You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Ardis over at Keepapitchinin has a fascinating post about the use of codes and ciphers in Mormon History, which led to some thoughts about the movie “A Christmas Story”, where a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring plays a big role. For your enjoyment, here are some odds and ends images of various decoder rings and pins that I’ve found.

Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!

The Banana Cream Pie Bailout

Often times, we underestimate the power of a good act. A kindness shown to a stranger can sometimes create a forward moving wave of good will far in excess of its original intent. We all have experienced a sense of well being at being the recipient of kindness or compassion that makes us more desirous to be compassionate and kind to others, barring the occasional odd sociopath among us.

As I like to put an optimistic spin on my perceptions of life anyway, I’ll give my wife complete credit for Monday’s 900+ point run up of the Dow Industrial average on Wall Street. That’s right, the credit is all hers. The secret really isn’t that much of a secret, but in the interest of worldwide economic improvement, I’ll share it here. She made a Banana Cream Pie. Not any banana cream pie, but The Best Banana Cream Pie.  Ever.

I can already feel some of the doubt building out there, but I promise, if you wait a minute or two, you’ll feel that swell of dopamine surging through your brain, just making you feel better. And it is all about the pie. So give credit where credit is due.

My wife has always been a pretty good cook, but somewhere along the way, as she discovered that my favorite food is pumpkin pie, she set out to bake great pumpkin pie. I got through at least two years of college eating a piece of pumpkin pie from the union building cafeteria just about every school day. It was cheap, probably only 40 or 50 cents, back in the day. It just tasted good, and with real whipped cream, it made my school work better, because I felt better. I worked harder, more intelligently, and while the rest of the country was wallowing in the final year of the Watergate misery, I was scoring A’s in my senior course work, fueled by my own personal “Era of Good Feelings”.

I had married Kate by then, and while she also taught school, she duplicated and then improved on the pumpkin pie I ate at college. It still remains my favorite food, and as we lurch through uncertain economic times and a looming presidential election, the fall has the promise of even more pumpkin pie.

Which brings me up to Sunday Night, and the Banana Cream Bailout. Kate loves pumpkin pie, but her favorites are cream pies, like coconut cream, or chocolate cream, or on this night, Banana Cream Pie. Pie making is a little bit of an art, not just following a recipe. If you read the cookbooks, they will generally get you something that looks like a pie, but until you learn exactly how to cut the shortening into the flour, your crusts won’t be as flaky, and will probably burn a bit around the edges. An overworked crust is an underachieving pie. You have to know when to quit so that the dough, when it gets rolled out, isn’t just a greasy ball of dough that tastes like the pies you get at Denny’s.

So Kate is very good at pie crusts, and when she said Sunday night she would make a pumpkin pie for me, she would also make a banana cream pie for her. It all sounded good to me. She carefully prepared the dough, gently cutting the shortening in with a pastry knife, then rolling out the balls of dough into circles with her thirty five year old hard maple rolling pin. She folded the dough into quarters, then carefully lifted it into the glass pie pans for baking.

Meanwhile, she had also been working on the fillings. Pumpkin is pretty easy. You can read the instructions on the side of the Libby’s pumpkin can, and pretty much get it right. But she takes liberties with banana cream. The recipes call for eggs, sugar, and milk (or condensed milk), which makes a passable pie. Kate, however, carefully blends the eggs, then adds Costco heavy whipping cream, and stirring it the banana cream pudding mix. A layer of fresh cut bananas goes in the bottom of the pie shell, and then the filling is added and baked. The result is sometimes a little runnier, certainly not as healthy as a pie made with 2%, but if you are eating pie, you ought to be in it for the whole experience, and artery-clogging non-soluble fats ought to be the first choice of the consumer.

Finally, after baking and cooling, no cans of pressurized Ready Whip or frozen Cool Whip topping will do. We have an old-school charger, which we fill with the heavy whipping cream and shoot full of nitrous oxide, along with a touch of vanilla, and perhaps some powdered sugar, but usually not. You shake the charger, and then dispense luscious, rich, whipped cream directly on to your slice of banana cream pie.

We had invited our married kids over for pie, but with schedules and commitments, they could not make it Sunday night. That left the whole of the Banana Cream Pie, and the Pumpkin Pie, and the Peach Pie, all for the two of us. Our youngest son was working a graveyard shift that night, and he didn’t discover the pies until the next night.

