Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The Wizarding World, Muggles and Mormons

Becca and I finished the Harry Potter series in record time this last year due to you know - Covid19.  I am convinced that J.K. Rowling actually is magic.  Harry Potter is totally entrancing and each of my kids has totally fallen in love with reading because of it.  They also have confessed that they have waited on their birthdays for possibly, maybe, but seriously hoping they were getting a letter from Hogwarts.  Because they also want to be wizards. 

This time through the series, something struck me.  There is a dark substory.  The backstory to why Voldemort and the Deatheaters even come to power and that war is a disturbing one. It is Dumbledore's dark past too.  Harry is mixed up in this as he is destined to confront Voldemort and bring balance to the force - sorry wrong series - that is Anakin Skywalker. After a lifetime of abuse from his adopted parents and brother, he is thrilled to learn on his 11th birthday that he is not like them; he is a wizard.  This is thrilling because it not only gives him an escape from his life, but opens the door to a secret and magical world. He is a mix of savior and counter to Voldemort's dark aims - he befriends repeatedly halfbloods, but he is just as set apart from the muggle world.  But he offers a better way to be set apart and yet not be an enemy to the rest of the world. 

There is a dark side to this world though. Magical people internalize this separateness and see their secret knowledge and power make them different and better than their nonmagical neighbors.  They call the majority non-magical people muggles or mudbloods.  They want to restrict marriages between them to keep their race pure.  Their racist attitudes are built into the mythology and the history of their school.  It is the fight between Slytherin and the other founders.  This is the evil that is behind Voldemort.  He is just the face of that intolerance.  And unfortunately, it really didn't end with his death. 

I see some echoes of that in Evangelical and Mormon theology.  It may be behind our own racist past and led to the denial of the priesthood and temple ordinances to black members all the way to the 1970s. I am not saying it was an inevitable result, but it is the soil that these kind of dangerous ideologies grow in.  I see it in our political movements as well - polarization and separation of news sources, people having social and political bubbles, "America first", anti immigrant rhetoric, weaponizing patriotic language
  1. Magical world view - expanded cosmology, nature, and apocalyptic world view, a rejection of science. Our religion was founded by this kind of thinking - Book of Mormon was translated with a rock and they used divining rods, etc. for trying to scry god's will.  Plus I worry that planning for a savior to come and solve the problems for us in a Millenial conflict keeps us from really addressing the problems we have.  
  2. Secret knowledge and levels -  Temple, second endowment, but it also levels of priesthood and church callings.  The hierarchical thinking about knowledge and transparency.  I think this is one of the reasons the LDS church stopped revealing results of its audits.  It does them, but it isn't open to the whole body of the church.  It is need to know information. But this kind of culture makes it relatively easy to suppress and ignore past history that is negative.  Just shut that away because it will hurt people's faith and keep that knowledge to the people who are in higher levels and can handle it. 
  3. Set apart - being a Chosen people means others are not chosen. In Harry Potter, you literally get a special invitation and come to a secret school in a secret location. But it means that the magical community is isolated even when surrounded by muggle towns and neighbors. It would have been such a different book if they had banded together with muggles to fight Voldemort. For us in the LDS church, it also means that we aren't fully in our communities.  Think about even the language we use to describe ourselves - a ward family, brother, sister, gentile, active, inactive, apostate, nonmember, investigator.  We are invested heavily in our church lives - activities, seminary, church, missions, church schools, social networks, business networks, etc.  And it enables us to be separate to be a holy and peculiar people, but it may mean we aren't truly invested in our communities.  It means we see the rest of the world as other. 
  4. Power and authority reinforced through social control - In Harry Potter they have separate schools, a separate ministry, different shops, etc.  And Voldemort isn't the only enemy to Harry - it is the ministry itself that is trying to hold on to power and keep control and although they are against Voldemort - the worst of embodiment of the separatism that keeps Muggles out of their lives, they justify plenty of terrible actions to keep power and maintain their isolation.  And they do it out of love - out of trying to do their best to keep their culture and their people safe. 
Harry Potter shows a better alternative to Voldemort - embracing people that are diverse and different within his community - Hermione, Hagrid, Firenze, Lupin, Dobby, Kreacher, the goblin in the last book, Buckbeak, even the ghosts at the school and the captured dragon in Gringotts, and all of his friends that are kind of different and unique. He wins not because he is a better magician than Voldemort, but because he in the end has help from all the people on the fringes - even the Malfoys that are kind of apostate Death Eaters by the end.  But they are still all within the magical world.  I would love to see another series of books on what happens if they were exposed.  What if Hogwarts students went to a regular school - and say learned math and history instead of Muggle studies and Arithmancy.  What if they used technology and magic together.  

