven I-15 between South Jordan and Idaho Falls quite a bit these past two weeks, I've noticed a huge number of billboards. I almost think there are more billboards on I-15 in Northern Utah than there are on the entire stretch of I-80 (which runs almost 3000 miles).

In any case, a few things I noticed.

A huge number of billboards focusing on plastic surgery. Must be a Utah thing.

A billboard for doctors that referred to the children's song "Head, shoulders, knees and toes." Nothing like a silly children's song to give you confidence in your doctor...

A "Pass it On" billboard with a picture of Jackie Robinson and the statement, "Here's to you Mr. Robinson." Nothing like a reference to the Simon and Garfunkel song about an adulterous woman going after a young man to praise a pioneer in civil rights...I've seen that billboard before, and I really wish its owners would realize how stupid and offensive it is and take it down.

There were also quite a few clever billboards. Nothing, however, nearly as good as this:

That's just incredibly awesome. Although I've got to wonder if it negatively affects the amount of business those vending machines, etc. get.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Utah County Republicans put party over religion

If you've been following the immigration issue in Utah, you know that Utah recently passed an immigration law, and you know that the LDS church supported the law. The law is actually a collection of laws--a comprehensive immigration reform. Anti-immigration types call it unconstitutional (which it might be) and amnesty.

So how do members of the church respond? In Utah County (where more than half a million people live, the majority LDS) Republicans voted to repeal it. Or at least part of it. Wow. The church has come down pretty hard about it's opinion on immigration lately. And many members are in denial, while others lean towards apostasy (especially, apparently, many in Provo and surrounding cities). Meanwhile, the church has to repeat itself to members who don't believe it means what it says.

Over two years ago, a missionary from what was formerly the Cincinnati mission was deported. (I know because I was here, in Cincinnati, at the time). He had gone to high school in the U.S., and the prophet sent him on the mission even though he wasn't legally in the U.S. Now a branch president in Utah is being deported. Part of me wonders if a member of the church in his stake reported him. The church newspaper, the Deseret News, didn't have a single article about the missionary. Fortunately, they've changed their approach now and did an article about the branch president. They've also done other articles about members who have been deported. (The Salt Lake Tribune, of course, reported about both the missionary and the branch president). The church has made itself more than clear--some things matter more than our immigration laws. Unfortunately, those who put politics over their faith aren't getting the message. That's their right, but they need to understand that that's what their doing, and that their church disagrees with them. They need to understand that while they can still be members in good standing, they are in exactly the same position as LDS opponents of Proposition 8 were a couple of years ago. They are disagreeing with church leadership.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Random things

So I just realized blogger has a number of new features, including a map of who's looked at my site. For some reason, it claims that my blog site has had 14 views from Iran this past week. What's up with that?

Also, anyone else paying attention to the church's stance on immigration? The church makes itself clear, and then just days later has to repeat itself because the anti-immigration crowd refuses to believe it and keeps calling church headquarters to ask if that's actually the church's position. I'm a bit curious about what church statements cause people to leave the church (either officially or unofficially). I'm betting this ranks way up there. Above Proposition 8. Above anything else in my lifetime. What do you think?

Had an interview today. Not sure how it went. Would be a great place to work--it's a company that places international healthcare workers in the U.S. But it's an incredibly tough market out there for young attorneys. People say it will work out, and I'm sure it will, but frankly I just want a decent job that pays enough so I can support my family, and I don't want to wait even more time for it. We've spent the last three years in poverty, with April and I both working part-time while I attend law school. I'm ready for that to end. It's scary not having a job lined up, especially with another kid on the way. Hopefully something will work out--and soon.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chuck and Game of Thrones

I already knew Chuck's creators have great tastes in music (Rush, anyone?). Now Chuck's reading "A Game of Thrones." (The very beginning of Season 4, Episode 20). Awesome.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Can a good Mormon be a Democrat Survey

Apparently, less active Utah Mormons are almost twice as likely to believe that a good Mormon can't be a Democrat as are active Mormons. Any ideas on what can explain that? Granted, it would be nice to know sample size on this survey, and it's very limited geographically, but it's still an interesting result.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Killing

So, AMC has a new show--The Killing. It's a dark, Scandinavia-influenced detective story that takes place in Seattle. Very good (consistent with AMC TV shows within the last few years, and perhaps even better). And the lead actor, Mireille Enos, is apparently LDS. With the possible exception of Dollhouse (where the lead actor was raised LDS), this is the only TV show I know of with that distinction.

Did I mention it's good?

Amazon might still have the first two episodes for free. If you're into good TV, and aren't turned off by the PG-13 nature (did I mention it's dark?) you're in for a treat.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The move

So, we've decided to move.

