Monday, April 27, 2009

East High Forever!

It's kind of surreal seeing people talk about graduating from my high school on SNL.
What have you learned at East High?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Booktober Fest 09

April and I spent our afternoon at the annual L.A. Times Festival of Books at UCLA. On our way to make a pit stop at the law school we ran into Hugh Hewitt who turned out to be a really nice guy. Here are a couple pictures.

Book Review: “God Has Made Us a Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons, by Vickie Cleverly Speek.

One victim of the current financial crisis was the Seagull Book and Tape on Santa Monica Blvd. This was an unfortunate loss as it was the only LDS themed book store in SoCal.

The only silver lining in L.A. Seagull Book’s demise was the massive fire sale during its final week. I doubt I ever would have bought this history of the Strangites if it hadn’t been so cheep but Speek’s work would have been well worth the list price.

The story of the Srangites is the most fascinating of all of the Mormon break-off sects. (spoiler alert! I know this is nonfiction but the story twists and turns much like an airport page-turner. so if you want to be surprized by the book itself you should stop reading now). James Strang was a relatively new convert to the church when Joseph Smith was killed. Shortly after the prophet’s death Strang showed up in Nauvoo with a “letter of appointment” wherein, Strang clamed, Joseph had named Strang as his heir. He also claimed that an angel appeared to him and ordained him to that role at the exact moment of the prophet’s martyrdom. Thus Strang became a key player in the succession crisis. Because of his claims, Strang was excommunicated by Brigham Young whereupon he promptly started his own church from which he then excommunicated Young.

James Jesse Strang (Daguerreotype)

Strang had the tendency to draw the most controversial Mormon figures into his version of the faith. These included John C. Bennett (quite possibly the most notorious apostate of all Mormon history) and William Smith (Joseph’s volatile and often violent brother). Strang moved his followers to Voree, Wisconsin where like Smith he discovered ancient metal plates that he then translated into The Rajah Manchou of Vorito. This was a sort of Moroni-esque chronicle of the last man left of civilization prophesying Strang’s rise to the head of the church. Strang also started secret society called the Order of the Illuminati (not to be confused with Dan Brown) that consisted of an elaborate system of secret codes and initiation rights.

Reproduction of the Voree Plates

Though one of Strang’s major platforms for his new church had been opposition to polygamy,  shortly after becoming a prophet he decided that he was suddenly ok with it. He married Elvira Field as his second wife. In order to keep this marriage secret, she changed her name to Charles Douglass and she became Strang's nephew. Elvira also cut her hair and disguised herself as a man. “Charlie” became prophet’s missionary companion and acted as his secretary as the two toured the eastern states as a secret honeymoon. Some of Strang’s followers began to suspect the truth behind his nephew and, disturbed by this discovery, left the church.

Elvira Feild as Charles Douglass

Strang moved his followers to Beaver Island on the north end of Lake Michigan were he set up his kingdom. He made himself king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that shocked some of his followers. Many people believe that Strang and his followers were the true identity behind a mysterious band of pirates that plagued the great lakes during this period. They were accused of as much by their gentile neighbors and an all out war unfolded between the two groups on the lake. There were shootouts between boats, high-speed chases across the ice, an attempt by the gentiles to maroon a group of Strangites on remote island, and their narrow escape from this plot. The war culminated with the assassination of Strang by some of his former followers on a pier in Beaver Island’s harbor. The assassins, though their identities were known, were never brought to justice by a corrupt legal system that endorsed their actions.

Map of Mormon Settlements on Beaver island

After the prophet’s death his sheep wee scattered, the largest group joining the Reorganized Church, or “Josephites,” a few joining the Utah Church, or “Brighamites,” and many leaving Mormonism altogether. Strang’s most loyal followers waited for a successor to appear. They are still waiting.

God Has Made Us a Kingdom is great reading. Speek skillfully tells one of the most interesting stories in the history of Mormonism.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mom and Dad Visit

April and I were glad to have my parents come down and visit us for the weekend. For those who don't know, I will be graduating from law school on My 8th. In an unfortunate cosmic alignment my brother Mike will be graduating from the U's management school on the exact same day. This puts my parents in the very awkward circumstance of being in two places at once. So the have decided to divide and-uh-split the baby. My mom will come down here and my dad will stay up in SLC. In the meantime, they decided that they would both come down now, in part, to take some "fake" graduation photos.

