Wednesday, September 27, 2006

bad sequel decision

I think a bad sequel decision was to make Back to the Future II hinge on Marty McFly getting really bugged if someone calls him 'chicken'.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The fluffy bunny and the banana

This is the beginnings of a children's book I'm working on. A lot of this is inspired by discussions I had in my youth with Weston Spencer.

this is an audio post - click to play

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My What not to Wear party

So I threw my own what not to wear/queer eye for the straight guy party this last week. I guess I would say it was successful, but I was hoping for a more enthusiastic response from my friends and family.

Gabby designed the invitations, I wrote most the copy:

You won't believe Ben's new look...

Ben is turning over a new stone...

Get to know the Ben with even better taste in clothing and cuisine...

Goodbye crappy clothes...Hello awesome and stylish clothes!

See what Ben has done with his hair (hint: it will BLOW YOUR MIND), and experience the luxurious grip of his properly moisterized hands...

Watch Ben roll sushi, and engage his new cultural knowledge.

Witness Ben's deliberate, professorly-looking gruff...

Come listen as Ben shows his new look and reads some papers on Bureaucracy and Education, and talks about his scholarly interests in preparation for job-talks at Colleges and Universities this next Fall...

Ben is totally excited to reveal the new Ben...

I was being honest, I was totally excited to reveal the new me. And, judging from what I'd seen on these shows, I thought a lot of people would be too.

So about 6 people came. I was waiting upstairs for about 15 minutes, until Gabby said I should come down. I wish I had picked better music for my entry, and I guess I was hoping for more gasps and applause and laughter and general enthusiastic approval. And yes, more than 6 people would have been nice too. I guess I would say that I was a little disappointed in the response, a couple people said, "hey Ben, what a fun idea!" and I was more looking for what I have become accustomed to seeing on the TV shows I was trying to replicate: "Whoa! No way! Wow! Ha Ha Ha Ha, this is great! I can't believe the change! You look fantastic! Wow, yes, read us another paper! What??!! You roll your own sushi??!! Wait a second, did you just say genre? This is great! Wow! This was so fun to see the new Ben!" But I still love my new look, and attitude.

If I thought I could throw my own "What not to wear" party, and come off with the same results as the TV shows, I was wrong. There is a ton of work in the background to help get the friends and family and audience excited and motivated to say really nice and thoughtful things. I'm not bitter, but consider that my last "What not to wear" party I throw for myself, unless I have way more support, and ideally some sort of television production, and audience cheer-leading crew.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Smells like teen spirit

I feel like I missed a major milestone in music. I don't know if I was on my mission, or just not around when Nirvana came out and in particular when Smells like teen spirit came out. I have heard Gabby (and Josh and Jared) say the same kinds of things about when this song came out for a while and I was listening to All songs considered, and a featured band was talking about their favorite or most influencial song, and Smells like Teen Spirit was one of the songs. What did it for me was that the reasoning was basically identical to Gabby's.

Gabby has been saying this for years, and the featured band said it too: Once the song came out and the video first played, everything was different. This was unlike anything else before, and everything would be different after; it was as if all the rules for music were now changed.

It wasn't some obscure artist who was awesome and the few who knew about her shared knowing nods.

I never saw the video for "Hey Ya", but I saw a performance on one of the late shows and felt like this was totally fresh and original, felt like it challenged music, I haven't heard anything that was that big and that original since, and it swept the nation. Was that what Smells like teen spirit was like? Or was Hey Ya too fun?

Still love both songs. Can my experience with Hey Ya compensate for missing Smells like teen spirit? Or is it not a fair comparison? Other songs up for consideration?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Etiquette journal: Moving help

So many people are moving in and out of our neighborhood, and I have been thinking about my experience moving out to New York.

When Gabby's brother, Jared, and I drove across country and arrived at our new place in New York, we were welcomed by members of the Elder's Quorum. We were exhausted after driving 10+ hours a day for the last four days. One of the helpers brought a Dominos Pepperoni pizza and a two liter bottle of Sprite and said: "You guys must be exhausted and hungry, why don't you sit down, eat some pizza and take a break, we'll start hauling in the boxes." This was of course extremely nice. They brought in a considerable number of boxes, and we joined them after a much appreciated rest and, of course, we appreciated that they brought some much needed food.

As Jared and I considered this, we thought how nice these strangers were, and how nice it was to be able to arrange an arrival time, and how reassuring it was to talk with a contact on our way out; we checked in regularly, and made a point to be available should they need pertinent information--such as contact numbers, food preferences, etc. to make for a smooth experience.

A couple thoughts occurred that hopefully can help in thinking about moving etiquette: I love pizza, EVERYONE knows that. I also like soda. Now if you were to ask me if I like sprite, I would answer: "Yeah. It's great." If you asked me: "What is your favorite soda?" That is easy too: root beer. By that same token, if you were to ask me if I like pepperoni pizza, I would answer: "Yeah. It's great." "What's your favorite pizza?" Easy: pepperoni and sausage.

So we were in contact with a person who arranged these helpers. We loved the pizza and the Sprite. I guess my question is this: How hard is it, really, how hard is it to make a simple request, like: "Hey, we're gonna be bringing some pizza and soda...what do you like on your pizza? How about soda--do you have a favorite? Really, is it much more difficult to ask what someone likes? It's just a simple--what do you like on your pizza? What's your favorite drink? That's it. Simple. And you know what? It can make a world of difference. It's etiquette, plain and simple.

We are still SO GRATEFUL for the plain pepperoni pizza and the sprite. Yet, I can't help thinking what our experience would have been like had they asked 2 simple questions: We arrive, a stranger brings OUR FAVORITE pizza, and OUR FAVORITE soda. NOW, I would feel really welcomed--who wouldn't?

Saturday, July 22, 2006


My kids won't stop telling this one. We have had to limit their telling to only family members, though.


