Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pete Stark -CA 13

It has been pointed out to me that my statements concerning non-representation in the US congress are incorrect. I have been told that there is an atheist member of congress, and that member is:

Pete Stark
CA 13th District

This is somewhat true. In March of 2007 Congressman Stark released the following statement to the Secular Coalition of America:

“I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a Supreme Being''


To many fundamentalists wishing to crucify any liberal congressman, and to Atheists grasping for some level of representations, this is a sufficient declaration of atheism. It is undoubtedly, at the very least, an admission of Deism. It is also the only non- Theist declaration I can remember from a member of Congress.


He may have said stuff at the reason rally this past weekend which will further refine my knowledge about this extraordinary political figure.   I can't wait to see what the Internets bring me on his talk there.

However, to someone with Unitarian family members, to someone who has listened to Unitarian ministers like Salt Lake City First Unitarian Church’s Reverend Tom Goldsmith proclaim the errors of evolutionary biologists from the pulpit, a declaration of Unitarianism falls well short of a declaration of Atheism.

Atheism is not a filter I use to disregard the viewpoints of public figures. If it was I would be left with very few to regard. Stark has many positions I regard as admirable, and I would definitely vote for him if he moved to Utah, and ran in my district. I would even campaign for him, and I believe I could almost guarantee that my efforts would get him at least 10 votes; unfortunately he would probably not get many more than that in my district.

Stark not only has positions I support yet do not define, he has collected great quotes. Here is one he has used from John Kenneth Galbraith that I have also used with great effect:


“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good Stuff

“So what” I am told “The LDS Church does a lot of good”.

How much is a “lot” of good? The LDS church, which is so particular about keeping high precision figures, says it has donated “over $1 billion in cash and material assistance … since it started keeping track in 1985”. That is a whole bunch of aid. That is, in fact, over $37 million in aid every year.

Some people have pointed out that this is less than a tenth of what its for-profit investment firm has dumped into the downtown area redevelopment projects every year for the past ten years. Some have even pointed out that this is little more than a quarter of what its for-profit investment arm has dropped into the new City Creek Center mall every year for the past decade. But even if its activity in the realm of humanitarian aid is dwarfed by its competitive for-profit activities $37 million is a lot of aid.

It rivals such large corporate donors as Phillip Morris and Glaxo-SmithKline.

Glaxo-SmithKline’s banner donation was of $49 million dollars-worth of medicine in 2005. I’m sure that is a lot of medicine, but since Glaxo-SmithKline decides on the prices of the medicine the “worth” label raises red flags. Also what kind of medicines? These seem like reasonable questions. Do we really want to distribute ‘Alli’ (a popular weight-loss OTC drug made by Glaxo-SmithKline) to famine victims? We would also not want Phillip Morris handing out free packs of Marlboros, and calling that “aid”.

The LDS church should be held to the same standard. For instance, how much of their “$1 billion in cash and material assistance” is cash, and how much is material assistance. Also, who exactly do they give it to?

Glaxo-SmithKline manufactures Priorix, which is a measles vaccine. One might expect them to be a large contributor to the Red Cross measles initiative. Looking at the homepage for the measles initiative it states that it costs less than $1 to inoculate a child. 49 million children is a lot of children. However Merck, a major competitor of Glaxo-SmithKline, is a partner in the measles initiative, and they make the more popular M-M-R measles vaccine.

Despite recent measles outbreaks in Utah the number of measles cases worldwide has been dropping dramatically. The measles initiative claims to have prevented over 4.3 million premature deaths. By all measures this is a wildly successful program.

The LDS Church is key partner in the measles initiative. They have pledged to contribute $1 million per year to the effort. This is a major contribution, and will go far to alleviating suffering in the world. This donation also conforms to the recommended practices for effective corporate donations. This donation is made directly to the operational organization performing the service or distributing the aid. Bundling organizations often burn through as much as half the donation before it gets to the organizations doing the actual work.

I should point out that the Red Cross Measles Initiative accepts personal donations.

The measles initiative was also the only place on the LDS websites that spoke of actual cash donations. This is strange since the LDS Church is so keen on accounting, and money is such an easy thing to count.

They provide detailed counts for other types of aid:

Type of aid
Amount
Unit of measure
Food
61,892
tons
Clothing
89,296
tons
Medical Supplies
13,920
tons
Special Kits
10.3 million
kits
Volunteering
763,737
hours


These items are not given an individual dollar amount, but we know that they contribute to the $1 billion because it is referred to as "cash and material", and these are materials. I should point out that adding up just the materials accounted for in weight (clothing, food, and medical supplies) shows that over 330 million pounds of material were donated. This means that the LDS church is not overpricing their donations because, if they decided that this material was worth as little as $3 a pound, this portion of the donations would account for almost a billion dollars by itself.

Three-dollars a pound is actually a reasonable estimate. Some charities estimate the per-pound value of their clothing donations to be over $20.

Clothing makes up over half the weighed aid, and I suspect that much of that is unsold merchandise from the chain of “Deseret Industries” thrift stores. In overall impact then this portion of the aid should, perhaps, count twice. By shipping this material to foreign countries where it will be appreciated it does not fill up American landfills.

Mormons in Utah practice food storage. There is a cottage industry in huge basement can storage units, and many new homes are built with a special concrete-walled basement closet for use as a “root cellar”. Even though it is most efficient to actually eat the stored food some young couples find it tiresome to eat canned peas more than five days in a row. So during the semi-annual food rotation events there are many pounds of expired caned stuff donated. This is another example of where the LDS church has a unique ability to provide, and couples it to a need.

