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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who used Occam's Razor?

Who used Occam’s Razor?

Since I got married, I have lived in a haunted house, a spooky manor,a phantomed Opera.  Please do not read this sentence to my wife. You see, I married a woman who had children. The moment I said "I do", unexplainable and downright spooky things began to happen.

You will have to be the judge.

Point one - at night, food disappears from the cabinets, potato chips open themselves, and leftovers vanish. If I hide candy, a leftover burger, or the odd sheet cake - I don't really like sheet cake, but I love the frosting - it will be gone by morning. The only way it will last the night is if I can find some creative way to hide it, not using the same place twice.

Two - strange smells emit from the basement on a regular bases, but especially when my boy is home asleep in his room. This is a big concern because the furnace and its pilot light are down there as well.

Three – and this one is really weird. The bathroom used to stay clean, but since our nuptials, the tub has begun to darken like a cloudy day.

Spider webs have been developing around the corners of rooms,

The lights go off, for no reason at all, over the whole house. It’s like we suddenly don’t have any electricity at all, and it stays that way until I call my wife to let her know. Then, suddenly, just as I have brought out all the flashlights and candles, everything goes on like a fun house.

Our dog howls at night and is in the house in the morning when I am sure I put her out the night before.

Over the last two years or so, gas has been disappearing from the cars. My diet coke stash has all but vanished. My full drawers are half empty. Computer paper is scarce, a ream lasting maybe a week where it used to sit there and gather dust for a month or more.

Maybe it is because I am getting older. I don’t know. However I think my wife has known about it for some time. When I reported my findings to her she rolled her eyes.

I turn lights off, they come back on. Off? On. The heat is the same way. I turn it down, and it’s back up. Down? Up.

My socks and underwear disappear along with my nice shirts and my workout shoes. My son’s high school pictures came back the other day and he appeared to be wearing all my clothes. When I approached him with the hard evidence, he told me that I had been so worried about my missing items that I must be projecting them onto him and his school photos – something he claims to have recently learned in his psychology class.

He must be very smart to have learned this, in spite of his horrible attendance. Poor attendance that, he explained to me, has been caused by a combination of faulty locker lock at school, his walking a handicapped friend to wood-shop on the other side of campus, and by bad headaches which affects his perception of time. I can I blame him for any of that. He's such a good kid.

It must be worse than I thought if I am projecting onto my children this way. Just yesterday I thought I say my daughter wearing my leather jacket and she is a vegan. This projection thing has got to stop.

The weirdness in my house since I was married just can’t be anything else. According to Occam's razor, often expressed in Latin as “lex parsimoniae” (the law of economy or succinctness), is a principle that generally recommends selecting from among competing hypotheses the one that allows for the simplest explanation as the most likely and correct one."

To quote Isaac Newton, "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes."

I believe that his wife, Fanny, said it better when she instructed her friends and neighbors to just ignore Mr. N, keep life's explanations simple, and enjoy a warm bran muffin.

So here is the simplest explanation available - as per my children.

I am loosing it. My marbles have been lost on the playground of middle age. My freedom flag flies at half mast. I should, therefore, just accept the fact that my nice stuff is going to disappear, grin and bear it.

Now I better end this thing and go give my daughter a kiss goodbye as she leaves for the evening with what I would otherwise swear were my truck keys and my good felt hat

Friday, October 21, 2011

Celery -vs- Goliath - Making room for bullies

self-portrait
I am a tall and unimposing – like Gomer Pyle, or a piece of walking celery. What I lack in girth I make up in… oh, who am I kidding? I don’t make it up. I am not even as tough as the a fore mentioned celery. It’s what makes me "me."

Unfortunately, what makes me "me" can’t win an arm wrestle, or fight back when a bully gets a hankering to kick a little sand in my face.

So you will not be surprised when I confess that I don’t know a lot about football.

It all didn’t start in Jr high school where I didn’t go out for the ball team, nor did I make it into marching band. I was, however, in the orchestra as one of the non-marching, quite sedentary violas.

I tried marching once, but it made Mozart sound like Mahler – which is funny if you don’t know anything about football.

