Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fishing [Ryan]

I don’t get fishing.

It’s not that I’ve never done it; I have many fond memories of sitting, freezing on a boat in the middle of a lake, downing the last of the Cheez ‘n Crackers, as my dad waited for some particularly stupid fish to ignore the mistakes of his predecessors and bite the lure.

And it’s not that I hate it, either; unlike certain activities, like golf, I can see how fishing might be fun: you get to see nature, you get to spend time with the people you love — you know, stuff like that. But I can get those experiences by hiking, or by living with my family in a cabin in the woods filled with pizza and "The Office" DVDs.

Thus, it’s just that I don’t see the point of fishing. True, if tomorrow the world were reduced to a post-apocalyptic landscape and we had to forage for food, fishermen would suddenly be in high demand. But for the modern fisherman, actually eating the fish seems secondary to the apparent joy of sitting for an hour in anticipation of reeling in a fish, watching it wriggle around in the air, then tossing it back into the depths from which it came.

Am I missing something? I imagine it must be weird for the fish, as well. There they are, just going about their menial lives, when they are suddenly whisked into air, subjected to various indignities, and then thrust back home without explanation or apology. I bet that’s what an alien abduction feels like.

Then there’s the environmental factor. Fishermen will brave cold, rain, heat, and sometimes active volcanoes for the chance to dip their line into the water. I remember a time we went to Mexico. My dad, not content to enjoy the beaches or pyramids, took my brothers and me on a six-hour fishing trip in a tiny boat with a guide named Angel or Jorge or something like that. It was a chance for my brothers and me to become men, or at least reasonably adept net-holders for when Dad caught a fish.

Imagine, if your faculties can envision such a scene: there we were, sitting in the searing afternoon heat, honoring the ancient tradition of father/son/Mexican guide bonding time with an equally ancient boat. We couldn’t swim (that would scare the fish). We couldn’t talk loudly (that would also scare the fish). The fish weren’t biting. Jorge Angel stood on the prow of the boat like Columbus entering the Americas, casting his long shadow across the water, but that didn’t scare the fish. I think my dad caught a few fish, but I can’t help but wonder if we were somehow outsmarted by beings with brains the size of Skittles. (My personal theory is that there were very few fish in the first place; most of them were on vacation, checking out the ruins at Chichen Itza or Uxmal.)

I love the outdoors, but I don’t need to be knee-deep in icy water or adrift underneath a scalding sun to enjoy it. If you’re a fisherman (and all of my immediate paternal ancestors are), you go enjoy it. It’s just not for me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The World We Live In, Part I [Connor]

I’ve heard that no writer could invent a world weirder than the one we already live in, nor imagine a species more eccentric than our own. When you look at the evidence, it’s hard not to agree. Case in point: The accompanying picture is of Mr. J. A. G. A. M. C. H. Elessar-Jankov, whose story we will cover momentarily.

The following is an excerpt from a story in the Post Register newspaper:

“A Northern Idaho woman who was skewered by a tree limb during a recreational drive along the Lochsa River earlier this month says she is recovering at home. Michelle Childers, 20, and her husband were driving down a rural road in north-central Idaho on Sept. 5 when a spruce tree crashed through the passenger side window of their pickup truck. Childers, a Kamiah native, said she could feel a strange pressure on her neck and shoulder when her husband, Daniel, a 22- year-old who works in the lumber industry saw the tree limb had impaled her and started to panic. ‘I asked him, “What? Where is it?” Childers said. ‘It’s in your neck,’ her husband answered. “

Hmm. Why is the fact that her husband works for the lumber industry included? Did he draw on that experience to help diagnose her injury? “Honey, I feel a strange pressure in my neck!” “Hold on, I work for the lumber industry! I am experienced in these matters! (examines her neck briefly with a thoughtful expression on his face) It seems you have the limb of a spruce tree going through your neck.”

An online teaching website now offers a course for high-school P.E. credit called “P.E. With the Wii.” Wow. A similar class could be “Rock, Paper, Scissors Your Way to Awesome Biceps.” Or even “Sexy Abs through Foosball.”

The Forest Service in California recently issued a statement warning campers to watch out for marijuana growers posing as campers. The Forest Service included three warning signs for recognizing disguised marijuana growers:

1. They eat tortillas.
2. They drink a certain brand of beer that is popular in Central American countries.
3. They listen to Spanish music.

They withdrew the statement two days later and issued a statement to the effect of “Sorry, we honestly had no idea how racist that sounded.” Given those signs, I’m surprised they list nothing about sombreros.

Huffingtonpost.com reports the following story:

"According to Norwegian site VG Nett, bus driver Andreas Jankov has formally changed his name to Julius Andreas Gimli Arn MacGyver Chewbacka Highlander Elessar-Jankov. 'I wanted to show that it is possible to be serious and at the same time take the name you like,' said the film enthusiast. 'I wanted to see how far I could take it with respect to the number of names. I started thinking about this three years ago and it was approved in January this year.' Apparently, he's had his passport and bank card reissued, but the name was too long so he dropped 'Highlander.'