The “kits” are assembled from useful bits. The humanitarian aid website describes the assembly of a whole slew of different kit types. One of the simpler kits is called a hygiene kit. Here are the instructions for making it:

The following is an example of how to assemble a hygiene kit:
Place the following items in a heavy-duty, one-gallon sealable bag.
Remove the air before sealing.
  • 2 unbreakable combs without sharp handles
  • 4 toothbrushes (sealed)
  • 1 tube of toothpaste (6-8 ounces, no pumps)
  • 2 bars of soap (3.5-5 ounces each)
  • 2 hand towels* (approximately 15x25 inches) Dishtowels and washcloths are not acceptable.
*If sewing towels, use terry cloth and serge or zigzag edges to prevent fraying.

This is obviously an upgraded kit from the hygiene kits described in 2004 which only contained “a” toothbrush.

“Kits” are not a uniquely LDS way of providing aid. Many church groups assemble “kits” for distribution by their missionaries. Though the LDS church does not conveniently provide individual dollar values for the kits other churches do. Here are some kit values:

Kit type
Base value
Shipping cost
Hygiene
$10
$2
School
$15
$2
Baby
$39
$2


So it is reasonable to estimate that a quarter-billion dollars worth of kits were distributed.  Many of these are distributed by missionaries.
Volunteer time is also given an accepted value, but not conveniently by the LDS church. That value is $21.36 an hour (2011). Utah has a lower rate for volunteer hours; it is $17.54 per hour (2011) in Utah. This is over $16 million in volenteer hours alone. 

So even upon as detailed an inspection as is conveniently possible the Mormon Church easily surpasses the $1 billion dollar mark in aid donations. It appears as if as much as 99% of that aid is in materials, and over 90% of that could be in the form of old clothing and rotated food storage items.

The church, by its own count, has over 14 million members. The average monetary, non tithing, donation of those members surely must exceed $0.07 each per year. Perhaps a more accurate idea of the cash amount donated can be acquired by examining the donation path?

The humanitarian aid page at Mormon.org provides a whole bunch of pictures of smiling dark-skinned people; some of whom are being helped by white folks. With most of the pictures are descriptions of exotic assistance programs. Many sound very worthwhile. I mentioned my favorite ( the measles initiative) earlier, but there is also a picture for “clean water” (also near the top of my list of good things). At the bottom of the humanitarian aid page is a link to do online donations through “LDS Philanthropies”. It states:

Should you desire your contribution to be used for a particular program, you may do so on this Web site. However, not indicating a particular program gives the Church flexibility to use your contribution where it’s most urgently needed.


I followed the link to see what the choices were. I expected to see a list that mirrored, or at least captures, the list of aid programs on the page I was linking from. Instead I saw this list:

·         Brigham Young University
·         BYU-Hawaii
·         BYU-Idaho
·         LDS Business College
·         Polynesian Cultural Center
·         Church History
·         FamilySearch
·         Missionary Fund
·         Mormon Tabernacle Choir
·         Perpetual Education Fund

It would appear as if cash is more valued for church-advancing activities than it is in the humanitarian aid programs. This is understandable. A Church is a charity, not a philanthropic organization. Churches accept donations, and spend them on Church things, they are not donators. That the church is able to rival corporate donors like Phillip Morris, especially since the lion’s share of that is re-purposing what would otherwise be waste, is laudable.

However, material handed out by missionaries is an obvious hook for conversion attempts. When material is packaged with a proselytizing goal in mind is it aid or marketing? If the damaging effects that follow introduction of divisive western religions into developing nations are factored in could some of this aid be more damaging that Phillip Morris handing out packs of Marlboros and calling that aid? I don’t think Phillip Morris hands out packs of cigarettes and calls it aid. If they did it would be with an eye on hooking future customers no less keen than that of missionaries hoping to hook future Members for the LDS Church.

Where are we now?

Yesterday I posted a bunch of stats published by the Mormon Church, and let them tell a story. The story may have been about fantastical precision and exaggeration, but the subtext is one of power. Even by the numbers provided by the LDS church the numbers of Mormons in the US is around 1.7%. This makes the LDS church one of the larger minority religions in the US; there are roughly as many religious Jews in the US. Overshadowing them by almost 10-to-1 are the number of individuals “unaffiliated” with any religion (this is different from religious, mostly protestant, individuals “unaffiliated” with a particular church). But the “unaffiliated” don’t overshadow the Mormons, do they?

In the 112th congress there are 15 Mormons (2.8%), and 39 religious Jews (7.3%); there are 0 “unaffiliated” individuals. Six individuals (1.1%) refused to divulge their faith, which is a little more than the number of non-divulgers (0.8%) in the US population as a whole.

Elections for new federal representatives will be held all over the country this year. Current trends suggest that there will be no new “unaffiliated” members of congress. If anything the number of non-divulgers in congress will decrease.

About 1-out-of-10 people who pick the “unaffiliated” moniker would prefer to be described as Atheists. This means that there are approximately as many “out” atheists in the US as Mormons. About half as many “unaffiliated” individuals prefer to be called agnostic. More than three-times as many (6.3%) respond with “secular” to distance themselves from established religion. That means that 10.3% of Americans openly define themselves as non-religious. If it was a religion the non-religious-unaffiliated would be the third largest religion in the US; behind Protestant and Roman Catholic.

It may be impossible to discover how many of the non-religious hide behind non-disclosure.

We are not being represented in this representative democracy. We have a long way to go before we even rise to a level that could be called under-representation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Human Beans

The Mormon Church and I have a lot in common.

  1. We both have a rapidly aging white guy in charge.
  2. We both think there is intelligent life on other planets.
  3. We both really like Utah.
  4. And most demonstrably we both really like numbers; though perhaps I don’t like numbers to the precision that the LDS Church does. Just look at some of these stats (31 December 2010):

Worldwide membership: 14,131,467 [0.2% of world population]

They know the numbers of members down to the very last soul. That is some awesome accounting!

US Membership: 6,144,582 [1.7% of US population]


Utah Membership: 1,910,343 [69.5 % of Utah population]

That’s a lot of Mormons in Utah. The state with the next largest number of Mormons is California.