So as I lifted my fork, and brought the world’s best banana cream pie to my taste buds, I forgot all about credit swap defaults, and toxic mortgage securities. The subsequent wave of good feeling and joy swept quickly from our house, engulfed the unsuspecting neighborhood and rushed westward, over the Pacific where the Asian markets began to rally. On with the sunrise, the sense that all was right if the world could just get enough Banana Cream Pie washed over the Indian subcontinent, enhancing the medication of mystics, creating a moment of peaceful thought in the Mideast, and then conquering Europe with the smell of cream, vanilla, and bananas. The French thought it somehow sexual, and the Germans found it eminently practical and timely.

Over the Atlantic it now fairly roared, and crashed upon the beaches of the American continent, flooding over lower Manhattan and pouring in cascades into the trading floors of Wall Street. The highest swells reached even to the upper floors of the office buildings, and then freed from the momentary obstructions of the East Coast Metroplex, slowly rolled in ever slowing ripples across the entire country.

An hour or two after dinner, the Banana Cream Bailout finally ebbed as it hit the Seattle suburbs, where it had started just 24 hours earlier, and I sat down and ate a second leftover piece on Monday night. All was right in the world, and we’d recovered at least a portion of our retirement savings. And it was great pie. I’ll let you know when Kate makes it again, but you can probably pick up the signs on your own, if you’re observant.

US and Nigeria Swap Economies – Film at 11!

My junk mail filter requires constant maintenance, so i often see a lot of the garbage that slowly circles the drain leading to the recycle bin.  This one, however, was too good to pass up.  We’re all too familiar with the old Nigerian 419 scam about their prime ministers widow who needs to get $25 million dollars out of the country, and only needs your bank account information so you can take your 20% fee for helping.
Apparently, with the recent wall street meltdown, and implosion of the credit markets, we’ve now swapped economies with Nigeria, as can be seen in this email I received today:


I am Sandy Berger, Former National Security Adviser to  Former President  BILL CLINTON of United States Of America. I decided to contact you  because of the prevailing security report reaching my office and the  intense  nature of policy in U.S.A.
This is to inform you about our plan to send your fund to you via cash  delivery. This system will be easier for you and for us. We are going  to send  your contract part payment of US$100. Million to you via diplomatic  courier  service.I have secured every needed document to cover the money.
Note: The money is coming on 2 security proof boxes. The boxes are  sealed with  synthetic nylon seal and padded with machine. This fund was in our  treasury during our regime; it was meant for our Local AFEM market.But  since the money was  not  used and no one knows about it , I will use my position as the Former  National Security Adviser to the  President  to send this fund to you. The boxes are coming with a Diplomatic agent  who  will accompany the boxes to your house address. All you need to do now  Is to  send to me your full house address and your identity such as,  international  passport or drivers license including your contact phone numbers, The  Diplomatic attached will travel with it. He will call you immediately  he  arrives
Note: The diplomatic does not know the original contents of the boxes.
What l declared to them as the contents is Sensitive Photographic Film  Material. I  did not declare money to them please. If they call you and ask you the  contents please tell them the same thing Ok,I will let you know how far  I have  gone with the arrangement. I will secure the Diplomatic immunity  clearance  certificate that will be tagged on the boxes to make it stand as a  diplomatic  consignment.
This clearance will make it pass every custom checkpoint all over  without hitch. Confirm the receipt of this message and send the  requirements  to me immediately you receive this message.If you need more information  about  this, i will give you the contact of the diplomatic agents for more  information on how to carry out the plan.
Please I need urgent reply because the boxes are schedule to be moved  as soon  as we  hear from you. Reply me immediately you receive this message
Best Regards,
Sandy Berger
Former National Security Adviser to the President Of United States Of  America


All Chris Matthews, All the Time….(or why I watch C-Span)

I’ll admit to being a political junkie, but I am tired of arguing politics.  I am also old enough to remember when national conventions were not just infomercials for the party faithful, but dramas in their own right.  They were fun to watch, but the average citizen was marginalized, and the political power brokers were working feverishly just below the surface, deciding the fate of our presidential candidates.  That led to Chicago in 1968, and perhaps the most infamous convention experience of my lifetime, what with Dan Rather getting punched in the stomach by a cop, and Walter Cronkite, normally unflappable under any circumstances, calling the Chicago Police “thugs”.  Good times, indeed.

Than brings me to this year’s Democratic National Convention in Denver, again, a slickly packaged and harmless spectacle that has one goal, and that is to make Hillary Clinton’s supporters happy to back Obama.  However, even the networks now understand that the conventions are mostly entertainment, and are devoting only an hour a night of prime time coverage on NBC, CBS, and ABC.  I usually watch NBC, so I was glad to hear that they were also providing “gavel to gavel” coverage on their full time news network, cable’s MSNBC.  I tuned in early the other night to try and catch Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama, and discovered that MSNBC is indeed providing non-stop coverage, but mostly the same stuff that appears on MBC, with analysis and commentary by Chris Matthews et al.  It went on forever, and yet there was still stuff going on at the convention.  It’s reprehensible to say your providing complete coverage if all it comes down to is more screen time for the news folks.   This is giving talking heads a bad name.

