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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Books Read in 2016

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (Penguin Random House Crown/Achetype 2012).  Audible. 4 stars out of 5. 
A book that criticizes some of the modern trends I find most maddening, and also vindicates my entire way of being.  What's not to like? Key Quote: "Any time people come together in a meeting, we're not necessarily getting the best ideas; we're just getting the ideas of the best talkers."

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Barnes and Noble Softcover Classics edition.  2 stars out of 5.
An evil fable.  I was surprised how little plot there was. If you know the main idea, which almost everyone does, there's really little need to read the book, which doesn't offer much story beyond that main idea.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury Trade Paperback 60th Anniversary Edition. 5 stars out of 5.
A re-read of an old favorite.  It's interesting how at different ages and different times in my life the same story seems to mean different things to me.

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 1955) Kindle.  5 stars out of 5.
The best biography of C.S. Lewis is his own memoir of his conversion from Atheism to Christianity. Key quotes: "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.  There are traps everywhere . . . .  God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." "The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation."

Tour of the Jungfrau Region.  A Two Week Trek in the Berner Oberland by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone Press 2012)  5 Stars out of 5.
A book for dreaming.

Walking in the Bernese Oberland.  Over 100 Walking Routes by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone Press 2015).  4 stars out of 5.  
The book which taught me to seek out Oeschinensee.  Key quotes: "With the classic trio of Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau as its most iconic symbol, the Bernese Oberland hosts some of the best-known mountains in the Alps.  Rising out of lush green meadows they tower above chalets bright with geraniums and petunias; a stark contrast of snow, ice and rock against a kaleidoscope of flower shrub and pasture; an awesome backdrop to an Alpine wonderland." "Every corner of the Berner Oberland range has its own touch of magic."

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic 2016).  Hardcover.  3 stars out of 5. 
An enjoyable Potter-world take on the classic Butterfly Effect time travel plot device (the best version of which is still to be found in Ray Bradbury's classic short story "A Sound of Thunder.").  As a book, it's a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but not likely to pass the test of time in the same way as the novels.  I suspect it's better as a play and would like to see it someday.

Flashpoint, by Geoff Johns, Andy Kubert, and Sandra Hope. Paperback Edition Graphic Novel (DC Comics 2011).  3 stars out of 5. 
Another take on the butterfly effect story.  In some ways better, and in some ways less so, than Rowling's version.

The Life of Greece, by Will Durant (Simon & Schuster 1939) Audible.  5 stars out of 5.  

To be ignorant of "Greek thought and life, and of the arts in which the Greeks expressed their thought and sentiment," is, in the words of Charles Eliot Norton, to remain "ignorant of the best intellectual and moral achievements" of the race of man.  If this is true, then it is truly tragic that Americans no longer know what we should about ancient Greece and its key personalities, because the ruthlessly utilitarian nature of our educational reforms for the past century have cut us off from our heritage as the heirs of Western Civilization.  Reading this book is one way I have tried to remedy this deficit in my education, and to restore that which was stolen from me by John Dewey.
The book is magnificent, not just for the history it covers, but for the way that Will Durant has with words, and for his aphoristic asides on the inevitable patterns of history ("A nation is born stoic and dies epicurean." "It is as difficult to begin a civilization without robbery as it is to maintain it without slaves." "Around every Rome hover the Gauls; around every Athens some Macedon.")
The Audible Version, read by narrator Stephan Rudnicki, one of my favorites, who also reads several of Audible's versions of Orson Scott Card's books, is amazing.  The book led me to believe this: There are no new or modern ideas.  Every idea I have ever heard or read, about philosophy, literature, parody, satire, humor, art, science, medicine, atheism, politics, social science, economics, etc., can it seems be found, in its original and nascent form, in the writings of some ancient Greek.  Nor are there any original ways for a society to commit suicide.  Every version of societal decay and dissolution and fall from prosperity and prominence has been reenacted hundreds of times before in the various epochs of the hundreds of city-states of ancient Greece.  All that is wrong with America today might be remedied if we knew enough about this history to heed its warnings.  But we don't.  So we won't.
Key quotes: "Excepting machinery, there is hardly anything secular in our culture that does not come from Greece.  Schools, gymnasiums, arithmetic, geometry, history, rhetoric, physics, biology, anatomy, hygiene, therapy, cosmetics, poetry, music, tragedy, comedy, philosophy, theology, agnosticism, skepticism, stoicism, epicureanism, ethics, politics, idealism, philanthropy, cynicism, tyranny, plutocracy, are all Greek words for cultural forms seldom originated, but in many cases first matured for good or evil by the abounding energy of the Greeks."
"All of the problems that disturb us today --the cutting down of forests and the erosion of the soil; the emancipation of woman and the limitation of the family; the conservatism of the established, and the experimentalism of the unplaced, in morals, music, and government; the corruptions of politics and the perversions of conduct; the conflict of religion and science, and the weakening of the supernatural supports of morality; the war of the classes, the nations, and the continents; the revolutions of the poor against the economically powerful rich, and of the rich against the politically powerful poor; the struggle between democracy and dictatorship, between individualism and communism, between the East and the West -- all these agitated, as if for our instruction, the brilliant and turbulent life of ancient Hellas. There is nothing in Greek civilization that does not illuminate our own."
"Individualism in the end destroys the group, but in the interim it stimulates personality, mental exploration, and artistic creation.  Greek democracy was corrupt and incompetent, and had to die.  But when it was dead men realized how beautiful its heyday had been; and all later generations of antiquity looked back to the centuries of Pericles and Plato as the zenith of Greece, and of all history."
"Historians divide the past into epochs, years, and events, as thought divides the world into groups, individuals, and things; but history, like nature, knows only continuity amid change: . . .  history makes no leaps."
"Equality is unnatural; and where ability and subtlety are free, inequality must grow until it destroys itself in the indiscriminate poverty of social war; liberty and equality are not associates but enemies. The conentration of wealth begins by being inevitable, and ends by being fatal."
"Forced to choose, the poor, like the rich, love money more than political liberty; and the only political freedom capable of enduring is one that is so pruned as to keep the rich from denuding the poor by ability or subtlety and the poor from robbing the rich by violence or votes.  Hence the road to power in Greek commercial cities was simple: to attack the aristocracy, defend the poor, and come to an understanding with the middle classes."
"Man became free when he recognized that he was subject to law.  That the Greeks, so far as our knowledge goes, were the first to achieve this recognition and this freedom in both philosophy and government is the secret of their accomplishment, and of their importance in history."
"Science and philosophy, in the history of states, reach their height after decadence has set in; wisdom is a harbinger of death."
"No great nation is ever conquered until it has destroyed itself."