California Membership: 763,370 [2% of California’s population]

The concentration in Utah is astounding. The state with the next highest concentration of Mormons is Idaho.

Idaho Membership: 414,182 [26.1% of Idaho’s population]

Together those three states contain a smidgen over 50% of the US LDS population, and almost 22% of the world’s Mormon population.

The country with the next-largest Mormon population is Mexico.

Mexico Membership: 1,234,545 [1% of Mexican population]

They really need to get another 22 members in Mexico. That way they could have 1234567 members there; how cool would that be?

To get large concentrations of Mormons one has to travel to the island paradise nations of the pacific. The tiny nation of Tonga has an incredible concentration of Mormons.

Tonga Membership: 58,805 [56.5% of Tonga’s population]

Tonga is the most Mormon country on the planet. The concentration is made even more amazing when you add the number of Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga [41%], Catholic [17%], Church of Tonga and Tokaikolo [10%] together. Tonga is apparently a very religious country. Is it any wonder that in the 2006 Tongan census only 28 people total stated that they had no religious affiliation?

That is some impressive bean counting; human beans.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Secret Squirel

One of the most wonderful things one can say is:
I Don’t Know
It can suggest naïve openness to new information. It is the sound of a mind opening to new possibilities. It is one of the sounds caused by actively engaging the world one lives in.

Unfortunately it is also the sound of frustration when one encounters secrecy. Secrecy is one of the hallmarks of the operations of the Mormon Church, and by extension the state of Utah.

A couple of days ago I posted an entry about sophisticated religious tests for employment eligibility. A natural follow-on would be to analyze the impact of such a practice on the social structure of the community on which it was being imposed. I thought it would be nice to gather a few stats, do an interpretation of impact, and then describe some anecdote to illustrate the impact. I could not get past step 1.

Although the individuals employed by the LDS church are theoretically generating statistics at the same amazing rate as other employed individuals (like unemployment insurance, social security, payroll tax, etc…) those state agencies that package these statistics (like Utah Department of Workforce Services) are silent about the LDS church. It appears as if the LDS church not only receives special consideration in how it handles employment fairness laws, but it gets a pass on how it handles the idea of employment itself. It is reasonable to ask what other omissions this secrecy covers up.

The Utah DWS publishes a list of major employers every few years (the last one in 2009) and the LDS church is missing from the list. The top 5 from the list are statewide health-care providers (Intermountain healthcare [1] and University of Utah [3]), the state government [2], BYU [4], and WalMart [5]. At least one of the most stringent adherents to the secret-database morality system is in the top 5. BYU is also the major employer in the smaller county in which its major campus resides.

Examination of how strange Provo-Orem is was not my purpose in searching out the stats. If I wanted to do that I would simply describe my experience trying to order coffee at McDonald's the last time I went to BYU.

I wanted to find out how the stringent religious test for employability code affected the state. 15,000+ employees under the code in BYU undoubtedly has an effect, but they are not the biggest contributor.

In 2003 an independent analysis of data obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune (now owned by the LDS church) found that the LDS church was not only the single larges employer, but was half-again as large as the next largest employer. The 2003 numbers suggested that over 33,000 individuals were employed directly by the LDS church. That number has undoubtedly grown in the past decade.

If I add my WAG for the current LDS church employment figures to the BYU numbers I estimate that about 50,000 individuals in the state of Utah have employment dependent on their temple-recommend status. The number may be much higher when one considers all the profit-making side ventures that the church runs.

Add to that the number of individuals whose livelihood depends on the temple-recommend-linked employment of others and the control over the economy becomes overwhelming.

I should point out for the edification of readers in more populous areas just how small Utah is. Utah’s entire population is about the size of a large American city. The last census (2010) put the state’s population in at a little over 2.75 million.

In the 2010 elections a little over 650 thousand individuals voted. This means that as many as one in ten voters is dependent on a temple-recommend for their employment. Couple that with the state’s de-facto one party caucus primary system, and the social control becomes incredible.

In the Utah caucus-primary system voting is first forced through an open vetting process before being subjected to a secret-ballot primary. Only the top individuals make it onto the primary. Manipulation of this process ousted one of our more conservative senators (Bennett) because he was not conservative enough for tea-party personalities in the caucus.

Since the caucuses are open anyone voicing a strong opinion can come under the scrutiny of LDS watchers. If someone voices an opinion in caucus that is antithetical to how a local bishop (bishop is the name for a lay priest in the LDS church) interprets the temple recommend requirements could easily find themselves being counseled. If the counseling goes bad they, or someone that they care about, could lose their job.

The most significant impact would come in the form of economic pressure. Exercising detailed control over the largest single group of employees in the state allows for a veritable cornucopia of potential unfair competitive practices.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guilt By Association

Today the superlative festooned City Creek Center (CCC) shopping mall opens in downtown Salt Lake City. Just across from the Salt Lake Temple the CCC has been called “The New Mormon Mall”. This is usually made to underscore the point that it will be closed on Sundays to assist people in observing the Sabbath. However, there are other reasons to consider this “The New Mormon Mall”.

A couple weeks ago a friend posted a screenshot from the university of Utah’s employment bulletin-board-like service. Since I am not a student or faculty of the UofU I don’t have access, but she graciously sent me copies of screenshots from the job board for me to include here:



The top qualification, before any degrees or experience, is:
"Current Temple Recommend Holder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints"

I described somewhat in an earlier post the relationship between PRI (Property Reserve Inc) and City Creek Reserve Inc (CCRI). The CCC represents 1.5 billion of the CCRI’s downtown activity. The CCRI is a for-profit real estate company wholly-owned by the LDS church. I’m sure that there is some interesting tax-wrangling to be considered when calculating the profit-margin of competitive LDS-Church business ventures.

The track record of the LDS church in private business ventures has historically been dismal. What if the CCC is the start of a string of successes? What if they start reaping major profits? What if they opened a big box store that out competed Home Depot, or WalMart? How would that change the nature of America? What if the LDS church became defense contractors?

