Tuesday, December 31, 2013

GE reason at work

According to almost every measure the number of Atheists in the US is increasing dramatically. The current state of Atheism has been achieved through the advance of mundane concepts like reality and sanity. Atheism has advanced, and will undoubtedly continue to advance, through the intrinsic instability of the religious system of delusion. There are three extrinsic events that could significantly destabilize the social construct of religiosity. I have decided to name these the three epiphanies, and I’ve talked about them in the past.

They are:

  1. The Cloning of a human being
  2. The singularity of an AI with human intelligence.
  3. Definitive contact with extraterrestrial intelligence.

The number of people who self-identify as not religious is increasing, while the number of people identifying as religious is decreasing. Between 2005 and 2012 the religiosity index for the USA decreased from 73% to 60%; in another decade religiosity may be a minority opinion in the US. The number of strong (self identifying) Atheists has not increased at a rate equaling that of those leaving religion. People lose faith, but they do not necessarily replace it with strong Atheism.

I have had the pleasure of “de-converting” a couple folks to strong Atheism; at least there are a couple folks who jokingly self identify as my “converts”. They have unanimously described their deconversion as a moment of little, almost no, significance; they cannot even attribute a specific moment to that point where their Faith was completely gone. They had been pleasantly free of Theism for quite a while, and then accidentally noticed that they were. They describe an overwhelming sense of “so what”. One expressed annoyance at it not being more of a great epiphany.

Converting to any Theistic religion is bound to be more exciting as one is actually discovering something so new that has literally never existed before their personal discovery of it. Unfortunately, as is the case with delusions, realizing something exists does not mean it actually does exist. Since Theistic god(s) do not exist the moments leading up to their discovery are not contaminated by hints of them.

Imagine, on the other hand, finally coming to believe in gravity. Like it or not you have been dealing with gravity before you were born. Gravity exists whether you believe in it or not. Coming to believe would be more of a succumbing to the mounting evidence, and gradually neglecting to maintain the delusional infrastructure needed to maintain a non-belief in gravity.

Each of the three great epiphanies (I think I will call them the “great” epiphanies for dramatic effect) would be something new. They are not equal in the magnitude of their impact, or in how clear it might be that they have been realized.

Certainly meeting a normal person who was conceived by cloning is very clear evidence of Great epiphany 1 having been realized. However, it is likely that religions’ would simply soft-pedal their previously intense focus of human reproductive mechanics to “accept” the reality of a clone.

Religious apologists have been moving the goal posts to avoid dealing with the realization of GE2. When AIs passed initial implementations of the Turing test new ones were devised that were more realistic. Philosophers rang in with obfuscation like the language abstraction layer in John Searle’s Chinese Room.

Realization of GE3 probably requires that we tease meaning out of some incredibly distant staticy radio broadcast. How much context is needed to understand the meaning in a broadcast signal. Imagine trying to decipher the meaning behind some randomly intercepted Pop song from Earth. Imagine trying to decipher the meaning in a few lines of the song “MacArthur Park”?

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain

I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again, oh noooooo

"MacArthur Park" was written by Jimmy Webb and Adrian Drover

The GEs may still be waiting in the wings, but reason plods on.



Monday, December 23, 2013

Gay Marriages in Utah

So Utah has been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This came a surprise to more people than just me.

My current favorite of the complaints about Judge Shelby’s ruling is that it was made “Before Christmas”. I like this because the only part of the year that is not before Christmas is that week between Christmas and New Years when almost nothing gets done.

Several counties are refusing to issue marriage licenses. Tooele county is issuing licenses, but there has not been the rush of same-sex couple applicants that some other counties have seen. I was told that Box Elder County posted two sheriffs at the county office in case anyone should come and try to apply for a license; nobody did. They may have gotten confused about what the term “shotgun wedding” referred to.

I thought I had enough of weddings after my ex told me that she married her “new” man less than half a dozen weeks after our divorce was final. Then friends I knew as safely single by Utah legal statute leaked photos of themselves kissing outside some county clerk’s office. They look so happy I want to start using the term “gay marriage” again. It sounds happier than the naked word "marriage" does to me.

I don’t think anyone with a smidgen of sensitivity will ever use the term “gay divorce” except to produce an ironic mood.

The complaints that I dislike most are ones I’ve heard more of: that the country is decaying, that moral have dissolved, that somehow the ability to get married is more destructive than the decision to prevent same-sex couples from legally getting married. These complaints are just getting old. The stupid in them is rancid.

To all my friends and acquaintances who have recently gotten married I would like you to know that, despite my hard-won cynicism, I wish you all the joy in the world.



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Polly Wants a Cracker


Last week the LDS Church published an essay attempting to put a new face on their racist past by obfuscating the history surrounding their policy forbidding people with dark skin tones from receiving the same rights as conferred upon 8-year-old boys. This week LDS.org confronts another skeleton in the Mormon history closet: polygamy.

An essay has just gone up on LDS.org (the official channel for proclamations from the LDS church) entitled Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah. In it reasons are given for the polygamy:

“The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord]” (Jacob 2:30). Plural marriage did result in the birth of large numbers of children within faithful Latter-day Saint homes. It also shaped 19th-century Mormon society in other ways: marriage became available to virtually all who desired it; per-capita inequality of wealth was diminished as economically disadvantaged women married into more financially stable households; and ethnic intermarriages were increased, which helped to unite a diverse immigrant population Plural marriage also helped create and strengthen a sense of cohesion and group identification among Latter-day Saints. Church members came to see themselves as a “peculiar people,” covenant-bound to carry out the commands of God despite outside opposition, willing to endure ostracism for their principles.” -- Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah from LDS.org December 2013

Interesting amongst these reasons for plural marriage is the notion that “marriage became available to virtually all who desired it”. In the western territories at the time that the Mormons were openly practicing polygamy men outnumbered women more than 2 to 1. Polygamy, as a numbers game, reduces the available wives even further. It is hard to pretzel up a logic that would have polygamy actually contributing to the availability of marriage options for over 30% of the population.

Much is made of the denouncement of polygamy after a revelation by the prophet Wilford Woodruff in 1890. It is a fairly strong denouncement, and it is canonized into the Mormon scripture as declaration 1 of the doctrines and covenants. Here are the first couple paragraphs of the holy revelation:

Press dispatches having been sent for political purposes, from Salt Lake City, which have been widely published, to the effect that the Utah Commission, in their recent report to the Secretary of the Interior, allege that plural marriages are still being solemnized and that forty or more such marriages have been contracted in Utah since last June or during the past year, also that in public discourses the leaders of the Church have taught, encouraged and urged the continuance of the practice of polygamy—

I, therefore, as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory. Official Declaration 1 given by prophet Wilford Woodruff October 6, 1890

The recent official essay makes it clear that much of what Wilfred had to declare was a lie. It also makes it clear that he knew it was a lie. According to the new historical essay: “Only the Church President held the keys authorizing the performance of new plural marriages.” That would mean that only plural marriages authorized by Wilford would have been recognized as genuine plural marriages. The essay goes on to reveal that:

“a small number of plural marriages were performed within the United States during those years.” [1890-1904] “In 1904, the Church strictly prohibited new plural marriages. Today, any person who practices plural marriage cannot become or remain a member of the Church.” -- “Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah” from LDS.org December 2013

The LDS church considers plural marriage sacred. It devotes an entire section of its doctrines and covenants to the rules governing it. Ampongst these is the admonition that only one person (the high prophet aka first president of the first presidency) of the church:

“And verily I say unto you, that the aconditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, boaths, cvows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and dsealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is eanointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by frevelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this gpower (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this hpower in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the ikeys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.” – Doctrines and Covenants 132:9

The new LDS.org essay does not expound on Wilford’s lies. Instead they suggest that the declaration is simply one of advice. Like a gentile suggestion that was not really made law until everyone who was anyone stopped doing it… at least in the US. The last sentence in the declaration does use the word advice, but the context of the declaration makes it clear that it was much more than gentle advice.

