Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Taliban Hackers Hijack Salt Lake Tribune Website, Call for Totalitarian Oppression of Unvaxxed

Thanks to certain contacts across Asia and the Middle East, I've heard off the record that a well-funded group of hackers working for the Taliban--now flush with resources after our generous exit--were responsible for the January 15 hacking of the normally secure Salt Lake Tribune website. On behalf of the Taliban, the hackers posted a shocking opinion column calling for government persecution, if not eradication, of the unvaxxed as if they were loathsome infidels. The result, of course, was the notorious column, "Utah leaders have surrendered to COVID pandemic, the Editorial Board writes." The piece calls for one immediate action so radical that I feel readers should have immediately spotted the prank and recognized the hand of the Taliban:

Were Utah a truly civilized place, the governor’s next move would be to find a way to mandate the kind of mass vaccination campaign we should have launched a year ago, going as far as to deploy the National Guard to ensure that people without proof of vaccination would not be allowed, well, anywhere.

Of course, this uncreative parody of Soylent Green, funny as it may be, reflects foreign confusion about how things work in America, where citizens don't need to carry papers to get a police state's approval to go places, and where a governor can't simply order troops to drive out citizens or even exterminate them (the apparent implication of not being allowed to be, well, anywhere, of course) when they don't comply with a regime's wishes of the moment. These are the crude fantasies of stone-age totalitarians (no offense to the Taliban intended -- there were many positives about the Stone Age, such as being relatively carbon neutral), not the fruit of the more literate and genteel minds behind the Tribune. 

So please, don't take this seriously, and don't blame the Tribune. It's a Taliban thing, and not even the Taliban in general, I'm told, but a specific radical splinter group known as the Talibune, proud for one day to have written for the Salt Lake Talibune. Unfortunately, with the many billions of capital they recently received from us, they may have funding for many more similar gags in the near future, so please be on guard and be ready at all times to ignore apparent threats to your Constitutional rights. 

Another tell-tale sign of Taliban origins is the so-last-year implication that this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and the appallingly divisive notion that if we can only get rid of those deplorables, our problems will be solved. The educated among us have long-since learned that the benefit of the vaccines is reducing personal risk when ill. Except for those living in caves (again, no offense, Taliban -- caves can be lovely places high in equity, vibrant communal living, and energy conservation), we've all realized that the vaccines don't do much to prevent transmission or prevent infection. Vaccines may be effective, especially for older people or and those with various health risks, in greatly reducing the impact of the disease, but the disease is going to spread and persist and mutate for years to come. Omicron is spreading among vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. I'm double vaxxed and was diagnosed early last week with COVID. as was my wife, who is also double vaxxed. It seems we can spread it and get it easily, vaxxed or not. I'm glad I'm vaxxed, but we need to respect the choice of those who hesitate or have legitimate reasons to wait

Finally, the surest evidence of all that the good folks at the real Salt Lake Tribune (not the Salt Lake Talibune!) did not write the hacked column of Jan. 15 might be the diversity implications of the piece. The Taliban don't yet understand that certain minorities in the US tend to be less vaccinated than white people. The pro-diversity and pro-equity minds that gently guide the Tribune certainly would not call for oppressive means to compel hesitant people of color to be denied basic rights. To think that we need to use the military power of the National Guard to bully them in order for Utah to be "more civilized" should make this ugly prank all the more obvious. It's just too bad it wasn't published on April 1 so readers would be more willing to ask if this was just an insensitive joke. With hackers like this running unfettered, from now on we must consider every day as April 1 when we read the news.

Without a legitimate social good argument, without a reasonable right in America to deny personal privacy and body sovereignty ("my body, my choice"), and now with the availability of effective treatments for mitigating the impact of the disease, there is no justification to compel anyone to take an injection, especially one that has not had the normal years of extensive safety testing, an injection that is not needed as the only possible way to cope with an existential threat. Whether to get it or not must be a personal decision based on informed consent and free will, not bureaucrats deciding they should determine what medical treatment others get, and forcing all of us to carry papers are if subjects of totalitarians who get to determine where and when we can have their permission to gather or travel. That may seem OK to the writers of a gag column on the other side of the world, but this is still America, a place with traditions, freedoms, and laws that the Talibune authors obviously do not grasp.

But how could this have happened in the first place? How did the primitive Talibune manage to bypass 21st century security systems to place their divisive verbal malware on the Tribune's site? My hacker friends in Asia (whose existence I can neither confirm nor deny, for the record) believe the breach occurred via a non-compliant Windows 10 computer that had refused the latest anti-virus booster. The partially unvaxxed device is being hauled away by the National Guard as we speak for the greater good and will be recycled into pleasant green motherboard materials to sustain more worthy low-carbon-footprint computers in the future. 

Again, please remain calm, carry on, and above all don't blame the Tribune or cancel your subscription.

Do I Dare Join the Woman in the Boat?


Arthur Becher: Woman Reading in a Boat, ca. 1910
"Woman Reading in a Boat"
by Arthur Becher, ca. 1910.
I just awoke from a dream, or series of dreamlike images, in which I stood on my familiar shore at a dock. There at the side of the dock was a small boat, a row boat, with a passenger waiting for someone to join her. The woman in the boat was not necessarily beautiful but certainly young, perhaps 30, and mysterious. She was dressed warmly and in a very old style. Her smile was familiar and seemed to beckon: "Come join me for a ride. You row, and I'll show you how different your shore looks from the middle of the lake where I live. What is big to you now will seem small. And you'll also see where I live. It's on the island, in a secluded building behind a wall. It's called a sanitarium."

The term "sanitarium" was part of the dreamlike experience and recalled my days in China were I was surprised to see buildings with titles like "City of Shanghai Workers' Sanitarium." To me, "sanitarium" often means a residence for the treatment of the severely mentally ill, but it can also mean a place or institution concerned with promoting health. Rather than an institution for those society shuns as insane, it might be simply a place for healing of many kinds.

But why would I set foot on the boat and begin the hard work of rowing just to see a new perspective offered by a stranger? This is the challenge readers have when confronted with the invitation from any author. Why should I bother? Why should I care about seeing my world from afar or getting up close to you and your island and especially your sanitarium? That just sounds a little crazy.

It took several glances for me to understand the familiarity of the dark-haired woman and her smile. She was quiet, she was patient, and she simply sat there, waiting, as if she knew eventually I would take the frightening step of shifting my weight away from what is firm and safe for the rocky, insecure boat, to pick up the oars and begin what could be a difficult journey to unknown regions.

The woman, I suddenly realized after the dream sequence, was my mother. Not quite the same eighty-nine-year-old dementia patient I now call Mom, who doesn't remember my name and who, when not in cheerful mood, will yell or scream with an operatic voice to command me and others to whatever has suddenly become urgent, but the woman in the boat was my mother when she was much younger, perhaps when she was a young mother quite busy in caring for her firstborn and soon five more siblings to follow me. Much of her mind today is trapped in times when she was still young and active, and her mind was keen. Sharp-witted, well read on a number of topics, humorous, sometimes cynical or angry, she has left many writings in journals and letters that can entertain but also trouble or perplex. I feel something about her is inviting me to pick up the oars and row to join her in seeing a different horizon and understanding that deep down, she is not the dementia patient that her decaying mind presents, but a young woman inviting me to see her in another way, on her island, in a sanitarium, or sanatorium, a place of nurturing and healing where the healing may be mine.

In my next visit, I see it's time I take her documents more seriously and begin rowing.

The invitation to step into a boat and row to a new place can be frightening, but I think many of our ancestors are inviting us to take this journey. Such journeys I think are part of the spirit of family history work, connecting the hearts of the children to the fathers and certainly to the mothers. It may be as simple as learning their names, their birthplace, and a few details about their lives, while for others there are mysterious clues wrapped up in just a few pages of writing and perhaps a damaged photograph or two. For some there are worlds of exploration open to us now through their writings or other compilations of information and stories that can lead us to see details of their islands and let us view our own comfortable world with new respect, understanding how some things we think are big may be quite small, and how some of the biggest things don't even come into view until we've rowed for quite a while.

How odd that some random dreams and images could move me to arise at 3 AM to write about a new resolution for this year. I look forward to learning more about that mysterious woman in the boat, the familiar woman I've known as "Mother" all my life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Science as a Faith: Do We Need Another Restoration?

One of our nation's leading bodies of scientific influence, the Center for Disease Control, is citing their recent scientific study -- as are their media allies like the New York Times -- to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated. The study has some easy-to-understand objectives and principles that make it a great topic for talking about science and how science works. If you care about the science education of those around you, this study might be a good one to discuss. Strangely, it can also help you understand how science is much different than religion and politics, particularly political propaganda.

When scientists do science, they must always understand that an apparent effect can have many causes and that there can be random variation that influences their observations. A "study" that doesn't try very hard to honestly consider such problems is not scientific. For example, if I have a friend who wears bright green shirts and that friend has diabetes, I might think, "Ah ha, perhaps bright green colors cause diabetes." But something else might be the cause. One human data point is not enough. To be more fair, I might go interview hundreds of diabetes patients and ask them if they have ever worn bright green colors or eaten foods with bright green food coloring. "Wow, 52% of diabetes patients have repeatedly worn bright green, and 96% have eaten bright green, and 72% regularly eat bright green! Bingo!" But that still doesn't mean anything. It's too early to condemn Mountain Dew, Skittles, and green apple Jelly Belly jelly beans for their greenness. A control group is needed in which we compare people who are similar but don't have diabetes. 

Things become more meaningful and more interesting when you add a control group. Imagine interviewing 1000 healthy people and finding that only 50% of them have ever knowingly worn or consumed bright green. Hypothesis confirmed? We're not there yet. What if the healthy people were also much younger than the diabetes patients we interviewed? What if they live in much different environments, have much different genes, have much different patterns of exercise and diet, and eat much different foods? Even if we do our best to account for all this, there is still the possibility that a statistically significant relationship between diabetes and bright green foods is not because bright green food coloring causes diabetes, but is merely correlated with a factor that is the actual cause. In this case, bright green food coloring may be consumed more by those with diabetes because it is part of a less healthy diet that they prefer, a diet with abundant bright green food coloring added to candy, soda, and various sweets, for example. The point here is that doing a study in a scientific way takes a lot of caution and thinking, and a desire to be fair and honest before we dare to declare that a hypothesis even seems to have scientific support. 