What does this mean for me?  As we have stepped back from our safe Mormon world during this year, it is a scary muggle world out there.  I loved feeling like I was part of a special, set apart generation, saved for these latter days. I went to BYU - the closest Mormon thing to Hogwarts and have been set apart for many callings since.  I have been embedded in this set apart community and it has been my culture, my history, and a safe place.  It gave me roles and heroes to build my life around. I see my kids chaffing against those expectations though.  And maybe it is time to start to build more connection with the rest of the world. 


Friday, February 19, 2021

Bach memories

Link for Yascha Heiffitz playing my favorite Bach: Link

When I was in fifth grade I remember having a pen pal at school.  My teacher had another classroom from Brooklyn that wrote us letters.  We were each paired up with a student in that class.  I don't remember the name of the kid I wrote to.  I remember really clearly him asking me if I liked Run DMC and I am pretty sure I told him that I liked running and playing a lot but I didn't what what DMC was.  I asked him if he liked Bach. I had a tape collection of classical music - it wasn't very big, but I played the Bach and Beethoven tapes over and over again. He had no idea what I was talking about. It made me realize that I might be a wierd kid.  

I wish I could find those old letters.  It would be fun to track down the boy that I wrote to see what happened with his life 30 years later.  I wonder if he remembers that strange kid from Teton, ID. 

I am a poor letter correspondent I am afraid - even on my mission I was sporadic about writing, but that was when I have done the best.  I enjoy keeping in touch with people and it is important to me, but I don't always do what is needed to maintain those connections.  One of my oldest friends is a monk now and writes me occasionally and I know he would write more if I were better at writing back.  I really value connection and long term friendships, and keep trying to put down roots somewhere.  At the same time though I feel a need to move to go new places and do new things and sabotage myself.  Even now I feel this itch to get out of St Louis and move somewhere new.  

So if you haven't heard from me in a while, know that I mean well and look forward to the next time we see each other in person.  And if you want a good pen pal, you should totally write to Becca.  She sends letters out every week to her friends and anyone that writes to her.  

Friday, January 22, 2021

24 Hours of Reality: "Earthrise" by Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman really stood out to me at the inauguration. The three moments that made me cry were when Vice President Harris walked out with the capital police officer that helped protect senators, when Jennifer Lopez called out in Spanish, and during Amanda Gorman's poem. 

This video is another of her poems from a few years ago as a call to action to do something about climate change.  I want to do something about climate change.  I worry about it so much, like an unhealthy amount.  I see it in the change in diseases and pests, in our warmer winters, in dying trees. I bought an electric car a few years ago and since my accident have not replaced it, instead relying on public transportation and my bike, and in the last year mostly working from home.  I related so much to this reply all podcast

But, I want to do more.  I think we must do more.  

Yesterday, we had a seminar at work about climate change that left me for the first time hopeful.  The speaker at Bayer - a professor in agriculture and climate change made a pretty convincing case that agriculture can truly help reduce greenhouse gases.  Here were roughly his conclusions:

  1. Carbon-negative farming techniques - banking organic matter in soil.  These include: cover crops, no-till, optimal nitrogen fertilizer applications, and bioenergy crops.  I am a little skeptical that bioenergy crops are the solution, and he didn't talk about coproduction of wind and solar energy as part of farming.  There are a lot of windmills going up throughout the Midwest and I think with better energy storage and local energy utilization methods they could be a key component of sustainable carbon-negative farming techniques. 
  2. Agriculture will be a major player for good or for ill in climate change.  Think storing carbon while producing food vs chopping down rainforest for soybean fields.  Runoff of Nitrogen, phosphorous, and soil into rivers and the ocean vs efficiently converting that into organic matter - improved soils, feed, food for livestock and people. 
  3. Technologies available now
    • Nitrous oxide abatement - precision N application and management
    • Carbon sequestration - Cover crops, no till
    • Cellulosic bioenergy - He didn't count this but anytime we can use all the biomass for animal feed that has to be better than grain fed systems.
  4. Areas for research
    • Plant N use efficiency
    • Increased carbon sequestration - more roots, stabilization, better capture of organic matter in the soil
  5. References

Monday, December 21, 2020

Gardunia's in 2020

Merry Christmas and looking forward to the New Year!