Actually, the LDS church is a defense contractor. BYU has had many contracts with the Department of Defense. Although BYU is apparently not entirely Mormon (according to numbers I’ve seen almost 2% of the faculty are not active Mormons) the Mormon faculty have been required to have an annual “checking-up” letter from their bishops on file in addition to their temple recommend. The “checking-up” was designed to monitor all activities of faculty for appropriateness. At least two professors have run afoul of the “checking-up” process because of their “feminism”; at least one of those was fired outright.

One BYU physics professor, Steven E. Jones, was placed on paid leave because of his 911-truther craziness. I think they should have called that action a “911-truther sabbatical”; it certainly freed up enough of Jones’s time for him to pen his detailed investigations into how pre-placed explosives really brought down the twin towers.

Religious organizations that compete in the private sector have more than simple tax-exemption to use as a competitive edge. The LDS church can actually demand 10% of the payroll from its employees returned to their parent company. Tithing is part of the eligibility requirements for the Bishop’s recommend openly required for employment with the church-held secular activities.

Some of my non-Utahan readers will not have an accurate grasp of what a “Temple Recommend” is. In many cases membership in a church is viewed as a private affair. Membership might be disclosed by subtle clues, a special phrase, a uniquely ornate cross, a secret handshake. In the Mormon church active membership is proven via the use of a serial-numbered and officially-authorized identity card. At the front desk of each temple is a receptionist with a computer terminal who checks the authenticity and status of the ID number before the individual can enter the temple by comparing it with a secret database of information. I have been told there is also a photograph that comes up on the terminal to verify ownership of the recommend.

In order to be issued the temple recommend the individual seeking it must answer a series of questions. The answers to each question can be investigated for truthfulness by the church, and it is common for third-party accusations to instigate those investigations. Some of the questions are (according to sources of course since I do not wish to pursue first-hand knowledge):

  • 1.   Do you believe in God, the Eternal Father, in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost; and do you have a firm testimony of the restored gospel?
  • 2.   Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator; and do you recognize him as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?
  • 4.   Do you live the law of chastity?
  • 6.   Do you affiliate with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or do you sympathize with the precepts of any such group or individual?
  • 9.   Are you a full-tithe payer?
  • 10. Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?
  • 12. If you have received your temple endowment --
    • (a) Do you keep all the covenants that you made in the temple?
    • (b) Do you wear the authorized garments both day and night?
I left out a few questions about divorce and general goodness that might be of interest to some, but which were not of significant worth to this essay.   I also left on a couple with no worth to this essay, but which I think are interesting nonetheless. 

The “Word of Wisdom” generally means no drinking of coffee, tea or alcohol. The “authorized garments” are often called “the magic Mormon Underwear”.

The confusion amongst non-Mormon’s about what the temple recommend is can be quite astounding. From one publication written for non-Mormons I pulled the following quote concerning the state’s welfare system “Latter-day Saints have many regional bishop storehouses where members, and non-members alike, can receive emergency food and supplies by merely presenting a bishop’s recommend.”. The bishop’s recommend is synonymous with the temple recommend. There are no non-Mormons with an authentic temple recommend.

I, of course, particularly like question 6. Some might read this to mean that simply by reading this very blog you could run afoul of the temple recommend requirements. If a neighbor searched your bookmarks and found this blog amongst them you could be barred from entry into the temple. You could also lose your job.

Although most temple-recommend jobs do not currently require annual security checks like the BYU faculty positions they are subject to spot-checks if any questions arise. According to Utah law this practice is legal.

Drew Call served a mission in Massachusetts in the late 90s. Although Mitt Romney was in Massachusetts at the time I have seen no indication that the two ever bumped into one another at any of the social gatherings hosted by that state’s small Mormon community. I have a feeling that Drew would have remembered; one reason for that is that Drew had discovered that he was sexually attracted to other men.

Drew married a woman shortly after he returned from his mission (at age 24) because, in his own words: “I thought getting married would fix it and this tendency to like men would go away, but it never did,”. Despite “not being attracted to women” drew fathered two children with his blushing bride, but long before his offspring hit their two-digit age marks Drew divorced her and began dating men. Drew was outed by a third-party in 2010, soon lost his temple recommend, and on March 4th 2011 lost his job as a supervisor at the church’s printing office.

The reason given for Drew, a decade-long employee of the LDS church, losing his secular position at the printing office was that he had lost his temple recommend.

It is also interesting to note that the church engaged in some painful spiritual contortion to deny Drew’s temple recommend not because he was gay, but because he had gay friends. Drew made a recording of the phone call where they informed him of the decision to revoke his temple worthiness, and they are clear that it is not because he was gay. This is because the LDS church officially encourages gays to be members; as long as they don’t have sex outside of marriage, and don’t try that gay marriage stuff.

The year before Drew’s divorce the LDS church openly supported a Salt Lake City employment nondiscrimination measure which would have protected Drew’s job if he worked for almost anyone but the LDS church. The measure had a specific religious exemption. That exemption has been upheld in Drew’s case.

If the LDS church continues to exert influence by competing in the private sector their thought police will be granted increased leverage. You may not work for the LDS church but your friends or family might, your friends family might, the families of your elected officials might.

OBEY!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Hear Colors

My grandfather used to tell me that:

“If god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him”


This is a wonderful thing to say to a young boy. It speaks of the power of imagination, and how there is stuff that must be known. Imagination builds patterns out of stuff, and condenses it into things, then nouns, then ideas, then thoughts which can then be communicated. Though there is a logical progression there are no physical constraints on this process. Anything is possible.

It can be argued that too much imagination is wasted on fantastical answers to mundane questions: “Does she/he like me?” or “what would it feel like to swim through an atmosphere made of blue Jell-O?” I believe this to be true; for even if she/he does like you they will probably change their minds eventually, and simply splashing around in a bathtub full of blue Jell-O for an hour will be both more than enough Jell-O splashing for a lifetime, and significantly more sensual.

