Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I haven't really slept well the last couple of nights. Last night I was thinking about spirituality and wondering where my loss of belief in Mormonism has left me. Discovering the lies and deceptions within Mormonism threw all of my religious and spiritual beliefs into question. All that remained was a pretty sensitive hole that I've mostly stayed away from. I've escaped into rationalism and agnosticism but I don't think that that really completely represents who I am and what I believe. You see, last night I remembered that I believed in God and that I believe strongly in the power and necessity of faith.

Those beliefs don't have anything to do with Mormonism or organized religion but I feel like I need to sift through the rubble of my lost beliefs and rediscover the gems that might be there. Otherwise I'll be letting Mormonism rob me of treasures that it has no claims on.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Last week I started running again after being forced to take a week off because of a pulled calf muscle. Everything felt good with no pain and not even any soreness. Then on Saturday I was out on a short, slow run when the calf started getting sore. It got progressively worse until I gave in and walked up the hills. Later in the day it went from being sore to being painful. How depressing.

It would have been nice to have taken more time off, but I have a 20k race this next Sunday and a marathon the week after that so it is critical that I heal quickly. I thought I had until the latest setback.

So Sunday I went to the gym and did 2.5 hours on the elliptical trainer instead of running around the lake. This was followed by 30 minutes of the same on Monday. The calf was feeling better with just a hint of soreness so I ran again yesterday. I figured that if I couldn't do it then I'd probably be in trouble for the race this weekend. I'm happy to report that I was able to run 2.5 miles of warmup followed by four 1000m intervals and another 1.5 miles of cooldown. The calf was sore, but didn't get any worse and it feels good this morning so I think I'll be ok.

Just to be safe I won't do much more running for the rest of the week. The plan is to do the rest of the week's runs on the elliptical trainer with a few short runs on the treadmill to keep the running muscles loose.

Being injured is depressing. I felt great and everything was going really well right up until the injury. Now I have to worry about reinjury and conditioning and whether or not I'll be able to finish up my race series. I suppose it's hard to understand, but in the same way as running and achieving challenging goals make me feel really good, these periods of struggle can be disheartening. I'm trying to make the best of it and I'm grateful that other than this my season has gone very well. Hopefully I'll come through it stronger than ever.

It's been unseasonably warm this week and very humid, but the forecast if for a strong arctic air mass to plunge into central Texas tonight. So, the weather for the race should be in the low 30's. That's a little on the cold side, but it's better than the alternative. I'm hoping that the cool air will stick around for at least a week so that I'll have good conditions for the Dallas Marathon. I'm cautiously hopeful that despite the injury and disrupted training I'll be able to run well in both races.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Resignation Response

A friend just resigned from the church. He was joined by his wife and all their kids. Both were lifelong members and both served honorable full time missions for the church. They were married in the temple and were active in the church along with their kids. I've read about how the church responds to resignations (which it insists on calling "name removal"), but my friend sent me their response. I find it puzzling in many ways and thought I'd share it.

Remember, the church expends huge amounts of energy trying to convert people to the church and is especially eager to convert intact families. So it is really a calamity when an intact family opts to never darken their halls again. At least you'd think so. I don't think that is reflected in the following which feels a lot more like a polite, "What's your problem? If you figure it out then feel free to come back."

The first item is a photocopied letter with a vertical black line down the left side. Apparently the copier needed servicing and the former members didn't deserve the original. I've taken the liberty of inserting comments throughout.
I have been asked to acknowledge your recent letter in which you request that your family's names be removed from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [They did no such thing. I read the letter and it wasn't a request; it was a resignation which the law states was effective immediately which makes the following both false and completely irrelevant.]

I have also been asked to inform you that the Church considers such a request to be an ecclesiastical matter that must be handled by local priesthood leaders before being processed by Church employees. [Why? The church employees regularly send unsolicited membership records to the wards and refuses to take them back so why can't they inform the ward that the members have quit and take the records back? The answer: they can and should, but they want to make sure that members aren't quitting to avoid excommunication. However this isn't even a reason anymore because the church has changed its policies and no longer excommunicates people who have quit.] Therefore, your letter and a copy of this reply are being sent to President [stake president] of the [stake] Stake. He will have Bishop [bishop] of the [ward] Ward contact you concerning the fulfillment of your request. [How long before that communication makes it through the ward grape vine?]

In view of the eternal consequences of such an action, the Brethren urge you to reconsider your request and to prayerfully consider the enclosed statement of the First Presidency. [Is that a thinly veiled threat?]


Greg W. Dodge
Manager, Member and Statistical Records

The next enclosure is a glossy white pamphlet with a black and white photo of the Christus statue on the cover.



