Thursday, February 16, 2006

It's alive!

As all of you probably know, I also blog over at Various Stages of Mormondom. (That name always bothers me; it really should be Various Stages of Mormonism. "Mormondom" connotes a physical location to me, not a religion.)

What you may not know is that we've finally got the blog back up and running after a month or two of dormancy. Our experiment with not having assigned days was, as Geoff J prophesied, a disaster. No one posted anything, and the longer no one posted, the better the next post would have to be, and it looped into a vicious cycle.

Well, we've gone back to assigned days but have made the assigned topics much more vague. I think VSOM had already gone through all of the Mormon hot topics anyway. Anyway, my new posting day is Thursday, so you can look for my posts over there each Thursday morning. (But stick around for the other days, because they are all great bloggers over there.)

Here is my first post for the newly resurrected VSOM: Ned's Wager.

I sincerely hope I won't offend anyone with that post (though I can certainly see how it might be viewed as provocative). My intention is explore my new world and see how it's changed without Mormonism or religion in it. If you have any comments on the post, please leave them over at VSOM.

Anyway, I have to promote my VSOM post on my website, in Box 3 of the Mormon Archipelago, because Kim Siever is determined to bury everything in Box 4 under an avalanche of Canadian Olympic news. Hey Kim, we all have access to Internet. If I want Canadian sports headlines, I'll go to the CBC. God help you if you bury my post under curling news, Siever!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

When it absolutely, positively, has to be there overnight...

Maude and I usually don't do much for Valentine's Day. It's a made-up holiday that ranks only slightly above "Love Day" and "Spendover." (I do wish I could have gotten her Lord Huggington, though.)

However, this is the first Valentine's Day since we've been married that Maude has worked in an office. We watched the American version of the Office on Thursday, which has a running joke about the secretary, Pam, and how horrible her fiance Roy is. Everyone in the office gets a Valentine gift except for Pam.

Roy: "What's wrong?"
Pam: "Nothing. It's just that I had to sit here all day while Phyllis got like an entire garden delivered to her."
Roy: "What, you're mad at me?"
Pam: "I mean, I know that we said no big gifts but I was kind of hoping that you'd get me something for Valentine's Day."
Roy: "Well, Valentine's Day isn't over. Let's get you home and you are gonna get the best sex of your life."
[Cut to a shot of Pam, exasperated, staring at the camera.]

Obviously, TV is not a documentary (though the Office is shot in a mockumentary style) but I didn't want Maude to be the only one without flowers at the office. I went to FTD.com and ordered her some flowers. I had to get the more expensive bouquet to ensure it would get to her on Valentine's Day.

During the day, I called her up. Nothing had arrived. She called me as she was leaving, and still nothing had come for her. I bought her some back-up flowers at the supermarket with all the other schlubs (and which were a fraction of the cost of the FTD bouquet).

I called customer service to cancel my order at 10:30 pm on Valentine's Day. The recording warned that wait times could be over 45 minutes. To get my sixty bucks back, I thought it was totally worth it. So I turned the volume on the phone all the way up so I could monitor the tinny hold music and watched some terrible men's figure skating with Maude. (By the way, did you see that skater with the "007" rhinestone outfit? He pantomimed throwing grenades, shooting into the audience, and boxing with an invisible opponent. The worst thing I've ever seen, and not just on TV.)

At about 11:15 pm, I started doubting whether there was more than one person working at the customer service center. I decided to set the phone down, off the hook, and do the dishes, get ready for bed, etc. When I picked the phone up again at 11:45 pm, the hold music was still going strong. Finally, a couple minutes after midnight, an extremely weary sounding woman came onto the line. I felt bad for her, because I could imagine what her day had been like. I gave her my order number and waited as she investigated.

She told me that the warehouse had been shut down all day due to a biohazard scare, and that was why my flowers hadn't arrived, but that they would get there tomorrow. I wish I had asked the customer service woman the following questions: 1) What kind of biohazard could a flower warehouse possibly have? 2) There's a warehouse? Doesn't FTD just forward your order to a local florist? 3) Why would I want to send my wife flowers from a biohazard zone? Happy Valentine's Day, honey! Please don't kiss me, I want to wait and make sure you don't get sick. Has that mole always been there?