“And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.” – Official Declaration 1 given by prophet Wilford Woodruff October 6, 1890

I should point out that it was not until Loving v Virginia in 1967 that the law of the land (in significant parts of the US) more clearly forbade the marriage of people with different skin tones.

Secrecy and obfuscation have always been a part of the LDS history of polygamy. Joseph Smith received his revelation that he could “marry” multiple women, and he obeyed by “marrying” dozens; some for only one night. He only shared this revelation with a few special confidants. Then, nine years and several denials after the revelation, the institution of polygamy was revealed to the general Mormon population.

“The doctrine which Orson Pratt discoursed upon this morning was the subject of a revelation anterior to the death of Joseph Smith. It is in opposition to what is received by a small minority of the world; but our people have for many years believed it, though it may not have been practiced by the elders. The original of this revelation has been burnt. William Clayton wrote it down from the Prophet's mouth; it found its way into the hands of Bishop Whitney [father of Smith's 16th wife Sarah Ann Whitney], who obtained Joseph Smith's permission to copy it. Sister Emma burnt the original. I mention this to you because such of you as are aware of the revelation, suppose that it no longer exists. I prophesy to you that the principle of polygamy will make its way, and will triumph over the prejudices and all the priestcraft of the day; it will be embraced by the most intelligent parts of the world as one of the best doctrines ever proclaimed to any people. You have no reason whatever to be uneasy; there is no occasion for your fearing that a vile mob will come hither to trample underfoot the sacred liberty which, by the Constitution of our country, is guaranteed to us. It has been a long time publicly known, and in fact was known during his life, that Joseph had more than one wife. A Senator, a member of Congress, was well aware of it, and was not the less our friend for all that; so much so, as to say that were this principle not adopted by the United States, we would live to see human life reduced to a maximum of thirty years. He said openly that Joseph had hit upon the best plan for re-invigorating men, and assuring a long life to them; and, also, that the Mormons are very good and very virtuous. We could not have proclaimed this principle a few years ago; everything must abide its time, but I am now ready to proclaim it. This revelation has been in my possession for many years, and who knew it? No one, except those whose business it was to know it. I have a patent lock to my writing-desk, and nothing gets out of it that ought not to get out of it. Without the doctrine which this revelation makes known to us, no one could raise himself high enough to become a god.” – Brigham Young 1850

There has been substantive speculation that Joseph Smith had originally envisioned polygamy as including “marriages” between white men and women with darker skin tones. The dark-skinned people are often called “lamanites” in reference to Mormon scripture. This original polygamy revelation occurred ten years before the one reproduced in the Doctrines and Covenants (132). This means two decades of divinely-inspired polygamous activity may have passed before the general Mormon population was brought in on the practice.

“Verily I say unto you that the wisdom of man in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my holy priesthood. but ye shall know when ye receive a fulness by reason of the anointing: For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.” -- The revelation by Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith of 17 July 1831 as related by W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young.

So polygamy occurred for 20 years prior to admitting that it occurred, and then went on for 14 year after the practice was soundly denounced. The story of polygamy is more than simply a string of multiple wives tales, but a history of outright lies by the authorities of the church. In order to really answer the important questions about plural marriage in the LDS church the facts and reasons behind the lies need to be addressed.

I recommend addressing them in a kind and gentle way. Violence and anger is counter productive. These lying prophets were most likely doing what they could to create a system that they believed in. We do not need the system any longer. If you are a member of the Mormon Church take a moment to gently write down your resignation letter, and leave it. If you were a member of the church, or will soon be one, do not let anger at the LDS Church consume you.



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Coffee Broken


“How could this have happened when everything was normal?” – Joan Didion from The year of magical thinking

Some years ago the local paper in Tooele ran a tiny article they had purchased from the AP newswire. Little more than a stock update it informed the reader that the price of stock in Starbucks Coffee company had fallen. The reasons for the stock price movement were uninteresting enough to have been long ago forgotten; the tiny article, little more than a couple paragraphs, was not interesting for what it said. Instead it was interesting for what it was about. The local paper had never before –in my fallible memory at least- published articles about particular stocks, and one has to drive over 30 miles from Tooele to get to a Starbucks. Soon, however, there will apparently be a Starbucks in Tooele!



Hosanna Hosanna Hallelujah!!

This will actually be the only sit-down coffee establishment in Tooele. I plan on sitting down there at a two-chair table and drinking coffee. My plans –shadowy images really- involve the attentions of the individual in the other chair. Telling slightly leading jokes till her eyes twinkle with unintended laughter.

There are those who would have me (and you) boycott Starbucks. They have organized a campaign called DumpStarbucks.com. “They” in this case include the National Organization for Marriage. I’m sure the LDS Church would also encourage its members to boycott Starbucks, but that might be due more to the fact that Starbucks has been known to sell coffee, and not to a January 2012 announcement that Starbucks would enthusiastically recognize marriage equality.

I’m sure that the DumpStarbucks.com movement could have garnered more Mormon support if it did not propose helping its participants “find alternative coffee shops”.

Interestingly the DumpStarbucks.com activity promotes itself as a defender of atheists, millions of atheists.

“In taking these actions, Starbucks has declared a culture war on all people of faith (and millions of others) who believe that the institution of marriage as one man and one woman is worth preserving.” -- DumpStarbucks.com

This statement does imply through the use of simple comparative statistics that many, maybe even most, atheists oppose same-sex marriage; there are not enough atheists in America to have millions do anything without it being a large percentage of the whole. It also implies, though somewhat more tenuously, that opposing same-sex marriage is more important that converting people to the gospel.



Friday, December 13, 2013

HR 3133

 A bill introduced before congress on the 19th of September, but never voted on, is regaining traction.  A similar bill is now being introduced into the senate.  It is important for us as it blatantly frames a set of rights based on participation in a religion. 

[Congressional Bills 113th Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
[H.R. 3133 Introduced in House (IH)]

113th CONGRESS
1st Session



To prevent adverse treatment of any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage.


--------------------------------

In this case the right is to "act", as long as it is in response to polygamy, same-sex marriage, or premarital sex.  Interesting as that is the idea that protection only comes if the individual shows that they are doing so for religious reasons. 

SEC. 3. PROTECTION OF THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.

(a) In General.--The Federal Government shall not take an adverse action against a person, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.


I don't know exactly why the bill got forgotten towards the end of September, but I suspect that it had something to do with the government shutdown that occurred a little over a week after the bill was introduced.  Bolstering this guess is the fact that one of my senators -Mike Lee of Utah- is actively introducing the new senate version.  Mike was also actively promoting the government shutdown, and a guy can only do so many things at once.

There are so many things wrong with this bill that I don't expect it to ever pass congress, and if it did I doubt it would get a presidential signature.  It may, however, be used as a platform on which anti-atheist as well as anti-homosexual speeches may be introduced into the congressional record.  Who would want to do this?

Well... Michelle Bachmann is one of the co-sponsors.   I'm going to miss her a little. 

Also amongst the house bill's 91 cosponsors are three out of the four Utah congressmen:
Mr. Chaffetz
Mr. Stewart 
Mr. Bishop
The Bill's sponsor (Raúl Rafael Labrador R-ID) is a BYU graduate who served an LDS mission in Santiago Chile.

The other LDS co-sponsor is
Mr. Salmon (R-Ariz)
So it appears as if over half of the voting LDS members of the house are co-sponsors named in the house bill.  The new Senate bill is supposedly, according to the introducing Senator Mike Lee, sponsored by senators Vitter, Rubio, Roberts, Hatch, Coburn, Blunt, Inhofe, Wicker, Risch, Cochran and Graham.  So there is unanimous support for this new bill from Utah's senators. 





Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Survival

Most atheists will find themselves placating a loved-one’s spiritual insistence by stating that, while you may not believe what they believe literally, you can understand their beliefs as some kind of metaphor. For the metaphorically adept this can be done with any kind of spiritual belief system, even highly awkward ones like the gods of the Abrahamic theologies. Sometimes an unlikely amalgam of metaphors must be forged as the internal inconsistencies of many faith-based systems do not lend themselves to cogent systems.

In order to avoid the appearance of patronizing your spiritual loved one it is important to have a metaphor whose applicability you actually subscribe to. This can create additional problems as your understanding of the metaphor can be far greater than a spiritualist’s understanding of their own belief.

Many spiritualists maintain that a major characteristic of the focus of their faith is its intrinsic unknowability. They will sometimes try and use metaphors to explain this. The metaphor of the blind men and the elephant is popular. Thus you might find yourself describing metaphors to accommodate a spiritualist loved one’s belief system that they only understand through the use of metaphors.

The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance.
 -Aristotle, De Poetica, 322 B.C.

The reason one wants to accommodate the spiritualist loved one’s belief as a metaphor is that explaining the substance of a theology as a metaphor can be literally true. I can view Gaia as a metaphor for the interaction of ecosystems to create a planet wide interconnected web with diverse actions that are easily anthropomorphized. I can view chi as a heuristic for impressive neural activities, and I have done so in this very blog.

The Abrahamic gods are more difficult; especially when some well-meaning relative is holding onto your arm while exclaiming that he has personally spoken with Jesus who said to him in English that you would come unto him in repentance and be saved. I once offered to get an evangelical family member a cup of coffee when they added that they would not rest until they saw me on my knees before the lord.

It is hard in the confrontationally proselytizing cases to state that the belief is some metaphor for an actual complex physical reality, and that it might be useful as such. In such cases I want to use the word “symptom”, as in: “your belief in an invisible god that talks directly to you is a symptom of your psychiatric malady”.

Please remember that the winter holidays are a time of accommodation and joy. Avoid the use of the word “symptom” accept in cases of food poisoning, and then be careful not to single out Aunt Bee’s turkey as the causative agent of those symptoms.

When I am both thinking clearly and confronted by a stubbornly literal spiritualist I punt.

“I can understand and believe many spiritual concepts when I view them as metaphors”

If theirs is to nonsensical to be understood after concentrated ninja-like metaphor skills do not volunteer this information.

“Metaphors are such an important way for people to both understand, and communicate their understanding, of the world.”

At this point, if you can provide compelling examples of metaphors you have effectively changed the subject. The problem is that really good metaphors are hard to come by. You can use some dusty old metaphor you read in some book, but the best way to get a good metaphor is to hunt them down yourself.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cain's Race

Just recently the LDS church has officially released a testament concerning race problems in their official policy; called “Race and the priesthood” the testament was put up on LDS.org which is the official outlet for all things Mormon. This message was preceded by a new digital edition of the Mormon scriptures which was put up on LDS.org in March of this year. Amongst the substantive changes was an introduction to Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrines and Covenants (prophet Kimball’s revelation that people with dark skin tones could receive the priesthood). I should remind readers that “priesthood” in the Mormon Church is a designation given to most eight-year-old boy children of church members.

“Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance.” – D&C digital 2013

The idea that there were no clear insights into the origins of the practice suggests that the Church historians were not aware of Prophet Brigham Young’s 1852 speech to the joint session of Utah’s legislature. The December 2013 communication does casually reference Young’s “two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852”. Brigham was fairly specific.

“Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abels children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the preisthood nor his see, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the preisthood, until the redemtion of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon the, until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and hold the keys of the preisthood, until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from michals seed. Then Cain's seed will be had in rememberance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off.” -- Brigham Young to the Joint Session of the Legislature in Salt Lake City, February 5th, 1852.

The December 2013 communication on race does mention, in one sentence, the origins Brigham espouses at length, but they do not attribute them to Brigham.

“The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions.” – “Race and the Priesthood” from LDS.org December 2013

The communication suggests that Brigham Young prophesized that people of dark skin tones would be given the priesthood “one day”. Referencing the terms of acceptance into the priesthood for blacks young places the bar higher than the recent communication suggests:

“Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings.” -- “Race and the Priesthood” from LDS.org December 2013

“Let this Church which is called the kingdom of God on the earth; we will sommons the first presidency, the twelve, the high counsel, the Bishoprick, and all the elders of Isreal, suppose we summons them to apear here, and here declare that it is right to mingle our seed, with the black race of Cain, that they shall come in with with us and be pertakers with us of all the blessings God has given to us. On that very day, and hour we should do so, the preisthood is taken from this Church and kingdom and God leaves us to our fate.” -- Brigham Young to the Joint Session of the Legislature in Salt Lake City, February 5th, 1852.

By 1978 conferring the priesthood was not as synonymous with being employable in Utah as it had been during the 126 years priesthood was denied to blacks. The world had begun catching up with the LDS church, and the segregation was not profitable enough to maintain the official segregationist policy. In early June Spencer decided to open the priesthood to blacks, and about four months later he revealed to the Mormons of the world this revelation.

On September 30, 1978, at the 148th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the following was presented by President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church:

“He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.” -- Spencer W. Kimball June 8, 1978

Spencer may have been interpreting Young’s warning that the priesthood would be taken from the Mormons when they accepted blacks as a specific warning about interbreeding. Kimball famously, and repeatedly, warned against the mixing of races.

“When one considers marriage, it should be an unselfish thing, but there is not much selflessness when two people of different races plan marriage. They must be thinking selfishly of themselves. They certainly are not considering the problems that will beset each other and that will beset their children.” -- Spencer W. Kimball

“We are unanimous, all of the Brethren, in feeling and recommending that Indians marry Indians, and Mexicans marry Mexicans; the Chinese marry Chinese and the Japanese marry Japanese; that the Caucasians marry the Caucasians, and the Arabs marry Arabs.” -- Spencer W. Kimball

“We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144)

But these warnings of what sounds like enhanced inconvenience does not capture Brigham Young’s attitude towards interbreeding. He suggested that one should kill people who slept with members of different races.

“In the preisthood I will tell you what it will do. Where the children of God to mingle there seed with the seed of Cain it would not only bring the curse of being deprived of the power of the preisthood upon themselves but the entail it upon their children after them, and they cannot get rid of it. If a man in an ungaurded moment should commit such a transgression, if he would walk up and say cut off my head, and kill man woman and child it would do a great deal towards atoneing for the sin. Would this be to curse them? no it would be a blessing to them. -it would do them good that they might be saved with their Bren. A man would shuder should they here us take about killing folk, but it is one of the greatest blessings to some to kill them, allthough the true principles of it are not understood.” -- Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852, located in the LDS Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah

I, for one, am glad that the Church is softening its stance on race relations. I would prefer that they did not obfuscate history in doing so, but when your leaders speak directly to god it is hard to discount what they have said in the past unless you can make it magically disappear.


Monday, December 9, 2013

AH AAH AAAH AAAAH

A good portion of the same-sex marriage kurfluffle, and to me the most interesting part, hides behind curtains of feigned cordiality. Individual believers may be allowed to build bridges over cesspools of sin to loved ones who are sinners, but the ship of authority cannot be so easily steered. Competing scriptures, opinions, and delusion conglomerated into reefs lurking in the waters of human love that have become so dangerous for religions to navigate these days. A fog of half uttered and partially dismissed opinion serves to cover the navigation hazards on most days. However, a court battle requires that clear standards be raised to proclaim the content of each antagonist’s intention. The arguments lay bare what is so often muddied.

Every once in a while some future god from the Mormon church exposes The Church's secret position. Boyd K Packer is often amongst the indiscrete of the LDS Church’s most holy authority. The wondrous internet has testified as witness to the editing of his words in the archival versions of his official speeches. Upon his death, and he is getting on in years, he will become a god on his own planet. One must wonder if his words will be presented to his devoted alien masses after this divine re-incarnation in their original or edited form.