Last night, it occurred to me that C-SPAN might just have coverage as well, so I flipped over to channel 24, and listened to a bunch of governors of various states in the lead up to Hillary Clinton.  Montana’s governor, a self proclaimed rancher and farmer who had never run for political office before, gave a hugely energetic speech about, well, renewable energy.  As he spoke about wind power, geothermal power, biofuels, coal gassification, and other alternative energies, and the jobs they would create, I kept thinking “If we could only harness this guy, our energy crisis would be over”.  It was much more entertaining and informative, and I found that I got by just fine without Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, or David Gregory.

C-Span has certainly much of the time lived down to its reputation of being boring, especially when covering the sessions of congress.  However, the concept of getting unfiltered civics drama without all the explanation and window dressing sometimes leads to great things.  I remember well catching some public hearings following the disputed 2000 election that were being held in Broward County, Florida.  People were lined up, telling their stories of how they were denied their rights to vote, sometimes inadvertently, and sometimes almost certainly with malice aforethought.  I remember in particular the older German immigrant who had gotten his citizenship early in 2000 just so he could vote in the general election, only to be told he wasn’t on the list, even though he had his voter registration card, and was not allowed to vote.  Chris Matthews could have probably told us something about provisional ballots, confusion at the polls, and the process of challenging voter registration lists, but no one could top the drama of this earnest new American, outraged at the violation of the rights he had worked for over a decade.

Sometimes, it’s okay to try and help us understand, but sometimes it’s better to just sit back and listen.  RIght now, I just want to listen.   More C-Span tonight from Denver, and more next week from Minneapolis-St Paul.


Sleeping in Church

I love the story of Eutychus in the New Testament (Acts 20). As one who in the past has been guilty of napping in church, it speaks to my heart. Jonathan Swift wrote on the topic in the following in a sermon he gave back in the 18th century:

“And there sat in the window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep; and while Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.” – Acts xx. 9.

I have chosen these words with design, if possible, to disturb some part in this audience of half an hour’s sleep, for the convenience and exercise whereof this place, at this season of the day, is very much celebrated.

There is indeed one mortal disadvantage to which all preaching is subject, that those who, by the wickedness of their lives, stand in greatest need, have usually the smallest share; for either they are absent upon the account of idleness, or spleen, or hatred to religion, or in order to doze away the intemperance of the week; or, if they do come, they are sure to employ their minds rather any other way than regarding or attending to the business of the place.

The accident which happened to this young man in the text hath not been sufficient to discourage his successors; but because the preachers now in the world, however they may exceed St. Paul in the art of setting men to sleep, do extremely fall short of him in the working of miracles, therefore men are become so cautious as, to choose more safe and convenient stations and postures for taking their repose without hazard of their persons, and upon the whole matter choose rather to trust their destruction to a miracle than their safety.

I really can’t begin to suggest that my reasons for getting sleepy in Sacrament meeting are what Swift decries in his sermon. He suggest bad preaching, heavy eating before coming to church, and meetings that go on too long. Normally on Sundays, I haven’t really had a big meal prior to coming to church, and I probably more guilty of giving bad talks myself than hearing bad talks.

No, I think there are other reasons, which I hope will convince my wife. First, sitting still in a meeting for an extended period of time is unusual for me, as I normally am pretty active at work, even though I spend most of my time at a desk. Sunday is the one day that sitting is a passive activity for me, and sleep catches up with me. Second, my current calling in the church means that my Sunday starts with a 6 AM meeting, and I generally don’t get home until 3 or 4 PM. But most of all, I like Levi Peterson’s statement that napping in church, surrounded by the best people he knows, seems safe and comfortable. And I hope that some of the talks and the feelings are getting through, even though my eyelids grow heavy.

(Note – In all fairness, now that I am often in meetings without my wife, who is in our home ward, I find that I am not quite as easily seduced by the desire to nap. She will be happy to know that, and I think that I am always more comfortable when she is around. She’ll also be happy about that.)

The Clone Republic – by Steven Kent

General Robert E. Lee is reported to have said to his staff officers while reviewing the wreckage following a Confederate victory, “Gentlemen, it is good that war is so terrible, else we would love it too much.” For most of us, war is seen primarily through the lens of popular motion pictures and literature, and to a lesser extent via cable and network news. Many of us seem to have a fascination with things military, and such movies and novels often do well commercially and critically.