Now let's look at the CDC study on diabetes and COVID. The study is "Risk for Newly Diagnosed Diabetes > 30 Days After Sars-CoV-2 Infection Among Persons Aged < 30 Years -- United States, March 1, 2020 - June 28, 2021," prepared by Catherine E. Barrett et al., released Jan. 7, 2021. Here is the summary as published on the CDC website:


What is already known about this topic?

SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with worsening of diabetes symptoms, and persons with diabetes are at increased risk for severe COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 infection might also induce newly diagnosed diabetes.

What is added by this report?

Persons aged <18 years with COVID-19 were more likely to receive a new diabetes diagnosis >30 days after infection than were those without COVID-19 and those with prepandemic acute respiratory infections. Non–SARS-CoV-2 respiratory infection was not associated with an increased risk for diabetes.

What are the implications for public health practice?

The increased diabetes risk among persons aged <18 years following COVID-19 highlights the importance of COVID-19 prevention strategies in this age group, including vaccination for all eligible persons and chronic disease prevention and treatment.

So the CDC is calling for increased vaccination of young people because of the frightful risk of diabetes that can be caused by COVID, as demonstrated by their scientific study. Many parents will be frightened by this and may feel an increased need to take the risk of vaccination for their kids to prevent lifelong harm from diabetes. Here is where you can start doing science, if you are not a scientist, by thinking for yourself and asking questions, a practice that is actually the foundation of the scientific method. That's right, "follow the science" in the scientific world really means follow the scientific method, which begins with daring to ask questions and then seeing if the data fits a hypothesis, or not. Unfortunately, in some other worlds, such as the world of politics, ,"follow the science" means just the opposite: quit asking questions and trust your glorious leader. That's actually much more like religion when it tells you to just believe. (Good religion, in my opinion, allows for questions and doubt while seeking to provide meaningful answers and yet recognizing that faith is always needed, but not blind faith. I like faith that can grow as a result of asking questions and seeking answers patiently.)

Step one is understanding what the study did. It begins by mentioning that it is known that adults with COVID are more likely to have diabetes than those who don't. It's well known that obesity is a major factor associated with risk of death and hospitalization for adult COVID patients. The studies cited (references 4-7 in the study) all deal with patients requiring medical care. That's clear from the titles of three of the studies, and the other one (Sattish et al.) was a meta-analysis of many studies wherein "all studies were hospital-based, and the patients were mostly severely or critically ill." COVID patients needing hospitalization are much more likely to be obese. Sattish et al. state that, "While newly diagnosed diabetes in COVID-19 patients could be attributed to the stress response associated with severe illness or treatment with glucocorticoids, the diabetogenic effect of COVID-19 should also be considered...." But again, this is looking at hospitalized patients who are much more likely to be obese and have other comorbidities. What happens when BMI or other indicators of obesity are considered? that's an important question for adults and perhaps the first issue to consider in a study of children.

So how did the CDC study account for the important issue of obesity and other related factor? Here you don't have to wade through the entire study. Just search for the word "obesity" and note that it occurs only once in this critical sentence: "Third, the present analyses lacked information on covariates that could have affected the association between COVID-19 and incident diabetes, including prediabetes, race/ethnicity, and obesity status."

Hold on, you mean that the extensive healthcare databases they relied on didn't include any clues about the basic health of the children being examined? Nothing on body weight, BMI, or other indicators on obesity? No data on blood sugar level (prediabetes means blood sugar is high)? Really? 

But that's just one of several gaps. As you read the study, there are a number of questions one should ask to see if the study is based on real science or something else. A very mainstream doctor and scientist, Vinay Prasad MD MPH, a hematologist-oncologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, has done some of that work for you already in his post, "Does COVID19 cause diabetes in kids? The CDC's publishes an embarrassing study," Jan. 8, 2021. Here's an excerpt that begins with a discussion of the two databases that were used, IQVIA and HealthVerity:

In IQVIA, among kids with COVID19, a whopping 68 out of 80,000+ or 0.08% ended with diabetes; among kids without COVID19, it was 132 out of 400,000+ or 0.03% ended up with diabetes, and among kids with prior respiratory infection it was ~0.06%

The absolute risk of diabetes due to COVID (if you believed this is causal) appears to be an increase on par with a swiftly eaten bag of skittles.

Now in the HealthVerity database, the risk of diabetes post COVID19 was 0.25% (a quarter of 1 percent), if you were tested for COVID19 but negative, it was 0.19% (one fifth of 1 percent). Here, COVID appears as risky as a McDonalds supersized soda.

The CDC trumpets this finding as “children and teens 18 years & younger who have had #COVID19 are up to 2.5 times more likely to have a #diabetes diagnosis after infection”

Is that a fair take away or a fear-mongering distortion?

First, the whole analysis hinges on the idea that age-sex matched kids without COVID should be comparable to the kids who got covid in terms of risk of diabetes. The only difference between the kids should be that some, unfortunately, had COVID. But COVID may be more likely to affect kids of lower socioeconomic status, of certain races, and kids who were already overweight or suffering from medical problems.

Does the CDC attempt to correct for any of these confounders? Not at all. They surely have height and weight, and could adjust for BMI, but do not. I am truly puzzled as to why.

Second, they don’t have the true denominator. This is only kids who present and have a COVID19 diagnosis. Seroprevalence [evidence of COVID from blood tests] is needed to find the real denominator of kids with COVID19. This will lower the absolute risks. COVID19 may be downgraded from a whole bag of skittles to a single, red skittle.

Does the CDC adjust for this? Nope

Third, kids who seek medical care for COVID19 may get more blood tests than those without COVID19, and perhaps more than those with other respiratory viruses in yesteryear. This too may capture more diabetes.

Does the CDC correct for ascertainment? Not at all

Finally, the HealthVerity database is particularly odd, as the kids who get tested but test negative might be very dissimilar from those with COVID19. It may include some who are planning a trip to Maui (Hawaii used to require testing to visit), and compare them to kids who come in feeling very sick.

Does the CDC correct for this? No....

Lastly, the CDC uses this study to push vaccination, the findings “underscore the importance of COVID-19 prevention among all age groups, including vaccination for all eligible children and adolescents…”. But, the study provides no useful information to further weigh the risk benefit balance for vaccination beyond what was presented at the VRBAC meeting for 5 to 11, and a prior one on 12-17, a topic of wide global debate, with differing recommendations by nation (US vs UK).

As Marty Makary says, the CDC’s study would not pass a 7th grade science fair competition. It is certainly not serious scholarship. I have no idea if COVID19 causes more diabetes in kids than not having it; and the study gives me no better information to guide vaccination policies.

 Or you can watch Dr. Prasad discuss this study on YouTube:

Maybe it's true that the databases the CDC study chose to examine did not make such information available, but even then, given what is known about obesity and COVID, it should have been possible to make some reasonable adjustments. In fact, the CDC's own data could have been applied to make this study slightly more reasonable. See V. Wanga et al., "Characteristics and Clinical Outcomes of Children and Adolescents Aged <18 Years Hospitalized with COVID-19 — Six Hospitals, United States, July–August 2021," MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 70 (2021):1766–1772, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm705152a3. There we find that among young people hospitalized for acute COVID, "approximately two thirds of those aged 12–17 years had obesity." That's much higher than normal, according to the CDC's data on childhood obesity or to data shared by StateofChildhoodObesity.org.

Failure to even try to consider obesity and prediabetes means that this study wasn't about doing real science, but something else. Propaganda, perhaps, for the noble cause of scaring parents into having their children be vaccinated for a disease that has almost no risk for children and has not had the years of safety testing normally needed to approve a new vaccine nor even the same level of testing as the vaccines approved for adults. 

I know, to question the CDC or Fauci is to question the faith, the Faith of Science itself, where the new scientific method is to listen faithfully to the Anointed Experts and High Priests of Science, and stop asking apostate questions or be cancelled and shamed. But back in the days before science became a faith, the scientific method was all about asking questions and not relying on authority but data and inquiry to figure things out. Maybe it's time for another restoration, or a little less faith.


Saturday, January 01, 2022

Many Questions about Dementia and Just One Answer So Far

An expert on senior care, Professor Thomas Kitwood, once quipped that "when you've met one person patient with dementia, you've met ... one person with dementia." The point, of course, is that every dementia patient is unique, with an endless range of variety in behavior and symptoms.

The past 3 years and especially the past 3 weeks have given my wife and me a wide variety of experiences with dementia. We have experienced very little compared to those hidden heroes of humanity who are helping a loved one every day for years, giving much of their life in complete but often unthanked service. Still, in our occasional efforts to assist others with their heavy caregiver duties, we've encountered incredible variety.

One woman was sweet and grateful for every little thing we did, while another was angry, demanding, and utterly implacable. Another was deeply spiritual, always speaking of her faith and the Lord, with an authority as if she were a prophetess dictating scripture for her posterity, while shortly after that I dealt with a patient who mocked the Church and my faith, cackling with sarcasm about the idiotic Mormons. One was shy and very private, unwilling to allow me as a male to assist in bathroom duties, while another was uninhibited and highly inappropriate in sexual language and flirtatious behavior.  

One was quiet and demure, while another cursed constantly, apparently feeling, as many modern comedians do, that her repetitive use of profanity was wildly entertaining. One kicked, scratched, gouged, and screamed at the top of her mighty lungs with what seemed like a powerful operatic voice gone evil, while another was gentle and loved to have her hand held and her back scratched. Yet another also yelled loudly, but in exuberant joy, shouting "Hallelujah" and singing in delight when someone she loved showed up or when she ate an especially delicious and exotic delicacy such as my wife's amazing buttered toast with a touch of honey.

One is deeply moved by beautiful music, becoming calm and even moved to tears of joy when listening to Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, while the same music causes another to grow angry as if listening to pure noise, demanding that we "turn that cra* off!" One was noted for her passionate interest in her cats, even secretly stashing away bits of Kentucky Fried chicken wrapped in tissues under her bed, in her pockets, and elsewhere so that she could later feed her favorite food to her precious cats when her guardians weren't watching since the vet had ordered her to not feed that greasy food to the overweight "children," as she called them. Another knew she had pets but largely ignored them, neither feeding nor petting her once beloved felines, though she would look at them occasionally.

