Friday, October 31, 2008

The Book According to Garff: The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi

Few books have ever haunted me the way this one has. This is Levi’s final meditation on the horrors of the Holocaust. Levi was interned in Auschwitz and witnessed firsthand the terrible atrocities that occurred there. The Drowned and the saved is his attempt to understand what went on. In so doing he tries to understand not only the victims but the perpetrators as well. This is not a pleasant experience. Like everyone, I have been acquainted with multiple accounts and retellings of the events of the Holocaust. But this is something else entirely. Levi is not chronicling the events he witnessed but rather exploring the motivations behind them and plumbing the depths of their effects on the souls of the victims. This makes the investigation all the more painful. Shortly after writing this book the author threw himself off a fourth-story balcony.

The title is a reference to the fact that the true story of the holocaust will never be told and could never be fully understood. This is because those who experienced its deepest horrors were drowned by them. “The destruction brought to an end, the job completed, was not told by anyone, just as no one ever returned to describe his own death. Even if they had paper and pen the drowned would not have testified because their death had begun before that of their body.”As depressing as I have made this book sound it is also beautiful and powerful. There were many discussions I found to be particularly profound. Chief among these is Levi’s effort to understand what he calls “the grey zone.” This is where good meets evil in the same individual at the same time, a phenomenon that was perhaps more evident in concentration camps than it has been anywhere else in history. The Nazi’s sought to bring their captives as far into the grey zone as possible by forcing them to commit atrocities against their fellow prisoners. Levi assumes their voice to describe their motivations for doing this: “We, the master race, are you destroyers, but you are no better than we are; if we so wish, and we do so wish, we can destroy not only your bodies but also your souls, just as we have destroyed ours.” This discussion is significant because everyone is susceptible to slip into their own grey zone.

“…we too are so dazzled by power and prestige as to forget our essential fragility. Willingly or unwillingly we come to terms with this power, forgetting that we are all in the ghetto, that the ghetto is walled in, that outside the ghetto reign the lords of death, and that close by the train is waiting.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tolerance, Love, and Prop 8

Proposition 8 (the California ballot proposal that would ban gay marriage in the state) and all of the rhetoric and publicity that surround it serve as good study in how we as Californians and humans treat our fellows. The issue has become extremely heated in each camp. The TV spots for both sides have engaged in fear mongering and gross mischaracterization of fact and law (I may make these mischaracterizations the subject for a further post). Both sides seem to ignore the complexity of the issues and instead often prefer to reduce themselves to slogans and name calling. Here in Los Angeles it has been my experience that most of the animosity is directed against Prop 8 supporters, though I am confident the reverse is true in the more conservative counties.

Our friends Mac and Julie had their car vandalized because of a Prop 8 bumper sticker. The news story about it is here. Everyone I know who has a yard sign takes them in during the night yet they are constantly stolen and vandalized nonetheless. One person I know even had their sign stolen right before their eyes. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about some protesters at the Oakland temple here. These protesters are clearly within their rights and are merely expressing their ideas but the article relates some other instances that I find troubling. A Prop 8 proponent resorted to punches when an opponent grabbed his yes on 8 sign. April had a hate note left on her car. This last one I am not really bothered by because they did not engage in theft, vandalism, or violence. They were simply expressing their view, albeit by using words that weren’t exactly very nice.

Some of these tactics described above are more legitimate than others but they all demonstrate a breakdown of respect between the two sides.

The word “tolerance” gets thrown around a lot, one side stressing the importance of tolerating homosexual behavior and the other side demanding tolerance of religious beliefs. Unfortunately I don’t think that concept of tolerance gets us anywhere in this or any other debate. The philosopher Jacques Derrida founded the school of thought known as deconstruction. The point of deconstruction is to take words, concepts, ideas, philosophies and to break them down in order to expose their unquestioned assumptions and hidden meanings. Among other things, Derrida famously deconstructed the term “tolerance.” What this deconstruction reveals is that the word has many implications that are contrary to what we might expect.

Derrida notes that tolerance is patronizing at its heart. When you say that you tolerate something you are saying that you hate it, but because you are such an enlightened person you will only look down on it with your nose and not your actions. Tolerance does not distinguish between people, ideas, or actions. With tolerance you must have the same attitude towards both the “sin and the sinner.” That is you hate both but you keep that hate to your high-and-mighty self.

Love on the other hand is not patronizing. Love can and must distinguish between people, behaviors, and ideas. Parents love their children even when they dislike their behavior and detest their ideals. Tolerance puts its practitioners above those they are tolerating. Love puts us all on an equal footing. Love can be practiced even if you dislike a person’s ideas or behavior. Tolerance equates the person with their behavior and ideas.

By failing to distinguish between a person and their behavior tolerance dehumanizes its objects. People who want tolerance insist that their actions and beliefs cannot be separated from their persons. Tolerance can never have the courage to help someone to change an improper behavior or a misguided belief.

