Find sumtin:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mothers Day

I want to start this post by addressing the reason why I am choosing to iterate my thoughts on such a medium as this blog. First, I have always felt that my thoughts are somehow more “pure” when I write them down; as if they go through a filter which bi-passes the clumsiness of my tongue. Admittedly, I have never been very good with grammar or punctuation (I just spelt grammar with an –er before Word warned me that no such word existed). This short preface is a sort of warning/ plea for your patience and understanding if you are an English major. Please do not allow the imperfections of my writing to deter from the importance of my message.

As many close to me already know, I am deeply religious. This is one of the many gifts my mother and father passed on to me. There is a peace and internal calming which I find in my faith that I have not been able to replicate in any secular venue. I feel it necessary to mention this aspect of my character before I begin the bulk of my comments, as I am not sure who will be reading this post. I want to be clear as to how the external factors of my life affected the beliefs and ideals which I will share here regarding women and motherhood. I am Christian. I know that blankets so many diverse beliefs, but it suffices for this post.

When I was a boy, my mother used to sing me a Spanish lullaby about little chicks called “Los Pollitos Dicen” (the little chicks say). Although my Spanish is limited and very sloppy I have remembered this song throughout my life. The lyrics go:
Los pollitos dicen pío, pío, pío
cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frío.
La gallina busca el maíz y el trigo
Les da la comida y les presta abrigo.
Bajo sus dos alas, acurrucaditos,
hasta el otro dia
duérmen los pollitos
For those who may not speak Spanish or know how to use Google translate, the translation is roughly this:
The little chicks say peep, peep, peep
when they are hungry, when they are too cold to sleep.
The mother hen looks for corn and wheat
she gives them food to eat.
Safe under mama's wings, huddling up,
Sleep the little chicks until the next day.
I did not know the meaning of every word in the song at the time, but my mother’s soothing voice and reassuring smiles comforted me. There is something undeniably sacred about the connection between mother and child. I struggle even now to find words adequate enough to describe the closeness I feel with my mother. I could carry on about how- in the case of biological children- our genes create offspring which look like us. This gives us a sense of familial responsibility and plays on self-preservative complexes drilled into our brains by thousands of years of evolution. These words would fall short at best in describing the above mentioned connection, and at worst they may reduce the meaningful link to simply scientific statistics. After all, I am sure that there were moments when, no matter how much I looked like her, my mother felt a tiny-itsy-bitsy-so-small-you-can-hardly-quantify-it bit of sympathy for those animals which eat their young at the first signs of rebellion.

Far from the awkward picture I might have painted for you above, here are a few of the things my mother taught me:

1. A clean home is a happy home. When I was a boy, I don’t remember seeing my mom take very many breaks. I thought at the time that she must enjoy cleaning and scrubbing and cleaning and washing and cleaning and dusting. After all, that is what she did every day it seemed. Having a place of my own with a family of my own has taught me that this was probably not the case. I do remember certain chores were therapeutic for her. For example, cooking meals for us was always something that helped her to feel good about any situation. Being Hispanic, food was a tradition as much as it was an opportunity to enjoy the company of those you love. Having three rascal boys who would make just about any cleaning job three times as difficult was not easy, I can imagine. Looking back, she never made us feel like we were in the way. Even when we dragged mud into the house, she might at first offer a verbal prayer in Spanish that God would somehow help her with these three rambunctious boys, but then she would help us clean the mess we had made with a smile on her face. I suppose this lesson was two-fold: A clean home is a happy home, but a clean home is not as important as a happy home.

2. Caring for others is always more enjoyable than caring about yourself. It would be impossible to put a number on the amount of bacteria ridden adventures my brothers and I would embark on in the woods of Massachusetts. Needless to say, we were sick often. Not any more so than other kids I suppose- generally we were never dangerously ill- but often. I still remember that I somehow both dreaded and looked forward to being sick. Mostly because my mom is an excellent cook, and when you were sick in her home, you got a full menu to choose from. My favorite was her soups. I am pretty sure if you put my mom on a deserted island and told her to make a soup- she could conjure up one of the best tasting soups you have ever had in your life. Period. She would nurture us back to health in a way that expressed to my little boy self that this woman would do anything in the world for me if she knew it would make me happy. I knew my mother loved because she said it- and her actions cemented its truth.  

I did not learn to care for others by simply having my mom care for me. I learned by her example. When I was in middle school, my grandma (mamacita or abuelita as we would call her) became very ill. As long as I knew her she had been sick due to kidney failure and a host of other related complications. This time though, she had fallen ill to cancer. For over a year, my mom would drive two hours into Boston every weekend to take care of her mother. She would leave Friday night (sometimes we would beg her to stay and have fun with us as we did not understand why she had to go every weekend) and return Sunday afternoon to begin her weekly routine of being a mother and a teacher’s aide all over again. I did not realize at the time the sacrifice that she was making. Her mother eventually lost her battle with cancer. When she did, my mother’s brothers and sisters came to visit us for the first time in western Mass. I still remember them complaining about the drive. My mother just smiled and welcomed them in to rest and eat. I realize now that the hours she spent on the road to care for her mom must have been an easy trade. My mother taught me that God gave us time, but it was not so we could make time for ourselves. It was time for us to be with our families.

3. There are three important things in life; the gospel; your family; your education. One is not more important than the other because they are all connected. My mom taught me how to pray. She taught me my worth as a son of God. She taught me about the atonement of Jesus Christ and that even when I made mistakes I could say sorry and try harder to become better. She taught me that the scriptures could be a source of power and revelation. She taught me all these things by example. Although I have already mentioned several ways my mom emphasized family, there was one other way in which she taught me the importance of this sacred institution. My mom taught me that girls were delicate and beautiful and that I was to- in all ways- respect and cherish them. My mom made it clear to me that if I had a friend who was a girl, or a girlfriend later down the road who told her that I mistreated her- “so help me, I will beat you” (Remember, my mom is 4’9”, still, I was terrified of her when she became angry). The consequence forever hurting the feelings of my future wife were much more severe. She was mostly joking of course, but her threats made it clear to me that I was supposed to protect women- not hurt them. I was supposed to cherish virtue- not abuse it. You better believe my wife has my mother’s number on speed dial- just in case I forget my place and need a good-ol-fashioned-Latino-mom-beating.

