Recent History: Guns Will Not Safeguard Our Freedom

Dear Gun Rights Advocates,

In general, you tend to emphasize personal freedom and liberty and whatnot in your defense of gun ownership–gun ownership is as much a God-given right as breathing or the profit motive. However, you generally have a keen understanding of the principle that individual liberty must be tempered when the human consequences of that liberty are great, so when you are confronted with the negative consequences of large-scale and generally unregulated gun ownership, it becomes necessary to either tone down the gun-ownership rhetoric or show that gun ownership has benefits that outweigh the negative side effects. Of course, the first option is out of the question so your answers, at least in my Facebook feed, to the dangerousness of gun ownership seem to fall into these categories:

  1. There aren’t any real downsides to large-scale societal gun ownership
  2. I need my guns for self-defense against criminals (related: Gun ownership deters crime)
  3. Guns are our defense against tyrrany and loss of constitutional freedom [this one is my focus, here]
  4. Looks like we got ourselves a librul gun control nut on our hands maybe you need a little time at the business end of my .357 to clear your head, if ya knowuttamean. Continue reading

Pants and Mormons

I don’t have anything new to add to the substance of the (apparently raging) debates about pants day or whatever it was that was planned for feminist-leaning ladies in the church. I have empathy and sympathy for most of the people who are or were in on that little consciousness-raising plan, but I also think I understand some of the backlash.

What I really wish is that, somehow–though maybe it wasn’t even possible–this could have been done more subtly, less divisively, and (this is the part that doesn’t seem realistic) in a way that didn’t attract the more extreme elements on both sides who have serious chips on their shoulders. I wish it could have been done in a way that didn’t make this event a target for people so insecure about their own faith that they are terrified of stripping away the thick layer of conformity insulating their testimony, or people so angry that resentment of patriarchy insulates theirs.

It seems to me that this could have been something much more interesting, and less dramatic, than it appears to be becoming–a moment in which some women in the church exercised a prerogative granted to them on paper (most of the time) but often denied verbally, violation of a rule that doesn’t really exist officially but is enforced through social influence. It could have been Jennifer Aniston looking her manager in the face and saying, “Yes ,I’m wearing the minimum number of pieces of flair. That’s all I’m wearing. You keep saying that’s all I’m required to wear, so that’s all I’m wearing. I’m going back to work, now. Let me know if this failure to break rules will have any official consequences.”

Maybe the answer was just to not make it a discrete event at all, but an ongoing trickle of behavioral information through the church. Maybe, like I suggested above, nothing could have kept this from becoming trench warfare on the bloggernacle (as it apparently is).

Anyway, it’s a mess. Like most nasty messes, it reveals more about the players than it does about the issues. From what I’ve seen, it’s revealed the petty meanness of several people on both “sides” (why did there have to be sides?) of this issue (sigh… I guess it’s an issue, now). It has revealed deep insecurities in authoritarians and feminists alike. But mostly it has revealed a fairly large number of people who, as far as I can tell, didn’t want it to become something so divisive.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People — Facebook Edition

I’m supposed to be grading papers, but instead I’m blogging this. I use the term blogging very loosely, because a website that never gets read can’t really be accurately called a blog. But sometimes writing here helps me get my thoughts together and–as long as I back up regularly (!!!)–this might be a nifty adjunct to my nonexistent journal.

Anyway, I argue about politics on Facebook. This has had predictable (but mild) consequences until now: a few people blocked me, a few others quietly ignore anything I say that’s even faintly politically colored, etc. This Fall, however, in the leadup to the 2012 Presidential elections, it got ugly. I try not to post truly nasty things. I don’t post that Fox News watchers are idiots, or that Republicans are fascists or what-have-you… even though I occasionally get these kinds of sentiments from a few of my FB friends, directed at anyone deemed insufficiently conservative. In discussions, I try to be fair, but I also don’t tend to let things go by that make no sense. I try to make my focus more on the process and quality of thinking than on the endpoints of the issues themselves. This has lost me some friends–at least three, by current count. Continue reading

Facebook political arguments

I recently reconnected with a high school friend. As can be expected, we have become very different people from our 17-year-old selves in the past few decades, and we immediately began arguing on Facebook. After a few arguments, it became painfully clear that this was an exercise in frustration. Although I worry this will damage our relationship (which I value despite his rhetorical style), I felt the need to post the following reply to the latest of half a dozen or more of his arguments that exhibited evasion and classical rhetorical errors. It sounds pretty uppity of me–and maybe it is–but I want this recorded because I went to the trouble (a couple of hours, at least) of working some things out for myself about how I think and how I think thinking should–and should not–should be done, at this point in my life. I also think it will be useful to smack my ego down in the future to see what an insufferable twerp I can be on FB.