Currently reading:

Contested Will by James Shapiro

After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Is Natural Beauty an Evidence of God?

This is the view of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, as seen from just outside the largest church building in the car-free hilltop village of Wengen, Switzerland.  

It is, in my opinion, perhaps the most beautiful view on planet earth.  But then, I am partial to Switzerland.  

Near the Church stands a plaque containing a written prayer, composed by one Arnold Lunn. [Endnote 1]

I won’t attempt a word for word translation.  But the gist, if my rusty LDS Missionary German is still any good to me at all, is essentially as follows:  The author and offeror of the prayer thanks his dear Lord for the beloved mountains of his youth, the call of their peaks and the tracks in their snow; for the friends who were the companions of his youth, and for his other blessings.  But most of all, he thanks the Lord for the ongoing revelation he feels he receives every time he views the beauty of the mountains around him, the timebound beauty of which strengthens his faith in the eternal beauty of God, which shall not end.  

I love this little prayer.  Indeed, just the word timebound (“zeitgebund”), was worth the journey to that Church, almost as much as the view.  What an incredibly great word, especially when placed in juxtaposition to the word eternal (“ewig”), to describe that not bound in time: so much more evocative than “temporal” or the German “zeitlich” into which it is generally translated.  But I mainly love this poem because, like Lunn, whose faith in eternal beauties was strengthened by their earthly counterparts, I see evidence of God’s design when I am confronted by natural beauty.   

I can already hear my more scientism-oriented acquaintances raising their objections. [2] The beauty of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, of the entire Berner Oberland which surrounds it, is, after all, wholly subjective, and therefore presumably has nothing to teach us.  What’s more, everything which Lunn found so strengthening to his faith in God has a non-religious, natural explanation.  The valley of the Lauterbrunnen was carved by a glacier in the last ice age. The hills and the alps which rise above that valley arose through tectonic forces. The waterfalls which grace the cliffsides are the inevitable result of the water cycle in action: As the winds of Europe hit the Swiss Alps, they release the moisture evaporated from below and snow it upon their lofty peaks, where it melts into the waterfalls, as the melting water seeks the sea through the force of gravity. Every disappointed Zermatt tourist who has ever cursed the cloud blocking his view of the Matterhorn has seen this process in action.  While the water cycle and its ongoing recycling of fresh water is incredibly important to human and all other forms of life, and while perpetual waterfalls are a lovely way of being reminded of this important natural phenomenon, it is, after all, a natural phenomenon, and the waterfalls are, in the end, merely places where lots of water happens to plunge over a cliff, on a journey to the sea no more or less important than that of any other water taking any other route.

And I get all of that. I understand (not well, but in its basic fundamentals) the science.  I even understand the social science, political and economic, that explains why the citizens of Lauterbrunnen built a multi-story automobile garage for the tourists to utilize, and then put grass on its roof so it wouldn’t spoil those tourists’ view.  

Nevertheless, I cannot look upon the Lauterbrunnen Valley without persisting in my belief that I am seeing the handiwork of God.  The same is true of many other natural scenic wonders which I count among my favorite places on earth, both in Switzerland, and in the American West: Appenzellerland; Ebenalp; Seealpsee; Hoher Kasten; Oeschinensee; the waterfall in Yellowstone; Red Rock, on the Western side of the Las Vegas, Nevada valley, in the morning when the sun is shining on its red and white and vermillion colors; Zion National Park; Mount Timpanogos.  Like C.S. Lewis, who defended the objectively sublime nature of waterfalls in his masterpiece, The Abolition of Man, I just can’t bring myself to look upon such beauty and see only an uncreated place, exhibiting purely natural phenomena, and of purely utilitarian interest.  

Or if I can, I can’t take the next step.  The bottom line, for me, is this: I could perhaps believe, if I absolutely had to, that a place like the Lauterbrunnen Valley might come to exist for purely natural reasons, which neither require nor allow for any explanation involving any metaphysical agency or intent or design.  But what I can’t believe is that such a place would haphazardly come to exist in the same Universe where someone like Arnold Lunn, or myself, could also, equally haphazardly, come to exist, and, looking upon the Lauterbrunnen, would call it beautiful.  Indeed, it is not so much that it is impossible to conceive of the Lauterbrunnen Valley in a Godless universe.  It is, rather, more so, that it is impossible for me to conceive of a Godless universe whose inhabitants have a word which means “beauty.” The Lauterbrunnen Valley may or may not evidence the design of God, but poetry about Lauterbrunnen surely does.  

Endnote 1: I assumed Lunn was a local boy, but Wikipedia advises he was the inventor of the slalom ski race, founder of the Alpine Ski Club which encouraged skiing in the Swiss Alps, a youthful agnostic who later wrote defenses of the Catholic faith, and an anti-Communist writer for National Review.  No wonder I loved his written prayer, it's as though two of my favorite writers, G.K. Chesterton and William F. Buckley, were combined into someone who also loved two of my favorite things in the world: Switzerland and Snow-Skiing. 

Endnote 2: For the difference between science and scientism, see The Restitution of Man: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism  by Michael D. Aeschliman.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Brief History of Western Civilization and Its 20th Century Suicide

@ 2100 BC Abram becomes Abraham, covenants with God.

@ 2000 BC forward: Abraham's grandson Jacob's name is changed to Israel, he fathers 12 sons, including Levi, Joseph (father of Manasseh and Ephraim) and Judah, who become the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

@ 1450 BC forward: Moses liberates the Israelites from Slavery in Egypt and delivers the Ten Commandments, Torah written.  Old Testament begins to be written.

@1010 forward:  King David reigns in Jerusalem. First Temple in Jerusalem built.

931 BC King Solomon dies. Israel splits into two kingdoms.

721 BC Assyria conquers the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its Ten Tribes.  The remaining Israelites in the southern Kingdom surrounding Jerusalem, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and the Temple Levites, eventually come to be known as the Jews. Further Old Testament histories written, which will become the fundamental narratives of the Western World until the 1960s A.D.  Implicit in these histories is the idea that history is not merely circular, but progresses and advances; that God created humans; that God is our Father, and that individual humans therefore have divine individual worth and purpose.

480 BC Greece's unlikely victory over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, after an earlier, similarly implausible victory at Marathon, paves the way for Greece's Golden Age, and makes a future Western Civilization version of Europe, rather than an Eastern or Zoroastrian version, possible.

@ 320 BC Aristotle produces the Nicomachean Ethics, describing the virtues based on the reasonably ascertainable purpose or end (telos) of a man. Though based on reason, rather than revelation, Greek philosophy implicitly agrees with the religion of Israel that human beings are created and have, in philosophic terms, the ability to instantiate their rationally discernible purpose, or, in religious terms, the ability to fulfill the measure of and reason for their creation.  This idea of man having a purpose, or telos, will remain central to Western thought until it is challenged by philosophers during the Enlightenment, and by the masses in the 1960s AD.