While they were here we also did lots of other fun things like bike riding through Marina Del Rey, with Uncle Dave and Aunt Mary Lou, and touring Venice beach.
(here's the guy that jumps barefooted onto broken glass about to do his thing)
(and the two-headed turtle)
We also walked through downtown Culver City.
(From left to right: Harry Culver (seated), with Nike (also seated), Mom, Lillian Culver holding daughter Patricia, April (seated), Kiki on ground, and Dad)

And toured the temple grounds.

And of course we hit up a few of our classic culinary haunts including: Pinks,
Diddy Riese, Las Fuentes, and Tahoe Galbi (our favorite Korean barbeque in K-Town). If you've never had Korean BBQ you are missing out. they give you a variety of meats (all you can eat and most of them in some form of sweet marinade) that you cook up to your own liking on a grill in the middle of your table. You also get a smorgasbord of side dishes.
I think my dad enjoyed it the most. He even developed quite a liking for Kimchi.

Not long after I dropped my parents off at LAX on Monday I had my second real trial. I represented another MTA bus driver who was refereed to us by my last client. It went about as well as we could expect, and maybe even a little better. We should hear a verdict in a few weeks or so.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cleveland Indians Opening Day Weekend

As much as I would have loved to stay home this weekend and handle injury claims at the office, I took the opportunity to go out of town to "work" in preparation for the Cleveland Indian's Opening Day festivities at Progressive Field.

I got to be part of the flag ceremony during the American and Canadian National Anthems (Cleveland played Toronto).  The flag was in the shape of the USA and I was somewhere around Daytona Beach, FL.

We even got to go out to the field during the warm-up (talk about good seats!)

The weekend was full of food and fun.  We had parties every day (that counted as "work") and I even got paid to go to a baseball game.  Unfortunately, about halfway through the game, it started raining really hard and the game was delayed for about 4 hours (during which we all went back to the hotel). Once the game finally started again, it was too late and cold for most people to return (and since I was already warm in my hotel room, I was one of them).

One of the other highlights of the trip was getting to catch up with Betsey Hawkins, who is currently living in Cleveland with her husband who is working as an attorney there, and their daughter, Nora. We went out to breakfast before the game and it was a lot of fun.

I even got to meet Flo!

My flight didn't leave Saturday until later in the afternoon, so I took a walk around Cleveland, out to Lake Erie.  I'd already been to the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame, and the Great Lakes Science Center, but it taking a walk in the crisp air was a good way to end the trip (and it made for a good photo opp).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Crucifixion Rituals in The Philippines

I saw this video today and I was instantly taken back to, and flooded with memories of, the first week of my mission. Nine years ago this week I got off the plane in the Philippines and began my service as a missionary there. This is one of the first things I saw when I arrived. This is a ritual that reenacts Christ's suffering. Many of the participants believe that by experiencing the same pain that Christ suffered they lessen the pain that he had to feel. By suffering his pain they take upon themselves a portion of his burden. When you see it this way the ritual is quite beautiful, though strange to us foreigners.

[Warning the video is "news graphic," not any more gory than what is normally shown on the news but a little disturbing nonetheless.]

This ritual is one of many aspects of Catholicism that have been combined with the indigenous beliefs of the islanders. The patron saints now hold the places of the "heathen" gods in countless other festivals and ceremonies. The nearly seamless graft of these two belief systems is a sociological marvel. My favorite such celebration is John the Baptist Day. On this day a bunch of teenagers, mostly, run through the streets with buckets of water dowsing everyone they can. Their favorite targets are the crowded, windowless busses and jeepneys where the hapless passengers have no chance of escape.

The little branch I served in also also engaged in their own culturural grafting. They had an Easter egg hunt for the kids (something that is not widely practiced there) but used hard-boiled quail eggs instead of candy filled plastic ones.

I can't believe it has been nine years since then.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Discovery at El Cholo

[I apologize in advance for this post. “History buff” does not really describe me, “history nerd” would be much more appropriate]

On Friday April and I stopped to eat at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants on our way back from an afternoon at the beach in Santa Monica.  El Cholo is L.A.’s oldest and arguably best Mexican restaurant (the original is in Korea Town, around the corner from our Stake Center).  While we were sitting in our booth, enjoying chips and salsa, April’s attention was diverted to a framed letter on the wall. 


The letter was from Ray Bradbury.  Apparently he spent much of his childhood in an apartment less than a block from the Restaurant.  In the letter he reminisces of his time growing up in Los Angeles.  Among these reminiscences is the revelation that as a boy Bradbury joined a theater group at the nearby LDS chapel (the L.A. Stake Center).  The group was led by Laraine Day, a relativly famous Mormon actress.  Bradbury also mentions that it was while he lived there that he wrote his early stories.