I can still remember my mom buying the multiplication flashcards that I learned to hate. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything fun until I went through at least 50 of them a day. I never understood why my mom worked so hard with us at home when I spent a whole day at school learning these things. Both my mother and father did not have the privilege of earning higher degrees of education. They instilled in me a desire to learn and discover new things. My mom taught me that my schooling was the most important thing I could do for my future. “Get an education mijo. You will be happier if you do.” I am finishing my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology in December and I am currently applying for my Masters of Physician Assistant degree. I owe these accomplishments to the ideal my mom instilled in me that service to both your community and your family will be compounded greatly by higher degrees of knowledge.

The next mother I would like to speak of, is the mother of my beautiful daughter Lilian. My wife and companion. My other half. My confidant. My fellow adventurer. My hot-sexy-gorgeous-lady (she will definitely ask me to remove that- to which I will refuse on the basis that to erase the words does not make it untrue so what is the point of erasing the words?). Above all, she is my example and my best of friends.

Here are a few things I have learned from Emily over the (almost 3) years we have been together:

1. Obedience is never gray. I remember when my wife and I would sit in her garage after she drove me around all day (I was poor and had no car) and talk for hours about everything from our faiths to the memories we shared in high school. What first attracted me to her was (besides her beauty) her bull-dog-like obedience to what she knew to be true. I believe my habit of questioning everything and playing the devil’s advocate is her least favorite thing I do. Obedience is a quest to her. It is not something she questions when she knows it is right. This has led her to become successful at everything she attempts. She is a rock and light house. I can set my course to hers and have faith that she is doing the right thing. She has taught me that when you say you will do something, you do it. Not doing it leaves room for doubt, and doubt will never solve problems.

2. Fierce loyalty to one another is essential to a happy marriage. My wife would stand by me even if she knew I was wrong. Not because she is ignorant, but because she knows my weaknesses often better than me. Although she may be devoted to me no matter what, she is also righteously critical of my weaknesses while in private. Not to expose and embarrass, but to lift and edify. She is helping me to become a better man each and every day.

3. Sacrificing for one another is the foundation of love within marriage. I have not found another person as selfless as Emily. She has worked to put me through school for three years at a job that is unappreciative of her God given talents, and for pay that is one of this nation’s more embarrassing features. She has sacrificed time with our daughter in order to keep us financially afloat. She has cried, and stressed, and reached a level of exhaustion I have never known, all in the name of our family. The amount of respect and gratitude I feel for her surpasses that of any other person I have ever known or will know. I feel an enormous amount of debt is owed to this woman who has shown me the strength of a righteous woman. She will most likely deny all of these things too, if you were to confront her with them. Why? Because she does not see these things as a sacrifice. She sees them as her motherly duty. She is humble to the point of embarrassment for any recognition she receives. This compounds in my mind the integrity of her character and the purity of her heart. I can only ever aspire to be in my lifetime what she already has become.

4. Emily has taught me what love is. Love is sticking with your boyfriend even when he responds to your first confession of love with, “are you sure, how do you know?” Love is borrowing a wedding dress, enlisting an army of volunteers, and not going on a honeymoon in an effort to be married to the one you love even if he is a broke college student with a few thousand dollars in debt to his name. Love is not complaining about doing any of that. Love is leaving messages on the mirror or making poster boards with candy on the morning of your husband’s big exams. Love is a hug and a high five no matter what he managed to score on those exams. Love is trying your husband’s dinner creations, even if it is egg-drop-ramen noodles. Love is listening to revelation together. Love is making a family together. Love is a 3 year-and-counting pre-honeymoon. Love is not complaining about a husband that sleep talks and refuses to actually wake up (not on purpose) most nights when Lily needs a diaper change and food. Love is getting three hours of sleep at night, going to a full time job, and coming home with a smile on your face. Love is those nights when you just lay in bed together telling stupid jokes and laughing so hard you can hardly breathe. Love is always looking for ways to save money and buy cheaper- even on vacations. Love is a kiss before leaving no matter what mood you’re in or how early it is. Love is quick apologies and brief contention. Love is moving every June in 100+ degree weather without breaking a sweat. Love is being together…forever.

Too mushy for you? Get over it- it’s my blog. What you might find interesting is that the list could go on for a few more pages without me having to pause and think about what else to write. I married a woman among women. A devoted mother, deserving of the praise of all who know her. I wish I could properly convey the fullness of the beauty that is her ideal, but I am not sure our limited tongues can yet convey such emotion. I love you Emily. The depth of that sentence can be assumed by many but only known by us. Happy mother’s day. I am so blessed to have you in my life. I’m glad that you agreed to share milk with me, it is so much better than sharing with side burns. ;P

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My (brief) research on gun-control.

Let me start off by listing my qualifications on the topic of guns and laws governing them: I have none. I am an undergraduate senior at Arizona State University studying Psychology and attempting to be accepted into any physician's assistant program that will take me. I am a research assistant at ASU's child psychology lab, which requires me to watch hours upon hours of videos and assess the behaviors of children as they interact with parents. As boring as all that sounds, it also affords me access to a large data base of research articles and statistics obtained by Arizona State University. Let me be clear that the research I include in this blog was done on my own accord and was not an assignment given to me by ASU or any of it's associates. I simply believe that before one takes a stance on any major topic, one should get informed. This was my attempt to become informed on gun control and its effects on society according to empirical data.