@XXXXXXX, this is the way many of our discussions on FB have gone, as far as I can tell:

1. You sometimes make assertions about the way things are, about the way they should be, etc.

2. I sometimes challenge those assertions.

3. You defend your assertions by stating things that sound like principles.

4. I question those principles by extending them outside the narrow domains in which you applied them.

5. You tell me my extension is invalid for a variety of reasons, often abandoning your defense of what I originally thought was a principle.

Principles, by nature, tend to apply beyond narrow domains. They don’t apply to every domain, but their limits need to be clearly spelled out and make sense. Those limits, as important parts of the principle, need to be subject to rationality- or reality-testing. Increasingly, however, I have become frustrated talking to you about political things because it seems that what you present as principles really aren’t, for you.
Continue reading

The military is always right about terrorism?

Sigh and sigh again. I’m an idiot, and I can’t keep my mouth shut. I have a friend in the Air Force who recently made a post (on 9/11, notably) from Afghanistan:

Just spent a few hours in Afghanistan today. We couldn’t land for a while because the airport was under attack. When we did land we were told that 4 people were lost in the attack. While we were getting refueled we came under attack again.

It appears the bad guys remember 9/11 as much, if not more, than we Americans do…

Something for those with short attention spans to think about: The bad guys are still out there – and they are STILL attacking us. Just be grateful that our soldiers, sailors, and airmen are overseas…otherwise those attacks would be on our home soil!! Continue reading

Being married to an LDS feminist

I’m married to an LDS feminist, and it is an interesting experience. By interesting I sometimes mean threatening, terrifying, depressing, and confusing. Also thought-provoking, exciting, stimulating, and enlightening. To my knowledge, my wife has never burned a bra, painted a sign (except to harass the other team at a hockey game), or marched on Washington. She didn’t get into feminism because of delayed college-aged adolescent rebellion against authority structures or conformity to her liberal sistren. In fact, calling her a feminist in the context of this piece, without clarification, is actually a bit misleading and reductionist, because I don’t think she is primarily a feminist; I think she’s primarily a person who cares deeply and thinks carefully. And that’s why (I think she would agree–I didn’t ask her before writing this) she has become the flavor of feminist that she is.

Continue reading

Kali, Shiva, Evolution, and JHVH

I grew up with the standard Western-centric, Christian-centric, Mormon-centric view of pretty much everything (though tempered by my father’s consistent call to critical thinking and occasional iconoclasm), so when I learned about non-Christian religious beliefs, the process was tinged with paternalism and a noble-savage mentality. But perhaps one of the few true insights I’ve had in my adult life is that the vast majority of people are at least as smart and good as I and my clan are, and they usually have reasons–good reasons–for their beliefs and actions.

So, Kali and Shiva. In many non-Christian religions the main gods are both creators and destroyers, and these two are nearly the prototype of that kind of god. They manage both life and death, in the endless cycle of the universe. Their postulation and veneration indicate a recognition that these processes are tightly intertwined. I suppose I thought, for years, that the worship of such gods indicated an overly brutal or cruel perspective on life–in other words, an inaccurate worldview–but now it seems to me that these myths are, instead, an indication that those who shaped them were simply paying very close attention to the world. The world, of course, is cruelty, all the way down. It is a vale of tears. It is injustice and death and pain. It’s other things, too–nice things–but we often (these days) focus on those things in church. I’m struck by how fully the Hindus appreciated the bitter side of existence. Continue reading

Why Mormons Should Think Twice Before Identifying Themselves As Republicans (1)

Mormons are Republicans. OK, not everyone, but a lot of them. Especially the ones in the US West. This bothers me, not on the face of it, but because I’ve seen and heard so much from some of these members that suggests they have not fully considered the many relationships between this (or any) political ideology and the doctrine of the LDS church. I’m going to rant for a moment about one of these relationships.

