Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Let America Be America Again"

This great poem by Langston Hughes, written in 1935 and first published in 1936 in Esquire Magazine, still resonates. Check out this video:

This stanza says why we need to keep working on America:
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
And here's the entire poem:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Some Recommended Reading: Great Literature Made Easy (Borges)

Oh how well I remember my college Spanish literature class, when we were "reading" (i.e., in my case, anyway, plugging through the story with Spanish-English dictionary at hand, writing down the definitions of about half of all the words in the story) "Funes el Memorioso," by Jorge Luis Borges.

I was so embarrassed when the teacher asked me the meaning of a word which I had not bothered to look up. The word was in this sentence: " Y también, hacia el alba: Mi memoría, señor, es como vacíadero de basuras." Turns out the word was, in English, "garbage." Funes was telling the narrator, at the end of a long night of talking, toward dawn, "My memory, Sir, is like a garbage dump."

That was in the olden days, before the Internet. Just think, if I were studying Spanish literature in the newen days, I could have looked up the story in Spanish AND English, along with innumerable articles interpreting it.

So when the instructor had asked me the next question, about the meaning of this sentence (after he explained that "basura" is Spanish for "garbage" and "vaciadero" is "dumping site," I could have amazed him with a bunch of literary interpretations. Or I could have just consulted Wikipedia, which would link me to a TON of literary and not-so-literary ideas I could have used to write a crazy good paper. What if I had read only these three references from the Wikipedia page:
Oliver Sacks (2008-04-16). "Life-changing books: The Mind of a Mnemonist". New Scientist. 
The woman who can remember everything, The Telegraph, 9 May 2008

A Case of Unusual Autobiographical Remembering" Psychology Press, 2006

I could have even watched a movie made from the story:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Some Recommended Reading: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

So, now that you've read up on general survival skills, how 'bout roughing it with zombies?

Here's the "Nanny's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse,"  with tips you might have figured out for yourself, such as this one:
* When caring for small children during a zombie outbreak, it is preferable to barricade oneself and one's charges inside the house you're working in and await rescue rather than try to travel to a stronghold. First, set the child/children down at the highest and most secure part of the dwelling, along with food, nappies, bedding and medical supplies. Fill up as many water vessels as you can before the water supply is compromised. After you've done this, destroy the staircase and use any and all furniture to build a barrier. However, make sure there is an emergency exit in case your walls are breached.
Another news flash from this blog: " NEVER leave yourself without food, rest or medicine so that the child/children can have more. They can live without that little bit extra. They can't live without you."

This kind of stuff is news to exactly whom? Oh, well, it's cute and funny, and it's just one post on a generally useful site,  if you're a nanny. So I'm not really putting it down.

Then there are the cutesie "5 Reasons a Toddler Would Survive a Zombie Apocalypse" and "10 Reasons Why Moms Will Survive a Zombie Apocalypse." 

BEST EVER zombie apocalypse survival tips are in this post, "25 Things You Should Never Do During a Zombie Apocalypse."  To give you the flavor of this delightful article, No. 1 is "Set a zombie on fire." But what makes this work are the film clips illustrating each point. For "Get too cocky," there's this clip from "Shaun of the Dead."

25 Things You Should Never Do During A Zombie Apocalypse

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Some Recommended Reading: Survival Edition

I found an article, "How Not to Die," in a 2-year-old "Popular Mechanics" magazine at the doctor's office (yes, I recirculate magazines) that was fascinating. You can read it online here, complete with explanatory diagrams.

I realized after looking through the Popular Mechanics Web site that this magazine is full of survival tips, including this one, "How to Survive Absolutely Anything." The subtitle, "Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and other disasters can turn a region upside down in a day. And for some unlucky families the crisis may last for weeks if not months," is a good preview. Obviously I recommend this (because this post is called "Some Recommended Reading," duh).

I mean, look at this section:
A basic first-aid kit may not be enough to get you through the worst of a disaster. It's a good start—you do want bandages, gauze pads, aspirin, hydrocortisone, antiseptic wipes, etc.—but unexpected emergencies demand unconventional remedies. We asked Mykel Hawke, former Green Beret medic and host of Elite Tactical Unit on the Outdoor Channel, what he would add. His list:
· DUCT TAPE—Great for wound closure, splints, and casts.
· SUPERGLUE—Excellent for small, deep wounds. Use tape to hold while drying.
· TAMPONS—An unexpected tool for stanching heavy bleeding.
· NEEDLE-NOSE PLIERS—Use for removing large splinters or nails.
And the next section, "How to read a FEMA map," tells you how to find out if that illustrious federal agency has mistakenly labeled your home as being in a flood zone. (Hint: Probably not. But why not check for yourself?) 

On the Popular Mechanics Web site I also found a link to a blog, "Self Sufficient Mountain Living," which is kind of interesting. Well, the day-to-day details aren't always interesting. What makes people who are living in cabins in the mountains think that moving to the wilderness will keep them from being sometimes bored, sometimes restless, sometimes depressed? The new great American fantasy: roughing it!

Will you have YouTube in survival mode? Probably not, so be sure to check out this video BEFORE the dam breaks, the earthquake hits, or the tsunami crushes your beach resort:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Weird Word of the Week: Lulz

I know it's an old one, but it occurred to me while watching the latest Republican debate Tues. night. Was Rand Paul just trolling the other Republicans on that stage? Was he doing it for the Lulz?

Here's the Wiktionary definition:

lulz ---  Fun; amusement; humor; especially schadenfreude. Some quotes from this same article:
  • 2007 July 26, KKTV Fox 11 News report:
    Anonymous gets big lulz from pulling random pranks
  • 2008 June 20, Tom Whipple, “Scientology: the Anonymous protestors”, in The Times:
    Like “Hakuna matata” in The Lion King, “lulz” is not just a word, but a philosophy. [...] Anonymous has made campaigning sexy for the first time since 1968. The lulz is, after all, the ancient spirit that once made the young become Marxists, or sail off to the New World.
  • 2008 August 3, Mattathias Schwartz, “Malwebolence - The World of Web Trolling”, in The New York Times:
    Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll who, like many people I contacted, refused to disclose his legal identity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Some Recommended Reading: Tech Edition (And Bonus: Walnut Creek!)

Look familiar? 

1.  Here's one worry put to rest:  Is Windows 10 telemetry a threat to your personal privacy? If, like me, you struggle to read through an entire article about this stuff, here's the gist of it:
Microsoft insists that its telemetry system is designed to prevent any privacy issues. "We collect a limited amount of information to help us provide a secure and reliable experience," the company says, describing telemetry data without using the term. "This includes data like an anonymous device ID and device type. ... This doesn't include any of your content or files, and we take several steps to avoid collecting any information that directly identifies you, such as your name, email address or account ID."
I have watched Microsoft's behavior in regard to privacy over the years. This statement is consistent with the way the company works, in my experience, and I am unaware of any evidence from external sources that contradicts these statements.
So there's no on-off switch for this category of data collection. Instead, Windows 10 has three telemetry settings: Basic, Enhanced, and Full.

