Friday, November 17, 2017

Solar Eclipse from Columbia, South Carolina

What's the benefit of homeschooling and having a flexible work schedule* if you don't take advantage of it? With the solar eclipse approaching, I started reading some online about what we could expect in the seventh-best swamp city in northeastern Florida. We were going to get 90% obscuration. That seemed pretty good to me. But then I read a bunch of quotes about how seeing a 99% eclipse is like seeing 1% of the event, and how seeing a 99% eclipse and saying you saw the eclipse is like standing outside a concert hall and saying you heard the performance. I thought, "Geez, pretentious much?" But since the eclipse was on a Monday, and I don't teach on Mondays, I decided we'd drive up to South Carolina to see the whole deal.

My wife read online that traffic would be terrible and everyone would die from interminable traffic jams, so we were a little worried about what we were getting into. I figured we could drive up very early (I usually aim for waking up at 3 a.m.--why is another story), and just chill in a Walmart parking lot or something. My wife read online that Columbia was trying to attract eclipse travelers, so we figured we'd go there.

Our plan to leave very early hit a snag because Crazy Jane had Seminary that morning. So we all drove her to Seminary and then, while she went to that, we went to Walmart to get gasoline and snacks. When my wife ran inside, I talked Jerome Jerome the Metronome into cruising around the parking lot on a mobility scooter that had been left outside. But it had a dead battery. And a Walmart employee saw us and sent out someone to gather up the scooters.

We picked up Crazy Jane early and left town around 6:45. Everyone fell back asleep as we drove north through Georgia. We stopped at a rest area right after crossing into South Carolina, and it was full of eclipse travelers. When we got back on the freeway, the traffic was really bad, and I thought, "If we're going to be in stop-and-go traffic all the way to Columbia, we might not get there in enough time." As long as we were in the area of totality, we could just pull over and view it from our car, except South Carolina Department of Transportation had set all their changeable-text signs to read "DO NOT STOP ON ROADWAY TO VIEW ECLIPSE."

After about 10 miles, the traffic cleared up some. It was still congested for a Monday morning in the rural South, but the speeds were a lot closer to freeway speeds. We got to Columbia around 11 a.m. We parked in a city garage and started walking around with some lawn chairs and blankets, looking for a place to sit. We ended up on The Horseshoe, the old quad area of University of South Carolina. We set up our blankets and had nothing to do for several hours.

Weather-wise, the forecast for our area of Florida was for solid cloud cover, and as we drove north, we were underneath a solidly cloudy sky. But when we turned inland, the clouds started to break up. In Columbia, the clouds were intermittent, and as the day wore on, the clouds dissipated. By the time of the eclipse, there were no clouds left. People who stayed in Florida told us that they couldn't see the sun at all, or else they barely saw it briefly.

Articulate Joe and I needed haircuts, so we decided to make good use of our time by getting haircuts while we waited. We walked over to an area called Five Points and found a Supercuts. But they were severely understaffed because one stylist had called in "sick" and her replacement was stuck in eclipse traffic. She ended up being 90 minutes late because they closed the freeway down to land a helicopter on it for an air evacuation. By the time we got our haircuts, the eclipse had begun. We hadn't brought our eclipse glasses with us because we figured there was no way two haircuts would take several hours. As soon as we got outside, though, a guy walking past offered us two pairs of eclipse glasses, so we could look and see what it was like before we walked back over to The Horseshoe.

Jerome has a habit of photo-bombing our pictures. See here for more.

The Screamapilar was freaked out from our warnings to only look at the sun through his eclipse glasses, so he decided to not look at the sun at all. Eventually we did get him to look when the sun was obscured enough that you could tell something was going on, and of course he looked during totality, when he didn't need glasses.

Having experienced a total solar eclipse now, here's my take on the pretentious Internet things I read beforehand: they are accurate. Having been there for 90% obscurity and then being able to compare that to totality a few moments later, I can support the claim that 90% obscurity is a pile of puke compared to the real thing.

And then totality ended and everyone tried to act like there was still something to see, but after a few minutes most people had left. We got back to our car and were in pretty bad traffic on I-26, so we exited to eat at Fatz, a restaurant I first saw advertised when we were driving our moving truck through South Carolina two summers ago. Since then it has been my white whale, haunting my dreams and visions. And, just like Ahab discovered, sometimes getting your white whale sucks. Fatz wasn't that good, and it was pretty expensive. AND, it didn't even save us from bad traffic. The "four-hour" drive home from Columbia took about eight hours.