Much has been made by liberals of the Right’s (and Americans’) apparently endless tolerance for violence in media juxtaposed with their moral indignation at representations of (certain kinds of) sex. For me, this was brought poignantly home when Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” was the subject of questionably valid rumors that this or that general authority recommended members selectively lifting their “R-rated movie bans” to see it, because it was so patriotic–despite the horrific and occasionally senseless violence it portrayed. Continue reading

Day 25

Part of me is relieved, as only a doting father can be. Another part, however, feels a growing concern. It’s not her behavior–my darling daughter is a bubbly, adorable infant as she should be–it’s the behavior of–well, things, around her. I still feel a dread at sharing any of this with her mother, who cannot be grieved with vague, probably unfounded worries; but I wish to write my observations, if for no other reason than to discount them with the lifetime of normalcy surely to come.

Two events stand out in my mind: a mere five or ten minutes out of the last week. How important can such a small span of time be? Continue reading

Day 20

I write this with a growing mix of love and dread, mixed perhaps with some fear or fear-like emotion–possibly just extreme nervousness and a bit of flatulence, which–let me tell you–can sometimes turn perfectly ordinary mild fear into full-blown terror. Please let it be the gas. Just the gas. I write so that those who read these words might begin to understand, or at least approximate an understanding, of the heavy @#$% that is going down in the lives of two very normal parents. Okay, mostly normal. Also, what is normal, anyway.

My wife’s pregnancy was uneventful enough, so it seemed: there was some nausea, some glowing, some elation, some very uncomfortable sleeping, some dizziness, some delusions regarding fictitious characters from 1950s sitcoms. All to be expected. Delivery was normal. Everything was normal–delighfully, gorgeously normal–or so I thought at first, and why shouldn’t I? Who expects anything to go wrong, especially something completely foreign not only to his own experience but even to his imagining? Looking back, of course, I can see irregularities. Do they mean anything, or are they merely the hiccups of a genetic heritage that ate too much bratwurst yesterday? Are they omens or the effects of a sleep-deprived new father’s distorted memory? Continue reading

Gender and Brain Lateralization?

Here is some rampant, unsupported speculation: Maybe there’s some kind of case to be made for brain lateralization as a metaphor for gender abilities/roles/specializations/uniquestuffs. You know, say that one side was like “male” and the other was like “female.” No, seriously; dig it:

  • Specialization obviously occurs.
  • There’s some nature going on, but obviously some nurture, too. Separating the two effects can be difficult.
  • The apparent specialization effects that appear when averaging across lots of individuals often disappear when you look closely at any one individual. In other words, variation is more consistent than consistency.
  • Because of the above point, any interventions or even statements regarding individual specialization are likely to be misguided without really getting to know the individual(s) in question, first.
  • Popular belief about specialization is (a) ridiculously simplistic, (b) sometimes inaccurate, and (c) highly resistant to change.

I know, right? It works… at least as far as I’ve taken it. I’m not sure how much farther the metaphor can be pushed, though.

Conference Spring 2011

I’ma blog a bit about conference. Just random thoughts, and I make no guarantee that I’ll get everything (or even listen to all the talks). Note: I missed yesterday (Saturday) because of childbirth education classes and then trying to catch up on the work I missed while in said classes. So I’m starting with…

Sunday Morning Session

Elder Uchtdorf

  • The story about the young girl dying of cancer, requesting a visit from the President, made me wonder if being a General Authority means, in effect, being faced with others’ death and suffering on a much more regular basis than most of us Middle-Class Americans are. Maybe lots of people at death’s door call a prophet. If this is the case, then this might serve as a lovely self-regulating principle throughout church leadership. Maybe our leaders, by virtue of being leaders, are given an increased dose of the existential suffering of others that led Siddhartha to question his luxurious existence — the suffering that Jesus’ ministry largely targeted. I like to think that there are processes like this: the Lord qualifying whom He calls.

