Saturday, August 29, 2009

Book Review: The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene

This book has done the best job of any other I've read of breaking down complicated physics topics and making them somewhat understandable (although there were still times I got lost). The author is a Colombia University professor who spoke at BYU last year. The book would be enjoyable for anybody with something of an interest in cosmology; however, the section on quantum mechanics is a must-read for everybody. Previously, the premises of quantum mechanics didn't seem that far-fetched to me (the whole bit about not knowing the particle's position and velocity simultaneously didn't strike me as that odd), but after he described it in different terms it took me a day to get over having my view of reality radically jolted. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kin v. Family Decline

Stephen and I are out here in California for the next couple days. We've been spending time with my sister Ruth and her delightful family in San Diego for the past couple days, and today Stephen has gone up to San Francisco to do some research while I stay here. This entire summer has been full of family gatherings and interactions that have been so much fun, but also practical in their educational effect. Anyway, being with family, and continuing these family relationships has made me ponder about the issue of kin and family decline.

Winter semester I had a splendid class in which my professor made the observation that it is not the family that is in decline, rather kinship. Family, as understood in the nuclear sense, and only the nuclear sense, is quite strong. It is rather kinship--relationships and ties with cousins, aunts, and uncles and your cousin's cousin's uncle that should receive the focus. It's that feeling of being interdependent among each other. She pointed out that the concept of a "nuclear family" is a recent phenomenon of our modern individualistic society and is quite unnatural. I personally agree, though I'd be interested in hearing people's responses to this idea.

This sentiment resonated with me for several reasons, perhaps its because I come from quite the kin sort of people, and I enjoy it. Then again, perhaps I'm not as independent as I could be because of it. Also, it until I was older that I realized not every child went to visit their grandparents for hours on end on Sundays and had their cousins as some of their best friends.

What I might modify in my professor's thought is that the family is in decline as long as the kinship is in decline. Family relationships are special because of their ability to withstand time, if those relationships disappear when everyone has their own family, they might as well have been friendly neighbors. (I like friendly neighbors mind you, we've got some great ones upstairs)

Granted, there are some families of which I would rather not have strong kinship ties and regular interactions with, however, for the most part I think these families are few and far between. Instead I would guess that there is far too much separation and alienation between individuals that could be having splendid times together. Sometimes I think everyone is so eager to establish their "own family" that they forget, our purpose in the gospel is to be looking out for more people instead of less.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

During our recent stay at Mary and Jared's, I often thought about the concept of perpetual work. Is it mentally healthy to spend all day at one's livelihood and/or caring for one's family? Does it ever get to a point where we've reached our limits, and absolutely require some sort of a break? I read a passage recently about Brigham Young that was salient to this stream of thought.

Miriam contracted tuberculosis and became a semi-invalid... he had to get breakfast for himself, Miriam, and the girls; dress the children; clean up the house; and carry Miriam to the rocking chair by the fireplace before he could leave [he had to be to work by sunrise]. When he returned [at sunset], he cooked the evening meal, cleaned up, read to Miriam from the Bible, and carried her back to bed. (Brigham Young: American Moses, 17)

So sometimes I wonder whether our ideas about our limits or our "need" for a break at every so and so interval isn't just the unconciouse manifestation of a socialization that inculcated in us a feeling of entitlement, and wonder how much more effective I would be if I could disregard my supposed "need" for breaks.

Granted, this is before I have my own children. My feelings will probably change when I have to get up at 3 to clean up a dirty diaper, have a test the next morning, a wife who's vomiting...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

not by the hair of my chinny chin chin

Alright, I've seen quite a few pictures of straw houses. Most of them look more like alien dwellings than actual homes. I have to say though, I was quite impressed with this one. All you home owners out there, doesn't a home that cost 25,000 to build plus 15,000 for a septic tank and well sound not too shabby? It's in simmilar price range to that of my yurt, but I may have an easier time getting this home pass zoning laws. Anyway. I thought it was beautiful. NYtimes has a slide show with more pictures of the inside.
And what's my favorite quote from my latest readings?
"If consumption of mass-produced goods could be equated with free choice, then the direction of consumption could appear to be a new and liberated role. The modern house wife, [Christine] Frederick proclaimed in her public lecture, 'is no longer a cook--she is a can-opener."