Thursday, July 30, 2015

When idiots and guns mix

America is a wonderful place but unfortunately it is full of many idiots and even more readily available guns.  Of course there are idiots in every country, but most countries make it more difficult for those idiots to have access to guns.   It also makes me glad that I live in Europe where the chance of dying by gunshot are basically 0.  I think every American knows someone who has been shot.  Just a few days ago there was a shooting at a home less than a kilometer from where I grew up in Idaho.  Some crazy dudes came to steal a car and gunned two people down with a machine gun.  Almost too crazy to believe, except that it is believable.  Obama said it best when he said "at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries". 

Despite the number of high profile shootings,  there is not much hope for significant change.  The gun control debate is not a  yes or no question.  The idea is not to take away guns, but to make it more difficult for idiots to get their hands on them.   I don't have faith that anything will change in America given the political climate, but the case of Australia gives hope that change is at least possible.  Of course America would not have to undertake such drastic policy to have an impact.  Mandatory background checks, better gun ID laws, and psych tests are only common sense.  Maybe smart guns can cut down on accidents in the future. Until Americans come to terms with that they will continue to shoot themselves in the foot with bad gun laws.

List of some of some gun incidents that I have noticed, not including the mass shootings that get most of the attention:

  • Idaho woman shot by 2 year old son in Walmart.  Story here.
  • Three year old toddler shoots self.  Story here 
  •  Five year old shoots baby brother in head. Story here
  • 9 dead, 18 wounded in Biker brawl.  Story here.
  • Two shot outside Mormon church.  Story here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Crazy about our quilts

 Recently my sister Jill made this beautiful quilt for our new baby.  My sister is not the only one who likes to quilt.  Through the years we have received many quilts for baby gifts, wedding presents, Christmas, and more.  They are all beautiful pieces of art and we'll treasure them forever. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Next Mormon up

Updated version:
In sports there is a known phrase 'next man up'.  The 49ers will be implementing this strategy this season as new and younger players are taking the place of older stalwarts who left in the off season due to various reasons.  In the LDS church we are seeing a similar time of change.  Two members of the quorum of the 12 apostles have recently passed away and their replacements will be called in October's general conference (the last time when two members were called at the same conference was 10 years ago).  This is a great time to implement at least some level of change.  The idea of emeritus status is one that has been discussed, including in a post that I wrote for real clear religion some time back. President Monson's health is failing and the next in line is the soon to be 91 year old President Nelson.

Another area of change that could happen is the calling of non white/American members.  Currently President Uchtdorf is the only non American in the top leadership ranks.  That number grows to two if we include the presidency of the seventy.  Peggy Stack wrote a great piece on this topic yesterday.  While acknowledging the role of revelation in selecting new apostles I thought I would add some speculation on who I think will be picked and who I would want to be picked.  First off kudo's to Peggy Stack for even mentioning the possibility of non traditional candidates like Steve Young or Gifford Nielson.  I was almost named after Gifford and I love Steve Young.  I've heard his talk on how he likened faith to throwing to a WR even when he couldn't see him because his OL members were too tall, I would love to hear it again in general conference.  And if a former NFL quarterback was called that would mean church would only be an hour on Super Bowl Sunday right?  In another funny post in the Tribune, Kirby suggested himself to provide more diversity. 

That said there are two points to make.  First, diversification is the key.  We all know that apostles represent the Lord to the people and not the other way around, but having a diverse group of brethren betters enable them to do that and helps in running a global church.  Second, diversity in the quorum of the twelve is going to be minimal given the nature of Church leadership.  The new apostles are going to be called from the body of church general authorities and therefore will be the English speaking members who according to Mauss, as quoted in the Tribune article, "No one is likely to be called into the Quorum of the Twelve who has not become thoroughly Americanized and correlated through years of service at lower echelons".  Also, what is ultimately important is not just the color of someone's skin or their citizenship but whether they can provide a diversity of ideas, skills, and talents that will better enable them to connect with more members from different places.  This includes one's vocation.  When listening to President Uchtdorf, we can see how big of an impact his career has now on his ministry.  So with that said here are my picks for who I would like to see, noting that there are other candidates who would do a better job if the only criteria were skin color and citizenship.

