Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good riddance 2008!

Well well, here it is, the last day of 2008. I must say I am not sad at all to see this year end! While no year passes without ANY good happening, it seems this year was extra full of challenges for myself and this family, not to mention the nation and world as a whole. All in all, this has been a rough year for a heck of a lot of people!

Of course the bad things that have happened to me and this family have been well-documented on this blog, at least the major stuff. The whole situation with the house is the obvious winner for bad news and gets 2009 off to a rough start. A lot of the grief I have had with certain people at Kent State has had a shadowing effect as well and again, some of that will carry into 2009 too. The house situation seems to be related to a lot of the other problems we have, family relations in particular, but the good news is that it will almost certainly be resolved in 2009. Whether or not that resolution is to our liking remains to be seen of course. The only thing that could make finding out about this situation any worse would be actually losing the house. What I do find interesting is that while most of our major problems have to do with money, they are largely unrelated to the economic problems around the world. Even in the 1990's when the country was booming, we were never that well off.

For me, the biggest thing I am looking forward to is graduating in May, though before I get to that point two things have to happen: I have to pass student teaching satisfactorily and I have to pass another section the Praxis. Both are things I am certainly capable of, but nevertheless they are hardly simple things, especially student teaching. The good news is that I already know most of the students I will be teaching and they know me, so going in come January 26 won't be a huge event or much of a mystery. Once I get through that part of my life, I can finally move beyond being independent, something I have longed for.

With all the bad stuff that has happened, though, I thought I'd look back at the year and reflect on the good that has happened. First, we are still in the house and I am grateful for that. When Dad told us in May there were fears we would be out of the house by the end of the summer. Only when that didn't actually look imminent did I finally start taking care of summer projects, most of which I did after I bought a much-needed chainsaw. Another plus for 2008 was graduate school even though it has brought it's fair share of frustration and stress. My summer classes were things I actually enjoyed going to and the people I was around were people that made me feel good about myself. That carried over into Fall, and while I really almost detested all of my undergraduate classes (except the Instrument for Choral Majors class), I enjoyed at least being at my graduate classes . Not only did I enjoy the people I was around, but I also enjoyed the class structure and actually having meaningful discussions. My undergrad classes really lacked that. Along with that, I have enjoyed being at Southeast Middle School and Southeast Intermediate School and am mostly looking forward to student teaching there at the end of January.

One of the biggest things I was grateful for and got to do a lot of in 2008 was sing, particularly the national anthem. I lost count how many times I did it in 2008 as I sang for almost every home game for both the men's and women's basketball teams at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio and I got my fair share of KSU games too. The game in January against Akron was a highlight, but I thought I did better at the game against Miami just over a month later, which had almost as big a crowd as the Akron game. I have been able to sing at 2 more KSU men's games already this season, plus I got to sing at this community breakfast in Stow on July 3 which was a lot of fun and a great experience. It's funny yet sad that the biggest chances I've had to sing, despite being a music major, have been in athletics, not in anything from the KSU School of Music or the BYU-Idaho Department of Music. The only solo time I ever had at either school was in studio class (called "master class" at BYU-Idaho) and my own recital in December 2006 where about 15 or less people showed up. It wasn't that I didn't try out for solos (though eventually I did), but I was just never "what they were looking for" I guess. Along with singing the national anthem, I got to go to a TON of sporting events this year, mostly high school and college and a few Cleveland Indians games. I always enjoy attending sporting events, though too often I do so alone!

Of course I got a good amount of singing time in church too both at my ward and at the stake level too. It was pretty exciting to sing for a stake meeting, which I did back in September. I really enjoyed singing in the Christmas program at Church on December 21st as well. I love to sing and while songs like the "Star-Spangled Banner" can be very difficult, I really enjoy singing them. The "Star-Spangled Banner" in particular can be very difficult for even experienced singers, but I have come to really like it (come to think of it I always have) because it opens itself to a lot of creativity and interpretation, plus I have always thought my voice fits it pretty well.

Another highlight for me was the trip I took with Katie to visit Andy and Heather in the Washington, DC area during Spring Break in March. Not only did I get to see several sites that I had been wanting to see, but I got to spend a lot of time with Katie and of course Andy and Heather. It's funny how being apart changes relationships. Growing up my brother and I were very different people who had similar interests. I couldn't stand to be around him, particularly in high school. It was bad enough that, as I have mentioned before, I only wrote him a few times while he was on his mission because I really didn't have that much to say to him. Well, since he got back from his mission, we have gotten along much better and enjoy being around each other, though since then we haven't been together much over a week. Even during Andy and Heather's latest Christmas visit, we didn't see them every day (they were here for a week). Added to the better relationship with Andy is Heather. She's just someone I enjoy being around because she's so genuine. Even though we really didn't spend a whole lot of time with either of them while we were in the area (they were both busy with work and school), the time we were able was a lot of fun. I'm very anxious to see where they end up for Heather's residency!

There are many other joys in my life that I experienced or began in 2008. For one, I'm still in Primary playing the piano, plus I have had the awesome experience of being executive secretary and all that comes with that calling, plus as acting choir director, I have been able to do a lot more now that we have Brother Brian Ebie at the helm of our music program and at the organ. What a difference! I've also really enjoyed teaching piano to my three students. The family is a joy to be around and I'm learning a lot about being a teacher at the same time (plus it keeps me on my toes with my own piano playing along with Primary). And let's not forget the purchase of my Ipod Touch and my super awesome laptop. Both are things that I have used and enjoyed since getting them this summer.

There are many little things I need to focus on this coming year, mostly things like reading my scriptures regularly, writing in my journal regularly again, and getting to bed at a consistent time, epsecially since I'll be at school so much from now on. Once school starts I'll get on a pretty regular schedule since every day will be the same classes for me and time I need to leave. But anyway, there were definitely lots of wonderful things (sure there are more I'll remember soon!) that happened in 2008, but it goes to show the magnitude of our current situation and how much it is hanging over us. Here's to a better 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Evolution of Christmas

I can't help but look back at Christmases past every year and compare them, especially lately. This year's Christmas was a great time-- don't get me wrong-- but it certainly has lost the magic it had when I was a kid. Of course the best part of Christmas is getting together as a family and seeing each other, especially seeing those people I don't see much at all during the year like my brother and sister-in-law and my sister and brother-in-law since they don't live close by. But even with that, as much fun as it is to give on Christmas, it is still fun to receive, especially in tough times like this.

Christmas Eve was-- and continues to be-- spent with our Derby grandparents. This year we actually hosted the Derbys here at our house, something we haven't done for several years. The last time we hosted any family event was Thanksgiving 2003 with them and I have no idea the last time we had Christmas dinner at our house. Now that we have a fully-functioning (and less crowded) living room, it made sense to have it here, though having more people than ever (thanks to two marriages of course) made it pretty tight. Even then, it was still fun and we had a little bit of a blast from the past as the Derbys bought presents this year instead of giving us the traditional $25 we have gotten the last 10 years or so. It certainly created some anticipation! All in all, our Christmas Eve routine has largely stayed the same over the years. That isn't the case for Christmas Day, which has seen the biggest changes over the years.

Left: Katie "escaping" from the stress; Right: the setup in the living room for dinner (and dust on my camera!)