One is constantly on the go, demanding that we hurry, hurry, hurry and move her about or rush her into the car and take her to her birthplace in southern Utah, loving nothing more than a long drive, while another will become agitated in the car and may strongly resist getting in, even when it is necessary for a doctor visit or other purpose.

One missed her husband dearly and constantly asked where he was. Time after time after time she became solemn when I broke the bad news that he had just passed away last week, last month, or last year. Another seems to have no idea that she had been married, and one, in spite of raising six children in a long and happy marriage, suddenly "came out" this week and declared that she loved and wanted women, women, women (though it soon appeared that her orientation at the moment was actually bisexual). 

Such variety among elderly people with dementia was surprising to me, especially since all of them are the same person, my mother.

I mention this with the approval of her guardian, my sister, and in a desire to know what others experience and what science might tell us, if any of you are up on the latest research. I'm also interested in the possibility that these wildly different aspects of one person with dementia might be related to dissociative identity disorder (also called multiple personality disorder). Years ago, a noteworthy amount of my time while serving as bishop involved working with a woman with dissociative identity disorder.  In exploring what this woman was going through, it turned out that there were 76 distinct identities, I think all with names and many with ages, possibly related to various times of great fear in her terribly painful life, victimized by a large number of people. Some of the greatest spiritual experiences and most obvious miraculous events in my life occurred when working with that woman, and I feel that period was one of the most precious and important times of my life. She had excellent professional help, but I hope that my efforts to help were also of some value. In any case, today she strikes me as an amazingly helpful and successful woman who blesses the lives of many others in hearty service. She attributes her healing to the power of the Savior, which I think is the only explanation for the healing and restoration that has occurred.

The phenomenon of multiple personalities, though disparaged by some experts, is one that I find to be real and convincing, based on two people I've worked with, both of whom experienced severe trauma in their lives. But that phenomenon seems surprisingly familiar to me in dealing with my mother these days, where there seem to be a number of distinct personalities that can switch in and out. I used to just think of these as "moods" but it's not just a happy mood or bad mood. It really is more like different sets of characteristics coming in and out of focus, sometimes very quickly, triggering between the cackling sarcastic woman who seems possessed by demons to the sweet, gentle, grateful mother I like best or versions of the various characters described above. There are differences and maybe it's better to consider just a collection of diverse attitudes that can be brought out by different triggers. Whatever it is, I'm curious to know more and welcome your thoughts.

Do any of you see similar traits in the elderly people with dementia that you deal with? Is it possible that the fragmentation behind multiple personality disorders could have a relationship with some forms of dementia?

There is one thing that seems certain and clear amid all this mental vacillation and all my unanswered questions. No matter where she is mentally, she remembers that she has children and wonders where they are. She may not remember their names, where they live, or even how many she has, but she knows she has them, and she wonders why they aren't here with her. She is happy when family members are around. She loves to be the center of attention, but also loves just to have the bustle of multiple loved ones nearby, even if they are talking to each other and not always with her. "Where are the others?" is a common question when few are in the house, and the desire to be loved seems to be the basis of this trait.

While she forgets so much and can ask the same question over and over again for many minutes without remembering that she's been given the answer already, she recognizes people who love her and is happy to have them around. If someone treats her poorly, as had happened in her mind with some caregivers or healthcare workers, she doesn't trust them after that. Strangers who come to serve her with kindness will soon gain her trust and she will recognize them and be happy to seem them once that rapport is built. She's very sensitive and very aware, even if the names of things and loved ones slip away. She may seem like a wild animal or toddler at times, but there's a sensitive woman in there in need of compassion and love.

I have many questions about this tiring work of caring for the elderly and know so little, but have learned that those like my sister and her husband or an aunt of mine and her husband who have sacrificed so much of their lives and careers to provide the best care at home (when this is possible) for a declining parent or loved one are real heroes and deserve more support and recognition from the rest of us. I also suspect that no matter how desperate the mental state of a loved one is, visits and attention will bless them, even if they can't say thanks, even if they don't seem grateful or happy, and even if when they first look at you, as my mother did to me at the beginning of this visit, they say, "Get the he** out!" I left for a while, and a couple hours later she was grateful that I was here.

Questions abound about what to do (e.g., home care vs. care in a facility) and what's happening in their head, but as with so many of our deepest challenges in life, love is the answer. Treat them with love, even though it may never be reciprocated in this life, knowing that our elderly are beloved sons and daughters of God who sense and feel our love for them, at least in their souls, and this love will be remembered when we meet again after this life. Spend time with them and express your love as best you can to follow that basic commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother." 

In addition to seeking to love our elderly, let's be sure to love, respect, and support those who step up for what can be the most difficult service of all, caring day after for a person in need of constant help. I'm amazed at the love and sacrifice of some of these heroes.  We'll be heading back to the comforts of home and the joy of our own nearby grandchildren soon, while the needs of this unpredictable woman will continue on and on. I'm so touched by the work of those who live with her and week after week oversee her care.

The woman who was angry, shouting, and trying to gouge me in the middle of the night is now cheerful and is begging to get in the car and go. We're going to give this a try and see how far we can go. The weather looks great for a change. Wish us luck!

Sunday, December 26, 2021

May We Follow the Science and Stand for Life

From The Chosen, "The Messengers"
I began my Christmas Day by watching the "Messengers" episode of The Chosen in which the baby Jesus is born. It was touching to contemplate the physical reality of his birth and the courage and love of his mother, a mother that to the world was a seemingly unworthy mother out of wedlock.  The Son of God was born in an unsanitary manger, small, weak, and vulnerable. His life was preserved, though there were those who would have slain him even as an infant. 

I could not help but ponder the fate of other vulnerable infants in our day in a nation where tens of million have suffered the brutality of abortion.

If we are going to sincerely follow the science as we deal with the medical and social issues of our days, let's follow the science of life. What we have learned in the past few decades about the miracle of life has expanded our horizons in many ways, revealing the miraculous brilliance and majesty hidden in our cells and our genes, steadily adding to the wonder of reproduction. Science today makes it abundantly clear that an unborn child is a unique human. It is not merely a clump of cells that is part of the mother's body, but a unique human with its own brain, its own circulatory system, and of course its own unique DNA. It is a separate body, vulnerable but alive, sheltered in the body of the mother. That tiny infant is more than amazing -- it is miraculous, a divine gift. Based on the latest science, we now know much more about what happens in the life of this delicate human after conception. Here's a three-minute scientific visualization, "Meet Baby Olivia" from LiveAction.org, that could help save the lives of millions if more of us were to grasp and follow this science:


How have we reached a state where our law discounts the value of a human life before birth and allows millions of the unborn to be killed?

Many liberal scholars and lawyers admit that the law behind Roe v. Wade was abysmal.  (For further details, see "The pervading dishonesty of Roe v. Wade" by Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner, Jan. 23, 2012.) But the bad science used to deny the humanity of the victims of abortion and to mask the brutality of abortion also needs more attention.

Roe v. Wade relied upon what was already bad science in 1973. Part of that bad science was the claim that the unborn child could not feel pain during the brutal abortion procedure. Doctors who care for unborn and premature children are aware of the obvious fact that they feel pain and are extremely sensitive. Few parents would choose abortion of they understood that they had been deliberately lied to by abortion advocates claiming that the baby does not feel pain. Few could endure the thought of the painful brutality of today's abortion procedures that occur in the second or third trimesters if they knew the basics of the science about the unborn child. We must learn from science to help our withering civilization become more humane. 

Part of the bad science behind Roe v. Wade involved claims about when the fetus can become viable outside the womb. As science has progressed, the ability to save the life of a premature infant has far exceeded what was thought possible in 1973. In 1973, it was generally believed that a fetus born before 28 weeks could not survive. Today those born at 28 weeks routinely survive. A fetus weighing only 1 pound or less can live outside the womb and be given hope for a happy and productive life. But viability outside the womb may not be a reasonable criterion to decide whether the unborn child has any rights. The humanity of the living fetus needs to be considered, not just its dependence on others.

Part of the bad science behind Roe v. Wade was the claim that there was no scientific consensus on when life began. Other questionable aspects of the evidence presented to justify the decision include completely fraudulent data, such as the numbers presented to make it seem like thousands of women were dying from illegal abortion, that legal abortion would save women's lives, and, of course, that the fetus is not yet a human being. See "Exposing the six lies of Roe v. Wade that led to legal abortion" by Nancy Flanders.

Here are the thoughts of a doctor who is focused on the care of the unborn, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, author of "The Obsolete Science Behind Roe v. Wade" for the Wall Street Journal, Oct. 28, 2021:

As a diagnostic radiologist—whose youngest patients are fetuses, who are very much alive—I submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization urging the justices to rethink Roe, a case premised on a claim about science. I was joined by two other female physicians, a neonatologist and an obstetrician, who also value their youngest patients, believing that whether inside their mothers or born, premature or full-term, they are worthy of respect and protection.

Ultrasound technology was in its infancy in the 1970s, when there was much more uncertainty about life before birth. The first ultrasound machines, introduced in 1958, were enormous, and the images were rudimentary. It was only in the later 1970s that fetal ultrasound became widely available, with increasingly detailed images of recognizably human babies. Black-and-white ultrasound images are now found on refrigerators of expectant parents across America. New three-dimensional images have put a human face on the person once dehumanized as a mere clump of cells.

Perfectly apparent now, to the justices sitting on today’s court as well as the public, are the liveliness and humanity of babies at 15 weeks of gestation—the age at which Mississippi proposes to protect them from elective termination.

Nestled within their mothers, these fetuses on average are 6.4 inches long and weigh 4.1 ounces. They have the proportions of a newborn—seemingly all head and rounded belly. The major organs are formed and functioning, and although the child receives nutrients and oxygen through the mother’s umbilical cord, the fetal digestive, urinary and respiratory systems are practicing for life outside the womb. The sex of the child is easy to discern by this point. The baby swallows and even breathes, filling the lungs with amniotic fluid and expelling it. The heart is fully formed, its four chambers working hard, with the delicate valves opening and closing.