@146 BC Rome conquers Greece but adopts Hellenic philosophy as its governing culture.

@146 BC Rome destroys Carthage.  This lack of external opposition proves unfortunate to Roman unity, and leads to class strife and internal disunion at Rome.

23 BC After crossing the Rubicon, Julius Caesar establishes a military dictatorship. The Roman Republic becomes the Roman Empire, led by military dictators beginning with Julius Caesar, and then Augustus Caesar, giving us the name of the 7th and 8th months, and establishing the basic plotline of George Lucas's Star Wars movies.

April 6 (March 25 on the Julian Calendar) of @ year 1 AD: Jesus born.

@ 30 AD  Jesus teaches the Sermon on the Mount, which becomes the fundamental text of Christianity until the Nicene Creed, and which teaches that we should address God, in prayer, as our Father.  Christ's other teachings include the Golden Rule, to do unto others as we would have done unto us. Christ teaches his followers to spread Christianity through evangelism, not the sword.  They sometimes get that right.  Christianity adds new virtues: faith, hope, and charity, to those spoken of by the pagan philosophers.

@ 33 AD Jesus crucified and resurrected.

@ 36 AD forward: Paul's conversion and ministry.

70 AD Romans sack Jerusalem. Jewish Diaspora begins.

70 AD to 300 AD Christianity spreads throughout Roman Empire. 

1 AD to 500 AD Basic elements of Judeo-Christian Western Civilization fused together, including the three-legged stool of Judeo-Christian Biblical Religion, Greek Philosophy and democratic ideals, and Roman Law.

312 AD Constantine gives Christianity favored status in Roman Empire.

325 AD Nicene Creed.  Creedal Christianity replaces biblical/revelatory Christianity.  But on the bright side, establishes and maintains (with some unfortunate losses) the essence of the Bible, which becomes a guiding text of Western Civilization until the 1960s.

476 AD Fall of the Western Half of the Roman Empire.

610 AD forward: Establishment of Islam and Publication of the Koran.  Islamic Jihad spreads the religion of Mohammed throughout the East via the sword.  Soon the religion and its Jihadists come to a Europe struggling to move from the dark ages to the middle ages.

732 AD Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer) wins the battle of Tours against Islamic Jihadist invaders, making the continued existence of a Judeo-Christian Biblical Europe possible.

1265-1274 AD Thomas Aquinas writes the Summa Theologica, incorporating Aristotelian Philosophy with Roman Catholicism.  The idea of man's and nature's telos, or designed purpose, remains central to Western thought. 

1400-1900 Western Civilization's 500 year great rise, from the Middle Ages to world supremacy: Increasingly technologically superior Europeans begin to migrate to, colonize, and settle throughout the world, spreading Western languages, religions, and philosophies with them.

1350-1400 Italian Renaissance.

1453 Fall of the Byzantine Empire (i.e., fall of the Eastern half of what was once the Roman Empire).

1492 Spain ousts the Moors.  Columbus discovers what Europeans regard as the New World.

1492 forward: European colonization of the New World.

1517 Martin Luther posts the 95 Theses. Protestant reformation begins.

1588 England defeats the Spanish Armada.  Spain in decline.  England and France in ascendance.

1750 to 1850: The Age of Enlightenment.  Scientific Method replaces religion as dominant method for understanding the world. Reason displaces revelation.

1776: America's Declaration of Independence

1789: America's Constitution and Bill of Rights.

1830: Restoration of Biblical / Revelatory Christianity.

1830: Pure and precious truths removed from the Bible are restored through the publication of the Book of Mormon.

Late 1800s.  Educated Europeans cease believing in God and cease believing in any telos.  The entire premise of Western Civilization, which has guided Western thought for 2,500 years, namely, Aristotle's telos, and revealed religion's belief in a Creator who created us for a divine purpose, which allows us to fulfill the measure (or telos) of our creation, is replaced by a worldview in which human beings have no telos, and are no more than a part of a natural order which can be entirely explained through causes and effects which are completely haphazard and natural and non-directed, and are not the result of any outside agency or design, but which have no design, purpose, or meaning. (On the bright side, the Enlightenment does eventually give us a cure for Polio, put a man on the moon, and allow us to livestream Netflix and play videogames with really cool graphics--whether these advances are worth the cost shall, however, remain highly debateable.)

1886.  Nietzsche announces that God is Dead, because educated people don't believe in him anymore, and publishes Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche's basic philosophy, which comes to be adopted by most of Western Civilization is predicted and summarized in 2 Nephi 2:13 and Alma 30:17. It is the polar opposite of anything written in Aristotle, the Hebrew Bible, Summa Theologica, or the Book of Mormon. There is no telos.  Therefore, there is no virtue.  Therefore, there is no good or evil, only power, and those who are willing to obtain it.  Nietsche predicts the coming violence which will shake Western Civilization as it moves into a new phase of history based on his philosophy, and the total eclipse of all values represented thereby. 

Late 1800s to early 1900s.  Western man, having rejected God, tries to "find something other than God which will make him happy." (C.S. Lewis.) Various alternatives are proposed, including fascism, nationalism, socialism, Marxism, Fabianism, Nazi-ism, etc.  G.K. Chesterton points out that it is the doctrines of Christianity which have allowed freedom and liberty to be enjoyed in the West, and that none of these isms will credibly replace it.  But despite being a best-selling author, his critics do better in the polls.

1914: The new isms which have replaced God begin a war, and the post-Enlightenment, non-telos believing Europeans go to the "Great War" with each other, thus beginning Western Civilization's post-Enlightenment 20th Century suicide, in a culture beyond good and evil, enjoying the total eclipse of all values.

1916: Millions of Europeans slaughter each other in the Battle of the Somme, and other WWI battlefields, using the weaponry made possible by their own advanced technologies, thus continuing Western Civilization's post-Enlightenment 20th Century suicide.

1918.  The Great War ends.  The unfair treaties imposed upon the losing nations set the stage for:

1939-1945: WWII, which continues Western Civilization's post-Enlightenment 20th Century suicide.  The Great War is renamed "WWI".  Millions of Europeans are never born, because their fathers and grandfathers never returned from the battlefields of WWI and WWII to start a family.  How this impacted 

1948: Iron curtain descends.  Israel established.  UN Created.  Post-WWII international monetary system established, and the other elements are put in place for:

1948 -1989 The Cold War.

