Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hillsboro Hops

About three years ago, the Portland Beavers, triple-A team that had been in Portland on-and-off for over 100 years, was sold to make way for a professional soccer team.  There were some pretty disappointed people in our circle of friends.  Then a year ago, it was announced that a short season single-A team would be coming to Hillsboro.  As a city employee, I was given first-dibs on tickets for the sold-out home opening game for the Hops.  We had a great time with our friends, the Petersons, welcoming baseball back to the Portland area.   


The kids loved the game.  They just hung out together, ate some popcorn, and waited patiently for the fireworks that would follow the game.


At one point, it began to sprinkle (leave it to Oregon!).  But afterward, the sun popped out and we enjoyed the beautiful rainbow over the ball park.  I think it was Heaven's way of saying it was pleased that baseball was back.  


The kids loved the fireworks after the game.  I think it was Henry's firs real fireworks show.  He couldn't take his eyes from them.


The Hops won 12-0.  It was a fun game in a beautiful new stadium.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Atlas Shrugged: My Review


I'm a libertarian, so I had supposed that this book would be awesome.  Though I enjoyed reading it, on the whole, I was underwhelmed.  If you want to know what it is like for Atlas to struggle under the weight of the world, pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged.  Weighing in at a cool three pounds, I don't think I've read a book that took so long to say so little.  I'll relieve you of the trouble of struggling under the weight of nearly 1,200 pages:  Basically, there are a few people in the world that are so productive they don't need us normal people and they get tired of carrying us around so they move to the mountains of Colorado and hide out until the world goes to crap so they can rebuild it on their terms.  (Was that a run-on sentence?  Yeah it was.  Leave grammar and style suggestions in the comments.)

Her method of characterization is unique.  I'd describe it (though I'm no authority on the subject) as indirect direct characterization.  She would describe ancillary details about someone that revealed the core values of the character but always in a paragraph of introduction as the character entered the stage.  But despite her interesting mechanic, after the first part (of which there are three), I started to notice that her main characters are static like Greek statues ... a little too muscular and absolutely immovable.  Throughout the book, Greek Myth is thinly veiled in allegory.  The whole of the plot could be described as the Anti-Prometheus myth.  Who is John Galt?  He's Prometheus.  But instead of giving fire to man freely, he finds them unwilling to trade or pay his price and withholds it.  I thought I was clever for figuring this out ... then later on in the book a character asks the refrain, "Who is John Galt?"  And another character (who secretly knew the man) explains what I just did.  Thanks Ayn.  It's no fun to read a book and try to figure out the point only to have it given to me so explicitly.  Though "the point" of the book is stated hundreds of times, Rand, felt that the climax of the book should be an detailed explanation of "the point" by John Galt in a 60-page essay on Objectivism that masquerades as a speech.  It stops the motor of the book.  I do, however, recommend its last two pages.


Atlas Shrugged is sort of like that bad movie with good quotes (I'm looking at you "Cable Guy").  Francisco d'Aconia's speech on the root of money is an example of a jewel that can be found by digging through three pounds of chemically treated wood pulp.  Of the mostly static main characters, Francisco was my favorite.  This is in large measure because he is the least static of the main characters.  As uninteresting as it is, I suppose Ayn intended the main characters to remain in stasis to prove the underlying theme of Aristotle's three laws of thought (one of which is the law of identity).  Hank Rearden is Hank Rearden.  James Taggart is James Taggart.  Dagny Targgart is an abrasive, elitist harpy.  A is A after all.  The most interesting characters were auxiliary.  My favorites were Dagny's dependable and competent assistant Eddie Willers and Hank's manipulative and disinterested wife, Lillian.  Interestingly (as I doubt it was Ayn's intention), they seemed perfectly opposing companions to the heroine and hero.  My biggest disappointment in Ayn was the fate she reserved for Eddie.  The gulch is for heroes, and Eddie isn't one of them.  The problem is we are a lot more like Eddie than we are like Hank.

Atlas Shrugged's best ideas are borrowed from Aristotle, Adam Smith, and John Locke and they are employed to argue against the contorted ideas of the bastard child of John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx.  I believe even the best articulations of the ideas of Marx and Keynes can be defeated with logic, science, and data and don’t require their worst versions to be stuffed with straw to be destroyed.  I think Rand thinks she’s arrived at something insightful and new, but, instead, it is a retelling of some ideas from classical economists and classical liberals.