And here's the ZDNet Tech Today Web site, for lots of "fun" reading about the tech world, if you're one of those who thinks this is fun.

2.  But wait, there's more!

So you think the Windows 10 telemetry is not a problem for you, so you're not worried any more, right? So check out this article, from The Atlantic: "If You're Not Paranoid, You're Crazy." 

Opening bit:

I knew we’d bought walnuts at the store that week, and I wanted to add some to my oatmeal. I called to my wife and asked her where she’d put them. She was washing her face in the bathroom, running the faucet, and must not have heard me—she didn’t answer. I found the bag of nuts without her help and stirred a handful into my bowl. My phone was charging on the counter. Bored, I picked it up to check the app that wirelessly grabs data from the fitness band I’d started wearing a month earlier. I saw that I’d slept for almost eight hours the night before but had gotten a mere two hours of “deep sleep.” I saw that I’d reached exactly 30 percent of my day’s goal of 13,000 steps. And then I noticed a message in a small window reserved for miscellaneous health tips. “Walnuts,” it read. It told me to eat more walnuts.

It was probably a coincidence, a fluke. Still, it caused me to glance down at my wristband and then at my phone, a brand-new model with many unknown, untested capabilities. Had my phone picked up my words through its mic and somehow relayed them to my wristband, which then signaled the app?

So, you really ARE crazy if you're not paranoid about privacy with all your electronic devices!

3.  Finally, speaking of technology, and speaking of walnuts***, the city of Walnut Creek has a Web site with lots of interesting photos and information. Check it out, and watch as you go from a charming rustic scene of a shed in a field to, next photo, a couple of German Shepherd police dogs outside of police cars with the warning painted on the side, STAY BACK POLICE DOG. What's really funny are the photos of the downtown, completely different from when I was a kid. But the overall background of the site, with the foothills and lovely Mount Diablo, brings back good memories.

***When I was searching for the online version of this story, which I read originally in the print version of the magazine, I typed in "Walnut" to my search engine, and came up with the Walnut Creek link, and couldn't resist it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Some Recommended Reading: "Heart of a Dog" and "Grantland"

---- Heart of a Dog:

"How a 68-year-old novice filmmaker made one of the best movies of the year" is an inspiring read for all of us who have been told that 28 is way too old to succeed in the film industry.

Oh, okay, the 68-year-old is Laurie Anderson, but she still had to go through the crap everyone else has to --- that is, everyone who wants to make something of herself, contribute to the world, make other people happy.

The movie is "Heart of a Dog," but it's about more than dogs, more than her beloved dog Lolabelle, more than the "Tibetan purgatory known as the bardo." And here's how she summed up what she did and what her philosophy is: "It’s part of my philosophy of life not to push things away," [Anderson] told Indiewire’s Dana Harris on the Influencers podcast. "Don’t sit there whining. Do something."

(BTW, I found the link to the "Heart of a Dog" story on Stage 32:

---- Grantland:

ESPN is shutting down the blog "Grantland," but apparently people will still be able to read the past stories shared there, as a CNN reporter tweeted that all Grantland content will be archived on ESPN.com.

I glanced at --- and passed on --- most of the stories in a list of Grantland's supposedly best stories ever. But here's one I thought worth reading, "The Wet Stuff." (You don't have to be related to anyone who works at a water park to enjoy this story, either.)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Good News for the Environment (Nestle Loses Water "Rights")

I'm pasting below the entire text of an e-letter I just received from Bark, a local environmentalist group I belong to:

No, never mind, I tried that, and it was unreadable. So I'll summarize the gist of it here:

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has told the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife to withdraw the application to transfer a state-owned water right that would have enabled Nestle to build a water-bottling plant along the Columbia River.

(My personal note: Nestle was planning to make this water-bottling plant in a town that is a sweet little backwater, pun intended, a place you enjoy seeing along the river between the beautiful waterfalls on the Oregon side. They would have put publicly owned water from a natural resource and one of the great rivers of North America into plastic bottles which they would sell. The company claimed it would bring in 1,000 jobs to the town but not negatively affect the infrastructure, traffic, and so on.)

Back to the summary of the letter:  Gov. Brown said she stopped the permitting process because of a desire for a more "transparent" process. Good for her! People have been clamoring for that for years now in Oregon.

(Another personal note: Yes, I live in Washington, not Oregon, but all the people in this part of Washington, much closer to Oregon than we are to any big city in our own state, including the capital, have the same concern Oregonians have for keeping the water clean and preserving the river and its water for future generations. Not to mention for current generations:)

Back to the summary of the letter: Gov. Brown's announcement follows closely on a large Native American led rally on the Capitol steps in Salem. Native salmon fishermen have treaty rights on the Columbia River, and they, as well as Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs and the Umatilla have demanded a stake in the process.

(Final personal note: How fitting that the treaty rights and fishing rights of people who have had their lands and livelihoods taken away as white settlers moved in, farmed, and built dams, are finally being acknowledged. All of us will benefit.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Some Recommended Reading: NaNoWriMo Edition

Are you doing it? How many pages per day, so far? Here's some inspiration for your writintg;

Neil Gaiman, "Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming" --- One bit from the middle of this lecture, The Reading Agency annual lecture on the future of reading and libraries with a focus on young people:
I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read. And certainly couldn't read for pleasure.

It's not one to one: you can't say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.
 6 Things You Should Never Write About for NaNoWriMo --- and I'm going to list them here, but you should read the whole article to get the bits about WHY you shouldn't write about these:
---Safe things
---Boring things
---Overdone things
---Wish fulfillment things
---Predictable things
---Personal things
8 Ways to Explain NaNoWriMo to Your Non-Writer Friends --- I love them all, but I'm not going to list them all here. Read the article. You'll love it, I promise. Oh, well, here's one: "What about your job?" (Not really a way to explain it, but read the bit.)

And here's the NaNoWriMo blog. Nah, don't read it. It's a waste of time. But I had to include it, right?
Wait, I just saw a good tweet on this blog, a prompt: "Talk less. Smile more." But they didn't even attribute this quote, which is Aaron Burr talking to Alexander Hamilton in the musical "Hamilton." Duh. Always attribute your quotes, folks on Twitter.

Oh, wait, they did attribute it in the next tweet. And explained why they included it. So go ahead and read this if you want. I'm certainly not stopping you!