This is a section of a speech by Boyd given at the October 2010 LDS general conference:

We teach the standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes and counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From The Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness.”

Some suppose that they were preset, and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our Father.

Paul promised, “God will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (paraphrased I Cor 10:13)

You can if you will, break the habits, and conquer the addiction, and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church. As Alma cautioned, we must watch and pray continually. Isaiah warned of them that call evil good and good evil. That put darkness for light and light for darkness. That put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Here is the transcript version originally archived at LDS.org:

We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness.”

Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.

Paul promised that “God … will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” You can, if you will, break the habits and conquer an addiction and come away from that which is not worthy of any member of the Church. As Alma cautioned, we must “watch and pray continually.”

Isaiah warned, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

Other church’s are not as aggressive at polishing the words of their authorities. Most other Churches do not claim that their authorities will be gods on distant planets either.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby began hearing arguments last Wednesday in a challenge to Utah’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as requiring two –and only two- sets of dissimilar genders for groups wishing to experience it. Four lawyers will be crafting the arguments in favor of the constitutional amendment. Three of the four are currently employed by BYU university, and the fourth is a Catholic employed by Southern Utah University.

Bryce J. Christensen is the catholic lawyer, and he has provided hints about what the arguments may be constructed from in a two-part essay he published in “Crisis Magazine – A Voice For The Faithful Catholic Laity” on January 1st and 2nd of this year entitled “How Same-Sex Marriage Suffocates Freedom”.

He does not use what I consider to be the best argument against same sex marriage, and that is “that the institution of marriage should simply be abandoned instead of trying to shore it up with the suffering of thousands of same sex couples”. I concede that I’m a little jaded by personal experience, and in no way present that argument as a basis for policy.

One might correctly guess that Bryce is not supportive of the idea of same-sex marriage simply by the title of his new-year’s essays, and dismiss them. However, Bryce’s freedom essays contain interesting bits worthy of examination.

According to Bryce the crafty homosexuals have hidden their anti-liberty agenda from most people through the use of clever slogans like “We All Deserve the Freedom to Marry” . Fortunately for the readers of Crisis Bryce followed the homosexuals to Spain where their evil elitist-fascist intentions were exposed. In Spain the homosexuals had the audacity to say mean things –in writing no less- to the Queen of Spain who has ruled as royal figurehead of Spain since succeeding Generalissimo Franco in 1975. What does the feudal residue of Spain's famous Nazi-inspired fascist dictatorship have to do with American liberty you may ask… actually I caught myself asking the same thing. Apparently the connection lies in the fact that she has the right “to express her opinion like any other citizen.”. Like your homophobic cousin chuck for instance. Can’t you picture Chuck saying something like this:

“If those people [homosexuals] want to live together, dress up as bride and groom and get married they can do so, but that should not be called marriage because it is not.” Queen Sophia of Spain quoted in Pilar Urbano’s book - "La Reina muy de cerca"

The official response by the Queen’s PR group was to say that Pilar Urbano got the quote wrong. Did Pilar get it wrong, or is the Queen of Spain (the monarch queen) the victim of homosexual liberty suffocation? What right do gays have to voice their opinion in such a way as to pressure the queen of Spain to somewhat retract what she was quoted as saying in someone’s unofficial biography of her? Sopia is the QUEEN OF SPAIN, beloved of god, anointed successor to the fascist father of Modern Spain, and, above all else, a citizen of a distant country who has rights like you and me… except different rights in a different country. I think Bryces point is not about how down Sophia’s rights got pushed , but by how far we need to up chuck’s rights. Bryce just wanted to point out how there is a little bit of Queen in all of us, and we need to protect its need to be validated by public approval.

Bryce then pulls out the concept of “anti-anti-homosexual” bullying. In doing so he conjured up Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the famous Lawrence v. Texas case of 2003. The Lawrence v. Texas finding effectively struck down anti-sodomy laws in the states that still had them. Antonin was not amused by this.

“So imbued is the Court with the law profession's anti-anti-homosexual culture, that it is seemingly unaware that the attitudes of that culture are not obviously "mainstream"; that in most States what the Court calls "discrimination" against those who engage in homosexual acts is perfectly legal.” -- Justice Antonin Scalia in his descent to the finding in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)

I think it is amazing that just 10 years ago homosexuality was illegal, or that the constitutionality of ant-homosexual sodomy laws in some states was affirmed by the SCOTUS in 1986 (Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986)) .

The Lawrence in Lawrence v Texas was a 55 year old (at the time) white Texas medical technologist named “John”. He and 31-year-old African-American Tyron Garner were arrested after a jealous 40-year-old Robert Eubanks tried to break up their flirting by calling up the police and reporting "a black male going crazy with a gun". The police showed up quickly, and found no gun, which –thanks to activist judges- is not illegal in Texas. Tyron was black, but –again thanks to activist judges- that is no longer illegal in Texas.

One of the officers (Joseph Quinn) reported watching Tyron and John engaged in anal sex in the bedroom. Another officer watched the two engaged in oral sex. The other two did not see them engaged in sex, but they were undoubtedly masterminding some nefarious plot for the homosexual agenda. Tyron and John were charged with “Homosexual Conduct” (Chapter 21, Sec. 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code), and Robert was sentenced to 30 days in jail for filing a false police report.

The silliness of the homosexual Texans is not what bothers Bryce. He is terrified of the fact that a culture exists that would not be horrified at their gayness. This anti-anti-homosexual (AAH) group is apparently headed by progressive elites.

“a progressive anti-anti-homosexual elite dramatically diminishes the political liberties of those who wish to affirm an understanding of marriage consistent with reality as affirmed by nature, history, biology, reason, as well as religion.” Bryce J. Christensen “How Same-Sex Marriage Suffocates Freedom (Part II)” January 2nd 2013

Not content with a simple double negative name Bryce is apparently pushing to become an anti-anti-anti-homosexual fighter (AAAH). Perhaps Queen Sophia will knight him?

It would be unimaginable for me to leave Bryce’s bait untouched by refusing to enhance the absurdity surrounding his opinion. I herby suggest the formation of an anti-anti-anti-anti-homosexual (AAAAH) super elite strike force.

Bryce, we uncap our pens in your general direction. We unleash the frothing adjectives to pursue you through metaphorical forests. We look forward to seeing your delusional arguments.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Literal Meatphors

Our mind weaves patterns from the garbled mess our senses offer up as perception. These patterns are more real to us than those entities whose physical interactions stimulate our senses. The pattern of these patterns is the foundation of much of our sense of self. It is at the level of pattern comparison that we analyze our world. Humans are metaphor processors.

“Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” – from "Metaphors We Live By" by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980)

In order to be mature about processing patterns one needs a collection of patterns for comparison. Collecting patterns is a beautiful-horrible process called experience, and results are apparently not guaranteed. There are many teachable people who can also gather patterns non-experientially.

Once gathered the patterns are repeatedly post-processed. Some people like to think of the post processing as a sorting, but it is much more than that. Our eventual memories of some events can be very different from the actual physical events, but our memories are more useful, or can be.

Without enough related experiences processing can become backed up. It is easy to run particular events through one’s mind over-and-over-and-over again, like a closed film loop, trying to make sense of them.

Sometimes we give up on making sense of things, but it is almost impossible to simply file things away as “other” in the mind. Many people use a supernatural explanation as a label for binning these recalcitrant patterns. This is one reason why the unknowability of god is so fiercely championed amongst some theists.

By comparing patterns we can validate shared experiences and create a sense of culture. This is one reason why theists gather to share their undecipherable experiences in groups. Together the events can be post processed to validate the existence of many supernatural events, and even create new ones.

Teenagers often get stuck overusing particular words. I remember overusing the words “bourgeois” and “really” and “like”. The word “like” is a particularly popular word for teenage overuse. Throwing it about creates all sorts of accidental similes; one of the simplest types of metaphor.

