Written by Walker on December 6, 2013
Nelson Mandela died today at 95. There is an excellent interactive piece in The New York Times documenting Mandela’s life and achievements. Another NYT article provides a moving quote from President Obama:
“His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to,” a grim President Obama said Thursday evening, describing Mr. Mandela as an “influential, courageous and profoundly good” man who inspired millions — including himself — to a spirit of reconciliation.
I have something in common with Joss Whedon. He doesn’t like the term “feminist,” and neither do I. We both think that feminism has an image problem. Whedon, who defines feminism as ”believing men and women to be equal; believing all people to be people” doesn’t like the term because he thinks the “-ist” at the end fails to convey it’s universal appeal.
Let’s be real, Mr. Whedon. The last syllable of the word is the least of feminism’s problems.
I like Joss Whedon’s ostensible definition just fine. The problem is that he, like most self-declared feminists, doesn’t actually stick to it. Feminism is always introduced as something universal and apolitical like “concern for women’s issues,” but then in practice it always ends up being equated with left wing social politics. Do you care about women? Then you must be a Democrat. The Republicans have declared a War on Women, don’t you know?
Because the term “feminism” has become hopelessly entangled in partisan politics, it’s time to step back and differentiate between being concerned for women and feminism. We can find some common ground if we do that, and I can’t think of a better place to start then this famous clip from Patrick Stewart about the importance of opposing violence against women.
It’s a beautiful and moving speech. There’s nothing political about it, and there shouldn’t be. (more…)
A series of humorous posts of clueless individuals trying to fill in maps has been making the rounds recently. The first one I saw was an Australian trying to fill in a map of US states.
A for effort?
Next up, BuzzFeed asked a bunch of Brits to try the same task in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. Their results weren’t any better.
Hey, at least the Aussie tried to name every state!
Poor Nebraska has been demoted to “Who Cares?”
Then there’s the BoredPanda version which takes the other approach by asking a bunch of Americans to try and label European countries with predictable results. (more…)
Written by Mahonri on November 15, 2013
Note: Many thanks to my wife Anne Stewart, whose wide research on this subject bolstered my own efforts. Her assistance with this article was essential and invaluable. It is her beautiful, informed and spiritual example that has been an inspiration to me in seeking Wisdom.
KINGDOM OF PRIESTS
“The [Relief] Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous and holy— Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day— as in Paul’s day.”
The context of this remarkable statement was Joseph Smith speaking at the third meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ female organization Relief Society on March 30, 1842 (although in those days the Relief Society was an autonomous organization that was yet still connected to the Church in its purpose). Joseph Smith was a guest speaker nine times to the Relief Society before it was disbanded right before his death (and reinstated a decade later when Eliza R. Snow urged Brigham Young to give the organization a second chance). The Minutes were recorded in the official Relief Society Minutes Book in Secretary Eliza R. Snow’s own hand, which are now available online from the LDS Church’s official Joseph Smith papers.
The above statement by Joseph Smith is one of the many pieces of evidence that have made me side with faithful Mormon feminists in the recent brouhaha over the issue of women’s ordination in the LDS Church. To me, this shows that Joseph Smith was considering an expanded priesthood role for women, specifically through the mechanism of an autonomous Relief Society. Unfortunately, conflicts with Joseph’s wife Emma and other women over polygamy, his martyrdom in Carthage Jail, and Brigham Young’s retrenchment tendencies when he felt his authority was being challenged, derailed this possibility of female priesthood being enforced in its fullness (although the Mormon temple endowment, especially the Second Anointing, was indeed a partial fulfillment, which I will briefly and respectfully discuss later).
Women’s roles in the Church are not an issue of “doubt” for me, although there have been times in my life where doubts have certainly raised their unsettling concerns, as they have for most honest inquirers. In the end, however, investigating an expanded role for women in the Church has rather had the opposite effect. I am filled with faith and the Spirit when I’ve prayerfully studied the issue and realize that statements from Joseph Smith (like the one above) and LDS scriptures show that gender issues are not so cut and dry as many Mormons would have us believe, and that revelation still has to come line upon line, precept upon precept to the Latter-day Saints. We are not an “unchanging” Church, but rather an eternally progressing Church that is still striving to live up to its potential of building Zion upon the Earth.
