Saturday, April 26, 2008

Starting Five: The Kinks

Long before Noel and Liam Gallagher hit it big with Oasis in the 90's (or Charlie and Liam Pace became one-hit wonders with Drive Shaft on "Lost"), Ray and Dave Davies were the prototypical feuding brother British rockers. The Kinks usually get left out of the mix when a conversation of first-tier British Invasion bands takes place. Everyone knows the Beatles, everyone knows The Stones, and most people have heard of The Who, but the circle of life isn't complete without The Kinks.

For those of you who aren't too familiar with Ray and Dave, here is a starter set of excellent tracks. You may be surprised to realize how many of these you already know.

Point Guard: "Village Green Preservation Society"

This one never gets any radio airplay, but to me it represents the Kinks better than any other track (and hence is worthy of the Point Guard spot). While the FM dial favors the Kink's hard rockers, this song is much more whimsical, and is the title track for a late 60's concept album of the same name that celebrated the foibles of small-town British life. The lyrics are a lot of fun, advocating a preservation of life's little goodies (strawberry jam, Donald Duck, billiards) with Ray Davies' signature wit. I actually wound up using this album in my graduate thesis on fictional communities.

Shooting Guard: "Waterloo Sunset"

This one also contains a lot of nostalgic references, but it's much more honest than satirical, and probably one of the most gorgeous melodies lead singer/songwriter Ray Davies ever wrote.

Small Forward: "Sunny Afternoon"

At the same time the Kinks were building a reputation for nasty riff-rockers, they were also building a catalog of what I'd call "dreamy" tunes, lazy melodic tunes that were less about macho bravado and more about pointing out the weary difficulties of day-to-day life or the zaniness of British culture. Far more than The Beatles or The Stones, who focused on topics like love and rebellion, The Kinks actually spent a lot of time singing about being British. "Sunny Afternoon" is perhaps their best-known (and loved) example.

Power Forward: "You Really Got Me"

It kills me that so many people think this is a Van Halen song. Not because I dislike Van Halen--far from it--more because the Kinks' original is so much more raw, honest, and effective. This was the "last chance" track for the Kinks...the song they recorded as their last ditch attempt to make it big after a couple of flop singles. The story goes that in the studio, lead singer Ray was yelling encouragement to his brother Dave during the guitar solo, telling him that this was their last shot at glory. As you can tell, Dave responded.

Center: "Lola"

As huge an anthem as "You Really Got Me" is, "Lola" is perhaps the greatest marriage of the Kinks' riff-power and their wit. Simply put, it is the greatest song ever written about an innocent kid moving to the big city and getting hit on by a transvestite. I can't help but think of Crocodile Dundee in the New York City bar everytime I hear it.

Well I'm not the world's most physical guy,
but when she squeezed me tight,
she nearly broke my spine...

Sixth Man: "All Day and All of the Night"

Some people dismiss this one as little more than a re-hash of "You Really Got Me", and it probably is (if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?), but there's no denying that it's a great hard-rocking track on its own. So we'll make it the sixth man, eh?

Bench: Nothin' in this World Can Stop Me Worryin' Bout that Girl, Set Me Free, Powerman, A Well Respected Man, I Need You, Holiday

Monday, April 21, 2008

An Open Letter to President George W. Bush

Dear Mr. President,

How are you? I am fine. I just thought I would write and let you know what I decided to do with the money I’m getting from your Economic Stimulus Package. It felt like the American thing to do.

Originally I thought I was going to have to use my piece of the refund pie to pay off some self-employment tax, but since I wound up with a rebate, I decided to blow some of it by buying a pair of retro Air Jordan IV’s from an e-Bay vendor out of China. I know you’re more of a baseball guy, but the Air Jordan IV’s are the model Michael Jordan was wearing when he hit a mid-range jump shot over Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference first-round series. This was long before Jordan started leading the Bulls to three-peats in the 90’s, and almost a decade before he pushed off of Byron Russell to win the ’98 title over the Jazz. For a long time I have felt like there was something missing in my life—a home, a spouse, children—but now I understand that what I really need are black patent leather mid-tops with a visible air bubble and red trim. So thanks, man.

While I’m at it, I thought I would include some suggestions for stuff you can work on while you’re still President. If you had faked your death sometime after 9/11 and hung out with Elvis and Wilt Chamberlain the rest of your life, your legacy would be pretty set. But since we don’t know how this whole Iraq thing is going to pan out in the long run, it might be smart to get a few more steaks on the grill, so to speak.

