Tuesday, February 28, 2006

If You're Going To Do Something...

...Do it big!

Many of you recall that I became a fan of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart last year. As a result I got to watching The Apprentice: Donald Trump as well. This year I tried to resist, but I decided to watch Trumps Season Five opener. I may as well admit that I'm going to watch every week now, especially since my wife also got dragged in. And I may as well admit I'm going to blog about it.

So rather than punish all of you, who probably couldn't care one fig, I've created a new blog for it. I present: Apprentii Voyeur. Yeah, I'm one sad, sick soul. But I'm also experimenting with the commercial market and more focused blogging. I'm not ready to try taking this blog to the world at large, but I'd be willing to do it on something of less consequence.

So check it out if you like. Or don't. I won't be hurt.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Trump and Martha: Not a Good Thing

If you ask me, and as usual you haven't, darn you, I think both Trump and Stewart are behaving badly in their little "Apprentice" spat. Martha continues to stick to her story that creator Burnett and NBC planned for her to fire Trump and have just one show. Trump continues to claim her show was terrible and she needs to take responsibility for that.

To Trump I'd ask "Why are Burnett and NBC staying quiet in this? Neither has, to my knowledge, confirmed or denied Martha's claim. And for my money, I preferred Martha.

To Martha I'd say "You've got nothing to gain from this. Take the high ground. Either get someone to confirm your story or drop it."

But one point that has come out in this whole mess is hard to refute. Stewart claims that brand dilution hurt her show. Trump made a similar claim back in November, 2005.

In an ABC News Radio interview airing Thursday, Trump said the fourth edition of his corporate-themed NBC reality show “The Apprentice” was being dragged down in the ratings by Stewart’s faltering spinoff series.

“I think there was confusion between Martha’s ‘Apprentice’ and mine, and mine continues to do well and ... the other one has struggled very severely,” the real estate tycoon said. “I think it probably hurt mine, and I sort of predicted that it would.”

I can think of two other cases that support that assessment. "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" are essentially the same show, but they never show at the same time. If I'm not mistaken, one shows in the Fall Season, and the other in the Summer Season. At the very least I've never seen them back to back.

Another successful show, "The Biggest Loser," launched several follow-on editions this year, but their main show took center stage. The other editions (families, couples, etc) came after the main show brought down the curtain.

The "Bachelor/ette" franchise is on ABC, but "The Biggest Loser" is an NBC creation, so I'm surprised that NBC didn't take a similar approach. I'm not sure why Donald and Martha didn't insist on it. Such a bizarre scheduling only support's Martha's claims about firing Donald, but ultimately both Trump and Stewart supposedly saw the main problem--at least after the fact.

At any rate, Martha's claims are not new. Donald's had plenty of time to respond before now. It's interesting to note that Donald is the only one who has anything to gain from this debacle, and it just happens to be going on right as his latest show (which still had ratings problems) is about to launch. I'm probably not the only one suffering from television burnout after the Olympics.

By the way, it's probably just a coincidence that Trump chose to call attention to Martha's daytime show by ripping on it. Yeah, Uh huh. This feud is much better scripted than their hideous commercials they did together plugging both their shows.

Prediction: Watch for the spat to cool after tonight, and for the two to reconcile at the first sign of ratings drop for this season's "Apprentice."

Me? Cynical? Nah. I'm too jaded to be cynical.

Finns Party On Ice

From an article on MSNBC.

The Finns appeared to have recovered from the loss quickly, with thousands of hockey fans braving freezing temperatures in Helsinki’s central market square late Sunday to celebrate the nation’s silver medal.

A six-hour ceremony, with local singers performing on outdoor stages, ended in the homecoming of for Finnish “Lions.” Flag-waving fans greeted the team with shouts at the icy waterfront square near the president’s palace.

I've been in that square. Only serious Finnish Hockey fans would stand in out there in freezing temperatures and icy winds slicing in off the sea for six hours. I did it for ten minutes and thought I'd never thaw out. Perhaps the ceremony only lasted two hours, and it took four more hours to chip everyone loose from the cobblestones.

I'm not sure which is more weird; to read about things happening in someplace I've been several times, or that I still find it weird to read about things happening someplace I've been several times.

Weekend GRound-Up

Finland lost to Sweden, 3-2. The US Ski Team is promising to crack down on the behavior of their members. Apollo Anton Ohno won more medals than he won in SLC, with less hype. Bode managed to do worse. The US won 25 medals; four less than Germany, and with Canada, Austria, and Russia nipping at their heels.

The Olympics are over. I'll miss it. I'll also enjoy having my evenings free. What is it about the Olympics? I don't follow any of these sports at any other time. I don't even watch Champions on Ice.

While watching the Figure Skating Gala with my wife I commented that it was nice to be able to watch them skate without the commentators criticizing every move. And I meant it. On the other hand, the air of competition is a tangible element. Take that away and you have a bunch of athletes skating beautifully--and well below their abilities. Only Yvgeny Plushenko seemed to skate like something depended on it.