Sometimes I ran the follow spotlight when the first string follow spotlight technician had a conflict with an important meeting of the chess club. So I never had sports to teach me to let things roll off my back, like my son has been learning in his years of football.

Suffice it to say that I am the team film camera operator. My audition was the following question, “So Cheney, do you have a video camera?”

I got the job.

I am glad to do it, even if making the game film requires me to stick to the "home" side when our team is "away." Filming is as close as I will ever be to having some positive influence on the game – other than the powerful pregame chili I make for my son and a few of his lucky friends.

So there I am, filming away when the real football dudes show up and ask me to vacate the press room – or as close to a press room as high schools have. Maybe I picked the wrong place to film, maybe I didn't. I do know that a little kindness goes a long way – and no one was going anywhere based on the behavior in that room.

Normally I may have just said “as you wish, your highness”, tucked it in and run, but big burly men throwing their weight around because they can or because no one has ever told them to stop hits a sore spot with me.

I stood up for myself, and I almost got smushed into a stain on the press room carpet. And I am sure that the head coach doesn’t even remember the altercation nor could he care much less. If you held my photo up to him he would probably say "so, is there peanut butter to go with the celery?"

Which leads me to my question. Is this what I trained for, put up years in the orchestra, chess club, and Thespians United of the Mountain West to be qualified for? In a modern/adult/advanced/mature world, are we still making room for bullies?

In grade school I found a way to defend myself. First, I used humor and gregariousness. I tried to befriend all as quickly as I could. Yes, there were a few I couldn’t soften up that ended up softening me up. But that was grade school, for heaven sake!

Then sarcasm became a weapon. I made the bully look as silly as I could and then ran for my life. Not so effective in the long run, but fists in your face is really more of a short term problem.

The Charles Atlas approach seemed silly to me, but in hind sight, may not have been a bad approach. However, I am tall and as I age I fill out a bit, so just with my new size, I thought I had left the bullies and the punks behind me.

But the head coach of the Big-ham Bullies – who was quick to let me know that he was indeed the head coach (as if I couldn’t tell by his name hand inked on the waistband of his stylishly showing skivvies,) ruled the roost and was quick to let me know I had no place in it – even as a timid celery just filming a game.

To be fair, I sometimes walk around with a "Don’t Tread On Me" car flag waving from my minivan window, or on a bumper sticker. I admit, I am often on the lookout for abusive situations. Could it be that I see them because I know all about them and have become sensitive to them?

Yes. It could also be that I just don’t have room for bullies –those who lord over you simply because they can.

When the queen mother of all coaches took a verbal swipe at me, would most men have laughed and let it go? Probably. I get that about myself.

Will Head Coach Fruit-of-the-loom be as sensitive to his own personal growth and motivation and take our interaction as grounds for personal growth? I hope so.

And to assist him on his road to self discovery, I call to the front lines all of the celery, asparagus, and even the gourds in waiting. It is time to ask the bullies to step aside for a higher order. We will let them know that the order is not survival of the fittest, but mutual respect.

So eat your vegetables mothers and fathers of the band, the orchestra, the chess club or the bench warmer. It takes a lot of energy to do things the right way.

Every walking celery knows that the "right way" has no place for bullies.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Parent speak - Talking in code 101

We speak in code, my wife and I. If it weren’t for the occasional pass-worded tete-a-tete, we would never have had the chance to hold an adult dialogue at all.

Brilliant.

It started out simply, as one of us just spelling out a word. However, I can’t spell. I would have to first ask “how do you spell toffee?” and she would spell it back, and then I would say well, let’s put the t-o-f-f-e-e away before our three year old notices, and at that point, of coerce, the toffee cat was out of the bag. We had to find a way to communicate with outs the kids understanding.


My wife flippantly suggested that I learn how to spell. After two months of spelling lessons and a subsequent year of therapy, she realized the futility of such a mission and her foolish quest was abandoned not without emotional scaring.

It all came to a head (an unpleasing metaphor) when Sister Johnson came over to pick up her casserole dish and my daughter said to her “Are you Sister Johnson, the megalomaniac with a bad dye job, or the Sister Johnson on 3rd East who is a control freak with the husband that sleeps during church.”

At that point, banter became forboten and casual chats were outlawed. The code became mandatory.