Here are my ideas:

1. Grow a soul patch.

It’s been a long time since the days when Abraham Lincoln made his mark on the Presidency with a sweet Amish-style beard. Facial hair has been a rarity for a President since then. So why not break the mold a bit and grow a fly soul patch? It wouldn’t be too over the top like mutton chops, but it would still say, “hey, I’m leader of the free world, plus I like to get my groove on.” It's done wonders for Howie Mandel's career. Can’t lose with a soul patch.

2. Get Led Zeppelin to do a reunion tour.

I’ve found over the years that if your own personal approval ratings are suffering, it’s good to latch yourself on to someone who is really popular, because that association makes people like you, too. No one would care if you helped put together an Eagles’ reunion, because only half of their songs are any good, but everyone likes Led Zeppelin. They played a reunion concert a few months ago across “the pond” in England—they’re British, you see—but that was just a one-shot deal, and now their lead singer is on some folk tour with Allison Krauss. If you could convince him to hook up with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones again (their original drummer is dead, but his kid is pretty good), America would always remember you as the President that got Led Zeppelin back together again, and you would always be cool. Or better yet, you could start your own band, and then people could say, "well, I don't know that I agree with some of his foreign policy decisions, but his band rocked."

3. Make treadmills illegal.

I was thinking about this whole “legalize marijuana” thing, and I realized that when people want to legalize something that is bad for them, they always argue that if you don’t legalize it everyone will do it anyway, only they will use unsafe methods to do so. But I think there’s a big psychological thing going on here, and I think that maybe if we made something illegal that was good for the American people, we might be able to really help some folks out. If we made treadmills illegal, people would start buying them on the black market like crazy and store them in their basements. Then in the dark of night, America would be working hard on its obesity crisis instead of watching TV. Local gyms could set up secret “Treadmill Clubs” that would only be available to those in the know, and if single guys like me met girls there, we would score double points because they would think we’re health conscious and we’re the “bad boy”. You wouldn’t have to step up law enforcement, because you’d really want people to use treadmills, and people are less angry at the government when they think they are getting away with something. It’s a win-win.

4. Build a friggin’ high tower someplace.

I for one am getting tired of hearing about how some ultra-rich prince in some foreign country is trying to build the tallest building in the world with my gas money. That totally sucks. If we are truly the world’s only superpower (other than the emerging People’s Republic of China, which is Communist, or at least “Communist-Lite” if you consider their whole economic thing), we should have the tallest building in the world. Nuts to this “mile-high tower in Dubai” thing. I don’t even care if we just stick some high-rise rollercoaster in Iowa somewhere, America needs the “tallest manmade structure” title.

5. Get Giordano’s to open a pizzeria in Utah.

I’ve already gone over this in a previous letter, but in spite of verbal eloquence and rising blog traffic numbers, no one from Giordano’s ever got back to me. So now I turn to you. Mr. President, the pizza in Utah blows. We’ve got tons of good places to eat like Red Iguana and Q4U, but when it comes to pizza, the closest thing we’ve got is a place out in Holladay called Gepetto’s, which has great Calzones, but still comes up short when compared to the deep-dish goodness of a Chicago original. I keep hearing that Giordano’s could never open a location in Utah because the crust would never rise properly at our elevation in the midst of the Rocky Mountains, but I think that’s bull. If we can make DVD players that know when to bleep out F-bombs and naked bits, we can make a deep-dish pizza in Zion.

6. Build tons of roundabouts.

It will take a while for everyone out here in Utah to get adjusted, because my fellow drivers are among the most oblivious on the planet, but I think if there’s one thing we really need to emulate about Europe (as opposed to Health Care and an occasional habit of getting overrun by Nazi’s), it is the roundabout. The day of the four-way stop is over. I live right next to a five-way stop, and it’s horrible to get through because everyone sits around looking for someone else to go, until someone finally decides to just hit the gas even if they were the last person to get to the intersection, just because they’re tired of sitting around while some soccer mom in an inexplicably pimped-out Cadillac Escalade tries to figure out if she should wait because the person across the way got there first or if she should go because she is to the right of the other guy, and she could swear that in Driver’s Ed they said something about the dude on the right having the right of way, or maybe it was “choose the right when a choice is placed before you”, or maybe that other guy should have just gone instead of sitting there texting smiley-face logos to some girl he was after but has no chance with because he should really play hard to get because that in the long run is much more appealing in a socio-cultural structure that favors traditional male-female dating roles and makes the male more attractive in an unattainable, “bad boy” way, which would be all the more complete if he were to buy an illegal treadmill.