The drama of competition is compelling, at least for me. A large part of the Olympics is the personal element--something largely missing in American sports. The coverage usually assumes you already follow the sport and know all the personal details. The Olympics coverage thrives on making it personal, on giving you a reason to care. There's pageantry and drama, fame and fortune, and winning and losing measured in hundredths of seconds or points. We love the villains as much as the heroes. And, at least for me, we love watching people doing their best, regardless of nationality.

There's also the fact that the Olympics only come around every other year. I can spare a few weeks every few years, especially when it's compressed and packaged so nicely. It also wears me out. I need a few years to decompress.


I directed the church choir on Sunday as a pinch-hitter until they find a permanent replacement. We had big-wigs coming, and so they needed someone to put together a choir number. It came off well, and I had fun.

I've often heard of the phenomenon of people who had never been to practices suddenly appearing for the performance. I'd never seen it, really, until yesterday. We met before the meeting to run through it again, and suddenly I had a bunch of teenagers filling out the soprano and bass sections. At least they had a chance to run it once before performance, I guess.

Another young man joined the bass section, but he at least had the decency to ask me later if I minded if he jumped in. All in all, a rather odd situation, but it came out okay. And now the choir is someone else's problem.

I was also asked to sing a solo for a later meeting with just the men. It's been awhile since I was that nervous singing in public. It came off okay, too, though I got a phlegm-clot in my throat that made my voice rougher than I would have preferred. I guess I spent too long among college voice professors who would tell it to me straight. But, like Tiffany, I've had to learn to grin and be gracious in the face of compliments.

The two performances almost back-to-back left me drained the rest of the day. The whole weekend left me drained, really.

Saturday morning I took the kids with me while Terhi cleaned the house. Emma had a make-up lesson for gymnastics, so I took her there and then took the boys for a walk in the unusually warm weather. We couldn't have picked a better neighborhood, as far as Walter was concerned.

The gymnastics school is in an industrial district that is still party under construction. Go up the street one direction and you pass a auto transport business, complete with car carrier trucks all loaded up and sitting close to the street. Farther up the street they are extending the road. Lined up and parked for the weekend were no less than four tractors: a scraper, a front loader, a grader, and a bulldozer. We were able to get a very close look (To my son's credit, he had NO interest in actually touching them, and got rather mad at me if I got within five feet. We've done something right.)

We observed the heavy equipment for close to half an hour, probably. Walter did most of the talking, going on and on about which vehicles they were (he is THE expert when it comes to identifying heavy machinery), and which ones he wanted for his birthday (essentially, all of them).

He finally tired of the tractors, so we headed up the street the other direction. There we saw a couple of forklifts and a mini-excavator. He discoursed at length about what the forklifts did, but again did not want to get close. As we returned to the gymnastics school he pointed out which parts of the street, most of which is still in post-construction/pre-landscaping condition, were dug by skid-steers and which required back-hoes.

By the time we finished I felt the construction area needed one more yellow sign: Caution - Active, sponge-like mind at work!

We returned to the school in time to watch the last few minutes of Emma's practice. I'd watched their warmups for a few moments before we'd left and had been impressed how smooth a runner she is. The other girls were all arms and legs in all directions, but with Emma there was not a wasted motion. She could probably run laps the entire class without tiring.

When we returned she was practicing her balance beam routine. She's five, so we're not talking anything complicated. She essentially climbs onto the beam (no small feat, considering it's about a foot taller than she is), does some forward steps, some sideways steps, and some backward steps, then jumps off for her dismount (again, no small feat in my eyes). She's got the routine memorized, and she practiced over and over again while the instructor worked with other kids.

It's easy to take Emma for granted around home, but put her with a bunch of other kids her own age and the difference is obvious. She is extremely disciplined and focused by comparison. She pays attention. She works hard. I'm very proud of her.

She'll be "competing" in her first in-house meet next weekend. Terhi and I will probably have to tag-team, as the boys aren't likely to want to stay put that long. I'm not sure even Emma will want to stay put that long. But I'm looking forward to seeing how my little girl handles herself. I'll probably experience a Lileksian "My little girl is growing up and outgrowing daddy" moment.

Parenting: Ecstatic Evisceration.


Friday night we attended a "friendship dinner" organized by our church. Terhi and I are not social people. We prefer small groups. By small groups I mean two or three other people and maybe an extra kid or two. This was five couples and between 15 and 25 kids, complicated by dinner. I barely got to know anyone better (the supposed intention of the event), and I barely got to eat. I won't be disappointed if we don't get invited to another one anytime soon.

On Saturday afternoon we had my brother and his family over for dinner. Their youngest and our two oldest spent the time after dinner chasing each other all over the house. Compared with the previous night, it seemed rather peaceful.

In hindsight, though, no wonder Terhi and I were completely dead by last night. With weekends like that, who needs weekdays?