Who's there?



You eat poo? Gross.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Waterskiing instructions

this is an audio post - click to play

Below is the transcript for the audio above.

Now when you gonna be waterskiing, there are several things that you’ve got to remember. Now, you’re gonna be jumpin into the water, right, you’ll slide your foot into the boot of the waterski, right mate. You might want to put in some shampoo so as to make it easier for you to put your foot in. Then is when the real waterskiing adventure begins, right mate. You gonna be holden onto the rope tight. You wanna hold the rope close to your chest, and keep your knees up too. Don’t let your arms out yet either right mate. When you’re ready to go, you’ll signal the driver of the boat by saying these words: “hit it.” At that point, the driver’s gonna hit the accelerator, the boats gonna be pushin across the water. You gonna wanna keep your ski tip up, out of the water, the boats actually gonna pull you up out of the water, and you’ll be gliding across the water like you were flying mate.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

on getting complicated TV and movie roles

Well, since my last post, I have realized that in order to get more and more complicated TV and movie roles I need to do more accent practice. I feel pretty good about my Australian and Irish accents (well Irish I am awesome, but mostly limited to things Bono has said). Australian I'm pretty good, but I'm great if I'm giving instructions for waterskiing. I really need to work on: Scottish, German, French, South African (Seth Eh'vreekun), and Boston, and of course, British. You know what I could use? Does anyone know of any on-line forums or audio chat rooms where people can practice fake accents? Because that would be excellénte!

On roles that I see myself playing (not neccessarily in the order of preference):
1. I would really like a role where I play a really handsome, tall tennis player who drives a convertible red corvette and is a stock-broker working on wall street. He's the kind of guy who is the envy of every single person in the world, but he is mostly just a determined, hardworking humble man who loves to spend time with his autistic kids. In one scene, he could buy a hotdog from a street-vendor for his kids, then he helps his kids give the hot-dog man a hug, and later in life, the kids remark that that simple act was their favorite experience of their whole life.

2. I would really like a role where a 30-something with a British accent has a blog that is published in the New Yorker, The Economist, and Popular Science. His fan base is loyal, but he starts to doubt himself, and predictably, his self-esteem plummets. Just when he is about to stop blogging, the President of the World asks him to be a cabinet member to oversee blogs and the law. He is conflicted because he had so much self-doubt, yet he desperately wants to help improve the world.

3. I would also welcome playing a retired boxer who has a blind dog that he, ironically, leads. A host of conflicts, and issues surrounding the meaning of 'family' 'faith' 'hope' and 'sacrifice' emerge. The name of the show could be, simply, 'Boxer'.

I have a lot of experience acting. I was in the play Tartuffe, I was Grandpa in "You Can't Take it With You." I was the lead in the Bames Jond series, and recently, I was Simple in "Merry Wives of Windsor" by William Shakespeare. In addition, whenever I teach, I try to incorporate acting. Sometimes this includes dramatic or accented readings of Shakespearean sonnets, other times, its just simply pretending to be a robot. I try to study a character for his/her motives, aspirations, questions, doubts, etc. until I uncover the core of that character's soul. Then acting is simply applying a range of circumstances to that character's soul.

mid-blog crisis

I'm having a mid-blog crisis. Maybe it's because a bunch of people have started blogs and they are way better than mine. Maybe it's part of the nature of a blog to run a course, then to just turn into the same sort of predictable, boring stuff. Maybe it's because I don't like the angle my blog has taken recently, and there is just way too much pressure to keep that up. Maybe it's because I have nothing more to say. Or maybe it's time for me to move into a different medium, say TV, or movies? Or maybe it's because I know exactly what I want my blog to be, I just don't have the ready resources and capital to get it going. I guess I could end it all now (the blog), and leave my Taylor Clark experience as my last public blog expression. But that doesn't feel right. If you don't have anything to say, then you shouldn't say anything, right? But then, I have never had anything to say, and that hasn't stopped me from saying lots of things. Well, if nothing else, this post has convinced me that it is time to look into more, and more complicated TV and movie roles.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Taylor Clark and the Best Christmas Lights

It's no secret that our house in Provo won "Best Christmas Lights in the Neighborhood" in 2000. And the contest wasn't just some lady in the neighborhood that wanted to show us some love; it was official, and included a certificate from the city of Provo.

Of course, Gabby conceived the lighting scheme, and it was pretty simple, just some slightly over-sized white bulbs. We won it not because we over did it, like all the rest of the "competition" but because we stuck with a simple, elegant design, and Salem and I staple-gunned lights according to what Gabby told us.

Gabby wasn't there when the certificate was delivered. The mid-forties Provo City representative brought the certificate when my good friend Taylor Clark was over. (I think he was letting me borrow a jig saw.) When I opened the door, she started reading the certificate and looking at me (and Taylor--though at the time it didn't strike me as out of the ordinary) to verify we were the right people: "Benjamin and G-(look up again for awkward verfication)-Gabriel Blair?" (I'm used to people mis-pronouncing Gabrielle's name all the time, so I wasn't phased).


"Here is your certificate. You won the best Christmas lights in the neighborhood, congratulations."

"Thank you, thank you very much."

I thought nothing of it, but Taylor laughed and pointed out that the lady thought he was Gabriel. And the lights did look really nice.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Any power

If you could have any power in the universe what would it be, and why would you want that power?