All of this works fine once you get the hang of it – remembering that it is all contingent on the sophistication of the cipher itself. Once the kids learn the language, the game is over.

The code is never written down, by the way. There is one of our children who constantly gets the code wrong or uses last season’s code. She is not allowed to speak to us in public anymore. The code must be protected.

Frankly, I like the code to remain the same. It’s not that I am confident that my system will not be broken, it’s that I get confused. Did you just say to me that you can’t unlock the car until you go to the bathroom, or did you say that needs help planting, like on the radio?

So, now we have three codes. Mine, my daughters lazy version, and the current, most correct version I call “Cheney.3”, that is the structure now, of coerce, spoken by the entire family but me and several neighbor kids. Even my outdated daughter can understand it while I just stand there and say, “…now, what?”

“Idaho” for example – or anything “Idahoan” – like alfalfa, wind, or unregistered republicans, used to represent my wife’s old friends that she didn’t want to hang around with anymore. But then, suddenly, it changed to reference anything that couldn’t be said in front of other people. “Peas and carrots” used to mean that one couldn’t speak on that subject in current company, but now means stuff we don’t want to do that may very well be good for us in the long run.

So, the phrase, “Are we having vegetables for dinner or potatoes like we had in Pocatello last week?” currently means, “Can't talk now. The friend who called last week is here.” But now, it is possible that it means “Pay the bills before I get home – they were due last week.” Or even something totally different because I don’t know what the current translation is of all things “Idahoan” because I missed the in-service where we discussed the latest upgrade to the fake language I invented so that my children, who now rule the universe and called this meeting, wouldn’t get me in trouble with the neighbors.

Due to my in-attendance at these meetings I am no longer allowed to speak “the code”. Fine. I don’t care. But, the kiddies think I still care, so I am using this to try something completely new that they will never figure out.

I am voluntarily loosing the code completely.

“Pass the butter, please.” I say at the table. There are many things to which I could be referring by their way of thinking. I could be saying, “Isn’t it fun to say stuff that can’t be interpreted by the kids?” Or I could be saying that, “We will have to talk about the kids and their grades and their chores and anything they will want to hear about later, at our secret desert eating meeting, alone together at the predetermined time in an undisclosed but pre agreed upon location.”

Not one of them anticipates that I would actually be up front about my needs and ideas. No one would think that I would be simple and uncomplicated and straight forward. No one expects me to, you know … say what I mean.

And while my wife passes me the potatoes with a wink, my children will sit there children sit, puzzling, racking their little brains out trying to “figure it out”.

It means that I like potatoes.

Brilliant!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mormon zombies are hard to find

I need to find a good Mormon monster, and I don't mean Harry Reid.  I'm thinking a monster that seeks out non-tithe-payers or who feasts on those who drink Diet Coke. A Zion zombie, perhaps, that eats the brains of, you know, the pure in heart.

Zombies are really popular this year.

“The Mormon Munsters — have you been invited to their family home evening?”

Or “The Addams Family with special guest Eve. The mother of all wants you to clean your room.”

Robert Jeffress,  Scary, huh?
How about a well-placed mummy — not the kind that makes you do laundry, but the dry, dusty Egyptian variety. After all, Egypt has ties to Mormon-dom through Moses and Abraham, as well as Joseph and his amazing coat. The angel of death and those spooky long fingers was very scary, and the look is not all that hard to re-create with dry ice and a fog machine.

The dilemma is that I am not trying to scare people. The other dilemma, more of a predicament really, is that I don’t know what place Halloween really has in Mormon-dom. As an LDS dad, one who is seeking the “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (LDS Articles of Faith), Halloween leaves me in a seriously scary quandary.

Currently I am a father of teenagers who like pizza and texting. A scary night for them is a night without their cellphones. And spooky is them having to do their homework without their iPod while sitting at the table — very frightening.

When my daughter was younger she asked me why we celebrated Halloween. I told her that we didn’t. She looked around at the colored lights in our living room, the black lights, the giant white ghosts floating in the yard, the spooky music being piped to the street, the table of cookies and popcorn and misty burbling punch and the Edgar Allen Poe's raven perched on my shoulder and said, “Okaaaay.”