Finally, to those asking, "Why have you taken three months to blog about this trip?" Well, there's a very good reason, smart-ass. It's because I couldn't be bothered getting the pictures off my phone until last week. So there.

* = I'm not actually sure I have a flexible work schedule. I mean, I know I only teach and have office hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but does that mean that they're cool with me not being there on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday? I haven't asked because I don't want to find out if the answer is no. (I'm writing this from my bed on a Friday afternoon.) I'm confident I'm not cheating my employer--I work over 40 hours each week. But we'll see if they ever want to know where I am on the occasional day I don't go in.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Revelation v. Declarations of Revelation

I had to substitute as the Gospel Doctrine teacher yesterday. The lesson was (partially) about Official Declaration 2. I realized that, when I was younger, I didn't really understand why 138 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants get to be sections, but two of them only get to be official declarations. I think I understand better now, and I think it's worthwhile pointing it out to others.

The official declarations are declarations that revelation was received, but they do not contain the revelation. Notice in Official Declaration 1 Wilford Woodruff says that "I hereby declare my intention to submit to submit to those laws" banning polygamy, but he doesn't specify why. As an appendix to the declaration, we have some idea of what the revelation entailed, but that's not part of the original declaration.

The same thing happens in Official Declaration 2. It specifies that "a revelation had been received" and it says the revelation was shared with the General Authorities and what the gist of the revelation was, but that's it.

The reason I bring this up is because some members are uncomfortable with "The Family: A Proclamation to the World". They point out that it has never been presented to the church for a sustaining vote as scripture. However, in this last General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, "I feel obliged to share what led to the family proclamation for the information of all who consider it."

The inspiration identifying the need for a proclamation on the family came to the leadership of the Church over 23 years ago. [...] [W]e felt the confirmation and we went to work. [...] Prayerfully we continually pleaded with the Lord for His inspiration.... [...] During this revelatory process, a proposed text was presented to the First Presidency, who oversee and promulgate Church teachings and doctrine.

So Elder Oaks tells us that the proclamation is not a revelation but the result of a revelatory process. Like the two official declarations, it's sharing information on the strength of revelation it does not in itself contain.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Rebellion, Becoming and Unbecoming

For two years, now, I've been planning to blog about D&C 134:5. While most Mormons take Article of Faith 12 to say we have to comply with whatever requirement a political leader wants to impose, I don't see it that way. Sedition and rebellion are only unbecoming of citizens who are protected in their inherent and inalienable rights--remove such protection and you remove the criticism of rebellion (and "unbecoming" is pretty weak criticism to begin with).

Somewhat related might be the apparent contradiction between the church's response to illegal immigration and the reading most members give to Article of Faith 12. Notice at the end of D&C 134:9 that we only believe we should bring the offenders against good laws to punishment.

Can God support law-breakers? Well, what about my favorite scripture story, when an angel appears to Gideon who is in the middle of tax-evasion and tells him, "The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour"? As Benjamin Franklin said, "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."

That Didn't Turn Out As Expected

Yesterday I wrote a blog post. I was adding the appropriate labels to it when I saw I have a label called "Carly." I thought, "How in the hell could I have so much to say about a Disney Channel show I've never watched?!" Then I realized it was about Carly Fiorina. Remember her, back when America wanted an outsider president but before we decided to go with the worst possible outsider president? When I decided she needed her own blog label, I certainly wasn't seeing things playing out this way.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Dieting Through Snobbery

A few years ago, I decided to become a dark chocolate snob. It's not that I'm really opposed to milk chocolate (although living overseas has made me see that American chocolate is crap), it's just that I see it as a way of limiting my chocolate intake. Dark chocolate is harder to find, and usually more expensive. So I'm less likely to get a chocolate bar every time I'm in the grocery store line.