Please limit your comments to actual powers that you have seen in either 1. real life or 2. movies. If you decide to describe a power that is not in either of these, but feel strongly that you can make a case for it, please give a brief overview of the case at the beginning, with a fuller explanation later in the text, or a link to a fuller explanation. I have a zero tolerance policy for powers mentioned that don't fit in either 1 or 2, and don't have a case for an exception, and I reserve the right to delete a comment if I don't think it adheres to these simple guidelines. It should be clear that underscoring these criteria, is a basic approach to powers that is grounded in reality or "realistic" imagination (e.g. legitimate superheroes etc.) I also shouldn't need to mention this but feel that I should: any flippant comments will be quickly* deleted, and I may block you as a commenter. Related to this: This post is not an open invitation for jerks to demonstrate why they are jerks. I should say at the outset that I have thought carefully and extensively about this question and feel confident in saying that flying is the best possible power in the universe not including mystic or quasi-religious powers. (And jerks who want to poke fun of other people's religious beliefs and practices, please see earlier note about jerks). Please don't assume that I consider flying as the final answer, because, though I have thought carefully about this, I am always open to new insights. I also mention this as a sort of benchmark to use, because if you mention a power that is clearly not as good as flying, you will have a difficult time justifying that power to people who have devoted considerable time and deliberation to this question. Please do not use this as a forum to investigate the ins and outs of super-hero powers. Though there are likely many fascinating discussions and nuanced understandings that could arise from such a discussion, that is not the aim of this post. This post is not an investigation into all the different powers that exist in the world or in "realistic" imagination. Related to this, the question should not be viewed as an opportunity to show off how much you know about super-heroes or other people with impressive powers. I am not as interested (for the sake of this post) with someone's encyclopedic knowledge about powers (super or everyday) as I am about what you think the best power is, or the power you would most like to have. I realize that this will prevent many commenters from posting because they just can't post anything about powers without showing off how much they know about the powers. To such people, please don't take this post as unappreciative of your knowledge, but rather as having a different aim. Having said this, I look forward to the lively discussion!

*It should go without saying that 'quickly' is a relative term, and just because a comment hasn't been deleted after 48 hours does not mean that it is therefore safe.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A tribute to the Mouritsens who are--sniff, sniff--moving

The Mouritsens are moving to Rhode Island. I've been trying to think of an appropriate way to bid farewell and make a fitting tribute. I thought about how Josh (age 8) is an awesome cub scout and knows all about cars and cool things, or how Sophie (age 6) is a great princess, or how Max (age 2-3?) is pretty much the coolest kid in nursery, or how Christian (age <1) is a great sleeper in the church foyer, or how Jenny always makes the best food for any occasion. But my favorite memory remains Robert's 9/11 anniversary Elder's quorum lesson.

It started like most Elders quorum lessons, a brief introduction to the topic, this time it was to remember those fallen in 9/11 and to listen to President Gordon B. Hinckley offer his thoughts on the matter. Robert had recently watched the special program that the church had put together after 9/11, and was really impressed. (It was probably the testimonies). He brought the DVD with him so we could all likewise partake. We had about 30 minutes until church would be out.

The technology wasn't working quite right. No worry, two elders got up and went to work rearranging wires, wiggling switches, checking and adjusting volume etc. For some reason, it still wasn't working--the sound came on, but no picture. Another round of technology "gurus" went to work. I think at the height there were maybe 5 people working on it at once? After 20 minutes, the wires were rearranged, the switches rightly wiggled, and the circuits correctly aligned and the image and sound came on. Have you ever removed a 85+ pound crappy backpack and had an ice-cold refreshing drink of spring water looking out over stunning sunsets after a grueling 15 mile hike through torturous terrain? Then you know something of the euphoria we felt.

There was the obligatory opening prayer, I believe President Packer gave that, and it lasted for a while; and then a number by the tabernacle choir. It wasn't a number I was familiar with. I don't think any of us had heard it before. It was somber, you could tell that by the minors and keys, but you couldn't really make out the words. Anyway, the song lasted a good 9 minutes. I'm not sure what its message was, but it was, for all intents and purposes, heartfelt. And probably longer than Robert had remembered. I guess if you are watching a video like this at home, you can fast-forward through really long and somber songs, but if you're giving a lesson, you kind of have to approach it like: "Oh, I totally get into the musical numbers as well. They absolutely contribute to the message." This wasn't really Robert's attitude. His was more: "Hey, if it can kill 10 minutes of my lesson, and at least appear deliberate--I am game."--by that same token, the technology mishaps by no means bothered Robert.

So after the technology work, the prayer and musical number, I think we watched enough to see President Hinckley approach the podium and say a few introductory remarks (< 1 minute) to what would have been the main event had it not been for the technology and somber number. Then our kids came in, we had to rush a quick prayer and the lesson was over in real time; but may it, and the associated virtues, always live in our hearts.

Here's to Providence delivering numerous opportunities for the Mouritsens to enlighten, enrich, and entertain!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An open letter to Cindi Lauper

Cindi Lauper's "Time after Time" just came on the radio, and I remembered that I want to make it public that I think Cindi Lauper is the most underrated singer/songwriter. I have written a letter to Cindi Lauper below. I still probably won't buy any of her albums, but that has as much to do with the technological advances brought on by robots as with anything else. Her songs stand out far more now than just about any song they came out with.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Gabby.

An open letter to Cindi Lauper:

Dear Cindi Lauper,

I was never a huge fan of your music. When your songs first came out, I doubt I would listen to them if they came on the radio. In fact, I probably made fun of you, or people who owned your albums or really liked your music. You also just seemed a little too punk, or a little overconfident that you had a look that was working for you and had the potential to sweep the nation, or something that I couldn't peg, and I could never figure out what your thing was. I'm still not sure that I have figured out what your thing is, (as important as that is) but I don't think I would turn the station if a song of yours came on now. And I would turn the volume up for basically every song of yours that is still played. I'm not sure what happened to make the change, and it still feels strange to think of you as a great singer/songwriter, but when I hear your songs, the feeling I get is "I really like this song...I didn't realize how much I really like this song...Wow, this is a great song." Again, this feeling is magnified by my confusion, because I think I just thought of you as a throw-away 80s singer, and it's not just like one song, but almost every song of yours that is still played captivates me. You've bewitched me Ms. Lauper, body and soul.