So this was a year. . . So much seemed to happen this year that we weren't really expecting.  Going into January we were expecting to start preparing to move to Scotland and thinking about all the changes that would bring.  I travelled to Mexico for meetings at CIMMYT and did not expect that to be end of my travel for 2020. I had tickets purchased even for trips to Africa, Scotland, and Mexico that were never used. Then as we got closer to March, it was beginning to look like Covid was going to disrupt those plans.  I started working from home.  The kids activities were cancelled, school moved virtual, and I must have checked the covid monitoring site at John's Hopkins a billion times.  

Although there were rough spots globally - climate change effects on wildfires, melting glaciers, and environment, all the protests for racial justice and equality, all the election craziness, this was a year that we were able to learn a lot of new things. I went skiing for the first time.  Aleah mastered beading and bread making.  Emily has really leaned into ceramics.  Leila has been working on new patterns sponsored by Michael Miller fabrics along with YouTube video tutorials, paper patterns, and distributing to fabric stores.  Colleen at the beginning of the year took gymnastics, rock climbing, and now has joined the swim team.  Kate programmed actively on Scratch this summer and has loved using the wacom pad to do graphic art.  Becca and I read a ton of books this year - all of the Harry Potter books, Narnia, and so many others.  She also has become the best pen pal, writing letters to her friends from school. 

Interviews with the kids about this year below - minimally edited for clarity.  


Best - Wild Kratts autograph - they wrote her back and sent a signed post card. First letter from Cindy, going to the cabin. Calling Esther and writing letters. Visiting Cindy. Making tamales. 

Worst - pollution and covid

School - Zoom, independent study always having to wear masks

Media - Wild Kratts, SheRa, Gravity Falls, Hilda, audiobooks on Epic and Sora. 

Books - Serpents secret, Harry Potter, Narnia, Wolves of the Beyond, Frog and Toad


Best - playing with Nora and the Gardunia/Cannon Bubble.  Making cookies, brownie recipe - double chocolate from Martha Stewart's Cookies. 

Favorite memory - Nora and Kate made a really huge cookie.  Added too much milk and then mixed too much.  Bubbled in the oven and then put it in ice cream

School: Online - likes being able to manage self - own space and can take breaks. Doesn't like that it is more fact-based and less experiential because harder to show, see, and experiment online. 

Worst - wildfires, covid19

Video: Dr Who - Top recommendation, Sherlock, Shera - Catra + Adora forever, Nightvale, webtoon, Scratch, 

Music: Dode, Alex Benjamin, AJR

Books: SuperNova, Renegades, Life of Pi, Last Wings of Fire book


Best - bread and beading. Favorite bread: Rosemary focaccia

Favorite memory of the year - getting the robot through the maze in robotics

Worst - quarantine and the library being closed.

Recs - Mandalorian, Magnus Archives, Wolf 359, Alice isn't Dead, Gravity Falls, House on Mango St, webtoons, 


Best - in school at the beginning of the year and going to the cabin this summer. New hobbies - Swimming hard - 2 hr practices 4-5 days a week.  Gymnastics and climbing last spring. Zoom meetings and wacom pad. Pride Month and black lives matter on YouTube

Worst - staying at home for covid19, six grade camp cancelled. Time doesn't make any sense

Media - Good Place, Gilmore Girls, The Office, Parks and Rec, DeAngelo Wallace, the Come-up

Internet - webtoons, Sora, Zoom, Spotify

Books - Cassie West, reading Land of Stories with Becca, Hunger Games, Cinder, Matched, Allie Carter

Music - Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Melanie Martinez, Olivia Obrien, Haley Steinfield, B. Miller

Looking forward to covid vaccine, going back to school, life not being so boring.  


