Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Bibimbap

The mall across the street finally opened (after sitting vacant for what we've been told has been six years). One of the restaurants has a Chinese name and a Korean name. The Chinese name is Quan Wei, which means "Powerful Flavor." It has a subtitle of sorts. When I put each word in my translator app, I found it means "Stone Bowl Bibimbap."

I thought my app was having problems. What in the world is "bibimbap"? That's not an English word. But it turns out it's a Korean dish that Wikipedia says has been voted one of the world's 50 most delicious foods.

The first time I went there, the only problem I had was when I needed to get it to go. Every other casual dining restaurant asks us if we want to dine in or carry out. This place doesn't. I said, "Wai mai," which means "takeout food," but since 90% of the people we encounter cannot understand anyone with even the slightest hint of an accent, that meant nothing to the cashier. When I pantomimed walking out of the store with a bowl, she eventually got the picture.

The next time I went there, I tried to order the same thing I got before. The cashier said, "Meiyou," which means, "We don't have that." She then pointed, on a menu of at least 30 items, to two items. That was the extent of their menu today?! She also didn't understand "wai mai," but as an added complication, she didn't understand my pantomime either. The manager saw me standing waiting for my food and told me to go get a seat. I told him "wai mai." He had no idea what I meant. I pantomimed leaving with food and he thought that meant I was in a hurry, so they jumped me to the front of the line and gave me a tray of food to eat there. When they finally understood what I wanted, they were indignant that I wasn't staying. Instead of giving me the hot sauce packet to add as I saw fit, they added it in the takeout bowl.

It's not like I'm asking for something they can't do. They are completely equipped with takeout bowls and bags and everything. Why can't they understand that I want takeout?!

But the food is delicious, so I keep going back. Most recently I made my wife go with me so they wouldn't be as mean to me. They still didn't have what I wanted. But this time I got something that translates as "Hot flavor chicken leg meat bibimbap." Personally, I prefer the alternative translation of "vicious or ruthless flavor chicken."

Mr. Websley is a MONSTER!

Lots of our children have watched the LeapFrog letter and number videos, but there's this one scene of "Letter Factory" that seems especially terrible to me.

Notice that the mis-formed H can say, "And the [unintelligible] says..." just fine, so he's sentient and capable of speech. No matter: he still gets sent down the garbage chute to oblivion.

Some might say, "Mr. Websley is just a potential investor. He's not responsible!" But isn't Tad's dad brutalizing the letters because that's what Mr. Websley has made clear he requires in any letter factory that wants his investment?! Notice the way he looks at the problem like, "Homie don't play dat!"

This is like the pre-schooler's version of Heart of Darkness.

My Grueling Commute

During Spring Festival, I'm watering the neighbor's plants in return for using his apartment as an office. This is my lunchtime commute.

So Many Notches in His Belt

Our oldest son, Articulate Joe, had a belt that eventually died. But one Saturday while we were browsing the Racist Alley Market (so named by our family because it's the one with the vendor selling busts of Hitler), I noticed a guy who makes belts. Perfect! A few weeks later, when it was Joe's turn to go to lunch with me, we walked down to get him a new belt.

I showed the guy the dead belt and pointed at Joe. The guy picked out a strip of leather and set to work. The leather strips already had the end with the holes finished. I figured he would cut off the excess from the other end. But no. For some reason, he decided to keep the belt adult length, and just put a new set of belt holes in the middle of the belt.

As we walked home, I told Joe, "Sorry, he kind of made it a weird." Joe said, "I can just keep this belt for the rest of my life." Well, there certainly is plenty of room for additional holes as needed.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Why I Hate Why We Hate Us

This book is really two books--one a great commentary on the current ills of American society, the other a terrible, self-indulgent, winking exercise in autohagiography--that got shoved in the same blender and thoroughly mixed. So while I don't hate the entire thing, the parts I hate, I hate intensely, because it is impossible to separate them from the parts I like.

Meyer is a weird mix of very old and very young. The very old part is the insufferable crank. He is full of stories of the "and one time I had to tell off some punk no-good-nik for being dressed like a slob" variety. At one point he throws in the thought, "I don't understand tattoos at all" (126). Um, okay? That kind of has nothing to do with the point you're making (that crass tattoos signal a contempt for others) and just makes you sound really, really old.