Ben Blair

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The advantages of a Japanese education

For the past almost year, I have been teaching English to Japanese people. I think my favorite thing I've learned is that Japanese elementary schools routinely have unicycles, and most or all kids know how to ride unicycles.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Betty Blair.

This is our first child with no middle name. We were going for a good comic book name, a name that could be the girlfriend of a superhero, or the alter-ego of a superhero herself.

It's always strange to see our other children's roles change when a new child is born. Oscar becomes a big brother, and no longer the baby of the family. Olive becomes a middle child. Ralph and Maude become the older brother and sister.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Proposed SNL skits

Since a comment on my post about our landlord, I have been thinking about proposing a skit for Saturday Night Live: Landlord MacGyver. It would basically be MacGyver figuring out novel ways to fix and maintain a rental space using household objects like paper clips, yogurt containers, tin foil, chewing gum, etc.

My Bro. in law, Josh, proposed another skit that I also like. He was inspired by a conversation with me and Gabby, so I'll take a bit of credit. This skit is inspired by the phenomenon that it is difficult for some to take someone with a deep southern accent seriously, and it is difficult for some to encounter a person with a british accent without viewing the person as really smart. The skit would be a social gathering comprised of average Americans, then one really educated person from the deep south, and a dumb person from England. The skit would go back and forth between the person from the deep south making intelligent, insightful remarks only to be met by raised eyebrows, rolling eyes, & suspicious looks and the person from England making mundane or ridiculous remarks met with contemplative looks and responses.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ralph learns a lesson

This is a movie filmed by my brother-in-law Josh Stanley on a Saturday when Ralph was over at their house. The movie was Ralph's idea. Ralph is the one in camoflauge pants. Jonah (the light blond) is Josh's son and James is Jonah's cousin. I couldn't believe how happy I was seeing this. here is a small version. here is a medium version.

Monday, March 27, 2006

executive secretary

I haven't really explained the title of this blog, 'the executive', though I have hinted at times. My very first entry was titled 'executive secretary' and at some point I mentioned the great line from Ben Stiller in Mystery Men the one where he says "It's a's a Harley compatible, it's basically the same thing." In my stake, I am the executive...secretary, I'm the executive secretary, it's basically the same thing. I set the stake president's schedule and take notes, or at least when I do what I am supposed to do, I set schedules and take notes. It's really complicated work; imagine calling people to make a schedule, and then taking notes at meetings.

The calling does have a few fringe benefits. I can send a surge of panic in people just by calling them. And I get a preview of the people who will be speaking in stake conference. It's the kind of calling where I really can't think of anyone who is less-suited for it than me. Understand, I'm not being humble, like: "There are 100s of people more worthy, more capable, etc." Actually, it is a calling that demands a certain skill set (roughly detail-oriented, which means, roughly, arranging schedules and reminding people to come to meetings, and not forgetting to arrange schedules and remind people to come to meetings), a skill set I openly admit not having. And, actually it's not a skill set I have a real desire to develop now, or maybe ever, though I appreciate it in others. But I do like being in council with some of my heroes. And I do, on occasion, get to influence church practice. In one meeting (well this was when I was the secretary to the bishop) we were discussing adults who were not comfortable praying from the pulpit. I suggested that perhaps a member of the bishopric go up and (ala primary) whisper the prayer to the uncomfortable public-prayer. The response wasn't what I had hoped (i.e. the idea wasn't implemented), but still, I think that was among my proudest moments. I still like that image of the bishop or one of his counselors whispering the prayer to some 40 year old.

This last week we learned that a counselor in the stake presidency was moving. Our stake president asked to meet with each High Councilor to get his counsel for the departing councilor's replacement. Do I need to say that one does not explicitly jockey for church hierarchy positions? Anyway, I set up these meetings. When High Councilors asked why the stake president wanted to meet with them, I answered along these lines: "Well, he hasn't been really clear, but he would like you to prepare a 3-5 minute presentation on why you would make a good member of the stake presidency." I also like this image of some great guy awkwardly working in such a presentation, or inquiring about when it would occur.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Movies I used to love

I read Courtney's blog some months ago that mentioned how It's A Wonderful Life makes her sad. This reminded me that I don't like that movie any more either. Other movies that I used to love but I don't like any more are What about Bob? And Roxanne, and, as I have written earlier, I don't like the Sound of Music either.

Why I don't like It's a Wonderful Life: OK, the basic idea is nice: the world would be a lot worse if not for good people, and their influence can be more extensive than they ever realize. And I understand (and even subscribe to?) the ethic of "that beautiful world that you want to go see, well all the beauty is right before your eyes, right where you are!" But couldn't that be told while letting George get his non-destructive wishes? Underlying these messages is a conspiracy to undercut what George Bailey wants to do. It is essentially the opposite story of the Truman Show. In the Truman Show, everyone wants Truman to buy into this manufactured psuedo-life, but all he wants to do is get away. He finally does and we cheer him on. In It's a Wonderful Life, all George Bailey wants to do is get away, granted it's not manufactured in the way Truman's is, still he wants to get away, and justifiably so. For many dramatic reasons, he stays and comes to desparation and ultimately decides to buy into the other's view (that he could never understand) that Bedford Falls is a great place, and anything beyond it is not worth pursuing. Why should George be deprived of his obvious, persistent, non-destructive desire? George wants to throw rocks at Donna Reid's heart's desire (the house) but eventually he moves into it, though he never likes it until the end (supposedly--that wonderful drafty old house!). Through various ways (prayer, losing a wad of money, his father's death, manipulative timing on pregnancy announcements, panic, etc.) the citizens have fought to undermine what George Bailey wants. At the end, he resigns himself to go along with the others' desires for him. And we are supposed to cheer, but isn't this sad? I deeply hope that those of you who still love this movie and find tremendous joy out of it will not any longer.