Me waiting for dinner to start; Becky and David opening their present from Derbys

I have no idea what I'm thinking, but my expression is funny!; Andy and Heather opening presents from Derbys

Back in the "good old days" Christmas Day was quite the event, like so exciting I couldn't fall asleep Christmas Eve. Of course growing up has a lot to do with how it's changed, but economics have played an even bigger role. When we were younger, Christmas at our Ridinger grandparents house was probably the highlight of our holiday, most due to the fact that more people came to the Ridinger Christmas (since virtually the entire family lives in Ohio) and since we were the only kids until 1989, we got a LOT of presents. That's not to say our Christmas at home was devoid of wonderful gifts and great memories, but since we had so little money growing up, I think what we got at home were much more in the way of needed gifts and what we got at Ridingers were more pleasure gifts and expensive things that my mom just couldn't afford. But seriously, we were very blessed and there was always great anticipation on Christmas morning no matter where we were. Two things started making Christmas at Ridingers a less-anticipated event: first, other kids were born, so not only were there more people to buy presents for, but there was less money to do it with, so in terms of getting exciting things, there was less to look forward too. Yeah, I know there's more to Christmas than just getting, but being poor my whole life has made getting exciting things even more meaningful! Second, although age had much to do with it, the decision by the Ridinger side to forego the giving of presents for anyone over 18 a few years ago really took a lot out of the anticipation and the whole experience. That decision was driven by the economics of job losses and kids growing up of course. True, not having to get presents for the aunts, uncles, and cousins was a huge money saver, but we have ALWAYS been poor, so it was always a sacrifice to get presents for them and no one ever said a word or even asked us what we thought about the whole thing. I always enjoyed seeing the reactions to what we got them, plus it's always satisfying when I go to their houses and see a present I got them being used or on display. But anyway, that's the way it is now. While I enjoy spending time with all of my family, the Christmas celebration at the Ridingers has definitely lost its luster especially since we all get together just two days before for the annual cookie day where we also celebrate Katie's and Andy's birthdays. In contrast, Christmas morning at our house is probably what I look forward to the most now (though it's hardly ever been something I didn't look forward to). Even this year, where money is as tight as it's ever been for every one of us, we were still able to come together and give each other fun, meaningful and useful gifts. Let's just say I'm looking forward to having more money to be able to buy more gifts for family and friends and I'm looking forward to having young kids (whether they be my own or nieces and nephews) at Christmas again.

Left: The setup Christmas morning; Right: Mom getting her new bed set from all of us!

Me getting Cities and Knights of Catan...YES!!; Andy, Heather, and David watch Becky open a present for her and David

I'd say Christmas this year went pretty well all things considered, though it did seem to be overshadowed by the whole house situation and how little money we all have. I got things I needed and the presents I got (or helped to get) were well received by those that got them. Of course it has been nice seeing Andy, Heather, David, and Becky too, which has probably been the most enjoyable aspect of the holiday (not having to worry about classes for a few weeks hasn't hurt either!).

Notes on larger pictures: 1. the four of us just happened to not only sit together at Christmas dinner at Ridingers, but we also sat in order of age, so my grandma got a picture of it. From right (oldest to youngest) Andy, Me, Katie, and Becky; 2. the same picture with the spouses (David and Heather) added. NICE!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh the drama!

First things first: I did speak to the director of the School of Music today and while we really accomplished little in terms of my grade, I feel better about things. The biggest thing was that she spoke to me as an adult. She did not try to make excuses for my professor or try to make my concerns less than they were. It was very refreshing to say the least. One insight she did give me was that in one of my e-mails to my professor, I capitalized three words. She said my professor probably interpreted that as shouting, which had me shaking my head. While it is true that in written form shouting is shown by capitalizing, it is normally shown by capitalizing an entire message or sentence, not just one word here and there. Capitalizing one word is a way of showing emphasis, especially in the absence of italics and/or underlining. Everyone I've mentioned this to has said the same thing. So at least I know where the whole respect/"proper tone" thing came from. Basically, the director told me that it's a good thing that I currently have an "incomplete" because those are easier to change, plus it indicates my professor is at least willing to discuss it before giving a final grade. The director recommended I write to my professor and schedule an appointment as soon as classes start in January and get it all worked out. She also let me know what steps would need to be taken if it didn't work out, so at least I feel like someone is on my side. I enjoyed how she took a very subjective approach and simply got my side of it. She also recognized how hectic the last few weeks of the semester can be and how that fit into what happened. I got the impression she really wants to find a solution that helps me graduate without undermining the position of my professor.

The more I have thought about this and thinking back to other dealings I have had with this specific professor, the more I am led to believe that she really makes a lot of assumptions about me based on me being a white male from Ohio. I know it sounds extreme, but I first noticed it a few weeks ago when I did my music proficiency test with her. For that test we had to have 15 songs ready from a variety of different styles, appropriate age groups, and with different basic instrument accompaniments. The songs were supposed to be at least somewhat unfamiliar so we could expand or establish a personal collection of songs to use in future music classes. One of the songs I chose for a younger grade (can't remember what grade I chose it for, but it was K-2 at least) was Au Claire de la Lune. Now, I realize this is a pretty well-known song to just about everyone and while the beginning tune is familiar to me, the entire song was not nor were the words (which I did in French), so I was learning something. Well, she "failed" me on that song (each song was pass/fail) citing that it was "too easy" and basically assumed that I knew the song already or at least should've known the song and thus should've done better on it than I did. Based on what? Being white and raised in Ohio? I wouldn't go so far as to claim racism, but I would definitely label it as stereotyping. To be honest, I never heard that song even referenced by name until I was in high school college, though I heard its melody here and there growing up. My elementary music class was heavy on music appreciation, but I learned virtually nothing about music history and theory. She would be grossly offended if I assumed she knew something based solely on her race or background (she is of African descent) since that would immediately be labeled a stereotype. This whole thing with the e-mail just adds to that belief. Since she interprets putting any word in all caps as "shouting" she assumes that everyone holds that belief, when in fact, most do not. Anyway, I'm not sure how-- or if-- I will address this with her when we meet in January. Many of my private dealings with her have been positive, particularly in regards to the MAT program, but too many like this have been very negative.

In other news, due to some limited drama at the annual family cookie day, we have an update on the house. My dad did show up later and he and my mom ended up getting into an argument in the hallway regarding the current situation, particularly in regards to his relationship with Katie, which if you ask Katie doesn't exist. That's an entire different subject really though. The bottom line there is that we all need to step back and let Dad and Katie work things out themselves and if Dad is serious about maintaining a relationship with anyone, he needs to show that he cares more than simply sending messengers. Anyway, Mom and Dad ended up talking upstairs for a few hours. As for the house, the update is mixed. My dad did talk to the mortgage company and they were "gracious" enough to let him know they will be putting our house on the market beginning in January. So, yes, we will have a nice "for sale" sign in front of our house for three months while they try to sell it at its market value, which is listed at around $120,000. Now I have documented the many problems with this house, so I will be surprised if anyone offers to pay the full price for it, especially with the current economic situation. Even with that, though, we still have the inconvenience of having a realtor having access to our house and having to have visitors come over not to mention the possibilty that someone actually does decide to go ahead and buy it. If I'm here when visitors come I'll just be sure they know EXACTLY what they are looking at buying! Should the house not sell in 90 days, then the foreclosure proceedings will begin and that will last approximately 8 months, which takes us to next November or December. The hope, of course, is that by then I will have a full-time steady job and we can work out a plan for me to take over the house or some other miracle takes place by then. But seriously, can't I just have a peaceful holiday free from stress?? Just what I need...more stress for the upcoming semester!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trying the facial hair thing again

For those of you who see me on a regular basis, this post comes at no surprise...but for those who don't see me that often or haven't seen me in a few weeks may notice something different about me. Yes, I've grown pretty much full facial hair for the time being. Part of it is just for the experience, but it mostly came out of not shaving last week and deciding "what the heck?" This isn't the first time I've had facial hair, though, as I had a goatee at the end of summer 2004 that I shaved off shortly after arriving at BYU-Idaho that fall. I had it all of three weeks or so. This is the first time I've had anything close to a beard though. I don't know how long I'll keep this as it definitely takes some getting used to.

In other news, I'll be talking to the director of the school of music tomorrow morning about my grade. I'm thinking it might end up being more of me letting her know how I feel insulted and belittled by how this has been handled so far, particularly in how my e-mails have not been answered. I'm not sure how much I can challenge a grade when it's currently labeled as "incomplete" plus I've never formally challenged a grade before even though there are times I probably should have.