In order to be more literally correct one should only state that: “The patterns in our mind are like metaphors”. The patterns only become true metaphors only when we translate them into words.

“All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.” -- from “Sand and Foam” Kahlil Gibran (1926)

Once in words the metaphors are in machine readable form. Unfortunately, machines tend to read what words mean literally. They are not adept at metaphors.

It is a relatively simple proposition to code a simile detecting algorithm. Look for the word “like”, and then compare the two elements of the sentence that are being likened to each other. Then, by using some kind of relatedness scale, one can grade the degree of metaphorical usage. For instance the comparison:
“Your rose is like a carnation”
This sounds like it is actually only comparing the flower-like attributes of two flowers. Both entities are similar; they are both not only plants, but common flowers that are often used in flower arrangements. One is inspired to imagine the petal configuration or the colors which are imagined to be similar in form and function between the two entities. This is not very metaphorical, and it would get a low metaphor score.
“Your lips are like a rose”
While this may not score highly in many arbitrary literary rubrics it gets a good high metaphor score. One of the entities is plant, and the other is animal. The attributes they share are accidental. We imagine the redness of the lips, and perhaps their soft and supple texture. Further knowledge about the rose is possibly inherited. The fact that the rose is the center of sexual activity for the plant invites the reader to imagine sexual activity –like kissing- for the lips.

To venture beyond the simple simile the machine needs to ask questions like “is this really what is meant?”. It is impossible to simply turn on a program and have it discern between what is literal and what is metaphor, but given a large learning set it should be possible.

What does a machine do with its “other” experiences? I doubt it mulls them over in melancholy excess. Without the emotional handicaps it is unlikely that anything resembling god would be used to explain situations.

For each theist the concept of god is not necessarily a simple delusion. I picture a multi-faceted delusion whose faces are human psychological issues. For each person it is likely that each face could be named for the evens that made it unknowable. “My parents did that”, “I don’t like him anymore”, “The room was dark”, “I heard noises” …. An almost-narrative of psychological damage might be created from the faces of god.

So god’s will is a lump of psychologically indigestible events. This, unfortunately, would get a low metaphor score. If I replaced god’s will with god to shorten the simile, and replaced the unwieldy “psychologically indigestible events” with something that is indigestible and repulsive I can get a much higher score.

God is s**t 




Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed 
Born: March 2, 1942 
Died: October 27, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

CERN!

Here are a couple pictures from AYD's summer trip to CERN.  And...yes according to AYD it was as awesome as it sounds.

ATLAS
AYD smiling in front of the detector called ATLAS.

CMS
AYD smiling in front of the detector called CMS.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Like a magic sieve

Let me first apologize for having been AWOL for quite some time. The last post left a couple things hanging with the promise of follow-up posts. I was a little distracted when I set up the follow-ups to automagically post. I suppose that the magic had leaked out. I searched for backups of the posts after I realized they did not go up, and did not find them before my desire to look for them also ran out. One of the sprinkler heads in a planter out front of my house was oozing water till last week when I finally shut the system down for the winter. Everything is leaking.

More precisely I can see harmonics to my current mood in so many aspects of my environment. I feel, and it alters my perception; Its self referential looping spirals through days, and the days trudge through time. I’ve not posted since May.

In May AYD won a trip to CERN for her ISEF science fair project. She built a robot in the basement that monitored the germination of seeds. She called it Germitron, and made it from old bicycle parts. I recommend against repurposing old bicycle wheels as they do not stay true.

It is interesting that she won the trip almost a year after the famous Tooele Jr High wardrobe malfunction. Perhaps I’ll post a couple pictures of her posing in front of ATLAS and CMS to contrast with the picture I took of her in the Jr High front office.

In June I first broke into a hidden e-mail account that my wife of 21.5 years was keeping. I did not actually go through the e-mails till August. Here are some tidbits:

"Remember our pledge to marry and have Anyen Rinpoche preside and remember White Tara and the Buddha watching over that pledge"

“Most of all Sweetheart, I am happy because I have you. That is the truth you are my Grail, my everlasting Life. I am hoping we can get together at my apartment this weekend to share our excitement at how things are shaping up for us.”

I knew what I was going to find in a general sort of way, but filling in the specifics was rather uncomfortable. I needed the specifics to address the denials my more mature and pointed questions produced. The affair had apparently been going on for years. I knew the fellow she was seeing; he was one of AOD’s Jr High School teachers. AOD is graduating from High school in a few months.

I’ve never been a fan of Jr High school, and my opinion is not improving.

The admission of guilt was delivered with several declarations from my now former wife; three of which I would like to list:

  1.  That “the only reason” for the affair was that he, as a Buddhist, provided the spiritual support an atheist like me could not.
  2.  That I was “the greatest lover she had ever had”.
  3.  That it was impossible for her to reconcile the idea that there might not be an afterlife (or, more specifically, reincarnation) with her desire to know that loved ones who died are not simply lost.

I steadfastly insist that the lot of it is nonsense… except the “greatest lover” part.

Unfortunately that is the only part that can be reasonably questioned.

-sigh-



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Little Schoolhouse

I have often decried the degeneration of American conspiracy studies. Gone are the lone gunmen; replaced by actors who do anything a foolish TV soundbite or application of crude Photoshop skills can accomplish. Instead of quietly amassing apparently disparate information for years to create a picture of shadow actors today's conspiracy theorists (CT) jump onto YouTube channels to announce their theories before any actual information is even known.

The iconic tool of yesterday's CT was a map with pins and bits of yarn; today's CT must use something akin to the Ouija board. CT has become an exercise in prophesy. A faith-based activity like snake handling. One is often left with some of the same questions after watching modern CT practiced; questions like: “How come they don't get bitten?” or “Do they have some sort of diagnosable psychological illness?”.

It is natural, even healthy, in the aftermath of a traumatic event to produce conjectures about what has lead to the event. The farther away from the event emotionally the healthier it is. However, the communication of these conjectures can be irresponsible if anyone receiving the communications might potentially interpret them as fact. These issues have more to do with actually responding to the event responsibly, and little to do with CT. However, modern CT, by taking to the stage immediately after an event, tries to become part of the response.

Perhaps the problem is that the world has lost the ability to formulate good conspiracy theories. There is no CT center of excellence. The last of the great CT must have finally been rounded up by the Men In Black or converted to Cyber-slaves. Shocking as it is we should have known something like this would eventually happen.

Who will come to the world's rescue to help fix CT studies in America?

I will.

Over the next two weeks I will present some basic lessons into CT, and as a class we will create a viable conspiracy, and use it to suggest the imminent downfall of civilization.

Sharpen your number 2 pencils.



Friday, May 10, 2013

Gilligan's Normal

The other day I was watching “The New Normal” with AYD. Watching this program with her is a wonderful exercise in identifying where stereotypes are created through the synergistic interaction of weak direction, scriptwriting, and shoddy acting. We should make it a game with a running point value.

Although no local stations broadcast the show it is readily available on the internet, and we can watch it at our leisure; this usually means we miss a few episodes here and there. It is not like this hit-or-miss approach to watching any show in my home is limited to shows the local Mormon church owned NBC affiliated refuses to broadcast; I’ve not lived in a house that had broadcast TV reception since 1984.I understand there is a UHF channel in Ogden (KUCW - CW30) that has picked up the show since KSL refused to broadcast it. 

I should point out that the “weak direction, scriptwriting, and shoddy acting” I mentioned earlier is no worse than most broadcast TV shows, and –although I don’t watch enough to have a good sample set- actually appears better than most; they should get some Emmys or whatever.

I think we really watch the show to see what the local television stations think is so evil that they dare not speak its name. This hint at things larger than the show makes time spent watching the interaction of barely two dimensional stereotypes appear more wholesome. I actually thought such lack of depth was frowned upon in the era of sitcoms following on the heals of “All In The Family”. Perhaps the idea is that two dimensional stereotypes appear less flat on a 21st century flat-screen TV.