H. David Burton

  • I unashamedly promote (though do not always exemplify… oops) awareness of the Church’s responsibility to improve the physical fortunes of the poor, not only defined absolutely (those who can’t buy food) but relatively (those whose neighbors all have nice cars and they don’t). I think the existence of such inequities reflects very badly both on our Christianity and our humanity. So this talk was gratifying to hear, preached to a membership that (in my experience) has sometimes seemed willing to promote the principles of the Law of the Harvest over those of mercy and Christlike love.
  • “Helping people versus helping people to help themselves.” Absolutely. Sustainable charity. This includes things like preparation, thrift, and all the other things said in this talk. What has often bothered me is the tendency of some members to use phrases like this as a smokescreen for vindictiveness, selfishiness, or petty class warfare. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell whether people preaching “tough love”-type charity really mean this, or are motivated by one of the less-laudable possibilities I mentioned above. One touchstone, I suggest, might be such individuals’ messages regarding education. Those who insist that education should be withheld from those who have reduced opportunity to pay for it are, I believe, probably not motivated by actual caring for the less fortunate. Education is preparation; it provides the skills for self-reliance. Withholding it reeks of the “haves” holding onto their loot for fear that the “have-nots” might get some of it.

Silvia H. Allred

  • This talk was nice, but I was busy teasing Alex about falling asleep.

David A. Bednar

  • I’m always interested in GA how-to’s about revelation, because — barring angels literally appearing — it’s a pretty ill-defined phenomenon in some of its more particular details. Perhaps that’s part of the point.
  • I like this talk for various reasons, but one is the universalization of our experiences. I believe it is excellent to let the members know that they are not alone in the doubts, fears, and imperfections inside us.

Thomas S. Monson

  • I have no specific comments, but this was still a lovely talk.


Sunday Afternoon Session

Okay, I fell asleep. I admit it. Don’t judge me too harshly. I missed the first talk entirely.

D. Todd Christofferson

  • The Currant Bush Allegory was a bit odd… because of the Currant Bush talking back. But it was a nice illustration.
  • After the account of how Richard G. Scott’s wife advised him to look people in the eye, my wife exclaimed, “So it’s his fault!” Then everyone in the Conference Center laughed, so I guess they heard her.

Carl B.Pratt

  • Colonia Juárez! I had compas from there (and near there) en La Misión, back in the day.
  • The stories about financial rewards for paying tithing always fall a little oddly on my brain. I don’t think the leaders intend for us to believe that tithing is a financial advancement strategy, but we sure do repeat such stories a lot. I note that, in this talk, we get the counter-information: the Lord does not specifically promise us wealth in return for tithing. I like the concrete explanation: the Lord blesses us with wisdom so we can live better on 90% of our income. Gotta love a good, definable, concrete explanation :)

Lynn G. Robbins

  • Paraphrasing Shakespeare: classic opening. But I don’t think Hamlet meant what is implied in the intro to this talk. Hamlet was (I think?) trying to decide whether or not to kill himself. But the message presented in the talk still appears excellent.
  • This “be” versus “do” thing is pretty deep and philosophical. I fully agree with the message (be>do), but wow is this ever a more complex issue than could really be addressed in a 20-minute talk.

Benjamín De Hoyos

  • I really wish I had turned the session on in time to hear who these speakers are. This one is giving a nice talk.

C. Scott Grow (who has probably never been teased about his name)

  • Jimmy Stewart voice!
  • Your basic Prodigal Son story? I kinda like these.

Jeffrey R. Holland

  • I have a soft spot for Elder Holland. Cool.
  • I love the fact that he fearlessly drops apparent scriptural contradictions next to each other. I think this is where some of the most meaningful insights come from.
  • “…comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  Heck, yes. However, most of us listening to this in English fall into the latter category, not the former–at least economically and freedom-from-daily-terror -wise.
  • Hm. Reference to (as DW says they are called) “Cafeteria Mormons.” Of course, I think we’re all in that category, but perhaps the implied categorization is still useful.
  • Nice talk. He has always had an ability to synthesize a good “take a step back” view that makes sense.