Rather, doubts have come when I’ve considered the confusing “separate but equal” rhetoric issued to defend the lack of priesthood authority given to women. I feel nothing but alienation, confusion, and darkness when I prayerfully consider such justifications of gender inequalities. Trying to adopt such attitudes in the past have NEVER brought me peace, but rather a repressed unease. I feel farther from our Heavenly Parents when I consider such a constricted view of my mother, my sisters, my friends, my nieces, my in-laws, my aunts, my wife, my daughter, my Heavenly Mother. I not only feel farther from my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, but nearly as tragically, I also feel more distant from those beautiful women in my life. Whether I throw women on a pedestal or in a pit, we are not, at that point, on equal footing. That distance is created.
And I don’t want distance—I long for closeness, friendship, kinship, and fellowship with the women in my life. I have had a long, personal history with women. I have seven sisters. The majority of my friends in Jr. High and High School were female. My mother was a vitally important influence in my life. Many of my historical and literary heroes are women, from Joan of Arc, to Emma Smith, to Charlotte Bronte, to Lorraine Hansberry. My wife is my best friend, and I long for a beautiful, empowering future for my 3 year old daughter. As a general rule, I tend to feel closer and more connection to women than I do with men. Some may not think that I have much “skin in the game,” because I am a privileged, white male in an equal rights struggle. Yet this issue is quite personal to me, and it is spiritually urgent.
Ender’s Game is, more than any thing else, a book about empathy. From the very first line of the book (“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears…”) and on to the end the theme of empathy dominates everything the characters do and think about. It is the key to all of young Ender’s victories and the source of his greatest strength. It is the source of his deepest pain.
Why, then, is the author of Ender’s Game an unrepentant homophobe and conspiracy theorist best described alternatively as either “intolerant” or “kooky”? That is the question Rany Jazayerli asks in his moving and thoughtful piece for Grantland. Jazayerli is clearly a sympathetic reader (sympathetic of Card, I mean). As a devout Muslim he shares Card’s Mormon view that homosexual sex is a sin. He is not only a fan of science fiction in general and Card’s works in particular, he writes movingly of how Card’s sympathetic depiction of a Muslim character in Ender’s Game (written in the 1980s) profoundly touched Jazayerli. He says:
Others may hate him, but I’m still struggling to understand him. That’s the least I owe him for gifting me with an ethical compass when I needed one.
I’d like to help Jazayerli understand Card. (more…)
Salon is running an excerpt from Francis Spufford’s book: Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Still Makes Surprising Emotional Sense, and it’s nothing short of a revelation to read. (Especially coming from Salon.) I’m quite sure I wouldn’t agree with Spufford on everything, but his ranting and raving against the shallow vanity of the New Atheists warms me to my deepest core. This is someone with whom I’m sure I would argue a very great many points, but who at some fundamental level gets it. For example (warning: some strong language): (more…)
The Internet is pretty awesome as a kind of external hard drive for your brain because the information is so conveniently accessible. But if the information that you conveniently access is crap, then so much for the promise of the brave new future.
Consider this interesting house, which I found out about from a ViralNova story on Oct 26. The ViralNova story mentioned zombies (a lot) and depicted the home as some kind of prepper-bunker: “The fortress is virtually indestructible. Thieves, rioters and even an army couldn’t get in once you lock up.” Why is it indestructible? Because it’s obviously built of solid steel right? Err… no.
I was interested enough that I did some light research and found an older Techeblog article (from 2012) that featured the same house with basically the same motif: zombies. The article claimed the house was “impenetrable to just about anything short of missiles / bombs.” Based on what? I have no idea. They posted a YouTube video of the designer explaining his creation, and he didn’t mention a single thing about zombies. He did mention the construction of the house, however. The longest moving wall is built on a steel truss, but that’s just the internal skeleton. The outer layer is light-weight wood, and it’s filled with “mineral wool” for insulation. None of that is remotely “indestructible”, but then again the Techeblog article mentions “a guesthouse, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows.” when it’s actually an indoor pool. Clearly they didn’t watch the video that they posted on their own site.