Balancing this seeming decrepitude is his love of all things Holden Caulfield. Now, I've noted before that The Catcher in the Rye should be the favorite novel of every 17-year-old, and that it shouldn't hold that distinction anymore by the time you're 27. Oh, you hate phonies? Grow up.

Well, Meyer hates him some phonies. And I can relate: I hate when a telephone robot says to me, "Give me a moment while I look that up." It's fake. It's phony. But where he loses me is where he tries to justify this as a stand against hypocrisy. I've written before about the false definition of hypocrisy that most people hold. In short: it is NOT necessarily hypocritical to support values you do not follow. What determines if it is hypocrisy is WHY you don't follow them. Succumbing to human weakness isn't being a hypocrite. Embracing a new value you do not yet follow is how we become better. Meyer bemoans the demise of public morality but then contributes to it by supporting the idea that you better not support any moral doctrine that you have not, are not, and will not follow 100 percent.

I hate the way Meyer complains about boorishness, citing public vulgarity as an example, and then includes the F word at least 10 times. I hate the way he complains about free-agent politicians using media to go over the heads of party bosses and directly access the people, and then praises Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a senator who defied his party leaders time and time again. I hate the way he complains about phonies and then praises Tiger Woods and John Krakauer, two people definitely open to their share of criticism regarding authenticity. Meyer loves Ernest Shackleton, but conveniently forgets that, in his day, Shackleton was criticized as a media-loving phony.

This book accurately describes the ways in which an amoral society becomes irksome, but Meyer can't bring himself to prescribe morality because it would be too judgmental or--worse yet--phony. He's blind to ways in which he spends 90% of the book prescribing behavior (don't dress like a slob in restaurants, at live theater, or on airplanes; don't swear where unnecessary unless it's in a book you're writing entitled Why We Hate Us; don't be named Sheila and follow your conscience unless you want an author to mock your belief in "Sheilaism"; don't commute; don't over-identify with your personality traits or favorite hobbies; don't have large weddings; don't drive Bentleys; don't subscribe to Real Simple magazine; don't have breast augmentation) before concluding with a call to "value pluralism." So which is it: should I give others the benefit of the doubt and trust their ability to value things differently from how I do, or should I hate the depictions of wealth in the Sunday Times?

Here's my take on why we hate us: we hate that we're unevenly yoked with people whose values are antithetical to our own. Some of us despise our shortcomings and want to be better, and we can't escape those of us who embrace our shortcomings in an annihilistic celebration of crapulence. Meyer sees the crapulence and can identify it as such, but--like so many other products of the 60s--he lacks the self-assurance to oppose the annihilism behind its celebration. He can't say, "That's wrong," he can only say, "I don't like that." But without God, whence moral authority? "Here's a value system that has worked for thousands of years" is insufficient, because its opponents respond, "We hate those very values." And too often in human history, such value systems were used as cudgels against the heterodox.

Authority and plurality must be blended. Plurality without authority becomes relativism. But to most believers in authority, there's no room for plurality. "God says 'do this,' so why should we make allowance for other behaviors?" they ask. They are leery of plurality because it seems a tacit admission that their understanding of God is incorrect. God's not handing out 18 different dietary codes, right? Either mine is right or it's wrong, and I believe mine is right, so why should I allow you to follow yours?

For Christians, the obvious answer is, "Because God told you to." This is where Christ's command to "judge not" comes in. Because even if your God is perfect, your ability to understand and implement His will is NOT perfect. So give others the benefit of the doubt. You can have your religion, and you can follow it as explicitly as you are capable of doing, and you can still allow others to not follow it, because you don't know yet if you are correctly interpreting your religion.

None of this is in the conclusion of Why We Hate Us, but it should be. After all, how do you write a book about everything wrong with America that is getting everyone riled up, and then end with a chapter that says, "Chillax"? Are you saying my concerns are meaningless? But you articulately expressed that you share many of the same concerns, so are your concerns meaningless? This book should have been one chapter on what's wrong with America, one chapter on what value pluralism is, and the rest of the book on how to implement value pluralism, why it's hard to do, and why it would be worthwhile. Instead, it's eight chapters of what's wrong with your fellow Americans and one chapter of advice to calm down about it. It's a missed opportunity to talk us through how to calm down about it, and for that, I hate it.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Home-Buying

It's always good to throw a little heterodoxy out there. From the "everyone knows buying your own home is the best way to financial security" department, we have this collection of arguments against it.

