Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Geopolitical Affairs at the Miss Universe Pageant

I am moving to a new house here in Seattle. It is actually five blocks away from my house where I live now. The difference is a couple of things - first, I will no longer have the killer city and Lake Union view from my living room. Second, I am giving up what has by far been my favorite place of all places that I have lived on my own. It was large and spacious for just me, I had my own kitchen that had plenty of room for all of my kitchen appliances and so forth, and it was incredibly cute and homey feeling. I am giving all of this up to move in with my friend Emily, who lives in a house across the street from the first house that I lived in when I moved to Seattle. I am doing this because I will be saving a considerable amount of rent, and I am sure it will be nice to have a roommate while I am back in grad school. Emily is a PhD student, so it will be fun to live a student lifestyle again. We will see if I am still singing the same tune when I am back living on a student budget again and not making a paycheck...

Anyway, that was a long preference to this - the other night I was packing and moving, and Miss Universe was on the television. I can't honestly say when I watched Miss Universe for the last time, but I always felt that those chicks on Neptune were probably pretty upset that they weren't invited. The reason why I actually left it on my television screen the other night was because Miss Tanzania made it as a finalist! I was so excited. Miss Tanzania was the coolest. While all of the other finalists had your typical long, voluminous, beauty pageant hair, Miss Tanzania's head was completely shaved. And she looked beautiful. She had by far the most compelling face. Not only that but she was an engineer. Your typical contestant studies communications and aspires to be a television news anchor, but not Miss Tanzania. She made it to the top ten finalists, but was stopped short of being one of the top five. I am sure it because she lacked the beauty queen polish of the other contestants. She didn't walk like the other girls or smile like the other girls, but she was way more natural.

Miss Universe was also interesting because it was quite the study of world opinion regarding the United States. Miss USA fell during the evening gown portion. She fell hard. The Mexico City crowd loved it. There is nothing like seeing a "Superpower" down on her backside. It was like the world got to laugh at the US. Nonetheless, in spite of her fall, she made it to the top five. Miss Mexico, however, did not make it. So, when Miss USA got called to answer her question, she was booed. Big time. This is just how far the US has fallen in world opinion. Even the beauty pageant crowd is against us now. Despite the boos, Ms. USA was actually the only contestant who actually answered the question that was asked to her. Nonetheless, I am sure the weight of public opinion had some effect, as Miss USA only came in fifth place (I think the judges were afraid they would have a riot on their hands if they placed her any higher). Miss Japan won.

It says alot when a beauty pageant reveals so much hatred for the US.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Take me to Takaungu

I always have nourished this intense desire to be an artist, in some small way. The feeling comes and goes, but when it comes, it makes the practicality of my present existence painful. Tonight, when watching a documentary about the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo's amazing existence in the decades surrounding World War II, I started to feel some of that pain again. When I was in fourth grade, I was convinced that one day I would be onstage dancing as a member of the New York City Ballet. I created this whole personna in my head who was this young prima ballerina in training, which included me lying to my entire fourth grade class by inventing my birth state as New York, instead of Mississippi. At some point in time, practicality in the form of wide hips set in, and I realized my ballet technique was nowhere close to being up to par with the students at the School of American Ballet. Nonetheless, I clung to ballet for as long as I possibly could, until my sophomore year at BYU, my ballet teacher gave me a B+ in class. Not only was this a blow to my GPA, but it also effectively stamped my efforts as below excellence. I concluded my ballet training with a letter to my ballet professor that included the lines to the effect of, although I knew that I wasn't good enough, "so long as there are hardwood floors and Stravinsky recordings, I would be dancing." When I finally did move to New York, I had to content myself with watching the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center (Now that I think about it, I think the New York City Ballet is one of the primary reasons I ever desired to live in New York City in the first place). I don't think that I had an experience at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center that didn't bring tears to my eyes at some point in time during the performance. Amazing dancing can just get to me in a way that no other art form can. I think it is the part of me that still wants to be up there on stage, willing my body to do things that it could never do before. Suffice it to say, that watching this movie did the same thing for me again. It also made me miss New York for entirely the same reasons that I wanted to be there so badly as a fourth grader.