My top two picks who I would like to see:
1. Larry Eco Hawk.  first off, Larry Eco Hawk is very American, but he is a different kind of American from the traditional white/Utah/Republican brand.  Being a Native American and a Democrat would be beneficial for a number of reasons.  It would provide a balance to the emphasis that the Church has placed on the Republican party's political agenda in recent years (Iraq war, gay marriage, religious freedom).  It would also increase representation and remind people of differing historical narratives which are equally valid to the mainstream narratives taught in the Church (US exceptionalism and LDS pioneer migration to be specific).  He would be able to relate to minority and native peoples in many countries.  He is also from Idaho which is an added bonus.

2. Gerald Causse.  He is currently in the presiding bishopric and from France.  This would also help in adding diversity and youth to Church leadership (only 52 years old).  He also has a style similar to President Uchtdorf, often emphasizing nonjudgmental charity.  In today's world of conflict and hate where everyone claims to be a victim of everyone who is different, this message is needed more than ever.  I was especially touched by a talk he shared in Tallinn a year ago about how we have a responsibility to make things right with our brothers and sisters in the gospel.

Honorable mention goes to Donald Hallstrom.  He was raised in Hawaii, so he has a multicultural background and gave a great talk in 2012 about the relationship between the Church and the gospel which I really appreciate.  He is also a very likely candidate given his status in the presidency of the seventy.  I also would be thrilled to see Edward Dube.  I loved his talk on faith and think he would be great to encourage and uplift members in this time when transparency and openness can cause doubt for members.
Another honorable mention goes to Gerrit Gong, who has a PhD in International Relations from Oxford! My opinion is certainly biased, but an IR background is very valuable when leading a global church.  His work on Asia is impressive both in academia and foreign policy institutes. 

Larry Eco Hawk is already a bit old (67) and has only been a general authority for three years, so I don't think he will get the call.  Geral Causse has a stronger chance of getting picked, but also it is a small chance as he has never served in the presidency of the seventy.  The last three apostles have all come from the presidency of the seventy. 

My predictions of who it will be:

1. Whitney Clayton.  As a member of the presidency of the seventy, he has a good chance.  He has served there since 2008 already.  As mentioned in the Tribune article, Clayton organized the prop 8 campaign.  It appears that the Church is going all in on the religious freedom topic and this might increase his chances.  For example Von Keetch , the Church's top lawyer on religious freedom issues was recently called as a general authority.

2. Claudio Costa.  He is the president of the Brazil area and has been a general authority since 1994, including time in the presidency of the seventy.

I think the choice will come down to the following logic.  Elder Clayton or Elder Rasband will be chosen (my favorite of the two is Rasband, Clayton is rumored to have played an active role in the quasi purge that has gone on recently among outspoken members.  This is the opposite strategy I have advocated for). Rasband has a very good chance, he is the senior member of the presidency of the seventy and we should remember that it is President Monson who will have the final say (with help of revelation).  Given President Monson's emphasis on kind charity, Rasband might better fit that bill than Clayton. 

For the second spot, I think that someone else will be chosen who represents a more diverse background.  I think it will be Costa, but it could be Soares as well. The Church has made several small but noticeable efforts at internationalizing the Church.  Having general conference speakers speak in their native language, announcing three temple locations all outside of the US are the more recent examples.  This makes me think that at least one member will not be a white American.  Because there are two spots it increases the chances of a surprise candidate which opens the doors for many candidates, although it won't be a big surprise like Mitt Romney, Harry Reid, or Steve Young, it will still be a general authority or another high status member.  

My dark horse candidate is Kim Clark, the former BYU-Idaho president.  BYU presidents have been popular in the past (Oaks, Holland, Bednar).  He is extremely capable and that makes him a tempting choice.

I'm sure whoever is chosen will do well, it will be an exciting conference in October!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hug an immigrant day!

Today in Tallinn there was a demonstration against mass immigration.  Recently there has been a debate on how many refugees Estonia should take.  This and other reasons have caused a surge in nationalism in Estonia (which is also happening all over Europe and still in the US).   I find it unfortunate that there still exists such negative feelings towards immigrants and refugees.  For an immigrant like me it is not easy to just brush off all the fear mongering.  When an anti-immigration party runs on specific policy proposals such as not letting foreigners buy real estate or land I take it personally.  As a white male from America who speaks Estonian I have it pretty easy though.  Often I think about what my experience would have been like if my background was different.  It is for those people that I feel the need to stand up and take a stand.  So for all those readers out there, if you meet an immigrant or refugee today give him or her a big hug and make them feel welcome in whatever country you live in.