Yesterday, my wife and I were driving behind a Royal Crown distribution truck. She was struck by the inclusion of the 7-Up logo on the truck ("I didn't know 7-Up owned RC," she said), but I was struck by the inclusion of the RC logo on the truck ("I didn't know you could still get RC Cola anywhere"). I decided to help limit my soda consumption (which I've already cut down to just on driving trips, basically) by committing to only drink RC Cola. If I don't even know where I can get it, it should help me not buy it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Overstated Inflation and Declining Productivity

Here's a post summarizing work that argues inflation is overstated in the consumer price index (CPI). If this is true, and most people receive cost-of-living increases based on CPI, then most people are receiving real wage increases independent of any increased productivity. This would mean that workers will end up with a wage above the value of their marginal product. It would also mean that worker productivity would appear to decline when you pay more money for the same skill-set.

Assuming workers know this, they have incentive to stay in their jobs longer than they otherwise would, because every time you switch jobs, you create an opportunity to bring your wage back in line with the value of your marginal product. Your existing job won't do it because wages display downward rigidity. They will just overpay you until the inequality becomes intolerable, and then you'll get fired.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: Part-Time Dog

Our family owns a copy of Jane Thayer's Part-Time Dog. The story is from 1954 but it was published as its own book with illustrations in 1965. It was one of my wife's favorite books when she was growing up. A few weeks ago, I was browsing the local library with some of my kids and saw a version of the book with updated illustrations. We checked it out to compare the two.

The first thing I noticed was the dearth of children. In 1965, Seymour Fleishman illustrated eight children living on Maple Street. By 2004, Lisa McCue illustrated only two children living there. Well, maybe only two children are walking to school and the rest are being chauffeured the block-and-a-half while they watch in-headrest DVD players.

Other illustration differences include the fact that, in 1965, Mrs. Atkins wore an apron pretty much all day long, and she ate her supper with a man. In 2004, there are no men living anywhere near Maple Street. Also, in 1965, Mrs. Tweedy was hot, like a real-life grandma who's got it going ON. Modern Mrs. Tweedy is just old, like a cartoon grandma who's purpose is to sell you cookies.

When I compared the texts, I found a number of changes between the 1954 text and the 2004 text. Now, this might be the result of targeting a different audience: the 2004 version specifies it's for children between preschool and third grade, while the older version has no such range given. So instead of dwelling on vocabulary or syntax changes, I'm just going to note instances where the meaning changed.

  • 1954: there's an explanation of how Brownie got lost. 2004: Brownie materializes on Maple Street; there is no loss suffered by someone else.
  • 1954: Mrs. Tweedy hangs up her husband's shirts. 2004: Mrs. Tweedy rakes her yard.
  • 1954: Brownie is a squatter on Maple Street for a long time before being noticed by the ladies. 2004: Brownie gets noticed the first night.
  • 1954: When Mrs. Butterworth finds Brownie on her best blue sofa in her parlor, she exclaims, "You wicked dog!" 2004: When Mrs. Butterworth finds Brownie on her best blue sofa in her living room, there is no value judgment.
  • 1954: The ladies twice mention that Brownie is breaking the law. 2004: There's no legal justification for their decision to call the dogcatcher.
  • 1954: The ladies grab their pocketbooks. 2004: The ladies grab their bags.
  • 1954: Brownie rides in the back seat of the car with the three ladies in the front seat. 2004: Brownie rides in the front passenger seat of the car with two ladies in the back.

One thing nice about the new version's illustrations is they haven't been graffitied. When my mother-in-law taught school, some kid used a red pen to make blood coming out of the nose of everyone in the first half the book. He either was caught or lost interest before completing the task.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Drunk Paperboy

My work gets copies of the Wall Street Journal delivered, but it's not clear why. Are they for faculty, grad students, or just anyone? Well, at the beginning of this semester we got an e-mail asking for our home mailing address for the Wall Street Journal to be sent there. I submitted my address and...nothing happened for over a month.

But then...we got the local newspaper for two weeks. And then that stopped.

And then I finally got my first copy of the Wall Street Journal delivered at home. It was a Friday. And that was it, just the one day.

Two weeks later, I got a Saturday delivery. And that was it.

Yesterday, I got a Sunday delivery of...the New York Times.

Maybe I misunderstood, and what I was signing up for was a random schedule of remainder newspapers. My house is now functioning as the Big Lots for the local paper delivery guy.

I Don't Need to Help Because I'm Woke

I know someone whose wokeness is especially grating. I was thinking the other day about what is appealing about wokeness to an upper-class white person. I realized that wokeness allows you to feel better about your advantages without actually having to give up any of those advantages.