I remember seeing a television ad for realtors that noted the children of home-buyers have better school outcomes, but there was no mention in the ad that this could be the result of rental housing being redlined into service areas for terrible schools. When I worked for a city planning commission, a proposal to build apartments was met with severe community opposition because "I don't want my kids going to school with kids who live in apartments." (That's an actual quote from a citizen at the planning commission meeting. When staff noted that market-rate apartments rent for more than the average neighborhood mortgage payment, the citizen commenter did not apologize for making kids who live in apartments go to school with his poor-ass kids.)

I think the main way the advise of the "buy your home" crowd works out is with an expected political climate. As long as housing has barriers to supply, such as bureaucracy and NIMBYs, housing will continue to look like an appreciating asset. And as long as home-buyers can rely on the formation of property bubbles, there'll be an element of a Las Vegas casino's appeal to purchasing a home.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

End of January Reading Update

One month gone and here's how things stand now.

WODEHOUSE BOOKS

  1. The Pothunters FINISHED Jan. 29
  2. A Prefect's Uncle - 24%
  3. The Gold Bat
  4. The Head of Kay's
  5. Mike at Wrykyn
  6. Mike and Psmith
  7. Psmith in the City
  8. Psmith, Journalist
  9. Leave It to Psmith
  10. Uneasy Money
  11. Piccadilly Jim
  12. Jill the Reckless

VICTORIAN NOVELS

  1. Jane Eyre
  2. The Moonstone
  3. Vanity Fair
  4. Wuthering Heights
  5. Tess of the d'Urbervilles - 38%
  6. Bleak House

KIDS BOOKS

  1. Man of the Family
  2. The Home Ranch
  3. Mary Emma & Company
  4. Grk and the Phoney Macaroni
  5. The Magical Fruit
  6. The Moomins and the Great Flood

MAISIE DOBBS NOVELS

  1. Among the Mad
  2. The Mapping of Love and Death
  3. A Lesson in Secrets

JAMES BOND NOVELS

  1. Moonraker
  2. Diamonds Are Forever
  3. From Russia, With Love

NON-FICTION

  1. The Theory of Moral Sentiments - 24%
  2. How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
  3. America-Lite
  4. Crossing
  5. The Servile State
  6. In Search of Zarathustra FINISHED Feb. 3
  7. Heaven on Earth
  8. Not a Suicide Pact
  9. The Tyrannicide Brief
  10. Coming Apart
  11. Scarcity
  12. The Collapse of Complex Societies

CHURCH BOOKS

  1. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow - 55%
  2. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith
  3. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant
  4. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith
  5. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay
  6. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith

OFF THE PLAN

  1. Ruby Redfort: Pick Your Poison FINISHED Jan. 31
  2. Book of Mormon - 11%

What Else You Got?

I finished reading In Search of Zarathustra. I really liked it, as perhaps you could tell from the number of things I read in it that gave rise to blog posts. (Although you'll see later this week that it's not always the case that only good books make me blog about them.) It's a well-written guide to ancient Near-Eastern and Middle-Eastern history and religions that gives wide berth to the line between travel-informed non-fiction and self-indulgent travel log.

Anyway, the final blog post based on my reading has to do with something Kriwaczek writes at the end. He's writing about how modern atheists have unwittingly glommed onto Zoroastrianism to explain their godless worldview. He writes, "It is as if those who have abandoned religion are left with a residue of concepts that must now be justified by other means" (Loc. 4397 of 4637). Which set my confirmation-bias sense a-tingling.

I've written before about the way in which godless society demands the performances of God come from the state. In this terrible human condition, I want some all-powerful entity who acknowledges my pains and sorrows, comforts me, and sets them right. When society believed in God, that was His job, but now that society has declared God to be dead, it must be the state that either performs these functions or uses its police power to require all citizens do this. This is why much of the Black Lives Matter rhetoric on American college campuses has to do with "acknowledging." The Mizzou protest was partially about the administration not acknowledging that minorities feel as if poop swastikas could really be made (even if there's no evidence that one actually was made). The Yale protest was partially about university faculty being insensitive to what it feels like to have aspects of your racial identity turned into Halloween costumes. The Oberlin College list of demands included ending the insensitive practice of serving low-quality sushi. (Seriously.)