I didn't interview her for this -  I can't believe she is already 20 years old!!  She continues to do well at Truman.  She lives off campus and has been working at Starbucks and HyVee. Celia, her girlfriend, did her basic training for the army this fall. She has been focusing on ceramics - making a bunch of pots, cups, mugs, planters, and next year will work in the ceramics studio part time.  Check out her instagram for all of her art and updates. 


Best - Hanging out with family , quarter system at highschool made it easier, especially with online, pool opened this summer, working out almost every day this year - Jillian Michael's Kickbox and youtube: SugarPop. Lots of walks in the neighborhood. Food recomendations - Aleah's bread, Cheesy eggs - 1/2 onion, bell pepper, cheese, 3 eggs. Pero + hot chocolate

Worst - The stay-at-home orders, spring virtual school, election stress, constant uncertainty, school start, constant change with not enough info.  Business has been a little stagnant.  

Quarantine hobbies - historical costuming - started making shift and stays.  would love to go to Versaille costume party 2021. 

Rec Podcasts - Code Switch, Nice white Parents, No Compromise, Throughline.  

Media - Historic clothing videos: Abby Cox, Bernadette Banner, Fashion Justine.  Exercise - Sugarpop fitness. TV - Wolfblood, Poldark, Community, The Crown, The Good Place, Sherlock with Kate at night.  

Looking ahead to 2021 - New block of the month pattern, paper patterns for sale, 6 new patterns, following more activists and quilters. 


If you made it this far, more about my year. 

Good -  Skiing, long bike rides, and hiking with friends. Trump losing the election over and over again. Working from home and online school went a lot better than I thought it would.  No wasting time commuting to work and cutting work travel meant I was home more - no more staying late at work or being out of town.  I have a new job - getting to focus on one crop, mostly, and also on becoming a better leader and scientist.  I can't say I am not appreciated at work any more.  I really feel like this is a chance to build a team and really do something exciting with cotton this next year. 

I did all the quarantine hobbies - bread - still trying to perfect sourdough rye, gardening, made furniture, faith crisis, running.  I got a new bike and rode the Katy trail and some longer rides to the Arch or to the Mississippi river. I went with a friend last week, crashed, and was totally wore out at like mile 35 - so more work to do.  I blame it on getting old. . . 

Bad - Not moving to Scotland, depression, doubts and losing faith in my religion, anxiety and stress about future and the election.  It is crazy to me that Trump and many of his party refuse still to accept the results of the election. 

Just not being able to make plans.  I totally agree with Colleen time seems to be faster and slower than I expect.  I miss being with people from work, from church, or even just strangers - I miss things like parades, concerts, races, working out at the gym, talking to friends in the cafeteria at work, and all the interpersonal random conversations that seem so impossible now.  

Next year - Hard to really seriously make plans, but thinking about cotton genetics, building a new team, and travel to either UK or New Zealand this summer as part of collaboration with AbacusBio.  I think we will try to go as a family and stay for a couple of months.  I would like to do some more long distance swimming events - maybe all of the Saturday swims at Simpson Lake and then a long distance race this summer?  


Media - The Expanse Season 4 and 5 were so good.  The Mandalorian was better then the last Star Wars movies.  Youtube: VlogBrothers, The Microcosm, Pitch Meeting, Yale courses online - The Philosophical Foundations of Politics, New Testament History, The Science of Wellbeing.

Plays: The Band's Visit

Music - Brandi Carlile, STL 

Books - I reread mostly old favorites - The Chosen - Chaim Potok, Ursula LeGuin - The Left Hand of Darkness, The New Testament - translation by Thomas Wayment, The Man in the High Castle, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, The Yiddish Policeman - Michael Chabon, Educated - Tara Westover, Stalin - Stephen Kotkin, Dune - in Spanish, Harry Potter series - English and Spanish, Plastic Magician and Spellbreaker by Charlie N Holmberg, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold - Highly recommended, The Fated Sky - Mary Robinette, Murderbot series - Martha Wells, The legend of Hermana Plunge by Angela Liscom Clayton, Dragonback series - Timothy Zahn. 