7. Break off and form your own political party.

One of the coolest Presidents ever was Teddy Roosevelt (who also had facial hair, by the way). One of the reasons he was so cool was that he started his own political party. Not only that, but he gave it a killer name: The Bull Moose Party. Nobody really knows what they stood for, but they remember the name, and they remember the man. So really, what can the Republican Party do for you now? Why not distinguish yourself as an innovator? You could call it “The Super Friends”, or “G-Man and the G-Men”, or “The Rolling Stones.” Tons of good options here.

8. Annex Mexico.

So you rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when you tried to pass off that “it’s not amnesty, but it’s really amnesty” deal for illegal immigrants. Let’s face it, it’s a problem that isn’t going to get any easier, and it’s probably a problem that won’t be solved without making someone feel put out. That’s why I say, if everyone in Mexico is so desperate to come to America, why not bring America to them? And I don’t mean let’s go build a McDonald’s in Chihuahua or open a Ford plant in Mexico City; let’s make Mexico a state. Yeah, you’d probably rub big business the wrong way, but let’s be serious’re a lame duck president…what do you need big business for anymore? The next six months are the only opportunity you will have to just let it ride, baby. So cash in while you can.

9. Make sure McCain picks a good VP.

You’ve already made a formal endorsement of Senator John McCain for President, so now what you need to do is make sure he picks someone good as a running mate. See, John McCain has lots of experience, but he’s really old, and if he gets elected all we’re going to hear are re-hashed Dick Cheney heart attack jokes for four years. So I’d make sure he snags someone young and good-looking, who wouldn’t cause people to panic if he chokes on a Chili Dog.

Here’s my short list:

Mitt Romney

Pro: He’s got an extensive economic success record, which would be critical in lieu of the recent housing crisis. Plus he’s LDS and he’s got great hair, so he’s got the honesty thing and the Reagan thing all locked up.

Con: He can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes, like when his kid prank calls him using sound bites from Arnold Schwartzenegger. But then again, that’s why you guys pick advisors, right?

Samuel L. Jackson

Pro: Unlike Bill Cosby or Colin Powell, Samuel L. Jackson is a cool black guy that no one will ever accuse of selling out to the Republican Party. So you’ve got that diversity thing, plus a guy that no one wants to mess with. Honestly, if you were Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and you had to sit across the negotiating table from Julius from “Pulp Fiction”, would you feel cocky?

Con: There’s no real downside here.

Kate Beckinsale

Pro: If good looks are a bonus for the guy candidates, imagine what it would do for a female candidate. Plus Beckinsale is already married, so I wouldn’t have to worry about her schedule being too busy for us to ever date or anything.

Con: She’s British, but I don’t know if there’s any rule against a foreign person being the Vice President, and she had a pretty decent American accent in “Pearl Harbor”—real patriotic movie!—anyway.

10. Drill for oil in Alaska.

So this gas thing is killing me, man…seriously. It doesn’t make any difference to go to Maverick and use my Adventure Club Card anymore. The big problem as I see it is that we keep depending on foreign oil to gas up our Humvee’s (our watered-down, consumer-friendly Humvee’s, anyway), and as long as that’s the case we’re going to be tied down to manipulative speculation and a region of the world where most people are flat-out crazy. So I say let’s nail Alaska. For one, the place is huge (you need to look at it on a real globe, cause the little cut-away illustration on paper maps—the one next to Hawaii—doesn’t do it justice), and we could still preserve tons of space to just sit around and be natural. No one lives up there other than salmon fisherman—their only basketball player plays for the Jazz now—and they would probably appreciate a second gig drilling oil during the off-season. Think of it, if we started producing our own oil, then by November, you could call a big meeting with all the oil barons from Saudi Arabia and Iran and Venezuela, then five minutes into the conference, you could stand up and say, “suck on this, amigos”, give them the double-bird and walk away from the table. That would be the coolest thing ever.

So there you go, sir…ten relatively easy ways to ensure that the Bush Jr. Administration leaves a positive mark on American history. It will take some time to work out the rest of the stuff, but if you pull off at least three or four of my ideas, you’re guaranteed to be in the top 50% of all-time Commander-in-Chief’s at least. And you’ll be way cooler than Jimmy Carter.



PS: Say hi to Condi for me.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Official 2008 Wounded Mosquito NBA Playoff Preview!