Godlessness leads to totalitarianism because my need for cosmic compensation can only come from an all-powerful God or from an imposition on all of creation.

Monday, February 01, 2016

One More Thought on the Tree of Life Vision

I just re-read 1 Ne. 8 again and I wonder if there's something else to notice.

Lehi sees a tree (v. 10) and goes to it (v. 11). No big deal. No mention of a path or a "rod of iron." There's a field with a tree in it, so he walks to it. He calls his family (v. 15) and they come, too (v. 16). Still no mention of a path or rod.

Then Lehi notices the path and iron rod (vv. 19-20). Lots of people (v. 21) are "pressing forward" to obtain the path. Not until "a mist of darkness" arises (v. 23) does the iron rod become necessary. Then people are pressing forward to catch "the end of the rod of iron" (vv. 24 & 30)

Is it possible that Lehi's vision describes not just the general human condition, but different times in the history of man? In Lehi's day, coming to the tree was a matter of walking to the tree. Later, a path and a rod of iron defined the way. And later yet, the path is obscured by a mist of darkness, and only those who hold to the rod of iron will reach their destination.

Why I Hate the Metric System

Living overseas gives many Americans an opportunity to embrace the metric system. I'm not one of them. I'm conversant enough to figure out what's going on, but I resist adopting the metric system.

Let me tell you specifically why Celsius temperatures are stupid. "It makes so much sense; zero is freezing and 100 is boiling!" And as a result, each degree is doing the work of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. So less information is being communicated when citing a temperature, unless you're going to go full pedant and use tenths of degrees. And what temperature range do people experience in normal life? Is there some reason we need to be able to talk about temperatures near boiling? The Fahrenheit scale gives you about a 100-degree range of real-world temperatures (shockingly enough, ranging from zero to 100). The Celsius scale gives you half as much. Zero is freezing, 10 is cold, 20 is cool, 30 is nice, 40 is hot.

When I thought about writing this post, I thought, "Someone could raise the objection that you just like Fahrenheit because it was what you were raised with." But my real objection is to the hubris of engineering systems that are better than what emerges from social convention. There is a certain outlook of authority that goes with thinking, "There are efficiency gains waiting to be gathered in once we take away people's right to choose an 'inefficient' system," and it is an outlook I completely oppose.

About this big-picture disagreement regarding authority, let me share a recent event from our lives. A few weeks ago, a woman in our building had smoke pouring into her apartment. There was a cardboard box fire in the stairwell several floors down from her. She WeChatted the building's English-language-residents group and several families evacuated. In the aftermath, a discussion arose concerning the question of why our building doesn't have a fire alarm. Our Chinese handler told us, "The building does have a fire alarm: when there's a fire in the building, an alarm sounds in the neighboring guard booth."

Here's how the system works: the guards next door get notified there's a fire. They then knock on each door to tell us there's a fire. (Remember, the guards speak NO English, even though the guards all received 12 years of English instruction in school and many of the building residents speak only English.) Problem solved.

The Westerners in the WeChat group were dumbfounded. How does anyone think this is the most-efficient way of notifying a 14-story building of fire? (I joked with a colleague that the guards' reaction to the alarm would be, "Don't go in that building; it's on fire!") But it helps point out the fundamental divide on views regarding information. Westerners generally believe that broad dissemination of information is best, while Chinese generally believe information should be dispensed from above. You don't tell residents their building is on fire, you tell the guy in charge of the building and he decides if anyone else needs to know. Not only is information "need to know," it's also "get to know." As in, "you haven't curried favor with your authorities, so you don't get to know something you need to know."

Americans who support the metric system tend to have a more-favorable view of top-down, coordinated behavior. They distrust the masses to make uncoordinated decisions, and they take it for granted that any uncoordinated decisions cannot be efficient. They favor things that "make sense" over things that work. They have a view of society that involves the enlightened and the benighted, and they are among the enlightened. It would be great if the benighted allowed the enlightened to run the show, but the benighted have crazy notions of equality and human dignity, and so the enlightened have to trick/cajole/constrain the benighted to create the more-efficient world we have within our possible grasp.