Podcasts - El Hilo, RadioAmbulante, RadioLab, This is Uncomfortable, Reply All, Throughline, Dear Hank and John, Levar Burton Reads, The Anthropocene Reviewed, Nice White Parents, Preach.

Extra fun. Becca made this video about the cat.  She is getting older and moving slower.  She had a bad limp for most of the year as her arthritis was getting worse, but the new medicine seems to help. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Can I submit an amicus brief to the Supreme Court?

 I would like to say Amen to Pennsylvania's brief to the latest Trump attempt at overturning the election results:

For their whole filing

From the introduction:


Since Election Day, State and Federal courts throughout the country have been flooded with frivolous lawsuits aimed at disenfranchising large swaths of voters and undermining the legitimacy of the election. The State of Texas has now added its voice to the cacophony of bogus claims. Texas seeks to invalidate elections in four states for yielding results with which it disagrees. Its request for this Court to exercise its original jurisdiction and then anoint Texas’s preferred candidate for President is legally indefensible and is an afront to principles of constitutional democracy. 

What Texas is doing in this proceeding is to ask this Court to reconsider a mass of baseless claims about problems with the election that have already been considered, and rejected, by this Court and other courts. It attempts to exploit this Court’s sparingly used original jurisdiction to relitigate those matters. But Texas obviously lacks standing to bring such claims, which, in any event, are barred by laches, and are moot, meritless, and dangerous. Texas has not suffered harm simply because it dislikes the result of the election, and nothing in the text, history, or structure of the Constitution supports Texas’s view that it can dictate the manner in which four other states run their elections. Nor is that view grounded in any precedent from this Court. Texas does not seek to have the Court interpret the Constitution, so much as disregard it.

Why is the Republican party and leaders standing by this attempt to deny the reality that Donald Trump lost this election?

Here is the statement from other states opposing this case:

  1.  California, 
  2. Colorado, 
  3. Connecticut, 
  4. Delaware, 
  5. Guam, 
  6. Hawaii, 
  7. Illinois, 
  8. Maine, 
  9. Maryland, 
  10. Massachusetts, 
  11. Minnesota, 
  12. Nevada, 
  13. New Jersey, 
  14. New Mexico, 
  15. New York, 
  16. North Carolina, 
  17. Oregon, 
  18. Rhode Island, 
  19. Vermont, 
  20. Virginia, 
  21. U.S. Virgin Islands, and 
  22. Washington

Here are the states supporting this case and their arguments:

  1. Missouri, 
  2. Alabama, 
  3. Arkansas, 
  4. Florida, 
  5. Indiana, 
  6. Kansas, 
  7. Louisiana, 
  8. Mississippi, 
  9. Montana, 
  10. Nebraska, 
  11. North Dakota, 
  12. Oklahoma, 
  13. South Carolina, 
  14. South Dakota, 
  15. Tennessee, 
  16. Utah, and 
  17. West Virginia. 

106 Republican legislators also have submitted a statement supporting this case.  I won't list them all, but so disappointed to see this.  I was talking to my friend Young Wha about this case and it really does seem like we are living in different realities.  One where we live in a democracy, and another where loyalty to the president supersedes facts and where even the facts exist in an alternate reality.  

The other groups submitting documents in support of this case are evangelical christian groups - like that fights against "forced" abortions? A Christian family org?  Nothing this president has done deserves this support.  

Nothing in this election shows fraud, just that people were allowed to vote using mail in ballots. Which is crazy because so many states allowed mail in ballots and Trump won those states. List here. They aren't in this case.  

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

2020 so far

Like three months sped by, then we hit March and it has been a year. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Civilization and the Lies We Love

Let's see if this actually works.  Blogger is getting buggier all the time. 

I have realized some of my favorite youtube/podcasters are as much sermons as they are entertainment.  John Green worked at a hospital as a chaplain.  LeVar Burton went to seminary to become a priest.  At the end of LeVar Burton reads for example, he talks about some of his challenges and experiences.  They are moments of vulnerability and insight that I am surprised at every time.  

You could easily make this into a Sunday talk - add a few scriptures and done.  I think there is such light and inspiration in so many places.