1956-2015.  War - weary atheist Europeans trade in Christianity for socialism and stop having children, thus continuing Western Civilization's post-Enlightenment 20th Century suicide. They soon realize that being cradle-to-grave dependents of the State requires workers and that they don't have enough workers, since they stopped having children.  Thus they look to neighboring countries where men and women are still procreating, from which new workers can be imported, and they then begin inviting massive numbers of Muslims, who are still having children, into their countries.  The ancient Greek soldiers who fought at Salamis and Marathon roll over in their graves. Thus continues the 20th Century post-Enlightenment suicide of Western Civilization.

1960s: The stupidest implications of the non-telos world take root in the Sexual Revolution.  Between 1960 and 2010, America will see its out-of-wedlock birth rate rise from 5% to almost 50%.  Welfare spending explodes in response to (and as one of the causes of) this phenomenon.

1970 to 1979.  America's welfare rules subsidize illegitimacy.  Illegitimacy rates continue to rise.  Weird.

1973: Roe v. Wade

1980: God gives America one last chance.  Reagan elected.

1989: Reagan's policies win the Cold War, usher in 25 years of economic prosperity.  Americans celebrate by resuming and continuing the stupidity of the 1960s.

1996.  Tom Wolfe publishes his article, "Sorry but your soul just died" in which he predicts that some new Nietzsche will soon arrive to announce that agency is dead, as educated human beings no longer believe in free will.  It's a telos free world indeed.  Wolfe also predicts that the world-war era violence which shattered the world as it descended into an "eclipse of all values" once it stopped believing in God, is nothing like the coming eclipse of all values which will descend upon us once we stop believing in our own agency. So we have that to look forward to.  

1992-2000: News media make sure Bill Clinton gets the credit for the Reagan policies which continue to bear economic fruit throughout the 1990s, which credit Clinton uses as cover to sexually exploit women while keeping his poll numbers up.  The same feminists who regard Clarence Thomas as a sexual predator for having allegedly once used the phrase "pubic hair" in front of a woman, love Clinton despite the number of women who credibly accuse him of sexual assault and rape.  They also love his wife, who is in charge of the goon squads which silence and intimidate his victims. Go figure.  It's a telos-free world.  The only thing that matters, as Nietzsche or Korihor would say, is power.  One Time Magazine reporter, Nina Burleigh, explains that she'd be happy to give Bill Clinton oral sex just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.  This may seem an odd statement for a woman who describes herself as a feminist, and therefore allegedly pro-woman, to make.  But remember, it's a telos free world.

September 11, 2001.  World Trade Center and Pentagon attacked by Muslim terrorists.  Americans learn that history has not ended after all. Worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor.

2000 to 2010: Massive immigration from third world allows the electorate in America to be transformed from the type of electorate which would vote for Reagan, into the type of electorate which would vote for Obama.  Twice.  The pitch to immigrants apparently goes something like this: "Come to America.  We are more prosperous than the country you are fleeing.  But you don't understand why, do you?  Good: Once you get here, vote for the same policies that made your home country a third-world hell-hole.  They will magically work here, even though they didn't work in your home country."  This sales pitch apparently works, not just for immigrants, but also for America's own citizens, most of whom are too uneducated to have the slightest idea of why America works and Venezuela doesn't.  Some blame Teachers' Unions for the ignorance of the American electorate.  Others blame Videogames and Netflix.

2012.  Sam Harris publishes "Free Will" fulfilling Tom Wolfe's prediction, and announcing that agency and free will are illusions.  Thus, argues Harris, violent murderers and rapists should not be held accountable for their conduct, as they had no choice but to act the way they did.  Republicans, however, who continue to believe in free will, should be held accountable for holding such a dangerous belief.  Apparently, this lack of accountability thing can only be extended so far.  Which leads us to the "total eclipse of all values" which Tom Wolfe said would come next . . . . 

2013.  Schuette decision upholds the equal protection clause, and rules that, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's case law allowing affirmative action as an exception to the equal protection clause, States are not mandated to discriminate against white males.  The Obama appointed Justices, however, dissent, and, led by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, argue that the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution mandates that white males be discriminated against by State governments.  Welcome to the total eclipse of all values. 

2015: The Obergefell Decision.  The Supreme Court puts an exclamation mark on the sexual revolution, which has done so very much good in the world, and furthers the total eclipse of all values, while officially announcing the era of the Post-Christian West, by announcing that men and women are indistinguishable and interchangeable; that the pre-political institution of marriage is a creation of the federal government; and that the authors of the 14th Amendment secretly included a provision, in invisible penumbra ink which only the very wise can see, mandating that every State in the Union recognize the union of a man and a man as a marriage.  And also that a tail is a leg and a triangle can have four sides if the Supreme Court says so.  And also that children don't fare best with both a mom and a dad and anyone who says otherwise is guilty of a hate crime.  The citizens of the nation react by enthusiastically telling each other: "The emperor is fully clothed!  No, really, he is, he is!" "You don't see his clothes?"  "You must not be as virtuous as me.  You must be a bigot.  Come now, just agree with me that the naked emperor has clothes on, and you can be virtuous too!"

2016.  The Governments of Europe allow a million Muslim refugees to enjoy residency within their borders.  Thus continues the post-Enlightenment suicide of Western Civilization in Europe.  Charles Martel and the soldiers he fought with at Tours roll over in their graves.  Some of the Muslims have a deeper sense of irony, and a longer view of history, than the European Governments have.  They resume their jihad, which was not, after all, ended by Charles the Hammer, but merely delayed and interrupted for all these inconvenient centuries.  They begin to terrorize the local populace, secure in their understanding that European societal suicide continues apace, and that the future belongs to the fertile.

2016.  Even as socialist economies the world over, from Venezuela to Greece, are collapsing, millions of American Millennials enthusiastically embrace the candidacy of an American Socialist, who runs on a platform of "What has never worked anywhere, will surely work just fine here."  Americans are not sure where blame should be placed for the utter idiocy of their Millennials.  Some blame the Teachers Unions.  Others blame Netflix and videogames. 

2016.  Americans' two major political parties nominate for the office of the Presidency the two worst and most unqualified and corrupt and narcissistic candidates in the history of the Republic. Many are baffled as to how this could have happened.  Personally, I blame cable television. And Nietzsche.   There is no telos, and therefore all that matters is power.

2024. U.S. Constitution amended by the U.S. Supreme Court to guarantee free food, free healthcare, free minimum income payable by the government for all citizens, and free education through graduate school to all Americans.

2030.  China demands that all future U.S. debts be secured, via deeds of trust against federal and state owned property, U.S. military equipment, and all U.S. and state infrastructure.  President Michelle Obama reluctantly agrees, as there is no way to keep her campaign promises of  honoring the new constitutional amendments for free stuff and a minimum income, without running up additional debt, which China will no longer grant on an unsecured basis.