I completely oppose all of this. I am willing to live in a less-efficient world if it allows for more liberty. This isn't just because I was raised with Fahrenheit thermometers. This is because God made man to be free.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

No One Expects the Gothic Invasion

In reading In Search of Zarathustra I'm seeing more-clearly than ever before the extent of European demographic upheaval during the Migration Period. The Celtic and Germanic inhabitants of central and northern Europe were pushed to the margins by the arrival of immigrants from central Asia.

Two things strike me as interesting about this. One is the implications for my ancestry. My known ancestry is primarily German and Czech, with Greek and Irish components, as well. The invasion of Europe by Asian groups means I'm probably much more Asian than I would otherwise think. So when my wife and I moved to China last year, we were just completing our DNA's circumnavigation of the world.

The second point is the timing and the extent of the European upheaval. I remember reading in Ancient America and the Book of Mormon a few years back about the pre-Columbian destruction of then-native Mesoamericans; the authors' point is that Mormons who see fulfillment of prophesied destruction in European contact are looking too late. Is it possible that Late Antiquity Europeans were similarly destroyed and replaced by Asians?

Kriwaczek notes of Europe's Asian arrivals:

There was little resistance. Europe had lost about a third of its population since the Roman heyday. Huge tracts supported fewer than twenty people per square mile, about the same as the Amazon rain forest today. [Loc. 1678 of 4637]
When European immigrants came across a similarly-emptied continent 1,000 years later, they figured God had wiped it clean for them (and where His thoroughness wasn't to their liking, they helped Him finish the job). Could this state of events in Europe be the result of the receptiveness of the people to Christianity? Most people see Late Antiquity Europeans as embracing Christianity, but from a Mormon perspective, what they embraced wasn't Christianity. It could be termed Christ-themed barbarism, Christ-themed paganism, or Christ-themed statism, but it was not the Christianity of the Christ-contemporary disciples, as attested to by the Early Christian Fathers' bewilderment at the rapid change the gospel underwent when the first-generation Christians had died.

Here's my thinking: Europe gets the gospel preached to it by Paul and his companions. Those who accept it are typically martyred. Enterprising sociopaths see the life-risking dedication of Christians and want to co-opt the religion for their own megalomaniacal purposes. These new "converts" don't necessarily risk death because they aren't above changing their teachings to suit the state; this isn't their "religion," it's their "faith tradition." By the 300s, Europeans have completely bastardized Christianity. Bring on the Asiatic hordes.

I realize I'm not a trained theologian or historian. This is just a connection I think I see. I'd be interested now in re-reading Nibley's There Were Jaredites for a better understanding of my Asian ancestors.

More Church Cartoons, Now With MSG!

First up, a sister in our branch was giving a talk on gratitude, and immediately after telling a story about her car breaking the day she expressed gratitude for it, she told us she was grateful she had working legs.

Next, a different sister in our branch told us a story about when she was a missionary and they came across a drunk man lying in the gutter.

Then we had a guy whose accent made it sound like he was talking about Joseph Smith's pet reptile.

Our youngest son is obstinate and lazy. I think if the kid doesn't know how to or can't be bothered to put the sacrament water in his own mouth, he's too young to participate in the sacrament. Our son doesn't want to drink from the cup himself, but doesn't want to be left out. I sent my wife this note, which she then responded to, which I then responded to.

Every branch or ward has someone who has no concept of time. This was the note I sent to my wife one testimony meeting when the first speaker had been going for at least 15 minutes.

A few months ago, we had a returned missionary from another branch come speak to us. I'm sure the guy is a great guy and his mom loves him and all that, but he bothered me. A lot. His talk seemed way too self-congratulatory. His topic was scattered and needlessly deep. Many of his sentences began with, "And if you think about it," implying that none of us had had these great insights because we were all too stupid to put in the thought that he had put in. I sent my wife this note.

The next week, we arrived at district conference to find this same speaker on the program.

Evidently, God is a southpaw.

The Appeal of Modern Islam?