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Winter War

My adopted country just kicked some Russian behinds. Now they face the Swedes (big, big rivalry, believe me) for gold. I suspect just about every Finn in the country will be glued to their television set Sunday night. The Gulf of Bothnia could get very warm.

Big Fat-Waaaaah!

Mormons Not Laughing About Polygamy Comedy "Big Love."

Perhaps, but we're also not calling for the creator and writers to be beheaded, or threatening riots, death, and destruction in any city that dares to show it. Heck, I doubt that many will even boycott it--or call it that if they choose not to watch it. I wouldn't be surprised if quite a few DO watch it, frankly.

On the other hand, we may still ply our neighbors with green Jell-o salad with shredded carrots, and excess zucchini from our gardens. That may count as terrorism, I suppose, if we hadn't already been doing that.

That Figures

Well, I didn't get what I wanted. Hughes fell. Meissner bobbled. Cohen fell--twice. Slutskaya fell. There were many impressions of a curling stone throughout the evening. But Shizuka Arakawa put together a clean, elegant program that, though perhaps lacking in passion, earned her Japan's first-ever women's gold, and the country's first medal in Torino.

I'm very pleased for her. She was living in the shadow of Slutskaya and Cohen, both of which were favored by the media to win, while her name was seldom mentioned--even though she was less than a point behind either of the two leaders. Perhaps it was that lack of attention and pressure that made the difference. Both Slutskaya and Cohen succumbed to the pressure.

I'm also pleased with Sasha Cohen. After falling twice on her first two jumps, I expected her to fold. Instead she came back and nailed the rest of her routine, displaying all the grace and elegance she is famous for. Ultimately, it was her artistic flair that saved her--and earned her a silver. Her artistic marks were considerably higher than her technical marks.

Slutskaya I feel for. She is not an artistic skater. Enthusiasm, for which she has never lacked, does not always translate into artistry. And after she fell, her enthusiasm seemed to flag as well. With the strong showing by Arakawa, she needed to skate the technical performance of her life, and she just couldn't do it.

In the end, however, I'm not sure either Slutskaya or Cohen could have beaten Arakawa. Though falling twice as often, Cohen was only just over a point behind Slutskaya in the technical marks for jumps, so it's entirely possible that even landing both jumps wouldn't have made up the nine point deficit she ultimately lost by. Slutskaya would have had to achieved technical perfection, not just landed all her jumps.

It was Arakawa's night. While not the darling of the short program, she started last night only seven tenths of a point in the hole. Not much of a hole, but it was evidently deep enough to hide in while the pressure got to everyone else.

Incidentally, either NBC is going more international in their coverage, or Finland is starting to build its skating program. Two Finns, Kiira Korpi and Susanna Poykio, skated last night. They earned 14th and 15th place. It was nice to see.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ice Ballet

I'm sure I watched some during the Salt Lake Olympics, but I'd forgotten just how amazing short track speed skating relay is to watch. Here you have a fast race on a small oval with four teams of three skaters. One group is skating the race, a second group is moving around the inside of the track while waiting to zip onto the track for the "push-off", and a third group is cooling down from their racing laps while staying out of the way of the other two groups.

The result is a multi-colored swirl of activity that somehow manages to go on for 27 laps without much more than an occasional jostling. I'd recommend you not watch it if you're already experiencing stomach distress. The constant churning is hypnotic nigh unto dizzying.

In other news...hey, wouldn't you know it, Bode Miller didn't do anything newsworthy today. Or maybe he did. I'm avoiding the online results so that when I watch the women's figureskating finals tonight it will actually be a surprise.

Freestyle Aerials is a scary sport. You ski down a hill and up a ramp that throws you five stories in the air while you spin like an astronaut on a NASA 3D centrifuge, hoping to land on both feet on a steep and slippery slope below. That's not a sport where you want to make a bad landing. I didn't see any red stains on the hillside, though, so I assume it doesn't happen very often--or they hide the evidence quickly when it does.

Why do I get the idea that this sport's origination included alcohol and a double-dog dare?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Slippery Slope (And this isn't about skiing)

Here's an article about the results of approving gay partnerships in Sweden. (Hat Tip: Dr. Sanity)

If this doesn't scare you, then you scare me!

So Sue-o-me!

The American hockey team just lost their last chance at a medal. I have a hard time feeling sorry for them. Not when they lose to my adopted country, Finland.

Hyvää Suomi! Otta keltainen! (And pardon my Finnish!)

Let's Not Forget The Commercials

Let me just start with a disclaimer that I don't watch the Super Bowl. So if any of the following commercials are leftovers from that, oh well. I wouldn't know.

That said, I will not be sad to see an end of Olmpic commercials. Most of them are getting just a little old about now. So of course that means review time!

I do not want to make friends with my "fast," thank you.
Boo to Volkswagen and its series of commercials in which supposedly normal men are mentally controlled by a plastic figurine with an evil voice that resembles a Pokemon reject with glowing eyes. So your cars are turbocharged. Whoop-de-blippin' doo. I'd never notice while stuck in traffic on Emerald anyhow. And your sinister little Id-ling may actually be a turn-off. I know my wife hates it. And I for one wouldn't want to drive a Volkswagen if it means I've got to take orders from a Happy Meal prize from Hades.