I am presenting this information, not in an attempt to convince anyone of any particular point of view, but as information which should be scrutinized and assessed in order to better understand how guns interact with human behavior. I have been around guns throughout my life, and do not believe they have had any negative consequence upon me.  In fact, I have contemplated buying my own guns (for recreation and home protection) over the last six months. If money was no factor, I would probably have one right now. Although I have my own opinion on gun laws and the second amendment, I made substantial effort to exclude such a view in this posting. I have done my best to provide articles where I was legally able to provide articles, and sources on each of the major topics I discuss. Again, I did this research on my own accord that I might be better able to make informed decisions in any laws/amendments which may be proposed in the future. Democracy does not work if the public is uneducated.

I do not watch the major media outlets, and I consider myself a moderate. I do not condone the fear inducing tactics of both left and right wing media. I believe much of the information given to us as "news" today is seriously jeopardizing the state of the union. This, of course, is a topic for separate discussion. However, I decided to do this research as a result of the amount of attention gun control has been receiving in light of the devastating tragedy which took place in Connecticut. My social media pages are full of a constant barrage of opinion on gun control which seem somewhat bias and uninformed; on both ends of the debate. For this reason I dusted off a few of my behavioral textbooks and sorted through dozens of research articles on the topic in order to better understand the facts. I will post references for all the studies I use, and attempt to link all the articles in PDF form to this posting. Those studies which did not provide PDF format, (such as those I use from government databases) I will paste html addresses for at the end.

This post is not an attempt to take a stance on the subject of gun control in the U.S. It is meant to be an informative tool which may help those who are seeking empirically researched facts. I understand many citizens, although intelligent, are unfamiliar with research and how to obtain scholarly written articles. I will attempt to make a few basic statistical and research method terms easier to understand in the process of my post. First, the most important thing for anyone reading research articles to understand is that correlation does not point to causation. For example, if I did a study in NY city in the months of July and August and found that there was a positive effect (as one factor increases, so does the other) between ice-cream sales and violent crimes I could not say that ice-cream causes violent crimes. Why? Because there is a third variable, the increased temperature, which has an effect on both the rise in ice-cream sales and the irritability of criminals. Thus, although a correlation was found between the two, the correlation is not causal. This is very important. Anyone who writes a thesis or dissertation asserting that they found a cause for variables A and B, better have some incredible evidence to back that up, or they will not be published.

Second, not all research is created equal. The journal which publishes the research and the institutions which support it, have a heavy sway on the quality of the article. I tried to pick articles which were published in prestigious journals by prestigious organizations. Researchers in these articles always seek for validity (how applicable is my study to the real world?) and reliability (can my research be replicated, and were my methods for obtaining data easily duplicated?). There is no such thing as a perfectly reliable and/or a perfectly valid experimental process. All experiments have flaws, although many (especially the ones I am citing) have fewer and much less severe experimental limitations. This is always important to keep in mind. Factors which contribute to high validity and reliability include: multiple, similar studies which agree with the findings of the article; high population random samples of subjects (A lot of participants who are randomly selected so that findings can be generalized to the entire target population); and peer review. If you would like further explanation of these terms please google them, as I do not feel it is appropriate to thoroughly examine them here.

Again, I hope this serves as a basis of information, not a source of my own opinion- please become educated before voting to make policy.

There are three major instances in which fire-arms are associated with human mortality rates; homicides, suicides, and warfare. I am not considering the latter instance in this posting as it seems separate from the issue of domestic gun ownership. That does not dismiss the tragedy of those killed in war, but acknowledges its topics as discrete from the ones I will discuss. I will discuss the issue of suicide first.

Research shows that those who would seek to end their lives usually make the decision quickly; commonly just after a major negative life event such as a relationship ending or loss of employment (Cummings, et al., 1992). Individuals who make such rash decisions, usually suffer a break in normal cognitive-behavioral realities and attempt to act upon their suicidal emotions in the most convenient way possible. Research found that when a gun was available to such individuals, the likelihood of successful suicide attempts increased. They also found that those who did not have a gun available were more likely than those who did to survive the attempt and rehabilitate successfully (Cummings, et al., 1992). Cummings found that statistically, legal gun ownership increased the likelihood of successful suicide by 1.9x that of the normal population rate. Simply put, owning a gun placed individuals at 1.9x the normal risk rate of successful suicide. Additional evidence by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims that children who have access to a gun in the home are 9x more likely than normal to commit suicide (Hahn, et al., 2003).

Further research published by the New England Journal of Medicine cited suicide as the 2nd leading cause of violent deaths in the United States for those below the age of 40 as of 2005 (Miller & Hemenway, 2008). Research found that gun ownership had a positive correlation with suicide rates in this population. Additional studies also found that mental health patients (those who reported a diagnosed behavioral condition such as anxiety, depression, antisocial personality disorder, bi-polar disorder, etc.) had the same access to guns as those without such disorders (Ilgen et al., 2008). Although, interestingly enough, those mental health patients with a history of suicidality were found to have lower gun ownership rates than those who had not previously attempted to commit suicide. It may be that those who unsuccessfully attempt suicide are usually referred to clinical help. Clinicians are often advised to determine whether or not such a patient owns a gun and what can be done to neutralize the weapon (Ilgen et al., 2008).

On the topic of gun ownership as a form of protection: 

Psychologists have observed that preemptive aggression, (otherwise known as self-protective aggression) such as carrying a gun or "striking" first, is counterproductive in protecting oneself from harm (Kleck, 1993., Kenrick et al., 2010). The weapon effect is a concept which has been studied in recent years in the field of psychology. The basic theory is that if a weapon such as a gun or a knife is in plain view- say, on a bench in the corner- subjects will consistently rate ambiguous comments from a confederate as more aggressive than if an object such as an umbrella, or plate, are in plane view instead. Weapons symbolize something to us that increase our fight or flight reflexes. They amplify our emotions and our decision making processes. This form of self-protection- carrying a gun for protection- has been found by researchers to cause a cycle of aggression.