Still, “celebrate” seems like a strong word. But based on results, I am as celebratory on the 31st of October now as I have always been. So, why do I, a practicing Mormon, celebrate a holiday that seems, at first glance, to have it's base in the druid, the pagan and the pranks, the haunted and even the undead and all things seemingly un-Christian?

What if I said that it was fun? Is its being "fun" enough of a reason?

Yes, the imagery of Halloween has changed somewhat, even from Halloweens of the ’70s and ’80s when I was a participant and not a party planner. The holiday’s typical colors of black and orange have softened to include green and purple.

Witches can be cute, as can be vampires, scarecrows and zombies. Threats of mischief are to be taken as “adorable,” and we bribe the kids in costume at our door with candy or at my dad-the-dentist’s house, toothbrushes.

Originally, children in Great Britain disguised in costumes went from door to door. They visited homes and were rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. It’s all about the candy now. Try picking the “trick” when you are presented with the option. See what happens. My guess is that you will get some confused faces and someone will call you a grouchy old man. Hurt my feelings, it did.

They carried jack-o’-lanterns to guide the souls held in purgatory. True, these lanterns were first created with Irish turnips.

We use pumpkins now, both bigger and easier to carve. Just try to whittle something really scary, like a Ute fan, on a turnip.

Elements of the autumn season, such as fallen leaves, bare branches, corn husks and scarecrows are images we conjure for the season, right along with themes of evil, death and the occult, murder, mayhem and monsters, both mortal and mythical, without a second thought.

“It’s just one night a year” some Mormons say, and that it is. Many believe that Halloween is simply a fun excuse to get together. Often, “Trunk or Treats” are held in or around the neighborhoods LDS chapel with little or no negative significance to the practice. Others reject Halloween as a holiday, concerned that it trivializes paganism and is incompatible with their Mormon beliefs.

I took my children to the Trunk or Treat that was held in my ward building several years ago, like I have taken them out every year. However, there is no such church/ward sponsored celebration this time, and that is fine by me. In its place is a chilly chili fest, and I am in charge of the corn bread. It just seems a better fit for church. And anytime I can eat and talk and be in charge of something is a holiday for me.

And when I am full of Chili I will take my kids and their friends out trick or treating.

Other friends believe Halloween is much like the Mexican holiday “Dia de Los Muertos,” a day to celebrate their loved ones who have passed. They light jack-o’-lanterns — not caring if they are pumpkin of turnip — to help guide their beloved dead.

I like the idea of remembering the dead. I rather hope someone will remember me. This predicament, like many other quandaries in my life, I have had to make a decision about for my own family, along with my wife. 

So how dark will I let it get?

I have not found instruction by the leaders of my church concerning Halloween specifically, and I didnt really expect to, but I have discovered a whole lot of common sense.

I am starting to understand what Elder James E. Faust, formerly of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, meant when he said in the Ensign (November 1987, p. 33), “No good can come from getting close to evil. Like playing with fire, it is too easy to get burned: ‘The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission.’ … The only safe course is to keep well distanced from him and any of his wicked activities or nefarious practices. The mischief of devil worship, sorcery, casting spells, witchcraft, voodooism, black magic and all other forms of demonism should be avoided like the plague.”

If that is what Halloween is? Not for me.  mostly because I am not going to go there.

That is the direction I find myself to be heading with my family concerning Halloween. Maybe my fixation with lights of all color as a party planner is an attempt to “chase darkness from among (us).”

Personally I plan to celebrate this Halloween with my family with the same things I have alwayse done - by eating. Yes, there will be hordes of candy involved. And I may be dressed like Edgar Allen Poe, Gandalf or Elmer Fudd.

Or, maybe, the Creature of the Latter-day Lagoon.

Mormon zombies are hard to find

I need to find a good Mormon monster, and I don't mean Harry Reid — one that seeks out non-tithe-payers or feasts on those who drink Diet Coke. A Zion zombie, perhaps, that eats the brains of, you know, the pure in heart.

Zombies are really popular this year.

“The Mormon Munsters — have you been invited to their family home evening?”

Or “The Addams Family with special guest Eve. The mother of all wants you to clean your room.”