President Monson

  • Brief, to the point, and powerful. Nice.


All in all, another nice conference session. I don’t know that I caught wind of any strong changes in the Church’s direction, but I’m traditionally clueless about such things. That is all.

Patriotic Sex versus Patriotic Violence: LDS Preferences?

I have a habit of trying to point out logical problems in ideas by suggesting counterexamples. I know proof by analogy isn’t ultimately very valuable, and I know not everything can be demonstrated (or disproved) by examples, but it still seems valid at least as a way of illustrating — in ways people can understand immediately, if I do it right — the problems with certain ideas.

So, back when Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” was the hot movie, I got several versions of an email circulated by well-meaning LDS people (I have just briefly tried in vain to find a copy of it on the internet… but if anyone reads this they might remember it) alleging that some general authority had, in the case of this movie, suspended the “R-ban,” encouraging people to see it. Because it was so patriotic and authentic and historical.

Well, the movie was R-rated for good reason: violence (IMDB’s parents’ guide gives it a 9 out of 10 for violence & gore). I personally spoke to many people at the time who had given their own R-ban a temporary leave of absence so they could see it. I think it’s pretty clear that we were willing to overlook the violence because of the redeeming quality of portraying historically accurate events important to the founding of our nation (the US, in case this is not obvious).

So I was saying  to my Wif this morning that we should reignite that email chain but this time claim that certain “patriotic” parts had been “censored,” and that good patriots should demand that they be put back in (Note; this was silly speculation and I do not actually intend to do this). Then the email would explain that the “censored” parts were things for which many Latter-day Saints who consider themselves patriotic would probably not suspend their no-R-rated-movies policy. You know, sex scenes.

Gibson’s most violent scenes (famous for their unrestrained brutality) were, as I understand, largely speculation, though it was a war; horrible things happened. But plenty of things that fall outside our internal filters did actually happen, and they involved the men and women we consider responsible for the birth of our nation. How would Mormons’ reaction to Gibson’s film have been different if the one of the important, historically accurate events was, say, a graphic-type sex scene between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemmings? Or a brutally graphic (you know, Mel-Gibson-style) scene where American colonists murder, rape, and destroy the homes of Native Americans, under orders (or in some cases simply with the inaction of) some of our revered founding fathers? What about a zany sex romp scene involving Benjamin Franklin and one of his alleged mistresses?

My suspicion is that no, the Church membership (in general) would not be open to either (a) sex or (b) immoral actions by the Founding Fathers being depicted in any detail (or perhaps not at all) in movies, no matter how historically accurate those depictions might be, and no matter how important the events might have been to the founding of our nation. It seems to me that we don’t need as much censorship as we sometimes think we do; we self-censor very effectively as it is.

Massive Nick Thread on fMh

So my loving wif has been describing to me an EPIC (or epic-esque) thread on feminist Mormon housewives. It was dominated by a guy named Nick who had some issues. Big ones. And it captured both our attention (honeypie’s and mine). I made word clouds of Nick’s comments and the general thread, for some kind of comparison. I don’t think this exercise really illuminated anything, but it was fun. What I would really love to do, though I don’t want to take the time away from real research to do it, is to look at the functional or other kinds of patterns in Nick’s communication with the fMh crowd, and theirs with him. I personally found his comments to be low in insight (as would be expected from someone wrapped up in his own problems), occasionally sexist, and frequently patronizing. But my heart went out to the guy, anyway; he has a very, very long row to hoe.

Here’s Nick’s word cloud, made of only his comments (with quotes excised).

Wordle: Nick

Here’s everyone else’s comments (Nick’s not included). I wasn’t gonna do this b/c it’s 1am and dude, I’m tired. But this is fun/compelling quasi-analysis. Sorry it’s a different style. I know that makes it a bit harder to compare.
Wordle: nick_noNick

Finally, Here’s the word cloud for the general thread, nick’s comments mixed with everyone else’s.
Wordle: nick_thread

Not sure I see any deep meaning here, but make of it what you will. It was a fun exercise. For my job I may eventually have need of some very-smart text analysis software; I think I’ve found something to test it on :)

Update: Because this is so much fun (and preferable to the other work I need to be doing this weekend), I did one more thing: a word difference cloud, if you will. The hacked-together list of words in colors (below) represent the magnitude in relative frequency difference between Not-Nick and Nick in word usage. That is, words used a greater percentage of the time by people besides Nick are blue, and if they are used a lot more frequently than Nick uses them, they’re really big. I made the more-frequently-Nickish words green.