Fine, but I'm still not going to let him jump on the bed.
A local insurance company has some rather cute commercials showing little kids doing little-kid things like jumping up and down on the bed, rocking forward in their shoes, pushing their wagon back and forth--and then switching over to show how each of those things translates into an Olympic sport. The intent is to show that our lovely little-un's could one day become world-class atheletes--and they're there to help with the money issues. It's cute the first time or two. It hasn't been cute since...oh, last monday.

I know it's beer, but...it's SOOO CUTE!
They have other commercials as well, but Budweiser has a series of commercials showing a clydesdale colt yearning to be all grown up and pulling the famous wagon as one of the famous team of horses. The absolute cutest one is where the colt sneaks into the barn and sees the wagon all set up and ready to go, including a harness. Sneaking a look around, he puts his head in the harness, then takes a practice pull just for fun.

The wagon moves, and the colt is surprised that he's actually big enough to move it. Growing more confident, he pulls some more and succeeds in pulling the wagon out of the barn. As the wagon passes across the screen we see two adult clydesdales (we assume it's momma and pappa) quietly pushing the wagon with their noses from behind. As the proud colt, unaware he is getting help, continues pulling the wagon across the farmyard, we see the farmer and his dog leaning against the part observing the entire scene. He looks down at the dog and says, "I won't tell if you don't."

Baby horses with oversized hooves. Take my word for it, it's cute.

They win, you win, but only if Coke wins
Coke has a bizarre series of commercials where a bunch of sports fans are (I assume) rehearse a bunch of customized cheers for specific Olympic events. The idea is that when our athletes win a medal, Coke customers win a prize. Therefore these guys are taking it very, very seriously that they should cheer on the Home Team. Way too much effort for a free can of Coke (they're very careful not to even hint at what the prizes might be). Way too annoying to want to watch more than once.

Speaking of revolutions, where's my torch and pitchfork?
Chevy is a major sponsor. Goodie for them. Enough commercials. The only cute one is where a family of prairie dogs check out the interior of a Suburban, and like it so much that they drop it into their colony. The prairie dogs are cute. For the first couple of times.

There is another commercial where a large family in a Suburban stare incredulously at a family passing by that requires three cars to hold the same number of people (the dog gets his own car. Har har, funny funny). There's an empty boat trailer following behind, sparking madly. I guess that's because small cars don't tow trailers? I dunno. It makes no sense to me. Please go away.

Even worse is the one where three superfans (shirtless, painted up so that the three of them spell USA) lose one of their trio into an icy pond. They pull him out, frozen stiff, and decide they need the "S" more than he needs to receive medical care. They haul him around, Weekend At Bernie's style, from event to event and prop him up between them. Some attractive women think the frozen guy is cute. They accidentally knock him over into the bobsled track where he slides to the bottom.


Please go away. It wasn't funny the first time.

Last but not least
McDonalds is getting wierder and wierder. The "I'm Lovin' It" appeal to the black population is fine. But what's with the series of commercials with people sitting on a bench next to a Ronald McDonald statue. One guy with red hair and similar clothes feels oddly compelled to mimic Ronald's positioning. A girl pours out her soul to the statue, then seems disappointed that he doesn't answer her request for advice. I just don't get it. How does this make me want to buy more semi-dangerous food?

Cohen: Take That!

I watched the Women's Figureskating short program last night. A very nice night of elegant drama, in which the US women did well. Kimmie Meissner came out and put up a 1st place score that held for half the competition until Irena Slutskaya came out and nailed a energetic, fun performance. Emily Hughes put up a credible performance in which she seemed to have more fun than is usually associated with figure skating. They're currently in fifth and seventh place--still in range of medals when the pressure of the long program starts to take its toll.

But of course the star of the evening was Sasha Cohen. Skating dead last in a field of 29, she faced two strong performances by Slutskaya and Japan's Shizuka Arakawa, both sitting nearly six points ahead of the rest of the field. She skated the heck out of her program (rivaling Hughes for apparent enjoyment) and landed in first place--by three-hundredths of a point.

Just to put that in perspective, second-place Slutskaya is just over 10% ahead of the fourth place competitor, and 1% ahead of third. Cohen is just .04% ahead of Slutskaya.

The pressure to deliver on Thursday must be incredibly intense--for everyone. We're not talking about the Russian of Steel Yvgeny Plushenko, who was pretty much untouchable in the men's competition, finishing nearly 11% ahead of anyone else. Slutskaya and Cohen have a long history of choking under pressure. With such a thin margin, both will be under incredible strain to make every single move count. It's not a position I would want to be in.