I was able to sing a few times on Sunday for our Christmas sacrament meeting. I sang a small solo with the Primary kids in a song called "What Can I Give Him?" and then sang "O Holy Night" with the organ accompaniment. I also directed the choir in singing "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen" which I thought went pretty well. I thought the entire sacrament meeting went pretty well as we had six musical numbers separated by five speakers. We ended up going over by just 10 minutes or so. None of the speakers spoke for more than 5 minutes, so it flowed really well and didn't seem too long at all. I also sang the national anthem at the Kent State men's basketball game against UNC-Greensboro on Thursday. I thought I did a decent job and found out later some people from church were at the game and heard me sing as did Katie, Becky, and David.

Friday, December 19, 2008

One problem down...

Good news to report in terms of our furnace: it's fixed AND didn't need replaced. YES! We had to go about two days without central heat, but I was pleasantly surprised how warm we were able to keep the house in spite of that. Granted, it wasn't as good as having the furnace, but at least we weren't freezing or uncomfortable. It helped to have three space heaters and the oven going...not too efficient for the electricity, but it got the job done for the day and a half we had them. Turns out the furnace had some major blockage at the base of the chimney. Of course blockage like that can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, but this furnace is designed to shut down if it detects blockage, which is exactly what it did (and yes, we also have a carbon monoxide detector in the house). The blockage was mostly dirt in the bottom of our chimney, which I got out with a garden shovel. We had the father of a friend of ours from church come over and look at it on Wednesday. While it wasn't free, it was much less expensive than if we had called the regular repairman or gone ahead and gotten a new furnace. I'm glad we don't have to worry about a new furnace for the time being. Not only is it not in the budget, but with the uncertainty of our future in this house, I'd hate to spend all that money on something like that and then lose the house.

I found it interesting that my dad had a comment on the furnace which I found out about via my grandmother yesterday when I was over there. I guess he told her the furnace isn't that old and shouldn't need replaced. While it isn't THAT old, it isn't exactly new anymore. I'm not sure exactly when we got it, but it was sometime while I was in elementary school and I finished there in 1993, so I'm guessing it was sometime around 1991 or 1992. The biggest problem it has, however, is that in January 1994 our basement flooded with nearly a foot of water after the basement drainage pipe collapsed and the snow melted. Because it was still the middle of winter, the furnace still had to run. The result was an incredibly damp and humid house at the time and now significant rusting in the furnace. On top of that the basement has always been a pretty damp place due to poor drainage and waterproofing, so that only contributes to the quicker deterioration of the metal and pretty much anything we store down there that isn't secured in plastic!

As for my grade issue, I have an appointment scheduled with the director of the School of Music on Tuesday at 11 AM. I checked my posted grades and the grade for this particular class is currently labeled as incomplete ("IN"). That's a good sign in that she has acknowledged my issue; however, she has not e-mailed me yet since that last one-liner about respect and appropriate tones, so I really don't have a choice but to go through a formal grade dispute with the director. On a side note, I noticed that KSU keeps my graduate and undergraduate grades separate, so I have two GPAs. I found it interesting-- and frustrating at the same time-- that the classes I liked the least and had the most trouble in were my undergrad classes. Most of my problems were due to simply how those classes were structured and what and how the material was covered. Let's just say I'm glad I never have to take an undergrad class ever again!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yahoo for Christmas!

Well I still haven't resolved this grading dispute, so I am gathering all my evidence and contacts so I can do what needs to be done as quickly as possible. I have already made an initial e-mail in regards to a formal grade dispute. In the meantime I am definitely enjoying being done with finals and the semester and finally having some time to myself. Katie and I went a got our Christmas tree on Friday. We did the "cut your own" variety at a place that is literally around the corner from our house. That made it a little easier getting the tree home. While I probably could have fit it into my trunk, I didn't want to risk breaking a bunch of the branches, so I just carried it home and Katie drove my car. It was a five-minute walk tops. Upon getting home and getting the tree stand out, I noticed the little set of spikes at the bottom was bent, so I used the pliers and bent them back to discover a small hole in the bottom of the already rusting stand. Well, that meant getting a new stand, which I promptly did at Wal-Mart. Not only is the new stand much wider (and plastic) but it was WAY easier to set the tree in...WAAAAAYYYY easier. The tree itself doesn't look too bad. Granted there weren't many choices, but in terms of budget, I'm happy with it. I'm REEEEALLLLY glad I have a chainsaw too. It made cutting the tree down VERY easy! That chainsaw has turned out to be a great investment for me so far!

Once I got the tree set up I took care of the outside lights. Normally I put up a lot of Christmas lights, but with our budget so tight this year, I toned it back, so I only put lights around the porch rather than the entire house. I also bought some new LED lights, which claim to use 66% less energy, last longer, and are brighter than traditional lights. So far I am very impressed with my LED lights. I bought blue "icicle" lights. While they have less lights than the set I replaced them with, these LED lights ARE much brighter and MUCH bluer! I continue to be amazed just how blue these lights are when they are on. The pictures I took of them do not do them justice. I couldn't help but notice the difference in blue when I compared them to a set of blue lights around our front door. The lights around the front door don't even seem blue after seeing the LED lights. WOW.

Today I finally put the lights on the tree so we can start decorating it. I wanted to give the tree time to settle and open up a little before putting the lights on, especially since we got it fresh. Let me just tell you how fragrant this tree is, and I would guess that has to do, again, with getting it fresh. The scent of pine was pretty easy to smell all the way across the house as if I were standing in the living room with the tree. Now it really feels-- and smells-- like Christmas in this house!

As I am writing this, we are dealing with one of the house issues I blogged about just the other day: our furnace. We have several older appliances that could pretty much go at any day, mostly due to them being old, and the furnace is one of them. In fact, finding out the furnace was in bad shape at the end of April and needed replacement was what finally caused the whole house situation to finally come to light since my dad had to explain why the furnace couldn't be replaced. Right now the furnace is simply "non responsive" meaning it's on and the pilot is lit, but it's not kicking on even when the thermostat is turned up. For now we're making do with two space heaters and the oven. Hardly the most cost-effective way to heat the house, but at least we won't freeze. Katie bought her own space heater and we borrowed one of those Quartz heaters from my Derby grandparents. Hopefully the problem is something that can be fixed, but I'm guessing the whole thing will need to be replaced. Just lovely! Good thing we're currently just rolling in cash right now!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh no not again

So I alluded to this in my last post, but now it's getting frustrating. As of today, it seems I'm having a repeat of how this semester began with my e-mails being called "inappropriate" and "disrespectful" and I sit here completely baffled. This all started last Friday when I turned in my observation journal and what I thought were my book reports. I'll admit I should've taken care of it earlier, but that's beside the point. I got them all done and got the clear plastic binder at Wal-Mart and turned them in at the School of Music Friday afternoon and figured I was done with that. Well Tuesday I was looking for another paper and suddenly found the book reports. The day I turned them in was a really hectic day for me and so there's a lot I honestly don't remember. I didn't remember printing off a second copy of the reports, but sometimes I do that because I notice a problem and have to print them again. Well, I immediately e-mailed my professor, who also is my advisor and will be my supervisor next semester when I student teach. This is the e-mail I sent, dated December 9, 2008 at 11:52 AM EST:

"I just wanted to make sure you received my book reports with my observation reports. I found my book reports, but honestly cannot remember if I printed a second copy. The day I turned it in was a very hectic and rushed day, so I just want to be sure I didn't forget that part. Thanks!"