A healthy baby at 15 weeks is an active baby. Unless the child is asleep, kicking and arm-waving are commonly seen during ultrasound evaluations. The fetal spine is a marvel of intricacy, and it is most often gently curved as the fetus rests against the mother’s uterine wall. Often, I watch as babies plant their feet against the uterine wall and stretch vigorously. Sometimes a delicate hand—with all five fingers—approaches the face and appears to scratch an itch. Fingernails aren’t visible, but they are present. We can see how the bones of the leg meet the tiny ankles and the many-boned feet.

At 15 weeks, the brain’s frontal lobes, ventricles, and thalamus fill the oval-shaped skull. The baby’s profile is endearing in its petite perfection: gently sloping nose, distinct upper and lower lips, eyes that open and close. With the advent of 3D ultrasound, we can now see the fetal face in all its detail.

These are the patients I encounter daily in my work as a radiologist. Clearly human, clearly alive, no longer mysteriously hidden from the eyes and knowledge of man, they ask us to consider them not disposable nonhumans but valuable members of our human family.

Yes, our understanding was different in 1973. But in Roe’s own terms, we have arrived at a much different “point in the development of man’s knowledge” about life in utero. The Supreme Court’s judgement should reflect that advancement and put an end to the casual cruelty of unfettered abortion. 

Dr. Christie has joined two other woman doctors in filing a brief to the Supreme Court as they consider a direct challenge to Roe v Wade, where "science" was used to deny protection to the fetus before viability. Christie and others are asking the Supreme Court to strike down Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, thereby allowing Mississippi to ban elective abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

Christie also addresses the issue of fetal pain in "The Pro-Abortion Case Is Based on Bad Science" for National Review, Sept. 21, 20201:

We want the justices to know that there have been vast changes in our fields in the decades since Roe. We physicians know so much more about and can do so much more for the unborn babies in our care than we could in 1973. The patient-doctor relationship with our fetal patients has grown and grown, reflecting scientific advances in the areas of fetal therapeutics, fetal imaging, and our understanding of fetal pain. Our growing knowledge of fetal pain, especially, demands the end of Roe, which enshrines the nationwide legality of the breathtaking brutality of second- and third-trimester elective abortion. In short, if Roe is based on science, then let it stand or fall today on modern science.

At the time of Roe, the scientific consensus held that for a fetus to feel pain, her brain cortex had to be developed and connected to peripheral nerves through the spine, and that these pathways were established around 24 weeks’ gestation. Therefore, second-trimester abortion (dilatation and extraction), in which the fetus is dismembered alive with forceps, could not cause the baby suffering. Ethical and moral considerations that would be naturally awakened at the thought of causing even any animal pain when being “put down” could be set aside in the case of the elective termination of a young human. That was then. Now, however, the science presents a drastically different picture, demanding a new judicial response from a compassionate country.

In the Journal of Medical Ethics last year, Doctors Stuart Derbyshire and John Bockmann wrote, “Current neuroscientific evidence supports the possibility of fetal pain before the ‘consensus’ cutoff of 24 weeks.” In fact, Derbyshire and Bockmann conclude that they may experience pain as early as twelve weeks.

That’s the science from the journals. Clinicians, however, have not waited for the research scientists to reach a consensus on neural pathways and cortical activity in regard to fetal pain. Neonatologists treating premature babies born at 23, 22, or even 21 weeks (something unthought of in 1973 when viability was much later) watch their little patients react with distress to painful stimuli, and they protect them with analgesia and anesthesia just as they do their full-term patients.

Other clinicians who know that babies before the 24th week of gestation feel pain are fetal surgeons. The first successful fetal surgery occurred in 1982, and the field has since exploded. Removing a living unborn child from the womb, operating on him or her, and returning the baby to finish growing inside the mother was also unthought of in 1973. Today during a fetal surgery, a specialist in fetal anesthesia is invariably present to administer a general anesthetic to the baby, as well as a paralytic agent and an opioid. The aim? Preventing unnecessary and gruesome suffering for the fetal patient.

A lot has changed since Roe put America in the same class with North Korea and China by legalizing second- and third-trimester elective abortion. The undeniable and ever-more plainly visible humanity of the unborn child has since increased our sensitivity to these vulnerable persons’ moral claims on our compassion and respect. Advances in fetal science have made plain just how barbaric and unethical their terminations are. For us as doctors, who establish warm and urgent ties with our fetal patients, who advocate for them, care for them, pray for them, it is crystal clear that Roe must pass away and a more humane America be born. 

For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considering the issue of abortion, I'd like to recommend the thoughtful and courageous views expressed by Dr. Terryl Givens, a profound thinker and scholar who has helped many of us better appreciate our religion and our scriptures. In "A Latter-day Saint Defense of the Unborn" written for Public Square, Oct. 19, 2020, he begins with a well-reasoned call for us to approach the issue with an open mind, and an open heart, as he shares perspectives that might help us reason more effectively with others:

The intellect disconnected from the heart is just an organ for winning arguments. And few arguments of our day are as disconnected from both the heart and the facts as those disputes involving “reproductive rights.” Most partisans of the pro-life and pro-choice positions are immovable in their entrenchment. I am pro-life.  I taught in a private liberal arts college for three decades, where, as is typical in higher education, political views are as diverse as in the North Korean parliament. In numerous conversations with colleagues over the years, I was consistently dismayed by the general lack of thoughtful rationales for their embrace of the pro-choice position. Frequently, I found they were uninformed, unreflective, but occasionally—very occasionally—they were surprisingly open to reconsideration upon a more honest evaluation of the facts and premises behind their positions. In the hope that some of my fellow pro-choice Saints and other readers may similarly be open to a deeper engagement with this issue, I offer the following information and discussion.

Givens deals with a number of the issues raised above, but I'd like to especially call attention to his thoughts on the fundamental issue of life that needs to be considered, regardless of our political leanings:

Can’t I be personally pro-life but politically pro-choice?

If abortion is wrong, it is wrong because it involves the intentional destruction of another human being. This is really the heart of the matter. You must ask yourself, why are you personally opposed to abortion? I am not personally opposed to abortion because of religious commitment or precept, because of some abstract principle of “the sanctity of life.” I am personally opposed because my heart and mind, my basic core humanity revolts at the thought of a living sensate human being undergoing vivisection in the womb, being vacuum evacuated, subjected to a salt bath, or, in the “late-term” procedure, having its skull pierced and brain vacuumed out. (I have spared the reader the clinical descriptions of those procedures, although I think those who support abortion rights while willfully avoiding direct confrontation with the specifics of what they countenance are in an indefensible position). According to the Mayo Clinic, an infant in the womb has a beating heart by 5-6 weeks of pregnancy. The first electrical brain activity also appears at this point. Well over two-thirds of abortions are performed at that stage or later. And as we saw above, at a very early, undefined moment in the child’s development, a nervous system responds to the horror of such inflicted suffering. There is no more ethical or logical sense in being “personally opposed, but pro-choice” than in being personally opposed to sex trafficking, slavery, or child abuse, “but” pro-choice regarding the adult’s prerogatives in those cases. Abortion is not like heavy drinking or pornography or blaspheming, where one deplores the action but accords another the right to act immorally. Abortion is of that class of wrongs that entails the willful infliction of pain or killing on another human being.

Ultimately, the pro-life position is not a commitment predicated on sectarian values or God’s precepts. It is the fruit of a more universal commitment to protect the most vulnerable and voiceless. It is a commitment to the most fundamental obligation we have as part of the human family: to defend the defenseless.

Here, science helps us understand the fundamental issue more clearly than ever: what was once (and still often is) called just an inanimate "clump of cells" is known to be much more. It is much more lively and human -- and beautiful --  than those who profit from abortion would ever want their customers to know. When we understand the physical reality of the fetus, an unborn child, and the mechanics and brutality of abortion, it will be easier for us to frame the ethical questions properly and recognize that something very tragic and inhumane is being sold to us at a terrible price. Humane alternatives are needed. Compassion for the weakest and most vulnerable among us is needed. May our hearts and minds join in praying that this nation might be a safer place for the unborn, a less violent and brutal place that respects and treasures life. May those in power have the courage to resist the political and financial pressures to sustain the abortion industry and deny the humanity of the unborn. May those asked to judge on this matter judge widely, and listen to their hearts and their minds, and pay attention to sound science this time.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Recent Discoveries and Advances Published by Interpreter, Part 1

If you aren't following the journal Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, you may have missed some discoveries and advances in understanding our scriptures that could be helpful for your own spiritual and intellectual journey. I will disclose my bias as a co-editor of the journal, where I have the privilege in this volunteer role of working with some remarkable authors as their articles go through our peer review process. It's great to work with the many bright people who submit articles to the Interpreter Foundation for consideration in the journal. It has been a delight to learn of their insights and discoveries as they dig deep into many aspects of our faith and our scriptures. Here are just a few of many recent highlights. 

"An Ishmael Buried Near Nahom" by Neal Rappleye


One of the most intriguing Book of Mormon evidences from the Arabian Peninsula involves the episode during Lehi's journey in which Ishmael dies and was then buried in a place that was called Nahom, as described in 1 Nephi 16:34. The discovery of three altars bearing the NHM name, apparently related to Yemen's Nihm tribe near that region was active, indicates that a name related to Nahom was prominent in Lehi's era, providing hard evidence from the right time and roughly the right place in favor of the plausibility of an unusual place name in the Book of Mormon. Much has been written about that and also discussed here, with a plausible candidate for the place Nahom being in the region of Wadi Jawf, not far from Sanaa. From Wadi Jawf, it is possible to make the abrupt turn in direction from generally south-southeast to nearly due east, as Nephi describes, and travel without having to cross the deadly Empty Quarter or to face impossible mountains or other impassable obstacles to reach at least one and apparently both of the leading candidates for Bountiful in southern Oman. See, for example, Warren Aston, “Across Arabia with Lehi and Sariah: 'Truth Shall Spring out of the Earth,'” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15/2 (2006): 8–25, 110–13; https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1401&context=jbms. Also see Warren P. Aston and Michaela K. Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Comp., 1994); Warren P. Aston, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia: The Old World Setting of the Book of Mormon (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Publishing, 2015); and George Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness: 81 New, Documented Evidences that the Book of Mormon is a True History (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2003). For videos, see Lehi in Arabia, DVD, directed by Chad Aston (Brisbane, Australia: Aston Productions, 2015), available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgDNCG-7x98, and Journey of Faith, DVD, directed by Peter Johnson (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship, 2006), available at https://journeyoffaithfilms.com/videos/watch-journey-of-faith.