An example of this cycle can be found in research done in U.S. schools. A study done by Cunningham in 2000 found that 1 in every 10 students (elementary school through high school) had carried a weapon to school at least once (the greatest portion of these weapons were reportedly hand guns). Weapons were carried to school most often by those worried about their own safety. Those who carried weapons to school were found to carry weapons outside of school as well, and a significant portion exhibited high risk anti-social behaviors. The cycle then, is as follows: I don't feel safe at school; I'll bring a weapon to school; increased weapon prevalence increases chances of violence; violence ensues; decreased feelings of safety follow; I don't feel safe at school; I'll bring a weapon to school; etc. Although this study focused on adolescent use of guns for self-protection, the concept carries through to the general public as well; as will be shown later in this posting.

I will address the issue of school safety in my last paragraph.

Gun ownership was correlated positively with homicide prevalence in a study done by Cummings (1992). The researchers of this article found that the risk rate of being killed by a gun when one owns a gun was 2.2. That is to say, those who own guns are more than twice as likely to be victims of a homicide than those who do not. Researchers wrote, "Legal purchase of a handgun is associated with long term risk of violent death" (Cummings, et al., 1992 p. 1). Miller (2008) performed an international study on industrialized societies and found that the population at highest risk for homicide were high-income subjects who owned a gun. The authors reminded readers that the findings were not causal, but nevertheless consistent with other research which suggested that gun prevalence in a home was associated with increased risk of homicide. The FBI uniform crime reports between 1980 and 2007 showed that there were 450,369 reported homicides in the U.S. Approximately 288,821 (roughly 64%) involved guns- mostly hand guns. This data shows that guns were the weapon of choice in homicides over the 27 year period. A study published in the Journal of Public Health showed that civilians who owned a gun were 5.45x more likely to be shot by a gun than those who did not own a gun. The report shows that statistical analysis of successful civilian intervention in crimes involving firearms were far too low to be considered plausible (Branas, et al., 2009). The researchers also noted that those who had extensive training with firearms (military, police, etc.) were not at as much risk as those without extensive training to receive injury during intervention with a firearm. The CDC found that those who owned guns were 22x more likely than those who did not to kill a member of their immediate family. Children in such households were 16x more likely to be victims of homicide and 9x more likely to die from accidental discharge of a firearm. These statistics were taken from U.S. databases. The U.S. had the highest rates of gun related deaths among 25 other industrialized nations studied by the CDC (Kegler et al., 2011). Further damage to children was found to be done in those homes which owned a gun, and in which domestic violence was recorded. Children in these households who witnessed violence being threatened using a gun were at a greater risk for severe behavioral problems than those children who witnessed domestic violence without a firearm involved (Jouriles et al., 1998).

I could find no primary source, peer-reviewed article which showed that gun ownership was correlated with a decrease in crime rates or gun related deaths. If anyone can find such an article, I would welcome it to be posted in the comments section.

What should be done about gun related violence? The most salient option is usually gun control laws. I found the following evidence on the topic of gun control laws. Gun control laws and the amount of gun ownership in the United States was found to have no correlation by Kleck (1993); although it was also found that as violence increased, so too did gun ownership. Further evidence of the cycle of aggression I listed above. In a study which observed the gun laws in Washington D.C. which prohibited handguns for a time, researchers saw a 25% decrease in gun related deaths; however, crime rates on all fronts persisted. That is to say, people still committed violent crimes, just by different means (Loftin et al., 1991). Another study found that the Detroit gun ordinances instituted in the late 80's and early 90's saw no significant decrease in gun related crimes. It was noted that such ordinances were almost never enforced by the courts through a longitudinal study covering several years (O'Carroll et al., 1991). Kenrick (2010) cites that increased punishment for severe behaviors are not effective in decreasing aggression (see also: Loftin et al., 1983). Perhaps the most forward statement on the subject of gun law effectiveness in decreasing gun related crimes comes from Piquero (2009) who said in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, "[I]t is much too early to draw any meaningful conclusion, much less specific policy recommendations" (p 5). Piquero was speaking in conclusion of his analysis of research studies conducted on the effectiveness of gun control.

Piquero (2009) suggests three courses of action for the future. First, more reliable data (data which can be successfully replicated) must be gathered. Second, more thorough assessments of gun violence prevention programs which are effective need to be carried out by researchers in order to determine validity. Third, more implementation and scientific evaluation of targeted experiments across the country must be performed. The CDC agrees with similar findings, suggesting that there is insufficient evidence to conclude an increase in gun laws will decrease gun related crimes (Branas, et al., 2009).

If such measures are in need of long-term studies and data collection before finding validity within our societies, what should be done about the violence which seems to be increasing in the United States? This is the only place I will insert my opinion within this posting. I believe the two major contributing factors of violence (that we as a society have all but ignored) are educational and mental health system failures. Evidence suggests that we as a nation use the correctional system as a means of mental illness rehabilitation (Fazel, et al., 2008. Institute for Court Management report, 2000. Piepgras, J.P., 2006). This is a mistake Statistically speaking, roughly 53% of adolescents in juvenile detention facilities meet diagnostic criteria for serious mental disorders. Court psychologists in the above mentioned studies estimate that roughly 30% of these adolescents receive any form of treatment. An even smaller percentage receive treatment from a health-care professional. The numbers are amplified in the prison systems across the nation.

More needs to be done to address the at risk youth who exhibit serious mental health disorders and violent tendencies. More outreach needs to be made to parents of such children, and more intervention needs to take place in the school systems. Educational reform is essential in the coming years. There is no way around the crisis we face on this front. Nearly half of the roughly 3 million teachers we have in this nation will be retiring in the next several years. Rates of incoming teachers who continue teaching past four years are decreasing at a rate which will not support the outgoing retirement numbers. Although this subject is separate by principle from the one mainly discussed in this post, there is a positive correlation between retention of effective teachers and educational success of students(Harwood et al., 2008). Education and mental health reform would be a long term and costly approach to the situation. However, so far, no other viable, research based options have presented themselves. I believe serious reform in these two systems would interrupt the cycle of preemptive and active aggression we see today.

