Friday, October 6, 2017

Bump Fire Ban Victory Almost

It appears as if “bump fire” devices will be banned at the federal, and several state, levels soon. The devices have no champions, and the manufacturers have begun stopping production and selling off their inventory in order to cut their losses when the ban goes into effect. The future ban is appears so certain that many people are only wondering which ban it will be.

Even the NRA has come out saying that legal control measures for “bump fire” devices would not be the end of human civilization as we know it. This is probably the highest praise for any legislation controlling anything associated with guns that the NRA can offer.

Undoubtedly the reasoned arguments, like those put forward in this blog, contributed significantly to the momentum of the ban proposals. However, there were two important revelations that were very significant, and which I missed entirely. They are:

1) Obama did it

The ATF review for the “bump fire” devices was completed in 2010, and therefore Obama is responsible for making them legal. This means that by focusing attention on the “bump fire” devices GOP legislators, and the NRA, can blame Obama for the Route 91 Harvest Festival Massacre. This also means that it is possible to ban the “bump fire” devices by simply reversing an Obama-era decision, and that doesn’t sound like the slippery slope that voting for a ban proposed by the anti-gun Diane Feinstein does.

2) The GOP has has a better bill

In fact there might be several house and senate bills, and state bills too, that will ban the “bump fire” devices. Everyone’s bill is the best, and some are calling for hearings to craft the best bill, but it is highly likely that one bill will get to the floor first and get enough votes to become law. The bills and proposed bills appear so similar that the only major defining feature I can see is that Diane Feinstein’s name is not on the ones most likely to pass.

This does make congress appear like it is some bad high-school drama. Not a drama put on by the theater nerds of some high school (I remember a truncated version of Samuel Becket’s “Waiting for Godot” that we called “Stopping for Godot”), but like some flashy Disney movie where people talked mean and dressed in just the right stuff. I think congress should try to be a musical! They could pipe music in through some of the CSPAN electrical tangle, and wire the podiums for autotune.

High School Musical 33.3: Mean Girls go to Washington!

Though this distracting low-brow political sideshow is a little amusing, we shouldn’t lose sight of the prize. It looks like we will get a real ban on “bump fire” devices!

This is not “the” fix for gun violence in America. However, it is a slight repair. If this ban were in effect a year ago it is highly likely that several, probably more than a dozen, people would be alive or uninjured today who instead were riddled by indiscriminately fired bullets on the night of October 1st 2017.

It is (at least will be very soon) an ever so slightly better world. Thank you!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bump Fire Ban Momentum

The idea of a “bump fire” device ban is gaining traction. Unfortunately the madness that attends to many discussions of gun control legislation in America threatens to swamp it in its wake.

Several salient points that I did not drive home in my call to action on a “bump fire” ban should be helping the forward momentum of a “bump fire” ban.

Firstly, the “bump fire” style device is widely seen as an accessory, and not an “arm” as protected in the second amendment. This means that banning them would not be an infringement of the second amendment rights so fiercely protected in the US.

Secondly, many “gun experts” have come forward describing the “bump fire” device as being of no tactical value. Firing a gun fitted with the device is described as much more difficult to control than a fully automatic weapon. There are lots of self-aggrandizing “experts” on firearms; YouTube is full of them. I am sure there are YouTube “experts” who take time off of arguing the finer points of one type of ammunition vs another to have all sorts of opinions on everything. However, I have noticed a large agreement amongst most of the non-random selection of “experts” whom have spoken with me or posted on the subject of “bump fire” devices. Here is an exchange I heard on National Public Radio during my drive home yesterday; Robert Siegal of NPR is interviewing Paul Glasco who is the gun “expert” behind "Legally Armed America."
Robert Siegel: What's the point of it?
Paul Glasco: You wouldn't find any - I don't think any responsible gun owner has any real practical use for it.

Thirdly, even several GOP legislators who have been made aware of the legality of the device, and the rickety way in which it is designed to operate, have expressed dismay that such a device is widely available.

And finally, the “bump fire” style device can be banned for a number of reasons. The fact that its use in the Route 91 harvest music festival massacre likely resulted in more deaths than a single gunman could have otherwise caused is forefront in my mind, but it is not the only reason why these devices should be banned. These devices make the firearm more dangerous to the shooter and unintended targets. So these firearm accessories could be banned simply from a consumer protection standpoint.