Inside it says.
An Invitation to Come Back

We reach out to members of the Church throughout the world in a spirit of love and brotherhood inspired by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our interest and concern are always with the individual man or woman, boy or girl. Our great responsibility is to see that each is "remembered and nourished by the good word of God" (Moroni 6:4). If any have been offended, we are sorry. Our only desire is to cultivate a spirit of mercy and kindness, of understanding and healing. We seek to follow the example of our Lord, who "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38).

To you who for any reason find yourselves outside the embrace of the Church, we say come back. We invite you to return and partake of the happiness you once knew. You will find many with outstretched arms to welcome you, assist you, and give you comfort.

The Church needs your strength, love, loyalty, and devotion. [The course is fixed and certain by which a person may return to the full blessings of Church membership, and we stand ready to receive all who wish to do so.

Sincerely yours,

The First Presidency
In a separate block quote at the top of the second column is the following statement.

Come back. Stand with us.
Feast at the table laid before you in
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
day Saints and strive to follow the
Good Shepherd.
I'd like to parse this, but there's not much to parse. How much time did they take to come up with this? Here you have another complete family quitting the church and this is the divinely inspired last message from the church's prophet? Sorry if you were offended, but we're just trying to do good. I love the touch about partaking of the "happiness you once knew." They're so sure that your experience inside the church was one of happiness, which explains your resignation. And they clearly assume that you are no longer happy since you are quitting.

Then there is the rather obvious statement that they need you as a member. That's rather obvious since nearly every good thing that comes out of the church is the result of its unpaid volunteers and almost despite the best efforts of Salt Lake.

I also love the statement about standing ready to receive you back. There is an underlying threat there because the church's handbook of instructions clearly directs that former members are only allowed to be rebaptized into the church after searching interviews. I suspect that a lot of groveling and humble pie would be required before it happened and before you'd be restored to full fellowship in the church.

Finally there is the reference to the feast laid out for us in the church. Funny how I felt starved, not feted, suffocated, not refreshed.

Somehow I just don't think they get it. People don't leave because they are offended, unless you count being offended at being lied to and taken advantage of. They leave because the church has a crappy product and they've finally seen through the lies. Conspicuously absent is any kind of admission or willingness to consider that perhaps the church did something wrong or that the church could improve. No where do they request input from the former member about why they are leaving or how the church could better fulfill their needs or where the church may have gone wrong in accomplishing their mission. The problem is clearly with the former member, not the church.

What in this is supposed to make a disenchanted member reconsider their decision? What are they supposed to prayerfully consider? The emptiness is stunning when you consider that an entire family that had selflessly served the church their entire life is trying to quit.

Personally, I think that they already know why people are quitting and are completely unwilling to do anything about the reasons. Once a person notices that the emperor has no clothes and stops playing along it is futile to get them to pretend again.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why I Want to Lose Weight

I just got these pictures from the Bison Stampede. My gosh look at those thighs! They were all taken after I pulled my calf. You can tell by the straightened right hand which for some inexplicable reason made it easier to force my gimpy right leg along by pumping that arm furiously with my hand chopping at the air.

The next one is me rubbing my right hip/ass because the way I was running made it hurt.

The last one is me hobbling across the finish line and desparately looking for a place to sit down.

By the way, the spandex shorts aren't a fashion statement or anything, merely a concession to the realities of having 30" thighs attached to a 36" waist. From the waist down I'm built more like a linebacker than a runner and if I wear regular shorts on a long run then the insides of my thighs get rubbed to the point of bleeding.

Monday, November 20, 2006

On The Road Again

At the gym on Friday I tried running on the treadmill. I made about 3 tentative strides before I stopped because of the pain in my calf. But on Sunday I managed 3 very comfortable miles on the track with just a hint of sensation in the calf near the end and a little soreness in the afternoon. This morning I did six hilly miles through the neighborhood without any discomfort or pain so I think that the calf is well on its way back to full health after only a week of layoff. It's funny that after only a week off my legs felt really dead yesterday and today even though I was training in the gym.

As a sign of faith that my leg would heal quickly I signed up for the Dallas Marathon on December 10. So now I have one more week of regular training before I start the pre-marathon taper. I signed up for Dallas so I could get two marathons in this season. Depending on how I feel and what the weather is like I'll either use it as a long training run or try for a good time. If everthing isn't perfect then I'll just take it easy and finish. I just want to get some more experience at the distance before the Austin marathon in February.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Injuries To Lose Weight?

