"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Thursday, December 30, 2010

End-of-Year Superlatives from Childe Jake

Most Important Plug for 2011

Regular readers are acquainted with my memorable "climb" up Sackrider Hill. Well, it turns out there are folks who climb even higher. One of them is Alan Arnette. This coming year he will be attempting the famed "Seven Summits." These are the highest peaks on each continent. Most importantly, he is doing these climbs to generate support for Alzheimer's Research. Speaking as the grandson of one who suffers from this disease, I hope you will consider following Mr. Arnette's adventure over the coming year. He is quite Internet savvy, so expect awesome photos and audio dispatches. Case in point: He's already tagged Mount Vinson in Antarctica. Seriously, even if you skip the rest of this blog post, I hope you will click on this link:

The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer's: Memories are Everything

Prompting the Man Who Leaves the Light on For Us

Of the various encounters I had with professional media talent this year, oddly enough I find myself most proud of this one:

I apparently persuaded Motel 6 spokesman Tom Bodett to register two Internet domain names at his own expense. Check out this funny post about Mr. Bodett's struggle to coin new automotive lingo upon purchasing his first minivan. And don't miss the reader comments that follow.

Most Popular Post by Pageviews:

By sheer numbers alone (over 200 pageviews in one morning), my most popular post of the year was a concession speech spoof: Childe Jake Ends Bid to Replace Charity Nebbe at Michigan Radio. The thanks go to none other than the station itself. Michigan Radio staff graciously, and without any begging from me, posted a link on their Facebook page. However, Michigan Radio producer Zoe Clark courted controversy by accusing me of excessive humor. To set the record straight, I was not "TOO funny!!" I was precisely the right amount of funny...humble too.

Post Garnering the Most Comments:

After some foot dragging, I posted a personal essay about my experience viewing a particularly controversial episode of the HBO series Big Love. I'd like to thank those who responded, from in and out of Mormonism, whether on my blog or on my Facebook Wall at the time. Here again is the link: Big Love for Barb.

Most Adorable, Best Eyes, Most Talented, etc.

Factoring in both pageviews and comments, the following post qualifies as the most enjoyed. If you haven't seen it, please do. It might change your life...or, at least make you grin. Here is the link: Anatomy of a Snuggle. And here is the special guest snuggler:

Most Potential, or The Solar Sailing Post that Could

It didn't get much reaction when I posted it in August; however, Harnessing 'The Wind From the Sun' keeps scoring a pageview or two a week. And really, that's all a solar sail needs to succeed: a slight and steady nudge. For an interesting look at how this frontier technology has moved into the realm of science fact, click on this link for LightSail-1! At minimum, enjoy this awesome artist's rendition by Rick Sternbach, available enlarged at the link below, courtesy The Planetary Society.

Photo Credit: Planetary Society

Thank you for visiting my blog! Have lots of happiness in the new year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Memory of Christmas in New England, 1995

I remember spending the Christmas of 1995 in New England. I and three other Mormon missionaries went caroling at a veterans’ hospital in White River Junction, Vermont. This was a long time ago, and not just in years.

We were regular volunteers at the VA hospital, so it was an obvious choice to get in some extra service time by caroling there on Christmas morning. After all, each of us missionaries was far away from home. Our sacrifice for the holiday had already been made. Caroling at the hospital would be fun, and also a great way to fill up a morning with no appointments.

If memory serves, obtaining permission to carol at the VA hospital involved showing up on Christmas morning and saying to the first staff member we saw, “We’re here to sing Christmas carols to the veterans.” Our presence was more than welcome.

We showed up in our suits and ties, sporting pocket edition hymnals and feeling sure that we were doing some good. It certainly wasn’t a sacrifice. The four of us enjoyed singing together. We sounded good, and we’d grown up singing these beloved holiday hymns. We had a natural bass and a natural tenor. The other two of us fit in between for harmony.

We tended to sing a couple of hymns at each room. At some point we joined forces with a Protestant group who were also caroling. On a theological level, this was a bit like two opposing armies singing Silent Night together during a Christmas ceasefire.

Most of the patients were older men. And most of them were alone. After we finished a set for one gentleman, he reached out to thank us despite his bedridden state. As we leaned over the bed to hold his hands, he started to cry. “Thank you for visiting me. I expected to be all alone today. Thank you for coming.”

I want to say I held the old soldier’s hand as he said this, but I might be fabricating that memory. Or just as likely, we all gave him a sincere handshake in turn. I’m confident we lingered an extra moment, taking in his emotional gratitude.