How about a well-placed mummy — not the kind that makes you do laundry, but the dry, dusty Egyptian variety. After all, Egypt has ties to Mormon-dom through Moses and Abraham, as well as Joseph and his amazing coat. The angel of death and those spooky long fingers was very scary, and the look is not all that hard to re-create with dry ice and a fog machine.

The dilemma is that I am not trying to scare people. The other dilemma, more of a predicament really, is that I don’t know what place Halloween really has in Mormon-dom. As an LDS dad, one who is seeking the “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (LDS Articles of Faith), Halloween leaves me in a seriously scary quandary.

Currently I am a father of teenagers who like pizza and texting. A scary night for them is a night without their cellphones. And spooky is them having to do their homework without their iPod while sitting at the table — very frightening.

When my daughter was younger she asked me why we celebrated Halloween. I told her that we didn’t. She looked around at the colored lights, the black lights, the giant white ghosts floating in the yard, the spooky music being piped to the street, the table of cookies and popcorn and misty burbling punch and the Edgar Allen Poe's raven perched on my shoulder and said, “Okaaaay.”

Still, “celebrate” seems like a strong word. But based on results, I am defiantly celebratory on the 31st of October. So, why do I, a practicing Mormon, celebrate a holiday that seems to have base in the druid, the pagan and the pranks, the haunted and even the undead and all things seemingly un-Christian?

Yes, the imagery of Halloween has changed somewhat, even from Halloweens of the ’70s and ’80s when I was a participant and not a party planner. The holiday’s typical colors of black and orange have softened to include green and purple.

Witches can be cute, as can be vampires, scarecrows and zombies. Threats of mischief are to be taken as “adorable,” and we bribe the kids in costume at our door with candy or at my dad-the-dentist’s house, toothbrushes.

Originally, children in Great Britain disguised in costumes went from door to door. They visited homes and were rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. It’s all about the candy now. Try picking the “trick” when you are presented with the option. See what happens. My guess is that you will get some confused faces and someone will call you a grouchy old man. Hurt my feelings, it did.

They carried jack-o’-lanterns to guide the souls held in purgatory. True, these lanterns were first created with Irish turnips.

We use pumpkins now, both bigger and easier to carve. Just try to whittle something really scary, like a Ute fan, on a turnip.

Elements of the autumn season, such as fallen leaves, bare branches, corn husks and scarecrows are images we conjure for the season, right along with themes of evil, death and the occult, murder, mayhem and monsters, both mortal and mythical, without a second thought.

“It’s just one night a year” some Mormons say, and that it is. Many believe that Halloween is simply a fun excuse to get together. Often, “Trunk or Treats” are held in or around the neighborhoods LDS chapel with little or no negative significance to the practice. Others reject Halloween as a holiday, concerned that it trivializes paganism and is incompatible with their Mormon beliefs.

I took my children to the Trunk or Treat that was held in my ward building several years ago. However, there is no such church/ward sponsored celebration this year, and that is fine by me. In its place is a chilly chili fest, and I am in charge of the corn bread. It just seems a better fit for church. And anytime I can eat and talk and be in charge of something is a holiday for me.

Other friends believe Halloween is much like the Mexican holiday “Dia de Los Muertos,” a day to celebrate their loved ones who have passed. They light jack-o’-lanterns — not caring if they are pumpkin of turnip — to help guide their beloved dead.

I like the idea of remembering the dead. I rather hope someone will remember me. This predicament, like many other quandaries in my life, I have had to decide for my own, with my wife, what is appropriate for my family.

I have not found instruction by the leaders of my church concerning Halloween specifically, but I have discovered a whole lot of common sense.

I am starting to understand what Elder James E. Faust, formerly of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, meant when he said in the Ensign (November 1987, p. 33), “No good can come from getting close to evil. Like playing with fire, it is too easy to get burned: ‘The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission.’ … The only safe course is to keep well distanced from him and any of his wicked activities or nefarious practices. The mischief of devil worship, sorcery, casting spells, witchcraft, voodooism, black magic and all other forms of demonism should be avoided like the plague.”

That is the direction I find myself to be heading with my family concerning Halloween. Maybe my fixation with lights of all color as a party planner is an attempt to “chase darkness from among (us).”