My artistic sensitivities were affected this weekend as well by going to the Sasquatch Music Festival over at the Gorge in Eastern Washington. The older I get, the more I find it harder to be in crowds with lots of people, where I am forced to overhear the conversations of others. Perhaps I talk so rarely these days because I just am always thinking about how foolish most conversations sound to your unwitting eavesdropper. I am not encouraged for the future of America by the conversations and vocabularies of my generation and the generation younger than me.

In any case, hearing bands like The Arcade Fire, in an amazing natural setting was most certainly worth it. Look at the setting of this place.





The Lineup at Sasquatch wasn't as good as I hear that it has been in years past. This year it was weighed a little heavy in favor of Spanish rock bands, which perhaps I would enjoy more if I spoke Spanish or spent time in Central or South America, the same way that I enjoy French music and some African music. Nonetheless, Neko Case was great, and I also enjoyed the Long Winters and Ghostland Observatory. There were also delicious Icees to be drunk on a warm, desert afternoon.



In the evening, The Arcade Fire once again reminded me why they are one of the best live shows going these days. They were followed by Bjork. Bjork has been one of my most favorite musical treats for a pretty substantial period of time now. Unfortunately, she didn't begin her show until 12:00 am, and I knew that we still had to drive back to Seattle that night. But it wasn't my exhaustion that kept me from enjoying Bjork the same way that I had when I saw her play at the Cyclones Stadium at Coney Island, shortly after I moved to New York. Bjork almost depressed me this time. It goes back to what I was writing about when I began this blog entry: Bjork made me sad, because she just reminded me of all of these risks that I failed to take with my life. Bjork reminds me of far away places that I travelled in times past and times when I thought so much was possible.

The only way I can try to explain it is in terms of the biography of Denys Finch Hatton that I read this weekend. In my last blog entry, I described how I have had this crush on him ever since I first picked up Out of Africa. I think most of the living people I have had crushes on in my life I have liked in part because they possessed attributes that I believe existed in Denys Finch Hatton. Most of them grew out of it, and therefore it made it easy to get over them, because precisely what it was that made them so interesting was this characteristic elusiveness that Denys Finch Hatton possessed. Most people at some point in their adult lives become "possessable" in in a sense, because it seems like that is a mark of emotional maturity. Nonetheless, I venture to say that there is at least one Finch Hatton character out there. I certainly understand why he could inspire Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen to write in a letter to her brother, "That such a person as Denys does exist, something I have indeed guessed at before but hardly dared to believe, and that I have been lucky enough to meet him in my life and been so close to him - even though there have been long periods of missing him in between - compensates for everything else in the world, and other things cease to have any significance." Of course, later in the letter, Karen had to tell her brother never to tell Denys what she had written, because she had to conceal from him her neediness and play the part of a modern, independent woman. She had to alter her whole concept of love to fit with the kind of independence and freedom that made Denys who he was. I don't think that was ever really possible.

Here is what I have thought about now, perhaps because I have thought so much of Denys Finch Hatton for so long, in some ways, I have incorporated some of his traits into my life. Unfortunately, they are not the wildly adventurous parts, the parts that make him so interesting, because I haven't been a risk taker. I have been more tied to the farm, so to speak. However, something crystallized in my mind when I read this discussion the author, Sara Wheeler, made a point of in this book - there is a very thin line between elusiveness and selfishness. I can be as sociable as I need to be, but as a general rule, these days I am pretty reserved and not one to seek out social interaction. Is it simply reservation or have I become unreachable?