The New Publication

Thanks to Neal Rappleye, we now have what may be another find of interest, one of 400 carved funerary stelae from Wadi Jawf. With detailed scholarship and a good deal of caution, Neal Rappleye explores the possible significance of an ancient inscription from Yemen indicating that someone named Ishmael (equivalent to the carved y s1mʿʾl in Epigraphic South Arabian) was buried, possibly in the region of the candidate for Nahom, in what may have been Lehi's day. We don't know if it was the same Ishmael of the Book of Mormon, of course, but as Rappleye gently suggests, "circumstantial evidence suggests that such is a possibility worth considering." However, there are questions about the provenance (not the authenticity) of the stela since it was part of a group of looted items that were recovered, so the exact site where it was found is not known, though it seems we can say that it was made for an Ishmael "buried somewhere within or near the Wadi Jawf, ca. 6th century BC." It is possible that it was associated with the ancient lands of the Nihm tribe, as is the case for other items in the collection. The dating of the stela and nature of the name are also compatible with the Book of Mormon account:

The stela is paleographically dated to 6th–5th centuries BC, but Mounir Arbach and his co-authors consider it stylistically among “a few coarse examples” of the incised face elements stela type “known for the 7th–6th centuries BC.”

The name Yasmaʿʾīl is the South Arabian form of the name Ishmael, even though the two names may look somewhat different in translation. The inscribed y s1mʿʾl is exactly how the Hebrew name yšmʿʾl (ישמעאל) — typically rendered as “Ishmael” in English — would be spelled in Epigraphic South Arabian. In fact, the two names have the exact same etymology, meaning “God has heard/hearkened,” or “may God hear,” and in The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, the Old South Arabian y s1mʿʾl is listed as an equivalent to the Hebrew name yšmʿʾl (Ishmael). Thus, this stela indicates that a man named the equivalent of Ishmael was buried in or near the Wadi Jawf around the 6th century BC, about the same time period Ishmael was buried at Nahom, according to the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 16:34).

The name “Ishmael” (Yasmaʿʾil) in Old South Arabian script.
The name “Ishmael” (Yasmaʿʾil) in Old South Arabian script.

Rappleye also explains why the name most likely has Hebrew rather than Arabic origins. 

Scholars examining the collection of stelae propose that they were made either for foreigners from the north passing through the area or for the members of the lower ranks of society. In either case, this could fit the case of Lehi's family, traveling as nomads without the gold and silver Lehi once had in Jerusalem. 

Rappleye's conclusion is intriguing but also appropriately cautious:

At the very least, it seems reasonable to suggest that if the Ishmael of the Book of Mormon was buried with some sort of identifying marker, it probably would [Page 39]have looked something like the Yasmaʿʾil stela — a crudely carved stela typical of foreigners traveling through the area, who lacked substantial time or resources to afford a more extravagantly carved and engraved burial stone.

Although a firmer conclusion eludes us, the very fact that an Ishmael was buried in close proximity to the Nihm tribal region around the very time the Book of Mormon indicates that a man named Ishmael was buried at Nahom is rather remarkable. Such a fact certainly does not weaken the case for the Book of Mormon’s historicity.

Please don't think or say that "scholars have found the grave marker of Ishmael in the Book of Mormon at Nahom." But what that they have found, and what scholars have concluded about the collection of Wadi Jawf funerary stelae in general, at least modestly demonstrates the plausibility of the Book of Mormon claim that a Hebrew man named Ishmael was buried at a place called Nahom near Wadi Jawf. Wadi Jawf, as Warren Aston has reported (see his books In the Footsteps of Lehi  and more recently Lehi and Sariah in Arabia), appears to be just about the only region where one can turn nearly due east from the main trails leading south through Yemen and not only have a chance of surviving, but, with a little guidance from the Liahona to chose the right final wadi, be on a path that could lead directly to a plausible candidate for Bountiful such as a Khor Kharfot at Wadi Sayq (or nearby Khor Rori, another leading candidate that some prefer). 

Don't make too much of Rappleye's fascinating find, but it does merit attention and is one more interesting work of genuine scholarship advancing our appreciation of the plausibility of Lehi's Trail in the Book of Mormon. Rappleye's careful work helps strengthen the general case for Nahom as one of the "four pillars" of Lehi's Trail, as Warren Aston put it, places in Nephi's account with strong candidates for specific Book of Mormon locations in Arabia that were completely unknown in Joseph Smith's day. These include: 1) the River of Laman in the Valley of Lemuel,  2) the place called Nahom, 3) Bountiful, and most recently identified, 4) the place Shazer, as Warren Aston reported in 2020 in another must-read publication at Interpreter. 


"The People of Canaan: A New Reading of Moses 7" by Adam Stokes

Given the mission and scope of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, it is natural that our authors tend to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This paper was a welcome exception from a man who has great interest in and respect for the Book of Moses, even though his own church does not accept it as scripture. Stokes was formerly with the Community of Christ, but is now a member of the Church of Jesus Christ with the Elijah Message, an organization that traces its roots to David Whitmer. Taking on the sensitive issue of race in the Book of Moses, Stokes brings out some clear and important points that we often miss when reading passages in Moses 7 that seem to reflect old racial stereotypes. What made this article especially interesting to me is that its author is black, though I didn't know that until after the paper had been accepted and I received the photo now published at the end of the article and also on our "About the Author" page for Adam Stokes

Here is the abstract for this important article:

Moses 7 is one of the most famous passages in all of Restoration scripture. It is also one of the most problematic in regard to its description of the people of Canaan as black (v. 8) and as a people who were not preached to by the patriarch Enoch (v. 12). Later there is also a mention of “the seed of Cain,” who also are said to be black (v. 22). This article examines the history of interpretation of Moses 7 and proposes an alternative understanding based on a close reading of the text. In contrast to traditional views, it argues that the reason for Enoch’s not preaching to the people of Canaan stems not from any sins the people had committed or from divine disfavor but from the racial prejudice of the other sons of Adam, the “residue of the people” (vv. 20, 22) who ironically are the only ones mentioned as “cursed” in the text (v. 20). In looking at the implications of this passage for the present-day Restoration, this article notes parallels between Enoch’s hesitancy and various attitudes toward black priesthood ordination throughout the Restoration traditions, including the Community of Christ where the same type of hesitancy existed. This article argues that, rather than being indicative of divine disfavor toward persons of African descent, this tendency is a response to the racist attitudes of particular eras, whether the period of the Old Testament patriarchs or the post-bellum American South. Nevertheless, God can be seen as working through and within particular contexts and cultures to spread the gospel to all of Adam’s children irrespective of race.

There are four main arguments made in this paper:

  1. Moses 7 both reflects and challenges the prevailing understanding of race and ethnic prejudice in the ancient [Page 163]world (yes, concepts of race and prejudice, though vastly different than ours, did exist in antiquity).
  2. The “people of Canaan” of Moses 7 are never mentioned as being cursed in the text. Rather their blackness is the result of God cursing something else (i.e., the land).
  3. The only people mentioned as cursed in Moses 7 are the “residue of the people” (vv. 20, 22, 28) which, as the text itself notes, does not include the “seed of Cain” (7:20, 22). In contrast to the prevailing reading of Moses 7, the text implies condemnation not of the seed of Cain/people of Canaan but of this “residue of the people” due to both their hatred of the people of Canaan and their general rejection of the gospel message preached by Enoch.
  4. Enoch’s rationale for not preaching repentance to the people of Canaan in Moses 7 is not due to any personal animosity toward them or from the view that they are cursed. In other words, his rationale, as the text explains, is different from common interpretations and readings in the Latter-day Saint tradition.

Stokes's reading of Moses 7 leads to a surprising conclusion that may be controversial but needs to be considered in light of the detailed analysis Stokes provides: "Moses 7, far from being a racially problematic text, presents a progressive racial message in which God himself condemns the prejudice and cruelty of the other sons of Adam. It is this cruelty, in conjunction with their rejection of the gospel, that results in the 'residue of the people' being cursed, a curse from which the people of Canaan themselves are spared." There's much to ponder in the work from this intriguing author, and I hope you'll read it carefully. 


"The Inclusive, Anti-Discrimination Message of the Book of Mormon" by David M. Belnap

This is one of the most extensive and data-heavy articles ever published by Interpreter. It took a lot of work to go through a lengthy review and editorial process that began and was essentially finished before I came onboard in mid-2020, but I'm very proud of what David Belnap has accomplished and of Allen Wyatt as the lone editor then for guiding it through the process. To get a feel for the significance of this paper, I'll quote what Adam Stokes said about it in his paper discussed immediately above:

I find it necessary to provide a point of comparison here between my reading of Moses 7 and David Belnap’s excellent analysis of the depiction of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. In his recent article for Interpreter, “The Inclusive, Anti-Discrimination Message of the Book of Mormon,” Belnap takes a radically different approach to the sacred text focusing not on the presentation of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon — the standard default position for Book of Mormon exegetes — but that of the Lamanites.

Belnap persuasively and effectively argues that while the negative statements about the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon have been highlighted both by the book’s advocates and opponents, the text ultimately and primarily presents them in a highly positive light. As such, the Book of Mormon ultimately promotes a radical egalitarian and anti-racist ethic which elevates the “dark,” blackened Lamanites over and above their “pure” and “white” Nephite counterparts [note that Belnap and others provide plausible reasons for recognizing the troubling language in the Book of Mormon about the "blackness" or darkness of the Lamanites as metaphorical, not descriptions of racial differences, though there are other possibilities]. He notes that in the majority of instances that the Lamanites are mentioned in the Book of Mormon it is either as equal or better than the Nephites and that in many cases the Lamanites are presented as spiritually superior to the Nephites.

