Thom on February 9th, 2016

I’m not sure why we’re all so quick to judge one another. I don’t know why we expect everyone else to be consistent in their views when we seldom are ourselves. In fact, I’m not sure why we expect others to see their inconsistencies as inconsistencies. Chances are they’re actually consistent, but using a different set of criteria than we do.

But instead of seeking to understand one another we’re much rather condemn one another, seeing out inconsistencies to score points with “our team” rather than really initiate any change in the world. After all, if you really care about women’s rights, why aren’t you concerned about how women are treated in the Middle East? If you care about unborn children, why don’t you care about children living in poverty? If you care so much about immigrants, why aren’t you opening your home to some? If you care so much about unemployment among blacks, why are you so eager to let illegal immigrants into the country to further dilute wages?

There are many fallacies in such thinking. But perhaps the most insidious is this: Just because they care about A doesn’t mean they don’t care about B. How do we know? Can we really be so sure that pro-lifers aren’t also giving great amounts of money to help the poor? How do we know American feminists aren’t supporting international agencies pressing for women’s rights in the Middle East? How do we know enough about anyone we tend to criticize to know they are worthy of that criticism?

We don’t.

Another fallacy is the assumption that because someone supports A means there aren’t good and just reasons to not openly support B as well. Let’s face it, there are good reasons, even if it’s only “I only have so much time in my day and can’t support every cause that is worthy of my attention.” There isn’t even enough time and money to support all the groups that want our support within just one single cause. My family supports the humane treatment of animals, but if we gave money to every group that asks for our money, devoted time to every group that wants our time, and lived up to the standards of every group that wants us to change our behavior we would be homeless and bent in knots trying to please everyone. It just isn’t possible, and we all have to draw a line somewhere.

Another, less obvious problem with such thinking is the belief that the person criticizing is doing anything substantial about either A or B. Criticizing those on the “other side” in a social media post is not the same as actually doing something yourself. Are you pro-immigration and feel that those who are not are terrible people? That’s fine, but does your Facebook post really help those immigrants hoping for a chance to come to America? Would it help as much as, say, writing your senator? Probably not, considering I’m not aware of any opportunities for you and I to vote on the issue before November, when we indirectly do so by choosing our next president.

I’m also dubious that such arguments really make any positive difference. Does anyone know of anyone whose mind was changed by one of these over-simplified, cheap-shot “gotcha” posts? Could a meme-pic ever contain sufficient substantive argument to override someone’s opinions that have been formed over years? Not likely. Meme-pics and most social media posts lack any real substance, and are more likely to offend the very people it is designed to “convince” by its over-simplification.

If changing hearts and minds is really our goal there are better ways to do it. Not easier, mind you, just better. Few things worthwhile are ever easy. Attacking the inconsistencies you see in others is unlikely to change hearts and minds. Chances are their beliefs are only inconsistent based on your own world-view. Attacking others on that premise is more than likely the quickest way to convince them you’re at best clueless and at worst a hypocrite. Either way they won’t be inclined to listen.

Thom on February 8th, 2016

PokemonJudgeShirtI’ve been helping out at the local Pokémon league where my kids go every Saturday. A lot of parents mistake me for the guy in charge (I’m old enough to be the league leader’s father), but the attendees seldom do. We’ve had to train them that it’s okay to come to me to get their “punch cards” marked or check on questionable trades.

This last week Scott, the league leader, presented me with an official judges shirt (I’m a registered first-level judge and organizer). Yes, folks, I now have my very own Pokémon bowling shirt, like the one pictured here, only with logos.  I don’t know if I can say that chicks dig a guy in uniform, but kids seem to recognize me as someone official more readily. I was swamped with kids wanting to trade with me this past week.

I never, ever would have dreamed I’d one day have a Pokémon league leader shirt in my closet. But life can sometimes take some very strange turns. It’s not surprising, though. My boys really enjoy this particular club and this particular leader. It’s been a good experience for them to go there. I want to make sure that opportunity remains as long as they want, and Scott can clearly use the help. And I’m there every week anyway.

But considering how life can be rather unpredictable, I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up running the joint some day. Or running an aromatherapy spa, for that matter. I’ve given up trying to predict my life.

