Wednesday, September 12, 2012

We Are Billion Year Old Carbon

What an absolutely fucking awful day!

[*]My achilles started hurting again, bad enough where I limp with every step and walking down stairs is excruciating.
[*]SGA is holding up the $7k budget approval (the second time they've had to approve the budget in four months) for my organization over $22.80 that we didn't allocate in our budget, that they didn't even give to us.
[*]The Federal Direct Loan Program mistakenly withdrew $979 from our checking account for a payment instead of the $145 they should have.  They can refund it to us, but it will take 4-6 weeks.  I don't make the kind of money to weather an extra house payment from what I have in my checking account.
[*]Not one, but two migraine auras, and a migraine that got so bad that I had to go nuclear.  Even then, I was still seeing bright trailers and spots in my right eye.
[*]I had to work from 9AM until 8:30PM
[*]Massive IBS flare-up
[*]Big fight with the Mrs. to end the evening

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Vox Patris

I was going through some stuff tonight, and I came across this.  It's in my late father's unmistakable ALL CAPS (he always wrote in ALL CAPS) handwriting, and contains, perhaps, the only instance (one line only even) I've ever seen of his having written in cursive and in lowercase. He was a horrible speller, but I'm typing it verbatim. 

January 31, 1993

(in cursive) Ask Mac to Stand beeside you.


I left to go on my mission the very next day.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I wrote a joke

Q: Do you know what I think?

A: Thoughts.

It's probably been done before, but it just came to me in an epiphany.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Sociology of Knowledge & Religious Ideology vis-à-vis Homosexuality

So, I've been reading about the work of Peter Berger on the sociology of knowledge, and it's got me thinking about Zizek's Sublime Object of Ideology as it relates to current LDS official and lay 'knowledge' about homosexuality, especially since Elder Packer gave a talk to seminary students recently wherein he said that homosexuality is against the standards of the Church and, "that will not change." This essay may lead some to think that I’m an apostate. Hardly. My testimony is as it ever was.

This post might sound critical of individuals, groups, the Church, and even gays, but this is merely my wondering about something deep that troubles me deeply (including the conclusion I reach at the end of this post), and I invite dialogue from all sides in the discussion, even people who don't like me or the ideas I'm considering.

Peter Berger calls the sociology of knowledge part of our construction of reality. We inhabit a society with roles that we perform and 'knowledge' about them that we obtain from various observations and sources. Over time these roles become institutionalized as others take on the same roles, and this gives them meaning, lending credence to the belief that reality is a social construction because it allows us to imbue actions and events with meaning and interpretations of the knowledge that comes from the understood meaning of our reality.

For example, a Christian man hears voices in his head and knows that God speaks to him, or in another iteration, this same Christian man hears voices in his head and knows that he is possessed by a demon, and in yet another iteration this same Christian man hears voices in his head and knows that he is psychotic and needs to see a physician. All three of those 'knowledges' derive their meaning from the social construction of reality that each of the men inhabits. Berger's opinion is that while the conditions might be the same or might be different (spiritual events being impossible to qualify scientifically), there are consequences to the 'knowledge' known in the reality of each individual. The first iteration can be benevolent or malevolent, the second one will probably be malevolent, and third one will seek help before allowing the condition to influence decisions in reality (society).

We can apply this to any type of knowledge, and not just ones of mental sanity. A gay person 'knows' that he was born that way, another one 'knows' that she is flawed because of her temptations which she cannot resist, and another gay person 'knows' that self-denial their entire life despite their temptations (about which I'm neither approving of nor disapproving of) is the only way to obtain salvation from their Creator. What are the consequences of each of these kinds of knowledge? They are legion and unknowable, but certainly some can be predicted without too much conjecture. The first instance might find the person openly gay, but tolerant of those who disapprove. Or, openly gay and antagonistic towards those who disapprove. Or, openly gay and violently opposed to those who disapprove. The purpose of this thread isn't to analyze all possible outcomes (again, unknowable), but to wonder about the ideology of 'knowing' something and the consequences of ideology.

