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."