Finally, this post from 2011, "49 Best Blogs for NaNoWriMo Support" --- I didn't check all the links to see if they still work, but, hey, if you see a blog title that looks helpful, and particularly if you need help with your procrastination, go ahead and check 'em out.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Some Recommended Reading

Some more articles I enjoyed this week:

"All my trash for a year fit into two plastic bags. Here's how I did it." Darshan Karwat started living without trash, or recycling, as a student at the University of Michigan. He notes, "The average American produces more than four pounds of trash and recyclables per day, about 1,500 pounds per year. In my first year of living trash- and recycling-free, I produced a little more than seven and a half pounds of waste..." To do it, he had to change the way he lived. Can we do it, too? Here's his own blog, best title ever for a blog, "Minimizing Entropy," chronicling the process. 

Facebook replies to activists' protest of risky rule: If you don't like the way people can use your name and identifying info already, think about what it would be like to have stalkers and other mean people come after you. Facebook isn't really fixing it. But neither does anyone actually have to use their "real" name. Or address, or date of birth.   

"This Book Drives a Wooden Stake Into the Mythology of Bats," on the National Geographic Web site, is a review of Merlin Tuttle's "The Secret Lives of Bats"  (Follow this link to the Amazon page to buy the book.)  In an interview, the author was asked why we associate bats with vampires, why we're scared of them. He said, "We tend to fear most what we understand least. Indonesia’s fruit bats (called Flying Foxes) are gigantic. They have a three- to nearly six-foot wingspan and live out in the open where people can see them easily. They are eulogized as folk heroes there. Nobody’s afraid of bats when they see them and understand them."

"Cutting added sugar could improve health in 10 days..." Do you believe it? I do, absolutely. But if you Google all the references to this study, you'll find some criticizing its methodology. On the other hand, who needed a study to know that sugar was bad for you? Come on, folks! We've known it all along!

And, speaking of sugar, WebMD says "Too Many Seniors With Diabetes Are Overtreated." The sub-headline is "Even when blood sugar, blood pressure levels dropped too low, doctors didn't cut back on meds." Hmmm. Does anyone besides me see the source of the problem here?

Finally, "My Heart-to-Heart with God about the Sabbath" is well written and was published online just when I needed a boost.

Wait, one more thing, Shaping Sound: amazing choreography with the greatest rock song ever, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Some Recommended Reading

A few articles I found this week that I hope others will find interesting, too:

"Further and Farther," from the New Yorker magazine: Does etymology determine usage? I think it does, but most speakers of modern (contemporary) English don't think so!

Best Video You Will Ever See: a little boy explains vegetarianism as no one else can.  Here's the video, which I first saw on the Feed Me Darling Facebook page:

Daniel Craig tells us a couple of truths about James Bond: First, "I guess that one of the biggest reasons why the character has endured for so long is because he represents the eternal struggle between good and evil." But also: "...let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist."

And also about distinguishing between heroes and role models: "Don’t confuse role models with heroes. My heroes are very personal to me. Both my grandfathers fought in the Second World War—one was in Germany, the other with the Royal Air Force in Siberia. But let’s not harp on about that. They hated talking about what was a terrible time. We should respect that. "

Dan Price, the guy who is giving his employees a minimum wage of $70,000 per year, has gotten a lot of flak from the usual suspects. But his experiment is working, and other employers are trying it.

What about the guy (David Siegel) who said he would FIRE all his employees if Obama was elected? (Because he would have to fire them because the economy would go to hell and he wouldn't be able to pay them, etc., etc., etc.)  From The Daily Kos:

Instead of firing, Siegel has had to hire more people.  Since his employees were finally able to get reasonably-priced health insurance, he was free to invest his money in all kinds of things.  He bought the Orlando Predators.  He also bought a massive hotel/casino in Las Vegas.  Saints be praised, he was even able to finally start work again on his gaudy, 90,000 square foot house complete with a bowling alley, a 30-car garage, and a roller-skating rink.
Turns out that he never had any intention to flee to the Caribbean.
Turns out Obama has been great for him.
Turns out he was just another rich, entitled a$$hole.
(And may I recommend The Daily Kos for all kinds of interesting articles, like the one above. I'll try not to take more than one of my recommendations from this Web site each time.)

Finally, contrary to what anti-religionists say, truly religious people don't see much conflict between religion and science. "The people who are farther away from religion themselves tend to see stronger conflict, because they’re not as close to actual religious people," according to Robert P. Jones, a religion scholar and CEO of the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute.  “They aren’t seeing all those people who don’t have a conflict.” Jones explains that anti-religionists just see "waht's depicted in the media: all-out warfare."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Sunday Book Review, October 18, 2015: The Book of the Dun Cow

Can you judge a book by its cover? Well, yeah, obviously. That's why the paperback romance novels all look essentially the same, the damsel with the ripped bodice leaning up against the hunk with the no-bodice. That's why the science fiction books all have that certain shade of dark blue somewhere on the cover. That's why the mystery novels all have that certain candy-apple red shaded with darker tones somewhere on the cover. And so on.

I found this book at a library book sale a few years ago and picked it up because of the title and the great cover. I liked how a rooster in front of the sun dominated the cover while a dun cow barely peeked out behind him.

 And I wondered what this book could possibly be about: life in Iowa? Election politics? An expose of big farming in Iowa?

Kidding. I'm reviewing this book now because I found it at the library, again, this time in the row of paperback books the librarian told me are "honor-system" checkouts. You have to check these books out like other books, and they have an electronic tag in them so you can't sneak them out without checking them out, but when you try to renew them, the librarians wave their hands and say, "Psh. Just bring it back when you're done with it."

I'm mentioning that because on the bottom of the book someone has written with Sharpie, "SF." Most of the books in that section say "M" (for mystery, I guess), or "T" (for thriller).

So I checked it out, because I knew I would never find the copy of the book I'd bought years ago anywhere in my own library collection at home. I thought I would just skim through it to remind myself of the plot and enjoy the antics of the rooster Chauntecleer, his would-be nemesis Cockatrice, the Dog Mundo Cani, and the other animals.

But I couldn't just skim. I had to read, really read, and I got into the book even more deeply than I did the first time I'd read it. It's like an extended fable, it's like "Animal Farm," it's like "Watership Down," and it's like none of those. It left me with an almost religious feeling of wonder and awe.

How could a so-called "sci-fi" book written in 1978 affect me so much? I looked it up on Wikipedia, and got just the facts, the bare facts. Wikipedia says the book is "loosely based upon the beast fable of Chanticleer and the Fox adapted from the story of "The Nun's Priest's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales."