Right now, in the Church, the official doctrine/policy/standard is that 'we know' that homosexual acts are abominations and unholy acts against chastity and grievous sins in the sight of God. The Church's ideology is such that we have been forewarned that allowing homosexuals to legally marry will disintegrate the traditional family and bring about the calamities foretold by prophets of old (and new). The very existence of our country going forward is said to be jeopardized by the allowance of matrimony between two individuals of the same gender. I don't have the inclination to dig around right now for quotes from sources, but I think that the above description is a reasonable description of the Church's 'official' ideology about homosexuality in the 21st Century. The lay ideology is far too broad and varied to try and contain inside of one single whole, but I would argue that a significant majority of members in the US who are active and hold a temple recommend and are over age 35 are pretty much in lockstep with the official ideology of the Church, because they:

  1. 'Know the Church is true'
  2. 'Know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet.
  3. 'Know that the Q12 are prophets, seers, and revelators
  4. 'Know that the prophet will not lead the Church astray'
  5. and
  6. 'Know that they have their agency'


Gays who oppose the Church's ideology have their own. They 'know' that:

  1. they never chose to be attracted to the same sex
  2. religious freedom shouldn't allow the Church to impose its morals on them
  3. the Constitution should protect them from laws that prevent their right to marriage
  4. the Church is hypocritical given its own history concerning non-traditional marriages
  5. and
  6. the LDS leadership causes gay LDS members to loathe themselves so much that they kill themselves. This then becomes a case of them 'knowing' that people like Boyd K. Packer are 'abusers' in the psychological sense.

So, what then, are the consequences of this knowledge/ideology? Well, ideologies are difficult to navigate because, like Berger says, they form a reality to us that can be difficult to see through. Someone in an ideology can be shown evidence that disproves their 'knowledge' and they will actually use that information in an ideological way to strengthen their position in the reality of the knowledge they claim to have. We've all known a mumpsimus or two.

As it relates to this issue, I think it's important to try and view the issue of the Brethren's criticisms of homosexuality through an objective post-ideological view. If we merely try to view the qualities of homosexuals as they are, a 'reality' as it were, inside of LDS ideology, then we might find that some of our unconscious prejudices are magically confirmed by further rationalizations. If we view the issue through the ideology of gays, then again, we might find that some of the Church's actions and stances are downright pathologically paranoid constructions, as we also might equally perceive the stances against the Church of gays who play (again in an ideological view) the 'victim card.'

I think it's far healthier to remove ourselves from the ideologies of both sides (in as much as that's possible) and view the LDS ideological view of homosexuals and homosexual sex as an attempt to patch up the inconsistency of our own ideological system. What does that mean? We have a conundrum. If we have agency, if we are children of our Heavenly Father--created in his image, and if we are created with temptations that make us feel flawed for life, how then can a just God expect us to obey all of the commandments and yet find happiness in this life? How does our ideology address the children born with ambiguous genitalia, with both sets of genitalia, and those who have ovaries inside but a penis and no vagina? We're reminded of Packer's famous now-redacted conference question of "Why would a loving God make them that way?" The consequences of this hole in our ideology, this unanswerable question in the face of the prophetic declaration that "gender is eternal," demonstrate an inconsistency, and therefore, we're left with an ideology that doesn't ultimately provide a logical answer to the knowledge that it lacks--and the consequences that stem from that absence of knowledge.

So, despite my goal of remaining outside of ideology, I arrive at this conclusion, which sounds like a new ideology:

Until the LDS ideology can justify the existence and acceptance of these people as whole and natural children of our Heavenly Father, then the ideology for most members will continue to function thusly:

MEMBER:"I have several homosexual friends. They have adopted children and are loving parents, faithful companions, and great neighbors. I don't know why the Brethren are always saying that the calamities foretold by prophets will come about because of these people."


Certainly, there are lots of things that seem to contradict ideologies, but the most successful ones are those that adapt to new actions/realities. For example, I do not believe that the Church ideology of the 1970's would've had them show public support for gay rights against discrimination in Utah. This new action shows a change in ideology, even though the underlying bedrock remains mostly unaltered.

If the Church were to suddenly allow homosexuals to marry and be sealed I can speak about what the consequences of that future potential might be, but I cannot speculate unless my ideology claims to "know" that that's going to happen, which it doesn't.