I didn't hear back from my professor, so I figured I must've printed an extra copy. Well, Thursday night I checked my campus e-mail and realized that because my KSU e-mail finally switched over to the new gmail system, the forwarding command I had set up needed to be set up again and I had several e-mails sent to my KSU e-mail that I had missed since they are usually forwarded automatically to my AOL e-mail. One of those e-mails, which came Thursday, was from my professor which had my grade. It was a one-liner with no complete sentences, containing my final exam grade and "book reports: 0" and that I had gotten a D+ for the semster. A D+! Funny that I NEVER got a D on ANY assignment during the semester, yet somehow a D+ is supposed to adequately reflect my efforts and understanding in the class. Upon seeing that I was understandably shocked and upset, and sent this e-mail from my KSU address, dated December 11, 2008, 11:02 PM EST:

"Did you get my e-mail about the book reports? I asked if I had remembered to attach them because the day I turned them in was very hectic and somehow they got separated when I put them together. I did NOT spend hours on them to get a zero. I had assumed since I didn't hear from you that I had turned them in and had a second copy. I'm also confused what "add others" means in reference to my grade and SERIOUSLY question a D as an adequate representation of my actual performance in that class considering that I never got a D on ANY assignment."

Mom suggested that I just send her the electronic version of my book reports, so about 50 minutes later, at 11:52 PM, I sent another e-mail that included the Word 2007 document:

"In light of the missing reports, rather than make a trip to campus to put them in your mailbox and not even be sure you'll get them, here is the Word 2007 document. Again, I did e-mail you because I wasn't sure if I had accidentally forgotten to include them or not and since I didn't hear back I assumed that I must've printed an earlier copy and that's what I found in my folder. That day was very hectic and I honestly don't even remember half of it since so much happened and so fast."

I didn't hear back today, and knowing this professor is one who takes her vacations seriously (i.e. rarely answers e-mails while she's on vacations and pretty much has no contact) so I sent another e-mail this afternoon, dated December 12, 2008, 4:35 PM EST:

"Hello [professor's name]-
I would really appreciate a reply so I can get this all taken care of. The last thing I need going into this break and into student teaching in January is this grade hanging over my head and the possibility of having to take this class again. It is something I cannot afford in more ways than just tuition, especially considering that I did the required work and hardly "earned" a D grade. Please get back to me as soon as possible so we can discuss this and come to a mutually beneficial conclusion."

So, this afternoon at 4:50 PM I FINALLY get an e-mail from my professor and this is what it says:

"Jon, I would be happy to respond to an appropriate email from you, that is in a respectable tone, before my vacation begins."

It may come as no surprise to anyone reading this, but I was pretty irritated when I got this e-mail. You have all read the e-mails I sent. Honestly, what was inappropriate and/or in a disrespectful tone? I'm really tired of responses like that. Those of you who know me know that I'm a pretty laid back person. I guess the only things that really get to me is when people get like this and they avoid addressing the problem claiming "disrespect." I'm not a person who fires off angry e-mails; I think about what I want to say and what needs to be said and try to do so without sounding wimpy but not mean. This is what I replied back in an e-mail dated December 12, 2008 at 5:55 PM EST:

[professor's name]-
I'm sorry my tone came across as it did. One of the problems with e-mail is the tone I wrote the e-mail in doesn't always transmit when it is read since tone in any written form is only through interpretation of the recipient. That said, please understand this involves my grade and graduation, so I have every right to be a little upset as this has taken me completely by surprise. Wouldn't you be worried if I wasn't concerned with a grade that low? Having to take any class again will be very costly for myself and my family in many more ways than tuition.
Again, I did send an e-mail earlier in the week asking if you had received my book reports and I did not receive any response. I had no way to know if you had received them to even correct the problem, otherwise I would have addressed the issue as soon as possible.
Also, when something is inappropriate in an e-mail I send, please be specific as to what you saw as inappropriate. I cannot correct a problem that I do not see.

As I attended the Roosevelt boys basketball game tonight (a 71-44 Roosevelt win over Coventry...go Rough Riders!) I thought a lot about this and the more I thought about it, the more I agreed that yes, some disrespect was shown, but it wasn't towards my professor; it was from her to me. Responding like that is INCREDIBLY condescending and downright insulting in my opinion. I am an adult who is paying a lot of money to be "educated" by her, not some middle school teenager with an attitude problem. Why is it OK for her to answer her e-mails whenever she feels like it (if at all), but not OK for me to show a little emotion in mine? Frankly, I consider her lack of an answer to my initial e-mail to be highly unprofessional. And what kind of teacher who cares about the well-being of her students doesn't notice something like this and pull the student aside or contact them and say "we have a problem" and try to work things out? Seriously, these people are supposed to be teaching me how to be a better teacher. I guess I at least know what NOT to do.

This, of course, brings back the memories of the beginning of the semester when I had such a difficult time with the College of Education. I still haven't gotten a decent explanation of what I did that was so awful other than addressing the person I e-mailed "as a peer." I know...what a crime. Two adults conversing as adults. How awful! I continue to be amazed and disgusted at the "fiefdoms" certain people establish in academia. Have they forgotten their real purpose? That's right: to educate! And who pays for them to educate us? Yep, the STUDENTS! I didn't sign up to pay over $10,000 in graduate tuition so I could be talked down to, belittled, and have my questions and concerns ignored! And as far as I know, I need a C to "pass" the class, so if I would have to take it again I would have to wait until next fall, meaning I couldn't graduate this May and would have to wait another year to find a job. Not only would that be hugely inconvenient, but it would virtually guarantee losing this house. It is sad how people in college fail to realize or even care about the consequences of their actions when they exercise their "authority" (better defined as "lordship") over students. Just having to take one class over again would be catastrophic to me and this family. And if I brought that up in a conversation, not only would it be virtually ignored, but it would also be labeled as "unprofessional." It just goes to show that too many college professors are more concerned with lording over their dominions than making sure their students are actually learning. Grades aren't used to show the outside world what level of understanding the student has, but are instead used as a weapon to keep students in line. That's what happens when things that have little to do with comprehension (like attendance) are attached to grades.

Two cars, one garage...WOW!

At long last I have an opporunity to blog again. There have been many things I wanted to blog about over the last two weeks, but I just have not had the time in worrying about and finishing the semester. As of right now I am done with all of my finals and projects; however, I just found out about a grade that I am very irritated about, so I can't totally close the book on this semester yet. Let's just say if things don't change in the next 24 hours in regard to my grade in my methods class, hell WILL be raised.

So, on to better things. Since Dad moved out at the end of October, we have slowly been reorganizing and cleaning out the house. Not only is it in anticipation for a possible relocation should things not work out, but just something we have needed to do for a long time. As I blogged last month, the first major project was moving mom's stuff out of the living room and into dad's old room and reorganizing the living room, something that was started the very day Dad officially moved out. It has been nice since then to actually have a fully functioning living room again that we feel comfortable inviting guests to and which we enjoy spending time in! Katie has been the main force behind the various other projects, which include the massive cleaning and reorganization of the basement and the cleaning and reorganization of the garage. The basement is still a work in progress, but Katie has done quite a bit of work down there with some help from me in moving heavier things as needed and taking out garbage and recycling. Last week we celebrated the completion of her garage project. Again, Katie did most of the work while I helped move the heavier things and figure out how to position things to make them all fit. In the end, we were finally able to do something that hasn't been done here in over 20 years: store two cars in our two car garage. WOW! While it may seem like an insignificant feat, it was pretty exciting when we not only fit both cars in, but fit them with the lawn mower and several other things still inside the garage. Of course my car is not one of the 2 cars inside, but it was still exciting because I didn't think we'd be able to fit 2 cars and the lawn mower. Guess the garage is bigger than we all thought! Now, if we could just get some more gravel so the driveway is a bit easier to maneuver for Katie's side of the garage. Right now it's a bunch of muddy ruts.

It has been interesting these last two months or so in the amount of stuff we have thrown out or put out to be recycled. I'm sure the garbage and recycling people are wondering where all this stuff is coming from! It was like Dad was the plug in the dam: as soon as he left, the floodgates opened and things have just been put into motion and the flood of garbage has been (and continues to be) emptied out of the house. Granted, there are still some major issues to be addressed here as we have several appliances which could go at any day (fridge, oven, dryer, furnace) and some repair issues (our tub has a crack in it, we still need a screen door for the back, and we have mice getting in some holes that need to be plugged!), but they don't seem so daunting. I just wish May would hurry up and get here so I can graduate and get a job. While money doesn't solve everything, I can't think of a better solution for most of our current major problems!