But I think it's so affecting because the would-be hero, Chauntecleer, is not any more of a hero than any of us: he's vain and petty and sometimes mean, but he tries to do what's right. And when he's called upon to lead his people and save them from evil, he succeeds, almost in spite of himself and certainly because of the Dun Cow and the Dog Mundo Cani.

Another interesting thing I learned on Wikipedia is that a musical produced as an off-Broadway show came out of the book, and the author, Walter Wangerin, Jr., wrote a sequel, "The Book of Sorrows," which I'll look for in the library or find online. (I just followed the link to the sequel on Wikipedia and read that it was published by Zondervan, which Wikipedia says "is an international Christian media and publishing company located in Grand Rapids, Michigan."  And I found it on Amazon, so I'll order it and let you know what I think.

Meanwhile, here's an interesting review of "The Book of the Dun Cow."

SNL: Democratic Debate

Finally! A real debate!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fiction Friday: Oct. 9, 2015: The Martian

When I reviewed the book "The Martian" earlier this year, I wrote, "What's so great about this book is that it's not 'fantasy' and it's not hard-core 'sci-fi,' you know, those books from the 60s with the most unrealistic characters anyone could ever imagine, zipping around in unrealistic (not sci-fi, just unrealistic!) space ships and conquering new worlds while having unlimited sex with nubile and even more unrealistic and unrealistically acquiescent female aliens and astronauts."

Right? It's real science-driven fiction, what we all have been wanting all along, fiction based on real science.

And so, what about the movie? Well, the movie does the book justice and more so. The plot of the novel is brilliant, the screenplay adapted from the novel is brilliant, the directing is brilliant, the effects are brilliant, and Matt Damon is brilliant as the astronaut who is left behind when his 5 crew-mates have to abort their mission.

The movie asks the questions, what will life for Earthlings be like on Mars, and how can anyone survive there if all the NASA fail-safes fail? It answers the questions: It will be incredibly hard, but if you want to live and you follow the training you've received and don't let yourself panic, and if your crew comes back for you, and you have NASA and the whole world hoping and waiting, you might make it.

Because, as the trailer says, "Help is only 140 million miles away!"

The book was so incredibly good, and, guess what, the movie does justice to it. Great plot! Great screenplay! Great characters! Great acting! Great effects! Great planet! Great everything!

The movie is my favorite in the last few years, maybe my favorite of all time. Here's the "official" trailer:

If you're concerned about language, the movie is rated PG-13, so you know it has some strong language. There is also a scene showing the very skinny naked astronaut from the back toward the end of his long ordeal on the inhospitable planet (I'm guessing this is not the actor Matt Damon), and there are some views of a bloody injury and the astronaut sewing that up. In other words, if your 13-year-old sees this movie, she will not hear or see anything she hasn't already been exposed to for the last 6 years of her life.

Should you see it? Yes. Please see this movie. And maybe you'll know why I keep hoping that *I* can go to Mars someday.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Joe, Don't Run for President! But....

But please keep inspiring us. Here are some quotes from Joe Biden's appearance on "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert last night (taken from the Washington Post):

Speaking of how he tends to get emotional about the recent death of his son Beau, who urged him to run for president, Joe said, "It's a little embarrassing. So many people who have losses as severe or maybe worse than mine and don't have the support I have." He added later, "The loss is serious and it's consequential, but there are so many other people going through this."

The Post reports:
Colbert asked Biden, a devout Catholic, about his faith, and the vice president said he has taken solace in being able to attend Mass and feel, in the crowd at church, a sense of being alone with his thoughts and emotions. He  said that his wife, Jill, tapes notes to the bathroom mirror, including one from Kierkegaard, the philosopher, which said: "Faith sees best in the dark."

He related an expression from his mother that "as long as you are alive you have an obligation to strive, and you're not dead until you see the face of God."

"No one owes you anything," Biden said. "You gotta get up. And I feel like I was letting down Beau, letting down my parents, letting down my family, if I didn't just get up."

The vice president empathized with Colbert, whose own father and two brothers were killed in an airplane crash.

"I marvel at the ability of people who absorb hurt and just get back up," he said. "You're one of them, old buddy. Losing your dad when you're a kid. It's like asking what made your mother do it every day?"

Colbert interjected: "She had to take care of me."

Biden replied, "I imagine that would be a hell of a job."
We all need you, Joe Biden, but not as president of the U.S. More for your inspiration and compassion, neither of which you'll have much chance to display in the White House.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Once in a Blue Moon

It's happening tomorrow (Friday, July 31): the second of two full moons in the same month.

The moon won't actually look blue, but it's certainly a rare occasion, which is why we use that expression, "once in a blue moon."

Here's a San Francisco news station's description of the upcoming event.

Good news if you enjoy looking at the full moon; not so great if you want to look at the Delta Aquarid meteor shower.

The next blue moon will occur in January of 2018.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kaiser Does It Again

I've written before about the problems of having Kaiser Permanente as your HMO, and I'll be writing about it again in the future, I'm sure. That's just because it is fraught, fraught, I say, with so many problems and pitfalls for patients.

The worst one I've heard in a long time happened to a teenager whose Kaiser physicians --- read, gate-keepers and bean-counters --- declined to perform a diagnostic MRI for her severe back pain. Instead, they referred her to an acupuncturist (yes, an acupuncturist) and a nutritionist to lose "extra belly weight" --- even though the five-foot-four girl weighed 125 pounds, which makes me think she had no "extra belly weight."

Problem was, the girl had a tumor which could have been treated early if detected by an MRI. But, because it wasn't detected early, when it was finally treated, she had to have her right leg, half of her pelvis, and part of her spine removed.

The L.A. Times reports, "Attorneys for 23-year-old Anna Rahm of Chatsworth argued that a cancerous tumor in her pelvis grew during the three months she and her mother tried to persuade Kaiser doctors to authorize an MRI. By the time the test was finally approved, doctors were forced to amputate Rahm's right leg, half of her pelvis and part of her spine."

A couple of months ago, a Los Angeles jury righted this wrong --- as much as it could be righted --- by ordering Kaiser to pay the young woman $28 million.

Kaiser, of course, is probably going to appeal. Because, they say, according to the L.A. Times, even though "....the health and safety of our patients is paramount at all times, [some of their]  highly respected medical experts testified that the medical care provided was appropriate."

Of course they said that. Why am I so dang cynical, anyway?

Meanwhile,Ms. Rahm said, "I hope I taught the doctors who were working with me a lesson.” She's studying at Cal State Northridge "to work with children facing life-threatening illnesses." And she "uses crutches to get around campus because she does not want to use a wheelchair." Brave girl!