Why should Estonia be open to immigrants and refugees?  here are a few reasons: (Note, I am intentionally avoiding the long and depressing conversation on the negative impact the West has had on many developing countries from which many immigrants come.  Failed interventions, sanctions, and exploitive trade and financial regimes would make this post too depressing). 

1. During the aftermath of WWII and the illegal Soviet Occupation, the world accepted Estonian refugees with open arms.  Many of those Estonians and their desendents live prosperous and happy lives in Canada, Sweden, Australia, and the United States.  Many kept their identity and returned to Estonia including President Ilves who was born in Sweden and grew up in New Jersey.  For Estonia to reject refugees after having been the benefactor of global good will would be hypocritical and would have significant moral consequences.

2. Solidarity.  Estonia loves to get billions from the EU in structural funds which fund roads, schools, hospitals, infrastructure and much more.  When Estonia is asked to make some minor contribution (loan to Greece, accommodating 200 refugees) the Estonian public goes bonkers. I wonder how many protesters took a nice air conditioned bus or a modern train to the protest today?

3. Immigration is a two way road.  While Estonia has done better than anyone could have expected after the restoration of statehood, the transition was still rough.  The minimum wage (which is actually taxed!) is just 390 euros a month.  Prices are only slightly cheaper than most other European countries.  Life for low wage workers is tough which is one reason why so many people have left Estonia.  Many go to Finland, but others to Ireland, the UK, Australia, and quite frankly anywhere.  I don't think I know a single Estonian who does not have a family member or a close friend who has left the country.  One person I know was living in Burma for the last few years working as a teacher in a private school making way more than Estonian teachers.  Burma! Young Estonians often uproot and leave for educational or vocational reasons.  There are two lessons to learn from this.  1. Estonia is running out of people, this is especially true in the country side.  Eerik-Niles Kross had a good article on this topic that stressed this point. 2. Estonia gets a ton of money from foreign workers.  Anyone who has taken the boat to Finland can see all the workers leaving on Sunday night or Monday morning and coming back on Friday.  All that money earned in Finland comes back to Estonia.  How can Estonians reap the benefits of immigration but then not be open for immigration?

Also,  it would be prudent for Estonia to take in people who actually want to live here.  This is a key element of solving the demographic problem.  Unless Estonians want to work until they are 75, a larger and more efficient work force needs to take shape.  If immigration is not part of the answer then the other option is a very expensive policy of paying their own citizens to have more kids and supporting those kids.  Currently Estonia pays for: maternity leave for 18 months, child support payments for 18 years, health and dental care, kindergarten (2-6 years old, elementary school (7-19), and college including master level.  This is a very large investment that the Estonian government makes and what happens if that person moves to Finland as many are doing?  Even with these expensive policies, birth rates are not as high as they need to be to solve the demographic problem.  On the other hand, Estonia doesn't pay anything for the birth or education of an immigrant.  They come ready to work and pay taxes.

So the next time you see an immigrant give him or her a nice hug, they might need it and probably deserve it. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer fun continues: Tallinn Zoo / Tallinna loomaaed

Tallinn Zoo is better than I ever remembered!
They are constantly trying to make it better for everyone, animals included. What I loved the most was actually the landscaping - they have put so much effort into making the zoo look really pretty. 
Here are some animals we saw:

A little resting moment in daddy´s lap:

Ants! A good zoo always has ants. Kids love them. 

Some funny looking birds - reminded us of dinosaurs. 

Great landscaping:

Looking at llamas. 

Tallinn Zoo is in the middle of the city but it is still in the woods, like you can see here. Tall trees and bushes all around make you feel like you are not in the city at all. Our girl felt like running into the woods right away.

Another resting stop to look at  footballs laying around because the leopards were asleep, of course.

The polar bears need a new cage so we donated some money (you can do the same!). One of the bears is called Nora.

 Me and the baby and the bear.

And our favorite - the petting zoo!
These little goats are adorable. They just hang out and everyone can go and pet them. Our daughter liked this rock the most though. Maybe even more than the goats. Kids...