Unfortunately the currently proposed ban is emerging in a hyper-partisan political climate that threatens it as a result of factors completely unconnected to the merits of a ban. Rather than have a legislator who is perceived to be somewhat neutral, or at least unencumbered by past actions, introduce a “bump fire” ban bill, the bill was introduced by Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein’s baggage makes it likely that some members of congress will vote against the ban just to appear like they are voting against Feinstein. Because she has been so outspoken on gun control the ban bill inevitably looks like the first step down that slippery slope that has caused so much fear that gun control legislation has been impossible for years.

Should the bump fire stock be banned? Simply, no. It would only be banned because it was used in the Las Vegas shooting, not because it increased the shooter’s effectiveness. That can be proven. Why ban something that can be proven to be less effective than a standard semi-automatic rifle? And we know what would happen if they were banned. Then the left would suddenly agree that the bump fire is less effective and that the AR-15 was the issue and they’d then focus on modern sporting rifles saying they are more deadly then the accessory they just banned. -- Paul Glasco in a 5 October essay called "Why banning bump fire stocks is not the answer"

The knee-jerk response to the ban is evident. Paul Glasco, who on October 4th provided some good reasons why a ban on "bump fire" devices was a good thing (as I quoted earlier in this post), wrote an essay on October 5th describing how banning them would be a defeat for gun rights that would start us down a slippery slope. We need to make it clear that "bump fire" devices are not "arms" and banning them would not infringe on 2nd amendment rights; even if Diane Feinstein is the one who introduced the "bump fire" ban legislation.

The partisan taint was inevitable given the current status of our federal representative bodies. It is all the more important that we, as concerned citizens, make it clear to our representatives that we do not consider this a partisan or gun control issue. This ban is about eliminating an accessory that is useless and unnecessarily dangerous.

I personally understand the idea of an adrenaline rush from discharging what simulates a fully automatic weapon. I’ve played too many hours of Fallout 4, and I’ve sent many small pellets of lead into paper targets. The “bump stock” device’s sole purpose is to provide that pleasant little rush. Pleasant little rushes should be available to people. However, the social cost of this one is just too high.

Here is how to find contact information for your senators:

Here is how to find contact information for your congressman:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bump Fire Ban

Important details about the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival massacre will be emerging for some time. Already we appear to be involved in some kind of ideological trench warfare. The talking points on all sides of gun control arguments have been dusted off. The paranoid elements of the right have concocted a bunch of disgusting conspiracy theories. People who simply care but do not want to devote their lives to whatever flavor of “the cause” can feel their eyes beginning to glaze over.

This was so significant a tragedy that the stalemate might be broken, but I doubt it. I certainly cannot wade into the fray and make a brand new perfect argument about any of the big issues. I think there are good arguments, but I am not going to repeat them here in order to sound intensely moral. Would any of you readers believe me if I did? Didn’t think so.

There was one thing about the massacre that caught my attention, and I thought it would be worthwhile to put in a plea for a limited set of social action that would yield real but limited results.

I think we should call for a federal ban on “bump fire” (aka “slide fire”) modifications to semi-automatic firearms. Specifically, I think we should call for a ban on “any modification to a firearm whose purpose is to allow the firearm to be operated in a way that is or mimics fully automatic or burst fire action”. Fully automatic or burst fire action firearms are tightly controlled by federal law, and modifications that make a firearm operate in ways that closely mimic that action are objectively designed to circumvent well established federal law.

Stephen Paddock used a “bump fire” device to operate semi-automatic rifles continuously at rates that could have surpassed 900 rounds per minute. This is many times the rate typically clocked for standard semi-automatic fire. This contributed greatly to his ability to cause damage and panic.

The “bump fire” device is viewed by many firearm owners as a toy. It is an overpriced at $50.00 attachment that provides little in the way of enhancement to the $1,000.00 rifle it is designed to attach to. People by them because firing a “bump fire” equipped rifle almost feels like one is firing a real machine gun. Even the mindset needed to consider it is one where the firearm is viewed as a toy where the “bump fire” modification provides more kicks and giggles. What should have been obvious long before Las Vegas was that, no matter how many toy-like gadgets you attach to a gun, a firearm is not a toy.

The “bump fire” style modification kit essentially provides a sliding stock with a spring at the back. Unlike standard stocks that are designed to hold the firearm securely so that a target can be accurately acquired the “bump fire” stock allows the firearm to loosely slide back and forth. When a round is fired from the rifle the recoil pushes it back into the “bump fire” stock where it compresses a spring. When the rifle slides back into the “bump fire” stock the trigger is moved backwards away from the trigger finger. When the spring pushes the rifle forward the trigger on the rifle is brought back into contact with the trigger finger resting on the “bump fire” stock and the trigger is pulled which fires the rifle again. This allows the rifle to fire as fast as it can rattle back and forth in the “bump fire” stock. It really is that simple, but I made an animated GIF to illustrate it anyway.