The thing that’s both sad and annoying is that the actual explanation of the home’s intent is far more interesting than ridiculous claims about rocket-proof walls or zombies. The designer has a fascinating take on the idea of organic construction. Instead of stereotypical rounded edges, it’s the function rather than the form of this building that makes it organic. It is designed to open like a flower every morning to let in the sun’s energy, and then close at night to conserve that energy. Security is a feature, yet, but it’s not the most interesting or important aspect of the building.
Armed with the name of the firm that designed the building, I found their own description of their work. I’m glad I did, because they have several other interesting concepts. Call me weird, but learning about modern architectural theories was much more interesting than the silliness in the original articles.
I know, I know. I’m a grumpy old man yelling at the kids to get off my lawn. I get it. But there’s a simple point I still think is worth getting grumpy about. The world is interesting enough as it is without lazily applying your preconceived notions to it. Yes, the home’s slate-gray coloring make it look intimidating and fortress-like, but digging deeper reveals a more interesting story. I know that ViralNova and Techeblog aren’t overly concerned with credibility or veracity, but hey: I am.
So I took the time to look up the real info, write it here, and I hope y’all enjoy learning about the home and the designer’s philosophy and seeing their other buildings as much as I did.
A couple of weeks ago I came across an extremely articulate explanation of perhaps the dominant perspective of racism from the American political left. The explanation comes in the form of an online Powerpoint at the Tumblr of Women of Color, In Solidarity.
It’s a fairly short and straight-forward presentation, and I’m deeply appreciative of how starkly it lays out the case against white privilege, starting with this definition of the key terms:
So here we have a very precise definition of racism: it is the institutionalization of discrimination (which is itself the acting out of prejudice). This definition has one very important and straightforward consequence: reverse-racism (i.e. anti-white racism) cannot exist.
In simple terms: individuals may have anti-white prejudice and may even act on that prejudice (which is anti-white discrimination), but because this discrimination is not built into the structure of our society it’s not institutionalized and therefore doesn’t qualify as racism by definition. The author slammed this point home with one more emphatic slide:
Once again: this is a clear and unambiguous perspective on race and–within its assumptions and definitions–it is consistent and logical.
But it is still deeply, deeply flawed. The flaw will seem subtle at first, but as it ripples through the larger argument it will have profound implications. And the flaw is this: the assumption that the cause of discrimination is animosity. (more…)
Written by Walker on November 3, 2013
Intellectual historian Eran Shalev has an interesting 2010 Church History article entitled “‘Written in the Style of Antiquity’: Pseudo-Biblicism and the Early American Republic, 1770-1830.” In it, he reviews the roots of the pseudo-biblical writing style in early American letters, tracts, and books, particularly the role of the language found in the King James Version. Authors would mimick the KJV language ”and its accompanying structures and forms to discuss their difficulties and represent their achievements, past and present…American authors and commentators used this ontologically privileged language as a means to establish their claims for truth, as well as their authority and legitimacy in public discourse” (pg. 801). This biblical style was particularly useful in political debates:
Through pseudo-biblicism the Bible became a living text, an ongoing scriptural venture which complemented and foritified notions of national chosenness and mission. This transformation occurred within a poisoned political culture which created “two parallel imagined communities,” namely the two political parties—the Federalists and the Republicans—that denied each other’s legitimacy. This disposition…created a political culture governed by a grammar of combat, which entailed a “politics of anxious extremes.” It fostered the intense employment and further construction of biblical politics, each side depicting the other as wrong-doing “Adamites” or “Jeffersonites.” …The pseudo-biblical language thus wove the Bible into American life and sanctified the young nation. American politics were transformed, in texts largely devoid of references to God, into the new religion of the republic (pg. 812).