Thom on February 5th, 2016

Want to know what to expect when you visit a British home? This video supposedly provides the answers:

I have no idea how accurate it is, but I’d gladly watch this just to listen to the host.

Thom on February 4th, 2016

I feel like celebrating life today, and Celtic music fits the bill better than most. So in addition to Riverdance and the Corrs, what other groups do y’all recommend? I’m looking for lively stuff (though I’m not opposed to slower tunes) that makes me want to get up and dance. Something along the lines of:

Thom on February 3rd, 2016

So it’s come to this, has it? If you don’t have multiple computers with internet access and mobile access through your phones you’re now considered “under-connected” and disadvantaged in today’s society. This according to an article in USA Today: Many low-, and moderate-income families ‘under-connected’ to Internet. Seriously?!

My kids are good students, and involved in extra-curricular activities. They read for enjoyment. They didn’t get that way from having lots of computer and internet time. They didn’t get cell-phones until they reached middle-school, and then only because the school refuses to let them back into the building to call home if they miss the bus. We’ve had only one internet-connected computer for them to use until just this last month. Granted, we did get the second one because they’re often required to do online work for school, but now that we have it, it seems like there’s never a conflict any more.

If educators are really concerned about the lack of Internet connectivity among students, then why do they insist on giving assignments that require Internet use at home? Much of what I’ve seen them assign is stupid busy work. And it was only a few years ago that our school district had strict policies against electronics in the school. Cellphones and mp3 players would be confiscated. Now its”highly recommended” that each student have their own phone with a camera because the teachers will not provide time for the kids to copy notes from the board.

My wife and I, as supported by the medical community, have been struggling to limit our children’s screen time. We’ve made it a point to be “under-connected”. We hope to remain under-connected as long as possible. The problem is not a lack of Internet access. The article itself admits that nearly everyone has some form of connection now. The problem is educators creating a need where none was needed. The problem is parents allowing their children to become addicted to Internet use to where they are incapable of entertaining themselves without electronics. The problem is an electronics-driven culture where mega-companies devote huge amounts of money to convincing us we need The Latest and Greatest Device, even though the one we bought six months ago is just fine.

I’m not against computers, mind you. But do you know what it was that finally convinced my wife and I to get a second computer for the kids to use? My son learned to use 3D design software and wanted to continue practicing at home on his own time after finishing his homework. It doesn’t require internet access, but he was using the only computer that had it, which got in the way of his siblings doing their homework. We want to encourage our son to develop this potential job skill. We want our kids to finish their homework, no matter how inane the assignment (seriously, look at some of the sites they send our kids to and require X amount of time every day instead of completing X amount of work). Only one computer was powerful enough to run his design software, and it was the one with Internet. The computer we got to ease the bottleneck was less powerful, and technically we still only need one computer connected to the Internet. Not one of us uses our phones for Internet.

If the lack of Internet connected devices is really the problem, let’s start looking at cheaper solutions, like not requiring our kids to do so much online outside of school. Our kids are spending far more home-time on school work than I did at their age, and yet our kids’ scores continue to fall. Making them spend 15 more minutes by themselves every day on MobiMax, answering inane questions that rarely reinforce their actual schoolwork is not the answer. Unless the question is “how can I drive business to my friend’s new ‘educational’ website?”

Quite frankly, I’m increasingly suspicious of all these studies and movements and programs. I think far too many people have figured out that Americans will do anything if it’s “for the children!”, including waste vast amounts of money with no measurable benefit. Ironically, if I had to credit one public resource for our kids’ success, it’s one that is essentially free: the library. If I had to credit one educational resource it would be this: good teachers. Computers and the Internet are mere tools. More often than not they’re an impediment to my kids’ love of learning, not the cause.

No, I take that back. My kids learn quite a bit from the Internet. But they’re learning about things that interest them, outside of the cruddy rote schoolwork they’re assigned. My daughter is learning quite a bit about art from resources out there for artists. My sons are learning a lot about Pokémon. The Internet is best for self-motivated learning. Forced Internet school work is not self-motivated, and much of it is not even remotely stimulating. Most of the learning my kids get from the Internet occurs after their homework is done. But even that wouldn’t happen if we weren’t the meanest of parents who refuse to let them waste time playing games (well, other than the games their schools assign).