Unfortunately, I didn't ask any of these questions. There was an awkward pause while I tried to line up my justifications for a refund in my mind. First of all, I had purchased a more expensive item just so that it would be there on Valentine's. Secondly, I had already bought replacement flowers. Thirdly, sixty bucks is a lot of money. So I persevered, "Um, is it still possible to cancel the order? I kind of wanted them to be there on Valentine's."

I felt bad, like I was asking this minimum wage telephone operator to eat the cost of the flowers instead of a huge flower cartel who apparently can't get their act together on the most important flower day of the year. "Okay, I will refund your money and tell them to destroy the package," she said. This sounded like something out of a spy movie ("Destroy the package!") but she made it seem like I had personally chopped down part of the rain forest and thrown it away.

Will I actually get my money back? Will the infected flowers find their way to Maude regardless? I don't know, but I'm ordering a bunch of stuff from here, just in case. I just hope they can get it to me overnight.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ned's Random Secular Musings

This is where I collect all of my Kulturblog-esque observations that don't really fit in with my usual posts. Here are my recommendations for movies, music, and television.

Movies

Match Point

The first thing you'll hear about this movie is that it is a Woody Allen picture. Personally, I love Woody, but I know he turns some people off. This is not your typical Woody Allen movie. For starters, he's not in it, it's not a comedy, and the plot doesn't involve an ugly old man hooking up with an improbably young and attractive young woman. This is a complete departure from his recent work and you'd never guess in a million years that he wrote it.

Did he write all the British dialogue? There is only one American character, and this movie is full of British slang. How good is this movie? It's so good that not even Scarlett Johansson can ruin it. See this movie.

Music

Death Cab for Cutie, "Plans"

When I was younger, I used to worry that eventually I'd stop liking new music. My parents never seemed to like anything recorded after they had graduated from high school and I guess I thought that was normal.

Fortunately, this hasn't happened to me (yet). Some of my favorite bands have come out in the last couple years, like Bloc Party, The Bravery, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, and The Postal Service. I thought Death Cab's previous album, "Transatlanticism," was just okay, but this new one is great. I love-love-love this album, especially "Soul Meets Body." It's so good that it will soon get way overexposed. I heard it at a Starbucks the other day, so you've been warned. Enjoy this album before it shows up in a Volkswagen commercial.

Television

The Alternative, VH1 Classic. Shown Wed., Thurs., Sun., 11 am and 11 pm Eastern.

Do you remember when MTV used to play music videos? It wasn't all that great. They played the same videos over and over again, usually something terrible like "Naughty Naughty" by Danger Danger or "Funky Cold Medina." However, there were always two hours a week when they played great, new music, during the alternative music show "120 Minutes." There used to be a time when getting a video shown just once on 120 Minutes could make a no-name band. Most famously, when the members of Garbage were looking for a lead singer, they saw Shirley Manson on 120 Minutes and recruited her.

MTV eventually moved the show to MTV2, where I watched it for a few years (when I actually got MTV2). They finally killed it off in favor of Wild Boyz re-runs. Isn't that how life works? Well, 120 Minutes may be dead, but into the breach steps "The Alternative" on VH1 Classic. It's only an hour long, but it's on three times a week. Does anyone actually get VH1 Classic channel? Yes, it's one of those sixty channels in the hundreds range on digital cable that no one ever watches. Well, you should watch this show.

I tivo the show so I can fast-forward through the videos that I don't like. They skew mostly eighties and nineties alternative, which is perfect for my musical taste. Many of the videos from the early eighties are very amusing but nearly unwatchable. That is okay, because the music is great. I've already ordered two cds because of this show. I saw a Nick Cave video ("Do You Love Me?") I hadn't seen since I was 16 and had forgotten how much I liked. Also, though I am a huge Depeche Mode fan, I had never heard early DM song "Get the Balance Right."