The economy is horrible right now for new graduates. I'm attending a quality law school, and, under most circumstances, law school graduates from the University of Cincinnati have no problem finding good jobs. Large law firms, mid-sized firms, small law firms, judicial clerkships, government jobs--not a problem. Heck, we even had ourselves a president (President Taft) and Supreme Court Chief Justice (ummm--Chief Justice Taft) back in the day. And we're still the most-respected law school in the Cincinnati area.

Problem is, no one's hiring, except for the government. The Cincinnati branch of the firm I'm clerking at just laid off two of their seven attorneys. Most of my classmates can't find work. Those that have found work either have good connections (we're talking life-long family connections here) or fantastic law school grades (top 15% of the class--where I'm at--apparently don't cut it).

Last year was the same--and I think the lack of jobs led to UC Law's drop in the Law School rankings. Still decently ranked, but a bit lower than when I first entered. I think Ohio is dying. Good grades, two years of Law Review, fantastic job experience (two years clerking for a mid-sized firm), and a (rare in law) science/medicine background aren't good enough for me to be hired in this economy, so we've decided to pick up and move. Better to be jobless and be close to family than to be jobless and isolated.

I think the job market is a little better out West. April's from Idaho Falls, so we've decided to move out there as soon as I graduate. I sent in my Idaho bar application today, and I'll take the bar there in late July. Hopefully the fact that I'll be living in Idaho will be a big help in finding a job there--employers are more likely to ask for an interview when you're already in the area.

We move right after graduation, in mid-May. So we're packing, I'm looking into getting a two-way radio and a wireless FM modulator (April will have a CD player in the car while I'll be driving the moving truck, so I need my music to keep me going), and we're looking into how to get the cheapest moving truck. And, of course, I'm still looking for job openings out there. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Immigration Reform in Utah

Utah has actually gone forward and passed sensible immigration reform. Presiding LDS Bishop, Bishop Burton, spoke at the signing ceremony.

"Our presence here testifies to the fact that we are appreciative of what has happened in the Legislature this session...We feel the Legislature has done an incredible job on a very complex issue.” (Quoted from the Salt Lake Tribune).

LDS anti-immigration types who opposed the immigration reform weren't as happy, with statements ranging from full-blown denial to what looks like apostasy.

“I am shocked that the church would support a bill that literally sacrifices 50,000 Utah children, who are the victims of identity theft, for the benefit of illegal aliens...The church has sent so many conflicting messages, I just don’t know where they are coming from.” (Ron Mortenson, Center For Immigration Studies).

Actually, the church has not sent conflicting messages. If you believe they've been sending conflicting messages about immigration, you haven't been paying attention. They supported the Utah Compact, after all.

“David Burton has a right to be present or to be involved in any affairs concerning the faith, but he does not speak for the First Presidency.” (Morales-LLan, head of Legal Immigrants for Immigration Law Enforcement).

Actually, it sounds like he was there on behalf of the First Presidency, and so he does speak for them.

Wonder how Russell Pearce, the LDS Arizona state senator who was the leading force behind Arizona's extreme anti-immigrant laws, feels about this?

Don't get me wrong. Members of the church have a right to believe what they want to. It's just fun to see these people "shocked" by the actions of the church. They continue to get notice that the measures they support--measures such as driving all illegal immigrants from the country--don't conform with the church's stance on the matter.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Best free online place to store pictures

We store our pictures on our PC, and sometimes I'll copy those pictures to a CD. However, I've decided I need an easier way to provide backup in case our PC crashes. What's the best online place to do this? (I'm thinking along the lines of Flickr, etc.)

What I'm looking for:

1. Easy copying (we use a Kodak software, and it would be great if I could copy whole folders of pictures).

2. Reliability

3. No degradation of picture quality (so, for example, if we upgrade to a better camera with more megapixels, I want to be able to save that same quality online).

Any recommendations?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Between Family and Beliefs

I have an LDS friend here in Cincinnati who is very outspoken about his beliefs regarding gay marriage. He sends out mass emails on the subject, attends rallies that support the traditional family structure, and writes blogs about the subject matter. He was even interviewed at one of the rallies he attended, and he told the journalist that he had a gay brother but he was still fighting against gay marriage. The gay brother found out about the interview, got mad, and, needless to say, stopped talking to my friend.

Meanwhile, I myself find myself occasionally getting into arguments with my parents. For example, they donate considerable amounts of money to a conservative Christian group that refuses to hire Mormons because they don't fit the group's definition of Christian. I should have probably just brought up that fact and then let it go (although even bringing it up made my mother raving mad). But I was a bit surprised that my parents defended this bigoted group, so I kept arguing with my mother about it.

I think many of us are involved in things that can cause conflict within the family. Where do we draw the line on our involvement? Do we go all-out and get into full-blown arguments and attend rallies that directly attack our family members? In other words, do we put our causes, often good causes, and place them ahead of our family relationships? If we want to have strong family relationships, we need to make those relationships a priority.