I see a poor person. In relative terms, I'm rich. Charity requires me to use my (relative) abundance to alleviate the suffering of others. But being woke allows me to "know" which segments of society and which political parties are responsible for the poor person's condition. It's palliative in nature, designed to ease my mental suffering rather than ease others' actual suffering.

How do we know that wokeness is false charity? Because it creates prescriptions for the behaviors of others, never for the self. When I'm woke, I get mad at Donald Trump or the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department or at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But I never get mad at me. What is there to get mad about? I've already done all I can do: I got woke.

In the words of Michael Jackson, "If you wanna make the world a better place / take a look at yourself and then make a change."

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Poverty and Conscientiousness

Friday my wife was driving me to work. We passed a sign taped to a utility pole. The sign had a number to call to buy mattresses. My wife expressed dismay that someone would ever consider buying a mattress via a random telephone number displayed on the side of the road, especially when the price is not significantly lower than the cheapest mattress you can buy from a legitimate mattress store. It's like, "Spend $99 and get a real mattress, or spend $79 and get a bedbug infestation." If you can save up $79, why not save a little bit longer and get the $99 mattress?

I said, "I don't want to be one of those people who is dismissing the spending choices of the poor as being stupid when in fact they are the necessity of being poor. It's easy for me to say, 'Why not just spend $99?' but maybe they'd love to spend $99 if they could, but they can't. However, it's impossible to separate poor spending choices that are the result of poverty from poor spending choices that are the result of a lack of conscientiousness."

Again, we are left with the conclusion: judge not. I can never know whether someone buying a sketchy mattress is destitute or stupid, so the charitable take is to assume destitution.

But the world would be a better place if more poor people were taught to be conscientious. I mentioned to my wife a few weeks ago, "If you don't show up at work once every two weeks, you can only do that a few times before you get fired. But the people who do that think, 'I was there 90% of the time! That's an A!' In reality, you can probably only get away with that one day a year. They don't understand that the real world doesn't require 90% attendance, it requires 99.9% attendance." People who view 90% as sufficiently conscientious are in for a life of poverty.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Panhandling Firemen

Yesterday morning my wife drove me to work. At a busy intersection traffic was moving slowly because firemen were panhandling in traffic lanes.

Can't we all agree that the prime directive for public safety officers is to not decrease public safety? And standing in between two lanes of traffic that's supposed to be moving at 45 miles per hour certainly doesn't increase public safety, does it? If the police in our city could be bothered with traffic violations, I would love to see all these firemen receive jaywalking tickets.

Am I a bad person because I routinely give money to panhandling homeless people outside Walmart but when I see a panhandling fireman (who makes more money than just about all of us driving by) I say, "Aww, HAYLL no!"?

Friday, October 27, 2017

"A Weak-Kneed and Unbelieving Religionist"

Last week I wrote a post about a possible reconciliation between creationism and evolution. Long-time reader Gayle commented:

This is essentially the same explanation that my sister told me a few weeks ago. I'm perfectly comfortable with it -- in fact, I'm grateful for it, since I believe in science and evolution, and am bothered by the arguments that science and religion are incompatible. (I'm totally bugged in SS or RS when someone bemoans the teaching of evolution in the schools.) I am wondering how you came to this liner o [sic] thinking; is it prompted by anything in particular?
I think what first started me along this line of thinking was being struck by D&C 101:29 as a missionary. I was reading Section 101 because I wanted a better understanding of what the Missouri Saints did wrong, because I'm probably doing the same things wrong. I was struck by the idea that sorrow is predicated upon death because I'm a depressive person, so I would say I experience sorrow most of the time, but I wouldn't necessarily say that sorrow is related to death. In what way would the absence of death remove sorrow? When death is understood as spiritual death, separation from God, then you see how only spiritual death creates sorrow.

"But I was sad when my grandma died!" Yeah, but provided you and your grandma have a hope of salvation, there's not really anything to be sad about. Physically dying is then akin to going on a long trip. "But haven't you been sad when you went on a long trip and not seen your family for a long time?" Sure, but if I was as close to God as I'm supposed to be, I would take His decisions regarding when we go on a long trip as the best decisions. I've written before, I think, about the priest in Camus's Plague teaching that we should want what God wants, so when someone in town dies of the plague, we should want them to die of the plague. (Yep, five years ago.) It's the sense in which Islam uses the term "submission" (and why Michel Houellebecq's book of the same title, while not for everyone, is such a great exploration of the concept).

