Monday, April 19, 2010

Plan B

Plan A: Amsterdam

Plan B: Not Amsterdam

Little did Steve and I know when we moved to Scotland that the natural disaster that would cause us the most grief would be a volcano. Cool in hindsight, but last Thursday was a little depressing as we realized we would not be taking a holiday to Amsterdam. The first question everyone asks us when we tell them this story is "Why do you even want to go to Amsterdam?" Two words: Rijksmuseum & Keukenhof. The Rijksmuseum is like the Louvre of Dutch art, so I would naturally drag Steve to see it, along with other cool places like the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh museum, a diamond museum, canal rides, etc. Reason number two - we wanted to see the tulips.
We're trying to work out the scheduling (it may take a miracle) to fit Amsterdam in somewhere in the next month and a half, but we're still at the mercy of a smoldering volcano that doesn't appear to be hushing up any time soon. Rather than being sad and miserable all weekend, Steve and I decided to carry out Plan B: making our own Amsterdam experience right here in Edinburgh. We had a great time playing tourists in our hometown. We've been here long enough that we don't really do the tourist stuff anymore, but there's so much to see and do. Since the weather has been great, we decided to go for it. From here on out, I'll let the pictures/commentary tell the story of our weekend vacation.

Dessert on the Royal Mile. Steve: Mint Magnum bar. Kristen: Solero tropical-deliciousness (aka, mango) bar. We enjoyed reading all the newspaper headlines regarding the volcano as we selected our preferred flavor of ice-cream.

Kind of looks like a cobblestone street, but it's actually the beach at low-tide. Not too bad for a 15-minute walk from our flat. It's no canal tour, but Steve got really excited about some crazy seashells.

Not exactly the red-light district, but this arcade we came across had a pretty significant impact on Steve. See picture below.

Poker machines?!?!? Steve was SHOCKED!

The equivalent of Dam Square, the main thoroughfare in Amsterdam. We happened upon the National Gallery Plaza on Princes Street just in time for some music and dance celebrations in the name of religion. The kid passing out the fliers was probably six - way too cute to turn down taking one of the fliers.

We couldn't see the tulips in bloom at Keukenhof, but we made an afternoon of it at the Royal Botanical Garden in New Town. We're definitely coming back here in the summer - absolutely beautiful!

Welcome to Calton Hill. I've wanted to explore this area for a long time and we finally did it. This is the Robert Burns monument on the east side of the hill.

Wandering down David Hume Way.

View across Edinburgh from the top of Calton Hill.

Calton Hill is how Edinburgh came to be known as the Athens of the North. Construction came to a halt in the nineteenth century, but the ruins are a replica of the Parthenon.

Paying homage to Athena, goddess of wisdom, as he contemplates his future at OSU.

Another replacement for Keukenhof, but Edinburgh is covered in daffodils rather than tulips. I love riding the bus along London Road because the street is full of bright yellow and white daffodils - they are everywhere.

Enjoying a stroll at dusk. A nice ending to a crazy couple of days.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano

Kristen and I might be heading to Amsterdam tomorrow. The key word being might. At work today I came across an article about the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland. The volcano puts a little bit of a damper on the weekend plans as the ash from the volcano has moved into British airspace and flights have been canceled until at least 7am tomorrow. Our flight doesn't take off until 7:30 but I'm pretty sure it is going to get sacked.

Natural disasters are an interesting phenomena and I have had a few memorable experiences living through such disasters. While serving my mission in Virginia it was hurricanes. I was living in Virginia Beach when Hurricane Isabel came through and just prior to the storm the mission president had us evacuate to Richmond. I ended up spending a few days at the church to wait out the storm. Just for the record, fifty missionaries stuck in a church for a few days isn't as much fun as you might think it would be. I remember pouring water from milk jugs as a replacement for a shower and having the baptismal font filled up as an emergency water supply. Other memories include sleeping on the High Council room chairs (not comfortable) and spending countless hours studying scriptures. When we returned to Virginia Beach, a few days later, we come back to an apartment with no electricity. Even though it was the middle of the summer, Elder Couture and I decided to sleep there anyway. It was a hot, miserable night followed by cold showers in a pitch black bathroom. We did get to attend church outside and it felt a bit like church at scout camp.
Another natural disaster I remember is the California flood of January 1995. I was in sixth grade at the time and had to take the bus to school, and no, it wasn't the short bus! It rained all during school and then I went out to wait for the bus. Our bus driver was usually late and that day was no exception. The water slowly rose and pretty soon I couldn't see the curb, as it was buried beneath the rainwater. After many faithless prayers I gave up waiting and went to the office to call my mom. Our neighbor was kind enough to drive his truck out to get me and I finally made it home a few hours later.
I have survived earthquakes too, but the only memories I have of those is of the neighbors gathering outside at 2 am to talk about the damage done to the homes.
So there you have it folks, my personal history in the midst of natural disasters. We'll be sure to keep you posted on the condition of the British airspace and the ash content in Northern Europe, as I'm sure everyone is on pins and needles.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Dear friends and family,