I confess that after caroling at the VA, the remainder of that Christmas was devoted to our own care and convenience. The Bishop and his family fed us missionaries a great lunch. Then we called home to our families. And that evening the four of us had Christmas dinner together--a good brotherly cap to the holiday.

Though I’m no longer a churchgoer--and the reasons don’t matter for this blog post--that Christmas morning remains a cherished and haunting memory for me. I don’t have any grand point to make. It just occurred to me that I never wrote about that day. Though memory is imperfect, and often revisionist, it must have been a great Christmas. I believe so because I miss it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Scoring 'The View From Serendip'

The View from SerendipThe View from Serendip by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not too long ago I was forced to hide in the basement of my local public library during a tornado warning. During the two hours the staff and several of us patrons hid from the twister that never came, I snooped through the library’s stockpile of used books. This yard sale collection is rolled out every couple of months to provide much-needed funds for library operations. Anyhow, while snooping I discovered a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s hard-to-find opus The View from Serendip.

I asked a library volunteer if, in the event we survived the non-existent tornado, I could take this out-of-print book upstairs and buy it right away…Y’know, instead of waiting for the next book sale when someone else might grab it first. The library volunteer uttered a rather curt reply: “No. And don’t take books off these shelves. I’m trying to keep them organized.” Smarting from her rebuke, I put the book back and resolved to hide in a friendlier part of the library’s basement while no tornados touched down anywhere in the county.

A couple of months later there was a properly sanctioned library book sale. Brushing past several suspicious elderly women, I nabbed the book first. (I’m sure those grandmothers were headed towards it. I saw that “Sir Arthur C. Clarke is dreamy!” look in their eyes.) And that’s the story of how I scored a good-condition hardcover of The View of Serendip for a single dollar. Hooray for used book sales at public libraries!

I’ve shared the above story in lieu of a review that would inevitably wind up being a love fest for one of my favorite authors. But I’ll add this: The View From Serendip is one of those great books that reminds me of the worthy writings of the late Carl Sagan. In contrast to the stereotype of godless scientists performing insidious research, this book reveals the scientific mind I more commonly encounter: one which is ethical, hope-driven, and which has a passionate desire to see humanity grow, mature, and prosper.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 4, 2010

'Obama's Wars': A Good Read About Bad Wars

Obama's WarsObama's Wars by Bob Woodward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title of this book is perfect: Obama’s Wars. Bob Woodward gives us a detailed account of President Obama taking ownership of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama also takes charge of internal strife between bickering branches and rival departments of our government and military.

Obama’s Wars is not a fun or exciting book, even during its most engrossing passages. But I can see it being a worthwhile read even for a person who skims a few chapters, becomes overwhelmed by the political complexity, and then gives up reading it. At least that person might come away with greater empathy for our leaders. (We could all use a bit more empathy in this nation.) The world of international relations is a messy one. Suffice it to say, if you think the war in Afghanistan is or should be solely about defeating al Qaeda, you are grossly uninformed.

My primary frustration with Obama’s Wars, though not necessarily a criticism of it, is the degree to which Mr. Woodward remains detached from his subject. I feel a bit sheepish admitting this. But there were times I wished Woodward had held my hand a bit more in terms of providing thematic subtext. Yes, I can tell that General X said something that upset Diplomat Y during a secret meeting. But I don’t fully grasp how it relates to the larger issues, let alone the interpersonal ones.

Nonetheless, I came to understand how President Obama’s cerebral nature is a much needed strategic boon but often a tactical stumbling block. Though, as I’d hoped, the book provides a favorable portrait. Woodward's research largely vindicates our President as engaged, hardworking, astute, and a much-needed antidote to the hotheaded cowboy mentality that got us into these wars.

I also developed a tempered appreciation for our nation’s generals, including the oft lionized General David Petraeus and the controversial General Stanley McChrystal. In the book, these men come across as extremely driven and devoted leaders, even when they find themselves at odds with the President. This isn’t a one-sided, absolutist account of who is right and who is wrong. In other words, this book is great reporting.

Ultimately, I found Obama’s Wars very sobering. It reveals how dangerous our world is—a place where geographic borders have become less relevant, but where the personalities in charge remain fiercely nationalistic, even tribal (and no I don’t just mean the Taliban). So I’ll continue paying my taxes and giving to non-profits. And I’ll keep trying to be a person who doesn’t deserve to be attacked and not one who is quick to make war. Because war—that is, politics through violence—always ends up ugly, even when prosecuted by the best of humans.

Note regarding the hardbound edition: This book includes two extremely helpful sections: 1) A Glossary; 2) A Cast of Characters

View all my reviews