What about Bob? used to be one of my favorite movies, and probably because I've watched it like 5000 times I don't like it anymore. I've tried to watch it again and just laugh like in old days, but it's always an uncomfortable, whiny, fake laugh. My feeling is that the message is too serious to be treated by that sort of comedy, and it ends up making light of troubling circumstances in an uncomfortable, but ultimately not funny way. And the humor is mostly centered on crazy people doing crazy things, or disturbing people doing disturbing things. There are no heroes, little growth, and the "growth" that happens comes at the expense of a family, and the destruction of the family has no legitimate resolve. I even want to feel touched that this family accepts Bob and Bob can be a contributing citizen because he has friends, but the movie keeps getting in the way. It is also of course, the story of a man (Dr. Marvin)coming to terms with his manipulative, authoritative stance in life, and the result is tragic, but we can't really be sad for him because he is the butt of the joke. I can still laugh at individual scenes, but I find the overall movie disturbing. As with It's a Wonderful Life, I deeply hope that those of you who still love this movie and find tremendous joy out of it will not any longer.

Roxanne: This movie now strikes me as a snobby-intellectual snubbing of less educated people. Steve Martin comes up with better (more intellectual) put-downs, and Roxanne falls in love with the fireman because he (supposedly) recites nice poetry, or has a way with words, and buys books like Being and Nothingness (nice!). (Really he is just a puppet for other smart people when he does these things). He (the stupid fireman) finally leaves Roxanne to go after the other uneducated, stupid lady. Why doesn't Roxanne like this guy in the end? Because he is too stupid. Why does she ultimately like Steve Martin? Because he is intellectual. And what is the overall message: stupid (uneducated) people are stupid. Really interesting people listen to operas, and discuss poetry, art criticism, philosophy, and astronomy. Maybe I would have liked it more if she preferred Steve Martin because he was more spiritual? I don't know. Well, maybe it is just a clever way to encourage education? Perhaps, but not as much as a manipulative way to look down on stupid people. But, I guess they are stupid, so why am I making a big deal about it?

I still hold, more emphatically now than ever before, with my critique of Maria. Burn in Hell Maria! Burn in Hell!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


We are renting our home. Our house is held together with duct tape. In late December, Ralph was sitting across from me at our table and complained that whenever he sat there, water dripped on him. There was a bubble the ceiling above the table, so I poked it with my finger and water gushed out. We called our landlord after the holidays and he patched up the roof. We suspected it was more a "pipe" issue than a "roof" issue, and we were right because his roof patching didn't change a thing, even after he patched it the 2nd and 3rd time over the month of January. In mid-February, when we told him the latest roof patch hadn't done the trick, he returned a few days later with a funnel, plastic piping, paper clips, and a yogurt container. Items which, in the hands of the incompetent are nearly worthless, but in the hands of a craftsman landlord become tools of mystic wonder:

Here is the complete solution (you may need to tilt your head):

If you can't tell from the picture, now if water drops from the ceiling, it will no longer hit Ralph (or anyone else) because it just goes in the funnel. Where does it go from there? Down the plastic tubing. But then where does the water go, just on the floor? Heavens no. It goes in the yogurt container. But how is the tubing kept on the wall so that it doesn't just flail around the room? That's easy. It is paper clipped to the screw he installed in the wall. At the time of the installation, our landlord had run fresh out of duct tape, other wise he would have duct-taped the tubing to the funnel--and he recommended we did so, admittedly that would have made for an even cleaner solution. But doesn't Olive like to play with the tubing? And doesn't Oscar knock over the yogurt container full of nasty water? Yes, but we just yell at them.

At the installation in mid-February, we were promised the solution was "temporary." If you know a foreign language, or even some pidgin languages, you know that "temporary" can mean lots of things. For example, in Greece, it means "until after the holidays". Our landlord's use of 'temporary' means roughly: "until I get my hands on some more duct-tape". One could recommend that I fix it instead of waiting for the landlord, but remember we're renting, so we can't really be held that responsible.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sometimes you can make it--together

Below, on the audio file link, I have done an audio adaptation of the song "Sometimes you can't make it on your own". My adaptation includes contextualizing it within other musical and lyrical messages along the same themes. The following paragraphs give a basic scope for these themes and the audio adaptation near the end.

(This opening paragraph is perhaps too analytic and informative for the non-U2 enthusiast.) The grammy-winning song of the year, "Sometimes you can't make it on your own" is one of my favorite songs from U2's recent grammy winning album of the year "How to dismantle an atomic bomb". Bono clarified the shared theme of the song and album when he accepted the grammy for song of the year. He explained that his mother died when he was young, and he (Bono) was raised by his father, Bob Hewson. Bob Hewson (who recently passed away), is the "atomic bomb" that this whole album attempts to "dismantle". (Appropriately, U2 sang "Sometimes" at Bob's funeral.)As Bono explained, the album in many ways was his attempt to wrestle with who this man (Bob Hewson) was, and how they (Bob and Bono) related. "Sometimes" is somewhat of a micro version of the album as a whole. The song crystallizes key issues in this "atomic bomb" and gestures to how it might be dismantled. I think the term 'dismantle' is provocatively appropriate; it resonates with literary criticism terms such as 'deconstruction' and 'contextual analysis' as well as more plain language senses like 'to take off a mantle' as well as the notions typically accompanying talk of dealing with explosives, e.g. 'disarm' or 'make non-threatening'. Through lyric, music, tone, theme, and general feeling, I see the song and album compellingly addressing the "atomic bomb" in all of these kinds of ways.

