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

Sunday, July 05, 2020

A Heart on Fire: The Inhumanity of Neglecting Black Lives that Matter

Black lives matter. Of course they do. Sadly, the pains and sorrows faced by the victims of violence and inhumanity among black Americans is not adequately addressed by slogans and virtue signaling, or by giving support to any group or person that encourages or tolerate violence against blacks. The horror of violence from some bad cops is bad enough, but there is also brutality and inhumanity far more widespread in the violence that permeates too many communities across our country. The lives of those being shot and murdered everyday in largely black neighborhoods across America matter and deserve far more attention and compassion than they have received. Let's begin with the story of the murder of a young man, Horace Lorenzo Anderson Jr., who was murdered in Seattle. The story is told by a man with his heart on fire, a man who has been treated with callous inhumanity by the government in Washington. His story resonates with me, not because I have faced pain anywhere close to his, but because of what happened to him when he wanted to see his son at a hospital.

Watch at least the first 10 minutes of this interview with the father. The interview is part of the story, "Father of CHOP shooting victim speaks out in emotional 'Hannity' interview: 'All I know is my son is dead.'" It was written by Yael Halon on July 1, 2020 for Fox News. The video is an interview of Horace Lorenzo Anderson, Sr. and his friend, Andre Taylor, two remarkable and eloquent men who share perspectives that could help the entire nation move toward healing. They are sharing views aimed at building our future, at bringing our country together, and having more humanity. It's a healing message in the end and may we all learn from it. But the father's story may also leave your heart on fire as you realize what terribly inhumanity and stupidity has been heaped upon some precious black lives in our midst.

The inhumanity in this story is found not only by the callous neglect of irresponsible government leaders, blinded by their extremist ideology out of touch with reality, who allowed his son and others to be victimized and even killed without the basic protection of citizens that is the fundamental duty of the leaders of government to provide, the fundamental reason why we have government in the first place, but is also found in the neglect of the grieving father, by a system that did not inform him of his son's death and even refused to let the grieving father see his son at the hospital. When he went to the hospital that had his dead son, he was not allowed to go in to see his boy and at least confirm that it was really him. He was not given any information about how and when he died. He was turned away in what appears to be an expression of the brutal inhumanity that many of our hospitals have unwittingly adopted in their cruel overreaction to COVID fears.

I can slightly relate to his hospital experience. In June, I visited my 88-year-old father in Salt Lake City and the day before I was to return to Wisconsin, had the opportunity to take him to see a doctor for a check up. She noted that his blood pressure was low, probably due to dehydration from an imbalance in his complicated medications dealing with the many problems he has, so she recommended that he be given an IV for a couple of hours to get him rehydrated and stabilized. For this, I had to take him to the emergency area. While we were chatting, a medical worker came to take him away for his IV, and told me that I could not accompany him due to COVID-19 policies. But he's be done in about 3 hours, so I could come back then. And no, I could not wait in the waiting room of the emergency area but would have to leave the building and wait in the parking lot or somewhere else. They would call me when he was finished, they said, to let me know when I could come back. I would never get that call. In fact, I have not seen him since that day.

My father is still alive and I shall be going back soon to see him again this month, if all goes well. After giving him an IV, they decided he needed further care and admitted him without letting me know and without giving me a chance to see him and at least say good-bye. He spent several days there and returned home, but in the meantime I had to return home without knowing if I would ever see him again. This hospital and many others refuse to let family members come visit patients due to COVID-19 fears, but surely there are ways to manage that and keep risks low. They could show up in a hazmat suit surrounded by a plastic bubble and still not be allowed to visit a drying relative. Inflexible bureaucratic rules contribute to the inhumanity of the world. A friend of my sister in Salt Lake is grieving over the death of her father who died alone in a Salt Lake City hospital that refused to allow family members to visit her declining father. He was forced to die alone when he could have been surrounded by children who loved him.