On a side note, today, December 12th, is the day I entered the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in 2001. Hard to believe it's been seven years since then! The only reason I've really been thinking about it is because my cousin Cameron just entered the MTC Wednesday, so essentially the same week I did since new arrivals only come in to the MTC on Wednesdays. He is headed for Taiwan, but will be at the MTC in Provo, Utah for about 3 months learning Mandarin Chinese. For our extended family, he is the first close relative outside my immediate family to go on a mission, so this is exciting!

Notes on pictures: 1. Mom's car on the right and Katie's car on the left in the garage. I took it at night since that's the only time they've both been in the garage lately! 2. The garage empty so you can see how the rest of the stuff actually fits... 3. My brother Andy and me at the MTC in Provo, Utah the day I officially began my mission seven years ago today. I had no idea what was ahead of me in that picture...NO idea.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

White Thanksgiving

Well, if we don't have a white Christmas this year, at least we'll be able to say we had a "white Thanksgiving!" Yes, there is still measurable snow on the ground, though not as much as there was a few days ago. Most of last week we got some sort of snow every day, the heaviest being Monday evening and Tuesday night, but a good amount falling Thursday night and during the day Friday too. While snowfall before Thanksgiving is hardly unprecedented in northeast Ohio, this much is rather unusal. Sure, I've seen snow before Halloween many times, but it's usually of the slushy variety and it doesn't stick around long. This snow was sustained and not just the heavy, wet snow that we usually get this early in the season (or this LATE in the Fall season!). When it was all said and done, we probably had 7 inches of snow on the ground. Most of it melted on Monday when we got rain much of the day, but then we got a few more inches of snow during the day and into Tuesday evening to restore our "white Thanksgiving."

View of the snow in the back yard and on the mail and paper boxes on Nov. 19, 2008. We got a few more inches Thursday and Friday before most of it melted this past Monday.

Most of the snow last week was the result of lake effect. That's where winds blowing from the north or northwest pick up moisture evaportaing from Lake Erie (which is warmer than the land) and when it crosses onto land drops that moisture in the form of snow. We tend to not get that much in the way of lake effect unless, of course, the winds are right. Normally, the winds that cause lake effect snow come out of the northwest. Because of the shape of the land, areas north of here (Ohio's Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula counties in particular) generally get the most snow. That's why they are referred to as the "snow belt." When the winds shift more to the north-northwest, here in Portage County we can get a lot more (we're known as the "secondary snow belt"). That happened several times during this latest snowfall. The typical "snow belt" certainly got the most snow, but it was a lot more spread out due to the shifting winds.

Of course lake effect snow is hardly unique to northeast Ohio, but it certainly makes our weather interesting. I, for one, don't really mind snow all that much. Only by late March am I ready for Spring and don't want to see anymore snow. Right now, this isn't too bad. I'm a native of northeast Ohio, so I'm quite used to snow and I know how to handle and drive in it. Getting home last Monday (November 17th) was the slickest since it was the first heavy, sustained snowfall and the roads weren't cleared much at all. I slipped and slid a few times on the way home from campus, but made it OK even after literally sliding past Powder Mill Road! It is a bit unnerving when you turn your steering wheel to go right and the car keeps going straight...

Views of the front yard on Wednesday morning, Nov. 19, 2008.

Thanksgiving should be pretty tame and standard this year. The nice thing about living in the same town that all of my grandparents do is that the extended family comes here for Thanksgiving and we don't have to go anywhere. On the Ridinger side pretty much everyone lives in or near Kent anyway and on the Derby side everyone but us is too far away to come, so this year it will just be the five of us (Mom, Katie, Me, Grandma, and Grandpa) at Derby's. I don't mind because it's less stress to travel, and at least this year, I have more time to get the last few projects I have to finish before the end of the semester. Hard to believe there is just one more week of classes and then finals. I CANNOT WAIT for this semester to be over.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Made the Stater Again!

I found my name in the Daily Kent Stater again this week as I was interviewed in reference to the Church's position on Proposition 8 in California. I was interviewed over the phone last Tuesday (Nov. 18) and the story ran the following day. As is usually the case when anyone gets interviewed, there was paraphrasing and a few facts that maybe aren't entirley accurate, but for the most part this article was OK. What's interesting is for the online version, there are several comments after the article which give you somewhat of an idea of what people here think about it. The only fact I noticed that was blatantly wrong was the line that says "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a strong supporter of the proposition, providing millions of dollars to the campaign." While it was awesome to see the entire church name used (and properly spelled!!) and the Church was a strong supporter, the Church did not "provide millions" to the campaign. In fact the only donation the Church made was just over $2,000 in travel expenses. The "millions" mentioned were donated by members of the Church; not the Church itself. HUUUUGE difference. And as I have said to several people here in the past week, if I were Catholic in California I think I would be grossly offended that the Mormons are getting all the credit for the passage of Prop 8. While Mormons did donate a significant amount of money to the cause, much of that money came from outside California. Catholics donated a fairly large share of money as well and they actually have the numbers to actually affect the vote. Money helps a lot, but in the end, it's the actual voters that make the difference (as a reminder, "No on 8" raised slightly more money than "Yes on 8"). Yes, the LDS Church is a master organizer, but never underestimate the role the Catholic Church played in the passage of this proposition.

Well, here is the link to the article: Hopes dimmed in LGBT community. It ran in the printed version of the Daily Kent Stater in Kent, Ohio on Wednesday, November 19, 2008. Again, I think as members of the Church or for those who simply agree with us on the definition of marriage (there are many of you!), we need to be better at explaining our viewpoints without coming across as exclusive or condescending. In the end, we have two viewpoints here that currently appear to conflict; if one side is happy the other is not. We have to be understanding and respectful of both sides, realizing that understanding and respect does not mean compromising our beliefs or accepting the other side. The characterization of our beliefs as "hate" is simplistic and completely inaccurate, ignoring their basis and background. We must be careful to avoid that rash and inaccurate characterization of the opposing viewpoint in this case as well.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Now this is cool

OK, I need a break from all the politics and doom-and-gloom economic news we get on a daily basis. There was a news story that absolutely fascinated me the other day as it was one of those "first in history" events. Just a few days ago, astronomers announced the first visual proof of extrasolar planets; i.e. planets not part of our solar system. Up to this point we had all sorts of indirect evidence and confirmation that planets existed around other stars based on measurements of the star's change in brightness or a measured wobble and other things, but we had no pictures of a planet orbiting another star. That all changed this past week when pictures were released which confirm four extrasolar planets: one around the star Fomalhaut (which is in the constellation Piscis Austrinus) and three around the star HR 8799 (in the constellation Pegasus). Now, of course the pictures show little more than pinpoints of light near the parent star, but that is a lot closer than we've ever been in our quest to find life outside of our own planet. Fomalhaut is 25 light-years from Earth and HR 8799 is 129 light-years from Earth.

At this point, estimates place the planets at sizes as big as or bigger than Jupiter as well as being at distances too far to harbor life. The planet around Fomalhaut, named Fomalhaut b, orbits at a distance of an estimated 115 AU (astronomical units, or 115 times as far as the Earth is from the Sun...115 x 93 million miles). Because Fomalhaut is a larger and brighter star than the Sun, Fomalhaut b receives about the same brightness and energy that Neptune in our own solar system receives. The planets around HR 8799, named HR 8799b, c, and d, are about twice the size of Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune respectively and because HR 8799 is also a brighter and larger star than the Sun, they are at comparable distances to those three planets in our solar system in terms of brightness and energy received (though they are physically further away).