Love requires much more then mere tolerance. Tolerance does not address your prejudices it merely admonishes you to conform to P.C. speech and behavior. Love also guides your behavior towards others. But in addition it requires you to step out from behind your prejudices and view everyone, even your opponents, with the same eyes you use when you look at your own family.

I was encouraged when our stake president chose love as the subject of his sermon in Stake Conference. After expressing his hope that stake members get involved in the Prop 8 campaign he said “however if you feel anything but love in your heart for the people we disagree with don’t get involved.” Divisive issues like this one present an opportunity for us to learn how to love those we disagree with even when it seems that the divisiveness is having the opposite effect

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Paul Jacobsen & The Madison Arm

Let me reiterate that this is not a review blog. I like review blogs, this just isn’t one of them. That being said, I can’t help but discuss the books I read, but in that case I’m really using the blog as my own little book club. And I don’t want to review new music (music being one of my other passions). But I’m going to break down here and review an album while also engaging in some familial promotion (Paul is my cousin).

I finally got the new Paul Jacobsen and The Madison Arm CD. I had older versions of some of the tracks and had heard many of them in concert but the other day I got my first chance to hear the album in its entirety. It was a good experience. Though I really enjoyed Paul’s first CD this new one is definitely a cut above. The songwriting is professional. Paul avoids using clichés, a crutch so common among aspiring songwriters. The album also works musically.

If you don’t want to take the word of one Paul’s relatives here’s a link to a review that appeared in Salt Lake City Weekly:

But in case you are willing to take my word for it, what follows is a discussion of my favorite tracks individually (I admit that is most of them).

Time: a sweet longing melody with some great images like: “city sirens howling at red light moons.” I also can’t help but be pleased that the song mentions Ruth’s Diner, good memories.

Like a Proper Noun: This seems to be about those people that think much too highly of themselves and take themselves way too seriously, usually at the expense of others. I love the choppy electric guitar it almost forces my head to bob like those guys in the front row of a concert who are too into it to care whether they might look silly to an outside observer. I love the opening words: “haven’t you already passed the lines you never drew. All the limits you never set are all laughing back at you.”

Stupid Little Things: This song gets at the heart of what it’s like to long for someone by focusing on all of the little things you miss when you loose or are separated from the person you love, things like having someone to share the joke you just heard with.

You’re The Song: This is probably Paul’s most popular number and for good reason (great melody and meaningful lyrics among other virtues). This song is probably tied for first place with Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” as being the closest thing, for April and I, that could be considered “our song.”

Western Skies: great sound, great feel. The lyrics are also really good: “If it’s a case of grass is greener, pennies drowned the fountain dreamers just some wasted discontent some day you’re gonna wake up, wonder where your good times went.” Like his song “Stupid Little Things,” “Western Skies” focuses on the concrete rather than the general or abstract which makes the sense of longing in the lyrics much stronger

You Were: pop-craft at its best. The feel of the song rises perfectly into the chorus. It almost sounds like Phil Spector could have written it.

Anything Pecked to Death Will Die: despite the tautological statement in the title this song conveys a real message. It starts out describing Frank Abagnale Jr. the notorious con-man popularized in “Catch me If You Can.” The images and metaphors used in the song to describe Abagnale’s life rank high on the clever-o-meter. I also like the image of having “a river in a world full of thirst.”
At that Day: is reminiscent of an old-style spiritual. It seems to be looking forward to the second coming while acknowledging the troubles and sorrows that plague the earth while it waits. I’m a sucker for these old-style spirituals. They really move me and this one is no exception. I wish we had more of this spiritual music within modern Mormon culture but instead I usually have to find it elsewhere. Initially there was a great spiritual/poetic movement in Mormon thought. Eliza R. Snow’s “O My Father” probably represents the best of this era of early LDS poetics but also much of Phelps’ work, and of course William Clayton’s “Come, Come Ye Saints” all rank high on the list. But spiritual songwriting of this quality is rare among contemporary LDS (at least as far as I’ve been able to discover). I’m not counting the modern inspiration LDS songwriting, the likes of Michael McLean etc... This is probably for the simple fact that I don’t care for it. I feel the same way only much stronger about contemporary Christian rock. Especially when, to allude to a quote from the Simpsons, all they do is write a pop song but change the word “baby” to “Jesus.” In contemporary Christian/Mormon pop there is little yearning and instead a feeling that the spiritual or divine has already been attained. Consequently there is a sense of preachy-ness that pervades the praises and diminishes them. Besides, without a genuine yearning I feel that much of this music comes across as a little cheesy (that was a long way to say that I like the album’s concluding track).