Eventually a young person’s thoughts turn to domination of the universe. The universe is an unimaginably huge and complex space. At first we might simply dip our toes into the pool of unthinkable thoughts. Eventually we dive in, and we quickly adjust to the idea of imagining the unimaginable. We begin to understand the incomprehensible. We know things that cannot be known.

Each firing neuron is a bioluminescent fish. Each synapse a sparking Jacob’s ladder we can climb to forever.

Emotions become the tides and weather of this strange and familiar world.

Love washes over us as warm waves of liquid sunshine. Strange creatures plucked randomly from disparate mythology talk to us with voices we recognize as those of people we would have love us. They tell us that they do, and beg us to join them wandering aimlessly through whatever we invent.

There are days when the imagination seeps into waking hours. Moments are spent doodling or staring at walls. Most of us push the imaginary world into our dreams, then we push it into our sleeping hours.

Why not create something that cannot be created. Isn’t that the next logical step?

So we create something that cannot be created just to give the job of creation over to something that can do it full time. It can make stuff while we attend to waking activities.

Then, to top it off we imagine things that even the all powerful god cannot do. We imagine god creating a rock he cannot move. We imagine god creating itself. We imagine god creating greater and more infinitely powerful gods who create super universes filled with more self-referentially endless awesomeness.

We know there is stuff in our imaginary world we did not make. Places we visited while awake; other people. Maybe this is proof that everything is real; including god.

Sometimes we re-run clips of the day’s events. We try to change them in order to make the outcomes better, but they sometimes turn out worse. There are strange hallways that we must run to the end of that just keep getting longer and longer as we run faster. Sometimes there is something chasing us that we did not make. Sometimes they are gaining on us even as our lungs burn from effort.

Weather becomes more unpredictable. There are storms. It is cold. Freezing cold. We are naked again, but this time it is not in a good way.

We are washed up on a dark stony shore pebbled with the broken teeth of enormous reptiles. Colors and hue have all surrendered to shades of midnight blue. The wind mocks us by shouting our name using our father’s most disappointed tone. Shivering uncontrollably the rain pretends to warm us as it saps the last remaining heat from our fetaled form. It comes in sheets; each a fresh slap. We are so very cold that we only feel where we are bruised or cut. Crying out only raises the tide which threatens to wash us out to sea. There are giant slimy things in the sea with broken teeth, and they do not like us.

Lightning cracks the black; white and cold. The sky is a firehose, and every droplet a painful acusation.  They meld into one another and become proof of some mysterious guilt.  Our bones are magiced away, and we are an undiferentiated mass of cramped meat; cold and hard as ice.

We try simply realizing the nightmare is our own imagination. We try using the powerful entities we have created to scare the darkness back into the shadows. No matter what we try the insecurities of youth eventually fade away.

Most of us will transition elements of our imaginary world into our perception of reality. I have obviously tacked some word pictures on my mental walls. Many people try to take god with them.

But what is a god when it is taken out of the imaginary universe(s) defining it? For many thinking people god becomes a concept, then a notion, then a feeling, then a passing moment where things are just as you imagined they would be. The child grows into an adult. We learn to fear, then trust, then question, then learn, then love. The theist becomes deist, then agnostic, then atheist, then humanist.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Vernal Equinox (belated)

Happy Vernal Equinox

The most popular opinion on what causes the vernal equinox is that the earth is halfway between its summer position and its winter position. This is right, except that the way in which most people view what it means is quite wrong.

The idea works like this: You have seen the pictures of the earth’s orbit around the sun, right. If not here is one for you to look at. I’ve only drawn the earth and the sun, and I drew them completely out of scale. I’ve tried to use only primary colors, and drawn a happy face on the sun to help you feel less stressed in this busy world we live in.

OK now. Most people (including scientists) know that the earth travels one time around its orbit in one year. The most popular opinion (based on randomly unverified surveys of Utah residents) about the seasons is that they are caused by the earth traveling from close to the sun to very far away from the sun. The sun is hot so it is summer when the earth is close to the sun, and winter when it is far away. I’ve asked a whole slew of folks, and that is what I am told. They know this to be true. They can see the seasons change, and so they have visible confirmation of their knowledge.

Here let me label my picture of the earth’s orbit with the seasons. This is so much fun. It’s like a PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes when I watch PowerPoint presentations I feel like I have died and gone to hell. This proves that there is a hell. SO perhaps if I prayed to Cthulu I would know heaven and come to love long PowerPoint presentations.

The Vernal Equilux is when the day and night are of equal length.  It occurs near the equinox on the calendar, and depends on exactly where you are latitude-wise.

Whenever I have the opportunity to be ‘splained-to about how the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit causes the seasons I ask about the length of day. This question is often a stumper, but when it is not I usually get the same answer, and it has to do with women in very short skirts.

“It is like an ice skater” the ‘splainer will ‘splain.


“With a very short skirt?” I ask.


“Sure” ‘Splains splainer “When they spin with their arms out, and then pull their arms into their body, they spin faster”


“And their skirt flies up” I reply


“Sure” replies the ‘splainer. “you see it’s like an ice skater, but with gravity”.


“That would explain why so many animals become reproductively receptive in the spring” I add.


“How so?” asks ‘splainer.


“The skirt being halfway up is kinda a tease” I reply.


There is actually something elegant and wonderful about this construct. It weaves a knowledge about conservation of angular momentum with experiential data about what is hot and cold. It is quickly explained, and makes perfect sense. It is such a popular idea that if opinion drove reality this would be an irrefutable truth.

Unfortunately. ..............

If I get a second follow up question it is always this:

“So, if you call someone in Australia, you know, way south of the equator, in July…is it summer or winter for them?”