Thanks to our commenters, we've been able to break down the name:

- Julius is an homage to the famous chimp at the Kristiansand Zoo
- 'Arn' is a Swedish knight movie
- Elessar and Gimli are from 'Lord of the Rings'
- 'MacGyver', just the greatest Richard Dean Anderson show ever!
- 'Highlander' could refer to either the movie or TV show
- Chewbacka is from 'Star Wars'

So, When/If he gets married will he make his wife take his name?"*

My only question is, who's got the guts to tell the poor guy (who does not look unlike his namesake Wookiee) he misspelled "Chewbacca"? It's almost as bad misspelling your girlfriend's name when you get it tattooed on your chest.

This is the world we live in and the people we live among. Gotta love it. Of course, these are just crumbs out of the cake. I could cite examples of burglars suing homeowners after injuring themselves during a break-in or mention the ‘Miss Beautiful Morals** Pageant’ held in Saudi Arabia (wouldn‘t they all have to be wearing burkhas? How exactly do they pull off THAT pageant?). And just when your faith in, well, sanity and common sense has reached an all-time low, an article found on CNN’s website comes along with this sentence: “South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford made matters worse at home by apologizing for an affair with someone he called his ‘soul mate.’” There’s not much I could say here to make it worse. I bet his wife was thrilled with THAT sincere apology.

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*I don't we should worry too much about that scenario. My money's definitely on the "If."
**I can imagine the viewers' reactions: "Whoa! Get a load of THOSE morals!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What I do [Ryan]

I resolved at the very beginning of this blog that it would not be one of those blogs where the readers get a weekly travelogue or life update, like some kind of extended,
useless Facebook status.

(Those usually go something like this: “Hey, everybody, thanks for reading my blog. I just took my dog out for a walk this week, and my sister visited. We went to the movie and it was great. 'Julie and Julia' was good and kept us entertained. Then we ate out at Red Lobster. Stay tuned till next week!” If anything exciting really happens, they writer springs it upon the rest of us as an afterthought, like this: “… kept us entertained. Then we ate out at Red Lobster. One of the live lobsters they keep in the tank had mutated and took control of the restaurant for six hours until a SWAT team arrived.”)

But I think I might break that rule. Two weeks ago, I started my internship at the (LDS) Church Magazines, and people have been asking me exactly what I do. I’m going to assume that most of my audience is LDS, but for those who aren’t, I’m going to briefly give some background:

The Church magazines are monthly publications put out by the LDS Church that include news of the Church, inspiring articles written by Mormons all over the world, and messages from Church leaders. They are headquartered on Temple Square in the Church Office Building.* There are no mutant lobsters anywhere in the vicinity.

So what exactly is it that I do?

I write news. The stuff that goes in the back of the "Liahona" (the international magazine) and the "Ensign" (the English-speaking magazine) is pretty much all me. I spend my time calling the people like the Church’s West Africa public affairs director and writing articles about them.

I have an iMac in my cubicle and a high-tech phone that I really haven’t yet figured out how to use.** I’ve never liked answering phones, for various reasons. First, just about anyone can get a hold of you, which leaves all sorts of amusing possibilities for the kinds of yahoos who might have your number. And I’m not talking about prank calls.*** I also have three X-Wings made out of tape, paper clips, and Post-It notes.

Occasionally I see General Authorities, the leaders of the Church. My fourth day on the job, I ran into Elder L. Tom Perry in an elevator. He said, “Greetings!” and I said, “Hiiiii,” though it really sounded like I was trying to expel a pigeon through my nose. It wasn’t that I was star-struck; I simply was caught off-guard and everything clever I’d ever written in my hypothetical "Things to Say When Caught In An Elevator With a General Authority" book went out the window. I see Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi from time to time; I guess he’s involved with the magazines a lot.

There’s a cafeteria in the basement that serves a basket of chicken and fries for under four dollars. A piano’s off to the side, playing hymns, Broadway songs, and folk tunes. The other day, a girl sat next to me at the table and asked in her heavy accent, “Did you know that the Church is not of man, nor of the Earth, but of God, and that we have a prophet today?”

Trying not to be rude, I said, “Uh … yeah, thanks. I’m already Mormon.”

She seemed slightly disappointed, and left. Maybe she was practicing for her mission. Maybe she was nuts. Maybe she just forgot that she was sitting in the basement of the LDS Church Office Building.

There you have it, folks. That’s what I do.

* The whole Church Office Building experience actually reminds me vaguely of the Ministry of Magic in the Harry Potter universe.