Belnap provides a massive amount of data to show that the Book of Mormon overwhelming denies the racist message that some see in the Book of Mormon:

Counter to the racist impression, more than three thousand Book of Mormon verses directly or indirectly impart an inclusive, anti-discriminatory message (Table 1). People today may perceive the cursing [of the Lamanites] as a racist declaration or a license to discriminate, but righteous Book of Mormon people did not. Wicked behavior of the cursed group was excused, but that of the non-cursed, recordkeeping group was severely criticized. Several times the cursed people were righteous examples or were more righteous than the non-cursed people. People of the two nations were considered brethren. Love of all was preached and practiced. Kind acts occurred between nations and within each nation, including outreach to the other nation and help to the poor within a nation, and some selfless people lost their lives or put their lives at risk. Although often at war, the two nations had significant peaceful interactions. Unkind actions and attitudes toward other groups were identified as evil, including exploitations, class distinctions, persecutions, and attitudes of superiority. War was tragic and caused by wickedness. Intermingled in these messages are messages especially relevant for today. God loves and invites all people. God is fair to all. Prophecies extend his blessings worldwide to modern Jews, other Israelites, descendants of Book of Mormon people, and all other people (Gentiles). The promised blessings will be fulfilled if people choose to follow the Lord. Those who fight against the Lord will incur his wrath, regardless of ethnicity or heritage. Anti-Semitism is condemned. Conspiracies are extremely wicked. The book contains a powerful example of redemption from discriminatory attitudes.

After discussing numerous issues related to alleged racism in the Book of Mormon and its message of inclusion, Belnap writes:

Instead of highlighting how a few verses were interpreted as reflecting 1800s attitudes, a better focus is on the inclusive messages that are in more than half of the book’s verses:

  • God loves all people and his message is for all people on earth (Table 4).
  • God will treat all people fairly (Table 4).
  • God favors personal righteousness, not lineage (Table 4).
  • Every group (Nephites, Lamanites, Jaredites, Jews, and Gentiles) has had times of righteousness and times of wickedness.
  • All groups need to repent (tables 5–6, 20–22).
  • The aim is spiritual beauty and cleanliness, not physical attractiveness (Table 3).
  • The Gentiles have persecuted Lehite descendants and Jews. The Gentiles’ need to repent is particularly emphasized (tables 21–22).
  • All people (Lehites, Jews, and Gentiles) are promised blessings and happiness if they follow the Lord (tables 4, 17–19).
  • Anti-Semitism is evil (Table 21).
  • Slavery is evil (Mosiah 2:13; Alma 27:9).
  • Righteous Nephites viewed the Lamanites as brothers, and vice versa (tables 11, 13).
  • Righteous Nephites reached out to the Lamanites, and vice versa (Table 12).
  • Righteous people were kind to others. Sometimes these acts cost unselfish people their lives or put their lives at risk (Table 13).
  • Unkind actions against others are condemned (Table 14).
  • Persecution or oppression of others is wickedness (Table 15).
  • Attitudes of superiority are condemned (Table 15).
  • Class distinctions are evil (Table 15).
  • Exploitation of vulnerable people is evil (Table 16).
  • Although defensive war may be necessary, war is started by wickedness (Table 23).
  • Conspiracies, which in our day are involved in some discriminatory actions or crimes, are extremely evil (Table 24).
  • The wicked punish the wicked (Mormon 4:5).
  • On no occasion do righteous Nephites seek to destroy Lamanites or vice versa (Table 23).
  • People can learn from despised people. Multiple times Lamanites, who were scorned periodically by the Nephites, are examples of righteousness (Table 8), even when “unconverted” (Table 9).
  • Christ taught us to focus on fixing ourselves and not others (3 Nephi 14:3–5; Matthew 7:3–5). The Nephite record does that by focusing on Nephite faults and de-emphasizing Lamanite ones (tables 5–7, 9–10).

Righteous people in the Book of Mormon cared about others. Whatever the differences truly were between the Nephites and Lamanites, those people gave us much to learn from in our day of unrelenting discrimination.

As Belnap ably shows, the Book of Mormon as a whole has a consistent message that is needed in our day. The few passages that cause concern need to be considered in light of Belnap's work and the scholarship he discusses (e.g., works of Ethan Sproat and Brant Gardner) on interpreting those verses, but stay tuned for more coming soon on another important insight from modern scholarship that may advance our understanding of some challenging Book of Mormon passages in light of ancient culture in the Americas. An article that I'm looking forward to will be published soon, so stay tuned. 


"Personal Relative Pronoun Usage in the Book of Mormon: An Important Authorship Diagnostic" by Stanford Carmack

Stanford Carmack and Royal Skousen have published a series of works exploring the language of the Book of Mormon as originally dictated. One of the most puzzling discoveries, driven by data and not any apologetic agenda, is that much of what we assumed was Joseph's own bad grammar actually turns out to be legitimate Early Modern English, with many elements that predate the English of the King James Bible. What that means is that the details of the English in the Book of Mormon, as dictated, cannot be simply explained as Joseph imitating what he found in the Bible. And in many cases, it doesn't seem possible to explain it as an artifact of Joseph's own language or New England dialect in his day. Why it should be this way is still a mystery, but it's an important issue worthy of recognition, and one that may raise the bar for those arguing that Joseph Smith is the fabricator of the Book of Mormon. 

Some of Carmack's many works on this topic, including quite a few at Interpreter, explore complex or highly technical topics and may be difficult for many of us appreciate, but this one deals with an issue that most of us can easily grasp, even if we aren't familiar with some of the terminology. Carmack explores the use or "personal relative pronouns" in the Book of Mormon and other works. Personal relative pronouns (PRPs) are pronouns that relate one clause to another. As an example, consider the sentence, "The author that wrote the paper was a fine scholar." After mentioning the author, we can then refer to the author again in a new clause with a PRP such as "that" or "who." There is also third possibility that is less commonly used in modern English, the PRP "which," which was more frequently used in the Early Modern English era (roughly 1470 to 1700). But all three choices ("that," "who"/"whom"/"whose," and "which") need to be considered as Carmack compares the Book of Mormon to Joseph's early writings, the KJV Bible, other "pseudo-biblical" literature that deliberately sought to imitate the KJV Bible, and Early Modern English literature. 

Carmack first considers how Joseph himself used PRPs in his early writings (10 letters and his 1832 personal history). The data here should be easy to grasp (click to enlarge): Joseph predominantly used "who(m)" but also had a modest share of "that" in his language, with "which" being rather rare as a PRP. The Book of Mormon reverses the "who"/"that" balance, strongly preferring the use of "which" as a PRP, quite unlike Joseph.  The choice of PRP is something we don't tend to think about consciously, just saying what feels natural at the time. Such unconscious choices of minor words can be something that is hard to notice and hard to fake when seeking to imitate a style.

PRP Usage in the Book of Mormon vs. Joseph's Early Writings

Carmack then compares the Book of Mormon to the Bible, where large differences again emerge. The KJV Bible uses the PRP "that" 86% of the time, followed by "which" 10% of the time and "who(m)" just 4% of the time. 

Considering the antecedent for PRPs can add additional information related to the syntax of a text. Based on analysis of some major databases, Carmack observed that PRPs most frequently occur after the words "he" and "they," and also noted that the PRPs used with them may differ. After "they," the PRP of choice in the Book of Mormon is "which," occurring 69% of the time, while after "he" it is "that" 90% of the time. The "he" + PRP pattern in the Book of Mormon is quite similar to the Bible's, while "that" + PRP are sharply different, with the Bible preferring "he that" 79% of the time vs. 68% "he which" in the Book of Mormon. But the choices for "he" and "they" + PRP in the Book of Mormon closely matched several Early Modern English texts, while not matching pseudo-biblical texts. 

Carmack's conclusion has startling implications:

The statistical argument for each scenario outlined above is compelling — whether we look at all PRP usage, a subset involving high-frequency antecedents, or just contexts involving the subject pronouns he and they. We can tell with exceptionally high confidence that the Book of Mormon’s PRP patterns were not derived from Joseph Smith’s own patterns, from the King James Bible, or from attempting to imitate biblical and/or archaic style. We can also tell that the patterns do match a less-common pattern that prevailed during the middle portion of the early modern period, but not in the 18th century — a pattern with an overall preference of personal which over that or who(m).

In the case involving more antecedents than just he and they, a simple examination of the dramatic differences shown here or an application of standard chi-square tests of the raw numbers (see the appendix) indicate that the Book of Mormon’s PRP pattern would not have been achieved by closely following the patterns of the King James Bible, pseudo-archaic works, or Joseph’s own dialectal profile, which at times was biblically influenced. The large differences in PRP usage between the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible and pseudo-archaic works indicate a different authorial preference for these sets of texts — a preference that is mostly nonconscious, as shown by an inability of pseudo-archaic authors to sustain archaic/biblical usage over long stretches. The Book of Mormon is not a match with the usage in Joseph’s personal writings, as his own patterns fit comfortably in the late modern period, as do most contemporary pseudo-archaic works.

This point has been made in other contexts, including various iterations of stylometric analysis, but the force of the data is difficult to deny, even though it is based on only a single linguistic feature. (These PRP comparisons are in effect a kind of focused, precise stylometry.) Furthermore, the data lead us clearly away from Joseph as author or English-language translator and toward a specific time period — the only time when we find textual matching with the Book of Mormon’s archaic PRP distribution rates: the early modern era, and primarily the second half of the 1500s and the first decade of the 1600s. 

This is puzzling. Why it should be that way is a mystery, and Carmack states he does not wish to speculate, but points out that the important thing is that the data weigh strongly against the common assumption that the Book of Mormon simply reflects Joseph's own wording. We know Joseph edited portions of the text, sometimes taking out the awkward grammar he had dictated to make it more clear or proper, so he was not averse to using his own language when he felt it was needed. But if Carmack is correct, it seems that what he dictated cannot be assumed to simply be his own wording. 

This is a controversial position, but one that seems based on a growing body of detailed data. There are other popular views on the nature of the translation and the influence of his own wording, and I look forward to the replies of other scholars in exploring alternate theories. The debate, if focused on the data, will be fascinating. 

No publication should ever be assumed to be the final, definitive word. There's always more to learn and new data to consider. Our goal at Interpreter is to advance scholarship and faith by publishing what we hope are meaningful, solid works related to the scriptures, Church history, and other gospel topics for others to consider and, in many cases, respond to with new advances. Whether an article offers the ultimate answer or just some great questions and issues for further thought, we hope they will be helpful to readers and will remind all of us of the need to keep learning and growing in our faith and study. 

I'll share some more thoughts from recent publications in another upcoming post or two. If you have a favorite recent publication, let me know what you liked and why in the comments below.