I think "Sometimes you can't make it on your own" is among the most personal and poignant songs the band has ever put together. The song doesn't attempt to resolve this complicated relationship, but rather make a portrait that captures some of the tensions, struggles, appreciation, frustration, anger and respect that are at once deeply personal and universal in relations; especially between fathers and sons. The treatment of these themes through this song have helped me reflect on images and portraits of other fathers and sons in literature, TV and cinema. The Godfather movies, for example, do a compelling job of portraying some of these same tensions, for example, when (at the beginning) Michael returns from the army to get away from the family, but inevitably finds himself defending his father's life and ultimately lifestyle.

As my interpretation hopefully shows, other media attempts have likewise wrestled with these same themes. Though I find "Sometimes" perhaps the best recent crystallization, by interpreting it as I do within the context of other contemporary efforts (including my bridge between the two), I think a more hopeful and perhaps even more redeeming tone can emerge and sustain our outlook on fathers and sons. Perhaps it is impossible to understand a son without reference to his father, or vice versa.

In my interpretation, as should be evident by the end, I have considered other powerful portraits of fathers and sons struggling to find their way, and learning about each other by embarking on this journey "together", especially elegant and telling for this are those fathers and sons without a wife or mother. I believe that such portraits can be especially useful to help us draw out some of the universal tones about which "Sometimes" aims to say something. I see basic issues at the core: an attempt to see the son through the lens of the father, and vice versa. Perhaps most vital is an attempt to communicate to an audience the need to give an account of the father in order to better understand the son. Whether rich enough to have a home arcade alley, or as poor as a slave on a desert planet like Tatooine*, these father and son themes are constant.

Fathers and Sons: Here's to hoping we can find our way together.

this is an audio post - click to play

*Though I don't address it in my audio interpretation, I think the Star Wars saga is just such an attempt to give an account of a father in order to better understand the son. Indeed Anakin is the Adam character as he is the lone son with no father, we have no recourse to justify or explain his story with reference to his father. A New Hope seems to be a story about a young boy (Luke) without a father, who becomes a hero. The next 5 movies attempt to communicate to the audience the need to give an account of Luke's father in order to better understand this son.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Movie Scenes

Movie scenes that I love:

Joe Dirt: When Joe Dirt can't understand why the firework stand only has sparklers and snakes and he lists off 30 or so different kinds of fireworks that it should have.

Happy Gilmore: When Happy fights Bob Barker

related to this:

The Firm: When Tom Cruise kicks the crap out of Wilford Brimley

Hudsucker Proxy: When Tim Robbins is first introduced to Hudsucker Inc. (049583475783--that is your work ID #, it will not be repeated...)and also when the Hula-hoop becomes an epidemic.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: When Michael Cain says he is Dr. Emil Schaufhausen and attempts to cure Steve Martin's paralysis

The Pacifier: When Vin Diesel rescues the production of The Sound of Music and volunteers to direct.

Bill & Teds: When they play 20 questions and the first guess is: "Is it a tank?" and it's right.

Elf: When Will Ferrel mistakes Miles Finch as an elf. And when he learns that Santa is coming to the store.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Pack meeting: Tyler Smith

We went to Ralph's pack meeting on Wednesday. It was his 2nd Pack meeting. He earned his Bobcat last time. This pack meeting was also a talent show. Ralph was the first talent, he played "Twinkle, Twinkle, little star" on the cello. He hasn't played the cello since his teacher moved a year ago, but he brushed up and was pretty impressive.

The next talent was Tyler Smith. Tyler is one of Ralph's best friends in the pack, and I like Tyler even more after this pack meeting. He played the trumpet. Here is what he said and did:

"I'm going to play the trumpet. I guess it's harder than the cello because you have to blow. The first song is 'Mary had a little lamb'. Lots of people think this is a baby song, but it's actually pretty hard to learn...[played Mary had a little lamb]...this next song is pretty much an oldie, it's called 'Hot cross buns'...[played Hot Cross buns]."

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Andrew, Brandon, Gordon, and pickle

This was my dream last night:

It wasn't clear whether I was in New York or Provo. It felt like Provo, but it also felt like there was an understanding that those involved had moved from Provo to New York. I was in the car with Andrew Clark (a close friend and neighbor from very young, and if you're keeping track, Chris Clark's (the Jolly Porter's) brother), and we were on our way to play football. I was really excited to play football. On the way, we passed by Brandon Warren's house (Brandon is another friend from elementary school through high school). I saw Brandon, so I got out and asked if he wanted to play football with us. (As I approached the house, I saw that some of the Warrens were playing ping-pong--incidentally I beat Brandon to win the ping-pong tournament at Wasatch elementary school in 1984. The two of us also won the doubles tournament) Brandon responded that he would love to, but first he was waiting for a visit from Gordon B. Hinckley (the Mormon prophet). He said it non-chalantly, but clearly intending for me to hear that President Hinckley would be coming by. I asked: "Really?...I want to meet him, can I stay around?" "Sure" I reported the news to Andrew, and we both got out to wait for President Hinckley.

Excitement was building, and I asked Brandon why Gordon B. Hinckley was visiting his home. He responded that his Dad (Doug Warren) had done a lot of work with Kenneth Starr, and Kenneth Starr was a close friend of President Hinckley. I asked: "Really? Is President Hinckley good friends with Kenneth Starr?" Brandon looked at me half in wonder that I didn't know that.