The ”use of distinctive Elizabethan English for political ends” was rampant because it “manipulated readers into conjuring up biblical visions only to contrast them with their American past and present” (pg. 817). For example, early Jeffersonian Republicans and remnants of the Anti-Federalists “accused the members of the constitutional convention and “[John] Adams their Servant” for conspiring with “the Britannites” to the effect that “all the country round about, even from Dan unto Beersheba, should be subject unto one king, and unto one council.”” Republicans often depicted themselves as “Israel,” while declaring Federalists to be anything from Pharisees to Amalekites. On the flipside, Federalists attacked Republicans for not being “a goodly people—fearing the lord and submitting to the Rulers placed over them” (pgs. 816-817).
This style of writing began to decline in the mid-1800s, but it seems to me that the fusion of religious meaning with political debate is alive and well in 21st-century America. Perhaps it is because “American politics were transformed…into the new religion of the republic” that we see partisan hacks (even the atheistic ones) ranting and raving like religious fanatics.
1. Full citation is Eran Shalev, “‘Written in the Style of Antiquity’: Pseudo-Biblicism and the Early American Republic, 1770-1830,” Church History 79:4 (Dec. 2010): 800-826.
Written by Adam on November 1, 2013
A few years ago a consortium of tech giants bought several thousand patents from a failing telecom with, it appears, the express purpose of using them to hurt their biggest competitor. Counting amongst its members Apple, Sony and Microsoft, this coalition of corporations has allied together to use standard patent troll tactics in a bid to use these Nortel patents against Google and Google’s wildly popular Android mobile operating system, as well as several companies that build Android-based devices. At the time the patents went up for auction in 2011, Google saw what was going to happen and tried to purchase the patents itself, but was unable to pony up more dough than were the collective resources of some of the largest and richest companies in the history of the world.
So, now, instead of attempting to simply compete directly with Google, these companies, under a “plausible-deniability” shell company called Rockstar, are going to try to use the government to put the brakes on one of the biggest tech success stories of the modern age. In using purchased-patent warfare and filing their suit in the patent-friendly Eastern District of Texas, these tech giants, through Rockstar, are essentially conceding that they cannot best Google in the eyes of the consumer and must instead appeal to the failed and broken US patent system using the bogus framework of software patents to continue to pour more money into the pockets of their executives and shareholders.
It’s ridiculous, and it enrages me. The patent system exists ostensibly for the purposes of disclosure of invention. It is, at least theoretically, about information, and its dissemination into society. There is an agreement between the patent applicant and the patent office that the applicant will disclose the details of his or her invention (which encourages further innovation from other parties) and the patent office will grant certain rights to claim exclusivity (which is the incentive to invent and disclose). This pushes people to do work in fields that has not yet been done rather than “reinvent the wheel,” forcing them to license what has already been done if they want to utilize it in their own developments. In practice it is being used by attorneys and corporations to shake down anyone within reach, particularly the “little guy” without the resources to fight a protracted legal battle, and to outlaw and siphon money from their competitors’ products. This directly contracts the number of useful inventions and promotes the proliferation of useless inventions which exist only for purposes of litigation. As soon as a legal or social institution becomes the means to do the exact opposite of what it was meant to accomplish, it’s due an overhaul, if not demolition and reboot.
There are a few rays of hope, though. New Zealand, hopefully serving as an example of rationality in the world of patent insanity, recently outlawed software patents, with the European Union continuously debating similar action. I wouldn’t be surprised if we started to see more and more startups moving to software-friendly (ie, anti-software patent) nations in hopes of protecting themselves against the trolls looking for a government-mandated tribute.
In the past couple years we have seen increasing and heartening efforts from Congress and even Obama himself, most recently in the form of a bipartisan bill which looks to make a serious dent in the economic damage wrought by patent trolls every year. While that bill may not affect the impending Google vs. Rockstar war, it’s good to see our government is finally acknowledging there is a problem, and finding ways to do something about it.
The next step? Follow New Zealand.
More info here.
On the surface, this is a perfectly valid perspective on education.
“Hackschooling” is clearly working out perfectly well for this kid, and I don’t have any doubt that his education is probably far superior to what the median American kid receives. But the secret sauce in this education stew isn’t some cutting-edge theory. It’s actually just the lavish expenditure of time, money, and human capital to purchase a cutting-edge education most families cannot afford.