Who will I be cheering for? Cohen, I suppose. But what would I most like to see? I'd like to see Irena, Sasha, Shizuka, Emily and Kimmie skate the performances of their lives so they can all walk away with no regrets. I'd hate to see a bunch of young women polishing the ice with their backsides as they each succumb to the pressure. Call me unpatriotic, but if they all skate really well and the top spots go to Russia or Japan, I'm okay with that.

But I'm already glad for Cohen. Last night should silence her critics for a little while.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Everyone Loves a Winner

Almost as entertaining as the Olympics is the media covering them. One theme has really come through--if you're going to deviate from their expected norms you'd dang well better win. Otherwise they'll eviscerate you.

Going into the Olympics Bode Miller was a gifted non-conformist with the courage to find his own path to success. Now he's a over-confident, out-of-shape slacker who should be ashamed of his poor performance and partying ways. He's gone from media darling to media dog.

Sasha Cohen has been avoiding the media since the got to Torino, choosing instead to train. The media, desperate to create an Olympic hero, has grown increasingly irritated by her lack of face time, choosing to mostly ignore the other two teammembers. What coverage Emily Hughes gets is partly because of her having replaced Michelle Kwan and partly because of the Sarah Hughes tie-in. But they don't think much of her chances and so don't care to cover her any more than necessary.

So doggone it, Sasha had better win a medal or they'll brand her as a press-hating workaholic who took herself too seriously and drove herself too hard. Never mind the fact that if she had participated more in the interviews and nightlife and still lost they'd still insist she got caught up in her own hype and folded under the pressure.

On the other hand, if she wins she'll definitely become the heroine of the games, the Anti-Bode, the serious athelete who understood that sacrifices had to be made in order to win.

No, the media isn't in the news business. They're in the drama business. Win or lose, they will create the drama to go with it. They love a winner, but they're nearly as happy to lay into you with the steel-toed boots if necessary.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Great Seitan

It's probably no secret by now that our family is pretty much living a vegetarian lifestyle. Over the weekend we were able to finally try seitan, which is a gluten derivative used to replace meat. I have to say it's pretty good. We made stroganoff with it, and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately it's pretty spendy stuff, costing $4 for half a pound, so I don't see us eating a lot of it in the future. This weekend was a special occasion.

There is supposedly a recipe for making it yourself. I may have to look into it. I've made significant progress in creating my own veggie burgers (they taste good, but they're not perfect yet), and I've been tempted to try making my own tofu (once, just to see what it's like). Perhaps seitan would be worth a try.

You know, I never, ever, in a million years imagined I'd ever write two paragraphs like that. What a bizarre turn of events...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Olympic Snobbery

I've been watching some of the Olympics here and there. I've also been reading some of the critics who over and over suggest that the snowboarding events aren't true sports or that the participants are all slackers or somehow unworthy of being considered atheletes. They seem convinced that snowboarding is indicative of a particular lifestyle that is somehow inconsistent with serious sports.

Nothing I have seen this week provides any justification for such snobbery. As one of the critics grudgingly admitted, they're just as proud and shed just as many tears on the medal podium as the National Anthem plays as their counterparts in other sports. I've seen them work just as hard for their medals as anyone else. I'd like to see Bode Miller or John Weir run four or more events in a single day like Seth Wescott.

The camaradarie and sportsmanship they display is impressive. In the snowboardcross finals the second-place racer, just barely edged out for first place, wrapped the winner in a big bear hug. All the competitors usually exchange handshakes or hugs at the bottom, even those who got bumped off the course by others.

It's ironic that athletes in a sport known for nonconformists should so soundly embrace conformity when it matters. But if there is one area where they are not conforming to convention, it would be this: They seem to be having a lot of fun.

To twist a quote from the movie "I.Q.": So this is what we are missing in Olympics. Screaming!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Which Sci-Fi Crew Are You?

You scored as SG-1 (Stargate). You are versatile and diverse in your thinking. You have an open mind to that which seems highly unlikely and accept it with a bit of humor. Now if only aliens would stop trying to take over your body.

SG-1 (Stargate)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Moya (Farscape)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


Serenity (Firefly)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com

I haven't seen much of Stargate SG-1, but what I've seen suggests this is not off the mark. I'm especially delighted to see B5 a close second.

And yes, those pesky aliens trying to take over my body are really getting on my nerves!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Wrestling With The Past

I stumbled across Tracy Chapman's song "Fast Car" yesterday. I remember when it first came out in the late '80s. I tried not to like it because it was one of those "big, important songs," and because the verses had that annoying over-an-over riff. But it was a song that could not be ignored.

I still can't. The context I found it in was as part of a music video put together by some Jewish students. They actually don't do too bad a job, but the song is much bigger than them, and even through their antics I couldn't help by pay attention to the song.

A while back I posted a commentary on what makes great art. By that definition this song is it. I've never lived the life she describes in her song, but that song makes me start to understand how it feels. It is so well produced it just grabs you by the collar and won't let go until it's done. It's clean, it's honest, and it musically reinforces the story it tells. It's uncomfortable. It is great music.