Speaking outside of this framework though, I see a schism arising in the Church while the baby boomers are alive if this were to happen. With Elder Bednar being so young and likely prophet for a long time, I don't see this ever happening in my lifetime. The consequences of that knowledge are that I probably will not agitate as much as I would if I felt that my actions in this reality would have any effect. Presently, I feel stifled as a member, with no voice in church governance. With each year I find my ideology becoming a type of secularization from within. I'm more concerned with being like Jesus than I am with the opinions of old men in suits about my life choices. But, there's always that Book of Mormon testimony and my belief that something happened to Joseph Smith when he was young that makes me not mind wading (usually) through all the competing paranoid pathological ideologies (on all sides of this issue) that I encounter along the way.

Until the Church's ideology can account for biological mutations that fall outside of the current conceptions of gender (read: normal male and normal female) then it (the Church's ideology) will remain pathologically (in the sense of the suffering/consequences this ideology causes in gays' and their families' lives) opposed to actions that it deems contrary to the 'knowledge' that it currently has about gender, same-sex attraction, and homosexual sex acts. It's not homosexuality being a choice that causes the ideology to balk at change. That's easy enough to justify in the current one. The real rub lies in the ones that you cannot explain away easily (this link is safe for work). The biologically male children with vaginas and clitorises and the biologically female children with penises and the 250,000 kids born with ambiguous genitalia each year. How does the ideology convince them that they're made in the image of God when their gender is female, they're attracted to men, but their penis is going to be there next to their husband's when they go to have sex on their sealing day?

The inability of LDS ideology to grapple with anything that doesn't fit is the reason why the ideology persists as is--it cannot resolve this problem, so it ignores it and focuses on what it can address via the 'knowledge' LDS have about (im)morality.

I don't think I'm being too critical. I feel like most Christian churches, even gay-tolerant ones, wrestle with this issue, but the LDS Church is my church and the one I know best. Then Anglican Church in America and the Episcopalians are headed for a schism because the ideology of some is diverging from previous 'knowledge' about ordaining practicing gay men to the priesthood. I am absolutely asserting that the LDS Church, writ large, could better serve its members by not ignoring sexuality, especially intersex individuals. The cost, in human terms, is too great for me to abide.

The stories of the struggles that intersex people face in religion are tragic, especially when we're talking about Mormons. Imagine having your sexual agency as it relates to the Gospel stripped from you at birth and not being able to ever act upon your urges, ever, without it being considered sinful. It's enough to make you cry out of compassion for these traumatized people. Sex is one of the fundamental wonders of life. To deny it, forever, to someone, is horribly cruel.

I can think of few cases outside of gender issues wherein any possible solution to the underlying 'problem' (even imagined future ones) still leaves you unable, in all cases, of partaking fully of the plan of salvation, the new & everlasting covenant, and exaltation.

Poor people can win the lottery or work their way out of poverty without being denied the fullness of the Gospel. Those without a working body can hold out hope of a healing, a surgery, or some technology to improve their life, but they can always partake of the Gospel (as much of it as they can comprehend if they are mentally retarded). But, those who are intersexed and those who are homosexual have no solution to their problem, especially the intersexed. Imagine the psychological toll that life would take on you if you were really really attracted to women, but the Church said that heterosexual relations were an abomination. Could you really make yourself lust after a man and find fulfillment in homosexual sex? I could not.

Now, imagine that a physician cut you and made you a woman at birth, but you were biologically a heterosexual male. How would it feel to be a woman physically but a man biologically and in your view of yourself, and to lust after women, all while knowing that the Church expected you to be with a man? The whole "gender is eternal" ideology founders in the face of these situations, which is why I think that it pathologically denies homosexuals equality: it cannot square intersex people with itself, so it resists.

LDS ideology’s solution to the intersex problem relies on vindication in the afterlife, but does nothing to comfort those people in this life. LDS ideology works well for heterosexual people. It calls sinful all those who fall outside the norm. It cannot account for them, so it makes them an Other without any solution other than a promise of a better time in the eternities. Theologically, to an intersex person, that could (and probably does) feel almost like God does not love you as much as others, because the ordinances are denied to you for something that you 'know' is not a choice.

The consequences of that 'knowledge' in the homosexual Church member are pathological. They 'know' that they are sinful. They 'know' that others will reject them. They 'know' that their sexuality is forbidden. The pathology of these knowledges causes a lifetime of self-loathing and spiritual despair, leading, I would imagine, the vast majority to leave the Church. Current Church ideology presents the situation as welcoming them back, providing they remain chaste, repent, and only engage in heterosexual relations with their spouse.