Some ‘splainers are stumped by this, and explain that they don’t know anyone in Australia. Some tell me that it is always summer in Australia, but my favorite answers are those that build upon the lovely construct that defines the intricate dace of planets and sun that make our seasons. They go on to explain how the planet wobbles as it orbits, and that the wobble causes it to be winter in Australia when it is summer in the northern hemisphere.

Part of the transcendently cool thing about the wobble theory is that it is correct. The other is that the construct now has two mechanisms for creating the seasons. One mechanism for the northern hemisphere, and another for those people south of the equator.

Of course the wobble theory is the mechanism for seasons both north and south of the equator. These days the sun is actually closer to the earth in the northern hemisphere’s winter than it is during its summer. The vernal (and autumnal for that matter) equinox is when the sun is directly overhead of some theoretical equatorial observer. It is an exact moment in time. It occurred today at 5:14 AM GMT.

Missed it? I know I did. Next year it will occur at 11:02 AM GMT on March 20th. Start planning your festivities now, and avoid the shopping rush.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hi Mitt

So, Mitt Romney called me yesterday.

I was sitting around and my landline rang. Despite the fact that I am on the national “Do Not Call” list I have begun getting a bunch of sales calls lately. The new workaround is where a business gives a small donation to a charity, and then calls on behalf of the charity to sell their product. I’m often not nice to these people.

I may have been a bit gruff when I picked the phone off the receiver and said “Hello”.

It took Mitt a second or so to respond. I should have been nicer. When he regained his composure he said: “Hello this is Mitt Romney”.

I wasn’t expecting a phone-call from Mitt. I think if someone calls you at home you should be able to call them by their first name, even if you have never met in the flesh.

Hi Mitt” I replied “You can call me AhhhOooAaahh. It is pronounced like a foghorn, but it stands for Adult Onset Atheist. I’m sure that you are calling to find out how you can reach out to voters of reason. You did kinda leave us feeling unloved with your “No freedom without religion” speech

But before I got all that out he cut in with his message. Though it was a bit rude I somewhat admire people of steadfast purpose.

We need strong leadership in Congress to help fix the economy” Said Mitt.

Perhaps” I replied “But a fair progressive tax structure will do a whole lot more than pontificating on ephemeral subjective descriptors."

Again he cuts me off. The line between singleness of purpose and rudeness is neither fine nor faint, and he was putting one foot solidly on the rude side.

Sen. Orrin Hatch will lead the powerful Finance Committee, which will be critical to lowering taxes, balancing the budget and repealing the federal government takeover of health care.” said Mitt.

Look Mitt” I replied, my voice taking on a hint of annoyance “Part of an adult conversation is listening. Besides, I don’t want the health-care reforms repealed. Who are you to talk anyway? You recently swept up the Massachusetts primary surfing the wave of support generated by popular support for the health-care reform you put in while you were governor of that state, and that reform was essentially the same as the federal one you want repealed. It is like you are just spouting empty phrases.

Again he cut in.

On March 15, please attend your caucuses and keep Orrin Hatch fighting for Utah” said Mitt.

The Utah Caucus-Primary system is designed to provide an open vetting process before the secret-ballot primary. This is to prevent people from choosing candidates based solely on what they think want when there are people who know better. Recently Utah’s other uber- conservative senator (Bennet) was essentially removed from office during the caucus process. A candidate that comes in third in the caucus does not make it to the ballot. The Tea-Party flexed their muscles in Utah two years ago, and blocked Bennet from making it onto the primary ballot. The fear is that Orin Hatch will be next to feel the focused voting wrath of Utah’s Tea Party Patriots.

I’m not a fan of Orin Hatch. Unfortunately when rabid voting blocks succeed in an election politicians fall over each other proclaiming themselves least sane; all in hopes of securing the deranged vote.

Utah already has a de-facto religious test for office. I do not think it will do anyone much good to begin rejecting candidates simply because they are not at least as nutty as squirrel poo.

On the other hand nuclear stupidity might leave the few survivors sifting through the dystopian remnants of their former world in search of the very humanist ideals they had previously rejected. Since I like the word picture this actually seems like the more attractive of the two options.

Needless to say I am not voting in the caucus. That and the fact that I cannot.

Sorry Mitt” I replied with finality in my voice. “And next time you call be prepared for some human interaction. Without listening you come across like a machine

And I hung up.

Maybe he would have lightened up a little if I cracked a joke or asked him what he was wearing.

Monday, March 12, 2012

California Dreamin

Eighty-four years ago today, at 11:57 pm on the 12th of March 1928, Ace Hopewell was out for a midnight motorcycle ride along the San Francisquito canyon road. The road ran up San Francisquito creek to the base of the 200 foot-high dam; then ran up the canyon wall and along the reservoir on the east side. Ace heard some rumblings over the sound of the motorcycle's sidecar bumping along the rough road. He used the excuse to stop for a cigarette. Looking out over the reservoir Ace thought he saw a line of foam, which he took to indicate that there had been a small landslide.

The road called.  He ground the butt of his cigarette into its gravel with the black heal of his boot, and he rode on.

Ace was the last living person to see the St. Francis Dam intact. The giant wall of water that its catastrophic failure released scoured the canyon to 120 feet above the creek. Chunks of concrete dam, trees, boulders, lots of dirt, houses, cows, automobiles, and around 600 human bodies mixed together to form a viscous wave of death. By around 5:30 AM on the 13th that wave finally reached the ocean near Ventura.

The town of San Francisquito had disappeared.


Many bodies were washed out to sea. The initial death toll was reported at 385 persons. Over the course of time bodies continued to spring up, and the death toll rose to over 600. The last body identified as belonging to a victim of the dam failure was recovered in 1992.

After the disaster the LA times bought up as many pictures as they could of the disaster’s impact. Many of these were then lost.

Teams were sent out to jackhammer and dynamite the remaining concrete wreckage of the dam. Today there is little left to see at the site.