** These are actually the exact phones used in the TV show "The Office." Really.

*** Semi-related anecdote: A friend of mine recently got a job at a pest control center answering phones. She got a call one morning from a person with the following dire question, which neither she nor I are making up:

“I’ve got pests and I can’t tell if they’re mice or bats. My neighbor says they look pretty much the same. How do I tell the difference?”

I don’t remember what my friend told the caller, but I’m sure I would have referred her to my #1 Bat Vs. Mouse Rule of Thumb:

Check if it’s flying.

Unless you’re dealing with handicapped bats or genetically-altered mice, that rule is pretty much fool-proof. Obviously not idiot-proof, though.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

GI Joe: my review [Connor]

I recently watched the movie GI Joe, and I fully and sincerely recommend it to anybody craving a two-hour long montage of ridiculously overdone computer-generated laser battles, absurdly grandiose secret underground fortresses, and laughably mediocre acting. Combine that with a plot that feels like it was written by the screenwriters’ children during an activity on Take Your Kid to Work Day, and you have your end result: a movie ridiculously overdone, absurdly grandiose, and laughably mediocre.

In addition, the movie is riddled with scenes, dialogue and other elements so unrealistic and juvenile that it is surprising that actual actors play the characters, rather than the original action figures suspended in the air by strings.

For instance, during the Paris chase scene, Snake Eyes* gets on top of the speeding Hummer and starts sticking a katana through the roof while trying to reach his nemesis Storm Shadow**, a problem that I expect will be hard to explain to the mechanic. In order to get him off, the bad guys inside push a button that causes a rack of spikes to come out of the front of the car. When the Hummer hits a car, it flips said car spectacularly in a thirty-foot arc over the Hummer. Was this Hummer really manufactured with an appendage specifically designed to flip cars over it? Or does it have some real use, like. . . um. . . er. . . agriculture?

Actually, I can think of one practical use for it. I mean, haven’t you ever gotten stuck on the 75-mph freeway behind one of those terminally slow drivers who will really floor it one day and go, say, 35? Well, if you have that handy-dandy patented trailer-hitch-attachable titanium-alloy Car Flipper, you can hit the gas and flip those pesky slow drivers right over your car! Problem solved! It’s only a matter of time until it’s advertised on long infomercials exhibiting its many uses and stating that, if you call now, you will receive NOT ONLY a second Car Flipper ABSOLUTELY FREE, but also the handy Sunroof-Mounted Laser Cannon!

I wasn‘t kidding about that laser. Later on in the chase, the bad guys in the Hummer press yet another button*** and this laser cannon thing comes out of the top of the Hummer. Where did THAT come from? Unless it’s a Magical Materializing Laser Cannon, it would have to have come DIRECTLY OUT OF THE BACKSEAT. So basically, this car has got a giant laser gun occupying the middle back seat. What would you do with that thing during a road trip? Pass time by blowing up passing traffic? Throw a pillow over it and fall asleep on it? And I bet that backseat laser cannon would be pretty hard to explain when the cop pulls you over for speeding, and, I suppose, blowing up cars with a laser. Heck, even going through a Wendy’s drive-thru with one of those could raise awkward questions.****

There are more complex flaws, too. I mean, when did Cobra Commander turn evil? The movie features a dramatic backstory where, as an innocent young soldier, he stumbles upon a laboratory containing information that could one day kill thousands. Without skipping a beat, he is suddenly and inexplicably transformed into an evil genius. Instantly. There's no time to even decide to turn evil, let alone any decent character development. Is he really transformed in the blink of an eye from a naive young good guy into a creepy madman who is apparently distantly related to Michael Jackson? Imagine if Darth Vader's story was like that: a nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker fresh out of the Podrace witnesses the Force and immediately turns to the Dark Side. Be kind of a letdown, wouldn't it?

Granted, there are situations where GI Joe is a movie not only appropriate to watch, but preferable. An group of eight-year-olds at a sleepover, for example, ideally at 3 in the morning. But if that, by any chance, is not your case, then I suggest you watch something with a little more depth and thought behind it. I suggest the "Charlie Bit Me" video on Youtube.

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*Played by the same actor who plays Darth Maul. In this, he plays a ninja who has taken a vow of silence. As I recall, Darth Maul had one speaking line. Apparently, they don’t trust his acting enough to allow him any dialogue.
**Yes, Storm Shadow. That's his name. I would have gone with just "Storm" or just "Shadow." It's as if someone gave him a list of evil nicknames, but he couldn't pick just one. I can imagine: "Hmm, there's Wrench, Griphook, Shadow, Viroid, Megatron, Evilor, Dino-tor, Storm, and Syphilis. Oh, can't choose! How about Storm Megatron Shadow? Oh, Megatron's taken? Okay, fine..."
***There’s a whole RACK of buttons in there. What do the rest of them control? Decepticon mode? Pop-out juice machine?
****Like: “Is that a laser?”