We still don't know what causes someone to be homosexual. If it's genetic or environmental in the womb, then calling it a sin robs us of our agency.

The ideology currently denies that this is the case. We've seen the ideology change in the past about other things that were once considered immoral. This one, however, does not appear as simple to resolve given the other theological ramifications for which I can offer no solution.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Surrogate at Coker College Today

Newt's Surrogate at Coker Today

So, last week we were told that Newt Gingrich was going to speak at Coker today. Last night, we were told that (Ret.) Colonel Michael Steele would speak in his stead. Since I had already canceled my classes, and because I hadn't been to a political rally (Dan Quayle) since the 1980's, I went.

Some observations and quotes:

1. The staffers were all dressed alike. Khaki pants, blue blazers, white or blue oxfords, leather shoes, tastefully-sized Newt nametags. They were all Caucasian, looked about 24-28, and obese to a man. One of them got us started with a very somber call to say the Pledge of Allegiance, which he did sounding like he was at a funeral for the republic that it represents. It was seriously the worst pledge I've ever heard because his mic-ed voice could be heard over ours.

2. Colonel Steele is definitely ex-military. When his mic wasn't working like he wanted, he boomed a barking order into it to have Trevor Robinson, our theater manager fix it by yelling "TREVOR!" in an imperative tone. He then gave an "angry-white-grandpa speech" as one of my colleagues put it. He started out by saying that he was going set aside all of the "rhetoric" of Newt's opponents and speak in a frank apolitical way about issues that he felt were important. He then went on to say this, which I posted to my facebook so I wouldn't forget it, "We've got Ahmadinejad, this little leprechaun [], in Iran trying to block the Straits of Hormuz and restrict the flow of 1/6th of the world's oil supply.

3. He claimed that there are 25-30 nations that pose a trans-national direct threat to the USA and our interests.

4. He talked at length about the border with Mexico. He said, "I bet nobody in here has ever been to Juarez, Mexico" and said that it was "Murder City." He then explained that it is our problem when it's happening on our border because ranchers and students visiting Mexico were getting killed there. He then said that, "Mexico is a clear threat to our national security."

5. He made a list of six important threats to the USA, including Mexico, Iran, Afghanistan, the Taliban, North Korea, and "regulations and the EPA." He then said that these threats to the USA are "enemies" of the USA. Ergo, the EPA is an enemy of the USA.

6. He got really apocalyptic and said that "2012 is our last chance. This is it. We've got one shot, and then we're done." No one asked him to clarify in the Q&A, but he had way too much doomsday in his voice.

7. He mentioned Newt's work on welfare reform with Pres. Clinton, which I actually liked. However, he missed a huge opportunity to note that Pres. Obama issued an executive order overturning those very same reforms.

8. An audience member who serves in the SC House humblebragged his way into a description of his opportunity to address Israel's Knesset and asked him what Newt would do to protect these "God-given lands" for the Israelis, including Gaza and the West Bank, which the audience member said were the "heartland" of Israel. Col. Steele did not contradict anything the man said.

9. A 7th grader repeatedly pressed him about what Newt would do to stop killing "innocent civilians" in countries we invade, including supporting Israeli actions in Gaza. Col. Steele explained the Weinberger Doctrine to the kid, and was able to almost-gently explain to the kid that the subject was too vast to explain to him in a forum like that.

10. When asked what healthcare would look like under Newt, he said, "I guarantee you that it won't look like socialized medicine." He then proceeded to vilify the Canadian system, talking about someone who had died in a Winnipeg ER and was only found 36 hours later when it was her turn. His promise? "I guarantee no one will die waiting in our ERs under Newt." A tall order for a mortal.

11. When asked what Newt would do for a woman and her husband who are self employed and cannot find insurance that covers maternity in this state, he answered, "I can't answer that. Ask me something about threats to this nation." He did however offer her his card and told her to email him and he would get her the answer.

12. He said "shame on" anyone who doesn't vote in tomorrow's primary.

13. He later called out Pres. Obama for canceling a wargames exercise because Iran and that "little dwarf Ahmadinejad" were doing one at the same time.