2032.  Chief Justice Sotomayor announces, under the now prevailing doctrines she first described in her Schuette dissent, that the equal protection clause requires that only non-whites will be allowed to vote in the next several elections, until further notice.

2036: Chelsea Clinton, although not herself allowed to vote, wins the nomination of her party (known as the Black Lives Matter Party) for the White House by promising to give the Southwestern United States, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah, back to Mexico.  

2046: China forecloses on the $125 trillion in U.S. Debt which it holds. Allows America limited sovereignty but only over its own domestic affairs.  Takes over all military equipment, all national parks, all infrastructure, and all federal lands.

2075.  The West is dead.  Europe is 90% Muslim.  America is still allowed some degree of political sovereignty by China, which is exercised under the control of a single political party known as the "Black Lives Matter" party, which holds regular public executions of white police officers.  The history of the rise and fall and death of Western Civilization would make for a fascinating book.  But no one cares enough to write it, let alone to read it.   What's on Netflix?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

How to Travel to Switzerland

Since returning from my LDS Mission in Switzerland 25+ years ago, I have always had the dream of one day returning, and experiencing that beautiful country again, with my wife.  Last month, we were able to accomplish this life-time dream not only together, but with our children.  Here's a how to list for anyone wanting to make a similar trip.

Step 1. Save Your Money.  Switzerland can be an expensive country to visit.  Give yourself some time to save up for a trip. 15 or 20 years should be more than enough.  It will help if, during those years, you avoid money pits: so try not to buy a boat, dig a pool, or build a cabin.  Just remember: experiences, not things.

Step 2. Know Your Miles-Earning Credit Cards.  This only helps, of course, if you actually pay your cards down quickly after using them, so the offsetting interest doesn't take away your savings.  But if you are in a position to do that, travel points can be very helpful.  We liked the Capital One Venture Card, which is fairly simple to use, and isn't tied into any particular airline or hotel chain.  You earn points for your purchases, and you can use those points to erase travel expenditures from your invoice.  You can do this after the fact, so you don't have to jump through any special hoops to buy your tickets using your points or anything like that. Just pay for your tickets, or hotel rooms or whatever, using your card, and then call in or go online and apply any points you have on hand to reducing the charge of those items.  Easy peasy.  We were able to shave off quite a bit of money from our airfare costs using these points, after we had bought the tickets but long before we actually even left.  The Venture Card is also handy to use overseas, as it is chip enabled, and thus valid for use abroad, and doesn't charge any transaction fees when you use it overseas.

Step 3. Know Your Low-cost Air Carriers.  One of the reasons we even thought about going to Switzerland was because we learned in December of some incredible airfare rates, for tickets direct from Las Vegas to Stockholm Sweden, for less than $215.00, which were being offered on Norwegian Air, at, in May and early June.

In addition to Norwegian, Iceland Air apparently has some very competitive rates to Europe as well at the moment.  Our travel dates didn't coincide with these great rates in both directions, as we traveled back home after the rates had bumped up, but still, the trip over there was cheap enough for us to afford the trip back, and even the return fares were really pretty decent all things considered. Once we had arrival dates in Stockholm, finding inter-European flights (we went with SAS) wasn't too bad.  The round-trip was still far cheaper than anything I was able to find with a single airline on at the time of our booking, and was lower than flights available at Expedia with much longer or more stops. One word of warning if you do it this way though, as opposed to booking with the same airline: This meant we had to go get our one checked bag and re-check ourselves, and it, in at the Stockholm Airport, for the second leg of our flight. When our Norwegian flight left 1.5 hours late, I was pretty nervous about whether we would make our connecting flight. It turned out fine (the plane didn't arrive as late as it left, and the second flight was late too), but still: if you aren't booking on the same airline that will have to accommodate you if one leg of your journey is late, give yourself a few hours' cushion between anticipated landing and the take-off for that connecting flight.  


-I never understood the logic of the U-Shaped travel pillow until I tried to sleep on the 10 hour flight from Las Vegas to Stockholm.  But the logic becomes very clear once you are trying to sleep sitting almost upright on a tightly packed airplane and the heaviness of your own head, unsupported, keeps you from being able to do so.  I bought one at the airport before getting on the flight home.  Worth every penny.
- Your flight may just have plugs under the seat to allow you to keep your phone or laptop charged while you are underway.  Ours did but I didn't realize this until the trip home.  Would have saved me the weight of the portable charger I brought along had I known this beforehand.
- If you leave in the evening and arrive at your destination in the evening, you'll find that you get a really good night sleep upon your arrival, as you probably didn't sleep terrifically fantastic on the flight.  You'll wake up the next morning on the new time schedule without any real jetlag issues. We arrived in the evening both going over and coming back and this worked out really, really, well. Otherwise, try not to sleep when you first arrive, so your first night's sleep will get you on the right schedule and past your jetlag.

Step 4.  Don't Delay Getting Your Kids' Passports.  If your children don't have passports, you'll want to get them sooner rather than later.  The process is sure to make you need therapy.  So plan ahead for that cost.  Here's how it works.  Go online to find the phone number for scheduling appointments at a local post office.  You'll need to find a date and time when both you, and your minor children, and your spouse, can all be there together.  You know, to make sure no one's going to start some international child custody battle. Once you've found a few possible dates (because how hard is that for any of us, really, to find a weekday when we and our kids and our spouse can all be at the same place at the same time during working hours) call that number.  It will be busy. Then call again several times until you get a recording telling you that all of their operators are now busy.  Wait on the line until you realize you weren't put on hold, but were just hung up on.  Wake up early the next morning and call first thing for several minutes in a row until you get through to an actual human being.  They will schedule an appointment for you for three weeks out, at a post office on the other side of town. Three weeks later, the evening before your appointment, you'll get a voice-mail informing you that no one is available tomorrow at the office where you booked your appointment, so you'll have to book another appointment instead.  The person who leaves this message won't leave their name or their phone number, so you'll just have to start the whole process over again.  Also, the person who leaves this message won't bother to inform you that the reason no one will be at the post office tomorrow to handle your appointment is that there is a passport fair going on at the local scout office, and all of the workers will be there, where you could be too if she bothered to inform you of that fact.  Start the process over. Then find out from a friend's cousin that the local clerk's office does this without an appointment.  Go by to check this rumour out and find it isn't true any more.  Then find out through another cousin's friend's nephew that the Henderson City Clerk's Office offers passport services without an appointment.  Why a municipal office is able to handle this federal function better than a federal post office is a question it is best not to contemplate.  Show up on the first day of Spring break, a half an hour early, at the Henderson City Clerk's Office, which is not even where you live and is 45 minutes away from your home.  Sign in.  Wait for 3 hours because of all the people who got there even earlier than you and signed in ahead of you.  Fill out the forms and voila, the Henderson City Clerk will send in your kids' passport applications to the Federal Government for you. See how easy that was?  No wonder our Federal Government is so universally admired. 