I combined several groups of similar word forms. Those are represented between curly brackets {}.

sexless {woman} listening it’s sex {try} {feel} like out {say} {thing} {want} change even great home must mutual really {sexual} statement {way} {word} what around being better did didn’t each find {get} having {he} herself how {intimate} life lot love may month mormon {need} now often own part patriarchy people person physical please problem same situation something that’s then through whether wow advice again agree always back before best between both can’t case certainly come common community {control} culture day different discussion {do} duty either enough ever every experience express fact family feminist few first form general {go} hard help here hope just kids kind know level long maybe much neglect off others pressure pretty probably put raise rather read relationship responsibility right see simply someone sometimes spouse still subject suggest temple thank these though thought {time} too two understand us {use} we’ve week where while why without work world wrong yet {don’t} abusive address anything care comment desire {give} good hear {husband} man {mean} never notion once point reason seems sense {sensitive} sexuality she’s should sure take together very years yes another blog church etc {marriage} our possible tell {them} comments {issue} least let many men nothing {obligation} well think {wife} believe {make} idea important might matter

Method notes/examples: this method will show a more head-to-head comparison, though it has disadvantages, such as possibly exaggerating small differences in relative frequency. To illustrate what I have done, consider the forms of “you” (you/your/you’re). These are predictably dominant in comments by people besides Nick (a full 5% of wordage!), while Nick used this word group less (1.9%). The difference between those (3.1%) is one of the largest in the word collection, and not-Nick used it much more frequently than Nick did, so it would be big and blue. By contrast, forms of “I/me” (I/I’m/I’ll/I’ve/me/my/myself) were used more often by Nick (5.8% versus 3.4%) so {I} is in big, green font. All quibbles with the method are probably accurate, but I probably won’t have time to go back and revisit this. Oh, and I left out {I} and {you} because they were just massively disproportionate, as well as very predictable, in relative frequency difference.

Who will run the Church in ten years?

I sometimes wish I could go get a new PhD in something else–in this case, sociology or anthropology, to study LDS people. I’ve been having some odd thoughts about de facto succession of leadership and participation in the church. I feel, lately, that I have seen a pattern emerge from time to time:

  1. Apparently doctrinally-orthodox member distances him/herself from the church
  2. Apparently doctrinally less-orthodox member distances him/herself from the church
  3. #2 comes back
  4. #1 does not

Of course, it could be my imagination, but this combination of those factors seems to happen a disproportionate amount of the time (not necessarily a majority of the time, though). My seat-of-the-pants hypothesis is this: What if this reflects an underlying difference in styles of belief? Members in category 2 (from the list) might have more of a willingness to acknowledge doubts and uncertainty, or to question orthodoxy, than those from category 1. These differences could lead to different reactions when faith-challenging events occur: A few category 1 members might find that their less-considered faith is fatally threatened by such challenges, while more of the category 2 members, despite initial distancing due to the doubts and disillusionment activated by the challenges, may find that their intellectual foundations (built through years of questioning, doubting, and resolving those things) provide them, ultimately, with answers that lead them back to the Gospel.

This is a standard question among many people of faith, and it assumes a lot of things I really can’t back up with data (so it’s rank speculation). But it feels like at least a hypothesis worth pursuing. But I’m not done yet.

The real kicker, for me, is that–if the process I’ve imagined is really happening–the membership or leadership of the Church may gradually come to be represented more and more by those in category 2, with interesting implications. For example, I think (again, no data) that this style of belief may be favored more by people ultimately drawn, for a variety of reasons, to more liberal social-political views, more intellectual pursuits (higher levels of traditional education?), and a less purely-emotional approach to faith.

The results may or may not be good for the Church in the long run; I don’t know. But this is interesting. The world is run by those who show up for the meetings. The Church is the same way.