It isn't good to lock up the artistic side of oneself, because more might be trapped than just your desire to dance.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Summer Reading - 2007

Since my favorite shows "The Office" and "Lost" are now officially over for the season, I decided it was time to construct my summer reading list. Today, I made it official and purchased the following books for my summer reading. I cannot contain my excitement
Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky:

This is the one book of fiction that made my early summer reading list. Last year, I thought I had this great idea for a novel where I would write about the occupation of Paris by the Nazis from the perspective of a young French girl, forced to shack up with a few German soldiers in order to ensure that her family would have enough food to eat while her spirited young fiancee as a POW in Germany. Then I realized, someone already wrote a book that was probably much better than any one that I could come up with that already covered that area. So now, I thought I would get around to reading it. I will just have to focus on writing my other World War II novel. That one, I don't think anyone has written yet. It is a top secret project for now.

Kingfish: The Reigh of Huey P. Long: Richard D. White Jr.


If you have ever driven across the longest bridge in the world, somewhere in the middle, when you can't see to either shore of Lake Pontchartrain, you start to wonder, who was the Huey P. Long, that everything in the state of Lousiana seems to be named after? I have read All The King's Men, now I want to know the real story. I also want to understand better why Louisiana still cannot manage to elect a politician that is honest and uncorruptable.

The Guns of August: Barbara W. Tuchman

I feel it is time that I renewed my understanding of World War I. It is just about that time. Sometime in the past ten years my recollection of the origins of World War I started to become more foggy, and AP European History started to fade from memory. I have been meaning to read this book for awhile.
Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton: Sara Wheeler


I have developed crushes on many dead, historical figures in my day (Most crush-worthy founding father - Alexander Hamilton; most desirable humanist - Sir Thomas More). However, none has been more consistent over the course of my life than my crush on Denys Finch Hatton. Not only do I think that he possessed one of the most fantastic names ever given to any person, but everything about him is just fascinating, charming, and endearing. Believe me, I understand why Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen was totally undone by him. Who couldn't love someone, described by his Eton classmates as "autocrat and democrat, an adored tyrant." Isn't that what we all sometimes want to be? I hate that slut, Beryl Markham for trying to steal him away too. I am glad that a new book has been published to allow me to continue this obsession and take me back to East Africa vicariously.

The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence: Martin Meredith


Because I am a little bit bipolar, my study of history goes something like this: Pre World War II - I am obsessed with Western European History (and maybe you can through a smattering of American History in there too); post World War II - It is all about the history of the Developing World, most particularly Africa. It has been awhile since I have sat down and read a good African History book, and I need to refresh my recollection of a few dozen various dictators. Post World War II history for Europe is so boring. Cold War. Blah, blah, blah. Lets go to the developing world where all of the little vicarious conflicts were actually fought and see how many lives the "Superpowers" ruined.

Alright, all of this talking about these books has made me want to finish this entry up and just start reading. The only problem is, I don't know with which one to start. I have a long road trip tomorrow over the Cascades for the Sasquatch Music Festival. Three hours in a car reading; I can't wait.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blue Heaven





I am finally getting around to posting about Sarah's graduation last weekend in Chapel Hill. It was a great North Carolina weekend with my family. I took the red-eye out of Seattle on Friday night and made it to campus just in time to see Sarah get her doctoral hood at the hooding ceremony at Memorial Hall. Here are a couple of pictures from after the event. Keep in mind I just got off a plane and had gotten no sleep. That is my excuse.
Here is Sarah as the University of North Carolina's newest PhD in Cell and Molecular Physiology. Important to note here is that her Dissertation passed the most important PhD test: It's title is unintelligible to the average person, who therefore would have no idea what Sarah was writing about: "Spike Timing in Dorsal Cochlear Nucleus Pyramidal Cells."
The proud family:


After the ceremony, we all wanted to go play tennis together. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and a thunderstorm downpour set in. I don't get to hear the sound of thunder alot in Seattle, so I wasn't complaining. And the rain didn't interfere with our ability to eat some delicious Carolina-style bar-b-que on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, Sarah decided to attend the large, university commencement held in Kenan Stadium. As someone who missed her own university commencement services twice, I have to say, commencement was actually alot of fun.
Sarah, as a PhD recipient got to march in and sit at an honored place on the field:


We actually had a really good seat, on the first row in the balcony overlooking the field. Here are Mom, Dad, and Melissa, with Sarah's best friend Ann as well:

So what made commencement so fun? Here is my list of the top three reasons why:

1. The incredibly school-spirited Carolina graduating seniors. Ordinarily, I find excessive school spirit mildly irritating, but for some reason, when the people happen to be wearing Carolina blue, it is not only acceptable, but engaging, even heart-warming.