I was a little disappointed about my injury during Sunday's race spoiling what I was hoping to be a huge PR (personal record). Given the amount of initial pain I was also worried about how it would affect the rest of my marathon season. Immediately after the race I started applying RICE therapy to the injury (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). I augmented that with regular doses of ibuprofen as an anti-inflamatory. I took Monday and Tuesday completely off except for short, hobbling walks with the dogs. On Wednesday and today I went to the gym and worked out on the recumbent stationary bike and elliptical trainer to maintain cardio fitness. I've also kept the calf wrapped in an ACE bandage. I'm happy to report that as of today I can walk without a limp and the calf is just sore, not painful. I can even raise up on my toes as long as I do it slowly (no jumping, running, or stairs yet). I suspect that within a few days I'll be able to resume running. If I can run without pain then I should be able to get back to a normal running schedule.

Going to the gym has reminded me how useful and effective the bike and elliptical trainer are for training when you are suffering from injuries. That helped me to decide to renew my Gold's Gym membership for another year. I think that I'm going to start doing some gym workouts to my weekly schedule, probably on "rest" days, to augment my running without adding any more pounding. Last year knee and hip pain had me doing very little running and yet I was able to actually improve my race performances with little more than regular gym workouts on the elliptical.

I was also surprised to weigh in at 223.4 this morning. At the start of my latest diet (10/11?) I weighed 231 so this represents a substantial loss. So far it is just a trough and my average weight is probably still around 227, but I think I've finally scaled the calories back far enough and consistently enough that the weight is starting to come off. I'm not really even dealing with many hunger pangs or cravings any more. The worst is first thing in the morning and right before bed. Other than that I'm just constantly eating healthy stuff each time I feel hungry during the day. I'm still hoping that I can get down to 210 my the end of the year which is beginning to look like a stretch. Dietpower is currently estimating 222 but that will change if I can continue to follow its advice.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Why Thanks For Asking

You know, I was ready to accept yesterday's calf injury as just one of those things that happen to 42 year old men that write checks that their body can't cash. Then someone asked me what I thought I did wrong. Had I ramped up my mileage too quickly? Was my body overtrained?

At first I was taken aback. What!? Me? Nope. I did everything right. Then I started explaining my program and what great care I've been taking to ramp my mileage slowly and give my body plenty of time to recover after ramping up mileage or after running hard. And as I confidently described my program I kicked myself as I realized that I did NOT follow my program last week. In fact, I made what I realize now was a critical mistake with perfectly predictable consequences.

Here's my program. It revolves around a weekly long run on Sunday that is done at an easy pace. I started out at 10 miles and added one mile a week until I worked up to 16 miles. After that I would only increase the mileage one mile every other week and on the other week would run less than the previous week. This created a cycle of one week with slightly higher mileage than two weeks before followed by a week with lower mileage to allow my body to recover.

I take Monday completely off as a rest day and then run on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Tuesday is always done at an easy pace to allow my legs a chance to recover from Sunday's long run. On long weeks it is a short run of 3-5 miles. On short weeks it is 6-8 miles. Wednesday and Thursday are quality runs run at a harder pace. The quality runs are either tempo runs, long runs with accelerations, or interval workouts at the track. After two hard days I take Friday off to let my legs recover. Then on Saturday I do a short, easy run of 3-5 miles depending on how long the next day's long run is going to be.

So, what did I do last week? I ran 14 miles on Sunday which is short for me since my long run is now 20+ miles. But I missed my Tuesday run because I had to get up at 5:00 am to go to San Antonion and watch my sons perform in the state marching band contest. Since I didn't get home until late I didn't get up and do my Wednesday run either. I was worried about missing over 10 miles of running and how that would affect my long-term fitness so I decided to do my planned Tuesday and Wednesday runs on Thursday and Friday. I ran 7.5 miles on Thursday at an easy pace. On Friday I did a short interval workout at the track with two easy miles followed by two hard 800 m intervals at 6:40 pace and an easy cool down mile. It all seemed reasonable. That way I'd only be missing the 7 mile run that had been planned for Thursday that was supposed to include accelerations. So, I figured I'd actually be doing less than I planned and I'd be fine for Sunday's race. In fact, when I went out for an easy 3 mile run on Saturday I felt great. I felt even better on Sunday morning for the race. I felt perfectly rested and prepared.

So, you can see where I screwed up, can't you? I ran three days in a row without a rest day in the leadup to a grueling half marathon. One lesson I learned is that you can't always feel the accumulated damage and micro tears in your muscles that accumulate from training. Despite feeling great, I'd torn down the muscles without giving them sufficient time to repair and rebuild themselves. Instead of coming to the race with strengthened muscles, I'd started with muscles that were on the edge. That's why my training plan calls for planned rest days at regular intervals and regular easy weeks.