This weekend, after an historic regular season (though all seasons are historic, if you think about it), the NBA Playoffs finally get started. To better prepare you for this important TV viewing, the experts at The Wounded Mosquito have hashed out some hard statistics, had some killer curry, and have come out with the following playoff forecast:

First Round

Eastern Conference:

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks

Analysis:The Boston Celtics have just completed the greatest one-season turnaround in league history, due almost entirely to the addition of veteran MVP power forward Kevin Garnett. They boast the best record in the NBA, an All-Star lineup of sharpshooters, one of the best lock-down defenses in the league, and play with unbridled enthusiasm. The Atlanta Hawks finished eight games under .500 at 37-45 and drafted Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams three years ago.

Prediction:Hawks in five.

(2) Detroit Pistons vs. (7) Philadelphia 76ers

Analysis:Expert forecasters note that the Pistons are the perfect darkhorse, lagging behind media darling Boston, yet finishing with a better record than most of the Western Conference teams that have been so prominently highlighted throughout the season. The Philadelphia 76ers traded Allen Iverson for Andre Miller and got Gordan Giricek for Kyle Korver.

Prediction:Expert forecasters also predict the weather. Sixers in seven.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Toronto Raptors

Analysis:No one really cares about this series. One team is in Florida, the other is in Canada. On the plus side, the blue Orlando uses for its uniforms these days looks much cooler than the wussie blue they used back in the day.


(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Washington Wizards

Analysis:The Washington Wizards spent most of their season without All-Star goofball Gilbert Arenas and a good portion of it without All-Star Caron Butler, yet they finished with a winning record, which in the Eastern Conference is like distributing loaves and fishes to the five thousand. If the Cavs lost LeBron James for half the season, the team would likely be strapped to a log raft, floated out onto Lake Erie, and given a premature Viking Funeral by the citizens of Cleveland.

Prediction:Cleveland in six. Seriously, if you can lose two All-Stars and finish with that kind of record, the East must really, really suck.

Western Conference:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Denver Nuggets

Analysis:After one of the most competitive conference races of all time, the Los Angeles Lakers finished on top, largely due to the unselfish play of perennial pariah Kobe Bryant and the inexplicably lopsided trade the team made for Pau Gasol. Denver made a similarly lopsided trade for Allen Iverson a little over a year ago, and has been rewarded with the perfect running mate for Carmelo "Sucker Punch" Anthony, but only if you're talking about tattoo numbers.

Prediction:It has been revealed that this is the real footage from that Aston Martin-jumping stunt that came out about a week ago. But even with Kobe dead and the Lakers playing with a lookalike named Clive Odenkirk of Erie, Pennsylvania, Denver would still have to display enough chemistry to take four out of seven games in a playoff series. Lakers in five.

(2) New Orleans Hornets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

Analysis:The Dallas Mavericks are feeling pretty comfortable entering the playoffs without the league's best record or the pressure of having blown a 2-0 lead in the Finals. Plus Golden State didn't even make the playoffs this time. You've gotta love low expectations. Chris Paul is really short.

Prediction:Mavericks in seven, with lots of exciting blog posts from Dallas owner Mark Cuban.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Phoenix Suns

Analysis:The San Antonio Spurs have won three titles in this decade, but no one wants to consider them a dynasty because a: they never win two in a row, and b: they are boring. However, they still have the Eva Longoria factor working in their favor. Phoenix finally seems to have adjusted to the addition of real slow guy Shaquille O'Neal, and Grant Hill hasn't exploded all season, so this could be a pretty good series.

Prediction:Spurs in six after Robert Horry decapitates Steve Nash on a free-throw attempt, clearing both benches, and getting two-thirds of the Suns team suspended for the pivotal game, which is refereed entirely by Alamo Tour Guides.

(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Houston Rockets

Analysis:Honestly, it seems like these teams face each other in the playoffs every year. After a decade of scoring titles and ESPN highlights, Tracey McGrady still hasn't made it past the first round, and no one seems to care that the Rockets pulled off the third-longest winning streak in league history earlier in the season. Jerry Sloan has the longest coaching tenure of any major professional sport by at least three decades, and could probably beat up any NBA player in a fistfight.

Prediction:Jazz in seven in a pound-for-pound repeat of last season, complete with another riveting crying session from AK-47.

Second Round:

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Analysis:Atlanta has some good players but is not a really good team. Philadelphia also has some good players, and their fans can be really mean sometimes.

Prediction:This is the series that finally convinces David Stern to dissolve the Eastern Conference and convert the playoffs to a 16-team seeded tournament. Atlanta wins in seven after two scoreless ties, mostly because of divine pity on the citizens of Atlanta after having to go through the whole Michael Vick thing.