Well, President Hinckley finally arrived and everyone was understandably excited, but not trying to appear so. I was particularly excited because I have always admired President Hinckley. I looked forward to seeing him in a more informal setting. President Hinckley came in with a small entourage, and he sat down. It seemed everyone wanted to converse, but noone knew what to say. President Hinckley though, seemed at ease. Brandon's dad asked if he could get anyone some water or anything. President Hinckley jumped right in and asked if there were any pickles. "I think so" answered Brandon's Dad. President Hinckley stood up and marched to the kitchen to get a pickle, all the while remarking how he loved a nice, crisp pickle. He walked past and I instinctively turned to watch him walk to the kitchen, confident and determined. In my dream I felt like I admired President Hinckley even more after this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hope of America: patterns and/or turning points in life

I never thought of myself as the stand out, "most likely to succeed" kind of kid. When I was in 6th grade, my bishop was John Beal. Bishop Beal was a banker by trade, and I recently saw him at the St. George Triathlon. We kind of had eye-contact. Actually I spoke with him for a few minutes, but still we kind of had eye-contact. It's hard to explain. Ever since I was the star boy of the primary presentation in our ward during which Bishop Beal and I had an involved memorized conversation that linked the different musical pieces together, I felt a connection to Bishop Beal (But I couldn't think of myself as 'standing out' here because, truth is, I was the only 11 year old boy, and the program was based around an 11 year old boy conversing with his bishop). Despite my red hair, I didn't really stand out in school. Some say that I no longer have red hair. I'm not sure how to take that; I still think I have red hair. I still feel like I have red hair. I don't feel like I don't have red hair. (David Lee Roth doesn't feel tardy.) When I was in 6th grade, I also had a lot of freckles. I was so cute! Imagine the cutest kid you have ever seen, now multiply that by 4. Cute huh?

I've mentioned earlier my attempt to gallop to the presidential fitness level in 6th grade. That kind of effort was typical of my approach to 6th grade: this was a year I pushed the envelope. I worked hard, got my first straight 'A' report card, attended Charity Harvey's (my first true love's) dance un-invited (Charity was the first to hold a dance party), and I was getting good at tennis and skiing, and practicing piano better than before (probably in an attempt to impress Charity). I learned every word on the spelling bee list. I don't know if I told you, but I got out on 'jeep'. 'Jeep!' If you have ever got out on 'jeep' you know that it is a trick word in spelling bees. Do you really think I didn't know how to spell 'jeep'? How did I spell it? Like everyone who misspells it because the school can't afford that kind of volatile personality winning the spelling bee: "Your word is Jeep." "Jeep?...OK...Jeep--G... oh, wait, I mean 'J'" "Sorry, you clearly don't know how to spell 'jeep'". That really was the year I had come prepared to take down any competition in the spelling bee. Bring it on Mildensteins! I also memorized all the Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes during our section on nursery rhymes (beating everyone else by about 25 poems.) Whether others noticed or not, I was pushing myself in 6th grade. I think this is the year I went skiing several times with Jeff Wing (probably my best friend that year, and winner of 2 spelling bees) to Snowbird with his Dad too, and I tackled black diamonds. This was the year the world was starting to come together. But for most eyes, I didn't stand out in ways our culture wants kids to stand out.

You're familiar with the Hope of America award right? I know Chris won it, and his sister, Paige, won it, I also think his wife, Lisa won it. Since Chris was in my ward, I thought I might have an inside track to the award--I had at least heard about it, on a pretty regular basis, so I knew what was at stake, and who knows? maybe past winners helped vote. If so, I thought I could count on Chris. I kind of wondered why Bishop Beal was at 6th grade graduation--Laura (his daughter) was in 5th grade, no?

So the moment of the award came, and Bishop Beal gets up and starts talking about the Hope of America award, and why it is so special, and why only the most special students win it, and how the winner isn't always the person you might think. I started to get a little nervous. Why would they have my bishop come do this? Coincidence? Probably. But if there were a person who might be able to see beneath the surface of the 6th graders' efforts that year, it just might be my bishop... Well, you probably already predicted that Lorita Reynolds won it for the girls. What with her talented singing family and all--singing family that performed for several of our ward parties--of which Bishop Beal was the bishop(!!!) she was hard to overlook. Huh, so is there anyone else that Bishop Beal was associated with among the boys? Come to think of it, I was the only boy that year in his ward. (Charity Harvey was in the ward, but she was a "girl"). Well, it came time for the boys. At first I thought I had no chance, I just wouldn't stand out in that kind of fierce competition; unless; unless the judges were extra perceptive--spiritually perceptive? like say, a bishop could see? and really could identify genuine effort, promise and hope for America! The longer Bishop Beal's desription lasted, the more and more it resembled me. This person worked hard, played tennis, liked sports and school, liked skiing and the outdoors, a great speller, was a red-head freckle-faced boy...Please join me in congratulating 1985's male hope of America...

Jeff Wing.

Of course. He won all those spelling bees.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Etiquette journal: Roommates

I have some pretty fail-safe roommate etiquette tips from my experience with many roommates. It all starts around a pretty simple yet powerful concept/office supply: masking tape. From my experience, most run-ins with roomates happen because of ambiguity. "Which side of the room am I not allowed to step in?" "Which side of the counter is it best I keep my things off?" etc. If roommates would make a simple practice of masking off sections of the apartment/counter/fridge/etc. to designate each roommate's "space" numerous fights would be prevented.

I can sum up my remedy for most roommate squabbles in one word: labeling. Labelling is really the Godfather of masking off areas: the idea is to designate ownership or personal property/space. Labeling takes care of the vast majority of roommate problems, ("You can't use my ruler." "How do you know it's yours?" "Because it says so on the label.")

But even after extensive labeling, I also find it helpful to make a few lists. In my experience, I have made numerous lists, they usually differ with each new roommate depending on what his annoying (or non-annoying as the case may be) habits, but here are some lists that seem to recur with some regularity: List #1: food items that my roommate can't eat no matter how hungry he or she is (like any food that is labelled, and like Doritos). List #2: food items that it is unfair for roommates to put on their list #1 because I really like them (like Pringles). List #3: things that really annoy me (like snoring). List #4: things that it is unfair for roommates to put on list #3 because it's just how I am--or I'm working on it (like smelling bad, or taking too long in the shower). I find that after I live with a particular roommate for a little while, it is usually worthwhile to add a couple other lists, but they differ from roommate to roommate, but I have probably made around 28 different lists.

