Monday, March 26, 2007

No, Not Funny At All

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

Exodus 20:4
Once upon a time God gave his law to his people. The commandments were so important that he came down in person and talked face to face with Moses and used his finger to engrave them on stone tablets. The first thing that confronted Moses when he descended the mountain fresh from conversing with God was Israel cavorting around a golden calf that they'd persuaded Aaron, the high priest, to make for them in direct violation of the second commandment. And verily God was pissed.

I'm sure that he is proud then to see the one true church, the only one in which he is well pleased, placing golden statues on top of the temples that it has constructed and dedicated as houses of God. Apparently, the one true church holds these statues in such high esteem that they have actually trade marked them and are willing to sue anyone infringing said trade mark. Or at least that is what CNN is reporting.

Maybe TSCC is hiring Scientology's lawyers...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

It Just Takes Time

The clouds teased with a hint of rain and gave the warm air a smooth, creamy texture that seemed to cling to your skin. Slowly the crowds converged on the Congress Avenue bridge facing the Texas state capitol. They came in all shapes and sizes from the trim, athletic Africans to the tall and pondering. The elite athletes could be identified by the numbered yellow bibs pinned to their shirts. They lined up right in front of the red timing mats under the bannered arch that proclaimed the 30th running of the Capitol 10k. With more than 15,000 participants it is the largest 10k foot race in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States.

Only a couple of weeks earlier I debated whether I'd run the race. My left buttock was still strained from the Austin Marathon and made running quickly a painful affair and fast running impossible. But two years ago the Capitol 10k was my first race and I didn't want to miss keeping my small streak alive even if I just had to jog the course instead of racing it. Last week my legs started to show some signs of life and recovery and last Thursday I completed a 20 minute tempo run at a hard pace with only moderate discomfort. I've been afraid that my recovery from the marathon had caused me to lose a lot of conditioning, but maybe I'd be able to have a respectable result.

The 10k is a hard race and I haven't been very successful in lowering my personal record (PR). I ran my best race in October of 2005 and have disappointed a couple of times since then. Today I felt good, but the weather was less than ideal for a fast time plus the Capitol 10k is a tough course with a lot of hills.

The race organizers do an outstanding job each year organizing the runners into different groups based on their anticipated finishing time. I had a blue bib that allowed me to start right behind the elite athletes. The red bibs followed us and then the white and green bibs. Soon enough the horn sounded and the crowd eased forward and rapidly started to spread out heading up the hill to the Capitol. It took over 15 minutes just for everyone to cross the starting line.

My hip reminded me that I had run down this hill just 5 weeks earlier at the finish of the marathon. It ached but I concentrated on keeping a quick, light foot turnover and felt like I was gliding up the road. I was pretty comfortable and I tried to get my heart and breathing going so I could get settled into a comfortable race pace. As we neared the Capitol we turned right and up a steep hill and I passed the first mile marker in 8:17. My heart rate was up to 170 which was right around where I was trying to keep it.

At the top of the hill we turned left toward DKR Stadium, home of the Texas Longhorns football team and then turned left and up another hill. The Cap 10k course has two faces. You head up hill around the east side of the Capitol and then run west across the city and its worst hills. Then it turns back south and goes back down to Town Lake where it heads back east on mostly flat roads before it crosses the lake and finishes at Auditorium Shores. Right now I was trying to control my pace through the hills of the upper part of the course. I missed the mile 2 marker but didn't miss the huge hills that took us down to Shoal Creek and then back up. I leaned forward down the hill and controlled my speed. Another runner was less successful in controlling his speed and pounded past with his feet slapping the ground. At the bottom I shortened my pace and kept a quick light pace. Miles 2 and 3 averaged 8:46.2 pace with an average heart rate of 172.

With half of the race complete we turned left and headed down to the river. The course still threw a couple of short up hills, but it was mostly downhill for the next mile which went by in a quick and comfortable 8:32.8 and an average heart rate of 174.

Now we turned left and ran along Town Lake up a gentle slope. Only a couple of miles were left and I started to push a little harder. I felt good and realized that I was easily running my fastest 10k ever. This was even more motivation to stay strong and I finished mile 5 in 8:42.6 and an average heart rate of 177. The heat and humidity are punishing me now and it feels like steam must be coming off my head. Although this stretch doesn't have any big hills, it is still slightly up hill and despite an average heart rate of 179 I only manage a 8:48.3 for mile 6.