Monday, November 08, 2021

Let's Have Some Compassion for Our Untouchables

If you grew up in a nation with a formal caste system, would you let society dictate how you treated others, especially the shunned and shamed untouchables? Would you deplore them based on what others told you to do, or would you have compassion for the downtrodden? If you grew up in the South after the civil war, when former slaves who had recently been freed found guns pointed at them if they attempted to vote and were not allowed to enjoy many of the blessings of the freedom they had supposedly gained, would you dare speak out for their rights? Would you treat them with compassion and kindness, or shun them as many did? If you were raised in Germany in the 1930s, would you look at Jews as the source of society's greatest problems, or would you have the wisdom and charity to ignore propaganda and social pressure and instead love others in spite of their differences? I believe most of us will sincerely think that in those settings, we would have been different from the sheep around us and would have the courage to stand up for the rights of others and respect them as fellow humans. However, in the rush of real events, when one senses the possibly high price of courage and feels the surging power of peer pressure and political force, we might fail to see that we were standing before a decisive opportunity to deploy our noble intentions and face the unknown consequences of defiance.

Power seekers throughout history have found scapegoats to be valuable tools for their own gain, and the Book of Mormon gives us several case studies to ponder as corrupt men used anger and blaming of others to obtain power, including Amalickiah, King Noah, and others. Stirring up senseless anger and fear has been a tool to justify expanded power and personal agendas time after time in world history. I feel that a new caste of deplorable untouchables is being created in our midst, the caste of the unvaccinated who are shamed and blamed for many social ills, and are being systemically punished and discriminated against. We are fortunately nowhere near to the level of persecution and abuse that many groups have faced throughout history, but the shaming, exclusion, and now firing of the unvaccinated is an alarming step. Though I am vaccinated and generally encourage vaccination and thus disagree with at least some of the unvaccinated, I feel we need to stand for their rights of medical privacy, of personal choice, and body sovereignty, especially in light of what "the science" is actually teaching us (see my Nov 21, 2021 update below for more details on this).

Unfortunately, many of us have been lied to about the alleged need to compel the untouchable caste to accept vaccinations. It's time to recognize the lies and stand up with compassion for others and respect for their rights, even if they are different in their views and choices. When you look at the stories you are not being told, it should also be clear that current government mandates and policies can no longer be assumed to be made in good faith. In fact, it's critical that you understand why. But first, please take a moment to consider the humanity of those being targeted.

Right after the announcement of the new federal vaccine mandate that puts the jobs of many Americans at risk, I had some surprising conversations with friends and relatives who fear its impact. One single mother who works from home and only from home for a healthcare-related company is being required to vaccinate. When President Biden gave his September speech that announced the plan for vaccine mandates, signalling a ramped-up divisiveness by telling the unvaccinated that "we are losing patience with you," her employer soon announced that she would need to be vaccinated or have weekly COVID testing. This mother with a very challenging life and overwhelming duties chose weekly testing, which involved having to drive one hour each week at her own expense to pick up a test kit. That was bad enough, but with the mandate now officially in place through OSHA, she has been told by her employer that now she must be vaccinated or be fired. She previously had a religious exemption, but now she is  told that that won't help any more. The language of the mandate appears to make exemptions possible and should not apply to those working remotely, but it seems that many companies are choosing to go the extra mile, perhaps to seem as faithful as possible in light of the fearsome penalties for non-compliance with the dictate. I guess they are just embracing the spirit of the law: expel the untouchables, even if they are among the heroes who have been risking their lives to help COVID patients, put out fires, stop criminals, or serve in many other urgently needed and understaffed areas that cannot afford losing large numbers of employees. To protect Americans, for our social good, we need to expel these people now or force them to buckle. The judicial stay issued a few days ago isn't making much of a difference, and the Biden Administration is essentially ignoring the court order, telling corporations to move ahead with compulsory vaccination.

In reality, her reason for not wanting the vaccine may be more based on personal medical reasons than her religious beliefs. She is highly allergic to many materials. The last time she had an injection, the adjuvants (compounds added with a medication to make it more effective or preserve it) gave her a severe reaction that took weeks to overcome. But she's had to change doctors and is not sure her current hard-to-reach doctor will support seeking a medical exemption. She'll try to get the exemption, but fears she will be fired. With the children she's caring for and the stress her life already has, the impact of the mandate seems rather cruel. Why cause her so much trouble and risk when she works from home and cannot possibly be putting others in the workplace at risk? It's senseless. Please understand, the logic behind this is not based on science, as we'll see, but pure politics. For this mother and for many thousands in similar situations, I hope you will recognize the unjust discrimination against her and feel a sense of compassion.

She and many others with concerns about the vaccine now have their jobs at risk. The reasons the vaccine hesitant have vary widely. For some, it's medical, such as concern about long-term adverse effects or allergic reactions, a concern shared by some college students I know. For others, it may be more religious, such as concerns about the essential role that fetal cells played in the development of a new drug or religious concerns about taking experimental materials into one's body as expressed by Victory Boyd, fired by the NFL after being hired to sing the National Anthem. Some object because of a distrust of government, a factor which I sense may be especially true among the many young black Americans who are vaccine hesitant (no, vaccine hesitancy is not unique to white Republicans). 

I'm currently reading  Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment by James H, Jone, 2nd ed. (New York: Free Press, 1993, first edition 1991), whose opening pages note the role the Center for Disease Control (yes, our beloved CDC) played after they were split off from the Public Health Service and took over running and justifying the horrific Tuskegee Experiment. Can we fairly blame the lack of trust in our government among many black Americans (or Americans of any color) who have heard about this decades-long experiment in which effective treatments for syphilis were deliberately and callously withheld from over 300 black men who thought they were getting treatment for their disease, all in an alleged "scientific" effort to watch the gruesome late stage effects of syphilis? 

If someone has personal reasons for not trusting government and especially the CDC, go ahead and post all the lectures to them that you want about how this time everything's totally transparent and truthful, but let's have some respect for the feelings and concerns of those who know something about the Tuskegee Experiment or have other reasons for doubting the often contradictory and sometimes clearly questionable official information they are given (e.g., see this frank op-ed from two medical scholars published at MSN.com or this observation with reasonable support from Chicago-based Wirepoints). Some of you have been telling my black friends that America is systemically racist, but now you're trying to tell them that they really need to trust the white folks running the CDC and the NIH and accept their "experimental drug" (as many see it and as it has been called from authoritative sources)? Can you have enough compassion to recognize that they might have genuine concerns? Do their feelings and even informed decisions not matter? If black lives matter, what about black sovereignty over one's body, black medical privacy, black personal choice, and black concerns about the overreach of an untrustworthy government?

I have several highly educated friends working for Silicon Valley giants. One of them who works from home now has his job at risk. The company, apparently showing its political faithfulness by going beyond the actual written requirements of the mandate, is requiring even remote employees to be vaccinated well before the mandate's requirement. As a matter of principle, my friend feels such a demand is not only contrary to logic and science, but is a violation of his personal privacy and, in my words, demeaning to him as an employee. He refuses to make his employment subject to accepting what could be an endless list of intrusions into his body as others declare what medications he must take. He works from home. His company knows he's vaccinated. But because he won't bow before an unconstitutional decree and disclose official proof of his medical status, his job is at risk. I applaud this man's courage. To even stand up and object politely was an act of amazing courage. I hope we can appreciate and sympathize with this kind of courage. It's a courage this country needs more than ever right now.

There seems to be fear that showing any kind of leniency toward the non-compliant could result in federal scrutiny with unbearable risk. This law, by the way, does not come from elected representatives in Congress as the Constitution seems to require, or, more properly, from elective representatives of the states since this should be a state or local issue, not a federal one. Rather, it comes from the decree dictated by one very powerful leader -- perhaps from President Biden himself, for all we know.

The Bad Faith and Lack of Science Behind the Mandate

We just had some of the most exciting news related to the COVID pandemic, the announcement of two different drugs that appear to have very high potential for treating COVID patients.  I am not talking about certain unmentionable, low-profit FDA-approved medications for other human diseases that some nations and some doctors in the US are using for COVID (sometimes prescribed in the US as well as "off-label" medications [but see my 11/19/21 update below if you are convinced that one such drug has strong studies supporting its use]). No, nothing that shady. I'm talking about nice, shiny new proprietary medications from two of the superstars of Big Pharma, Pfizer and Merck, so doctors won't be too afraid to prescribe these and pharmacies won't have to improperly practice medicine by declining to fill valid prescriptions for drugs the CDC doesn't like us to use. In short, the need for constant dread is about to wane, for not only are most Americans vaccinated with millions more having the still-ignored advantage of natural immunity, but now we are about to receive medications that can greatly reduce the harm of COVID. The latest news came within hours of the mandate as Pfizer reported its medication that can reduce the harm of COVID by 89% (see Bloomberg's Nov. 5, 2021 report and NPR's story). 

On top of this, we have already learned from the CDC that the vaccines don't stop transmission of the disease, for the vaccinated can still get the disease (though it's somewhat less likely than for the unvaccinated) and when they do, while the harm to them is reduced, they can still have the same viral load as others, making them able to transmit the disease to vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. The benefit of the vaccine is real, but it's personal: it reduces the harm to the individual. My body, my choice -- and I chose the vaccine. What right do I have to treat the unvaccinated as untouchables? [On the failure of the vaccines to significantly reduce transmission of the disease, see my Nov 21, 2021 update below and the excerpts from an important new study.] To the degree that the vaccine is effective, it protects the vaccinated, and if it's not really effective, why force others to take it? But the efficacy at the moment is not quite in the glowing 100% range we heard a few months ago. According to an Oct. 17 article from CNN which appears to accurately summarize some findings from a recent study, if you got Johnson and Johnson vaccine in February, the efficacy of your vaccination is now around 3%. It's higher for other vaccines, but the moral high ground for looking down on the unvaccinated seems to have eroded down to a small dirt clod for at least some of the vaccinated. But don't panic, there's that good news I mentioned about treatments for COVID.

Importantly, with effective drugs that can mitigate the harm of COVID, we can now expect a greatly reduced risk for vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. The vaccine still makes sense, but the mandate does not. We are not facing an existential threat that forces us to surrender individual rights. We do not need to create a new caste system to promote separation from and anger toward the deplorables among us who refuse to comply. Their body, their choice. If they are making a mistake in refusing the vaccine, the harm is theirs. If we who chose to be vaccinated end up facing some unexpected long-term ailments, the harm will be ours. Whichever of these two groups faces the greatest problems in the end, I hope all of us will be compassionate and help make sure that others are treated well. How appalling it is to see so many people online expressing glee when an untouchable passes away, or wishing COVID or worse upon others.