Lesson learned? It's better to skip a planned run than a planned rest day. I violated the one rule I've been trying to follow this year: train to rest. In other words, train hard so that your body can rebuild itself stronger when you give it sufficient rest.

The good news is that my calf is feeling much better today and I'm not limping so badly.

BTW, thanks Matt for making me think. You asked the right questions and forced me to not accept my self-justifications.

Live Bookmarks

Have you discovered live bookmarks yet? I don't know if Microsoft Explorer supports them or not (I just checked and I don't think it does) because I use Firefox because it is superior in all ways to Microsoft's outdated little web browser. In Firefox, when you are browsing a blog with an RSS feed (don't worry if you don't know what that is) you'll see an icon at the right end of your address bar that looks like an orange speaker. Click on that and it will pop up a little box titled, "Add Live Bookmark." Just click okay and let it create it in your "Bookmarks Toolbar Folder." Now it will show up in a tool bar under your address bar and when you click on it, it will show you the titles of the most recent posts on that blog. That allows you to quickly see if the blog has any new entries without having to actually go there. You can put all of your favorite blogs there and quickly scan through them. Try it and I promise you'll like it.

If you're afraid of using Firefox, don't be. It will automatically import all of your Explorer favorites and can peacefully coexist with Explorer. Plus it has some cool new features such as tabbed browsing and live bookmarks that will make your web browsing a much nicer experience.

Mormon Respect For Women

I just love how Mormons adore, honor, and respect women. All you have to do is ask them. They'll proclaim their respect just as vigorously as Muslims. I'd forgotten about this little fact until reminded of it on RfM: women used to be prohibited from praying in sacrament meetings. And this wasn't some anachronistic 19th century thing. Blacks were actually allowed to have the priesthood before women were allowed to pray in sacrament meeting. Don't believe me? Check out the linked summary of President Kimball's accomplishments from the church's own web site. The date was September 29, 1978. The announcement of the policy change for blacks was on June 9. Amazing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Stomped By a Calf at the Bison Stampede

Short version. Everything was going spectacularly until just after mile seven when I felt a pop in my right calf and simultaneously a pain in my right hip followed by an excruciating pain in my calf. This was followed by 6 miles of pain and a slow finish. Still I finished. My time was 2:09:53.9 which is an average of a 9:55 pace. Not bad since I ran the same race in 2:09:41.0 last year without an injury.

Mile 1: 8:34.3 avg=158 end=157
Mile 2-3: 17:10.3(8:35.1) avg=162 end=161
Mile 4: 9:05.8 avg=162 end=165
Mile 5: 8:44.6 avg=167 end=175
Mile 6: 9:46.5 avg=169 end=172
Mile 7: 9:51.8 avg=170 end=167
Mile 8: 10:32.6 avg=162 end=159
Mile 9: 10:25.9 avg=154 end=166
Mile 10: 9:02.7 avg=163 end=161
Mile 11: 9:46.1 avg=164 end=142
Mile 12-13: 25:52.0(12:56) avg=142 end=158
Mile 13.1: 1:05.8 avg=160 end=161

Longer story:

I woke up at 5:15 am and checked the weather. The temperature was a crisp 42 degrees which rose to a perfect 49 degrees by the race start. The race started at 7:30 and I quickly settled into a comfortable pace and was pleased to see the first mile go by in 8:34. Mile 5 included a long steep downhill followed by the beginning of the first steep hill and I was surprised that the two averaged out to an 8:44 mile. The next couple of miles were just survival but as I crested the big hills in the middle of the course my legs recovered almost instantly and I was able to pick the pace back up. The big hills were followed by a few small rollers and while I was going up a small hill my calf suddenly gave up the ghost. It was really strange because there was no warning, no tightness, and no soreness. I was just running along trying to keep up a good pace and as I my right foot landed, bang!

It hurt so bad that I considered dropping out of the race but if I didn't finish then I'd be out of the distance challenge. So I walked along to see if it would loosen up. The pain in my hip made me wonder if it was actually the calf muscle or it was referred pain from my sciatic nerve. I tested it out by starting a slow jog. I was limping but I was gradually able to pick up the pace and smooth things out. By mile 10 I was back down to a 9:04 pace and I was at about an 8:40 pace when I hit a gentle rise right before the 11 mile marker. Even though it wasn't even a hill the extra stress was too much and the calf suddenly exploded in pain again. While I was stretching out on the sidewalk a policeman came running up to make sure I was ok. I must have looked like I collapsed.