To give you a better idea of the type of music, here is a list of the videos shown on the most recent episode (I've bolded the songs I like):

The Church, "Reptile"
Liz Phair, "Supernova"
Sonic Youth, "100%"
P.J. Harvey, "Down by the Water"
They Might Be Giants, "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)"
Dramarama, "Last Cigarette"
Bob Mould, "See a Little Light"
Live, "I Alone"
My Bloody Valentine, "Only Shallow"
The Cure, "Fascination Street"
Depeche Mode, "Shake the Disease"
Gang of Four, "Cadillac"
Utah Saints, "Something Good"
Fishbone, "Everyday Sunshine"

Sure, there are a couple of duds in there (sorry, Susan M!), but who knew they were still playing Cure and Sonic Youth videos on actual television? Not me.

Friday, February 03, 2006

is belief voluntary?

a while back i asked ned if i could do a guest post and he said "yes." the only problem was that i had no idea what i was going to post about. i've been reading his blog pretty much since the beginning and really identified with a lot of what ned was going through, but life got busy and it took me a few months to actually get around to doing a post. anyway...

by way of introduction, i'm a thirty-something guy, mormon all my life, mission, married in the temple, relatively new dad and all of that. not quite two years ago i stopped believing in mormonism. i'll spare you most of the nitty-gritty details, but let's just say that i was never what one would consider an orthodox member (by this point in my life i had become pretty good at being a cafeteria mormon), but when push came to shove i still believed in it, and tried my best to live life as an active member. then one day i got a book that changed my life, a copy of krakauer's under the banner of heaven. i had read and really enjoyed some of his previous books (into the wild and into thin air), and wanted to know what all of the fuss regarding this book was about.

i found the book fascinating, but it also brought up a lot of issues with mormonism that i had either never heard about or had a slight awareness of but had never really looked into on my own. just the classic laundry list--seer stones and hats, papyri, polyandry, crazy quotes from ol' brigham from the journal of discourses, etc., etc., etc. upon finishing the book i still had my belief in mormonism intact, but was left with a nagging feeling that i had to learn more about the issues that were bothering me to 1) see if there was any validity to them, and 2) to figure out how to reconcile this new information with my belief in mormonism.

well, after one night of binging on whatever i could find on these topics on the internet i was no longer a believer. i actually remember the exact moment. i was reading some sermon by brigham young from the JOD and just had a "what the f***!" moment and that was it. i remember saying to myself "oh my gosh, it's really all just made up." from there on out it was over. i kept on going to church for a while, and did a ton of reading and some serious soul-searching over the next few months, but i wasn't able to make myself believe like i had before. i know that when i finally get around to telling my mom about all of this that she's going to cry and beg me to believe again. but she might as well ask me to believe that the intergalactice warlord xenu is the cause of all mental illness, because it would do about as much good. and so this brings us around to the my opening question, "is belief voluntary?"

after thinking long and hard about this my answer is "no," but i'd like to know what others think. it seems to me that my choices are voluntary, as in i can choose to read my scriptures or not, i can choose to go to church or do something else on sundays, and i can choose to live a mormon lifestyle. but belief to me is more of a reaction to our emotions, information and how we process it, our experiences, upbringing, and our own desires. i know plenty of people who have done everything on the mormon checklist (scriptures, pray, go to church, bear testimony, be nice) and then stop believing, and on the other hand have met many jack mormons who have not set foot inside a chapel for years and yet will defend the faith to their death.

i often hear people say that they choose to believe and i just don't buy it. i think that belief chooses them, and that in their current state they have no option but to believe. this makes it much easier for me to be tolerant of those with different beliefs, because i see them as currently having no choice. whatever it is they believe in has them in a bearhug, and unless something happens in their lives to change that they're going to continue in it. slumming around in the bloggernacle i used to wonder how so many people could know all about the issues that made me stop believing and still have such a strong testimony, but now i realize that they don't choose to believe any more than i choose to disbelieve. none of us have any agency in the matter.