One last section of In Search of Zarathustra (for now).

Why would such a hopeless, life-denying faith, one that could see no good at all in any aspect of creation, convince so many people, not just here in the Midi, but in so many parts of Europe? What problem could only be solved by believing in a world created by the Power of Evil? The answer must surely be found in the conditions under which most people had to live. Their ultra-pessimistic heresy only makes sense if they were desperate people clinging to a despairing belief. "Continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," was Hobbes's familiar rendering. Fear of plague and sickness, fear of childbirth, fear of drought, fear of crop failure and famine, fear of arbitrary injustice, of torture and execution, fear of war and the devastation it left in its wake. And the Church must have failed, in its wealth, arrogance, corruption, sinfulness and decadence, to offer any consolation worth the name. A world of which one could expect no good demanded an explanation. A king, merciful and loving God could not possibly have been the author of such a cruel and frightful place, as the Church insisted He was. Only Stan could have created such a miserable existence. [Loc. 1324-1332 of 4637]

To be completely fair to Kriwaczek, he's not writing about Islam at all. He's writing about the 12th-century heresy of Catharism. I'm sure the dude doesn't need a fatwa on his head. But when I read this description of the medieval world and the failure of contemporary Christianity to satisfy the concerns of the people, I see a perfect explanation for the rise of radical Islam in the modern world.

The only defense against Islamic terrorism is an ideological defense, it is changing the minds of its supporters. Before you tell me that this is cultural or religious intolerance on my part, I'm not saying they must be converted away from Islam. If there is a variety of Islam that allows for pluralism, tolerance, and Islam, then let's get the Muslims who believe that branch to begin proselyting. But we have to be done with the idea that annihilistic Islam is just one acceptable choice out of many religious systems, because a faith that teaches there is nothing worth saving in life is one that approves the destruction of all living.

Stupid Articles

Most articles are stupid, but these two are stupid enough to warrant mention.

First, I read this article about analyzing Disney movies by percentage of dialog delivered by males and females. The article calls out The Little Mermaid in particular, but makes NO reference to a particular plot element: Ariel spends half the movie mute.

But plot elements be damned: Ariel isn't talking and that harms girls. Ignore what really harms girls in The Little Mermaid: you should risk your life and your family's well-being for the chance to win the affection of a boy you saw from a distance once. No, I guess that's fine. But we can't have you silent while you're doing it.

This entire article is a train wreck, from the title that says The Little Mermaid seems empowering at first glance (no it doesn't) to it's complete dismissal of girl-empowering movies like Mulan and Frozen because of the sex of the speaker. Are the researchers implying that girls discount all information from males, or are they suggesting they should?

Mulan spends a period of time speaking as little as possible so she won't give herself away as a girl in an all-male army. How many girl voices are supposed to be involved in the dialog then? And why does the large amount of male speaking time discount the basic message: a girl can hold her own in a role traditionally unavailable to her? Only an idiot would have the nerve to say, "A movie about a girl saving her nation and breaking sex-specific barriers is harmful to girls because not enough girls spoke during the movie."

(I'm curious if the researchers counted Mulan's dialog delivered when pretending to be a boy as delivered by a boy or by a girl. If they count that as boy dialog, they're idiots. If they count it as girl dialog, they hate Caitlyn Jenner.)

Aladdin is called out as the "worst offender" (as if there is something offensive in all this), but Aladdin is a boy, and once they decided to make Jafar and Genie be boys, that's your movie right there. Jasmine is unapproachable to Aladdin. Frankly, the amount of time she actually is in the movie is just pandering to girl viewers. Could Jafar or Genie have been female characters? I guess; I don't know a lot about jinn. But if the original source material had a male genie, and Disney had Robin Williams lined up for the role, they're not going to change Genie's sex.

The researchers are fixated on how much air time women's voices receive. This is what the modern world has become: all form, no substance. A woman telling girls to always please a man is better than a man telling girls to pursue self-actualization.