The L.A. Times article notes that Kaiser is "both an insurer and provider," which I think is at the root of the problem. Kaiser "care providers" are not really working for the "patients," but make "care" decisions based on potential cost to the Kaiser system than patients' actual needs.

For a supposed non-profit, Kaiser is doing pretty well, with $56.4 billion in revenue and $2.2 billion in revenue in 2014.

Why do I keep using Kaiser, you may ask (and probably have asked me). Because it's the only option available in my area that isn't even worse. Which says a lot about our national health-"care" system, doesn't it. 

Then why do I keep complaining about it? Because I can't really switch to another program, so I can only hope that publicizing the faults in the Kaiser system will eventually force these bean-counters to improve their system.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Weird Word of the Week: Manspreading

Manspreading is the practice of sitting with legs spread wide apart on the subway or bus, making the seats on either side unavailable to other riders. It is annoying and rude, and, as with mansplaining, is (by definition) a practice limited to men.

Some public-transport riders have taken to snapping photos and posting them online in an attempt to shame offenders. And, according to Wikipedia, New York's MTA and Seattle's Sound Transit have started poster campaigns to encourage men to use one seat at a time.

As always, pointing out the problem has led to a backlash in which super-sensitive men respond that women should stop putting their bags or other belongings on the seat next to them, thereby depriving other passengers of space.

I've got to say, though, that it's not just the taking up of space that is offensive in manspreading;  the outspread display is just plain disgusting (for me and many other women, and men).

Monday, July 13, 2015

Weird Word of the Week: Mansplaining

I thought of explaining this word when I read a July 6 article about Michael Eisner explaining that beautiful women just aren't funny, and, of course, vice-versa. Because he should know, right?

The author of this article explains the phenomenon perfectly:

"All the elements of a great mansplaining were in place: painting oneself as a brave truth-teller in the face of scolding feminist mommies, declaring yourself the authority on women’s feelings, arguing that women’s main and possibly sole motivating force is male attention, and assuming that the world is deeply interested in your aesthetic opinions about ladykind."

According to this article, the word "mansplain" originated in an article by Rebecca Solnit, whose 2008 essay “Men Explain Things to Me”told the painfully hilarious story of when she was talking to a man who, assuming she knew less than he did about everything (because,  hello, she is a woman), began to tell her all about a book which she had authored. 

Check out this Tumblir page for a few examples of mansplaining in academia: "Academic Men Explain Things to Me." 

Unfortunately, the word "mansplain" has lately been applied to situations where it doesn't quite explain what's happening.

Unfortunately, also, its use has turned into another weapon in the gender wars. As if we needed another one.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Weird Word of the Week: Pareidolia

From Wikipedia: Pareidolia is "a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) which is perceived as significant.

Some examples are when you think you see an animal shape in a cloud, or the man in the moon, or when you think you're hearing hidden messages in music.

Wikipedia says pareidolia is "the visual form of apophenia, which is the perception of patterns within random data. Combined with apophenia and hierophany (manifestation of the sacred), pareidolia may have helped ancient societies organize chaos and make the world intelligible."

Another example of course is seeing a face or a pyramid on Mars. 
A satellite photo of a mesa in Cydonia, often called the Face on Mars. Later imagery from other angles did not show the illusion.    

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Pyramid on Mars?

Dear Madame L,

I saw a picture online that is supposedly a pyramid photographed by the Mars rover Curiosity. So I'm curious myself: Could it really be a pyramid, and, if it is, does that mean there is or once was life on Mars?


Like I Said, Curious

Dear Curious,

You're welcome for not calling you a moron, which some rational people have called anyone who believes the rover might have caught a glimpse of a pyramid on Mars.

Photo snapped by NASA's Curiosity rover on May 7, 2015 purports to show a car-sized pyramid on Mars. Curiosity was launched into space on Nov. 26, 2011 and landed on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012.
From the Huffington Post's reporting on the rock (rock, not pyramid!):
"It is a rock," Dr. Jim Bell, deputy principal investigator of the Mastcam investigation program and a professor of astronomy at Arizona State University in Tempe, told The Huffington Post in an email. "It is probably a volcanic rock (like most rocks that we've seen with rovers on Mars), and just like many volcanic rocks on the Earth, many volcanic rocks on Mars break and cleave in very sharp, angular ways. This one happens to have cleaved into a pyramidal shape, which is actually not too uncommon among hard, dense volcanic rocks on the Earth either."

As for the size of the rock, Bell said an analysis by the Mastcam team suggests that it's only about four inches tall, or the height of an 8-ounce soda can. 
 And here's the Snopes response to the question about pyramid(s) on Mars, concluding, "...for now we’d have to classify this “pyramid” photograph as another example of pareidolia..."

And what is pareidolia?  Madame L will define this Weird Word of the Week next week.

Activists Looking for New Targets

Dear Madame L,

I hate to burst your bubble, but check out this interview on National Public Radio.

Here's a quote from the online post of the article:

Having clinched the long-sought prize of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, some long-time advocates are now waking up to the realization that they need to find a new job. At least one major same-sex marriage advocacy group is preparing to close down and other LGBT organizations are retooling.

They have grown from a ragtag group with a radical idea into a massive multi-million dollar industry of slick and sophisticated sellers of a dream. Today, their very success has made their old jobs obsolete.

...Another group, Lambda Legal, launched a website this week tracking potential trouble spots. So those who've been fighting for the right to marry say they'll still keep busy trying to enforce it.

Sounds to me like these activists are going to start going after the rest of us!


Get Out of Your Ivory Tower!

Dear Friend,

I don't get the same impression that you do from that interview.  I see why those activists now want to make sure that the law is enforced and feel that their work---guaranteeing equal rights for all members of society---is far from over. And, yes, they want to stay employed.

To clarify what I wrote in my previous post on this topic, "The Coming Storm (SCOTUS Decision," the work of religious people is still and always the same: To love all men and women and obey God's commandments.

He has promised us: "Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess" (Deuteronomy 5:33).

Or, in the Book of Mormon:  "And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it" (Mosiah 2:41).

I refuse to give in to what appears to me to be somewhat hysterical fear-mongering by some of my co-religionists. Let's have faith, and let's let God work His will. And let's remember that He loves all people and instructs us to do the same.

Best wishes,

Madame L

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Coming Storm (SCOTUS Decision)

Dear Madame L,

Some friends of mine who are very religious are sending me links to articles about the Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex throughout the U.S.

These articles are full of doom and gloom for Catholics and Mormons and members of other churches who are declining to jump on the bandwagon of performing same-sex weddings. They're predicting that members of those faiths soon won't even have a place in American society, will be shunned and even persecuted, and so on. What do you think about this?