Step 5.  Know Your Exchange Rates.  One of the reasons I always considered a trip to Switzerland to be prohibitively expensive was that the exchange rate was, for decades, fairly ridiculous, costing perhaps up to $2.30 or more for every 1.00 Swiss Frank, such that (as the two currencies are roughly equivalent in purchasing power, but Switzerland is expensive anyway), a hotel room would cost an American more than twice as much as the already fairly steep price. Switzerland has not adopted the Euro, but the exchange rate with the USD has improved substantially for U.S. travelers in recent years, with the two currencies having recently come to hover near each other in value.  Still, it's worth looking at the trending before you travel, to decide whether you want to reserve or pay now for some of your anticipated expenses. Also, once you are in the country, you'll often be asked by the card reader whether to pay either in CHF (the Swiss currency, CHocolate Franks) or USD.  I always assumed the USD option had merchant processing fees attached and went with the CHF, which was typically a smaller number; but its good to be able to do some quick math if you are making a larger purchase, to know what your USD is actually going to look like on your credit card bill.  Otherwise, if you want certainty, you can pick the USD option righ then.  So have a website handy on your smartphone for looking at the rates. Google's search engine can be used as an exchange rate calculator automatically if you just type in CHF USD Exchange Rate.  Also, it's a great idea to find a major branch of your bank that offers monetary exchanges, and get some CHF to have on hand before you go, so you'll have some CHF Franks in your wallet upon your arrival.  You'll want this real money for some purchases, as not every location accepts cards, and sometimes paying in bills is just handier.  Also, if your credit card or ATM card charges you transaction fees for foreign purchases, you'll want to use cash (or find a card that does not charge such fees).

Step 6.  Brush Up on Your German.  After slogging through a few lessons on FluentU, and making my family suffer through a couple of examples of incredibly depressing German cinema on Netflix, I finally discovered what I consider to be the perfect way to remember a language you used to know how to speak.  It's called "Easy German" and it's available on Youtube.  Each episode consists of man in the street interviews in a city in Germany, with subtitles in both English and German.  The German subtitles correct any German that wasn't spoken correctly by a local dialect user or foreign visitor.   Watching a few of these videos was perfect for helping my mind click back into a German gear which was still in there somewhere, and for remembering the basic vocabulary of conversational Deutsch. The videos are brief and fun to watch and don't give you the feeling of doing homework. There's also a related video series, without subtitles, in which the host answers viewer questions.  I found that sister series really helpful for building my confidence that yes, I could understand this language still, even without the crutch of pausing to look at the subtitles and remember or learn the meaning of every single word.  

Here's an episode of the easy German show:

And of the Viewer questions show:

Step 7.  Know Your Swiss Railway Discount Passes. The Swiss Travel Pass allows you to jump on board almost any train, ship, or gondola in the country, without getting a ticket or a reservation beforehand. Even the handful of pricey touristy rides which are excluded from being free (the final leg of the journey to the Jungfraujoch for example) are half price with the pass, a discount which can substantially pay the value of the entire pass.  Plus, it gets you into every museum in the country (which includes all of the castles) for free.  This is a great benefit if you want the flexibility of popping into a castle or local museum for a couple of hours on a rainy morning, and then heading up to the alps later, or taking a boat ride, when the weather clears up, if that's what the forecast calls for.  Two hours in the museum during the rainstorm is a lot easier to justify if you walked in for free, as opposed to spending so much money for tickets that you feel you need to stay for hours to justify the price.  Plus, if you are travelling with (your own) children under 16 years old, your card will allow them to get a family card junior pass (for free or really cheap), such that they essentially go almost everywhere truly for free. The Swiss Travel Pass can be purchased in various allotments (i.e., 4 day, 8 day, etc., beginning on the first day of use).

If you think of Switzerland as one big giant version of Disneyland (which actually makes a weird kind of sense) and you think of your Swiss Travel Pass as your parkhopper pass for 8 days in Switzerdisneyland, the price of one of these passes will suddenly look extremely reasonable (especially in comparison to an actual 3 day Disney parkhopper ticket). 

Nevertheless: they don't make sense for everyone.  My family didn't buy them because we rented a car, rather than travelling by train, and so we weren't sure they would pay for themselves.  However, we did buy half-fare passes (only available for a 30 day period minimum, but still cheaper than an 8 day Swiss travel pass) to reduce the cost of mountain railways and gondolas and all the other means of transport you are going to end up taking to get yourself onto the alps even after travelling there by car. This allowed our under 16 year old son to get a junior pass travel card to go everywhere by train or ship or gondola for free, for only 30 CHF, which, combined with a couple of our train rides, such as our trip up the Jungfraujoch, or the train ride to car free Zermatt, meant the 1/2-fare pass more than paid for itself pretty quickly. Other railway pass options include regional cards, but these are almost as much as the Swiss Travel Pass, so they really only make sense if you are limiting yourself exclusively to the Luzern area, or the Berner Oberland area, or the Zermatt area. There's also a pass for travelers arriving from a foreign border to travel at a reduced rate while in Switzerland.  

All of these various discount passes are well explained at this site, which includes links to purchase the tickets online from the Swiss Railway System:

The parent site is also a great website for all kinds of general information about travelling to Switzerland.  Questions asked in the forums will typically be answered really quickly: 

Step 8. Reserve an Apartment: Better and Cheaper than a Hotel. Long before Airbnb introduced the concept to Americans, the Europeans discovered vacation apartment rentals as a great way to travel, and not just for beach-houses. They are far, far, less expensive, per day, than a hotel, especially if you are travelling with a larger group of people, and would have to book more than one hotel room.  Indeed, I found that some of the cheapest hotel accommodations I could find for my family at 1 star hotels were still far more expensive per night than a 3 star vacation apartment.  I would highly recommend using this site to find your apartment: 

It allows you to search by region, city, price, star ranking, and other criteria, such as whether or not the apartment has a washing machine (yes please) or allows pets (no thank you, I have allergies and don't want to stay someplace where a dog was living last week).  Disclaimer: A lot of apartments are available from Saturday to Saturday, with only Saturday as an available arrival/departure date.  So if you plan your travels with that in mind, you'll have more choices than we did.