14. He said that, and I quote, "Afghanistan is just a piece of dirt, not a nation." His justification? They don't all speak the same language and they don't pay taxes.

He never mentioned Black Hawk Down or his membership on the 1980 UGA Football team. I'm glad I went, but it would've been much cooler to hear Newt. I'm voting for Mitt tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A punitive approach to the War on Drugs does not work.

It is a fact, IMHO, that a punitive approach, while remaining constitutional, to the drug problem does not work. We either have to raise the punishment to levels so severe that no one dares break the drug laws, or we have to adopt an approach that isn't punitive. Countless research turns up the same results year over year: restricting access to drugs does not achieve the desired ends.

I worry far less about addiction than I do about the violence that the war on drugs causes. There will always be addicts. It's the generations of fathers and sons lost to the violence and prison, and the ghettoizing of once strong neighborhoods via gang control that are the bitter fruit of Nixon's war.

If we believe that sociologists should strive to only recommend objective policy to politicians, it would seem that the overwhelming consensus of the last 25 years is that a "punitive" approach to drug policy is a failure, and that other avenues should be attempted, especially with regard to marijuana. However, the consensus about the outcomes of that change is not in any way agreed upon, they just agree that a punitive approach carries far more repercussions in society that most believe carry a larger negative impact than increased availability of legalized production, sale, purchase, and consumption.

Here are some links (with quantitative data that talk more about what I'm contending).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The LDS Church needs to invest in our youth

The PTO at my daughter's school is one of the organizations to which I don't mind giving. They provide a detailed accounting of all funds, and if asked, they will answer questions. They could choose not to, but I appreciate it when they take the time to let us know on what projects they choose to spend cash donations.

The Darlington County Habitat for Humanity will, on request, demonstrate how they allocate their receipts. I would still give if they didn't, but I appreciate that they're open about how funds are spent.

I pay a full tithe. I trust the leadership to make righteous decisions about the money over which they have stewardship. I would appreciate knowing the distribution of tithing funds and how they are allocated. I would also enjoy having more funds locally with which to hold activities and events that we can invite the public to like our nativity set showcase (we have about 150 nativities and creches set up). We have a gigantic lot behind the church, big enough for three softball fields. So far my requests to have a pavilion installed with a gas BBQ pit, ceiling fans, and picnic tables have been greeted with buck passing and friendly dissembling from the stake president.

If you go to locally successful churches, you will find "teen centers" and full service kitchens. People come to church activities and truly linger longer. The Episcopal Church here has an amazing professional kitchen, and the parties there are top notch. The teen center at Lakeview Baptist has tons of couches, a stage with a drumset, guitar amps, and a piano. It also has a big TV with an xbox, a dance floor with a disco ball, and an indoor basketball/volleyball gym. Teenagers love to hang out there, and activity night on Wednesday is packed (granted, they also have a full-time paid youth minister to oversee programs).

In these parts, the Methodists have excellent BSA troops with Centennial Quality awards that aren't ephemeral. They have equipment, troop trailers, and out buildings specifically for storage of scouting equipment. Non-Methodists send their kids to the Methodist scout troop because of how well-run and awesome it is.

The Catholic Church here has fish fries all the time. They do rummage sales, chicken bogs, Low Country boils, and other activities. They also maintain a regional food bank and will get infants a no-frills car seat on the recommendation of a physician or ecclesiastical leader.

Just about every denomination in town has a pre-k and kindergarten (at one of their locations) except for the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Methodists founded an honest-to-goodness no-questions-asked soup kitchen M-F that feeds between 60-110 people a day. My ward helps cook twice a month.

Almost all of the Baptist churches contribute to the funding of Upward soccer, basketball, and cheerleading. Great people like Mitch Outlaw volunteer hours upon hours of their lives to make kids have a great time and to enjoy being at church, learning about the Gospel in a fun environment.

The Salvation Army employs mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed people, maintains a food bank, and works with addicted people to get them clean.

I feel like the LDS Church is missing the point outside of Utah. We don't need more proselyting missionaries here; we need service missionaries and members too to have resources sufficient to make a difference in our communities. We've gone from a finding-truth charismatic church led by Joseph Smith to the Corporation of the President with the sure signs following of bureaucracy and an epistemological elite.

The routinization of charisma in our church is essentially complete.