Because a flesh and blood finger comes into contact with the trigger each time the rifle fires this was considered a legal loophole to the federal laws controlling fully automatic weapons. We should close that loophole now.


There is no reasonably argued reason why anyone needs to be able to spray bullets towards a target. This sort of device is inherently unsafe even when it is not in the hands of a madman.

We should be able to eliminate these devices from the marketplace without fighting the main battles of the gun control wars of ideology. Eliminating them will make America safer. If they were not available the number of dead and wounded in Las Vegas would have been less; perhaps a lot less.

This doesn’t solve all the problems, nor does it address many of the gun control issues. However, it is real and actionable good that can make a measurable difference. We should do this!

So… how do we do this?

Basically we call, write, or somehow communicate with our federal representatives (congress: House and Senate) and ask them to plug this loophole in federal law.

Here is how to find contact information for your senators:

Here is how to find contact information for your congressman:

Simply asking them to write or support legislation that closes the “bump fire” loophole should be enough. If they want you to spell it out for them perhaps you could say something like “ban any modification to a firearm whose purpose is to allow the firearm to be operated in a way that is or mimics fully automatic or burst fire action”. Feel free to use or distribute the GIF I made if that helps make things clear.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Responsible FAP

This past weekend was the general conference of the LDS church. Absent was The Prophet Monson and apostle Robert Dean Hales. Both were suffering the effects of living a long life. Hales succumbed to his condition on the 1st of October (just before the last sessions of the conference), and Monson, seeing how the condition is terminal, is expected to “pass on” someday in the near future. Stanley G. Ellis, Larry R. Lawrence and W. Craig Zwick, who are all old white men, were “released” as General Authority Seventies (GAS). There is no shortage of old white men in Utah so the conference rambled on in a fashion it has become accustomed to.

Bothe Hales and Monson are supposedly up for exaltation. This post-mortal condition is better than just salvation, and it apparently depends on families and covenants and commandments and secret handshakes. Whenever I try and unpack what is presented at the conference I am struck by the blurry lines between what is confusing and poorly worded, and what is code for something.

“While there are various kingdoms and glories our Heavenly Father’s ultimate desire for his children is what President Monson called ‘Eternal Life in The Kingdom of God’. Which is exaltation in families.” -- Dallin H. Oaks at the October 2017 general conference of the LDS church.

If one understands the metaphor Mark Twain used when he described the Book Of Mormon as being “chloroform in print” then one can get a great visual of the general conference by imagining it being “chloroform aerosolized in a large enclosed auditorium”. There may be something to the idea that the LDS church denounces coffee because of the number of Mormons who might, after a pre-conference quad espresso, realize that the reason the general conference proceeding had not made sense in the past was not just because they had been nodding off.

The coffee thing is quite the black hole of LDS doctrine. Rather than simply clarify what is wrong with coffee, and provide a clear understanding of what is ,and is not, ok, the LDS Church just kindof lets its members make up stuff as they go along. I think they call this “agency”. Agency is another black hole of LDS doctrine.

Even without clarification on the coffee issue there are numerous Mormons who drink enough caffeine in energy drinks to stay awake during the conference. Some of the people are even reporters who blow the lid off amazing revelations encoded in the rambling talks given by the divine old white men. This year’s big news was that the LDS church reaffirmed its support of families and being good parents and other good stuff, and it did this by reaffirming its eternal support for the document entitled “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (FAP).

Most of my readers know that “reaffirming support for the family” is code for “ still hating same sex marriage and cohabitation”, and that cohabitation is added so that the speaker isn’t just talking about gays and is sounding like they are saying “the church hates gays”, which is really what they mean. Of course the church is only about love so where I say “hate” here I just mean love that looks, tastes, and acts a lot like what would be hate in any other non-divine institution.

Those reporters who were able to stay up enough to maybe understand the God-speak from the conference podium may have been able to stay awake for a number of reasons, not just what caffeine-laced liquids they may or may not have drunk. However, the only likely reason they would have even been interested in the conference was that they had already drunk the Kool-Aid of Mormonism. This means that articles (like the September 30th Peggy Fletcher Stack article in the Salt Lake Tribune) can unironically begin with statements like: “The LDS Church’s opposition to gay marriage is not born of a current legal or political position.” Does this mean that some Mormons might think that their church is opposing same-sex marriage just in contrarian response to Supreme Court decisions?