My only real criticism of the album is that it took way too long to come out. He’s been working on this album for something like five years. The album was worth the wait but sometimes as Voltaire observed “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” True, quality is more important than quantity but you still need quantity. The album is perfect, or at leas very close, I just wish that Paul would crank them out a little more frequently even if a little perfection is lost. I only say this because I am about the furthest thing there is from a perfectionist, probably in a bad way. But that’s why I married one.

You can get the Album along with some of Paul’s prior work on iTunes or from CDBaby where you can also stream samples of all of the songs. I recommend getting the hard copy for the album artwork and photography which are first rate. Also, you can hear some of the tracks in their entirety on Paul’s MySpace page at

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Through rain and wind and cold and snow...

I finished the St. George Marathon. Okay, so there wasn't really snow, but the weather was pretty miserable. It started raining on the bus ride up to the start (about 4:30 am) and didn't stop until about noon. Thousands of people ran the marathon despite headwinds never-ending rain.

It started well. Fortunately this year I got to start with the "elite" runners, so there was less of a fight for the bonfires and port-a-potties. The weather was mild at first, off and on rain and wind. I wish I would have gotten a picture of the bonfires in the wind (it was lucky for us that the fire department was nearby). It got progressively worse as the miles went by. By the time I finished, I looked like I had competed in an impromptu wet t-shirt contest rather than a marathon.
I was with the 3:10 pace group until mile 14, when I started feeling queasy (I had been sick 2 days before). Without perfect conditions, I was perhaps being too optimistic in hoping for a 3:10, but settled into a decent 7:45 pace until just before the finish line. I was able to pick up the pace a little until my knee gave out and I nearly fell just as I finished in 3:22:19

After the race, I felt awful. I had to sit down for several minutes because I was sick to my stomach and couldn't put any weight on my knee. After getting a kiss from Steven, I went to the first aid tent to recuperate. It was still raining.

I think that the marathon volunteers bought the town out of trash bags. There were thousands of people wearing these impromptu ponchos. My clothes had not yet come in from the start, so I borrowed Steve's hoodie to warm me under my trash bag. I attempted to wait for a massage, but my lips turned blue and it was clear that I had become hypothermic, so I went back to the condo for a warm bath (it's a big taboo after racing, but I had to get warm).
I was pleased with the results. Last year, I had placed 13th in my division, and this year, I went up to 7th. Plus, I beat my first trainer from work, Jim Davis (nevermind that it was his first marathon). If you are interested, I have included a link to some pretty visual and colorful results from RunPix. My # is 4089.

By the way, I made the local paper. I'm in the blue shirt in the left top corner. In case you were wondering, my shirt says "My running partner has 4 legs" in celebration of Nike and Kiki, who were there to cheer me on in Veyo.

Update by Steve:
Here are some more pictures that my parents took. The first is just before the finish line.
The second was taken immediately after the race. If you look closely you can see that April is experiencing the first stages of hypothermia (she got warm again before it got serious).
The last is of the whole gang (dogs included) in front of the condo.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Marathon and Network Champion

This Saturday is a very special day in my running career. The St. George Marathon marks my 10th marathon. I started running marathons at the same time I started dating Steve. A few days before we met, it was my 20th birthday. To celebrate, I ran 20 miles. It was a crazy thing to do, but I had done the same thing on my 17th birthday, and thought it would be a good way to get back into running (I broke my foot about six months earlier). I hadn't run more than 3 miles for almost a year, but for some odd reason, I thought that I could still manage. It was a painful learning experience.

Even so, it gave me hope. I rode the bus to the U of U with the same bus driver for the 2 years prior and we became good friends. After I told him I was a runner, he convinced me to run my first marathon so I created a running plan and picked a marathon that was 36 weeks away. I figured having a marathon goal would not only make me fit, but also give me other unique qualities that would maybe appeal to my new flame (it didn't). And so a marathon runner was born. Since then, I have done 3 every year. I compiled a list of all my marathons to see if there is any pattern.

1. Top of Utah-September 2005-3:48
2. Salt Lake City-June 2006-3:52
3. Deseret News-July 2006-3:52
4. St. George-October 2006-3:38
5. Los Angeles-March 2007-4:22 (I had the flu that week)
6. Boston-April 2007-3:54
7. St. Geoge-October 2007-3:28
8. Leona Divide-April 2008-50 mile ultra-10:38
9. Palos Verdes-May 2008 DNF, stopped at mile 18
10. St. George-October 2008---3:10?

The main thing I've notices is that I run poor times when the marathons are close together, but have done very well at every St. George marathon. I have gotten noticeably faster with the Ultramarathon and increased training and hope to get into the low 3 hours this year (I made it 14 miles at 3:10 pace last year before an injury flared up). Hoping for a PR!!!

As a side note, this week, I had a project at work to create a presentation about one of Progressive's Network Shops. My friend Maureen headed up the project because she has gotten a recent addition to her title as team leader: NETWORK CHAMPION. It is her job to help the employees and customers understand our network program. My project won.