The second article full of stupid was this one: the Denver Broncos are going to wear white in the Super Bowl. The article's writer implies that this is just a dumb superstition, that laundry color isn't responsible for the times Denver has lost previous Super Bowls. NFL teams typically wear their colored jersey in home games, and Denver is the "home" team for this game to be played in San Francisco, California. But then later in the article, the writer notes that, this year, the Broncos are 8-1 in orange and only 5-2 in white, and he presents this as evidence that they should wear orange. What he's really saying is, "The Broncos are 8-1 at home this season, so they should get this game moved to Denver."

Either laundry doesn't matter, so they should wear whatever color they want, or laundry does matter, so they should avoid the color in which they've never won a Super Bowl. But don't get all uppity about how superstitious they're being and then say, "But they should follow this other superstition."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Modern Maturity

Another section of In Search of Zarathustra that got me thinking was this:

It's tempting to see the mentality of early medieval Europeans as rather childlike, marked, like infants, by innocence, ignorance, irrationality, fatalism, thoughtless cruelty, extraordinary credulity and unquestioning acceptance of authority and of "the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate." By and large, it was enough for the illiterate masses that something had been written down in a book, or even spoken by a priest or Bonhomme, to make it certainly true. ... In general, a wide and deep intellectual fault separates the medieval mind-set from our own. [Loc. 1333 & 1340 of 4637]
To which I say, you lost me at the conclusion.

Are we really that different from the ancients? Well, we're less fatalistic about who gets to be the rich man in his castle. Before it was determined at birth, but now you can claw your way in. And we're no longer illiterate. But replace "a priest or Bonhomme" with "a professor or a TED talk" and you've basically described 90% of the Western world.

Every age thinks they've got it all figured out and their ancestors were hopeless rubes. But Kriwaczek's description of medieval people is more a description of people than of the Middle Ages. We live in an age when most Westerners oppose killing the most vile of criminals in completely painless ways, while also supporting the right to kill unborn infants (who are known to feel pain) by literally pulling them limb from limb. Tell me again, Paul, where the irrationality and thoughtless cruelty has gone.

I don't believe the modern world is all that different from the ancient one. We just have different influences we treat as a god now. Back then it was the pronouncements of church leaders, and now it's the pronouncements of social leaders. There is no intellectual fault separating the medieval mind-set from our own. It just has a different name.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Not Gnostic, But Not Agnostic, Either

I've been reading Paul Kriwaczek's In Search of Zarathustra lately. Today I came across this:

The Great Heresy was a Gnostic faith: higher ranks would be initiated into secret knowledge and hidden interpretations not available to ordinary folk. [Loc. 1235 of 4637]
This made me think about the fact that many people view Mormonism this way. Heck, the entire time I was growing up Mormon, I viewed Mormonism this way. But I don't think Mormonism should be considered a Gnostic faith.

Sometimes you'll hear Mormons make the distinction between "secret" and "sacred." What happens in the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not secret. I'm not just saying that because you can probably find websites of disaffected Mormons "disclosing" the "secrets" of the temple. I'm saying that because, after attending the temple for the first time, I thought, "Absolutely none of that was new."

Which is the way it should be. After all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is plain enough for children to understand it. There's no big reveal where "true" Mormonism gets shown to you. (Unless I just haven't reached that level yet! [dramatic music!]) The general summary of temple ordinances has been publicly disclosed by church leaders for over 100 years now. You make covenants to follow the same basic gospel principles you've been following since baptism.

I guess one way to think of it is to think of the escalation that happens in a personal relationship. When I started dating my wife, I was promising to treat her well and be exclusive to her. That didn't change when we got engaged, and it didn't change when we got married. Each of those steps, though, was a deeper commitment to the same principles. And as a result, with each deeper commitment, more privileges were exchanged. But if someone said to me, "How is your promise to be a good husband different from your promise to be a good boyfriend?" my answer would be, "It's just more serious and all-encompassing."

I get people not getting this about Mormons because I didn't get it myself. The adults in my life didn't get the memo about "sacred" not meaning "secret," so a lot of my questions were answered with, "You'll find out." I guess they were probably just erring on the side of caution, but I wish they would have sought clearer directions instead of just winging it. Problems arose that didn't need to. Again, an application of Hosea: ignorance leads to destruction.