Reading the document that apparently spells out the whole “opposition to gay marriage” doctrine I am struck by the fact that it doesn’t ever actually say that same sex marriage is a bad thing. In standard limp passive aggressive language the FAP states things like “Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan”, and from this we are expected to understand that oxygen and honeybees are also essential, but gays are bad.

The FAP also talks about the specific gender roles in marriages, but notes that “circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation”, but apparently we are supposed to understand that a marriage with two partners of the same gender is not a circumstance that would require individual adaptation because of something.

Maybe this wishy-washy wording of the FAP is intentional, and that when enough of the old guard passes or is released as GAS the wording will allow the LDS church to restate its position while maintaining that it meant something nobody had realized all along. I think something like that approach worked for the Mormon stance on African-Americans back in the 1970s.

Were the FAP simply a private affair, or even if it was limited to where old white men whipped it out on the conference stage, then it wouldn’t be such an issue. Unfortunately the last line of the FAP is this:
“We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” – from The Family: A Proclamation to the World (FAP) as revealed by Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley to the 23 September 1995 General Relief Society meeting.

And this obviously calls upon “responsible” people to do their FAPing in public.

I think the responsible thing to do is to keep your FAP at home or at church.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Equinox Ice GIF

The autumnal equinox is tomorrow. The dark season will begin in the arctic, although it has been pretty close to dark there for about a month. Late last week (on 13 September) the extent of Arctic sea ice reached what is likely to stand as its minimum extent for 2017 (4.64 million square kilometers, 1.79 million square miles).

It will be a couple weeks before the sea ice starts rapidly building towards its spring maximum. Likewise it will be a couple weeks before the Antarctic sea ice starts rapidly melting.

There are all sorts of numbers that can be teased out of polar sea ice measurements that can help illustrate the warming of the planet. How late the sea ice minimum is reached is a great number; it has been getting a little later. Of course the extent of the minimum is great; the minimum has dropped dramatically in recent years. I’ve decided to take the Arctic sea ice extent around the equinox and compare them. I decided to use pictures to do this.

Here is an animated GIF made with sea ice extent pictures downloaded from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It is made from 38 images that span the equinoxs from 1979 to 2016; the picture for 2017 is not ready yet. Feel free to use the GIF if you want. Please credit NSDIC for the data if you do.

Arctic sea ice extent for autumnal equinox years 1979-2016.  Data downloaded from National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Hope you enjoy the animation, and happy equinox!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Big Sur Summer of Love Semicolons of San Francisco

Labor Day in the USA is the ceremonial end of summer. Days are noticeably shorter, and the patio furniture in the big box stores is sprouting clearance signs. The fiftieth anniversary of the “Summer of Love” was this year, and I spent the week of the Labor Day holiday in san Francisco. The “Summer of Love” was long over and I got a nasty little summer cold.

Curious residuals of a “Summer of Love” marketing campaign dotted the city. Sheltered bus stops had “Summer of Love Trading Card” posters, and a couple of the shuttles at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) were decked out in contrasting flower power paintjobs. At the SFMOMA I was tricked by an Andy Warhol print into following a Lichtenstein around a corner where I lost close to a quarter hour staring at an enormous Chuck Close portrait of Roy Lichtenstein, but I think those were more likely residuals of that famous summer’s artistic sensibility than of a targeted marketing campaign.

I was staying in Embarcadero, and from my hotel room at night I could almost make out the Ferry Building from reflections in the mirrored glass across the street. A large backwards PORT OF SAN FRANSCISCO sign tinged with the neon red that faced the bay. The ferry building houses a marketplace of attractive eateries; the champiƱones empanadas at El PorteƱo Empanadas were awesome.

I hit the city with no real plan beyond a vague set of possible destinations. Perhaps the best formulated of these was to hit the famed City Lights Bookstore up on the border of North Beach and Chinatown. I wanted to buy an attractive copy of Jack Kerouac’s “Big Sur”.

The “Summer of Love” was the long Labor Day weekend to the Beat Generation. “Big Sur” is the story drunk on alcoholic madness that comes to a head over a Labor Day weekend less than a decade before the “Summer of Love”. It was published just after Labor Day in 1962. John Steinbeck would win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1962. Alcoholism would kill Kerouac in October of 1969.