These rules that keep family members away have some serious downsides. For a mother delivering a baby, keeping the father away strikes me as not just inhumane but also dangerous. Not only does the mother need that support, and should have the right to have that support during one of the most difficult and painful moments of her life, but for the protection of the baby, it is often vital that the father be there to ensure that the baby is properly cared for, not given unwanted or improper treatments without informed parental consent, not misidentified and confused for another baby later -- problems that are highly unlikely but still have happened, making it reasonable that both parents should be there to help watch over their child and reduce the risks of neglect or harm in a world where bad things happen every now and thing. There may also be the need to oversee treatments given to the mother and to help her with needs that medical workers may not be able to do.

Let's turn back to Mr. Anderson, the grieving father and his son, two black lives that didn't seem to matter to some aspects of Seattle's government and health care system. Who shot his son? Why? Is the murdered being pursued? What is known about the crime? Does anyone in Seattle care? Why can't a father identify the corpse of his murdered son? What COVID fears justify keeping family away from the dead? The father still doesn't have answers. I suspect that if it weren't for the interview with Sean Hannity, that man's voice and his son's story would be swept under the rug, neglected and ignored because it doesn't fit the narrative of the Revolution supported by most of our media and their wealthy Silicon Valley friends. And the healing non-political message on the importance of family, love, accountability, and safety in our communities shared by Andre Taylor and Horace Lorenzo Anderson, Sr. would not be heard. God bless these good men. 

The son was a victim of a disastrous experiment with chaos and the neglect of black lives and many other lives by callous officials. The failed experiment, of course, was CHOP, the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, formerly known as CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, the lawless region embraced and tolerated by the Governor of Washington and the Mayor of Seattle, where the police were ordered to back down and leave a large swath of downtown Seattle in the hands of chaos since, in the bizarre mindset of those  leaders, a community without police would be some kind of "summer of love" utopia with power to the people, vegan snacks to the people, everything to the people. Power to the people, of course, seemed to quickly became power to some of the people with guns, the local thugs with muscle. The extremist ideal of America without borders was quickly replaced with a fence and with guards, keeping out police and making it extremely difficult or impossible to respond to 911 calls. Disaster.

Fortunately, the Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, after weeks of actually supporting the experiment in chaos, showed that she does strongly object to lawlessness -- but clear action seemed to only come after her own house was surrounded by protesters. But on the day the Horace Lorenzo Anderson was killed, she continued her support and Tweeted that "We have had some incredibly peaceful demonstrations." In spite of the violence with several being being shot and many others suffering from crimes and living in fear without the protection that should have been provided, she continued her support. James Altucher caught the gist of what happened in this Tweet:
After people began to threaten her very expensive home (how do so many public servants manage to get such expensive homes?), action was swift. Those demonstrators were driven out and then the order was given that caused CHOP to come down. Perspectives on the Mayor's actions are offered by The Federalist and by Jason Rantz. I can sympathize with the Mayor: if a potentially dangerous mob was gathering around my home or my vehicle, for that matter (thinking of the white "peaceful protester" who shot a driver in Provo, Utah recently when a mob surrounded his vehicle at University Avenue and Center Street), I'd be scared and would want the protection of armed police, even though some police are bad people. I'd turn to the police. But that instinct, according to the white women leading the Minneapolis City Council, is just an expression of white privilege. How do so many whites imagine that blacks don't want that kind of protection also from criminals that might approach them in their home, in a vehicle, or on the street?

Why is it so hard for elite white people to understand that black neighborhoods need and want protection also? I recommend a powerful essay from Charles Love, a black man who has explored what's up with the "wokeness" that is sweeping some parts of white society. His essay, "White Wokeness: It’s the new factor in our national life," was published in City Journal on June 25, 2020, and has since been adapted and used in other forums such as the New York Post in "What ‘woke’ whites get wrong about blacks’ priorities," June 28, 2020. Please read it.

Mr. Love was surprised by what he found and by how seriously wrong perceptions are among woke whites about life for black people in America. Those misguided perceptions are causing more harm than good, he feels, especially with the extreme notion of defunding the police.