This article is an interesting view point on the subject of mental health reform:

If you have any constructive suggestions or criticisms please feel free to leave them below. Uncivil discourse will be deleted.

Again, this is not an extensive review of all the literature. I put this post together in roughly three days. I am sure there are many issues and avenues that I did not cover. The subject is extensive and deserves further attention by both the policy makers in Washington and the general public.

Thanks for reading.

References along with the promised pdf files are posted on the following file hosting site:


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Realizing the fragility of life

This weekend has been unexpectedly tragic. Emily and I found out that the husband and soon to be father of one of the couples we had become acquainted with in the ward passed away in a motorcycle accident. Soon after we heard news that one of our nursery kids drowned in an accident and is in critical condition. I suddenly felt overwhelmingly and abundantly blessed. I regret that such tragedies are what is necessary to bring me to such a conclusion. I worry about the smallest things and get upset at the slightest inconvenience. And for what? What will it do for me in the years to come?

Whats really important: I woke up this morning in my own bed under my own roof next to my wife, who I am madly in love with and who is beautiful beyond any definition. I am healthy, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have food in my kitchen and a job. I have an education with the opportunity to continue learning and growing. I know the purpose of my life, where I need to go. I have a family who loves me no matter what. I have friends who have become to me like family. I live in a beautiful country that allows me the God given freedoms of life. I know this list could go on forever.

I watched a movie today, a documentary produced by a couple of guys my age who wanted to learn what the purpose of the human experience was. In order to learn more they lived homeless for a week, visited an orphanage for handicap and physically disabled children in Peru, and accompanied a journalist to Ghana where they were introduced to a leper colony and an HIV/AIDS care center. I know some people would find these movies depressing, but for some reason I find them empowering. I look at what is documented- at the experience of all these people- and I think, "this is the world I live in. I am a part of this community whether I choose to acknowledge it or not, so what am I doing to be a solution and not a problem? It gives me courage and a sense of purpose. It pushes me to pursue my dreams- the ones I feel are so far away and so difficult to accomplish.


One particular part of the film really moved me. It was an interview they conducted with a woman who was infected with HIV/AIDS. The man conducting the interview had a mother pass away from the disease when he was very young, and this interview was sort of a form of healing for him. He asked her, "If you could say one thing to your children that they would remember you by, what would it be?" Her response was in essence, "Trust in God. Follow the Laws of God and live your life according to His commandments and He will provide for you in every way." This was coming from a woman who had become infected by a disease without a cure and with a 100% fatality rate. No amount of science or explanation of physical existence could surpass the wisdom found in this woman who had come to understand what life and death were in a very real way.

I hope I can trust in God the way she does. I hope no matter what happens to me in my life, I can trust that there is a God, that He does care about my suffering, and that He loves me. Life is so fragile. It is a treasure to every individual on this planet. Every single one of us at some point believes our life is a rare and worthwhile opportunity. Sometimes the experiences of this life bring us to the precipices of purpose and the drastic spectrum's of human emotion and reality. These experiences can actually build our view, our realities, our character into permanent personalities. If we examine these experiences, and ourselves, in a proper way we will be all the better for it.

Our lives are for living. Our freedom is to choose how we will react to what living we are given. Our duty is to give freely the opportunity of life that we enjoy to others around us.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Slelf v. Emily

Let me paint you a little picture. At night, while sleeping, I will lash out at my poor wife as she sleeps. Got a good oil canvas there? I thought so. For serious though for some reason and without warning, in the midst of my no-doubt crazy dreams I will hear her whimpering or crying or saying "stop nate!" and will wake up to her in pain because of a rouge limb of mine or halfway off the bed as I am literally shoving her off. I have decided that this alternate ego (not schizophrenic personality) which come about only when I am sleeping- while I am my sleeping self you might say- is to be named slelf forever more. Sometimes slelf is just down right sadistic. For example ofttimes slelf will shove his own pillow off the bed or lose it somewhere in the mess of sheets he lives in, then out of laziness, spite or both he will full out pull the pillow from out of Emily's head and start using it like it was his all along and she had simply stolen it from him. In fact, these are some of my first thoughts when I wake up to her complaining that I woke her up by taking her pillow.

"What are you talking about?" I will say with some doubt and frustration as I assume she is the crazy one who is waking me up because she lost her pillow and thinks I took hers; something I would most definitely remember doing. Upon realizing my pillow is on the floor next to my side or somehow being useful to my feet instead of my head I will apologize half awakedly (yes a new word) and doze off once again.

I think Emily probably has a slelf too, although I'm not sure what she calls it and I am almost positive it is passive aggressive rather than full on aggressive like my slelf. And I think hers knows how to push slefl's buttons because sometimes he just flips and beats her till she goes unconscious and Emily goes conscious. Sometimes I will wake up to Emily's complaints that I kneed her in the thigh or buttocks (forest gump owns your judging minds). Sometimes slelf will just full on punch or elbow her in the closest available spot on her torso. Recently however, slelf took on a new form of mean.

I only felt the eyeball after the fact so Emily's side of the story is the only one I have to share. According to her, she could feel like someone or something was looming in front of her face, this caused her to wake up, although she kept her eyes closed for a moment. When she did open them, she saw for a split second one of my fingers just hanging over her directly in front of her eye. Without warning and almost immediately the finger poked her in the eye. I woke up to her crying and asking why I had poked her in the eye, and my pinky finger - probably the most insulting finger to get poked in the eye with- feeling a little like it had taken a quick dip in some water. All I could manage before falling back asleep was

"Oh my gosh are you ok?" which came out "wha, uhoh, you k?"  and "let me see that babe, make sure you keep it closed till you think it feels better. I am soooo sorry!" which came out. "lemme see? does it hurt? keep it closed. sorry, I don't  know what happen..." Then I passed out again. I think I was probably dreaming about pressing a button or something because slelf cant just move himself like that. Or can he? dun dun dun! no but seriously thats the craziest thing I have ever heard.