In all fairness the two dimensional sitcom has never been in danger, and I have found them extremely entertaining throughout my life. I had friends who, as soon as retail versions of VCRs became available, recorded every episode of M.A.S.H.; In contrast I kept a complete collection of Gilligan’s Island re-runs neatly stacked in my readily accusable memory.


I’m afraid most of the old episodes are gone from my head now, but images of severe head trauma being used to switch personalities and bad gorilla suits still run through the neatly quaffed underbrush of my mind. Of course images of Tina Louise and Dawn Wells still exist. The delight in asking: “Ginger or Maryann?” would be diminished by any possible answer.

AYD would be mortified if I suggested that watching “The New Normal” conjured questions in her mind like “Brian or David” or perhaps “Rocky or Goldie”.

Trying to be involved in every aspect of your child’s life becomes much more awkward –for everyone- when they become teenagers. Still, I’ve tried to be open. I’ve told her she can date whomever she wants…after her 30th birthday, and as long as they are not too stupid. I’m not ready to dispense with my all my prejudices against the profoundly ignorant today.

So…the other day I was watching “The New Normal” with AYD. It turned out to be the highly anticipated episode with Brian and David’s big wedding. Their over-the-top gay wedding gets preempted by hilarity and babies only to finally take place on a strangely empty LA beach. The apparently Catholic priest shows up and officiates their marriage on the sly by acting simply as a “Child of God”. It was the intimately personal “wedding they always wanted” because their priest showed up. Awww...how cute.

There they were, able to finally announce their love before god. No longer did they have to be apparent atheists because the barriers between them and their entry into real society were knocked down by a selfless servant of god who was willing to go against his church’s antiquated teaching.

Isn’t that just great. I’ve taught my kids a secular view of social interaction that leads to a meritocratic view of a utopian future. Things are done because they have figured out that they are the right things to do. People are cared for because they have intrinsic value, and appreciated more because of the way they enrich life. I teach them that being an atheist is a choice worth making. Sure prejudices are bad, but what can create prejudice can be even worse. They are simple lessons that I usually make up on the fly, and often they are quite poorly executed.

What can I say to the idea that some atheists are that way because the religion they desperately desire to be a part of will not have them? I would think that to a very social teenage girl the lessons of responsible morality can sound like excuses to justify an unacceptably low social status.

Looking at the pictures of some of the episodes of “The New Normal” that I’ve missed it appears as if David generated some hilarity by attempting to be a Boy Scout leader. This must have been a nod to current events as the Boy Scouts of America are considering some level of allowing gay members. I bet the issue of the BSA ban on Atheist members never came up.

If AYD or AOD were boys I could not officially be a Scoutmaster, and they could not officially join without denouncing what I held to be true.

I know that both AOD, and AYD to some extent want to leave the house, and “be free” of my dictatorial rule. That is “Old Normal” for teenagers, and it is actually a good thing in my opinion. Are they also looking forward to running off to join some cult so they can experience the “Real Normal” of theistic indoctrination?

The well meaning parenting advice I’ve gotten to deal with theistic pressures on my family has overwhelmingly been of the “just pretend” type. You know:”don’t make waves” or “they are entitled to their beliefs (when the assumption is that those beliefs should be that being an atheist is an immoral less than fully human condition)”.

I really don’t like it.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Women with the Dog's Eyes" is also a great name for a band

"As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades." - “The Odyssey book XI” Homer

I’ve checked out the band called “As I Lay Dying” since they took their name from Faulkner’s novel; I was disappointed to find out that they were a Christian METALCORE band, and not a Faulknerian metal band. Just imagine how awesome William Faulkner’s work would be if interpreted through the medium of heavy metal music. “Awesome” is the correct adjective in this case as the band also hails from San Diego.

The band’s lyrics talk a whole bunch about death and pain and slavery. Here is a sampler:

If this is what it takes
To bring me to my knees
Then feed me pain until
I realize I am but a slave
Remind me of my need for You
Remind me of who I am
-- “Forced to Die” As I lay Dying from the 2001 album "Beneath The Encasing Of Ashes"

The on the knees and slave stuff is apparently a subtle homage to their dysfunctional relationship with Jesus. However, the band made a decision to “stay silent on the spiritual topic” (Tim Lambesis 2013) around the same time they were nominated for a Grammy (2008 for Best Metal Performance for the song "Nothing Left"). Gone were the knees, and salvation, and preaching at concerts, but the dysfunction was still there. Really ... what is METALCORE without dysfunction?

I'm caught between the feeling
Of being pulled apart or stuffed into a cell
And if these are the only options
This will always be Hell
Never ending
Though I still may be breathing
There is no quality of life
So I choose to risk it all for you
For you to be by my side
-- “Cauterize” As I lay Dying from the 2012 album "Awakened"

Apparently Tim let his dysfunction seep out of his music and messy-up his real life. In September of last year he separated from his wife, and yesterday he was arrested for allegedly trying to hire someone to kill her.

I wonder if Tim’s estranged wife has “Dog’s Eyes”?

Unfortunately they were not able to name their band "The Sound and the Fury" as that name had been taken by a Canadian Hip-Hop band about the same time that Tim started "As I Lay Dying".

"A Light in August" is a "post-hardcore" band from Lodi, California.

Apparently both "Absalom" and "Absalom Absalom" are band names.

Bands are not only using Faulkner's novels.  His short stories are also being used to name bands.  "A Rose for Emily" is the name of another Christian heavy METAL band. 

Who would have thought that the titles from William Faulkner's works would be so popular as rock band titles?



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pictures of the Kids'

So the new principal at Tooele’s East Elementary has been named instructional principal of the year for the state of Utah (UAESP). Shanz Leonelli’s story is one of meteoric success that resonates with current news sorties coming out of high schools across the nation.

East Elementary is in need of some good leadership, and It is interesting that they saw the leadership they needed in native Tooelian Shanz Leonelli. I’ve written about Tooele’s East Elementary before; it is the partially open classroom building where one of the teachers was sexually abusing little boys during school hours. Maybe I should say “allegedly” sexually abusing little boys, but that sounds hollow given the fact that the abuser plead guilty and is serving a 30-year sentence in the state pen.

Tooele is a small city, but it does appear to cough up more than its fair share of stories about sexually-themed criminality with minors. Every once in a while the stories are interesting enough to bring them to national attention. So was the case with the child pornographers of Tooele High’s baseball team. Shanz Leonelli played a supporting role in that drama.

It was March 2004, and Shanz had taken the THS baseball team to a game in St George Utah. It was a long drive so the team was staying in the Bluffs Inn Motel on the night of March 11th. Somehow a group of boys including Shanz’s 18-year-old cousin Shane were able to convince a 15-year old girl shortly after their arrival to have “sexual contact” with a group of six of them until 4am. One of the 15-year old boys videotaped the encounter for posterity. In 2004 this apparently involved actual videotape and a camcorder; everyone smiled for the camera.

I guess it was the smiles that lead Deputy Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle to say that the actions were consensual despite the fact that the girl at 15 was younger than Utah’s age of consent.

"It appears from our looking at the videotape she was somewhat hesitant to begin with, but as time went on those barriers were broken down," he said while stressing again that the incidents were consensual. "There was no force, no threats." – Deseret News July 2 2004 quoting Deputy Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle

Of course I’m getting ahead of myself. The guys played baseball in St. George, and it is difficult to find out who won, and by how much. I’m not really sure who they played…besides the 15-year-old girl. Some time went by before a startled Tooele Mom walked in on her son as he was playing a video on their TV. I picture her uttering these fateful words: “whatcha watchin there?”

The video, which may or may not have had several copies made, had been at least partially viewed by many members of the THS baseball team. Now it was reaching a wider audience. It was given to a someone in the school system where it percolated to members of the superintendent’s office, and the police.