So I do admit there is some measure of truth to what the study says. Lack of connectivity and/or access to computers may put children at a disadvantage. But the availability of them doesn’t guarantee anything. Teachers still have to teach, and parents still have to parent. The Internet is not a substitute for adult involvement. If we leave our kids to their own devices (literally and figuratively) what they’ll learn will be next to useless. To my knowledge we do not yet live in a world that rewards high Candy Crush skills with six-figure incomes. And, now matter how much people may wish otherwise, we do not yet live in a world where parents are disposable. Anyone who says differently is selling something.


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Thom on February 2nd, 2016

Trigger warning – I’ll be discussing religion again.

It occurred to me recently that becoming a Christian is a lot like joining a gym. Like most gym memberships, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. There are people who join a gym merely to be able to say they belong to a gym. They pay their membership fees and…stay home. Or they go for a while, are really excited at first, but quickly lose enthusiasm when they find out it requires real effort to achieve real results.

Or there are people who buy their membership as more of a social opportunity. They’re there to network, to be seen, or to scout out potential dates. They like to hang out at the juice bar, or be seen next to equipment, and maybe even use it from time to time.

There are also those who focus on specific machines or on specific goals like bodybuilding, cardio training, or flexibility training to the exclusion of most everything else. They’re really excited about that one facet of fitness and, while they may try some of the other exercises or machines, they keep coming back to their favorite.

But to really get the full benefit of a gym, and to achieve the highest level of over-all fitness, requires prolonged commitment and effort over time. It requires continued effort, even after the excitement wears off. It’s easier at first when the benefits and results are fairly evident. The first few times are rough, but before long you notice increased stamina, greater strength, etc. But as you progress it seems like you have to put in much greater effort for less noticeable gains. It may be tempting to give up.

That’s where one of the biggest advantages of a gym comes in: a personal trainer. With an expert in fitness at your side you get a program that is custom-tailored to you. They know the right machine and the right exercises to get the precise results you’re looking for. They are better able to determine the progress you are making and even what progress is needed. They’re there to push you when things get tough–and when you really should stop to avoid serious harm. They’re there to help you get where you want to go even when you’re not so sure you still want to go there.

When signing up for Christianity, Christ is our personal trainer. He knows that spiritual fitness is not a one-and-done deal. He knows not everyone is really committed to fitness in the first place. But for those who are willing to put themselves in his hands, he will lead you, and will work with you every step of the way. He knows what you can handle and what you can’t. He knows the benefits from the less-obvious, incremental gains, and will help you keep going, even when you start to question if it’s worth it.

Not every avowed Christian is really interested in turning themselves over to the personal trainer. To do so requires faith; faith in the trainer, faith in the program he sets for you, and faith that the benefits of fitness are real and worth trying for. Effort without that faith may bring you benefits, but they will be much less, and much less permanent. It’s like showing up at the gym once or twice a week, picking a machine at random and doing some exercises for a few minutes. If you really believed that fitness is worth the effort, and that the trainer can help you get there, you’ll want to putin the work.  Indeed, faith in the trainer and the program inspires the level of effort needed to unlock those promised gains. Faith in the trainer is the key, but that faith will also motivate you to action.

Spiritual fitness is a longer proposition than physical fitness. We can work our entire lives to put off the natural man and follow like Christ, and still not get there. We may reach a point where we don’t even notice any change any more. It may be hard to feel the work our trainer is putting in to rework out hearts. We may not notice that we’re up to 100 reps in a session where we were lucky to do 10 I our early days at the gym, or that we can now hold a difficult yoga pose for five minutes without shaking.

We may have to extend our workout by ten more minutes before we can really achieve the next level. It’s work, and it’s going to take a long time. Fortunately for us that faith in our personal trainer is the criteria on which we will be judged, not by how many reps we can do, how many pounds we can lift, how many miles we run, or how long we can hold a pose. It’s how much faith and trust we have placed in our trainer, and how hard we’ve worked to follow through on the training regimen because of that faith.