With two miles remaining I couldn't run any more. It felt like I had a steak knife stuck in my calf. It was really frustrating because otherwise I felt terrific and I was so close to the end and if I could only get jogging again I could still beat my time from last year. But when I tried running again the pain was too much. I simply couldn't raise up onto the ball of my foot. But I figured out that I could lock my ankle with the toe up, rotate my leg outward, and jog along without using my calf. It still hurt but it was manageable. I hobbled over the last couple of miles at a ridiculous pace but I finished.

So now I'm barely able to walk and wondering how long it will be before I can run again. I don't think I did my calf any favors by running 6 miles on it after it pulled. I'm pleased at my conditioning and my pace for the first half of the race and am quite confident that I could have kept it up for the whole race, but I'm bummed about the injury.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Watch Out for the Bison Stampede!

Tomorrow I'm racing in a half marathon, the Motive Bison Stampede (linked in the title). My last race went really, really well and for some reason that has made me really worried about the race tomorrow. I averaged 8:35 mile pace in that 10 mile race and based on that a pace calculator predicts that I should be able to run the half marathon (13.1 miles) at an 8:38 pace.

By comparison, last year I ran this race at a 9:54 pace. Have I really gotten that much faster? I'm having trouble believing it, but today I ran a couple of laps at 8:40 pace and it was very comfortable. So I'll find out tomorrow.

One notable feature of this race is a HUGE hill at around mile 5 that is very steep and about a mile long. A half mile later there is another good sized steep hill. Half of the race is still left after those hills and the danger is that you kill your legs on the hill and suffer for the rest of the race. At the bottom of the linked map is an elevation profile that shows the hills. The key to this race is the hills between mile 4 and mile 7. The rest of the race is pretty smooth.

I get a lot of experience running hills in my neighborhood. A lot of people make the mistake of leaning back when going down hills to control their speed. This has the unfortunate effect of pounding your legs and killing your leg muscles. The right way to run down hills is to lean forward and try remain relaxed and smooth while controlling your pace. This allows you to pick up your pace without much additional effort. Going up hill isn't big mystery. You lean forward slightly and shorten your steps to try to keep you leg turnover up and try not to have a heart attack.

My my plan is to run 8:45 pace for the first 4 miles, pick up my pace down the big hill at mile 4 to keep my heart rate up, keep my heart rate below 175 going up the next two hills, and then try to run an even 8:40 until mile 10 after which I'll try to finish at around an 8:35 pace.

It's been hot this week but a cold front came through last night and cold air has continued to blow into the area. The predicted low tonight is 35 degrees so I think that conditions for the race will be close to perfect for me. I've read that 55 degrees is the ideal temperature, but I've had my best performances in the low 40s. I think it's because I'm fat and have more insulation. Anyway I'll probably be running in shorts and a long sleeved technical shirt with running gloves and a hat.

Useless statistic of the day: I ran 696 miles in 2005 and have run 810 miles so far this year. At least that is what my Nike running log says.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Is It Possible to Be Civil?

As much disrespect as I have for the Mormon church and its leaders, I don't go out of my way to do the moral equivalent of sticking a thumb in the eye of every Mormon I come across. I try to treat them the same way that I would like to be treated and I try to remember that I was once an over zealous believer.

I wasn't a bad person then and I don't think I'm a bad person now. I was and am trying to do what I feel is right. Part of that is trying to understand what is right and then trying to do it. I suck at it, but I do try. I think that most religious people are in a similar situation; they are trying to do what they believe is right.

I was at the bookstore getting a running book today and browsed through the religion section. I was mostly interested in finding some books on Islam. My recent email war with my father has made me acutely aware of how ignorant I am of one of the world's major religions and one that is having a huge impact on social and political events. While browsing I browsed a lengthy tome on the historicity of Jesus that would have made Jeff Lindsay pround. I also found a few books on Islam that ranged from apologetic to harshly critical.

Am I entertaining any notions of converting to Islam? Hardly. So why read? Because I feel that part of what is right is to understand people and their world view. Part of it is also so that I know how to properly respect their beliefs and culture.

A couple of recent events have really bothered me. One was some posts reveling in the fall of Ted Haggard. Another was a post on an exmo mailing list by an exmo Christian preacher who told of showing temple garments to meetings and the laughter it elicited. In the first case I said that I felt sorry for Haggard and in the second I stated that I didn't think that it was civil to publicly belittle and mock what other people consider sacred. Neither of my responses were well received. Apparently I'm alone in having some empathy for Mr. Haggard and his fall from grace. One respondent told me that Mormon temple garments have more in common with Nazi symbols than a Jewish yamulka.