Personally I plan to celebrate this Halloween with my family by eating. Yes, there will be hordes of candy involved. And I may be dressed like Edgar Allen Poe, Gandalf or Elmer Fudd.

Or, maybe, the Creature of the Latter-day Lagoon.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hair Apparent -- the real BYU QB controversy

hair today...


BYU Quarterback 1st runner-up, now QB royalty Riley Nelson has been compared to the egocentric prince charming in the movie Shrek – at least his hair has.

Nelson is on film swishing his hair to and fro like a Charlie’s angel in white pants. And now he is in print apologizing if his appearance (read – long hair) offended anyone watching the BYU-Utah State game last Friday night.


His fifteen minutes of coiffure is being compared by some to the Dorothy Hamill wedge, or the Jennifer Aniston
Rachel hairdo of yore.

So what inspired Nelson’s style? “The late 80’s, early 90’s… I saw some highlights and have a poster of Jim McMahon in my room,” he said this summer in an interview with
BYU TV Sports

Nelson acknowledged that he had once sported a “buzzed look,” but now, because he is a wannabe surfer, he needs (longer hair) for a little swag,” admitting that “once school starts it’s all gonna hafta go away, so…”


But it didn’t go away, as bazillions of faithful BYU footballers saw against Utah State – the night he was yanked from the sidelines and put in to win the game.


His hair is now gone, snipped, vacuumed up and tossed in the trash.
"People have had some fun with my hair," said Nelson to a reporter on Monday after having looped off enough to keep the fans happy. "By the way, if anyone cares, I apologize for any offense that my appearance may have caused Friday night,” he said.  “There have been some opinions expressed on that, so people have had some fun. But again, I apologize. I was out of line … It got to a point, and just being a dumb, lazy college student, I like to keep it a little bit longer. It got long and then school started. I didn't want to just buzz it off … I apologize."

Offended? Apologize? Who is he kidding? Did BYU’s Sharleen Wells apologize for showing a bit too much upper arm under those lovely crystal sleeve-things on the road to Miss America? Does Mitt Romney say he’s sorry for sometimes unbuttoning two buttons or rolling his sleeves up in an attempt to be the electable “every man?”

BYU’s strict dress code is clear. “Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles or colors, and trimmed above the collar, leaving the ear uncovered.”

Well… truth be told, there was a day or two in my BYU days that I didn’t wear socks to class, so I am not the one to point fingers.

There is no me a culpa necessary. Riley Nelson has brought life to what can sometimes be a germ-free end zone, a famous flaw, and a personality to the program with a reputation for being as squeaky clean as his former bouncing and behaving hair.

Nelson has inspired blogs, even those of rival team U of U. USA Today weighed in on his hair. He has his own You Tube video celebrating the last five minutes of the BYU game where he assisted in a come-from-behind win. And while three turnovers in the San Jose game ere three to many for most, the game was won.

Maybe seeing someone’s slight imperfection has endured him to a public waiting for a little humanity and vulnerability.

"If they are laughing at my expense, at least they are laughing" Nelson said with a grin. Now he is hoping that he can get his offence grinning as well.

Now his imperfection is a fashion statement, and short shorts may be next for Nelson. “I think we should bring ‘em back.” He recently commented. “Personally I think you are mobile (with them) defiantly a lot cooler.”

Would Troy Polamalu of the Raiders be, well… Troy Polamalu of the Raiders if he cut his hair?  Would his powers of “being nice” off the field or his powers of “being tough” on the field be diminished by a good trim?  Are Head & Shoulders or Suave shampoos ready to jump corporately onto the BYU bandwagon?

The playing field has been leveled – at least Nelson’s hair has been evened out-ish with his teammate and friend Jake Heaps. Whether Nelson will have the same allure with shorter hair remains to be seen. Perhaps the coaches will have to base the starting QB position on -- you know – ability.

Fans will cheer for whomever gets the job, and will cheer for whomever replaces him should things not be gelling. If the QB answer becomes any less definitive, I myself will watch for the interviewer to ask Nelson if he blow-dries or towel-dries his hair.

If I can’t have my team win definitively, at least we can talk about the QB’s doo.