It is sometimes easier to avoid the tendency for history to repeat itself by simply erasing history.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Brigades of Anger In Concert

In a stroke of ironic certainty Shiite Muslims have begun stoning Emo kids to death in Baghdad.

The nihilistic kids in over-priced tight clothing whose terminal oppression in the face of retail privilege have begun showing up in Baghdad morgues with strange wounds. According to MSNBC there is an official count of 14, and an unofficial count as high as 100.

Often called “Goth for whimps” the Emo fashion statement is not complete without some strange wound. Superficial cuts are the most popular. It is easy to envision the self mutilation of a couple kids getting out of hand, and landing them in the morgue with strange wounds. Even a hundred dead Emo kids, though newsworthy and pathetic, would lack irony.

What makes this ironic is that these Emo kids were systematically murdered because they might have a propensity to hurt themselves. Apparently:

Nihilism is the new Satanism.

The Death-to-Emo squads have leafleted the areas they wish to rid of Emo kids. MSNBC provided a quote from one of the leaflets:

"We are the Brigades of Anger. We warn you, if you do not get back to sanity and the right path, you will be killed,"

Wouldn’t “Brigades of Anger” make an OK name for an Emo band. In fact a leaflet that said:

We are the Brigades of Anger in concert at Galivan Center. We warn you, if you do not get back to sanity and the right path, you will be killed

Would actually result in a handful of Emo kids showing up at Galivan center at whatever date and time it specified.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wheel Man

Three hundred and fifty years ago today, on March 9th 1762, a Huguenot merchant in Toulouse France named Jean Calas was sentenced to death for the crime of murdering his son. This was seen as a particularly heinous crime as it was rumored that Jean’s son, Marc-Antoine, had converted to the state religion of Catholicism, and this was the reason Jean murdered him. Jean was sentenced to be broken on the wheel.

Jean died the next day, on March 10th. History preserves the account of Jean repeatedly declairing that his son had committed suicide until he could speak no more. This suggests that Jean was not granted a retentum (a special grace where the condemned was strangled to death before the breaking had progressed too far). The condemned man broken on a wheel had each of his large bones literally broken with a hammer. The shattered limbs could then be bent at strange angles, and in France the condemned was woven onto a wagon wheel by braiding his unnaturally pliable limbs through the spokes. The man-wheel was hoisted onto a tall pole so that birds could eat the still-living individual. Strong men could last for days before dying of dehydration.

Jean maintained that he had found his son dead of a suicide, and to prevent desecration of his body (which, because suicide was such a grave sin, was a common occurrence) said Marc-Antoine had been murdered until after his body had been buried. Although there is no mention of Jean’s other son, who had also converted to the state religion of Catholicism without attempts on his life,coming to his father’s defense there was another notable defender of Jean.

Voltaire successfully defended Jean, and won his acquittal three hundred and forty seven years ago today, on March 9th 1756. This was a little too late for Jean.

Voltaire was a very good friend of Benjamin Franklin. His correspondence with Ben helped to shape the philosophical underpinnings of the US constitutional government. During the time from 1762 to 1765, when Voltaire was vigorously defending Jean, he published the Dictionnaire Philosophique. Though Jean's death could have left him like many other protestants in France, as a obscure victim of Catholic paranoia, his death instead helped to motivate the separation of church and state that helped the US (and later France) to flourish.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

IWD Misogynist

Happy International Women’s Day!

In celebration of IWD the Utah legislature has forwarded “with little debate” a woman-specific measure expected to pass with a plurality of votes. This measure extends the waiting time before a woman can have an abortion from one to three days. What will you women do with your extra free time? Perhaps you can go to the mall and buy some sexy new shoes?

I must admit that I was originally against this bill, but I recently read an Op-Ed in my local paper which has set it all straight for me. This Op-Ed was written by a woman so it must be indicative of what women really think; at least I assume she is a woman based on her name “Jewel”, the attractive head in the picture accompanying the article, and that she states having given birth to at least three children. It is always good to get a woman’s perspective on things. I often simply assume they think like everyone else.

Jewel explains the benefit of the new law:

She used to have a day to decide. Now, if the bill passes, she would have three days.” -- Jewel Punzalan Allen from her Tooele Transcript-Bulletin Op-Ed Tuesday 6 March 2012.


Jewel used her own experience to illustrate her point. She describes her inability to be sure about decisions, including carrying her own children to term; although she is quick to point out that she: “never had, nor have I considered getting, an abortion.” Despite this her genetically-derived insight as a woman allows her to have considered opinions about other women’s abortions that she wants you to consider as well. Women are rumored to have greater consideration for others, and I guess this proves it can be true.

Jewel describes the particulars of the romance that would eventually plant a seed in her properly-wed womb. At 19 she “knew” a young man for “almost a year” and then spent three months “painting Washington DC red” (and having been a wild 19-year-old in Washington DC I “know” what that means!) only to return to a marriage proposal. She accepted immediately, then said no, then said yes again, and then became a bride at 20. Even over the several-month-long engagement young Jewel vacillated so much that her fiancé worried she would become a runaway bride. And there you have it; according to a woman, many women, maybe not all women, are just too volatile in their decisions.

The news has been all abuz about how Rush Limbaugh called some young lady (who may or may not have a silent e on the end of her last name) a slut for lobbying for a women’s right’s concerning her own reproductive choices. Rush is probably a man, so why should the men making these decisions care what he says? What does Ann Coulter have to say, or did Rush finally eat her?

Jewel is the spokeswoman women need. If she looks good in a bikini she might even make it to television. Jewel understands the four types of women who have abortions, and she lists them:

  1.  “an otherwise good girl who’s carried away in the heat of the moment, despite her parents’ guidance. “ [slut]
  2.  “a woman who was raped” [probably a slut]
  3.  “a woman who got drunk and had casual sex and regretted it the next day” [drunken slut]
  4. “a woman who could die if she proceeds with a full-term pregnancy or delivery. “ [diseased]

Some of you might be thinking that there are a trainload of other reasons besides being a diseased slut that a woman might decide to have an abortion. Some might point out that being a diseased slut is just as popular a reason to carry a fetus to term. Some might even go so far as to suggest that it is a decision made by considering the factors in a woman’s life independent of what she might “be”.