I really, really dislike tele-evangelists and the cult of personalily that surrounds the leaders of some of the mega churches. It's just as unsettling as the same phenomena in Mormonism and many other religions. The demonification of homosexuals is also a mystery to me. I have a brother in law that it gay and he's one of the nicest, most decent people I know. But, to me, there is just something unseemly about taking pleasure in the suffering of another person or in the extreme lack of sensitivity that is often shown for people that believe differently. Maybe it is based in a desire for revenge for past and present wrongs. If so, it's a manifestation of the least and lowest of our character.

So, I'm sorry for how homosexuals are treated. I try to stand up for them and their rights whenever I get a chance. But that doesn't mean that I think it is good or healthy for me to take an eye for an eye when I get the chance. I'll continue to try to counter the influence of idiots like Ted Haggard. But I won't take pleasure in his suffering, as easy as that might be. And I'll speak out against Mormonism and try to point out the facts as I understand them. But I won't be going out of my way to shove it in the face of other Mormons and treat them in a way calculated to offend them.

One final note. I know that the comments were made on blogs and mailing lists that are intended to let people vent so this really isn't meant as a criticism of the people involved. I'm actually sorry if my defensive comments there and here upset people. It's more a reminder to myself to not let my feelings to cause me to lose empathy for the people around me who may deeply believe very differently than me.

Confused? Sorry, no time to edit right now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why We Compete

Losses are usually sobering events that cause us to take stock of ourselves and reassess why we compete. My sons competed in the Texas 5A State Marching Band Competition yesterday in San Antonio's Alamodome. The competition is held every other year and two years ago they took the runner up spot. They worked very hard again this year and put together an outstanding show. They scored very well in the area competition a couple of weeks ago and that seemed to bode well for state. The preliminaries started at 8:00 am and continued until 5:00 pm as 31 teams put on their shows for the judges. Our band performed very well, but when the ten finalists were announced they didn't make it. This was quite surprising because four of the five bands from our area did make the finals even though we outscored all of them except one in the area competition.

The events remind me that the true reason for competition is to motivate us to reach our potential. It's nice to win, but if you've done your best then that is the real goal. As nice as it is to win, it is more important to stretch ourselves and accept the results with grace.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Blogging the Bible

I just wanted to put a plug in for a blog from Slate called Blogging the Bible. The author is blogging about the Old Testament right now and his comments are very interesting. It's funny to be reminded about how outrageous the Bible can be, especially the Old Testament. I find it particularly ironic to be reminded about how violent and bloodthirsty Jehovah and his prophets and followers were in light of how much press the violence of militant Islam is getting. Click on the title for a link to the blog.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Blaming the Victim

While I was running around Town Lake and trying to think about anything except the humidity, I recalled something from Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series that made me flinch. Since his hit Ender's Game series Card has made a living recycling Mormonism as Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories. I think it stands on its own and plays pretty well to non-Mormons, but if you are a Mormon or know anything about Mormonism then you read the books and go, "Oh come on! Couldn't you come up with your own ideas?" Specifically the Ships of Earth series retells the Book of Mormon as an intergalactic odyssey and the Alvin Maker series gives Joseph Smith his older brother's name and recycles a lot of stories and ideas from early church history including a Moroni-like visit and an incident very reminiscent of either the Fanny Alger or Nancy Johnson stores.

It was this last one that made me do a double take. At the time I read the book I didn't really know anything about the non-faith-promoting parts of Joseph Smith's story. In Card's book a teenage girl becomes obsessed with Alvin Maker to the point where she starts fantasizing about him and then telling her fantasies as if they were real. Rumours begin to fly and pretty soon Alvin finds himself run out of town and chased by accusations of taking advantage of an innocent little girl. Of course, all of this is the work of a hidden adversary trying to block Alvin's great work with lies and Alvin is completely innocent of all wrong doing and is only guilty of trying to make the world a better place.

I found this comforting at the time I read it because Card is very good at telling stories and building characters with realistic emotions and motivations so he makes it seem very plausible that these types of awful accusations could be heaped on a perfectly innocent man.

The problem is that now I know about the overwhelming evidence that shows that Joseph Smith, unlike his fictional twin, was completely guilty of all of the accusations and much worse. He "married" 16-year-old Fanny Alger to cover up what Oliver Cowdery characterized as a dirty affair. It seems likely that he either propositioned or had an affair with youthful Nancy Johnson which precipitated his tarring and feathering by the Johnson boys. Lending further credence to the Johnson affair is the fact that he had a well documented plural marriage to Nancy Johnson in the later Nauvoo period when Smith became more brazen in his practice of polygamy which would seem to follow a pattern of his marrying girls and women with whom he had been close since the Kirtland period.