Shanz was not the only school system employee to have a family member in a starring role on the tape. Rumors that administrators in the school system traveled to St. George to meet with the girl surfaced. How long the tape may have sat in the possession of school administrators before getting to the police was questioned. The only thing that was apparently not questioned was that Shanz was a young teacher who had just four years of teaching experience, and he was a good person.

"Mr. Leonelli is a fine young teacher at THS, is of high moral character and of unquestioned ethical standing. All information available to us leads us to believe that his work as baseball coach at THS was appropriate and honorable." – Tooele School Board

Shanz resigned under the apparent direction of Larry Shumway who was then superintendant of the Tooele School District. Larry would eventually become superintendant of the entire state school system.

"It looks like the actions of the administration were appropriate" – Larry Shumway Tooele School District Superintendant 2004

Shanz also got a terrific outpouring of support from the community. People lambasted the actions of the girl suggesting that her mistakes should not taint the future lives of the players. Two of the players were 18 so they faced felony charges as adults.

Then the story hit the national news. Unlike the Steubenville case that has caught everyone’s attention this one had its moment in the spotlight, and then faded away (it is interesting to point out that the Stubenville victim was 16, and none of her attackers were 18 yet). Still, as I well know, any bit of national spotlight causes a deer in the headlights moment in Tooele. Eventually Sandy Sheppard (previous THS principal) would leave the Tooele school system with the cloud of the THS baseball team scandal haunting her.

So imagine my surprise when the relatively new teacher/coach who had resigned under a cloud of national shame resurfaced as principal of the local Elementary school. Then he quickly earns statewide recognition as principal of the year (instructional). What had he been doing during the tenure of his resignation that had garnered him such important experience?

Shanz apparently had been working as a photographer.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston CoSGO

April, I am told, is the month of conspiracies. As proof I am given a list of horrible things that happened in April….Oklahoma City, Waco, and now the Boston Marathon Bombings. I am told that these are false flag operations just like 7/7 and 9/11; whose very names testify to the fact that they did not happen in April.

There is no doubt that the Oklahoma City bombing was the result of a conspiracy. The Boston Marathon Bombings were also probably the work of a conspiracy. The bombs certainly did not assemble themselves and accidentally arrive at the finishing line. I suspect that the Boston bombers were part of some Patriot day/ tax day/ teabagger /psychopath group, but I have no evidence of this, and I’ve been wrong in the past. I should put this post up quickly as there are rumors that an arrest is imminent, and it is better to be wrong before there is enough widely available information to show you are wrong.

There is also the conspiracy-conspiracy associated with the Boston bombings. Pictures have popped up with explanations about what couldn’t have happened a certain way. I’ve seen several different versions of lists with titles like: “how to recognize a false-flag operation”. These items did not assemble themselves either. These conspirators are likely sprinkled around the nation. These conspirators hunch over their laptops in fast-food establishments which offer free Wi-Fi. The flow of their words is lubricated by their own unfocused fear, and a layer of trans-fat-laden grease on their keyboard. WE ALL NEED TO KNOW about what could have happened; even if it takes all their Photoshop skills to convince us to pay attention.

I personally like fantasies, and some of the mine are not entirely…well…not entirely… However, I have a keen sense of reality. I usually wear pants in public; even if they are sometimes spandex bicycle shorts.

I could, for instance, dream about riding unicorns through fields of glowing neon flowers, and then stopping at a mossy stream bank, where we could sit hand-in-hand listening to the sounds of sparkling water, and discus quantum physics and the fate of kings. It would be foolish, however, to insist that the dream was true simply because I could play with horse crap the next day and insist that it was unicorn poop. Nor would it be reasonable to imagine that the conversation would be any less wonderful simply because unicorns do not exist.

My little personal conspiracy sample suggests that belief is a big part of this conspiracy-conspiracy. None of the links down teabagger-paranoia-lane have yet failed to prominently feature references to “God” or “Jesus”. It appears as if these conspirators are motivated in part by their faith. It is tempting to suggest that people whose relationship to reality is already stretched by insisting that there is an invisible friend who always talks to them can easily be stretched to accommodate all sorts of paranoid delusions.

There is a well-worn saying that: “just because you are paranoid does not mean they aren’t out to get you”. I would offer as a corollary: “Just because it is April does not mean there is not a history of false flag operations”. In fact one of the most famous American false flag conspiracies occurred (well was supposed to occur) in April, and it had striking similarities to today’s Boston Marathon Bombing false flag conspiracy.

In 1971 Tower Publications, published a “The Scandal of Scientology”; a book about Scientology written a Harvard-educated author by the name of Paulette Cooper. The Church of Scientology was very unhappy with the book. They quickly set about suing Paulette for libel.

Uncomfortable with the prospect of relying on simple legal action the CoSGO (Church of Scientology Guardian Office) set about trying to discredit Paulette. CoSGO just knew she was a sexual deviant so they set about producing evidence of her deviance. They painted her name and phone number on walls so she would get obscene phone calls. They sent letters to her neighbors claiming that she had venereal diseases.

They knew she had it out for the Scientologists so they broke into her home, stole stationary that had her fingerprints on it, and then typed out bomb threats and sent them to themselves. For the bomb threats they had Paulette arrested, and a grand jury even indicted her. However, the best was yet to come; in April of 1976 the CoSGO began planning “Operation Freakout”.

In Operation Freakout CoSGO planned on making bomb threats to Arab embassies in Paulette’s name, send threatening letters with Paulette’s fingerprints to President Ford and Henry Kissinger, and then have a Paulette impersonator make incriminating statements in public. How believable would this conspiracy be as a plot element in a spy movie?

Unfortunately for CoSGO a couple of their agents got caught breaking into a courthouse to support a different conspiracy (Operation Snow White). This put a damper on CoSGO operations, but Operation Freakout planning documents were still on file when the FBI raided the LA CoSGO offices in July of 1977. Sometime later in 1977, after Operation Freakout came to light (According to an affidavit given by Margery Wakefield which became public in 1990), CoSGO was developing plans to assassinate Paulette. Luckily for Paulette they decided it was better to simply settle with her for an undisclosed amount of money in 1985.

It is natural for religiously-extremist Americans to envision conspiracies as they have played significant parts in them in the past. The same logic that allows the creation of stories of divine intervention in order to dupe converts can be used to create stories of evil intention to dupe other potential followers.

The uniquely perverse element is that the very people manufacturing the false proof that there is an intricate conspiracy may actually believe that there is one.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Birds and Bees

Earth day is fast approaching, and as it draws nearer the calls for civil action against the agricultural mega-corporation Monsanto grow louder and louder. It is a great and powerful buzzing. Like a giant hive of bees.

Bees are in fact a significant prop in this anti-Monsanto play.


Industrial agriculture has a long history of causing significant environmental damage.Rachel Carson's 1962  book “Silent Spring” helped to popularize the very idea of environmental damage with the story of how the organochlorine insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) might be causing damage to the ecosphere.

DDE is the toxic breakdown product of DDT that can be found in animal tissue. DDE is perhaps the most famous marker of food chain magnification of a toxic material. Since banning  of DDT others, like mercury and PCBs, have become famous as well.  Though DDT is not extremely toxic to vertebrates at the levels it was applied to crops DDE concentration would be magnified by food chain accumulation till high-level predators might have thousands of times the concentration initially applied to crops for insect control.

DDE was especially damaging to birds as at high enough concentrations it inhibits a key enzyme in eggshell formation.

The class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids made by Bayer are implicated as one of the factors that is applying stress to bees. These nicotine-related insecticides apparently do not magnify in the food chain like DDT/DDE.  The use of the neonicotinoid insecticides adds to the combined stresses on modern beehives which together are thought to be causing significant numbers of hive deaths; including those attributed to colony collapse disorder.