Token Magic-Raptors Winner vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Analysis:Nike has put a lot of money behind LeBron James. I'm just saying.

Prediction:Cavaliers in five, largely on the strength of Ben Wallace's ever expanding afro haircut.

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Utah Jazz

Analysis:This is one of the most underrated rivalries in professional sports, mostly because the Lakers aren't aware that there is a rivalry.

Prediction:Going into game four with a 2-1 lead in the series, Kobe and the Lakers are beset by 20,000 enraged Mormons at EnergySolutions Arena. In the carnage that follows, 300 people are killed, including Kobe, Derek Fisher, Jack Nicholson, and Greg Ostertag. Ultimately the referees give the game and the series to the Jazz because of a three-point shooting demonstration Kyle Korver puts on for the young ladies of Salt Lake City in a post-riot shootaround.

Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs

Analysis:Dallas mortgaged its future by trading for veteran point guard Jason Kidd, who they actually drafted years and years ago but let get away to Phoenix for some reason. San Antonio mortgaged its future by continuing to play a lineup with no one under the age of forty--save for Tony Parker, who is responsible for the Eva Longoria Factor.

Prediction:San Antonio wins in six, Dirk takes another walkabout tour of Australia, and Mark Cuban sells the Mavericks to the People's Republic of China in time for them to represent the waving banner of pseudo-Communism in the Summer Olympics.

Conference Finals:

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Analysis:I am totally serious about this Nike thing.

Prediction:Cavs in five.

Western Conference

Utah Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs

Analysis:Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is a slightly less mean version of Jerry Sloan. The Jazz and the Spurs are two of the NBA's smallest market teams, which means there is a good chance the national media will forget to send crews to cover half the series games. The Jazz haven't won in San Antonio since Clinton-Lewinski jokes were still fresh.

Prediction:Marital strife between Andre Kirilenko and Russian Pop-Star wife Masha leads to another public emotional breakdown, which distracts the feminine sensitivities of Eva Longoria long enough to enable the Jazz to squeak out a one-point game seven victory. "Desperate Housewives" is immediately cancelled, and the Spurs are dismissed as a flash-in-the pan champion.

NBA Finals:

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Utah Jazz

Analysis:Two of the perennial underdog pro sports cities, Cleveland fans still reel at the mention of "The Drive", "The Fumble", and "The Drew Carey Show". Jazz fans are from Utah, a state that was founded by a population that had been driven out of three states and sent out into the middle of the desert back in the 1800's. So it's fair to say there are some inferiority complexes in play here. But there's also that Nike thing.

Prediction:In a deciding game seven in Salt Lake City, LeBron James pushes off of Ronnie Brewer to hit a mid-range jumper that puts Cleveland up by two. But before Carlos Boozer can inbound the ball to Deron Williams, an enraged arena once again storms the court, and two guys from Orem steal the Larry O'Brien Trophy, which is eventually engraved with the phrase, "Utah Jazz--NBA Champions 1997-98, 2007-08" and stored in the LDS church's Granite Vault next to Elvis' copy of the Book of Mormon. LeBron James winds up signing with the New York Knicks for an unheard-of 1.7 billion dollars, and sees his career go to pot under the tutelage of coach Isiah Thomas. The city of Cleveland sinks into Lake Erie.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Necessity of Risk (Unrated Director’s Cut)

(The following is a talk I gave in Sacrament Meeting last weekend, adapted slightly because visual jokes aren’t always funny when you read them…)

Before I begin this morning I would like to assure my sister that I got a full seven hour’s rest last night, so there’s no risk of me making any sleep-deprived references to her flowering relationship with my roommate over the pulpit…although I would like to mention that my other roommate Mark is very eligible. He is getting ready to graduate from the prestigious L. J. Quinney School of Law here at the University of Utah in a couple of weeks. Mark is an accomplished writer and editor, and enjoys fishing, basketball and Asian cinema.

In Doctrine and Covenants section 58 we read:

“It is not meet that I should command in all things…men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will…for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.”

It is clear from these verses that the Lord expects us to take initiative in our lives. But often this initiative must be taken with a great deal of faith. We must make decisions without all the information. We must take risks. That is what I’d like to talk about this morning.

If you think about it, our very presence here in mortality is based on risk. Before we came here, we heard a version of the Plan of Salvation that would have guaranteed us success, but we rejected it. Instead we chose to come here to earth and prove ourselves worthy of Eternal Life. We chose a plan that involved personal agency…and risk.