Anyway, Card seems to have followed the pattern that has often played out when powerful men are accused of misdeeds: he blames the victim. Faced with accusations of polygamy and adultery starting in Kirtland and continuing throughout his life, Smith publicly and violently denied the accusations. He did so repeatedly and when people persisted he blackly attacked his accusers and slandered and attacked them to destroy their reputations and bring them down.

A classic example is when he proposed to Orson Pratt's wife while Orson was away on a church mission. When he returned his wife told him and he was rightly furious and confronted Smith. Smith denied everything and instead rounded up witnesses to testify that Mrs. Pratt had in fact committed adultery with John Bennett, once a member of the First Presidency of the church and now a virulent apostate and enemy of Smith and the church. He forced Pratt to choose between believing his wife and believing in the prophet of God. Sadly, Pratt was driven to the point of suicide but eventually chose Smith over his own wife. Nevertheless, Pratt was continually reminded throughout his life that he, for a short time, chose his wife over the prophet and despite being restored to his apostleship and in the quorum of the twelve by Smith, was later demoted by Brigham Young to prevent him from being able to succeed to the presidency of the church.

Anyway, it just struck me how easy it is for Mormons to dismiss the ugly facts about their church's founder without knowing all of the facts and instead blame the accusers.

P.S. One more note on the Johnson lynching. Mormons like to point to this as an anti-Mormon mob while carefully avoiding the speculations surrounding Nancy and the fact that some of the lynchers were family members in the house where they were living. They also don't point out that the mob brought a doctor for the express purpose of castrating Joseph Smith. Now why on earth would they want to do that? Again it seems to speak strongly that something sexual, not religious, was at the bottom of their motivations.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Migraines Make Me Grumpy

Maybe more than grumpy. How about unliveable. Last night on the way out of work I started getting one. I stopped for dinner and another one started. The football game was miserable because I felt chilled and every sound chafed my nerves. Then this morning I awoke to the feeling of a pick in my brain. And the day has continued pretty much the same. The pain tailed off once I got moving, but I've been incredibly sensitive and irritable about everything.

But UT won against Oklahoma State so things aren't so bad.

And I've now blogged every day this month. I'm just one of the sheeple.

I'm going to collapse and try to sleep.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Ok. The well's dry today so I'll just tell you that my weight was 226.2 this morning. Not a big deal except that when I started my diet on 10/11 it was 231 and since then it hasn't been dropping much despite running a lot and restricting my calories to the point where I'm constantly within 15 minutes of being hungry again. I loaded up a bit last Friday and Saturday in preparation for my 20 mile run on Sunday and my weight was actually 232 on Monday and didn't drop below 230 until yesterday. So 226.2 is spectacular news and puts me back on track for my goal of 210 by 1/1/07. At least as long as I don't weight 230 again tomorrow...

One thing I've noticed in the past is that my weight doesn't come off steadily. Instead my weight will get stuck for a long time and then suddenly it will just drop like a step function. It's like my body is trying desparately to retain its weight until it just can't take the lack of calories and then gives up and tries to maintain a new, lower weight. So, I'm hoping that this is it and my body has reset to a new, lower weight.

Dieting sucks, but at least Dietpower gives me a convenient way of tracking my calories and figuring out exactly how much I can eat each day. Yes, this is a shameless plug for a weight loss product that actually works. I used it a couple of years ago to drop from 265 to 230 over about a year. Since then I've half-heartedly tried to lose more weight without using it and while I didn't gain weight, I didn't lose any more either. So I started using the program again last month and have been trying to religiously log my weight, exercise, and food every single day. I'm gradually honing in on an eating pattern that works and keeps me on track. The main adjustment this week was realizing that by mid afternoon I was already hungry and by supper time I was ravenous and couldn't control my eating. So I've started packing two lunches to work and having a second small lunch in the middle of the afternoon. This has made it a lot easier to have a small supper without feeling like I am going to famish.

Lately I've been entering everything I'm going to eat for the day right after I weigh each morning. That way I know if I have room for any snacks or if I can have a bigger lunch or dinner. It's nice to know that you still have a few hundred calories left in the budget for something tasty. Last night it was Yoplait Key Lime low fat yogurt with frozen pineapple chunks and rasberries. It really hit the spot and was only about 150 calories. It was also the first dessert I've had in about a week. It is also helpful when it comes to controlling portion sizes. Instead of skipping something I can use the program to tell me how much I can have. Then I use a measuring cup or scales to keep me honest. It's a little bit of a pain, but I'm getting used to it.