I have yet to finish reading this new copy of "Big Sur" all the way through . The words demand to be savored, and I want a bongo playing in my head to sync the rhythms of his words to my pulse.

"Big Sur" begins with Kerouac entering San Francisco with elaborate secret plans concocted with his friend, and founder of the City Lights Bookstore, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The plans dissolve into the mundane liquid logic of booze and alcoholism and Jack escapes to the south into the land where Henry Miller had written “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch” just a few years earlier. Miller lived for 18 years in Big Sur, and the summer that Jack Kerouac visited Ferlinghetti’s Big Sur cabin was living just a dozen miles south.

Hieronymus Bosch captured in pigment, in the right-hand panel of his famous triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights", the emotional jumble of basal human horror like that revealed during the Delirium Tremens .  His oranges are found in the left and center panels.

I entered San Francisco from the north.

I, like many people, have enjoyed misattributing the quote: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” To Mark Twain. This year, when I looked over at San Francisco from the Marin headlands, the temperatures in the city were over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot anywhere, but hellishly hot for San Francisco.

The heat had burned off any fog that thought of forming; the Sutro tower tempted from behind a haze of smog like a Kaiju lure. There was a giant ship full of shipping containers generically labeled “China Shipping Line”, but no Godzilla.

I arrived in San Francisco without a plan, but it is hard to loose a weekend in a haze of espresso and Hetch Hetchy water. It is a city that begs the stroll into a walk and the walk into an exploration. Each day put more than a dozen miles onto my shoes.

If that week-long weekend of past-tense and future punctuation defines the sentence of my life I suspect the nature of that punctuation is like a semicolon.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Excommunication of Ayla Stewart

Several religious organizations have officially condemned the violence, and the white national activity, that occurred this last weekend in Charlottesville Virginia. It is much more important that religious groups do this than atheists. Many of the white nationalists espoused their moral superiority (given to them by a Christian God) as part of their motivation to travel long distances to be violent in Charlottesville Virginia.  I suspect very few Atheists were amongst them; though I’m sure there were some. The Mormon, or LDS, church here in Utah issued two statements, and these have filled the press and airwaves; I’ve heard the statements repeatedly quoted on the local NPR station during my commute to and from work. The statements ring hollow in light of the way the LDS Church silently accepts active white nationalist Mormons; not to mention the very vocal way the Mormons repeatedly came down on the wrong side of race history.
“Church members who promote or pursue a ‘white culture’ or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.” – Official statement by Mormon Church issued on 15 August 2017

One of the speakers at the “UNITE THE RIGHT” rally in Charlottesville was one Ayla Stewart. She blogs and vlogs as “wife with a purpose” and “Nordic Sunrise” from deep in the heart of Mormon ideology . Over the past few years her followers have grown until they now number over thirty thousand (according to numbers given for her Twitter followers), and she is considered an important voice in the Mormon Alt-Right movement.
“My church just declared that I, as a white person, have no culture.” -- @apurposefulwife tweeting in response to Mormon Church’s 15 August official statement

Loosely corresponding with Ayla’s rise is the Utah Valley-based Utah Vanguard group. This group is identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is a full-on white nationalist-supremacist-neo-Nazi group. It recently put up posters on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City that promoted things like “controlling the Blacks” to reduce crime. I’ve asked AYD to get me pictures , or copies, of the posters if she sees them (classes start in a few days), but so far they have been taken down so fast that neither of us have met anyone who has actually seen one. Vanguard regularly retweets content from @apurposefulwife (aka Ayla Stewart).

I don’t spend a lot of time perusing what white nationalist groups have to say. I know it is important to understand the dark parts of my culture, but there are only so many hours in the day, and there are so many things more worthwhile than neo-Nazi crap; like internet kittens for instance. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that in a post about neo-Nazi crap, but I wanted to explain how it took me a little while to realize that an awkward symbol I kept seeing (on shields in Charlottesville, on flags, on the Vanguard websites…) was the very item from which Fascism got its name.