The fascination, I think, is two fold. First are the “toys” of war: the weapons, tools, and transportation. These seem to cross all historical boundaries. Part, or perhaps most, of modern military fiction seems to revolve around the mechanics and technology of warfare. The Hunt for Red October introduced many of us to a new glimpse of how modern submarine warfare is a combination of strategy and technology. Bernard Cornwall’s Lt. Sharpe of the Napoleonic wars introduced us to the gritty details of fighting men and muzzle loading rifles in savage battles on foreign soil, where the ability to load and fire more quickly than your opponent turned battles as often as cunning and strategy.

The other fascination is with the inner conflicts of the characters caught in these dramas. Often, the conflict is between civilian and military life, as new recruits are turned from schoolteachers or plumbers into skilled marksmen willing to kill, and die, for their cause. Sometimes the conflict is between ranks, or social classes. The most fascinating conflicts for me revolve around ordinary decent people caught up in brutal combat having to resolve the moral issues of war on a personal, intimate level.

Science fiction has also developed a sub-genre of military SF. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers was fun, campy read, although the movie based on his novel turned into an excruciatingly painful viewing experience for me. I think they tried to be campy, but didn’t quite reach those heights. It was exceeded in boredom only by Gods & Generals, 3 hours of butt-numbing revisionist southern history.

Steven Kent has written an interesting first military SF novel that mines some new territory in The Clone Republic. There are no aliens in the galaxy occupied by humans in the not so distant future. The military depends on ranks of specially bred clones, who don’t know they are clones. This warrior class is in conflict with both the civilian world, who depend on these expendable clones to conduct their wars, and their civilian rulers and military commanders, who are not clones. And to make it more intriguing, the clones are all bred to see that the rest of their platoon may be clones, but they view themselves as different and unique. Should they discover their clone identity, they are killed by the release of a toxic hormone, before they can spoil the neatly ordered society of the United Authority.

Except for Wayson Harris, a private in the UA marines. Wayson knows that he is different, even while his background and actions seem to indicate that he just might be a clone. As a reader, you get to follow his journey through increasingly bloody engagements and promotions, while learning some truths about himself. He encounters hatred and attempted assassination by some in the ruling class, harassment and prejudice by many of the officers he serves under, and a growing disgruntlement with his status as a unique “orphan” soldier in this clone army.

In Wayson’s galaxy, as in ours, man is his own worst enemy. Wayson has to deal with incompetence in his government, corruption in his commanders, the growing realization that he and his fellow soldiers are completely expendable, and finally some gut-wrenching realizations about his own nature.

This is an enjoyable read. I do hope that in the sequels, Wayson has to confront some of the deeper moral issues of this universe of clone warriors (something George Lucas never really dealt with in his Star Wars universe). It’s mentioned that one of Kent’s clone warriors does worry about whether clones have souls, and what is their status if God really exists? However, this question is not really answered, and Wayson jumps from one battle to the next with brief interludes where he confronts the rulers and citizens of this universe modeled after Plato’s Republic.

I found the action believable, with a mix of 20th century weapons and the occasional 23rd century particle beam weapon, poison gas that conveniently also does away the bodies of it’s victims, and space craft called battleships, destroyers, and carriers, with fighters and interceptors named after 20th century aircraft, such as Hornets and Falcons. The mix of familiar with the futuristic allows us to fill in the blanks and use our imagination to picture a future where man still battles against man, even in the outermost reaches of our own galaxy. I look forward to some deeper insights into Wayson’s psyche and moral core in the sequel, Rogue Clone.

(Author’s note- I wrote this review about a year ago, and since then Rogue Clone and Clone Alliance, both sequels to this book have been published. Kent has completed writing a fourth book in the series, and a fifth is in the works at this time)

Hello world!

Welcome to our personal blog. I’ve been a commenter at a couple of LDS related sites, such as By Common Consent, or my new favorite, Keepapitchinin. We already maintain a couple of family blogs, but this is for my wife and I, since most of our kids (all of them, actually) are now adults.  I still get to post vacation pictures, practical jokes I play on my wife’s siblings, and stories about all the new babies at the nephews and nieces here and on the family blogs. This blog gives me a chance to explore writing, something I never seem to have enough time to do, and thinking, of which I sometimes do too much. Kate’s interests are writing, books, family, and education.  Take a look at our About page, and follow the rules. I hope this will be a good experience for all involved.