The whole point of this is to try to be at around 200 pounds when I run the marathon on 2/22 next year. My training is going great and the brainiac at UT says I should be able to run a Boston Marathon qualifying time if I get my weight down. If so it will probably be a record for most improvement in a year by a 42 year old.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why I took Russian at BYU

I grew up in a very conservative Mormon family that was inevitably staunchly anti-Communist. We had family prayer every morning and evening and a staple of those prayers was praying for the leaders of the church and pleading that all of the countries of the world would allow the missionaries to come in and teach the true, restored gospel of Jesus Christ. The fall of communism and the breaking down of the iron curtain were necessary in order for the gospel to fill the earth and for everyone in the world to have the opportunity to join the kingdom of God.

I remember hearing that church members needed to proactively learn foreign languages in order to demonstrate faith so that we would be prepared when the Lord opened up new countries. Then Ensign had an article in October 1982 on this very topic and it must have inspired me because I signed up for Russian at BYU. Russian was a 5 credit hour class which meant that it met for 1 hour every day of the week and took as much or more time than most of my core engineering classes. I wound up taking 3 semesters of Russian as a freshman and sophomore at BYU before getting called to Bolivia on a mission where I learned to speak Spanish.

Russian was hard. It has a completely different character set based on Greek. It's grammar is very different from English and has everything conjugated. They don't only conjugate verbs, but also nouns, adverbs, and adjectives. It is also a highly irregular language with exceptions to every rule, just like English. Finally, it isn't based on Latin or German so the words lack common roots with English so learning vocabulary is very difficult because if you don't know the word then you can't Russianize an English word.

The church used to require prospective missionaries to complete a language aptitude test. This was a test that was given orally by playing a cassette tape. The whole test was based on an artificial language that was made up for the test. It consisted of telling you certain words and phrases and then saying something and asking you what it meant. With high school Spanish and 15 hours of college level Russian under my belt I thought that the test was kind of fun and pretty easy. I found out later on my mission that I had one of the highest scores on the test of any of the missionaries in our mission.

Spanish was easy by comparison. It shares a common Latin root with English and it becomes easy to figure out which English words have Latin roots and convert those words to Spanish equivalents. The grammar is very regular and even the exceptions to the rules are regular. Pronunciation is a piece of cake because everything is spelled and pronounced phonetically. I picked it up very quickly in the Missionary Training Center and quickly became conversational in it when I hit Bolivia.

Anyway, it's fun to know something completely irrelevant like Russian although it's difficult to explain to non-Mormons what possessed me to take it. By the way, I never really learned much Russian or became even borderline conversational. Did I mention that it's hard?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Spiritual Growth

A while back I received an email form the Young Men's presidency in our ward with the following quote.
As a presidency we would like to thank everyone that participated in our youth temple trip last saturday. It was a wonderful success and I believe everyone grew spiritually from it.
Maybe I'm being difficult or maybe I've already started to forget, but what does this mean? When I was a believer, we were taught that the peaceful feelings we felt were a witness of the Spirit confirming that what we were doing was right. So, if we went to the temple and felt good about it then it confirmed that we were on the right path and strengthened out testimony of the church. For a church member, a growing confidence in the truthfulness of the church and its teachings seems to equate to spiritual growth.

I see things differently now. For one thing, I never felt good about the temple. At best I felt nothing. At worst I was completely overwhelmed with feelings that something felt wrong. It is all so foreign to everything else you experience as a church member outside of the temple. It seems to me like an "Emperor's New Clothes" kind of experience. Expectations are set, you are told what to expect to feel, and you either feel it or pretend to. If you don't, you certainly don't say anything about it. You can't really talk inside the temple and you are forbidden to talk about it outside except in the most tangential way.

I'm also disturbed by this implicit definition of spiritual growth. It seems so shallow and self-congratulatory; spirituality as a measure of how deeply you believe that you have a truth that the rest of the world lacks and that you have completely erased all doubts to achieve a level of self-assurance that is completely unjustified by facts or reason. I'm not sure exactly how I'd define spirituality, but I'm pretty sure that that isn't it or how going to the temple increases it.

Finally, how would it be possible to have an unsuccessful temple trip? I suppose if your car broke down and you never made it then that would qualify as a failure. But you go, you dress in white, and you get repeatedly baptized on behalf of deceased people. It's not that difficult so I'm not sure how you could have anything other than a successful temple trip. From a leadership standpoint I guess the point is to get the kids to drink the kool-aid and enjoy it so I guess if the kids didn't enjoy the experience then that would qualify as a failure. So success is you made it and felt good about it. I guess that if you can convince them that they "felt" the presence of the deceased then that would make it even better since it would show that you've captured their imaginations and gotten them involved in the fantasy world of religion.

It's sad how much time and effort is spent on such activities that could be spent on something more substantive and actually useful for the members.