Next, I think it is really important for roommates to get together regularly to discuss their relationship. I find it helpful for me to document things that I might find annoying. It can especially be helpful to put it in an organized (Powerpoint?) presentation to communicate the issue. But this can hurt feelings, so it is really important to tell the other some positive qualities that he or she has (You are so thoughtful--and smart! Hey you! You rock-star hero! I love how you clean up after yourself!) This is also an opportunity to express appreciation (I noticed you haven't been snoring as much, I really appreciate if you have been taking those snoring pills I gave you.)

Finally, where possible, see to the spiritual development of each roommate. This is a special time in your life! Remember that! Never forget that each of you is a valuable child of God. Each roommate! And remember that you will be glad for the effort you make to help each other make the most of your time and be happy.

Friday, January 13, 2006

approximating natives

Earlier I discussed two of the three legs of language learning: exposure to language, and opportunity to use the language. The third leg to discuss now is approximating a native's pronunciation and understanding. This is closely related to the phenomenon of plateauing, also discussed earlier.

In order to improve toward fluency, a language learner must continually more closely approximate a native's pronunciation and understanding of the language. This claim is almost tautological. But you can easily see how this necessary aspect to language learning can be (and often does get) corrupted. Most people have experienced teachers stuck on simply fixing bad pronunciation or grammar, or excessively proud of their pronunciation or correct grammar; these teachers see their task as developing more and more grammar worksheets, and diagrams of the shape your mouth should make for different sounds. But even in these often absurd activities, there is a kernel of truth.

Once we can't distinguish between our pronunciation and understanding and a native's, or once we are satisfied the difference is not worth overcoming, we are blocked from progress. We have plateaued.

As a teacher, there is a place for correcting a language learner's pronunciation, and highlighting differences between his and a native's understanding. But such correcting, if it makes the learner hesitant to speak unless he is positive it is spoken with a native accent and with perfect grammar, is detrimental to the learner's progress. If the correcting is reduced to, or perceived to be reduced to providing lists of correct sentences, it can give the impression that language learning is tantamount to memorizing a set of grammatically-correct sentences, and so reliant on the teacher providing the sentences, and it will start the learner down the wrong road from the get go. An effort I have made that I think has a good instructional basis looks like this:


Shopped/shopping Read(past tense)/reading
Prepared/preparing Saw/seeing
Cleaned/cleaning heard/hearing

I The for
Sound/music Closed/closing

After I read the article, I understood.
Before I saw the movie, I read the book.
Before seeing the movie, I read the book.
*Before I saw the movie, I reading the book.
After I shopped, I prepared the food.
After shopping, I prepared the food.
*After I shopping, I prepared the food.
*After I shopped, I preparing the food.

First there is a "scatter-chart" with different words or groups of words. At the bottom, there are several sample-sentences (the incorrect ones have an asterisk)generated from the scatterchart. The task given to students is to generate as many sentences as they can from this limited set of words, using the sample sentences as a guide. The sentences highlight frequent errors students make. The students figure out what the mistakes are, or they get a feel for why some expressions work and others don't.

Learners can gain a feel for an aspect of a native's understanding, and work to generate many novel expressions, all the while, a limited set of typical differences between his and a native's understanding are highlighted.

In a sense, every activity should work toward facilitating the learner approximating a native's understanding, or use of the language. Some time (and this time can be a tricky thing--teachers and programs often go way overboard) should be devoted to how the learner's language differs from the natives. This reflection can be part of an activity primarily focused on exposure to the language, or on opportunity to speak, or it could be an independent exercise; however, the more abstracted it is from actual, everyday use, the less helpful and practical it becomes.

To judge a given activity on an "Approximating native" scale, we can ask:
In the course of the activity, is a learner's sense for the difference between his understanding of the language and a native's improved?
Does the activity leave the student eager to use the target language, or hesitant because of fear of mistakes?
Does the activity help the student (in general) inquire more intelligently into the difference between his and a native's understanding of a language?

Monday, January 09, 2006

robot rhymes

As part of my larger study on robots, I have been trying to synthesize some humanistic and scientific approaches to robots. A promising route to this end is what I am calling 'Robot Rhyming'. The idea is pretty simple. Basically, from a catalog of words that rhyme with different robot parts or aspects (and also with the actual word 'robot'), people can make full-on poems, or just simple rhymes. I believe the technology is even there to run some of these words into a computer function, and the computer could turn out rhymes, or even poems*. Here are some of the rhymes I have for robots and robot parts:

robot: crow--bot! slow-bot, blowbot, glowbot, Pol-Pot.
circuit: jerk-kit, work it! biscuit(?)
switch: (this one was pretty easy) witch, ditch, pitch, quidd'ch.
wires: (this one was also pretty easy) tires, fires, Shire(s), Dreyers.
Android: (this one was surprisingly difficult, but in the end, I'm pretty pleased) Band-roid, Slandroid, Jandroid, GuLandroid

Well this is a sample. I hesitate to offer the complete Robot Rhyming works! 2006 at this stage for a variety of reasons. Also, I'm not sure what will be made from this effort. Off hand, I can imagine a lot of poems and rhymes could be constructed (i.e. people can be creative and use their imaginations with these tools), but who knows where this technology--or, more specifically, these robot rhymes--could lead in the future? You certainly don't. I invite you to make robot poems or rhymes; they could be of a variety of structures: couplet, sonnet, limerick, pentameters (iambic or doric), decameters, haiku, verse, prose, limerick, or anthology. As I have found, this is an excellent outlet for creativity about robots and it can help to think more constructively about robots and the future.

*so for example, I would upload the rhyming words for 'switch' (i.e. witch, ditch, etc.) (after naming those words 'switch rhyme' list, then if you wanted to make a rhyme or a poem, you would submit the word 'switch' and there would be a function that would then spit out the rhyming words. Something like: if 'switch' inserted here, then do random spit out of one of the words from uploaded 'switch rhyme' list.