Last night we had a couple young men from church over for dinner. They were part of a ward activity to help them prepare for being missionaries one day. We agreed to host them; Terhi made an "Australian" dinner, while I told them about the country and some experiences.

In getting ready I've been digging through some of my memorabilia and doing some online research. While digging around online I found a website for alumni of my old mission and decided to register. Since then I've recieved a couple emails from former companions. Old memories have been bothering me all week.

I have to admit that I'd be more comfortable if it had all stayed buried. I enjoyed my mission. I learned a lot. But truth be told, I was a lousy missionary. It's hard to relive the more pleasant memories of my mission without revisiting all the guilt that goes with it. The whole thing has left me rather unsettled. I'd like to think I've improved since then, but sometimes I really have to wonder.

I guess some things are best left in storage.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Another Viewpoint

Here's an interesting article from the Opinion Journal, by Amir Taheri about what Islam really preaches and exposing the main troublemakers behind the current row. I really hope this gentleman is the rule, not the exception. (Hat Tip Instapundit)

Yard Therapy

Last night I got out in the yard for an hour or so and cleaned up our flower beds before the sun went down. It's amazing how good fresh air feels. It's refreshing to see the signs of life stirring up through the soil. There's something viscerally satisfying to pruning a bush. And oh, the fun I'm going to have, when it comes time to trim the shrubs! (I just bought a pair of Fiskars hedge trimmers. [TimTaylor] Uoh uoh uoh! [/TimTaylor] Take a look at this model of Finnish engineering and tell me you don't get a primal urge to grab those babies and start whacking away at something!)

(Side note: Fiskars scissors and tools divisions is headquartered in the US today, but the corporation is still Finnish. For more interesting information, read "Fiskars 1649 - 350 Years of Finnish Industrial History")

But I digress...

The evening couldn't have come at a better time. After writing yesterday's post I was getting more and more depressed about the horrific world my children are growing up in. The evening reminded me of a few things:

- Life still goes on
- Kids will always be kids (evidenced by their delight in spreading mums seeds all over creation and jabbing each other with sticks I'd just pruned from the flowering bush)
- Cats love work--they can sit and watch it out the window for hours
- Life can never be too bad when you have a warm house and a loving spouse to return to when the work is done.
- There is always going to be more work (and trouble) to deal with than we have time or ability to deal with it, so just do the best you can today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.
- Even in the age of video games and talking toys, nothing replaces a good wheelbarrow ride.
- Even on a warm day, it's still February, and when the sun starts to go down it gets pretty darn cold!

After the kids went to bed I cocooned myself with "LOTR: The Two Towers." I didn't finish the entire thing, but I got far enough to where they are preparing for the defense of Helms Deep and fighting despair. Someday I'll have to reread the books to see if Jackson just made it up or if there was a textual basis for it, but this battle seems to be set as Aragorn's moment of truth, where he finally faces the decision to remain in the shadows or accept his destiny.

It is interesting, too, that Aragorn seems to get his lesson in leadership from King Theoden of Rohan. The more I watch the movies, the more I love Theoden above many of the others. Before the battle he is loudly proclaiming his confidence that their fortress and their men will withstand the orc invaders bearing down on them. Aragorn calls him on it, reminding him that there is little hope.

His response to Aragorn: "What would you have me do?!" The unspoken message is that if he listened to Aragorn the battle would be lost before it even began. The Rohirrim would defeat themselves before the orcs even could. Better to manufacture confidence and courage where none exists than to wallow in defeatism and hopelessness.

Though Theoden is not destined to be one of the "Great Men of the Age," he shows more heart than just about anyone in the series, including Aragorn. Perhaps this is because he is not one of the Great Men. He has no magical powers or divine commission like Gandalf. He has no prophecy and a fabled sword behind him like Aragorn. He is just a man, and one who fell prey to evil to boot. All he has is his heart, his leadership, and a desire to be more than what he has been to this point.

There is another exchange between Theoden and Aragorn earlier in the movie. Theoden is taking council from Gandalf as to what course of action to pursue. I don't remember the specific lines, as the significance of the scene just occurred to me, but Theoden makes a statement indicating that he wants to avoid war. Aragorn counters, saying that war is coming, nonetheless. Theoden fires back a reminder that Aragorn is not the king of Rohan.

At the time I took the statement at face value, that Theoden did not appreciate Aragorn's criticism. But after consideration, I suspect there is a great deal of subtext in the exchange. Aragorn is supposedly destined to become The king of men, and yet he has largely avoided this destiny his entire life. Perhaps Theoden is saying that he (Theoden) has accepted his responsibility as king and has little respect for the advice of someone who has avoided theirs.

And I think the criticism strikes a chord with Aragorn. Though it still takes him awhile, I think he starts waking up and accepting his role at this point. I think it takes the "mere man" of Theoden to show the larger-than-life Aragorn how to be king.