My mom's family sets a good example. Two of her siblings are not active in the LDS church. One is what I'd call a fundamentalist Christian (not sure of the denomination). The other went inactive--although I hear he's attending church now. Despite the differences in belief, the family is still close-knit. It hasn't torn the family apart like it could have. And that, I believe, is a good thing. Family is, after all, more important than causes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

TV update

"Justified" is back and should be showing up on Hulu shortly. I consider it the best show on TV. Very smart. And a new show, "Chicago Code," is looking pretty decent. Cop show about getting rid of government corruption. You can check out reviews on, one of my new favorite websites.

Chuck's gone downhill ever since Chuck gained physical superpowers. Not sure if I'll continue watching. White Collar is decent.
The Cape is a disappointment, as is No Ordinary Family.
Rubicon was canceled (I still highly recommend the slow-pace thriller).

We had a couple of years of great TV, and now it feels like it's gone downhill again. Guess I'll go back to watching my X-Files DVDs again.

Help me out--what else is good out there? Doesn't necessarily need to be current.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Mormon for President, 2012

If you haven't heard, Romney's not the only Mormon with aspirations for the Presidency in 2012. Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and Ambassador to China (who also happens to have exquisite tastes in music--in other words, a progressive rock fan) also apparently has aspirations for 2012. Now I happen to think that it's probably just a test run for 2016, and I don't think a moderate Republican has much of a chance of winning the primaries in 2012 (although I would argue that a moderate Republican is the only one that would be able to beat Obama).

Anyway, that brings me to a wonderful little graph that details Republican contenders for 2012. Take a look.

The good news is, Romney and Huntsman are both sane. The bad news--only three of the 13 contenders are sane, and there's doubt as to whether the majority of people voting in the Republican primary will vote for a sane candidate. And then there's the problem of religious bigotry in the South, which would probably seriously hurt two of the three sane candidates. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Henry Eyring

You've probably heard stories about him in General Conference and the Ensign, from President Eyring, President Faust, Elder Hales, and others. He was a rather accomplished man.

I won't discuss his childhood, although it was certainly an eventful one.

He was a successful scientist. I don't mean successful in that he taught and did research at a prestigious university (although he did). I mean successful in that he pioneered modern chemistry. He developed the transition state theory. If you've taken a college chemistry class, you probably learned about his discovery.

He was also married to President Kimball's sister and served on the Church's Sunday School General Board (basically the modern version of the church's Sunday School Presidency). Not a general authority, but still in the upper levels of church leadership. His son, of course, is currently in the First Presidency.

Eyring, however, was a bit of a black sheep. I've taken the following account from "Reflections of a Scientist," written by Eyring and published by Deseret Book (out of print, but available on Kindle). President Joseph Fielding Smith, at the time the President of the Twelve, had published his views on some aspects of science, including the age of the earth. Eyring, a prominent chemist, knew how radioactive elements decay. He knew the science behind determining the age of the earth. And he absolutely disagreed with the President of the Twelve's views. President Smith's book was being considered for use as an institute manual at the highest levels. Eyring was worried about educated young members leaving the church over the issue. Eyring recounts, "[T]he next time I went to Sunday School General Board meeting, I got up and bore my testimony that the evidence was strongly in the direction that the world was four or five billion years old."

Not too surprisingly, that same week President Smith invited Eyring in for a little talk. They basically agreed to disagree. Eyring stated of President Smith, "I would say that I sustained President Smith as my church leader one hundred percent. I think he was a great man. He had a different background and training on this issue. Maybe he was right. I think he was right on most things, and if you followed him, he would get you into the celestial kingdom." (Page 53).

Eyring, in his book, then went on to discuss the chemistry and geology supporting an old earth (including discounting "the notion that the earth has been assembled, relatively recently, from the wreckage of earlier worlds"). (Page 54). He also discusses evolution (page 59), but that's an issue for another post.

So what can we take away from this? I think two main things. First, our church leaders are good men, and if we follow them, we will get into the celestial kingdom. And second, that our church leaders aren't necessarily perfect, and may occasionally get things wrong. If we expect them to be perfect, we will ultimately be disappointed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tax Time

Taxes. I'm too cheap to have someone else doing them--plus, since we're dirt poor, companies offer us free tax software through

I calculated taxes without the software, and then used the software and found that I was off by $1000 for my return. So I heartily recommend the software, if just because it may catch things you miss (or mistakenly believe you aren't eligible for).

At the same time, however, the software isn't perfect. I reworked my taxes and found that if I decreased my return by $4, I could also significantly decrease my AGI, which is used to calculate state taxes. Yes, I don't get as much back with the feds, but I end up paying significantly less state tax. I haven't figured out the savings yet, but it's fairly significant. If you have the ability to choose between two options when doing taxes, you might want to run both options and consider state taxes into the mix. Don't trust the software completely.

Don't forget Schedule M this year, and, if you have kids, the EIC, the child tax credit, and the additional child tax credit. Also, don't forget you can take both the exemption and the standard (or itemized) deduction. Here's hoping you have a good tax return.