This started as a post about evolution and has become a post about French novelists. Let's get back on track.

Notice one verse later in Section 101 when the Lord notes "in that day [the day when "there is no death"] an infant shall not die until he is old...." So people are continuing to die, even though "there is no death." If there will be a time with dying but without death, could it be that such a time previously occurred? Could the pre-Adamic-transgression world have been a world with dying but without death? Could our concept of Adam's transgression bringing death into the world be reconciled with evolution's need for a string of dying generations?

And, in the words of Drake, now we here.

Interestingly, two Mormon bloggers I follow have written about evolution this week. The first was Bryce Haymond (who is, admittedly, far off the plan right now). His post links to some thoughts on evolution from Joseph Fielding Smith and Boyd K. Packer wherein they make the case that a belief in evolution guts the entirety of the gospel. Haymond's M.O. is to argue that current church leadership is wrong because they have taken figurative things literally, so he wants the reader to conclude that Presidents Smith and Packer were wrong when they went after evolution, therefore the current church leadership isn't to be trusted.

What Haymond is missing, though, is that the system allows for Presidents Smith and Packer to be wrong; we have no guarantee that every word our leaders say is 100% correct, only that we won't be led astray from salvation by following the leaders. Given that most proponents of evolution are not trying to make a case for its coexistence with belief, but rather using it as a cudgel to destroy belief, it makes sense that leaders would oppose it, even if the truth is somewhere in between.

President Smith, though, makes a distinction between atheistic and theistic evolutionists, and then goes after both of them.

But the Theistic evolutionist is a weak-kneed and unbelieving religionist, who is constantly apologizing for the miracles of the scriptures, and who does not believe in the divine mission of Jesus Christ.
I don't agree with this characterization. Sure, it's true of some, but it's not necessarily true of all. Nothing in my post last week apologizes for the miracles of the scriptures. God created man through some sort of process; to give a name to that process is not to discount it. No one can create a man through evolution, so saying God did it is not in any way saying it was not a miracle. And as for the divine mission of Jesus Christ, that is needed because of sin and death, which are still realities of the human experience. So President Smith's summation that "if evolution is true, the church is false" is predicated upon an understanding of "evolution" that does not necessarily include all possible senses.

Think of it this way: let's say there's a political party--we'll call it the America Party--that has a false statement in its party platform, something like "all brown-eyed people are at least five-foot-ten-inches tall." And I know this statement is untrue, because my son has brown eyes and is shorter than 5'10". Can I say, "The America Party is wrong"? Can I say, "Everyone who identifies with the America Party is wrong"? Is it possible to be a registered member of the America Party while not agreeing with the platform position on the height of brown-eyed people? How many of us are prepared to say we agree with 100% of the platform statements of the political party with which we're registered, or the last candidate for whom we voted?

First Presidency statements on evolution are 1) not canonized, and 2) making assumptions about the use of words like "death" and "man" that are fine to make, but aren't the only ways in which those words can be used. If we make a distinction between "death" and "dying," as I believe D&C 101:29-30 makes, and between "man" and "humanoid creatures," as my post last week does, then there is no conflict between the First Presidency statements and a theory of evolution.

The second Mormon blogger to write about evolution this week was Robert Boylan (whose recent book on Sola Scriptura will definitely be over my head but is nevertheless winging its way to me in an Amazon order even as we speak), who has a post about "young-Earth creationists" and evolution. Boylan sees things more along my lines: past pronouncements of church leaders on evolution being what they are, there is still a way to square the best evidences of anthropology and geology with a belief in God's creation and the divine mission of Jesus Christ.

PS: It was a recent Boylan post about ancient Mideastern swords that made me think, "My word, how antisocial and psychopathic was the first person to create a sword?! What kind of person invents the idea of carrying around something designed to make giant holes in people?" (Notice the ancient swords don't have hilts, so they weren't designed to use against other swords; they were designed to use against defenseless people.) In light of the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress that's been going on lately, I've read some things people have been sharing about the demeanedization that comes from authoritarian states requiring you to say things you know to be false (like Winston Smith having to say 2+2=5). They argue that it's not a bug of the system, it's a feature. The truly free are those that don't have to say things they know to be untrue. Swords for use against defenseless people were designed for the purpose of making you say 2+2=5.