Think about it this way: public education is designed to capture economies of scale. Want to educate a whole country: design one curriculum and teach it to all of them. When you upgrade from public education by spending more money what you’re basically getting is a combination of prestige and personalization. Personalization works because of smaller teacher:student ratios, but also because the expense of private education means you end up with a much more homogenuous student body, and so the educational experience can be customized to a greater extent. You spend money, you get personalized education.
The thing to realize is that this “unschooling” (or “hackschooling” or whatever) is not any different. It’s the exact same idea, but taken to the extreme. Sure, there might not be a huge outlay of cash, but there is definitely a huge outlay of time. We’re talking about a student:teacher ratio of something like 1:3 or 1:4 (depending on the number of kids involved) and you can only swing that if you’ve got a single-earner making enough to support the whole family. You might not be writing a check to a private school for tuition, but you are having one spouse opt to not bring home a paycheck at all. That’s the tuition of homeschool.
But there’s more to it than that. A lot of the experiences this kid talks about are clearly not experiences you can get if your family is not well-connected and knowledgeable. At 13-years old I couldn’t have gotten a job at all, much less an internship at a quirky specialist manufacturer of some kind. The best I could swing was a job as a janitor when I hit 14 and it was legally allowed. Your parents have to have the social circle and the know-how to set up these awesome experiences, and that’s basically a requirement of human capital.
I’m not criticizing this family’s choices. I think that homeschooling is awesome when done right. What I’m criticizing is the kind of snake-oil approach that says there’s some kind of theory or trick to awesome education. There isn’t. Not really. It’s just a question of quantity of resources that you have to throw at the problem. And, from that perspective, this kid’s education is about the most elite and expensive you can imagine. Good for him that his parents can afford it, but let’s not kid ourselves about the price tag. For most Americans: it’s out of your reach.
Written by Walker on December 5, 2013
I was recently revisiting some of the research by economist Thomas C. Leonard of Princeton University on eugenics and economics during the Progressive Era. Leonard is currently working on a book entitled Excluding Inferior Workers: Eugenic Influences on Economic Reform in the Progressive Era. I had nearly forgotten about the excellent slide-show he produced for his book’s research. For those who have an interest in economic history–especially the Progressive Era’s influence on America’s economic thinking–these slides are definitely worth reading.
Written by Walker on December 5, 2013
Priest and blogger Father John Zuhlsdorf argues on his blog that part of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation may have been mistranslated. The Spanish reads,
54. En este contexto, algunos todavía defienden las teorías del «derrame», que suponen que todo crecimiento económico, favorecido por la libertad de mercado, logra provocar por sí mismo mayor equidad e inclusión social en el mundo.
The official English is translated as
In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.
However, por si’ mismo (translated as “inevitably” above) actually means “by itself.” In other words, the Pope is saying the assumption that “economic growth, encouraged by free markets, will by itself succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world” is false. As Father Zuhlsdorf puts it,
But the real point here is that in EG 54 the author says that “trickle down” economics cannot by itself produce the desired result. That is, of course, correct. No economic plan will solve the problems of the poor by itself. Economic plans must be carried out by people who have good, solid morals and values.
Easy for things to get lost in translation.
First came stories based on an interview with Archbishop Konrad Krajewski like this one. According to the stories, Pope Francis was unable to spend time distributing money–and love–to the homeless and poor as he had done prior to his elevation to the papacy. But Krajewski mentioned that the Pope had indicated he wished he could go, and soon speculation abounded (like here) that Pope Francis was sneaking out at night in disguise to continue his ministry to the poor.
The Pope is popular, that is for sure. And I certainly love his example. But there are two roles for a leader like the Pope. One is symbolic, and here the Pope’s example shines. The other is administrative. I think only time will tell whether or not Pope Francis is able to strike the right balance between those two roles.
My hope (as a non-Catholic who loves Catholicism) is that the Pope is able to encourage more Catholics to reconsider their relationship to their own faith and begin to take more seriously the teachings, doctrines, and perspectives of that ancient and honorable faith.