Our family of 7 ended up staying for 8 out of our 10-nights on the top floor of this chalet on the upper outskirts of Grindelwald, which came with its own kitchen and family room, two bathrooms, one with a bathtub/shower, along with three bedrooms accommodating 2 beds each, and a couple of extra beds in some storage space off of the family room:

It was very gemuetlich, ranked only 3 stars and was therefore fairly inexpensive but still very nice (it was perfectly clean and as or more spacious inside as some more expensive apartments--the furnishings were unspectacular and you had to walk downstairs into a basement area to use the washing machine).  It had a raclette oven and a fondue maker and an ironing board inside, along with a wifi hotspot, none of which had been advertised, and was loaded with brochures and a big binder full of information on local attractions.  It also had a great somewhat separate entryway to hang coats, hats, and umbrellas and luggage.

The landlord only spoke German, which was fine by me as it gave me a chance to put those Easy German Youtube videos to use and I really enjoyed speaking to her in German and learning about her life and adult children and grandchildren who were all still living in the Grindelwald area.  She told us on our first meeting that, in a couple of days, the local cattle owners would be walking their cows past the chalet, on their road up to the higher pastures and we should watch for them from the balcony, and she explained to us how the process worked of deciding which part of the town would walk up their cows at what time, how few cows most locals actually owned, etc.  She was a little bit komish: she wanted us to compost our compostable garbage even though the lid she gave us for her outside compost bucket didn't fit, so we eventually had to find a rock to keep it from being knocked over by local wildlife after that happened one evening; and she wanted us to use the local tax-redeemable garbage bags, but didn't have any on hand such that she said we should look for them ourselves at the local Migros.  And we had to walk down the hill a bit to recycle the stuff that we weren't supposed to either throw away or compost.  My sense is that her son, who lives on the bottom floor, generally deals with the tourists, and is probably more aware of what it is and isn't reasonable to ask a renter to do (by way of providing any bags yourself that you want us to use) but he was away that week. So whatever. Rather than be annoyed, I found interacting with this lady added a lot of color to our trip, and it was interesting to learn about some of these details of daily life in the area. That's what travelling is for, isn't it, as well as life? to collect stories.

Having a central location for 8 nights and not having to pack every day made everything much easier.  After all, everything in Switzerland is fairly reachable by car or train within two or three hours of Grindelwald, which is basically in the middle of the country (although Interlaken would have been a better access point for drives in either direction, the housing there was a little more pricey, or less was available).  And given the unpredictability of the weather, you don't necessarily want too tight of an itinerary anyway.

Step 9. Know Your Swiss Road Signs.  If you rent a vehicle, some things to know.  The Swiss drive on the same side of the road as Americans, the right (aka correct) side. Since it was the Brits who invented Alpine tourism, more so than even the Swiss, maybe that's why train travel is so popular. When travelling by car, you will often see signs directing you to the same destination via different routes.  It's helpful to know the difference: The green signs will take you on a quicker tollroad, similar to an American freeway in its design.  The blue signs will take you on a surface road or scenic route.  So travel by green signs at night or when getting to your destination quickly is more important to you than a scenic journey.   If you rent a vehicle in Switzerland, it should have a sticker on the front windshield with a green tollway sign on it, allowing the vehicle to travel on the toll roads.  This is important to know if your GPS tries to save you money by directing you away from tollroads. If you have the sticker, ignore your GPS's advice and travel by greenway to get there faster.

Speaking of your GPS, I highly recommend getting one when you rent your vehicle.  We didn't but were upgraded in what must have been a slow week at the rental counter.  Or maybe they were nice because I spoke German with the people at the counter and they thought maybe I'd come back again. Having a GPS in the vehicle was fantastic.  First of all, the computerized GPS lady's voice spoke in German.  I'm not sure exactly why, but this made me feel like James Bond, and with my Bond girl wife in the next seat, somehow ignoring the fact that I was in a minivan with my 5 children sitting behind me. I think I was subconsciously referencing a scene in Tomorrow Never Dies when the computerized car voice speaks to Brosnan in a heavy German accent.  

More importantly, the GPS will keep you from using the map app on your phone, thus keeping your smartphone from racking up enormous data roaming fees, especially after that international plan you paid for from your carrier doesn't last nearly as many days as you had anticipated, limiting your smartphone use to wifi hotspots.  Also, for some reason, some of the map apps want to give you directions in miles, instead of kilometers, which is useless when your odomoter doesn't track miles. 

Parking in the cities isn't bad as long as you know where to look.  Find the Bahnhof, there's always a parking garage nearby, which, in the big cities, will be located underground. Look for the blue sign with a large P underneath a slanted line, indicating covered parking.  You'll have to pay for parking, but the rates aren't too bad.

Step 10: Learn How to Use Your DSLR.  Got a Canon Rebel you picked up at Costco a few years ago but have never really learned what all the knobs and buttons do?  Yeah, me too.  But Switzerland was worth honing my photography skills for.  At the very least, learn the basics of aperture mode, so you can take pictures of your kids in front of the Matterhorn, and both the Matterhorn and your kids will be in focus.

Learning how to use a gopro is a great idea as well, and can inspire you to less passive activities on your trip, with the fisheyed photos and videos giving you a more interesting photographic perspective.  But be careful out there.  I recently read an article indicating that more people now die while taking selfies than die from shark attacks.

Step 11: Ignore Your Well-Intentioned Friends and Relatives, Who Think You Should Go Someplace in Addition to Switzerland While You Are in Europe.

As described in David McCullough's wonderful book Mornings on Horseback, when Theodoore Roosevelt was a young lad, his family did a "grand tour" of Europe.  They spent a year on the continent, and saw all of the sights and experienced all of the experiences that foreign visitors were expected to see and experience.  But at the end, McCullough assures us, they loved Switzerland the best.

Now, ask yourself this question: Do you have the time or the means to spend a year on a grand tour of Europe?  No?  Then why see anything other than the favorite place of those who do: Switzerland?  Besides, everything worth seeing in Europe is in Switzerland.  Want to hang out with snooty French speaking folk?  Go to French Speaking Switzerland.  Want to experience the landscapes of Italy?  Try Bellinzona.  There's a bunch of castles, and it's just like Italy, except its in Switzerland, so its clean and efficient, with trains that run on time, as opposed to being grimy and corrupt, like the real Italy.  Italian - and French speaking Switzerland are sort of like the Epcott versions of Italy and France: the Pizza tastes just as great but you don't feel like your taking your life in your hands if you use a public restroom or spend the night. National Geographic Author Andrew Evans puts it like this, in point 5 of his article "66 Tips to Swiss Bliss": "Tacking on Switzerland as a two-day detour to your European trip to France, Germany and Italy is a serious mistake. Rather, see 'all' of Europe by visiting Switzerland’s four distinct corners. This country is a destination unto itself and deserves the time and attention."