It is important to understand the difference between risk taking and thrill-seeking. As we try to define ourselves, to figure out what we want to do with our lives, some of us get carried away into taking unnecessary risks. President James E. Faust counseled us on this when he said:

“Your identity…cannot be found from thrill seeking, such as intentionally and unnecessarily exposing your life or your soul to any kind of danger, physical or moral.”

So to clarify, I’ve come up with a few examples of good risks and bad risks:

*Invest a portion of your monthly salary in savings or mutual funds—good risk.

*Drive to Vegas, slap your life savings on red and let it ride, baby—bad risk.

*Volunteer to sing the National Anthem at a televised sporting event—good risk.

*Drop acid and BASE jump naked off the Church Office Building—bad risk.

*Call the cute girl in your Institute class even though she has webbed toes—good risk.

*Wait in the bushes outside Scarlett Johanssen’s house with a dozen roses, a high-powered telephoto camera and sixteen pages of Swedish poetry—bad risk.

Good risks are a part of the plan, and draw us closer to the Lord. Bad risks take us off the path and lead to darkness.

Obviously the decisions we face that have the greatest potential for our growth will come with a hefty dose of fear. In those cases, we must trust that, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counsels:

“If God has told you something is right, if something is indeed true for you, he will provide the way for you to accomplish it.”

That is why the prophets counsel us to avoid postponing the responsibilities of life for financial or other reasons. We shouldn’t postpone marriage until graduation. We shouldn’t postpone having children until we buy a house or get a promotion at work. It’s not that the Lord wants us to be financially irresponsible, it’s because He wants us to trust Him enough to learn that when we are trying to accomplish His purposes, He will enable us to do so.

Elder Boyd K. Packer summed up the principle of risk very nicely:

"Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two."

Whenever I hear that quote I think about the scene near the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” where Indy has to cross the bottomless pit in order to get the Holy Grail and save Sean Connery. The bridge is in front of him, but he can’t see it, and he has to take a “leap of faith” in order to cross. Then once he does he is able to get into the interior Grail Chamber and get the chalice from the 1,000-year-old Knight of the Round Table, and everything’s cool.

It would be nice if in the process of making major decisions in life, we could add up all the evidence and make a call based on a perfect understanding of all the results. But that is not the plan. We can pray diligently to discover the Lord’s will for us, but He will not always make it known to us before the time comes to act. Elder Richard G. Scott illustrates this:

"When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.

When He answers no, it is to prevent error.

When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act."

So to translate that into single-person speak, we have to make the phone call. We have to return the phone call. Eventually we have to set the phone down and have an actual face-to-face conversation…

In the examples I cited earlier, you’ll notice that even in the cases of the good risks, there is no guarantee of success. There are situations where taking a risk and making a correct decision will lead to immediate success—you get a job, you get a date, your friend accepts a visit from the missionaries. But there are also situations where we must persist in taking risks, enduring to the end, trusting that we are trying to do the right thing, and that according to the Lord’s timing, the blessing will come. It’s one thing to ask a friend to take the discussions when the last one said no. It’s something else to ask that friend to take the discussions when the last twelve have said no. To that Elder Holland says this:

“Face your doubts. Master your fears. 'Cast not away therefore your confidence.' Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you.”

Taking risks is part of the stretching process that builds our faith and testimony, that shows us that “after much tribulation cometh the blessing”.

There is encouragement to be taken from discouraging situations, though. If I might be permitted to quote from the church’s honorary General Authority, I’d like to read my favorite passage from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Here Screwtape is cautioning his demonic protégé Wormwood against getting too excited when a righteous person runs into some adversity:

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Much of this boils down to one central challenge: In order to grow, we must be willing to fail.

As the philosopher Epictetus said, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” Or as President Michael Redd counseled me several months ago, we need to “fail forward fast”. Staying in our comfort zones may ensure that we continue to succeed at the things we are already good at, but only by stepping out of these comfort zones will we see any real spiritual growth.

During the first year of my time at Utah State University, I had a very enlightening conversation with my student ward Bishop, who counseled me to seek out these risky types of experiences. He said they would put me in “frightening” situations, and that these experiences would lead to substantial growth. (Obviously he was referring to the good kinds of risks as opposed to the BASE-jumping kind of risks.)

A couple of months later I got a call from a ward friend named Phil. Phil was the lead singer in a Neil Diamond cover band who had been offered the chance to headline the USU Valentine’s Dance, and he wanted to know if I wanted to play the drums for them. I had mentioned to him in a prior conversation that I played, and would be available to jam if they were ever looking for someone.