The Independent has an article on a study about the hardwired difference between male and female brains. According to the article, men have more connection going from front-to-back and women have more going from side-to-side, and this might explain superior male motor skills and superior female verbal skills. The argument is that these characteristics are genetic, not behavioral, and this would be a point for gender essentialism, which is the idea that gender is to a great degree biologically determined and not merely a social construct.
I also thought it was interesting that the researchers were quoted on gender complementarity several times, such as:
These maps show us a stark difference – and complementarity – in the architecture of the human brain.
It’s quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are.
Of course in an ideal world science is not politicized, but at a minimum this article is a good place to explain the conservative view on gender equality. The most simplistic interpretation of gender equality, of course, is gender sameness. Differences between the sexes are downplayed or relegated to secondary importance. (Man vs. woman, right-handed vs. left-handed… whatever.) But conservatives hold a different view, which is that men and women are equal but different. The derogatory term for that would be something like “separate but equal”, but conservatives would use the term “complementary,” meaning that men and women are different but that these differences are not about better vs. worse, but are merely two halves of a puzzle that works best when both pieces are given equal consideration despite their different natures.
Another Monday, another post for Times And Seasons. This morning’s topic is the addition of the fourth point to the threefold mission of the Church: to care for the poor and needy. Why wasn’t it originally included in 1981? Why was it added in 2009? Read the post for my thoughts, and stay tuned for a longer treatment of the topic from Walker and me coming soon.
Written by Walker on December 2, 2013
The Interpreter Foundation sponsored a conference in early November on (as the title indicates) the interaction of science and Mormonism. The conference videos were recently posted at the Interpreter website. The following is the list of presenters and participants:
- David H. Bailey
Berkeley National Laboratory (ret.) and University of California, Davis
- Emily Bates
Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Bates Laboratory, University of Colorado
- Jeffrey M. Bradshaw
Senior Research Scientist. Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
- R. Paul Evans
Assistant Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Biology, Brigham Young University
- Ron Hellings
Research Professor, Department of Physics, Montana State University
- Bart J. Kowallis
Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, Brigham Young University
- John S. Lewis
Professor Emeritus of Planetary Sciences, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona and Chief Scientist, Deep Space Industries
- Steven L. Peck
Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Brigham Young University
- Jani Radebaugh
Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, Brigham Young University
- Michael R. Stark
Associate Professor, Department of Physiology & Developmental Biology – Neuroscience, Brigham Young University
- Trent D. Stephens
Professor Emeritus of Anatomy and Embryology, Idaho State University
- Amy L. Williams
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Columbia University
- Richard N. Williams
Founding Director, The Wheatley Institution, Brigham Young University
I’m excited for more conferences of this sort in the future. Be sure to check out the videos.
Written by Walker on November 29, 2013
Last year, I posted a piece at The Slow Hunch on Black Friday. Does the post-Thanksgiving binge represent the most base form of materialism? Maybe not (at least not completely). Check out my post to see why.
This post was my first introduction to The Fatherhood Movement. In it, Alana Newman describes handing out fliers outside of screenings of The Deliveryman (Vince Foster comedy about a donor data of over 500 kids) because “We can’t all be scared, stay at home and never do the dirty work of questioning this industry.”
I clicked on over to her section on The Fatherhood Movement to learn more, and the first two paragraphs read:
I believe in Fatherhood. I believe poverty will be eliminated when the raw energy and genius of every adult man is channeled to serve and care for his children and community. I believe we need to lift up male strengths and good masculine character as assets in our quest for joy, health and wealth. I believe every child needs his or her father, but first we have to teach boys how to become men that are prepared for such a responsibility and can deliver on his role.
The absence of my own biological father in my life was crushing. The associated behavioral problems I exhibited could easily have been lethal. And I hurt many people on my path to where I am now.
There aren’t a lot of donor-conceived children who are old enough to really speak out about their experiences and impressions. And yet it seems that their voices should be the voices that matter the most, right? I don’t yet know how widespread the feeling of being deprived a father is, but it’s an issue I’ll be paying attention to. If I recall, it dovetails with the Catholic belief that children have a right to parents.
Written by Walker on November 28, 2013
More random stuff