Mr Sightseer says Tallinn Zoo is one of the top 20 zoos. Well, it is number 20. Amsterdam Zoo is number one - we went there last year and it is wonderful.

1. Artis Royal Zoo, Amsterdam
2. Barcelona Zoo
3. Belfast Zoo
4. Berlin Zoological Garden
5. Bristol Zoo
6. Central Park Zoo, New York
7. Copenhagen Zoo
8. Dublin Zoo
9. RZSS Edinburgh Zoo
10. Lisbon Zoo
11. London Zoo
12. Madrid Zoo Aquarium
13. Melbourne Zoo
14. National Zoological Park, USA
15. Perth Zoo
16. Prague Zoo
17. San Francisco Zoo
18. Skansen Museum & Zoo, Stockholm
19. Taronga Zoo
20. Tallinn Zoo.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

No bake cookies, European style

Our daughter has a minor peanut allergy which means that she has never been able to eat no bake cookies.  Maris doesn't like them (too sugary) so that means I have to eat them all by my self when I make them.  It makes me feel a little guilty, but not guilty enough to make a different type of cookie or to stop making them.  Family solidarity is nice, but no bake cookies are nicer.  I had planned to replace the peanut butter with almond butter one day but it hasn't happened.  Then one magical day Maris found a recipe for Nutella no bake cookies!  You can find it here.  They just replaced the peanut butter with Nutella, and they taste great! Watching my daughter eat her first no bake cookie was priceless, she loved them.  Of course since she is small she only got a few bites and Maris still thought they were sugary so I basically ate them all and felt great doing it.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summer time in Estonia

With all the problems Greece is having it is easy to overlook the positive aspects that EU membership provides.  In Estonia it is almost impossible to not notice the roads, schools, and hospitals that have been built with EU funding.  One thing that often does go unnoticed is rural development that is also funded by the EU.  One interesting aspect of rural development is mini theme parks, which have also received EU funding.  I have no idea why the EU is spending money from rich Western European countries to build mini theme parks in poor European countries, but it works out well for those of us in Eastern Europe.  While these small theme parks can't compete with the Disneylands and SeaWorlds in the US, they provide a colorful entertainment landscape for Estonians.  Lottemaa, Cantervilla, Pokumaa, and so many more!  A few weeks ago we visited Vembu-Tembumaa

They had a large variety of things to do, we liked this climbing place with the slides.  Much bigger and better than the playgrounds in Keila!

Our daughter loves motorcycles, she was happy to get a chance to ride one.

This little hot air balloon was not designed for adults! I was glad I was able to get out in one piece. 

They had a tons of trampolines and all sorts of things to bounce on.  Our daughter hated all of them.

The water was freezing cold, but otherwise it was still fun. 

We didn't go down the slide, but when our kids are older and the water warmer, we'll give it a try.  The food was also great.  It wasn't as good as the giant Turkey legs from Frontier land, but it was very Estonian and very good.  Kohupiima kreem and French fries with special potato seasoning. Vembu-Tembumaa, we'll see you again next year!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Month in review

Where did June go?  Where did May go?  The last two months have been very crazy for us and we are excited for July.  The end of the semester was intense and I'm happy it is over.  Everything ended well with the grading, publishing, PhD dissertation deadline, supervising, new baby, and everything else that was going on.  Our little baby is now over a month old and is doing better at sleeping.  We are now in full summer vacation mode.  People ask us what our summer plans are and our plan is to hang out and adjust to having two kids.  Doing dishes and cleaning the house seem like huge accomplishments.  That said, we have gotten to do some fun things.  Here are a few updates from the month!

Jaanipäev is the second biggest holiday in Estonia and is basically a summer solstice holiday to celebrate the longest day of the year.  Normally Estonians drink beer, grill meat, jump over the fire, and complain about the rain.  This year we couldn't go grill because of the kids but had a great time at home.  It was a perfect gorgeous day in the morning and just by grill time it was raining.
 I started off the day with a bowl of Lion cold cereal, it is one of my favorites and luckily was on sale recently!

 Since we couldn't go outside we decided to go all out with food.  American style meat, Estonian style drinks and snacks. 

Maris mixed up chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers into a really tasty pie.

 Keila has a nice set of walking paths that go through the forest.

 The beach is just 20 min away, we don't go there often but the weather was so nice we couldn't resist.

Nothing beats building a sand castle in the summer.