2. UNC picked this year to award an honorary doctorate to Dean Smith. It was a pretty great moment for the Carolina faithful. He got way more applause than Madeline Albright. It seems like perhaps the Carolina crowd feels the same way about her that I do for her weak effort in getting the US involved in Rwanda. She gave a decent commencement speech. It is just a shame that one thing can keep me from really liking a person whom I agree with almost everything else about. Anyway, here is Dean, both on the jumbotron, and on the stage.


3. A capella groups annoy me even more than people with excessive amounts of school spirit. At BYU, I couldn't imagine a more terrifying sentence than, "Do you want to go to the Vocal Point concert on Friday?" I generally assumed that a capella groups were a BYU phenomenon. This season of "The Office" and "Gilmore Girls" taught me otherwise. Nonetheless, because the character of Andy Bernard on "The Office" is so delightfully hilarious, a capella groups now just make me laugh. His group at Cornell was called "Here comes Treble"; at Carolina, they are called "The Clef Hangers." They closed the ceremony with a performance of James Tayor's "Carolina on My Mind." It was a riot. Melissa and I couldn't stop laughing, half expecting Ed Helms to make an appearance.

After the ceremony, we went back to Sarah's house to cook a big family meal.

I have always known that our family was rather food obsessed, but only recently have we all become cooking obsessed as well. My mom even made homemade icecream for the occasion. Luckily, the weather was fantastic on Sunday, so we were able to go play some tennis as well, to make up for how much food we ate.

Uncle Bob, Aunt Tana, Greg, and Jordan drove up from Lake Norman. Uncle Tommy and Aunt Gail drove up from Greensboro. Unfortunately, Grammy couldn't come because her hip has been giving her problems. Nonetheless, many more family photos were taken.





All in all, it was a great North Carolina weekend.

Do you really have to move to Boston, Sarah?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Goodbye Rory and Lorelai

Dear Producers/Writers of the Gilmore Girls,

I am not generally one to make a tremendous effort to complain about fictional television shows. Your show is ending at the end of this season, and in fact, after last night's episode, there is only one episode left. However, after watching last night's episode, I have about zero interest in watching the Series Finale. What I always have loved about the Gilmore Girls is the consistent, authentic characters. But last night, at the end of the show, I was left thinking, huh? How did that just happen?

What I mean is this - having Logan propose to Rory, believable; having Rory say no, because she needed to figure some things out for herself, also believable, although maybe not as much considering how much effort Rory has put into that relationship for the past three years; having Logan saying goodbye, in such a peremptory way, with such coldness between the two of them, completely not believable, and entirely annoying. First of all, how could any couple who has been together for that long just end things in about five sentences with such a lack of emotion displayed between the two of them? It just seemed so inconsistent with everything that I had come to enjoy about the development of the Rory/Logan relationship.

So now, what is there left to resolve in the series finale? Of course, Luke and Lorelai will reunite, yawn. Oh, and all of the townspeople of Stars Hollow will celebrate Rory's graduation with all of their eccentricities that at one time were humorous but that now are just entirely boring, double yawn. Oh, and I am sure that Rory will suddenly find some great job now that she has sacrificed her relationship with Logan for the sake of her career (because that is realistic). And mother and daughter will live happily ever after. So effectively, I have no real reason to watch the show.

It definitely is a good thing there is no new Season. The way this one ended is pathetic enough.