A “fasces” (fascis in Latin) is a bundle of sticks. As a symbol it is often shown as a bound bundle of rods with an axe attached to or bundled inside it. The idea is that a single stick is weak, but a bundle is strong. I once was treated to a demonstration by a job candidate who brought popsicle sticks to the interview to demonstrate this effect as a metaphor for his team-building management philosophy. He gave everyone a stick and we easily broke them, then he taped a dozen together and had each of us try to break it; I thought the demonstration was cute, even if it was contrived. This is an important engineering principle, and why plywood and OSB are so strong. This fascis symbol for “stronger united” was the symbol, and the origin of the name, for Mussolini’s political party (Partito Nazionale Fascista), and because of this eventually gave rise to the term “Fascist” that we are all familiar with. You can see the symbol accidentally used in a lot of places, like on the back of older dimes. However, these white nationalists are using it in order to advertise the fact that they identify as Fascists. It essentially means the same thing as a swastika to them, and that is why they use it.

Right now the Vanguard Utah neo-fascist group is the only hate group of its kind recognized in Utah. However, the interwebs suggest that it may only be a manifestation of mainstreaming Mormon white nationalist tendencies. The fantasy that the LDS church abruptly changes its stance on an issue like divine racial inequality and all Mormons change their beliefs is not evident in the openly racist flushing through the great pipes of the internets.
“Every nation is the gathering place for its own people. The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerien Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea and so forth” -- quote from LDS authority Russell M. Nelson that is used by white nationalists

Many radical religious activities coming out of Utah are part of this hate-web. In one Twitter conversation @purposefulwife presents to @gr8walloftrump (DeseretNnationalist) a list of 16 “core Alt right philosophy” points collected last August by Vox Day (he ironically has translated the list into several languages). Point 11 states that: “The Alt Right understands that diversity + proximity = war”. My readers should remember Vox Day from his activity undermining the Hugo awards in 2015. He succeeded in filling the Hugo ballots with his super-theist authors; many of whom were published by his Castalia House publishing operations. The Hugo attacks were part inexpensive marketing ploy by a small publisher and part theistic crusade. I reviewed many of the works that made it onto the ballots that year, and they were almost all too awful to be simply called unfortunate. Day collaborated with a couple Utah people on the Hugo attacks.

Day was one of the rabidly right-wing “GamerGate” fanatics who used his considerable right-wing media backing (much of which undoubtedly came from family connections) to ride the anti-feminist GamerGate flame wars into a more public spotlight. I don’t really understand GamerGate, and that might be due in part to just how infantile the whole thing sounds whenever I try to read about it. However, there are aspects of this white nationalist Mormon group that still cling to a GamerGate “gg” identification, and rehash it when not supporting their holdover racist Mormon ideology.
“The church is in apostasy when it contradicts the words of Prophet Joseph Smith who revealed we are form the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh” – Tweet from @comissarofgg )Commissar of GamerGate) to @purposefulwife and @EscapeVelo (EscapeVelocity)

If “the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh” sound like code to you then you have a reasonably good idea of what is going on in the above quote. Code is just one of the many apologist tools the white nationalist Mormons use to obfuscate their interests. They often use ever-popular-with-apologists of wishy washy morally relativistic false equivalencies. Each time they praise a racist or retweet a racist meme or saying they will categorically state that they are not racists; in fact, they will often point out, those people calling others racist are the real racists. This kind of purulent crap is intrinsically disingenuous and dishonest, and I don’t care if they have repeated it in the mirror till they believe it by rote.
“I don't consider myself a racist, I don't hate other peoples” -- David Duke podcast 25 August 2006

I have been amazed by the train wreck that has been the POTUS (President of the United States) responses to the white nationalist activities in Charlottesville Virginia, and I am not alone. I thought it was more than enough to be introduced to new terms like “neo-confederate” while watching clips of young white men bathed in the warm glow of torches chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us”. Then, in a stunning example of apologetic moral relativism, the POTUS equated the level of blame for each side in this weekend’s Charlottesville violence. He also pointed out that there were some “Very Fine People” who were there for a good purpose, and that the “alt-left” came ready for violence. I think he is honestly saying that things would have been fine if people hadn’t interfered with the objectives of the white nationals.
"I think there's blame on both sides. I don't have any doubt about it and you don't have any doubt it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say it." -- Statement given by President Donald J. Trump 15 August 2017

“What about the fact that they came charging – they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs?" -- Statement about “the alt-left” given by President Donald J. Trump 15 August 2017

The wishy washy apologetics that apparently permeates our culture from the president on down to racist mommy-bloggers in Utah serves to prevent action. It is important for public figures and institutions to not undermine their “base”.

