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.