I should have posted this eons ago, but there are still four days left to help a very important cause. This post is political in nature, but I want to do my part because ethics apply to everyone - republicans, democrats and independents. If you so choose, you can join the cause for ethical government in Utah (if you're a Utah resident, that is). Check out the Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG) website to see what this is all about, and should you feel inclined, you can sign the petition online so that the initiative can come to a vote this November. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR UTAH - PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN ABOUT UEG'S INITIATIVE!

Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Harmony, Indifference or Hostility

A NYTimes article caught my attention today regarding the new IMAX movie about the Hubble telescope. Even though we won't be able to see it for awhile, I still can't wait to see it. I remember my first class in Astronomy at BYU took place inside the planetarium and I was hooked within five minutes. I loved that class. It introduced me to incredible and astounding topics/images as I considered aspects of the universe that I had not known. My teacher mentioned names like Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler at the beginning of the semester, but only briefly. Yes, I had heard of these people before and knew a bit about Galileo, but I basically just took what she gave me and called it good. However, after my Enlightenment courses this semester, I feel like these guys are my uncles. Strange, but true. Each of them, and so many more, have fascinating stories to tell. If you're interested in reading up on them, I know Steve has a running bibliography (his current read is The Fellowship: The Story of a Revolution about Gilbert, Newton, Bacon and some other brilliant minds) to curb any curious appetite.

I just finished writing an assessment for my 'Science and the Natural Man in the Enlightenment' class with Dr. John Henry. The topic: religion vs. science. I had to explain and discuss the following statement by Isaac Kramnick: 'If religion was seen as the principle villain of the Enlightenment, then science was its hero.' Brilliant, eh? In terms of an essay argument, it's brilliant. As I read the news article and watched this clip on Youtube this morning I was pretty excited since science has been on my mind a lot this week. I can't imagine what the men from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would be thinking if they saw how far society has come with the progress of science and technology. I won't go into all the details of the paper, but it basically revolved around three lenses: harmony, indifference or hostility. Those are the common lenses through which most people can view the science vs. religion debate. Great minds such as Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, Locke, Newton, Voltaire, Diderot, and Hume all took part in the dialogue and provided me with really interesting research material.

Two thoughts to leave with you, both of which stood out to me during my research for this paper for various reasons.

On religion: "It illuminates our nature and experience. It draws into a unity the scattered elements in our life. It guides our minds and controls our science, because it alone can unfold the full mystery of nature. It answers the questions which reason can only raise, and it brings us to that fulfillment of life towards which science in its more limited way is struggling. It cannot be set in opposition to reason or science, because it includes yet transcends both. If our thought starts from God and finally rests in him, we have found the means by which the fragmentary powers of our being are harmonized in the service and appropriation of all truth." - Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

On science (or Enlightenment in general): "It challenged the principle of supernatural authority. It denied divine revelation, scoffed at miracles, and assaulted the chief dogmas of the faith. It profoundly affected the way in which religious authority was conceived and broke the coercive spirit in which theological systems had been enforced. Intolerance was discredited: the individual could no longer be compelled to submit to prevailing ecclesiastical systems. The churches forfeited their controlling influence in the intellectual life of Europe, and science was free to pursue its autonomous course. It encouraged far greater freedom in the pursuit of truth. It did so at the cost of aggravating the confusion in religious values which has been so conspicuous a feature of modern life. And it profoundly modified the standards and methods of all the churches."
- Gerald Cragg (historian)

Getting back to the Hubble telescope, the idea that came to my mind as I was reading about the space mission that occurred last May was clarity. We certainly live in a different age than did the men mentioned previously. For as much confusion and argument as there is in the world today, there is so much more clarity to see things as they really are now. I hope everyone had an exceptional weekend...

[I know I sound like a total geek, but if you are interested in more pictures like this, check out Nasa's Astronomy picture of the day - it's quite cool. Enjoy!]