Only two tenths of a mile left and I turn onto the home stretch and try to kick. It's less than 400m and I can see the finish line, but I don't have much left in the tank. I've been running at a high intensity level and apparently I haven't lost my marathon training completely. The last kick was at a 7:40 pace, not blazingly quick, and my heart rate was 187 as I completed the race and leaned on the photographers' tower. I was spent, but it was worth it.

53:26, 8:36 average pace, 174 average heart rate, and an improvement of over 2 minutes over my previous PR. It was a pleasant, unexpected surprise. It turns out that 5 weeks was just barely enough time for my legs to recover and come alive after my marathon. I'd been worried that I hadn't recovered and had also lost my conditioning. It turns out I haven't lost much. Now I can look forward to the rest of my spring races.

As I walked with my wife back to the car I thought about how the arduous training of a marathon has made a 10k seem easy by comparison. I think that a lot of life is like this. As we push ourself and explore our limits we get stronger. Despite injuries and setbacks, if we persevere and persist then we can accomplish lofty goals. But almost more importantly, the strength we gain carries over into other aspects of our life and former challenges become more manageable and no longer seem so daunting.

I'm not particularly fast and probably won't ever be, but I'm still proud of being able to set challenging goals and meet them. I hope that I can carry the lessons learned over into other parts of my life.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Have You Been Reading?

Over the last month I've continued to listen to audio books. I've finished:
  • The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt
  • The End of Faith, Sam Harris
  • Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris
When I get chance I'll give a little review of each one because they all have some excellent points.

Is It Really Worth It?

As I stagger through my calorie deprived days, I regularly wonder if it's really worth it. It's not just that I get hungry, it's the fact that eating only makes me less hungry. Even on the weekends when I succumb to temptation and go over my budget I find that it just gets the gastric juices flowing in anticipation and the resulting hunger is even worse.

So far despite being pretty good about my diet I'm not seeing many results. To make it worse I've started running again and I feel like I'm more sore than right after the marathon. My left hip is sore, sore, sore and running and stretching don't seem to be helping. I have the Capitol 10k next Sunday and I really haven't been able to resume running much less training. The marathon took way more out of me than I ever expected and I'm afraid that the dieting isn't doing anything to help me recover.

Anyway, I've dropped about 4 pounds out of 20 and am looking forward to hitting my goal even if it doesn't go as quickly as I want.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Evangelical Christianity

An excellent post by Lemon Blossom really made me think about the roots of religion and why people feel such a need for it. It seems like it revolves around the very sound marketing principle of getting people to feel a strong need for something that they'd have otherwise never wanted. And what is that thing? Salvation from unimaginably awful eternal torment for sins inherited, past, present, and future whether actually committed or only imagined in the mind. Without that guilt and that fear, what is the need of the metaphysical aspects of the religion?

If a person can improve and live a bountiful life by purely secular means, and I know they can and many do, then religion is really the answer to a problem that doesn't exist. Enter evangelical religions that urgently try to convince you of your need to come to Jesus and be saved. But I don't need saving. Heck, I don't want saving. I want to actually improve those aspects of my life that are broken. Can they do that? I don't want a god that forgets my sins because I'm willing to kiss his ass. How would that make me happier? Would such a god even be worthy of my worship?

So, is it good to consider your actions and work to improve them? If you try your best to do that throughout your life, then why would a just god require you to bow down to him. Wouldn't a good life be the best and highest worship possible? Why would god require anything else? And, if I can do that without suspending disbelief for lack of evidence, then why would god care?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

First Run

I went out for a run for the first time in two and a half weeks this morning. It feels like it's been years. My butt muscles are still sore and stiff, but other than feeling lethargic I felt good. No watch, no heart rate monitor, just a peaceful morning jog with the dogs on a beautiful crisp morning after walking with my daughter to school.

My primary goal right now is losing weight. I'm limiting myself to about 1800 calories a day whether I exercise or not, so my running will probably be pretty limited for a couple of months. I'm down to about 224 right now and trending to about 215 by the end of May according to DietPower. We'll see if I can't get it trending to my actual goal of 200.

In the meantime I plan to just run for the joy of running.


In the linked post is a list of "new commandments." I'd have commented there but the verification phrases no longer show up in Firefox so I can't comment on blogger right now. Anyway, here's my comment to that post.

Those are all good and seem to focus on how to peacefully coexist. I think that what is missing is a concept from Mormonism that I rather like: eternal progression. I don't think we should be content with the status quo and should strive to improve not only ourselves but the world around us. For me, godliness or divinity is manifest in the need to create and organize. In that regard we can all truly aspire to be gods.

The opposite of that quality is the dark side of humanity that is destructive and seeks to tear things down.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Did Prophet Joseph Profit?