Now, you may ask, who cares?? Well, I have always had an interest in space. I am fascinated by all the things we are learning about the planets in our own solar system as well as the discoveries being made about other planetary systems. Seriously, the things we've learned and seen in just the past few years are pretty incredible, seeing things that humans have wondered about for centuries. I thought about that a few years ago when the Cassini probe arrived at Saturn (which included several "firsts") and then when the Huygens probe landed on and took the first pictures from the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. Titan has been known since 1655, yet only in the last few years have we seen what it actually looks like since it is shielded by a dense atmosphere. In 2015, we will finally get our first up-close look at Pluto when the New Horizons mission arrives. I know a lot of people don't see much point in studying far-off worlds when our own has so many problems. Learning about the universe not only enlightens us for the sake of being enlightened, but it also gives us perspective on our place in the universe. Were it not for discoveries in space, we would still regard ourselves as the center of the solar system or even the universe; the only place that harbors life. Now, while we still have no direct evidence of life outside the planet, the discoveries we have made have allowed us to guess that it is almost certain Earth is not the only planet to harbor life. I think in the end, changes in our perspective and understanding are what is going to help us solve the problems of the world since simply throwing money at them hasn't done much to solve them. Until we collectively understand that we are all part of the same human race that share this planet (and are ultimately all children of God), no amount of money or rhetoric will solve the very things that keep us from progressing as fast as we could if we didn't have to worry about warfare.

Notes on pictures: 1. That is my favorite picture of Earth, which is actually a composite image from 2001. 2. Even though it's so pixelated, this is an amazing picture to me. This is what Earth and the Moon look like from Mars. This picture was taken by the Mars Global Surveyor in 2003.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When "free speech" crosses the line

Much has been made in the days since the election about the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage and defined it in the California constitution as being between one man and one woman. I'm not really posting this to debate whether or not Prop 8 was right or wrong-- I think I've made it pretty clear about what I feel about it and why-- but moreso to address my thoughts on the aftermath. It is no secret that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormons) wanted this to pass as did several other religious and conservative organizations. The Church had letters from the First Presidency read in congregations not only in California, but around the U.S. urging members to support the measure both in voting (for those in California) and in monetary donations. It is estimated that Mormon contributions accounted for around 50% of the total raised for the "Yes on 8" side, many of them coming from outside California (Utah in particular), despite that fact that Mormons make up around just 2-4% of the voting population in California. Because of the large organizational and funding role the Church played in Prop 8 passing, it has become the target of protests from gay and gay-advocate groups across the country, many saying the Church overstepped the bounds of separation of church and state. Many LDS buildings (as well as other churches and organizations that supported Prop 8) have been targeted for vandalism or picketing, which included a large protest at the Los Angeles temple that resulted in the temple being shut down for a day.

I think the biggest thing that jumps out at me is the absolute anger and hatred that has been directed at the Church from some of these groups, like it's solely the Church's fault this passed. As I already mentioned, Mormons (we prefer to be called Latter-day Saints or LDS with "saint" simply meaning a follower of Christ) account for only a small fraction of California voters, so there were obviously a LOT more people who agreed with us. On top of that, Obama carried California easily, so many of his supportes also supported Prop 8 showing that it wasn't just a conservative vote. An even bigger point I found interesting is the fact that the "No on 8" side raised more money than "Yes on 8" and still lost. I think this is purely an emotional reaction and the Church is the most visible thing to direct anger at. What's ironic about the whole thing is that these groups accuse the Church of promoting "hate" by supporting Prop 8, but they express that belief by promoting hate of the Church, particularly violence. In reality, Mormons don't look at this as taking away rights. Indeed, Mormons don't even regard marriage itself as a "right;" they regard it as one of the highest sacraments. Mormons regard Prop 8 (and the amendments that passed the same day in Arizona and Florida) as a defining of marriage issue, preventing the government from legally changing the definition of an institution that predates the government by thousands of years and an institution Mormons (and most other Christians) believe only God can define (and has defined). The sad irony is that in their quest for tolerance and understanding, too many gay rights activists are not showing either towards Mormon and conservative viewpoints. Sorry, tolerance and understanding is a two-way street. I am happy to see some leaders of the protests finally speaking out against the violence (especially the vandalism of LDS buildings and the mailing of white powder to LDS temples).

As for separation of church and state, this is hardly even close to being outside of the law. Churches are tax-exempt, but are forbidden from promoting candidates or a political party. They are, however, free to support issues, particularly ones that are morally based, such as this one. Although many view Prop 8 purely as a legal issue, most religious conservatives regard it as a moral issue when the definition of marriage is concerned. The Church was hardly the only religious organization to weigh in on Prop 8. It was part of a larger faith-based coalition which supported Prop 8 that also included groups like the Roman Catholic Church (who has far more members in California than Mormons!) and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. On the flip side, several other Jewish groups, Episcopalian bishops, and the United Church of Christ opposed Prop 8. Guess what? That is their constitutional right. If a group is going to go after the LDS Church for crossing the line of church and state, then you have to go after the ones who were on the other side too. The first amendment wasn't designed to keep religious influence totally out of government; it was designed to keep government out of religion and avoid the establishment of a state religion (which is what exists in many European countries, including the United Kingdom). And separation of church and state, which is a phrase that came from Thomas Jefferson and later Supreme Court cases, doesn't mean churches cannot have a say in matters they feel are important.

In the end, there seems to be quite a bit of misunderstanding on both sides. This is a case where we all need to step back, take a deep breath, and agree to disagree civily. Protesting and shouting slogans accusing Mormons and other conservative groups of "hate" aren't winning any converts, nor are hard-core conservative approaches like "God hates gays" (a statement I TOTALLY disagree with!) working either. In the end, we have two very deeply-rooted and firm beliefs that conflict.

On a side note, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Daily Kent Stater in relation to Prop 8 and the subsequent reaction. I will post the article when I am made aware of its publication.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


As is typical following an election, we have calls for "unity" and working together. It's always interesting to me to hear the victorious side issue calls for unity when they know and we know that in reality no such unity is really needed for them to accomplish their goals and ideas since they hold the majority. The same was true for Republicans in 2004 and now holds true for Democrats in 2008. So as I read comments from people like Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi telling us how we all need to work together, their cries for unity ring pretty hollow to me since I don't recall them saying such things after their party's defeat four years ago. Really, it's one thing to stress unity when you win, but it's entirely another to call for that when you're on the short end and you realize that you don't have total control over your goals and ideas for the country.

My sister was just watching the Ellen show this afternoon, so I watched the opening. I have always enjoyed Ellen DeGeneres as a comedian and mostly as an actress, but I obviously completely disagree with her politically (though she seems to be a much more pleasant person than Whoopi Goldberg, Roseanne Barr, or Susan Sarandon , other people whom I enjoy their work but not their real-life endeavors or ideas). Her talk show is usually pretty funny, though I'm hardly a regular viewer. Well, she said watching the coverage was "exciting" and talked about the "country really coming together." Well, yeah, if you like Obama and the Democrat way of thinking, then yes, it was very exciting, but to say the "whole country" came together is hardly realisitic. Obama did not pull a Nixon 49-state landslide nor did he pull in a super-majority of the popular vote. My point? Just like when Bush won in 2004, the country is still very divided, almost evenly between the left and the right. Right now I see a lot of unbridled idealism, which isn't at all surprising, but a lot of things still have to happen. And seriously, I don't doubt Obama will make a lot of liberals happy during his presidency (though they are a tough group to KEEP happy!), but that doesn't mean everything is wonderful since many things liberals view as "progressive" conservatives view as "regressive" or "oppressive" and the opposite holds true as well.