A day or so before the POTUS made the statements I quoted above he read a more condemning statement that called out hate groups by name. Trump supporters like David Duke (famous KKK spokesperson) angrily shot back that he was being manipulated and false. They were pleased when the POTUS responded with the apologetic wishy-washy moral relativism I quoted.
“I have spoken all over the world and I have great respect for Muslims, I have great respect for the African people, I have respect for the other races.” -- David Duke podcast 25 August 2006

The Mormon neo-fascists responded angrily to the statements made by the Mormon Church. They felt betrayed, and that their church was caving in to political correctness. However, they probably have as little to fear from the rigid authority structure of their church as the various wings of the greater Alt-Right movement had to fear from the fleeting words the POTUS had called them out with. The Mormon Alt-Right movement is a significant part of the “base” for the Mormon Church. If the Mormon Church disciplined even the vocal minority of Alt-Right Mormons it would be like plucking out their eye to spite their face.

The Mormon Church has been making empty statements about racists not being proper Mormons since well before the Alt-Right groups became a thing. Individuals, like Ayla, have risen in popularity while the great authority of the Mormon Church has excommunicated people like Kate Kelly for suggesting that some women could be given the same magical “blessings” reserved for eight year old boys. This leads the outsider to think that, to the Mormon Church, respectfully discussing aspects of magical wacky-woo is much more egregious than openly espousing neo-fascist ideology.
“‘No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.’” – Statement by late LDS prophet Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) as quoted in official statement by Mormon Church issued on 13 August 2017

This is not a small issue. I believe there are tens of thousands of Alt-Right Mormons. I do not think the Mormon Church can ferret them out with anything approaching the vigilance with which they might investigate potential Latte consumption within their ranks. Even disciplining a couple thousand Utah Vanguard supporting or #WhiteCulture promoting members might seriously dilute the influence of the Mormon Church.

They could, however, eliminate the most vocal neo-fascist elements and hope that scares the rest. This would not really be sufficient to cure the Mormon fascist problem, but it could dull criticism.

Maybe they will excommunicate Ayla Stewart sometime in the next few weeks?

That would put a surprised look on my face.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Atheists, as a community, have a problem with alcohol and drug addictions. The problem is twofold. The melodramatic portion of the problem is that prominent atheists keep getting drunk and doing stupid, sometimes morally repugnant and possibly illegal, things. The more significant issue is that an increasing number of studies are showing that spirituality, and even religiousness, are correlated to positive treatment outcomes for addiction recovery. In other words, by mixing anecdote and statistical correlations in just the right proportions, the atheist community appears too much like a bunch of drunken sods who cannot stay sober and remain Atheists.

The correlations found between spirituality and recovery outcomes are likely driven by the influence of 12-step programs on recovery paradigms. The influence is so pervasive that it may be impossible to adequately determine the efficacy of non-12-step-influenced recovery alternatives. In other words the correlations between spirituality and positive recovery outcomes is likely indicating a degree of investment in the recovery treatment and would not indicate that 12-step programs work better than secular alternatives. 12-step programs grew out of, and retain, distinctly theistic religious elements; six of the 12 steps mention a “God” or “Higher power”. It is very difficult for addicts or alcoholics to completely engage in a 12-step recovery treatment without a well-developed personal spirituality.

An interesting irony is that the “Spiritual Not Religious” identity promoted by many implementations of the 12 steps is viewed by a significant number of staunchly religious folks as synonymous with agnosticism, and only a few steps shy of full-on Atheism. “Spiritual But Not Religious” is a common identifier on dating sites, and an ever growing number of Americans identify their personal religious leanings to be this using the initialism SBNR.  Some atheists refer to SBNR as foggy woo. 

SBNR as a movement is sometimes attributed to Sven Erlandson’s (He is a TV personality) book “Spiritual But Not Religious: A Call to Religious Revolution in America” (2000). The defining core beliefs of SBNR are mostly negative; Scientism, Secularism, ecclesiastic ritual, and a huge chunk of theistic dogma are devalued in favor of personal experiential spiritualism. It is no wonder that Theists often deride SBNR as hedonistic salad bar spiritualism.

However, I think the formation of SBNR really began back in the mid-1930s when Bill Wilson was trying to create a recovery program that was much more accessible to all types of Christians than the Oxford program he was working from. Not one to be constrained by the task at hand Bill also wrote a hallucination-inspired chapter to the agnostics in his Big Book called “Alcoholics Anonymous”; here he suggested that even the non-religious might be able to stay sober under certain circumstances. Bill wrote to several religious figureheads to assure them that his AA was not taking over the job of religion or suggesting people stay away from churches; he proudly included letters in his Big Book that suggested AA would make people better Christians.