Also Religious, Also Worried

Dear Worried Religious Friend,

As a committed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a Mormon), I am also thinking about the ramifications of that Supreme Court decision. And I absolutely do not trust the Supreme Court to make any sense in their decisions or to reflect what the majority thinks or has voted. They seem like 4 really angry old men and 5 really puzzled other people, fighting it out based on personal opinions instead of the law and precedent. But that's just me, who am definitely not any kind of expert on any of this stuff.

However, no matter what the Supreme Court says and all the anti-religious activists do, I refuse to make those dire predictions that some are making.

I think we have to stay the course. I am glad to see a lot of LDS people are writing blogs about these issues, making sure our point of view is represented, along with the facts.

And I especially like it when LDS bloggers and commenters stick to gospel principles and avoid the kind of angry in-kind shouting matches some of them (us) are being goaded into.

It's not helpful to get hysterical, predict we'll be "living as exiles in our own country," and so on.

I am hoping it won't get that bad, and I believe we can help ensure that it won't get that bad by continuing to respond and be active in politics and express our views in a rational way.

I love the way the church leaders wrote about the court's decision. Here you can read the statement, the letter, and the background info, so inspired and full of love.

I'm afraid it may be true that there will be people coming out of the woodwork who, because of their own meanness and hatefulness and whatever agenda they have, and their desire to keep making money off of this "cause," will target us. But even if we are to see days of persecution ahead, we will withstand.

We will withstand through obedience and love, and by the shining light of our example.

I worked a few years ago with a young college student who said the Mormon church is horrible because we don't accept gay marriage and she has a sister who's a Lesbian and she loves her sister and her sister loves her "wife" and so on, so why don't we approve of their getting married.

I told her, "We don't have anything against gays or Lesbians. Does your sister want to become a Mormon and be married in the Mormon church?"

She admitted that her sister was very far from wanting to be a Mormon or wanting to be married as a Mormon. And she got the point: If that sister isn't interested in our church, then why does she care about what we will or won't do?

So that seems to me like an approach that might work in the future, too.

I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts about this.


Madame L

Proving the Book of Mormon by Historical and Archaeological Methods

(I am copying this post from the Aunt Louise blog to keep the continuity of this thread of thoughts on the Book of Mormon and how it can and cannot be proven or disproven.)

This is a follow-up to my two earlier posts about proving the Book of Mormon by scientific methods. By focusing on so-called historical proofs of the Book of Mormon, I'm assuming that history and archaeology use methods like those used by physical scientists: gathering evidence, fitting it in with previously known facts to reconstruct the past, and subjecting our conclusions to peer review and the potential for contradictory interpretations and further findings.

In my first post about science and the Book of Mormon, I wrote that the Book of Mormon cannot be "proven" by scientific methods  "... because that is not how scripture is 'proven' or 'disproven.'" I added a link to a short article by LDS writer and scholar Daniel C. Peterson arguing that in fact so-called scientific methods are not how most ancient documents have been proven. He gives the example of the discovery of the ancient city of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann, who did not in any way use the objective, peer-reviewed, scientific model of scholarship.

Then, responding to a comment from Jeff, who noted, "A scientific 'proof'' over-rates what science can actually do--and totally misses the point," I wrote:

 "What will it take for the world of scientists and historians and linguists to accept the Book of Mormon? Who cares? Who cares if scholars accept the Book of Mormon on their terms? It doesn't ask to be accepted on those terms. It exists for humble seekers of truth to read it, pray about it, and respond to the witness they receive."

Since writing that, I've been following some scholarly arguments about how we can "prove" the existence of ancient cultures and civilizations; these show, again, why it is a waste of time --- and counter-productive in every way --- to attempt to "prove" the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon through ancient texts or archaeological finds.

And I'm very disappointed to have write this, having heard and read many accounts of Mesoamerican archaeological sites where supposed baptismal fonts were found and reading more recently about some LDS travelers who found the three consonants "NHM" written on an altar in Yemen, supposedly corresponding to the place identified by Nephi as Nahom. Because here's the thing, or, I should say, here are several things:

1. Nay-sayers will always, and I mean always, have a response to every one of these finds. For example, an anti-Mormon "outreach" group has come up with a number of objections to the idea that the three consonants on that altar in Yemen mean the same as the word "Nahom." (As a student of Arabic, I must say their arguments are wrong; as a student of the Book of Mormon, I must say their arguments are misguided; and as a student of human nature, I must say their arguments reveal a singular snarkiness that undermines everything else they could possibly write.)

These people say, "Let us not forget that the LDS Church has provided no historical or archaeological evidence that Nephi or any of the unique characters mentioned in the Book of Mormon actually lived."

2. To that point, I say, let us not forget that, indeed. Let us not forget, either, that nobody has every provided any historical or archaeological evidence that the Council of Nicaea actually happened in the time and place we have all accepted for hundreds of years it supposedly happened. As LDS writer John Gee notes:

"From historical sources we know that Nicaea was near Constantine's summer residence. We have no archaeological evidence that he was ever there or ever paid any attention to the place. The lack of archaeological evidence does not prove Constantine was never there. On the other hand archaeological evidence tells us that the theater seated 15,000. I know of no historical evidence that provides us that information. The lack of historical evidence does not mean there was no theater."
John Gee also cites the difficulty of reconciling archaeological with historical evidence about the dynamic succession at Masuwari, concluding, "So we can only work with inadequate evidence." He concludes:
"Sometimes historical and archaeological evidence overlap. Sometimes they conflict. Most of the time they do neither. Each provides its own sort of evidence. One cannot just expect the two types of evidence to corroborate each other. Much of the material in the Bible, for example, is not and cannot be corroborated archaeologically. There are points at which the archaeological record does corroborate the Bible. But archaeology does not necessarily corroborate every point one might like."
3. Other LDS scholars have noted the fact that the Nephite civilizations of the Book of Mormon were so small that they were unlikely to have left behind large mounds or even small artifacts for us to find.

I note that the book itself recounts huge disruptions in the geography (See 3 Nephi 8, for example), so I don't get it when people speculate about where the geographical locations mentioned in the Book of Mormon might be. See for example this Wikipedia article which I have only skimmed through because I don't really care what anyone else thinks about whatever relationships there may be found between, for instance, Lake Ontario and the Waters of Ripliancum.

4. Again, I repeat what I wrote from the beginning: It doesn't matter whether archaeological or historical evidence is found that supports the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. If anything like that ever happens, it will be just another ancient record. People will be able to read it like they do the Dead Sea Scrolls, and marvel at the way the people lived back then, the struggles they had, the rules they made for their cultures, and so on.