Just like it takes Eowyn, Theoden's daughter, to show Aragorn how to be a man. But that's another story for another time.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Comic Relief

I've been somewhat following the whole Danish Comics debacle. It seems to me that this whole thing has been staged by one or more parties that have something to gain from forcing the conflict between western culture and Islam. There are plenty of options for who that might be. But consider:

A) A Danish newspaper gets the notion that the media is censoring itself when it comes to criticizing Islam. So their solution? To see if it's true they offer money to a bunch of cartoonists to do it.

Problem #1 - I doubt, if their thesis is true, that the problem is reporters or cartoonists being unwilling to criticize Islam. Most of these people will likely do whatever brings in the money. It's the editors that are performing the censorship, if it does exist. So all that they really prove is that they're acknowledging their own self-censorship and changing it. Nothing more.

Problem #2 - Why did they choose the cartoon medium? This medium is typically controversial, vicious, and inflammatory by nature. Editorial cartoons are generally intended to evoke emotion, not discussion or thought. Furthermore, did they do any research beforehand to know if they were treading on thin ice by specifically targeting Mohammed? Neither answer paints the paper in a positive light.

Conclusion: The paper is knowingly picking a fight, not promoting dialogue or self-reflection within the media. Freedom of expression aside, shame on them. This is a deliberate provocation of a religious group at best, and very near to shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater at worst.

B) The cartoons were published in September 2005, with no response noted at the time. A Danish Muslim cleric takes it upon himself to "educate" the Muslims in the Middle East as to what the climate in Europe is, not just taking copies of the controversial cartoons, but additional "samples" of anti-Muslim sentiment (some of questionable authenticity) to show around. Nearly five months after the fact, suddenly there is outrage.

Problem #1 - Why such a long delay? If it was that upsetting, then why does it take nearly half a year for the fury to manifest itself?

Problem #2 - What was this cleric's purpose for showing the cartoons around? This seems a calculated act intended to provoke exactly what has occurred.

Conclusion: A delay of five months makes this entire situation seem premeditated. Someone formally decided to be offended and stir up trouble. Time will tell if the timing is coincidental or if this is a calculated move to muddy the water prior to a particularly nasty bit of business that would otherwise have provoked universal outrage. (My prediction: Al Qaeda is about to stage another attack, which will rebuild their image as defenders of Islam in the Islamic world following their PR bungling in Iraq while keeping the West off balance as to the justice of a decisive response. See Prediction #17)

C) At the heart of the situation is supposedly a Koranic passage banning the physical depiction of Mohammed, supposedly to prevent idolatry.

Problem #1 - Since when are infidels expected to follow the Koran? That's what makes us infidels, does it not? It could be just as simple to dismiss this entire incident as the ignorance or pathetic insults of an infidel unworthy of note, but that's not what's happening.

Problem #2 - Mohammed has been depicted in art, both Western and Islamic, many, many times through the ages. Why are infidels expected to keep an Islamic edict that the Muslims themselves do not keep, nor have precedence for enforcing?

Conclusion: It would be very easy for Muslims to dismiss this whole incident and prove they can be a reasonable people. They are choosing not to take that path. That should be telling us something.

D) An Iranian newspaper has announced their own contest to draw cartoons debunking/mocking the Holocaust, supposedly to reveal the hypocrisy of Western defenders of free speech when they don't print these cartoons.

Problem #1 - The original cartoons would have passed on into obscurity (and nearly did, from the sound of it) if the Muslims hadn't kicked up their delayed fuss. The primary reason they have been reprinted so many times lately is because the Muslims insist on making it a news item and a point of cultural conflict.

Problem #2 - Unless they purposely delay the results of their "contest" until after things calm down, the current situation almost guarantees their cartoons will be reprinted. But the Muslims will not be satisfied, placated, or impressed. In fact they'll likely re-spin it that now the West is trying to further stoke anti-Muslim sentiments by publishing the new cartoons.

Problem #3 - Muslim papers have been running nasty cartoons about Jews and the West for quite some time. They see no hypocrisy in the current furor.

Conclusion: Damned if we do, damned if we don't. It will help nothing.

Ultimate Conclusion: The original cartoon contest was a stupid idea hardly worthy of the "Fight For Our Rights" that has sprung up over it. This situation is being manipulated to advance the Muslim Extremist agenda. The timing of this suggests that this particular issue was hand-picked to force the West into a poorly-defensible position in a lose-lose fight. If we back down they will just keep coming back again and again. If we don't back down they'll be able to use this incident to redirect a "Muslim street" that has been shifting every so steadily West-ward, as well as a cover to excuse their next 9/11. Heads: they win. Tails: we lose.

To summarize, let me borrow a couple quotes from Star Trek:

"It's been my experience that evil usually triumphs unless good is very, very careful." - Dr. McCoy, "The Omega Glory"

"Please let me know if there's some other way we can screw up tonight." - Capt. Kirk, "Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Mr. Mom Rides Again

My wife asked me to stay home yesterday and take care of the kids for her. She was in pretty bad shape from the flu, and headed to bed for most of the day, accompanied by her feline heating pads.