Former Viewer,

Leslie

P.S. - Oh and by the way Rory, I know you think now that someone better than Logan is going to come along, but you are wrong. Nope. While I am sure that Logan will go off and end up with someone who is either a much better version of yourself or some superficial twit who is nothing like you. Either way, he will be happy. Good luck finding the same.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Tale of Two Parises

I thought that I would post on a couple of news items from the weekend that struck my interest.

First - of course, the French Presidential Election. Well, it looks like that the Paris left wing is out in full force tonight rioting over the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, the right wing Presidential Candidate. They have to get their rioting in while they can - Sarkozy might be working to get rid of that famous thirty-five hour work week, leaving less leisure time to tear up the streets and burn automobiles. I love Paris. I can't stop reading the news coverage on Le Monde. Why is French politics so much more interesting to me these days than American politics?

Second - I watched the Kentucky Derby this year. Mostly it was because the Queen was there, and everyone knows about my fascination with Queen Elizabeth. I know that since America fell in love with Barbaro last year, the Kentucky Derby is all the rage. I just would like an excuse to wear a fabulous hat. Anyway, when the announcers were naming the horses, I just knew one would win as soon as I heard his name "Street Sense." This is the only year I actually wanted a particular horse to win. It is too bad that I don't gamble either, because I would hace actually been a winner, because sure enough, that horse won. It was all in the name.

Third - Spiderman III: I enjoyed it. I still think that I liked 2 more, but this one was definitely worth the cost of the ticket, if for no other reason than to see Tobey McGuire dancing. I still just think that three villians is too many, though.

Fourth -Before I start lamenting having to go to court tomorrow, I just want to take a second and think about one reminder that we had from Friday that sometimes justice can still be had in a courtroom. I am referring to Paris Hilton being sentenced to 45 days in jail for violating probation. I wish I would have been that prosecutor. Seriously, it would make one's whole legal career working as a public servant worthwhile to have that moment in the courtroom when you are locking up one of the people responsible for the dumbing down of America's youth. Sometimes, the justice system still works.

And with that, I am ready to go to court tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Be not ashamed

When I was in sixth grade, I went to a "lock-in" with my friend Jolie, at Olive Baptist Church. Olive Baptist Church was THE church to be a member of at Ransom Middle School. Of course, I was not a member, but as a sixth grader, I assumed that attending a social function at Olive Baptist Church would provided a much needed boost to my social standing at Ransom Middle School. That night, the youth pastor gave a sermon on "cults" that good Southern Baptist students should avoid. During the sermon, "The Mormons" were mentioned over and over and over again. Mormons were of the devil. Mormons were not Christian. Etc. Etc. Etc. After the sermon, my friend Jolie asked me, "What religion did you say that you were again?" I told her that I was a Mormon, and that what the pastor said about us wasn't true. It was a long lock-in. The rest of the night, I was asked over and over about where my horns were, and why didn't I believe in Jesus. Needless to say, my social standing at Ransom Middle School did not benefit.

Approximately one week after the lock-in, I was at ballet class after school when one of my friends asked me what church I went to. I paused. After the torment I suffered the prior week, I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a social outcast in my ballet class too. So I tried to think about the least confrontational religion possible, one that was sufficiently benign for my friend to quickly change the subject. "I am Lutheran," I answered. I figured, since this wasn't 15th Century Continental Europe, Lutheran was a good and safe answer. My answer did the trick. My friend quickly changed the subject.

Why do I bring this up? Well, for the past two nights, PBS has been airing their documentary "The Mormons." I was excited for the two night event. I appreciated the in depth look of the history of Mormonism, and the obvious effort that Ms. Whitney made to interview people from all sides on Mormonism. It was well-researched and respectful. However, I must admit that I was a little disappointed because the series predominately focused on those spotlight PR issues that the LDS church has had in its relatively short history - Polygamy, Mountain Meadows, the Priesthood, etc. Perhaps I was disappointed, because in the struggle to make my faith what it is today, these are all issues that I have already grappled with in coming to my testimony. So maybe I just wanted something more, because PBS usually gives me something more. Some of the issues I thought were pretty summarily dealt with, without as full of an explanation that I would have liked to see. For example, of course the program spent some time talking about the role of women in the LDS church. But while focusing on the "restrictive" roles of women in the church, they didn't talk about things like Utah being one of the first states giving women the right to vote, etc (but they did spend alot of time talking about the LDS church opposing the ERA). Nonetheless, I will fully admit that it is ridiculous of me to expect a four hour program to go into the depth of detail that I have spent the past 28 years of my life studying and obsessing about. I recognize my bias, but I guess the overall program would have been relatively informative if I didn't know anything about the LDS church. However, I don't think that it would have changed the Olive Baptist Church youth pastor's mind about Mormons being a cult but that probably wasn't the intent of a documentary about the Church by someone outside of the faith.