The Book of Mormon is a divine record of God's dealings with His people, and it can best be appreciated through praying for a testimony of its truthfulness and its application to our lives now.

Because, as another testimony of Jesus Christ, its purpose is not to provide the world with yet another ancient record; its purpose, as the authors of the various books it contains keep reminding us, is to bring us to Christ.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Path to Palmyra

Dear Readers,

Remember when I wrote in my first post about the Kinderhook Plates a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith by the great LDS teacher and writer William E. Berrett?

He said, among other things:
I have said, and repeat here, “I believe that I know him better than I have known any man in this life save my own father.” By it I mean I know how he would react to every temptation. I know what his counsel would be to me in almost every situation in which I might find myself. He is a great companion. I recommend him to you.

I bear you my solemn witness that I know that he is a prophet of the living God, and that the Church of which we are members, founded by him, is directed by Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless you with like testimony, I pray in the name of the Master. Amen.
Well, now is our chance to learn more about the Prophet Joseph Smith: In the June and July issues of the Ensign magazine there are articles about his life.

Jeff and I have started reading these in our evening study time, and I recommend them as a wonderful way to learn more about Joseph Smith than you probably did before (if you knew as much/little about him as I did!).

You can read them by going to the Ensign Web page and downloading them. Or you can read the June article by clicking here: "The Path to Palmyra" and the July article by clicking here: "The Coming forth of the Book of Mormon."

You may be startled to learn that Joseph Smith, Sr., was a prosperous farmer and businessman until he was taken advantage of and swindled by the competitor. (I'd always heard only that they were poor and had traveled from place to place trying to farm.) I learned more about how Joseph's leg was hurt and the surgery that followed. I learned more details about how everyone who was trying to farm in New England in 1815 to 1816 suffered killing frosts in the summer because of the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.

Here's a bit more from the article:
With mortal eyes, we might be tempted to envision that a more fitting path for such a man and such a moment would be a path of greater ease, efficiency, and acclaim. In recognition of the earth-shattering events about to happen as a consequence of this boy entering this town at this time, could not the Lord, who so carefully orchestrated the placement of the golden plates over a millennia earlier, have provided a straighter, more comfortable and heralded path of arrival?

Yes, He surely could have, but He did not.

There was no prominent, prophetic anointing of Joseph in his childhood (see 1 Samuel 16:11–13). There was no directive dream pointing him to a promised land (see 1 Nephi 5:4–5). There was no curious Liahona to help his family avoid missteps along the way (see 1 Nephi 16:10; Alma 37:38). And there certainly was no open-air limousine traveling along a sunny, streamlined parade route with cheering masses providing a triumphant welcome.

Rather, for Joseph and his family, there was a wildly meandering trail of sorrow marked with bad luck, ill health, poor judgment, natural disaster, crushing pain, callous injustice, continuing obscurity, and unrelenting poverty. This is not to suggest that the Smith family lived in one continual round of abject misery; they did not. But the path to Palmyra was anything other than direct, prosperous, and publicly notable. Lame, limp, and bloodied, the Prophet literally had to be carried to his unparalleled rendezvous with destiny by a nameless stranger.

Remember this as perhaps the first lesson of Joseph’s life and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In spite of failure, mishap, and bitter opposition—and in many cases precisely because of those things—Joseph Smith got exactly where he needed to be to fulfill his mission. So, if now or on some future day, you look around and see that other perhaps less-devoted acquaintances are succeeding in their jobs when you just lost yours; if major illness puts you on your back just at the moment critical tasks of service seem to come calling; if a call to a prominent position goes to someone else; if a missionary companion seems to learn the language faster; if well-meaning efforts still somehow lead to disaster with a fellow ward member, a neighbor, or an investigator; if news from home brings word of financial setback or mortal tragedy you can do nothing about; or if, day after day, you simply feel like a bland and beaten background player in a gospel drama that really seems made for the happiness of others, just know this: many such things were the lot of Joseph Smith himself at the very moment he was being led to the stage of the single most transcendent thing to happen on this earth since the events of Golgotha and the Garden Tomb nearly 2,000 years earlier.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Nicholas Winton

I never even heard of this man, Nicholas Winton, until I read the announcements of his death.

He saved the lives of about 669 children. At the end of this clip, we see Isaiah 1:17:

Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (King James Version):

Here is another translation of the verse (New International Version): 

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

LDS Statement on Same-Sex Marriage

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing all same-sex marriages in all 50 states, LDS Church leaders have issued a statement on same-sex marriage outlining the Church's policy. This statement is in addition to, and elaborates upon, the statement made immediately following the court's decision.

This statement reaffirms, "Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and for the well‐being of society...Strong families, guided by a loving mother and father, serve as the fundamental institution for nurturing children, instilling faith, and transmitting to future generations the moral strengths and values that are important to civilization and vital to eternal salvation... A family built on marriage of a man and a woman is the best setting for God’s plan of happiness to thrive."

The statement includes an introductory letter, statement, and background material for bishops and branch presidents. Here is some more of the Church's statement:
Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same‐sex marriages. Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there.

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

The Church insists on its leaders’ and members’ right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The Church is also entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.

As members of the Church, we are responsible to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to illuminate the great blessings that flow from heeding God’s commandments as well as the inevitable consequences of ignoring them. We invite all to pray that people everywhere will have their hearts softened to the truths God established in the beginning, and that wisdom will be granted to those who are called upon to decide issues critical to society’s future.
As always, our Church leaders emphasize the ability of and necessity for all church members to "seek guidance from the Holy Ghost to help them in their personal lives and in family and Church responsibilities."

I am so grateful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our leaders are called of God and inspired to act in His name, and they always encourage all of us in the fundamental principles and doctrines of God's love, His eternal plan of happiness, and our own free agency in choosing the course of our own lives.

Weird Word of the Week: Certiorari

According to Google, "certiorari" means "a writ or order by which a higher court reviews a decision of a lower court."

One of my Dear Readers brought this word to my attention, probably because of reading about the U.S. Supreme Court's many rulings in the past week or so.

A more complete definition is: "A formal request to a court challenging a legal decision of an administrative tribunal, judicial office or organization (eg. government) alleging that the decision has been irregular or incomplete or if there has been an error of law."

The Duhaime Law Dictionary adds, "Certiorari, if the application is successful, renders the decision at issue of no force or effect and null and void. Lawyers say it is quashed."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Do Muslims Believe in the Same God Christians Do?

Dear Madame L,

A friend of mine, a Catholic, recently told me that Muslims believe in the same God that Christians and Jews believe in. Only they call him "Allah," the Arabic name for God. She said there are only two difference between Muslims and Jews and Christians: Their beliefs about Jesus Christ, and their beliefs about Muhammad.