There’s one more important part to this analogy. When we first sign up at the gym we don’t know anyone else there. We have no idea which members are the dedicated fitness enthusiasts, which are the poseurs, and which are the know-it-all, don’t-need-a-trainer bunch. We may find some of the members intimidating when they are able to hit goals we can only dream of. We may even feel like we don’t belong, that everyone will think we’re fat, or something.

If that happens it’s unfortunate. The gym rules clearly state that we shouldn’t judge one another. We shouldn’t be fat-shaming others, mocking those who show up in their expensive workout outfits and then put in the bare minimum effort. We shouldn’t begrudge those who may have been with the gym longer and who have put in many long, hard hours, when they outshine us on a given piece of equipment. We shouldn’t even make fun of those who show up, sweat a little for ten minutes, and then call it a day and wander off to the juice bar.

It’s not our call to make on who is serious in their pursuit of fitness and who are only signed up to gain some discount on their company health plan. It should be assumed that we’re all in different places in our fitness program, and that we should be there to help support one another and cheer each other on. The personal trainer has time and attention enough for all of us. We lose nothing by jumping in to spot someone else on a heavy lift. We gain more than we know when we help a fellow member resist the ice cream truck jangling by outside after a long, hard workout. Looking out for one another only makes the gym more pleasant and encourages more to keep going. The personal trainer loves it when we help him out by giving one another help and encouragement, by sharing our experiences and findings on what works.

Christianity shouldn’t be about whose gym is best. The cancer-sticks-and-booze crowd, the couch potato crowd, and the train-at-home crowd are more than happy to see gyms fail or to point out the failings of gym members in order to make them feel better about their own choices. While it’s valid to want to share what we like most about our gym in hopes that we can add something to someone else’s experience with their own gym, in the end all the gyms and their membership need to watch out for one another. The more we stand together the more we all benefit, regardless of which gym we call home. At the end of the day we should have more in common than we have differences if spiritual fitness is our goal.

Thom on February 1st, 2016

Mormons get a bad rep over church basketball–and not undeservedly so. But where we currently live they’re doing a lot to clean things up. No adults are allowed to play until they go through training on the rules–and they’re expected to be able to step in as referees. They also have both teams read aloud a statement on good sportsmanship before each game, and the referees remind any people watching that they are expected to abide by certain behaviors as well. It’s really sad it’s even necessary, but it seems to be working. I don’t know, to be honest. I’ve not been to a church basketball game in about ten years.

But I’ve begun going to watch my twelve-year-old son. Our ward has so few young men that they need most of the boys, regardless of age or skill or height, to show up in order to even field a team. And while we do have a couple of taller, skilled boys, their attendance is intermittent. So everyone plays, no matter what.

Surprisingly enough, these tend to be laid back games. The last two have been mismatches from the get-go, with the other team averaging at least a foot taller than our team, and at least a couple years more. And both of the other teams have been totally cool. After they play long enough to assess the mismatch they’ve backed off, not guarded so aggressively, not driven for the basket as hard, etc., and given our boys a chance. They don’t stop playing, mind you, but they actually seem like they’re as interested in our boys developing their skills as we are. They certainly cheer as much for our team as they do for their own.

Perhaps that might change if it ever becomes a close game, though our first game was close initially and everyone was still keeping their heads and being good sports. The effect on my son has been fun to watch. He’s having fun playing. He’s gaining confidence and experience. He’s learning to play more heads up ball. It helps that we’ve got a good coach who is interested in developing the boys’ skills more than winning, as well. Who knows, if it had been more like this when I was that age, perhaps I’d have liked basketball more and become better at it.

So while church ball may have a bad rep, it’s not earned where we live. At least not among the youth. If my son is having fun, they must be doing something right.

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Thom on January 29th, 2016

It’s been a rough slog, but I may be nearing the end of my preparations to begin writing my novel! I had intended to finish my pre-writing during my Christmas vacation, but in hindsight I have no idea what I was thinking. Vacations are for doing everything except things that resemble work! And pre-writing, for me, is work.