Mormons often claim that Joseph suffered non-stop persecution for his role as founder and leader of Mormonism and that no fraud would have been willing to suffer all of those persecutions while receiving no benefits. They can point to the fact that he and his family filed for bankruptcy in the early 1840s and that when he died he left his family deeply in debt and destitute. Why would he suffer so much privation in order to perpetrate a fraud? Even reputable historians such as Richard Bushman have claimed that Joseph never gained anything from his position as Mormonism's leader and that he had nothing to gain.

The first biography of Joseph Smith I read was Fawn Brodie's “No Man Knows My History”. In order to check her facts I read “Joseph Smith: The First Mormon” by Donna Hill, a faithful Mormon. Other than the interpretation, I found that Hill confirmed the facts of Joseph's life. As I was reading it struck me how often Joseph received material support based on his position as the Book of Mormon translator and then head of the church. In fact, it struck me that he never supported himself or his family and was always dependent on others for his livelihood. The last time he truly worked for his own support was right after he married and his father in law gave him a plot of farmland to work. But he quickly gave that up for his Book of Mormon translation and started receiving support. This completely contradicts the apologists claims that he didn't profit. In fact, his role as prophet was the only means of support that he had ever had as an adult. The following are just some examples from notes that I kept as I read.
  • $50 from Martin Harris to move to Harmony
  • House and land from Isaac Hale in Harmony
  • Samuel Smith tilled land and did labor while Joseph translated
  • Food, shoes, money from Knight.
  • Got $200 from somewhere to pay mortgage to FIL Hale.
  • Transport to Fayette, NY.
  • Room and board with Whitmer family while translating.
  • $3000 advance from Martin Harris to publish BOM.
  • Transport to Kirtland.
  • Room and board in Kirtland with Whitney's.
  • Met two of his future wives living in that household.
  • Revelation for a house to be built for the Smiths. Cabin built by Isaac Morley on his land.
  • September 2, 1831: Moved in with John and Elsa Johnson in Hiram, OH 36 miles south of Kirtland. Met Nancy Marinda Johnson, age 16 (future wife). Rumors of improper conduct with her may have contributed to tar and feathering by some of Johnson boys along with fear for their inheritance.
  • Law of consecration required members to sell or deed property to the church of which Joseph was the sole trustee.
  • Sexual access to young women: Fanny Alger, etc. Most prominently displayed in Nauvoo but started very discreetly much earlier. (Rumors were already circulating in Kirtland and required denial). Most church historians now agree that Alger was probably Smith's first plural wife in Kirtland.
  • Emma spent summer of 1832 shuttling between several homes while Joseph went to MO.
  • Lived briefly with Johnsons again on return.
  • Lived in 3 storage rooms above Newell Whitney's store. Emma made money by keeping boarders there. Emma began lifelong practice of taking in domestic helpers, usually young women who did household work in return for room and board. (I wonder if Joseph encouraged this or perhaps even suggested it. Did he and Emma have an arrangement?)
  • September/October 1832 traveled to NYC to get loans. Who paid for this? Traveled with Newel K. Whitney so probably him. Bought goods for a store which he ran into the ground. Did his leadership position allow him to get loans? How else does a landless, unemployed man get extensive loans?
  • Power: Made commander-in-chief of the Armies of Israel. Best armed with a big bulldog, a pair of brass-barreled horse pistols with silver fittings, a fine sword, a rifle, and a horse.
  • 1836 trip to Salem, MA to find treasure in an old house.
  • 1836: Eliza R. Snow boarded w/ Smiths. Again curious that a later polygamous wife boarded with the Smiths in Ohio.
  • Bought river boat in Nauvoo, threw large parties.
  • 1842 bankruptcy: $73,066.38 in debts (over $500,000 in today's dollars).
  • Many wives in Nauvoo. Initially other mens' wives, teenagers, older women.
  • Anointed king.
  • Presidential candidate
  • Mansion house started based on revelation and built with church funds.
  • Master mason
  • Nauvoo house
  • Red brick store: another unprofitable business funded at church expense
  • Trips to St. Louis to buy goods
  • Carriage and horses for Emma.
  • Lived like a king in Nauvoo with extensive civil as well as religious power.
  • Able to pick winners and losers in local political elections.
This is just a partial list, but it is clear that Joseph's livelihood was completely dependent on the church. He couldn't just quit and give it up because he didn't have any independent means of support, didn't seem inclined to participate in labor such as farming, and was a very poor businessman as evidenced by several failed businesses that he ran and the failed bank that he founded in Kirtland.