Meanwhile, as pressure against the alleged risk of the unvaccinated seems to be escalating, the government-allied media (GAM) seems to be working overtime to ignore, downplay, or suppress vital news about the scandalous crisis on our southern border, where hundreds of thousands of people have been encouraged to walk into the US without any requirement for vaccination and often without COVID testing, resulting in many thousands of COVID-positive people not just crossing the border but actively being flown to many cities around the country (see, for example, an Oct. 18 New York Post report). How is it that the same government that claims it just wants to save us from harm will force its citizens to be fired if they won't submit to a vaccine mandate, while not requiring the same of non-citizens who enter illegally? But if you get your news from CNN, for example, you won't hear much about the border crisis. (My search shows that "crisis" was last used to describe some challenges on the border on Sept. 20, and very little has been said about the obvious COVID risk. A Google search at CNN.com for "COVID border crisis" leads with a CNN "fact check" saying that there's no solid evidence that immigrants are causing COVID spikes and the real problem is unvaccinated citizens, not the immigrants, whose unvaccinated status is rarely mentioned.) But NBCNews.com did run a story in August noting that between 18%-25% of  immigrants tested were COVID positive. If the government is acting in good faith to protect us from a disease so dangerous that it requires spending away much of our future, giving politicians and unelected medical bureaucrats vast new powers, and taking away individual choice with intrusive mandates, why are tens of thousands of COVID-positive people entering our cities not a cause for urgent action that demands much higher priority? The neglect of the border utterly contradicts the claims used to justify the mandates. What we see at play here is something very ugly and political that further undermines trust in government. It's not about following the science.

If we need a mandate, perhaps what we need now is a mandate for compassion: 

  • compassion to rescue the many jobs at unnecessary risk, 
  • compassion for those who have genuine, unanswered questions about the long-term effects of the vaccines on cancer or reproductive health, areas where years more of study may be needed,
  • compassion for those who value their privacy, especially medical privacy (the language of the mandate raises some concerns about this), and don't want to trust their medical records with untrustworthy corporations,
  • compassion for those of any color worried about the apparent untrustworthiness of many parts of our government such as the history of medical abuse related to the Tuskegee Experiment, 
  • compassion for those who have sincere medical or scientific concerns about the vaccines,
  • compassion for those who don't want their employability to require subscribing to whatever medication or booster a central official decrees they must take, regardless of individual circumstances, and
  • compassion, not mocking, for those who value personal liberty.

Actually, we already do have a commandment that seems to sum all this up and is far more benign than any political mandate: "love one another." May we love one another, including the unvaccinated, and in compassion stand up for their rights, their jobs, and freedom of choice, even if we disagree with the choices they make. Ditto for those who are overweight, alcoholic, smokers, or engage in a variety of other risky lifestyle choices like, say, my personal vice of scuba diving (yes, I'm coming out!). We may disagree with the choices they have made, choices which can fill our hospitals and strain our medical system year after year, especially for those who have COVID, but let us not address the problem by requiring companies to fire the overweight or promoting coercion of any kind.

Lat's drop the mandate, stand in support for those it may harm, and choose instead the greatest commandment of all to address the core problems in this nation. Those problems, by the way, do not include inadequate autocratic power in the hands of a few. But failure to respect those with different views, needs, and choices is a problem we all need to work on. "Love one another" -- may this be our domestic and foreign policy, along with "teach correct principles, and let people govern themselves."

If divide and conquer is the stratagem here, after companies with more than 100 employees buckle and comply as the many millions of the rest of us sit back quietly, the next step could be a mandate for all other companies as well, and then will come vaccine mandates for the children, something already in the works in some regions. I know some good people who are anxious to have their children vaccinated, but I hope all of us can recognize the right of parents to say no, regardless of how safe and effective the vaccines may be. For those who are already or soon will be facing pressure to vaccinate your children, you may wish to read the Wall Street Journal's Nov. 9 op-ed, "Forced Covid Vaccination for Kids Is Unlawful" by Jenin Younes (free registration required). Whatever you choose, at least recognize that it is not irresponsible for parents to decline a vaccine for their children for which we don't yet have the many years of safety testing and experience that is typical of other vaccines. Let's stand with empathy for the rights of workers whose jobs are at risk and for the parents who will be pressured if not demonized for a reasonable decision. 

Update, Nov. 19, 2021: Above I referred to a medication that some doctors are prescribing for COVID as an off-label prescription (a common practice where a physician believes an existing FDA-approved medication may be useful for a patient if used in a non-standard way). The drug referred to, ivermectin, has been the subject of much controversy and bad science or bad faith on both sides of the debate. But based on the most comprehensive and clear-headed meta-analysis of nearly all of the studies involving its treatment of COVID, skepticism toward that drug appears justified after all, even though I was previously persuaded by some significant medical authorities and their analysis of many studies. It turns out that even after removing all the studies with obvious serious flows, there are studies that point to a definite positive effect. But new information suggests that this positive effect may be almost entirely explained by -- can you guess? -- worms! No kidding. Please see Scott Alexander's "Ivermectin: Much More Than You Wanted To Know," Astral Codex Ten, Nov. 16, 2021, https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/ivermectin-much-more-than-you-wanted. 

The higher-quality studies pointing to a positive effect of ivermectin comes from regions where people are more likely to be afflicted with parasitic worms, which make COVID even more damaging. The anti-parasitic benefits of the drug could handily explain the benefits. When worms are taken into account, ivermectin may no longer offer statistically significant improvements in patients. There's still more to study and learn here, but I think it's reasonable to conclude that the drug may not be the way to go, at least not by itself. The new therapeutics might be much better. 

It would have been great if our medical institutions had done the kind of clear thinking and explaining we see from Scott Alexander instead of mocking the use of the drug and threatening doctors who prescribed it, actions which only exacerbated mistrust (especially given that the studies as a whole seem to weigh in favor in a cheap drug -- until the parasitic effect is considered, which had not yet been done as far as I can tell).

Alexander's article also tries to explain the reasons why some of us are distrustful of the Medical Elite. His analogy to alien conquerors asking us to accept brain implants to spare us from an alien disease is quite funny and interesting, though it may miss the depth of intelligent reasons for such distrust. Would like to see a version of his analogy that incorporates a parallel to the border crisis, for example.

By the way, kudos to Geoff B. at Millennial Star for calling attention to the compelling scientific evidence for the benefit of natural immunity in "Lancet: natural immunity 'equal to' vaccination for COVID safety," Nov. 18, 2021. How can the attempted vaccine mandate completely ignore natural immunity and still be assumed by anyone to just "follow the science" and be in good faith? Something's fishy. Science is real, and so is natural immunity. 

As Geoff B. properly points out, the First Presidency statement of Aug. 12, 2021 considers natural immunity when it speaks of the importance of "immunizing a very high percentage of the population." Immunization is broader than vaccination alone and includes natural immunity. Further, the statement also shows good scientific knowledge in speaking of the personal  benefits of vaccination in reducing the severity of disease: "To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated." Well said. Let's be careful not to read that as an endorsement of vaccine mandates or the need to pressure people into vaccination to presumably stop the spread, which the vaccines don't seem to be doing well. But the personal benefit is clear. I add my voice in urging vaccination of adults (who don't have medical issues that might make vaccination problematic and who haven't already had COVID).

Update, Nov. 21, 2021: New Information on the Effect of the Vaccines on Transmission

As we watch strange trends across the globe, such as 100% Gibraltar having a spike in COVID cases or highly vaccinated states in the US sometimes having much more severe spikes in cases than less vaccinated states, many have begun to question the basic belief that vaccines surely must greatly reduce transmission of COVID. We've also had reports about CDC data showing that the vaccinated, when infected, can have the same viral load as the unvaccinated. That created a stir, though I'll admit I thought that something was wrong in the CDC study that it would give such an unexpected result, which seems to be contrary to what vaccines are supposed to do. But now a number of scientists are concluding that the vaccines, while effective in reducing personal harm, do not prevent the spread of the disease. 

A new study, S. V. Subramanian and Akhil Kumar, "Increases in COVID-19 are unrelated to levels of vaccination across 68 countries and 2947 counties in the United States," European Journal of Epidemiology (Sept. 2021), https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10654-021-00808-7, examined 68 countries and 2,947 counties in the US and found that higher vaccination rates are not associated with fewer COVID cases. To me, this is a stunning reversal of "common knowledge" about what vaccines are supposed to do. Here are some of the findings of that study:

At the country-level, there appears to be no discernable relationship between percentage of population fully vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases in the last 7 days (Fig. 1). In fact, the trend line suggests a marginally positive association such that countries with higher percentage of population fully vaccinated have higher COVID-19 cases per 1 million people. Notably, Israel with over 60% of their population fully vaccinated had the highest COVID-19 cases per 1 million people in the last 7 days. The lack of a meaningful association between percentage population fully vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases is further exemplified, for instance, by comparison of Iceland and Portugal. Both countries have over 75% of their population fully vaccinated and have more COVID-19 cases per 1 million people than countries such as Vietnam and South Africa that have around 10% of their population fully vaccinated.

Across the US counties too, the median new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the last 7 days is largely similar across the categories of percent population fully vaccinated (Fig. 2). Notably there is also substantial county variation in new COVID-19 cases within categories of percentage population fully vaccinated. There also appears to be no significant signaling of COVID-19 cases decreasing with higher percentages of population fully vaccinated (Fig. 3).

Now there are many complex factors that could confound results and obscure a positive effect from the vaccines. But such a signal, if it exists, probably cannot be very strong to be so difficult to observe, and if not clear and strong, what is the social justification for vaccination? Please recognize that there is still  a strong reason for adults, especially those who are elderly or with compromised health, to be vaccinated, but the reason is personal, not social. If the vaccinated are roughly just as likely to spread the disease as the unvaccinated, or perhaps even marginally more likely as the data for countries might suggest (likely to be a random fluke in the data, IMHO), then there simply is not a valid reason to discriminate against the unvaccinated in any way, especially in light of the arrival of effective therapeutics for COVID.