This morning after further review of the play I have decided that slelf needs to be taught a lesson. Not sure exactly how to teach myself a lesson while I am sleeping but I will figure something out. If anyone actually follows this blog and would like to leave me some suggestions...feel free. Till next time...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Missing Em...

I should be going to bed right now as I have to get up at 5:45 for work in the morning, but alas, I succumb to my thoughts which need some sort of venue in order to allow me some rest. Emily went to Baltimore on Saturday morning to see her parents. Its a much needed visit for them as the distance is far too great a barrier, especially for a family who has spent their lives in pretty much one place. I have to extern forty hours this week so I wasn't able to accompany, although I have always wanted to see D.C.

I just hung up the phone with her; the day was  long for us as we went to church alone. I was able to see my wonderful family and visiting cousin from Idaho today though. It was a nice distraction for a little while. I have never missed anyone in my entire life as much as I miss my wife right now. I feel as though over the years my poem-writing-romantic days have slowly begun to dwindle (don't worry, not ever completely), and so I'm not usually the type to blog a huge sappy love affair, but these two days have felt like two weeks. Sleeping alone has its pros on a queen size bed; my legs and arms flailed non-stop last night, leaving my sheets in a tangled mess, and I didn't have to worry about hitting my poor wife in the middle of the night while all of this happened. I can play video games and watch scary movies, and other bachelor-for-the-week stuff. None of which hold a candle to the cons. My bed is cold, and for the first time in my entire life I hate it. (My arms and legs were probably flailing in an attempt to figure out why nothing was stopping them). Little big Planet it much better with a partner, and comedies with my best friend are a lot more entertaining than scary movies. I'm not trying to weave a sad, pathetic, story here. What I'm trying to say is that in the short 8 1/2 months that I have been married to Emily, I have become eternally attached to her. Her every habit, her laugh, her voice, her being home. This attachment is permanent, because I can hardly bear a week of being without her.

We talk on the phone throughout the day but its not the same. We must say I love you in the most sincere way about a hundred times each phone call in what seems like an attempt to change the laws of physics and merge the cities of Baltimore and Mesa, but it never seems like enough. The last I love you seems like it should have been followed by more. I haven't stopped thinking about her all day. My phone dies early because I keep checking to see if she's called or text. I drive by places we've been or see things and wonder if she would think they were funny too. I feel like this sounds like a Eulogy- and thank Heaven it isn't- but i don't mean it to be that way. I just miss her, shes my other half.

During an LDS institute of religion class we took together before and during the time that we were dating, we learned a very important principle that I hadn't really applied to myself until after I was married involving Adam and Eve's experience in the Garden of Eden as described in the Bible. The man who taught the class was a religious philosophy major and fluent in Greek and Hebrew. He was an amazing teacher. In Genesis 2:18 God says it is not good that man should be alone and "I will make an help meet for him." Brother Richardson, the instructor of the class, told us that 'help meet' in Hebrew was worded (in Anglican) Ezer Kenegdo which means literally, 'equal opposite counterpart.' Woman was to be equal with man. But not just in general. Adam was given a woman who was HIS equal and opposite counterpart. A perfect balance to his strengths and weaknesses. Such a promise is given to all of God's children. Emily is my Ezer Kenegdo. She is my equal opposite. She is the positive to all my negatives, the force to all my motion. We learned in that same chapter when the scriptures read that the Lord formed Eve from one of Adam's ribs, that the translation for the word rib is 'Tsala' which can mean rib, board, or side. The Hebrew translation, he said, makes it sound more as if Adam was split in half. (figuratively he was given a second half) After she is introduced to Adam he proclaims in verse 23 this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. Brother Richardson explained that the bone and the flesh were symbolic of the strength of man and the ability of man to find happiness. Eve gave him strength for strength and eventually joy for joy. He also indicated that the Hebrew scripture read "this one at last," instead of "this is now." We learned too, in the verses where Adam is naming the animals of the earth, that naming something in Hebrew tradition (and in the common world today) meant that you understood its purpose. In chapter 3 of Genesis in the twentieth verse the scripture says that Adam named Eve, "because she was the mother of all living." He understood in a very respectful way, that Eve was purposed for a much greater cause. That she was to be the mother of his children and the matriarch of their family.

I know now how important it is that I have my other half. Emily is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. She has shown me so much that I would have never seen otherwise. I miss her so much. I couldn't live without her. She is my Eve, my Juliet, my Josephine, my everything. I love her with all my heart.

Friday couldn't come too soon...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aliquotes, Ribosomes, Rate Laws, and other stuff...

Im starting to get used to being overwhelmed. Im not sure if thats a good thing or not. I feel sometimes that twenty four hours is really ten. I feel overwhelmed with trying to explain why I am even overwhelmed right now! Figure that one out.

I did have one of those surreal moments that come every once in a blue moon this last Tuesday. I had just finished my chemistry lab, turning in a lab report sixteen pages long wondering why I was required to spend sixteen hours outside of classroom time to do homework for a one credit course and was ready to collapse mentally. I walked outside and looked up at the night. I think I let myself stop and just focus for the first time in two or three weeks because I felt calmed down. I felt watched over.

I never know what to write in this thing. I feel like my life is pretty routine. Monday through Thursday school for twenty five hours and who knows how much homework. Friday, try to get chores done and spend a few hours with my even harder working wife who I get to see every night before we go to bed during the week. Saturday work. Sunday church and try to get ready for Monday. Thats pretty much it.