At least twenty years passed since Bill Wilson accidentally suggested proto-SBNR as a sufficient precondition for recovery before the core concepts of SBNR were written down as part of the canon for a new 12-step fellowship. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) specifically invited people with no religious affiliation to be full members, and is often referred to as a “Spiritual Not Religious” (no but) program; the idea that it doesn’t matter what type of Christian you are is replaced by not caring what type of God you might believe in. In the literature of NA the idea of “God the Creator” is largely replaced by tortured explanations of “God” that look as if they are designed to be inclusive to any kind of conceptual super identity.

“Our concept of God comes not from dogma, but from what we believe and what works for us. Many of us understand God to be simply whatever force keeps us clean. The right to a God of your understanding is total and without any catches.” – Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous

However, SBNR is not a rational belief system. It requires that some parts of the human condition remain magical and beyond scientific explanation. It is sometimes anti-intellectual in its varied assertions that certain types of knowledge can blind people to certain kinds of truth. SBNR may have a limited dogma, but it has a varied confusion of dogma. There is no scriptural list of approved SBNR dogma, but it is not uncommon for the person who identifies as SBNR to believe in a soul, or an afterlife, or the power of prayer, or ESP, or divine revelation, or …. and the list goes on.

I hope that by this point in this essay that you are wondering how this decomposition of religious views could be quantified in such a way as to provide data of the form that could be used for a statistical correlation. If you are picturing a spectrum of SBNR people that includes crystal-gazing yogis and the mildly disinterested folks who feel momentarily in touch with some universal chi when the barista at Starbucks gets their Latte order correct, then you are still with me. How does this spectral distribution of belief get turned into a data set?

The way it is done is with a questionnaire. The measures of spirituality are still developing. I’ve included the question list from the “Daily Spiritual Experience Scale” (DSES) developed by Lynn Underwood as an example of a widely used modern spirituality measure. It is similar to others, like the Fetzer Institutes MMRS (Multidimensional Measurement of Religiousness/Spirituality for Use in Health Research) that were used in developing it. I am sure that future measures will borrow heavily from the DSES in their genesis. If you want to use the DSES in a study you may need to obtain a license from Lynn Underwood.

“The list that follows includes items you may or may not experience. Please consider how often you directly have this experience, and try to disregard whether you feel you should or should not have these experiences. A number of items use the word ‘God.’ If this word is not a comfortable one for you, please substitute another word that calls to mind the divine or holy for you.”
Many times a day
Every day
Most days
Some days
Once in a while
Never or almost never
I feel God's presence.
I experience a connection to all of life.
During worship, or at other times when connecting with God, I feel joy which lifts me out of my daily concerns.
I find strength in my religion or spirituality.
I find comfort in my religion or spirituality.
I feel deep inner peace or harmony.
I ask for God's help in the midst of daily activities.
I feel guided by God in the midst of daily activities.
I feel God's love for me directly.
I feel God's love for me through others.
I am spiritually touched by the beauty of creation.
I feel thankful for my blessings.
I feel a selfless caring for others.
I accept others even when they do things I think are wrong.
I desire to be closer to God or in union with the divine
Not close
Somewhat close
Very close
As close as possible
In general, how close do you feel to God?


One of the things that strikes me about the DSES is that it is impossible for so-called “Spiritual Atheists” to answer. It requires definitions to be implicitly understood that to a rational atheist are simply absurd. The admittedly few studies I have looked at that use the DSES have data that congregates towards the high end of the 1-5 scale most of the questions are scored with. I think this could be due to the fact that someone who, for instance, implicitly understands what “feeling God’s love directly” means would probably feel that love quite often. It might be more useful to have questions that worked for a wider spectrum of potentially spiritual people?

Alcoholism and addiction are diseases of the brain. The addicted brain is unable to rationally develop ways of combating the disease. Some directing force that is outside of the addicted brain is required for recovery. There are many treatment options that are correlated with slightly higher or lower positive recovery outcome rates. Spirituality, as defined in ways that exclude the participation of individuals with truly atheistic world views, is one of the most common worthwhile-looking treatment options. If the $16 billion dollars in annual addiction treatment spending is going to begin providing treatment options to Atheists we will need to address the deep-seated paradigms that exclude atheists from proper notice in treatment programs.

Unfortunately, in my experience, it is more common for Atheists to be skeptical of basic concepts in addiction treatment, like the disease concept of addiction, than to have the desire to address the problems with developing effective treatment options.