Finally, Rand is too concerned with ill-advised, but private, voluntary action.  The origin story of John Galt's quest "to stop the motor of the world" is ironically caused by the decision of private property owners that established a compensation policy at their own company.  Though the policy is stupid, the owners who implemented it didn't force John to comply.  His employment wasn't compulsory.  Also, Hank Rearden voluntarily allows his unproductive mother and brother to mooch.  Rand argues this is morally wrong.  Admittedly, this was Rand's most unique idea, the sanction of the victim.  But she fails to convince that I should be concerned with a voluntary action of charity.  In short, I prefer Thomas Jefferson's version of Locke's ideas and the non-aggression principle to Objectivism.  But maybe you won't, so read it and decide for yourself.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

I Didn't Kill Them After All!

I guess all that fretting about pruning was for naught.  These lovely ladies filled my whole dining room with the sweetest of rose smells for a good week.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Cousin, Jordan

I found out about a month ago while waiting for my plane to take off my cousin and friend since childhood, Jordan Nelson, had passed away.  Part of me was grateful for the busy week ahead of me in my MBA residence week in faraway Indiana because my schedule would distract me from the reality of what had transpired.  I was enticed by the delusion that as long as I never returned to Idaho Falls, it didn't have to be true.  But in the month since, I realize that I wish I would have been able to be present with with family and friends to remember Jordan's life.  I suppose that's why I decided I needed to write this remembrance.   

My younger brother, Devin, and I spent many summer days with Jordan getting into the kind of innocent trouble that is commonplace for youths in a town like Idaho Falls.  Jordan was younger than Devin and I, but was one of those younger kids that was cooler than his age so it didn't matter.  Jordan had a way of making a lazy day a lifelong memory.  One such time, Devin and I headed over for a sleepover and Jordan started doing impressions of people in their ward.  His whole family gathered around while he placed a bunch of bottles on the kitchen peninsula (pre-remodel) to represent the podium and microphone of the church pulpit.  Then in a perfect upper-snake-river-valley spirit voice, he delivered a hilarious rendition of some Three Nephite Mormon folklore told by someone in the Stoker clan.  He began each impression with, “Brethren and Sistren,” a phrase I use to this day.

When I learned how to drive, Jordan sometimes came over and would get me to take him and my younger brothers on some errand.  Once, we went to a Wal-Mart so he and my brothers could get some video game or something.  I just walked around aimlessly, waiting for them to finish their shopping.  Instead of looking for me, Jordan went to the front of the store and asked to make an announcement over the intercom to alert his ride.  I was startled to hear Jordan’s voice filling the whole of Wal-Mart saying, “Can A-DUMB Belnap please come to front.  A-DUMB Belnap to the front of the store, please.”

Some of the funnest and funniest memories of my childhood involve Jordan, Devin, and I getting into trouble.  But my favorite memory of Jordan is one less known.  Once when I was home from college, I was asked to hang out with Jordan, while Aunt Chris and Uncle Mark were out of town for some long-forgotten reason.  Jordan and I got a bunch of junk food, pigged out, and started watching movies.  Jordan was nodding off and decided to go to bed and I continued to finish a movie.  I don’t remember the exact cause, but something went down the wrong tube and I started to choke.  When this happens to me, I just calm down and breathe through my nose, bypassing the obstruction until I can cough it clear.  The strategy didn't work and I couldn't breathe.  It was early in the AM and I was scared, I stood up to go to the sink and try to force my stomach on the ledge of the counter to force open my airway without success.  Then, I saw Jordan calmly walk into the room.  He asked walked right up to me and gave me the Heimlich until I burped and cleared the airway.  He simply said, “I was asleep, but awoke with a start and then felt I needed to come in here.”  It felt to me, especially in my panic, that Jordan saved my life.  We talked about what had happened for a few minutes and then went to bed.  We didn't talk much about that moment ever again, but it is my most vivid memory of Jordan.

Since hearing the bad news, I've been thinking about my last chat with Jordan.  I was asking him about something trivial like how often he turned over his inventory and what his margins were like.  I've caught myself feeling that I’ll come home for a visit and he’ll be there ducking in Grandpa and Grandma’s basement just like I have to, and we'll be able to talk about old times and trivial things.  But I won't.  So I wish I'd have thanked him for the early morning rescue.  I wish I'd have thanked him for every funny phrase he invented and my brothers still use.  Until I get that chance, I'll miss you, Jordan.  Adios, to God, Adios, to God, Adios.

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