Really, I don't have the feelings of doom and gloom that many conservatives feel right now, though there are a few things I worry about. There are two potential bills that I worry most about, one being making the "Fairness Doctrine" (which was repealed in 1987 by the FCC) law and another bill, known as the "Employee Free Choice Act," which would essentially make it more difficult for workers to not join unions and eliminate secret ballots for workers among other things. John McCain said the title was "deceptive" and I can't agree more. The bill is supposed to make it easier for employees to start or join unions, but in doing that opens the doors to other problems. By eliminating a secret ballot, you open the door for union coercion and intimidation for anyone who doesn't "fall in line" which hardly equates to employees getting a "free choice." That goes against democracy in my opinion. The Democrats really love this bill and so does Barack Obama, but I hope they see how much this would end up hurting most workers and especially small businesses. The more I have seen of unions, especially larger ones, it seems many have become corrupt and have lost sight of their meaning to promote workers' rights. Like the ACLU, it seems unions started out as a great idea with noble causes, but have morphed into organizations that promote political platforms over serving their originally intended interests.

As for the "Fairness Doctrine," a policy used by the FCC from 1949-1987, it is the idea that radio and television need to be balanced in terms of views presented. In other words, if a radio station runs a three-hour conservative talk show, the Fairness Doctrine would call for it to also run 3 hours of liberal viewpoints. The doctrine was repealed in 1987 because Freedom of Speech couldn't really be guaranteed. While the idea of making this law seems to be popular with Democrats, particularly high-ranking ones, I was happy to at least read that Barack Obama is opposed to making this law since it is anything but fair. In reality, this is an attempt by liberals to try to bring down conservative talk radio which has proven highly popular (whereas liberal talk radio is virtually non-existent and has failed to catch on). Since many smaller radio stations wouldn't be able to "balance" out, many would simply drop the conservative broadcasts than face a fine or being shut down. Funny thing is, you never hear anything about the TV networks being forced to be "fair" and as I previously blogged, independent studies have shown that most of them are anything but "balanced" in their coverage. In other words, it's OK if a station leans left, but if it leans right it's not fair and needs to have more of the "other viewpoint" presented like there is no other place for people to find it. Right. And one senator seriously compared promoting "fairness" on the airwaves to censoring pornography on the airwaves, since it's OK for us to censor those kinds of images it should be OK to censor other things as well (can I get a Heil Hitler?). Yes, conservative talk radio is on an equal level with porn. I sometimes wonder what's inside (or maybe what ISN'T) some of these politicians' heads. So if it's passed does that mean CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC all have to get conservative commentators to "balance out?" Somehow I doubt that would happen even if this ridiculous idea came to fruition.

To close, I do agree we need to come together as Americans and work together, but I am cautious any time I hear a liberal say that since they usually mean "do it my way" (like when they say conservatives need to be "more open minded" meaning they need to be more "open minded" to the liberal point of view, but liberals don't need to be "open minded" to the conservative view). Working together sometimes means making compromises and sometimes it means making sacrifices while other times it means not getting anything done when two sides simply don't see eye-to-eye at all. I hope those in Washington understand what their purpose is, but so far their track record leads me to believe that the next few years won't be anything close to remarkably different than anything we've already seen over the last few decades. I hope I'm wrong for all our sakes. I'm interested in the success of the United States of America; not the success of the Republican or Democratic parties.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election thoughts

So I'm sitting here watching the election results on the AP's cool interactive map which allows you to look at every major race (presidential, governor, senate, house, & voter initiatives) and so I'm seeing an obvious win for Obama and the Democrats. While I'm, of course, disappointed in that outcome for obvious reasons, I do respect democracy and thus, the voters have spoken. It's exactly what I thought in 2006 when voters gave Democrats the majority in both houses of Congress. What I find intriguing is the fact that Congress currently has some of its lowest approval ratings ever, yet voters have decided to increase the majority of the party in power. Hey, I respect the choice even though I think its misguided and shortsighted. Oh well. Come January the Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves when things don't work out since they will have the White House and both houses of Congress for at least two years. Somehow I think they'll still manage to place blame elsewhere since that is what politicians do. I imagine every problem the country faces for the next 20 years will still somehow be President Bush's fault, even ones he wasn't president for when they started (like the banking deregulation!). I find it funny too how when gas was over $4 a gallon just a month ago that too was the fault of President Bush, but now that gas is below $2, of course it had nothing to do with him. I saw a graphic the other day that said "before Bush gas was $1.46 a gallon." I had to roll my eyes at what it was implying. What's even more amusing to me is how quickly people seem to forget history when it suits them and how little most Americans know about presidential policies and budgets.

Little history lesson: I don't remember the price of gas when Bush took office, but let's say it was indeed $1.46 in late 2000/early 2001. I recall a time not too long before that (late 1998 or 1999 or so) when gas was 72 cents a gallon. I also remember driving out west and being horrified at the price of gas being $1.20 a gallon since the highest I had seen in Ohio was around 99 cents. In other words, the gas prices were already climbing quite rapidly before Bush even took office, not to mention the fact that when a president takes office, he begins his part of the process of formulating a budget for the following fiscal year (that process has already begun), which begins in October. In other words, the current budget just began for fiscal year 2009 and will be in effect until the end of September 2009. All new presidents inherit the budget of their predecessor for the first 9 months of their presidency as well as the beginnings of a budget plan for the following fiscal year. So, when people blame Bush for the economic hard times and paint Clinton's presidency as some sort of economic dream, they fail to remember that the economy was in a downturn during 2000 as Clinton was leaving office. The events of September 11, for those who don't remember, were the nail in the coffin as far as a recession was concerned then, the airlines in particular, but few seem to remember that. No Bush policies had been implemented by September 2001, nor was his budget in place by then. Not only that, but Clinton inherited a recovering economy in 1993; he didn't just magically turn it around on his own anymore than Bush Senior personally ran it into the ground. I get tired of people blaming or congratulating the president for things he has little control over. While he certainly has a great deal of influence, he is not God.

Anyway, I'm also watching several of the voter initiatives and am really happy so far with the results. Granted, I have no influence on their specific outcomes, but I'm interested in them nonetheless. Three states have marriage definition amendments on the ballot: Florida, Arizona, and of course California. At this point, all three are passing and it looks for sure that Florida's and Arizona's will pass. California's definitely looks hopeful, though I won't assume anything until all the votes are counted. It's been a bit unnerving witnessing the absolute hate that has been directed at the Church in response to their support of Proposition 8, like the Church is somehow solely responsible for it even being on the ballot. I saw a Youtube video this evening that was a commercial in California urging a "No" vote on 8 and it was just pure evil making it look like the Church was out to "take away rights" from poor defenseless gay couples. Sorry, Mormons don't make up anything close to a majority of California residents, so even if every Mormon voted yes, it still wouldn't pass if there weren't others who also believed the same way. I did see a great Youtube video that featured Elder David Bednar (thanks for the links Rochelle!) talking about the effects of Proposition 8 and why the Church believes as they do. He mentioned a concept he called the "tyranny of tolerance," that is basically us being told to "tolerate" homosexual behavior but in turn, they do not have to "tolerate" our views or beliefs. I've never been a huge David A. Bednar fan, but he explains this really well. It can apply to anyone who supports the belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman and is an institution ordained of God.

How sad that those who are opposed to Proposition 8 accuse the Church of "hating" so their way of expressing that is by using hate directed at the Church. Guess those accusing the Church of hating know all about being hateful! I'm hoping it passes not because I have some sort of vendetta against gays or anything of the sort; I simply believe that God has ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman and I believe in modern-day prophets who have reiterated that as well as the will of the Lord.