I am excited to start my externship, very worried too. I don't know why. I think its just the fear of the unknown. I vomited the first night of every new area I was assigned to in my mission. Even at twenty months out. I wasn't worried about my skill or ability, I really couldn't pinpoint a specific reason why I would work myself up so much. I had a ward mission leader once who was from mesa. He was an awesome example, and one of the few people I think of as a key influence in my life. He told me once that when I was on my own with my own family and had my own responsibilities as a father and or husband that there would be nights when I would lay sleepless in bed with a head full of worries. He said I would get up and go to a room where I would be by myself, kneel down and beg for some kind of relief. I think I've done that at least a couple times since. I know it works because I'm still here and our bills are still getting paid.

I know this is a completely random post. I don't have much to say I thought I could just get my thoughts out before I went to bed. I hoped it would help me go to sleep. '

We'll see...

Friday, February 11, 2011

If I were a rich man...

So Emily went on our netflix account and added a ton of musicals to our cue. I have nothing against musicals, in fact I enjoy them in between each song.  My exception to this rule is Fiddler on the Roof which we got in the mail a few days ago. It had been some time since I had last seen it. I wonder if I've matured...because it seemed to have a much deeper meaning to me this time around. I suppose thats what makes movies (and books for that matter) stand out from one another. Good movies and books will carry with them a universal and timeless message. The message will usually be one of moral concern and probably one of the great unanswered dilemmas of mankind. I could make a list of what I'm talking about but its late and I'd rather just get to the point. Fiddler on the Roof is one of those movies because it forces the person watching it to deal with moral and personal dilemmas that they would rather not, in a setting that allows them to disguise this self-evaluation as entertainment. No doubt, this sort of self-medication through wholesome art is uplifting and character building; I am not trying to go all "the robots are going to control our minds and make us eat pancakes till we explode!" up in here.

So, wanna know what I got out of my session on the couch with my therapist Tevye? Of course you do! Or why the heck are you reading this blog anyway? For anyone who hasn't seen the movie...turn off the jersey shore and save the remaining neurons you have left by finding a copy of the movie or downloading it (legally of course) and watch it because your not going to understand a lot of what I refer to, and its just something that will help you in life. If I sound uppity to you then forget my advice and go back to watching snookie make a mess of her life. I wont go into a summary of the movie but I want to focus on Tevye the main character and father in the story. Tevye is a Russian Jew during the second world war. His faith, sense of humor, and family are his back bone. 

What interests me so much is Tevyes internal struggle with all the situations that beset him throughout the movie. His increasing poverty, his daughters choices, and other trials of his faith carry him through the movie. He questions what life would be like as a rich man, someone who had it all. Slowly he realizes that his riches are closer than he expected. His tradition, his family, and his faith make him rich. This realization came with the toil of persecution, repentance, and some very traumatic experiences. It forced him to look within himself. It forces the viewer to do the same. I decided that my internal struggles are the same. I am positive they are universal but I do not wish to arrogantly presume the thoughts and experiences of others. Tradition, faith, and family. I suppose they are the areas of most struggle because they are of the utmost importance and can bring the most happiness, and as a result the most pain. 

"Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky, the fiddler on the roof!" I was in a humanities class last summer- one of the many required credits higher education makes you take to ensure you are "well rounded" as well as their pocket books- and one of the first things we learned about what the human phenomenon of cultural traditions. No other animal has these elaborate and sometimes crazy rituals. Some pass on certain skills like hunting or basic functioning in day to day life, but humans actually develop a ritual and then pass that ritual on to others who come after them. We watched a video of an interview of one other top scholars of the humanities. He was considered by our teacher a genius. He had written pretty much every text book on the subject for the last twenty or thirty years. And his name escapes me. The most interesting part of the interview was when he was asked, "Do you think we can get rid of these traditions and let those who go on before us face the world untainted by our own view of it?" Being in such a liberal-minded class I thought he would go on about how horrible it was for churches, tribes, or cultures to raise their children with one ideal or one world view, and was prepared to learn from whatever he said, even if I didn't agree with it. His answer surprised me. In summary he said, Absolutely not. In fact, doing so would send our world into chaos. Traditions and rituals, he said, of churches, tribes, or cultures, are meant to remove us from a comfort bubble we innately have. By removing us from this bubble they force us to look at the world around us and to compare ourselves to that world. They are essential to our self made identity. Then he surprised me more by saying in essence, when people try to change rituals in order to make them more comfortable for the individual, or to make them more entertaining, they are harming that individuals ability to eventually reach his own self awareness. "The key to a good ritual or tradition is its ability to, in process, make the individual as uncomfortable as possible, forcing them inward at first, and then outward to find answers." I do remember that quote. Tradition, is what my parents gave me and it is closely related to my faith. Tradition is what I am taught in the annual holidays I am taught as a citizen. I believe the struggle of tradition for me lies in the faith which I was raised with.

I believe in God, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost which they provide as a means of comfort and confirmation. I believe God created this earth and the human race. I believe God has had an active role in his creation since before it even began. I believe we existed spiritually before we were born physically. I believe God, through prophets or righteous men willing to hear His voice, has spoken to us in scripture, continues to speak in revelation, and will forever speak in love. I believe God through Joseph Smith restored the eternal truths of the gospel which had been lost, along with many of the plain and precious things found in scripture. The Book of Mormon has provided me with the beginning evidence of these later truths. Life experience and experiments have led me to further, deeper faith. My struggle with these things is not in questioning them, it is in the societal consequences of having them, let alone expressing them openly. This is where I believe my tradition and faith need some defense:

Society continually changes. As do societies beliefs, religious and secular. Christianity is much younger than the Eastern faiths, when viewed as one of separate origin from that of Judaism. However, the opinion of society is such that these discrepancies do not hold sway, because all belief in a higher power, or God-like being are held as feeble minded hopes which help us to deal with our consciousness of death. Some in the sciences have claimed that science has defied God and won. That evolution has proven to be the facts of all fact and should define our understanding of life forever. And on the other side, closed minded believers have refused to think outside of the box and to seek truth through prescribed methods concerning new ideas supported by scientific evidence. Why do we seem to have a need to divide in society? Why must it always be us against them? Republican vs Democrat, Catholic vs Protestant, Science vs Religion. It is nonsense. Tevyes has the same problem. Not only are his people persecuted but internally he seeks to find a balance between his society and faith which others say is impossible. 