What I do appreciate about the program is the following: while watching it, I realized, that unlike myself as a sixth grader, I no longer fear what people will think of me when I tell them I am a Mormon. I no longer fear their questions or comments. As I was watching the program, and I realized that all of the controversies were issues that my own faith has tackled, I felt like I knew myself, in a way that I maybe wouldn't have synthesized without watching the program's survey look at the controversial history of Mormonism. It was like after I finished reading Richard Bushman's biography of Joseph Smith, I felt more convinced than ever that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and was who he claimed to be. He was so flawed and so human, and I think that it is amazing that God can work through these flawed individuals to bring to pass great things. It is what gives me hope about humanity in general.

The part that I have realized now that I am older, now that I am away from BYU is that so much of faith is both a confrontation and an acceptance of doubt. I have never had in my life an overwhelming experience of certainty with regard anything. I am a person who is constantly obsessing about things that I do not know and that I cannot predict. I have no shortage of anxiety about those daily things. However, the reason why my testimony in the gospel of Jesus Christ is what it is today, is because the unknowns in the gospel realm do not cause me anxiety. They cause me to study, they cause me to pray, they cause me to ponder, and they cause me to hope. So much of why I love the gospel as restored to Joseph Smith is because it is a recognition of several principles that are so optimistic for humankind - the idea of eternal progression, the belief in continuing revelation, and the knoweldge of the Savior's personal atonement and the chance for redemption for everyone. These concepts all go together for me on both a personal and institutional level. Just as I am a constantly developing person who has the ability to learn and grow, so is the church a constantly developing institution that has the benefit of continuing revelation. God is perfect, but God sometimes has to work through imperfect beings. This is why truth is revealed "line upon line." If the perfect structure of Heavenly Father's order was simply plopped down on the earth, we couldn't handle it, because we probably wouldn't understand it at this time. What I believe, is that we are led by a prophet who reveals to us what our loving Heavenly Father sees as being in our best interest at this time. God is unchanging, but we do not have his perfect view of things with our mortal limitations.

As an example, one of the historic aspects of the church which I have the hardest time with is why it wasn't until 1978 that the priesthood was given to all worthy men. Some of the racist comments of early church leaders have always bothered me. Of course, no one knows the reason why 1978 suddenly was the time when the church stopped its racist policy. However, my own personal view is that was the right time because it was the time when church members were ready, not because suddenly black men suddenly became worthy. The racist statements of many of the earlier members of the church showed me that the institutional structure wasn't ready at the time. Because the church operates through men and women who are flawed, Heavenly Father, in my view, works through our own cultural levels of understanding. I think he has to do things that way so the structure doesn't just entirely fall apart.

Anyway, this has been a long post on my own personal religious views on things that I probably wouldn't ordinarily post in this way. However, I wanted to because I am no longer the 11 year old who was ashamed of who she was. I love the person that I am when I am doing the things that my religion teaches me to be. I want to be the person who unequivocally uses the Savior as an example of how she lives her life. It isn't about eternal reward or whether I am right or wrong, because at the end of my days, if it turns out that I was wrong about my faith, then I still will feel like I have lived a pretty great life if I have guided my life by the gospel principles I have learned in the LDS church. So I can happily say now, "I am a Mormon." Go ahead and call me a peculiar person.