Jamming was one thing, but this was something entirely different. At that point in my career I had performed at a Ward Talent Show and in my friend’s garage, but that was about it. A USU dance would be attended by hundreds of people. Plus the band’s violin player was really cute, and the guy on the Accordion was a much more accomplished musician than I’d ever be. I felt totally out of my league.

So obviously I said yes.

It might have been the advice of my Bishop. It might have been my enduring passion for the immortal work of Neil Diamond. It might have been because I wanted to have an excuse to get to know the cute violinist. Whatever the reason, I decided to face my fears and challenge myself. In return I had one of the most memorable experiences of my time in grad school.

I didn’t even come close to a perfect performance. I screwed up several times, though nothing ever actually caught fire, and I didn’t fall off the stage. I never even got to take out the violinist, either. But at 2AM as I sat with the band around a table at Beto’s after the gig, I was met with a distinct sense of satisfaction, even as they swore they’d never play another Neil Diamond song in public again.

Most of the growth I have experienced in life, the major turning points I have made, have largely come as a result of the risks I’ve had to take. In those times, it’s good to keep in mind the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants section 84:

“…for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”

Or, in John Madden’s words:

“Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.”

The Lord has promised He will be with us, and it is up to us to provide the basic faith that will enable Him to give us the blessings He is ready to provide.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mosquito Bites, Vol. II

Quick takes and updates from Planet Josh…

Beginning of the End?

The other night I was driving south on Highway 89 past Kitty Pappa’s Steakhouse on my way to work at 12:45AM, and I realized something. I realized that it didn’t feel strange at all to be driving to work at one in the morning. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

You Gotta Love It, Baby

The NBA playoffs start in about a week, and this is the first time I can remember thinking the Jazz have an equal chance of winning the title or losing in the first round. They are that good, and so is the rest of the Western Conference. About the only team that seriously concerns me is San Antonio, and after seeing the Jazz punk them hard in Salt Lake a while back, I’m not even that intimidated by the Spurs, either. Crazy thing, confidence…

“Why yes…I WOULD like some fries with that”

It may have stemmed from my Monday visits with my grandfather last summer (we’d always go grab fast food for lunch), but for some reason I’ve had this taste for McDonald’s fries lately. As long as I’ve hated their regular food, I still like the fries. Of course, you can’t just buy fries at McDonalds—that would be uncivilized—so I’ve been taking advantage of their two Cherry Pies for $1 deal. Now there’s a square meal.

When Life Gives You Lemons...Go To Chick-Fil-A

Another fast food note: more often than not, I try to avoid buying drinks when I go out to eat, and almost universally when I get take-out. It just doesn’t make sense to pay an extra two dollars for a twelve-ounce drink when you can get two liters at the grocery store for a buck. However, there is one exception: Chick-fil-A lemonade. Have you tried this stuff? If not, you must. It is worth the drive to the mall. It is even worth the drive to Sandy to go to the freestanding Chick-fil-A on State and 100th South.

The Truth is Coming in July

Every couple of years, I get on an “X-Files” kick and watch a bunch of the old episodes. I don’t watch anything past Season 7, because that’s when the show went in the tank. Unlike many shows that took a couple of seasons to get rolling—see “Seinfeld”—the early “X-Files” are the best, even though Scully hadn’t quite attained “Ultimate Woman” status until around the time the first movie came out. (I don’t know…it was something about the red hair and green eyes.) Anyway, I finally found out that there’s going to be another movie this summer. Between that, Indiana Jones, and Batman, it could be a pretty fun year.

I Am A Horrible, Insensitive Person…Maybe

A bit of controversy…in my constant quest to find suitable “Catch of the Day” clips, I stumbled across a YouTube series called “Retarded Policeman”. Yeah, the title is pretty much exactly what the series is. It’s essentially a series of staged traffic stops where a mentally handicapped officer makes fun of hapless civilians. Now, I’m usually not too fond of comedy that makes fun of people for things they can’t control; I’m much more in favor of poking my finger at cultural mores or society in general than in trying to ridicule a particular person. Juvenalian satire instead of Horatian. But this series has me hung up. It’s absolutely hilarious, but I’m still not sure if I should be laughing. In a way, I’m inclined to justify it, because the series makes the policeman—who is played by the director’s younger brother—an endearing character, and the target of the humor always seems to be the person he’s pulling over. At any rate, the fundamental idea itself—crossing the awkwardness of a traffic stop with the awkwardness of having a conversation with someone who’s mentally handicapped—is pretty sharp. I’ll let you judge for yourself:

A Man for All Seasons

Have to acknowledge the passing of Mr. Charleton “FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS” Heston…highly quotable as an activist and as an actor. My, my, my…I didn’t realize the man was 84. Of course, according to Bill Simmons on ESPN, the girl that played the brainy nerd on “Beverly Hills, 90210” is 47 now. I guess that joke about all the 90210 cast being in their late 20’s was really true.