I know that I've not made a connection between Monsanto and the bees, but this is the road one must go down to understand where the connection comes from.

What Monsanto has done is successfully market genetically modified crops (GMO) for food use.

The very idea of GMOs offends the strongly held religious beliefs of many people. Man should not “play god” by creating “Frankenfoods”. Many people believe that tampering with the genetic code in a living organism is tampering with some divine plan, and it invites some unspecified divine retribution. The battle against GMOs has taken on the flavor of a jihad.

I personally think that the application of techniques for genetically modifying crop plants will result in wonderful foodstuffs for future consumption. I can imagine a wonderful world with decreased chemical contamination, and increased variety and flavor. Because of these utopian fantasies I have been branded a “Frankenfooder”. It sounds like an evil label.

Should I be worried that farmers armed with pitchforks and torches will storm my garden and mistakenly destroy my heirloom tomatoes? If they want to be effective they will have to get to them before the deer eat them,

Unfortunately the first few large-scale GMOs are not what I would have chosen. Though I like the idea that GMO processes can bring products from the laboratory to the table I think they could have chosen much more wisely.

The roundup ready soybeans were the first plants I noticed hitting the market. In order for this genetic modification to be useful the farmer has to also be ready to use roundup, and then he has to apply a bunch of it. The active ingredient in roundup is the enzyme inhibitor glyphosate (N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine). The genetic modification is the insertion of an enzyme that is resistant to glyphosate inhibition. The gene comes from a common soil bacterium

Inseertion of a bacterial gene is not the only way to combat glyphosate inhibition. I would assume there are all sorts of mutations in either the susceptible enzyme or the physiological processing of  glyphosate that can result in resistance. If I was to design a large-scale experiment to discover some new ways of relizing glyphosate resistance I would simply apply large quantities regularly to a large variety of weeds, and see what grew. This is in essence what growing roundup ready soybeans does. Unfortunately the farmer growing roundup ready soybeans cannot afford to simply collect some roundup resistant weeds, and declare a success. The farmer must apply more and larger quantities of roundup in the hopes of achieving a concentration that is just enough to kill off the resistant weeds, but not enough to kill off the soybeans. Natural selection at work.

The other GMO that I think is a mistake is MON810. MON810 is a corn transformed with Bacillus thuringensis toxin (BtT). BtT is a protein insecticide that specifically targets certain types of insects. It is extremely effective against lepidopterans (butterflies and moths)

I don't have the same problem with BtT transformed corn that I have with Roundup-ready soybeans, but natural selection is still the complicating factor in the use of this product.

In the typical soil of a farm one might expect to find several strains of crystal-protein producing Bacillus. It would be surprising to not find a BtT. Many farms use BtT as an effective organic insecticide. Some produce can apparently be labeled organic is only BtT is used as an insecticide on it. BtT can be aerially sprayed on people's homes. It has been repeatedly sprayed on several Washington Dc suburbs to control Gypsy Moth infestations; I bet there are several Monsanto lobbyists in those high-dollar neighborhoods. However, in all these cases the BtT is not chronically present in the environment in high enough concentrations to provide a constant selective pressure.

Unlike DDT BtT is a protein and its breakdown products are amino acids, and neither it nor its breakdown products bio-accumulate as toxic materials in the food-chain.

In the fields around a field of BtT GMO corn insects will come into contact with sub-lethal amounts of BtT. After the corn is harvested, and the stalks are plowed into the soil insects there will be exposed to sub-lethal concentrations of BtT.

Closer to the field of GMO corn, and perhaps near the roots in the soil around them insects will be exposed to lethal but sub-optimal concentrations of BtT.

This gradient of BtT will persist as long as the crop does; likely through generations of insects. This sets up a situation where, even in the absence of outright resistant insects to be selected for, BtT resistance will provide a clear selective advantage. Since insects can have thousands of offspring the ability for just a couple of resistant individuals to graze several acres of land made unsuitable to their closest competitors can result in huge numbers of resistant progeny in one generation. The synergies of partial and co-dominance could result in even more resistance in subsequent early generations.  The risk of resistance to BtT is very real.

BtT is a wonderful product. It is used for all sorts of things. The one used in MON810 is so very specific to lepidopterans that beekeepers can spray their bees directly with it to eradicate wax moths.

Unfortunately my objections to the current crop of GMOs involves invoking natural selection, which is an anathema to many people who religiously object to GMOs. It also does not paint the process of developing GMOs as evil, only the examples of having done it. For that reason these -I think reasonable- objections are not often given voice by those objecting to GMOs.

This is how the anti-GMO folks I know and I can effectively agree on controlling the use of current GMOs, and yet they can malign my position and label me a “Frankenfooder”. The fight against Monsanto apparently also resembles a religious movement in that purity of thought is highly valued.

So the relationship between Monsanto and bees is that Monsanto made MON810 which has an insecticide in it, and there is another group of insecticides made by another company which may be causing significant damage to beehives. To me this is not a very satisfying connection, but to many in the anti-GMO movement is is sufficient. Not a week goes by that I am not offered an article to read that implies a relationship, and simply refuses to point out that one does not exist.

I should point out that the lack of lethality of BtT toxins on bees is not simply inferred from lack of evidence. It is also not simply inferred from the fact that many beekeepers have for decades regularly applied large concentrations of BtT directly to their beehives with no deleterious effects. I infer it from controlled scientific experiments published in peer-reviewed literature.

Several European countries have apparently banned planting of MON810, and at least one has specifically cited protecting bees as the reason. In Poland protestors dumped about a hive of dead bees and a painted sculpture of a human skull on the steps of their Ministry of Agriculture. When the Polish minister of agriculture announced the MON810 ban he apparently mentioned the need to safeguard bees. He also apparently mentioned that MON810 had already produced millions of hectares of pesticide resistant “superweeds” in the US. The later is interesting because it not only does make use of the natural selection concerns it confuses the genetic modification in the MON810 with that in the roundup-ready soybeans.

Several of the articles mention work done by a bee researcher that linked MON810 to colony collapse disorder. The bee researcher's name was John McDonald who turns out to be a blogger-beekeeper from Pennsylvania whose haphazard experiments have earned him a byline in publications originating as far away as San Francisco.

John did run a couple of experiments where he put hives in interesting places, and then weighed them. Unfortunately the level of resolution he exercised in his control over the hives does not allow one to point to any particular cause for the difference between his strategically placed hives. If one interprets his results in light of the controlled laboratory experiments it appears as if something other than casual exposure to some MON810 pollen was the more likely cause of his problems.

John recognizes the limitations of his experiments, but instead of using Occam's razor to interpret them in the simplest way he imagines hidden effects appearing just bellow the surface of his results. Such speculation is actually fine for stimulating interest and investigation, but it does not rise to the level of actionable information that should inform policy.

“Is it not possible that while there is no lethal effect directly to the new bees, there might be some sublethal effect, such as immune suppression, acting as a slow killer? “ – John McDonald

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not opposed at all to restrictions on the use of these Monsanto GMOs. I just wish the road to deciding to restrict them was not so logically bumpy.

The most problematic fallout from this crusade might be the elimination of neonicotinoids. Without them what will farmers use? Will they go back to the organophosophates and carbamate insecticides they partially replaced? Neonicotinoids may be highly toxic to bees (bees are insects), but the organophosophates and carbamate insecticides are both highly toxic to bees, and humans...and all sorts of living things.

VX nerve gas, amongst the scariest of the weapons of mass destruction, is an organophosphate compound similar to the insecticides.

On the 2nd of December 1984 a plant making precursors for carbamate insecticides in Bhopol india had a leak which killed as many as 16,000 people (why are there not good numbers for things like this?), and injured over 500,000 others.

Of course it may not be a question of returning to using poison on our food in order to ban neonicotinoids so we can halt GMOs. We may all start sustaining ourselves with organically grown heirloom tomatoes, and fat-marbled suburban venison.