Another great item my friend Rochelle posted was a talk given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who served in the Quorum of the 12 Apostles until he died a few years ago. Elder Maxwell was an incredibly intelligent and wise man. I always enjoyed hearing him speak, particularly about the "cosmos" which seemed to be a favorite topic. Well, one of the talks he gave not too long ago was about following the First Presidency. For those who aren't familiar, the First Presidency in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is composed of the President and usually 2 counselors. They constitute the leadership of the Church directly under Jesus Christ. Members regard the President of the Church as a living prophet equivalent to Moses or any other Old Testament prophet who speaks with God and acts as his mouthpiece just like in Biblical times. So, when members of the First Presidency, especially the prophet (who is currently Thomas S. Monson) speak, we listen. That doesn't mean we blindly follow, but it does mean we "take heed." Prophets are tools for the Lord to give us counsel, guidance, and general advice. How we apply that counsel is up to us. Well, Elder Maxwell spoke of a time that it would become increasingly more difficult to follow the counsel of the Prophet as the world continues to accept ways and ideas that are inconsistent with scripture, so in following the counsel of the prophet would be less and less popular with those outside the Church. That couldn't be more true today, especially with Proposition 8. I give major "props" (no pun intended!) to all the members and fellow supporters who have had to endure obnoxious chants and harrassment simply because they have a deep-rooted belief in what marriage is and should be and in following the counsel of the prophet. I guess the last days will really "weed" the Church out separating the wheat from the tares. In seeing how Prop 8 has unfolded, I am reminded of the scripture in Isaiah 5:20: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"

We still have a long ways to go in learning that to love someone does not mean we condone everything they do. On the flip side, not approving of choices or lifestyles doesn't mean we cannot love someone or be a part of his/her life. And yes, while I don't doubt the feelings are not choices, how we act on our feelings most certainly are choices we make whether those feelings are sexual in nature or not. That said, God loves all his children despite their choices; he does not hate gays. It is certainly possible for all of us to be more loving and understanding without compromising our beliefs.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Can I get a huge DUH??

In a "shocking" study, the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that the media has been quite slanted in their coverage of this presidential election towards Obama. How? This study simply measured negative vs. positive comments made by news sources towards each campaign from reporters, people interviewed, and anchors. The most slanted? CBS and NBC aired by far the most positive comments for Obama and the fewest for McCain. 73% of CBS's comments were positive for Obama but only 31% positive for McCain while NBC aired 65% positive comments for Obama and just 16% for McCain. ABC was the most balanced of the "free" tv networks with 57% positive comments aired for Obama and 42% for McCain. The most balanced? You got it...Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume which the article said was "equally negative" towards each campaign with 39% positive comments for McCain and 29% for Obama. I find that interesting considering the absolute loathing liberals have for Fox News, accusing it of being biased towards the right. Funny thing is, conservatives basically consider every other network and major newspaper as being biased towards the left and studies like this won't do anything to hurt the beliefs of either side. I am someone who doesn't have cable or satellite (one of the last remaining who still use an old-fashioned antenna...mostly out of necessity mind you!), so my primary news sources tend to be online newspapers, our local printed newspaper, and various news websites and blogs. I came across this article on when I was checking my Yahoo mail. I also frequently read news from the newsfeed that comes on my computer, so from that aspect I get quite a bit of my news from MSNBC just because their articles show up in my news ticker the most. I have been quite disappointed, but hardly all that surprised, in how blatant much of the media is in their support of Obama. And just FYI, this wasn't the only study that found a bias in the media. Another study from The Project for Excellence in Journalism found McCain's coverage has been overwhelmingly negative and Obama's much more mixed since the conventions. All I could do in reading this article was let out a "DUH!"

It's not just broadcast media, it's printed media too. I've been getting the magazine Newsweek for the past few months as a free gift for unused airline miles and have been very disappointed with how slanted it is towards the left. It's not even close to being balanced, and really, I'd much rather have a balanced publication than one slanted to the left or to the right. Basically, if you have a liberal editorial or columnist, you need a conservative one to balance it out. How sad that so many journalists have bought into the idea that it is their job to influence readers rather than to simply present an objective view so the reader can make their own decision. Too often it seems as I've read and heard accounts by reporters their personal opinions injected into the actual reporting. If I wanted your opinion, I'll read the Opinion page or wait for an editorial. Just present me with the facts and leave out personal conjectures. Thanks

In a somewhat related political topic, I found a really interesting blog post from the conservative blogger at, the Akron Beacon-Journal's online version. His most recent post talks about comparing European socialist models to the US and cites a 2004 study from a pair of Swedish economists. As his blog points out, Sweden is one of the countries that liberals point to as a model for the US to follow. The Swedish economists, however, concluded that despite all the socialist aspects present in much of Europe, Europe as a whole continues to lag behind the US in terms of Gross Domestic Product and in how much money its citizens have. Some of the stats I found interesting were: the average living space for "poor" Americans was 1,200 square feet while the average living space for ALL Europeans (rich and poor) was 1,000 square feet; a larger percentage of people in Sweden would be considered living below the poverty line than people in the US despite Sweden's socialist policies; even in the US, a large percentage of "poor" people (45.9%) own their own homes, 72.8% own cars, and a whopping 77% have air conditioning (we don't have AC but again, not by choice!), things still considered luxuries in western Europe. Of course another important point is that the US largely supplies military defense for Europe, so that's a cost they have significantly less than we do, yet despite that we're still ahead economically. Now, bear in mind this study is from 2004 and things have changed, but don't forget that not only is the US in an economic downturn, but Europe is as well.

Another important point the blogger made that I totally agree with is that whenever someone accuses a liberal of having "socialist" ideas, it's taken as a big insult. I guess it's because socialism and communism have become such "bad words" in this country, but at the same time it's amost like those who support socialist policies, even those that lean towards socialism, are afraid to tell it like it is, knowing that any association with "socialism" is a fast-track to failure. I know for me, probably the biggest reason I'm voting for McCain is because Obama's ideas, as I have said, "reek of socialism." Forcing people to give up their income in the name of "spreading the wealth" is a form of socialism. We will never solve the problems of poverty by simply forcing people to give up what is theirs to others. That simply continues, if not exacerbates, the problem because it does not address the root of the problem. Poverty will only be solved when our society accepts the value that having gross excess isn't about "glutting ourselves" (as my mom says) but instead, those who are greatly blessed with material and financial wealth can in turn bless the lives of others. On top of that we have to more equally value the different roles we play in society (meaning entertainment figures like pro-athletes aren't valued way higher than teachers for instance or being a full-time mother is regarded as an actual full-time occupation even though it doesn't bring in a paycheck from an employer). In turn, those who would benefit from that help shouldn't just be given handouts, but aid in being able to sustain their own livelihoods and in turn, help others. Until that becomes voluntary and a core, common value no amount of government-forced "sharing the wealth" will solve poverty or lift the poor out of the gutters as we have seen in countless nations who have tried communism and socialism and even here with our many social welfare programs. And yes, this comes from someone who currently has around $20,000 in loan debt for school and a house that is about to be foreclosed on. I hardly qualify as "wealthy" by ANY financial use of the word (though I consider myself very wealthy in blessings!). The tools available to me, student grants and loans, are a way for me to get an education so I can be an idependent contributor to society. Me paying them back allows others later to enjoy the same opportunities.

My friend Nate (who is also my bishop!) showed me a great verse in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants on Friday and I read it again today during church. We all know the scriptural warnings against the rich, mainly in loving riches over God and our fellow man. These verses address both rich and poor and are found in D&C 56:16-17, a revelation received by Joseph Smith in June 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio:

16 Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved!

Of course this verse is pretty standard rhetoric to most Christians; that is that worldy riches won't do us much good in the afterlife and loving riches pulls us away from God. There is nothing evil about being rich; only in loving riches more than God. This next verse, though is what stands out to me.

17 Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands!

I added the underlines, but it pretty much sums up my feelings. How often do we see scriptural warnings to poor people? Hardly ever; indeed the next verse is much "nicer" in that the poor shall "see the Kingdom of God" provided they are "poor in spirit" (i.e. humble). Giving our excess to the "poor" isn't about entitlement, it's about helping those that need help so they can have the same opportunities to make their own living and be self-sustaining. For those with great wealth, it falls under "where much is given, much is required" as I mentioned before in terms of being a tool in the hands of God to bless others. For those with little wealth, there is an eternal principle that some type of work is required for blessings, even monetary blessings and again, where much is given, much is required. Really,it would be more correct to say, where anything is given, something is required whether it be some type of service, repayment, or humility.