Reverend Al Cometh

Big music news…at least as far as my “people I need to see before they are dead” list. Got word that Al Green is coming to Red Butte Gardens this fall. That is huge. I missed Al a couple of summers ago because he came to Vegas right in the middle of a four-week span where I was gone every weekend, and I couldn’t justify the additional road trip (wow, vacations…I remember what those were like!), but now I’m getting my second chance. It really needs no explanation, but for those of you who haven’t been indoctrinated with Al, “Let’s Stay Together” has become one of my all time favorites in recent years. So I can’t wait to get Al over on the “seen” side, along with James Brown, Ray Charles, as opposed to the, “too late” side, with John Lee Hooker and Lou Rawls.

Words is Hard

I might be able to blame it on the schedule these days (it’s become an easy catch-all), but I’ve had the toughest time getting into any books lately. I’ve always had a habit of starting books and not finishing them, but this streak is getting bad. In the last couple of months, I’ve started A World Lit Only by Fire (non-LDS treatise on the Apostasy), A Brief History of Time (that Stephen Hawking book), Lost in the Funhouse (Andy Kaufmann bio), and Raging Bull (the book the Robert DeNiro movie was based on)…all good books I assume, but I haven’t gotten much farther than the first chapter. Bummer, man.

"They're all gonna laugh at you!"

A little while back I told my Bishop I'd be willing to read over anyone's English paper if they needed some help, since I wasn't currently teaching, could use the practice, and hey, the inevitable karma that comes from being selfless once every few years. So he called me as the Ward English Tutor, which was totally cool except that when I got sustained, no one believed he was serious (he has the same reputation as a joker I do), and so everyone started laughing. When President Hinckley's son was sustained as a General Authority, he said he was the first GA to ever come with a disclaimer. I'm the only person I know of who's had a congregation openly laugh during his sustaining.

The Obama Shuffle

I keep stumbling on these clips at work…Barack Obama dancing with Ellen Degeneres. Once on her show, the other via satellite from some campaign rally in Texas. On the first one he seems pretty laid back; in fact, he almost initiates the boogie. But for some reason on the second he seems really awkward. Maybe it’s because he can’t hear the music he’s supposed to be dancing with, but he just has this great look on his face that seems to say, “try to look Presidential…try to look Presidential”. I’ll take it over Clinton and his saxophone any day—mostly because it’s reassuring to see a nominee even more bowlegged than I am—but it only goes to prove my theory about politicians: they are all nerds.

Presidential Boogie, Reloaded

President Bush also did a little two-step lately, though I like this one he did on tour much better. Can’t say much for his attempt at conga-playing; here’s my reaction to that. Haven’t seen any clips of Hillary dancing; seems she’s more preoccupied with verbal dancing these days—BOSNIA!—though at least one video tries to get her off the hook with that one. I don’t think McCain even thinks about getting down with his bad self anymore…I just can’t get over how much he looks just like the aged version of David Bowman from “2001: A Space Odyssey”, after he goes through the monilith star gate.

The Korver Phenomenon

Thanks to the new gig I’ve been able to score press passes to a few Jazz games. So I’ve been able to do a little shooting from the baseline again, even though I still haven’t picked up my own SLR (gotta wait and see what the taxman has to say, first). A couple of weeks back, I shot the Jazz-Clippers game and got a front-row seat to the Kyle Korver Phenomenon. Most of the time I’d be near the corner of the court, so he’d regularly swing out in my direction on picks or wait out beyond the arc for a kick-out three. Whenever he entered or exited the game or touched the ball, the guy got huge cheers, and even when he was just running around people were calling out to him all the time. Once on his way down some girls sitting courtside got his attention, and when he waved at them (bashfully, I might say), they almost fell out of their chairs.

So as a single LDS guy who’s been unsuccessfully working the single’s scene in Salt Lake for over a decade, I’m just trying to focus real hard on the idea that Korver will keep hitting the three-ball and eventually help Deron Williams forge a Jazz dynasty over the next ten years, which might lead to NBA Commissioner David Stern’s suicide, but would at least help me feel a lot better about eventually starting a survivalist cult in southeastern Idaho and resigning myself to a life of celibacy.