The kids were fabulous, really. Walter whined a bit about missing his mom, but other than that, we all came through in decent shape. By dinner time Terhi was feeling a little better (or else felt obligated to get up anyway), and got up in time to eat and help keep the kids entertained until bed time.

The experience helped me realize a few things. One, of course, is just how rough it is to take care of three kids all day. I felt like I was running flat out all day, and like I said, the kids were being GOOD! Fixing meals for five vegetarians--three of which are lactose intolerant, two that can't have nuts, one with no functional teeth--with wildly divergent palates is akin to arranging seating at an international diplomatic banquet. And my wife does this day after day!

It also showed me just how wonderful it is to have me home after work. Even though Terhi was still feeling pretty lousy and couldn't help with much, it was wonderful to have a) another adult to talk to, b) someone who can feed themself without complaining, c) another target for the kids' demands for attention, and d) whatever help she could manage. I'll hopefully be able to play my role a little better now.

The baby is the one that keeps us sane, I think. He's a crackup. He loves to make big, dramatic, totally incomprehensible speeches at the kitchen table, complete with grand gestures and vocal inflections. Then he'll grin ear to ear and collapse into a cute little "aw shucks" slouch. And all the while still pack away as much food as his older brother and sister combined.

I wrapped up the day with a grocery shopping expedition. And a fruitless hunt for pink and purple balloons. Tomorrow, assuming everyone is healthy again, is Emma's "Fairy" birthday party. If I know anything about my daughter, we'll be able to hook her up to a capacitor, place solar panels about the house and collect enough energy and glow to power the house for the next week.

My mission? To keep her two-year-old brother from dying of jealousy. Dum...dum...Da DA, dum...dum...Da DA, dum...dum...Da DA, dum...dum...Da DA,...dweedle-deeeeeeee...dweedle-deeeeee...dweedle-deeeeeeeeeee-DA da!


I know this is old news, and that Cindy Sheehan hardly needs more air time, but I can't help it this time. As my Momma always told me, "Life is a box o' choco--" No wait, that's someone else's Momma. My Momma always said "You catch more flies with honey."

How does that apply? Consider this. Whether or not I'm against her views is irrelevant. It's pretty much a given that just about everyone who would be watching the State of the Union Address knows who she is and what she stands for. She has pretty much become a message by herself.

So why can't she show a little respect for the institutions she is trying to influence and dress up? Ditch the t-shirt. It's completely unnecessary at this point. It'd be like putting a big banner on the Statue of Liberty that read "American Symbol."

The room is guaranteed to be full of people who have dressed up for the event. And here she is, wearing a t-shirt with a zip-up jacket over top. What little I saw of the jacket suggested it was a jogging jacket, but it's probably a safe bet that a jacket with a zipper is not likely to be considered dress-up attire, at any rate.

Would it have hurt for her to dress up, leave the slogans at home, wear a tasteful American flag pin, and simple sit there and watch the speech? On the contrary, I think it would have built her some credibility. She could have rolled her eyes during the parts she disagreed with, showed some support if she heard something she liked, and generally portrayed herself as a sensible person. It may have scored her some points even with me.

But I guess that's too much to ask.

It's also probably too much to ask that we cut the police who arrested her some slack. This is, after all, Cindy Sheehan. I don't think it's unjustified for an officer to see this famous face, who's already been arrested before for her protests, dressed in a manner inappropriate to the occasion, wearing a t-shirt with a slogan, and think "Uh oh, this lady is going to cause trouble." What indication was she giving that she was there to behave herself?

These same police also yanked a politician's wife with a t-shirt (at the SOTU! Oh, The Manolo! He rolls over in the grave before he is dead!) proclaiming the opposite view. There must be rules about this sort of thing already in place, or why would they want to open up THAT can of worms?

By the way, considering the big flap over the women's sports team that wore flip-flops to the White House, where is the furor over wearing t-shirts to the SOTU? That's a much more formal event, I would think, than a reception at the White House, and yet if there's an outcry I've missed it.

There, I think I've covered about every angle. Except one more:

Do us ALL a favor, folks! EVERYONE stay seated and hold your applause! I really don't care WHAT you support, or WHAT you oppose. I just want to hear the guy talk and get it over with! Quite wasting my time! Or better yet, let's return to the days of Jefferson, when they just mailed in their report.

Why no, I didn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Why do you ask?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Timing Is Everything

My daughter has her fifth birthday today--and the flu. Evidently there's some sort of three-day flu going around, and she got it. With any luck it'll be gone--and she won't be contagious--by her birthday party on Saturday. She would be one devastated little girl if she doesn't get to have her party. She's only been planning it for, oh...a year.

My wife is also showing symptoms of...something. She went to the doctor yesterday, who confirmed she has a sinus infection, but that doesn't explain the rest of her symptoms. So far the "menfolk" are healthy. I sure hope it stays that way.