But January saw a few changes that may prove to make all the difference. For starters, I finally got to planning my characters. I’ve been purposely putting that off until I have more world-building done, as I want my characters to be an outgrowth of my world rather than fitting into preconceived patterns I decided well beforehand. That may have helped. I think I still created the same characters I had been planning, but they do reflect their world a little better this time around, I hope.

I also had some fun with “face selection.” I went through my face file looking for people I felt fit my ideas, and found some interesting faces I hadn’t anticipated. Some of them look even somewhat normal. I chose David Bowie to be the face of my main villain about a week before he died. Chris Martin of Coldplay will be making a significant contribution to my novel. Once I had faces the character profiles fell into place and the character arcs flowed.

And then I bought a cheap laptop to replace the aging thing I’ve been using. It was a hand-me-down, and definitely appreciated, but it was time to let it retire. In copying over my software and files I discovered that the maker of Scrivener has a new “mind mapping” application available, called Scapple. I downloaded a free trial version and decided to use it to create a visual representation of my novel outline. It may not be for everyone, but it’s been a fun, inspiring tool for me. I even wrote a review on it for a writing forum I’m a columnist for. 

I’ve been envisioning this plotline as a trilogy, actually, and I don’t really want to start on book one until I have a basic idea where all three books are going. I may not stick to the plan, but I find I do better when I at least have one to ignore. I finished outlining the second book today, and I actually found myself sighing from the relief of tension–not from the pressure of outlining, but the plotlines I was resolving. I really like how that one came together.

One more book to go, and then I’m going to sit back, read through everything I’ve written so far to ensure it’s all consistent–and add in any new insights or ideas that come from it. Then I’m going to go to Life, The Universe, and Everything writers symposium next month, and when I get back I should be ready to write like the wind!

It’s strange to be so psyched up about this project, considering that a month ago I was nearly ready to give up writing altogether. Strange, but also a big relief. I don’t want to stop writing.

Wayne Chilcott liked this post
Thom on January 28th, 2016

We watched the latest Disney incarnation of Cinderella the other night (the live-action one with the girl with the blue gown that practically glows). The movie itself was okay–nothing earth-shattering, really. But what stood out for me was the relationship between the king and the prince. It’s rare these days to have a father who is not either a bumbling idiot or a domineering tyrant. This father was neither. He loved his country and he loved his son, and found his desires for each to be in conflict.

Clearly there was tension between them, as “Kit” did seem to feel some measure of disapproval from his father, but he seemed to recognize the love behind his father’s efforts to teach him to be a good king, and acknowledged his own inadequacy. Their conflict was merely present, and did not define their relationship. The scene when the king dies after giving Kit his blessing to marry whomever he wishes was perhaps the most touching scene of the movie. The king knew Kit didn’t need his blessing, but gave it anyway, partly to ensure no conflict remained between them, and partly to show that he trusted Kit’s judgment on that matter as well. It was not some grand, tragic deathbed “repentance” so much as a final acknowledgement of his love.

It was refreshing to see a healthy relationship between father and son where neither of them are jerks and their love for one another is clear. Kit was not really being rebellious in his insistence on pursuing Ella because he knew on a basic level that his father’s love went deeper than that.

It was touching for Kit to unashamedly curl up next to his father to be near him as he died.

Ella was lovely, and Cate Blanchet was delightfully evil, but there was no new ground covered in either of them. If anything at all, the movie was an exploration of relationships between parents and children. And for Disney, notorious for either killing off or marginalizing parents, there was surprising depth there.


Thom on January 27th, 2016

I’ve been a little disappointed with Studio C this season. All the funny seems to have drained out somewhere. But this one seems to recapture the comic lightning and managed to surprise me.

Matt Meese nails this one–his mime skills are quite good! And the comic timing and interplay comes together fantastically. Studio C takes Eastwood’s talking to the empty chair and kicks it up several notches. Well done, guys!

On the other hand, you’re probably all aware of my love of creative imagination, especially when it results in largely useless, but incredibly fun projects. Such as using an old bike wheel and a drill to power a DIY Frisbee launcher. Behold!

Wayne Chilcott liked this post