When I was a missionary, we knocked on the door of a woman who wanted to save me from the evil cult she supposed I had joined. She explained that I was nice and honest, but the church was sinister and duplicitous, and at higher levels they let you in on the secret. I told her, "There's nothing to learn in this church that I don't already know." She leaned in and asked confidentially, "Do you know about the funny underwear?" I leaned in, too, and replied with equal confidentiality, "I'm wearing it right now." She made a quick excuse and closed the door.

This passage of In Search of Zarathustra made me think about the ways in which some people might consider Mormonism a Gnostic faith, but I don't think it warrants that description in the conventional sense. We'd probably do well to make that point clearer to the world.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Two Thoughts on the Tree of Life Vision

Our family scripture reading has accidentally lined up with this year's Sunday School curriculum (at least for now), so I seem like an awesome Gospel Doctrine class member because I've read the lesson ahead of time. Anyway, as a result of reading the same chapters twice in the past week--once with my family and once for the Sunday School lesson--and then hearing a lesson about them, I have some thoughts. I'm not claiming they're original or correct or anything, but they are of interest to me.

First, I am struck by the make-believe nature of the great and spacious building. It "stood as it were in the air" (8:26) and is "on the other side of the river of water," a river we are later told is "a great and terrible gulf" (12:18). We are also told that the building represents "vain imaginations" and pride, which are also make-believe items. And I noticed that nowhere are we told that those who set off for the building ever reach it. Instead, they are lost.

Basically, we can pursue worldliness and gratification of pride, but we can't ever actually reach it. We are divided from it by the justice of God. Those who leave the path don't actually get the items that enticed them off the path.

Second, I am intrigued by the placing of the end of the rod of iron. Notice that, in both 8:24 and 8:30, people are described as first "pressing forward" and then catching hold of the end of the rod of iron. In other words, there was a period of the journey where they were advancing but had not yet reached the iron rod.

This might be meaningless, just the result of Lehi's or Nephi's or the angel's or Joseph Smith's word choices. But it also might mean something. Does this correspond to the beginning of Lehi's vision, when he's in a dreary waste without guidance? Does this help explain new converts who quickly fall away? Does this correspond to the period between baptism (getting on the path) and the reception of the Holy Ghost, which must be sought after?

These are the two things that stood out to me on this reading, that the great and spacious building as actually an unreachable mirage, and that part of the journey along the path happens before reaching the rod of iron.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Thoughts on 1 Nephi 7

Two things struck me as interesting when I read this chapter a week or so ago.

  1. Separation from the church as self-damnation.
  2. Dissent is intolerable to the wicked.

First, separation. In Verse 13, Nephi says, "Ye shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem." This made me think more about Laman and Lemuel's point of view. Here they were, having just finished their second trip back to a completely fine city that their father said would be destroyed. They are probably saying to themselves, "We have mounting evidence that our dad is crazy." Nephi tells them that, if they are faithful, they'll eventually get evidence that the prophecy was true.

When does the evidence come? About 400 years later, when the people of Mosiah meet the people of Zarahemla. The Mulekites left Jerusalem post-destruction; they can attest to the prophecy's fulfillment.

Notice who gets this evidence: the Nephites who followed Mosiah. The Lamanites had said, "We don't think the prophecy is true," so they separated themselves, and then they didn't get the confirmation when it came later.

It seems to me this is applicable for modern church members who say, "We think the leaders are crazy old men who are wrong on social issues, so we'll disassociate ourselves from the church until we see evidence that they aren't wrong." When the evidence comes that the leaders aren't wrong, the critics won't be in a position to receive it. This is related to what I've written before about Hosea 4:6 and how people are destroyed for their ignorance.

Second, intolerance. In Verse 15, Nephi tells his brothers to go back to Jerusalem if they want. That seems like that would be the end of the argument. They want to go back, he says, "Fine," end of story, right? Except it's not the end the story. They don't just want to do what they want, they want to remove all dissension. Because he's letting them go with a statement that they're wrong, they tie him up and plan to kill him.

I see parallels to modern "social justice" warriors, who don't just want to win the issue, they want to destroy the opposition. It's not enough for me to say, "Get gay married if you want, but I'm going to tell my children they shouldn't get gay married themselves." I have to actively want what they have. This is a major element of Michel Houellebecq's Submission (as I read it). The main character fears the Muslim majority, then he tries to co-exist with it, but he has to fully submit to ever be right with it.