Look, I've seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower, and I'm sure it's lovely in real life.  But I'm also sure, and this is a simple matter of mathematics and quantum physics, that a day spent in Paris is also a day NOT spent in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. And if you've come all the way to Europe, why would you NOT want to spend your time in the Lauterbrunnen Valley?  I mean really.  If you could go to Middle Earth, would you head towards Mordor or Rivendell? The Shire or the boggy marshes?

I suppose, if you must see other countries while in Europe, that a visit to Bavaria or Austria would be worth the effort. But go anywhere else, and you are likely to experience the sad fate and trauma of this little girl, who climbed the Church tower in Frankfurt to look for her beloved Swiss alps, only to realize, "you can't see the mountains" from the Frankfurt Church tower:

What a sad and moving scene.  Don't let this same tragic fate happen to you.  If you are going to Europe, stick to places where you can see the mountains!

The Eiger, the Moench, and the Jungfrau, scientifically proven to be more awe-inspiring and impressive than the Eiffel Tower, or anything you can see from Frankfurt. Cleaner air too.

Step 12: Bone up on your English and American Literature.
As English is not one of Switzerland's 4 official languages, you might think it an odd place to hunt down literary references from the English-speaking world.  But you'd be wrong.  Much of Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad is set in Switzerland, and today you can hike the Mark Twain trail on the Rigi, following in a few hours the route he humorously described as requiring him several days to ascend in that book.  Or watch the sunrise from the Rigi, as he kept failing to do, as also described in his tome. One of Byron's famous poems, The Prisoner of Chillon, was based on the true story of a famous prisoner of that castle, and in 2016, the 200th anniversary of the poem's publication, the castle was full of displays with references to Byron's poem, as well as to his travels throughout the Berner Oberland.  My above-reference to the Lauterbrunnen Valley as equivalent to Rivendell isn't something I just came up with on my own: Tolkien had enjoyed hiking in Lauterbrunnen, and stated that his Rivendell was based on that valley of waterfalls.  Comparing Tolkien's own paintings of Rivendell with photos of the Lauterbrunnen makes the resemblance really clear.  And the Lonely Mountain clearly looks a lot more like the Matterhorn than like anything in Tolkien's England. 

Step 13: Keep Your Itinerary Highly Flexible, and Know Your Webcam and Weather URLs, So you can Plan Your Days Based on the Weather.  The main reason to go to Switzerland is to see the scenery.  But there's a reason that scenery is so green and beautiful: Rain.  Lots and lots of it, all year round.  Except when there's snow.  Rain brings out the beauty, but it also blocks the beautiful Bergen.

So you'll need to have an itinerary that's flexible enough to allow you to get up in the alps to hike and ride the rodelbahns and zipline and take pictures on the sunny days, with other alternative activities (castles, museums, Beatenberg, Trummelbach falls, oldtowns and cathedrals) planned for the rainy days. Then, you'll want to check tomorrow's weather every evening.  And also check mountaintop webcams in the morning, before finalizing your plans for the day (it doesn't do you much good to have "partly cloudy" weather, if those few clouds are right on top of the Schilthorn the day you want to visit).  And if the forecast only calls for two sunny days in a week, do you really want to be committed to taking the Jungfrajoch on one of the rainy days, and then traipsing around Bern or Gruyeres on the next day, when its sunny and Herrlich up in the alps?  I don't think so.  So keep your plans flexible and your weather and webcam sites handy.  This is also an excellent reason for choosing a vacation rental rather than moving to a new hotel in a new part of the country each evening: it gives you a central location from which to take the best possible day trips depending on the weather.  And if that rental is in your favorite region anyway, central Switzerland or the Jungfrau region or near Zermatt, whatever your personal preference may be, so much the better.

I found to be among the more reliable weather forecast sites.  You can type in any city, and it will give you a three or seven day forecast, if you request that as well, showing expected conditions in the morning, at midday, and in the evening and at night.  The weather in the mountains can be fairly unpredictable, so trying to plan more than a day or two ahead can be pretty difficult, but these morning, midday, and evening forecasts were remarkably prescient, at least when checked no more than a couple of days beforehand, and were always spot on as of the night before.  I would have planned our Luzern day differently, and gotten myself up onto the Rigi in the morning, to wait for the clouds to clear, if I had had more faith in the forecast, which said all the rain and clouds were going to be gone by that afternoon. Still, seeing the mountains from the lake, instead of vice-versa, was nice too.  (Switzerland is usually just the opposite, with morning sunshine giving way to afternoon haze and clouds that block obscure the mountain views, but real rain, as opposed to haze, can have a different pattern.)

The Vierwaldstaettersee in the a.m. of June 9, from Kuessnacht, with the Rigi covered in clouds: a rainy morning in and near Luzern, just as had predicted.

Mount Pilatus as seen later that same day from a boat on the Vierwaldstaettersee.  Luzern and its environs are sunny now, in the afternoon, just like said Luzern would be.

Some handy webcams:

Step 14.  Have Fun Dreaming and Planning.

Kev Reynolds has perhaps the best job on earth. He takes people hiking in the alps, during the summer, and gives lectures and writes books about it for British publisher Cicerone Press, during the winter.

I didn't actually go on any of the hikes I read about in his books, Walking in the Bernese Oberland, or Tour of the Jungfrau Region, because late snows meant the two or three routes I had bookmarked weren't passable during my June trip.  But I enjoyed the experience of reading through portions of these books before our trip, for its own sake, and the alternate, more difficult, route we had to take from Maennlichen to Kleine Scheidegg was breathtaking. I also made it to a couple of spots I only knew to look for because of perusing these volumes beforehand: including Oeschinensee, a lake I had never heard of before, which ended up being the whole family's favorite day. We went rowboating and rodelbahn riding instead of hiking while we were there, but I wouldn't have even known to look for this spot if Reynolds' book hadn't mentioned that posters and photos don't do it justice, and it must be seen for oneself to be believed. He was right.

So read guidebooks.  Get a Fodors Switzerland.  Order one of the beautifully artistic official government swiss topo hiking maps and pin it up in your den.  Facebook friend the Swiss railway system.  Watch youtube videos of Freizyt TV, a Swiss-German tv show that encourages weekend ausflugs,,  and do whatever else it takes to get mentally prepared for a great Swiss adventure. 

You may find that planning your trip is almost as fun as being there.

View of the Wetterhorn and the Grindelwald valley from the Romantikweg hike between Maennlichen and Kleine Scheidegg.  What a great day in the alps this turned out to be, made possible by prior planning and earlier daydreaming.