I refuse to defend my intellectuality to others on the basis that George Washington was a Christian. Frankly, if you assume that because I have faith in God I am intellectually inferior to you or must be unstable in some way, good day to you. I need neither your pity, your pride, or your presumptuous ignorance in the way of my happiness. You are a product of your own hypocrisy. I believe with all my heart that science and God are synonymous. God is the greatest scientist. Seven days could be thousands of years according to John who, in the new testament openly declares one day to be a thousand years in heaven, or in other words, eternity is timeless. Evolution could be the form of creation which God used to bring about his plan. Now this is not to say that I do not believe in Adam and Eve. That is a very fundamental doctrine within the creation. I do not believe we came from apes. And unless scientists can account for the two or three percent DNA difference between us and monkeys I don't want to hear another word about it. Two or three percent is huge when your talking about DNA. And whose to say that wont change? For the longest time dinosaurs had tails that dragged on the floor till someone said, hey if thats true why don't we find tail marks when we find foot prints? Boom, decades of scientific postulates decimated.

Darwin wasn't wrong but why we keep adding to his theory and calling it his own is beyond me. He had no presumption as to the origin of self replicating cells which could actively use proteins and enzymes to grow and reproduce. He had no postulate as to the way these cells suddenly exploded into millions of differing types of cells which led to the cambrian age and the emergence of species. How could this happen? No one knows. On the other side, how many times do you think one story has to be translated by sometimes corrupt hands, bathed in the blood of thousands of innocent people before it starts to be a little different from its original form? Am I saying God couldn't protect the Bible or that it is not an inspired book? No. But I dont believe God willed the termination of thousands of Jews either. Funny thing about our agency is that usually God wont interfere to keep us from hurting ourselves. We wouldn't learn anything that way. Still, millions of Christians will curse their neighbor and praise their God in the same breath because they feel the Bible told them to do so. If the Bible is the only book we need is it the only book Catholics need or protestants or the other thousands of denominations all claiming a different translation? No one knows. Thats because with all our frustrated refusal to believe that God can exist and that there are moral consequences to our lives or that sometimes God expects us to find truth instead of be hand fed it, we have put these questions in a double pad locked broom closet with the words, DO NOT OPEN UNTIL WE CAN GIVE GOOD REASON WHY THESE THINGS ARE where we can forget about them. I refuse to be ignorant of who I am because others tell me its not possible. 

Tevye in a particularly dramatic scene comes to the climax of his struggle between tradition, faith, and family, when his youngest daughter comes to him after being married to a non-Jew in secret. He goes into a monologue and confronts the issue with his usually comedic "on the other hand," comparison of a decisions consequence. As he begins to really struggle he finally throws up his hands and in a screaming outrage fights his daughter away from his mind saying, "There is no other hand!" I can relate to him because for sometime I made the same mistake as him. I was foolish enough to believe that my faith and tradition required me, maybe even encouraged me to disown my family. After all Christ did say that he came not to bring peace but to turn brother against brother, and whosoever loved mother or father more than him was not worthy of him right? What Tevye and I misunderstood was the intention behind such a concept. I do not have to endulge in, or sponsor, or encourage what I know to be wrong decisions made by those I love in order to love them. I need only to accept them and to focus on my own imperfections. I accept that my brothers think differently and feel differently than I do about their faith. (I say that knowing that Brandon claims to have no faith, because I believe you have to believe there is nothing there to be agnostic or atheist, and you cant prove that so you have faith in something whether you like it or not) I don't agree with them and I am sometimes sad because I feel my life has been made so much happier because of the things I know. I understand there are different ways to be happy and different interpretations of happiness, but I know some of those ways can be counterfeit. I am sad that my parents struggle with their faith and sometimes wish things were different. But I wouldn't hesitate to give my life for any of them. I love them with all that I am and if I really have faith, I will show that to them throughout my life. 

God doesn't expect Tevye, me, or anyone else to abandon love of family for love of faith and tradition. Love of God is love of others. Christ taught that throughout his life. Charity is seeing others through the eyes of God, no matter how they live or believe. Hate is seeing others the way Satan, wishes us to see them, for it is the way he sees all of us. I do not hate homosexuals, they are people deserving of love and respect. I do not agree with their choices, and I have interpreted the institution of marriage to be a ceremony between husband and wife, but that does not give me the right to hate. And if you would like a more secular version of my stance on marriage here goes: according to Darwin the evolution of a species depends upon natural selection. An organism with favorable traits will be selected for vs an organism with unfavorable traits, eliminating the DNA of the unfavorable trait and evolving the species as a whole. Homosexuality is, in my opinion, an elimination of ones DNA from the pool of evolution. Self selecting against ones own characteristics. This is obviously unfavorable and unnatural, as all other organisms in nature make it a goal to preserve their DNA. I know that sounds really horrible, so I'm going to go with the religious reason if you don't mind. (that was a tangent) 

My point is we need to, like the fiddler on the roof, reconsider and reposition ourselves. We need to constantly take a look at what we believe and why we believe it and then respect those who may not. We need to be more loving and less prideful. Coexistence is not impossible if we all have confidence in what we know to be true and humility to accept what we don't. No I am not ignorant. I don't believe wars can be ended and all that other hippie nonsense. Why? Because people still run this world and people are crazy. But i do think my little corner of the world can be a little more peaceful if I try. And believe me I still have a lot of trying to do. I still struggle and fall and hate and put my nose up to others. I still scoff and whine and moan and forget. I still seek my own will. But thats what makes this life so worth living; I get to learn and grow and realize who I am and whats wrong with me and how I can make me better for me and for those I love. Cue the coom bay ya. wink

"Thats all I have to say about that." ---Forest Gump