But I don't think that can be true. If Muslims believe in the same God, then why do they go around killing Christians and Jews, as well as other Muslims?


A Christian

Dear Christian,

Yes, Muslims do believe in the same God that Christians and Jews believe in. In fact, check out this verse from the Qur'an, the so-called Throne Verse (2:255), which, as LDS writer Dan Peterson notes, "offers a fine summary of basic Islamic Teaching regarding God":

 “Allah! There is no god but he, the Living, the Everlasting. Neither slumber nor sleep seizes him. His are all things in the heavens and the earth. Who is there who can intercede with him, except by his leave? He knows what is before them and what is behind them, while they comprehend nothing of his knowledge except as he wills. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth. Sustaining them does not burden him, for he is the Most High, the Supreme.”

Peterson, who studies Islam and the Qur'an, wrote in the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World:

"Perhaps the most popular and beloved passage in the Qur‘an, this often-memorized assertion of God’s universal dominion is a favorite of artists across the Islamic world. Tradition credits it with a special saving power and reports that the prophet Muhammad himself considered it the greatest verse revealed to him. The depth of Muslim devotion to Allah is apparent virtually everywhere in Islamic life, including even in the use of elaborate calligraphic renditions of the word Allah as architectural and artistic ornamentation."
I am positive that those of any and every faith who kill other people, even supposedly in the name of their God or their religion, are not in fact obeying the precepts of their religion and are not pleasing God with that behavior.

I also want to remind you of all the Christians who have killed others in the name of God throughout the centuries.

We cannot judge a religion by the actions of its misguided and mis-understanding adherents. What we can do is work together with believers of every faith to bring peace and love, follow the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ, and keep improving our own behavior.

Monday, June 29, 2015

More on the Kinderhook Plates

Dear Madame L,

Thanks for answering my question about the Kinderhook Plates. It seems like you're saying there are two questions for historians and LDS believers to consider: Were the plates authentic or a forgery, and did Joseph Smith translate them or not.

Also, it seems like you're saying the people in Joseph Smith's time thought they were authentic, though after examination in the 1980s they were found to be a modern hoax; and that Joseph Smith did not translate them. Yet you mentioned in your post that some of his closest friends wrote in their journals that Joseph Smith did make some kind of translation.

Also, I have read that in the History of the Church, the entry for May 1, 1843, Joseph Smith himself wrote, "I have translated a portion of them,” referring to the plates.

Can you please clarify?


Still Wondering

Dear Wondering,

Thanks to you for asking about this again. I've found another source, an article by Brian M. Hauglid: "Did Joseph Smith Translate the Kinderhook Plates?" published in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 93–103.

I haven't read the whole book, just this one article, which is available online.  Here's what I've learned:

One of the Kinderhook Plates, from the online article cited
That entry in the History of the Church wasn't actually written by Joseph Smith and it wasn't added to the history until 1909. It was based on William Clayton's May 1843 journal entry. Here's what he wrote in his journal in 1843:

“I have seen 6 brass plates which were found in Adams County. . . . President Joseph has translated a portion and says they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and that he received his kingdom from the ruler of heaven and earth.”

Hauglid notes that changing Clayton's journal entry to first person and attributing it to Joseph Smith was "unfortunate" but also was done in the 19th century, and done in other instances in the History of the Church.

As I mentioned in my previous post about the Kinderhook Plates,  it's possible and even likely that, as Hauglid mentions (quoting another historian), "...that Clayton’s journal entry may be based on speculation circulating at the time..." This possibility is supported by the fact that Clayton's journal and Parley P. Pratt's letter on the subject had significant discrepancies.

Still, let's suppose that Joseph Smith did take the time to translate even a little bit of the plates in the same way he had translated the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. If he did, and if he thought those plates were anything at all like the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the Doctrine and Covenants, Hauglid writes, "he would have steered the text through the same process" that he put those sacred scriptures through, the "three important phases [of] transcription, publication, and distribution." And he didn't do any of that.

Hauglid speculates, "Perhaps Joseph inspected the plates and tried to translate them but received no revelation, and, recognizing the stupor of thought, lost interest and moved on to other things."

Or, maybe Joseph thought of his look at these plates as a scholarly exercise. He had been studying Hebrew and Egyptian. "He was particularly interested in ancient languages and may have encouraged experiments in learning Egyptian while he translated the Book of Abraham. It is possible that he saw the Kinderhook Plates as an occasion for attempting (if futilely) a scholarly study of an ancient language rather than an inspired translation of ancient characters. Rather than carrying the experiment forward, however, he may have abandoned it almost immediately and made no attempt to establish the translation as scripture."

Hauglid speculates further: "Or perhaps Joseph sincerely believed that the Lord had led him to another sacred record that could be translated to provide the Saints with additional scripture, but when no inspiration came he quickly abandoned the Kinderhook Plates. It may also be that both Joseph the scholar and Joseph the prophet tried to do something with the plates, but nothing really came of either approach. Although William Clayton gives fairly strong evidence that Joseph attempted to translate at least some of the plates, apparently Joseph did not go far enough for the conspirators to spring the trap."

Because that's what the hoaxters intended, was for Joseph to make a translation that they could then show was incorrect.

A footnote in Hauglid's article refers to Don Bradley's presentation, “Joseph Smith’s Translation from the Kinderhook plates: A Historical Mystery,” given at the Thirteenth Annual Mormon Apologetics Conference of FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) on August 5, 2011, which I referenced in my previous post on this subject.

Hauglid notes a detail pointed out by Bradley, which I didn't write about in my earlier post, but which again points to the idea that Joseph Smith didn't think of the Kinderhook Plates as ancient scripture but as an interesting scholarly relic: "...evidence that a character on the Kinderhook Plates resembles one found on page 4 of the GAEL [the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language]. The description of the character also corresponds closely to Clayton’s description. Bradley argues that the use of the GAEL indicates that Joseph Smith took a secular interest in the plates rather than a revelatory one."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Supreme Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made this statement on Friday, June 26, after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision that same-sex marriages are legal:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today's ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court's decision does not alter the Lord's doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice."

Also, Elder D. Todd Christofferson told a Salt Lake City TV station that Mormons who support gay marriage, mentioning their support through various social media, will not be in danger of losing their church membership or temple privileges.

He said members would have trouble with the church "only for 'supporting organizations that promote opposition or positions in opposition to the church’s.,'" according to an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune, published online by the Religion News Service.

The article quoted Elder Christofferson further as saying, “Our approach in all of this, as (Mormon founder) Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. You can’t use the priesthood and the authority of the church to dictate. You can’t compel, you can’t coerce. It has to be persuasion, gentleness and love unfeigned, as the words in the scripture.”