Thanks to Jewel we know that women have difficulty with big decisions, and they need an authority (like a male doctor) to point out that adoption is an alternative in order to consider it. It is so great that Jewel, and women like her all over Utah, will be given that extra two days to consider their abortion.  Before this law goes into effect women only have as long as they want to make the decision…and who knows what women really want?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Where are the humans now?

Utah is one of those states that sell “commemorative” license plates for an additional fee. This is not the “vanity plate” arrangements of letters that are used to pen cute sayings. A good friend of mine’s father used to have a plate that said “I SMOKE”. It was always getting stolen.

The commemorative plates have some picture, and usually a tagline, signifying the purchaser’s support of some cause. Utah hunting and fishing groups all together must have close to a dozen different plates traveling our nation’s highways.

Recently the Utah legislature tried to create a new plate (HB506) which would commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The monies (estimated to be about $20K) raised by the plate were to be spent on a bunch of nice-sounding things. Two of these line items proved controversial. They were:
“Create or support programs that promote awareness and education of human civil rights”

and
“Provide education and training in human rights”

Apparently, and I honestly did not know this, the term “human rights” can be used as code for abortion. I also did not know that an almost exclusively Mormon group of almost exclusively (77.3%) republicans would have been the first to crack this abortion code.

There were signs however. The bill’s sponsor was a woman democrat who was the daughter of a Mexican immigrant. She has supported the Girl Scouts in the past, and I have read that the GSA has been exposed as a rabidly pro-abortion communist group controlled by cyber-zombie clones of Nancy Pelosi.

But Utah is safe. We have the Patrick Henry Caucus. They deciphered out the code and fixed it.



The offending “human”s were removed from the bill and replaced with the constitution and the declaration of independence. The amended bill was quickly passed. The two offending lines now read:
“Create or support programs that promote awareness and education of constitutional and civil rights”

and
“Provide education and training in inalienable rights as set forth in the Declaration of Independence

This is why I’m not in politics (well that and the difficulty I would have selling my soul to the devil since I know neither exists). I would have naively thought that, since the Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to have an abortion, the right to a safe abortion would be better described as “constitutional” instead of “human”. The inalienable rights in the declaration [Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness] also appear to be abortion inclusive rights. If the mother’s life is in danger the “Life” inalienable right should allow an abortion; if she is carrying a rapist’s baby not allowing an abortion would certainly be antithetical to the “pursuit of Happiness”, and “Liberty” is what one might consider the essence of allowing a woman to personally choose what to do with her own body from all available technological alternatives.

I do know one group of rights that will now be included in the tests for groups that can receive money from the MLK Jr, license plate. By changing the wording I’m sure the Patrick Henry caucus was thinking about gun rights. They spend a lot of time talking about gun rights on the floor of Utah’s capitol building. They even use quotes from Patrick Henry from time to time:

The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able may have a gun.” ― Patrick Henry


I wonder how MLK would feel about using his legacy to promote gun ownership. I bet there was at least one gun that he would have preferred to have taken away from its owner during his life.

Leave it to the Patrick Henry caucus to protect guns by getting rid of those pesky “human”s.



Monday, March 5, 2012

White Stripes

In just over two weeks the new “City Creek Center” shopping mall will open in downtown Salt Lake City. It rises from the rubble of the Crossroads Plaza Mall. Someone important obviously believes that this is a good place for an upscale shopping mall. That person is god, and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints has bought high-rise-covering photo-billboards to display 100-foot-tall-lithe models in expensive clothes stylishly ignoring the words “Opening March 22nd 2012”.

The CCC will have foliage-lined walkways and its own creek. In my mind’s eye I pictured self-doubting poets in hip-waders fly fishing rainbow trout in the coiffed indoor waterway, but that would probably go counter to the developer’s general rule for behavior in the mall which bans: “any activity or conduct which is detrimental to or inconsistent with a first-class, family-oriented shopping center.”.

The developer has excreted the foundations for high end malls all over the US, and this general conduct rule is essentially word-for-word like those it created for its other endeavors. Unlike its other endeavors the entity that owns the mall and is co-developing it through their wholly-owned subsidiary called Property Reserve Inc. has a history of using rules that promote such general authority to regulate activities that many would not find objectionable.

The owner of the property is the LDS church. The church owns and operates many secular profit making businesses, but I am unaware of any others as large as the 20-acre CCC. Just across the street from CCC is the original Salt Lake City Temple Square. Wandering around it and the adjacent Main Street Plaza are stereotypical Secret-Service look-alikes complete with ear-bud radios sprouting curly wires out of one of their ears. They are the Church Police.

Recently a video of the LDS-CP made national news. The LDS-CP were filmed vigorously explaining to a same-sex couple that the general rules for conduct made their smooching illegal.

The CCC hopes to prevent such problems with their general authority rules by making photography illegal in CCC. Please don’t misunderstand me; there is significant leeway in the interpretation of the conduct rules. The LDS-CP understand that some transgressions are best ignored. The Main Street Plaza is a popular place for marriage proposals, and these sometimes result in some smooching. I’m sure the jewelry stores in the CCC will also be the scene of one or two kisses. There may even be a little tongue from time to time, but just the tip I’m sure.

The old Crossroads Plaza Mall had a Border’s Bookstore whose coffee-shop’s 2nd-floor picture-windows overlooked Temple Square. I joked that the LDS church must have a stripe of self-deprecating humor to allow people to sip a religiously prohibited beverage from a strategic vantage point overlooking their most sacred of places. I quickly looked over a preliminary list of shops for the CCC and saw no secular bookstores or coffee shops; perhaps the stripe has faded?