As for what folks in Harlem think about the idea of defunding the police in their neighborhood, see Ami Horowitz's contrasting interviews of folks in a high-end New York neighborhood and those in Harlem. (I heard an interview of Ami about this survey. Of about 30 people he spoke to one the street in Harlem, all but 1 were clearly supportive of having police. The video only captures a handful.) Where violence is real, scheduling a social worker as a response to emergency 911 calls may not be the answer. We need more compassion, not neglect and virtue signaling, for those who face violence in their neighborhoods. Some can come from bad cops, but the vast majority of police are seeking to protect neighborhoods, not traumatize them.

Two good men in grief over the unnecessary loss of a young boy, a boy born at 25 weeks who struggled with developmental disorders and was among the truly disadvantaged in our society, among those who are most in need of our protection, was neglected and killed, and then his family was neglected as well. There is brutality and inhumanity that needs our national attention. There is also hope if we take action. The many issues involved here are complex, painful, and clearly beyond me in many ways. Still, there are things I think we can to help beyond slogans and fruitless anger.

For members of my faith and who are asked to be "ministering brothers" and "ministering sisters" to others, along with people of all faiths seeking to do good, this may be a good time to put expand our circles of influence and to minister as friends and neighbors more broadly. Looking to the example of Christ and others in the scriptures, the concept of ministering in all its forms can help us to reach out more to those around us, regardless of color and regardless of religion. There are too many who are neglected and too many without enough friends to help in times of trouble. Single parents with special needs children have overwhelming burdens and when things go wrong, face overwhelming pain. Staying close to them can make a huge difference.

For the millions in need with burdens of all kinds, I fear that big bureaucratic programs driven by failed ideologies aren't going to help, but loving neighbors and friends often can. Local government leaders also can if they fulfill their duties to protect their citizens and work for police reform and accountability but not the elimination of protection that is so desperately needed in high-crime neighborhoods. Health care leaders can when they fight to make sure their programs and policies are  humane and loving (some institutions and especially many health care workers individually do inspiring work in this regard), and to make sure that grieving family members are not coldly turned away when they need to see a boy who has been shot, or when a family member needs support. Citizens can also help by simply standing up to oppose dereliction and insanity from local government and demanding that resources be increased to aggressively promote safety in high-crime areas and that violence not be ignored. The children, the teenagers, the young people and old who are dying from violence deserve attention. Those lives matter, too, and need our help, not our neglect. I also offer my opinion that we must oppose some of the insane ideas from privileged  politicians who may have armed guards and live in secure gated communities and yet claim that turning the security of poor neighborhoods over to local gangs and occasional social workers will bring utopia. It's time to care more, to love more, and to stand up for sanity. We can do this. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Ancient American Goggles and the Nephite/Jaredite "Interpeters," Part 2

My previous post, "Don't Google 'Spectacles,' Google 'Goggles': The Nephite 'Interpreters' as a Book of Mormon Anachronism" (hereafter Part 1), raised the possibility that ancient Mesoamerican "goggles," sometimes depicted as gear for both deities and humans, might have some relationship to the Nephite/Jaredite concept of mystic stones for revelatory purposes. The Nephite "interpreters" that were buried with the gold plates of the Book of Mormon were said to comprise two stones set in a silver frame that looked like "spectacles." But perhaps "goggles" may be the right word to Google when determining whether the interpreters are anachronistic or not.

Adding to the images shown in Part 1, here's a relic found in Veracruz State in Mexico, as shown at Mesoweb.com, an "enormous terracotta brazier [that] depicts a deity with the characteristic round goggles and protruding mouthpiece that appear so frequently in Teotihuacan and later became associated with Tláloc, a widespread Rain/War god in Post-Classic Mesoamerica." Goggles seem to be most typically associated with the Aztec storm god, Tlaloc, also called the god of rain and a god of war.

The importance of Tlaloc is made clear in Teotihuacan, where the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl or Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the third largest of the great pyramids in Teotihuacan, features 365 heads that alternate between Quetzlcoatl and Tlaloc. The image below is available at Wikipedia's article, "Temple of the Feathered Serpent."

Here's a detailed view of Tlaloc, which seems to have goggles on the forehead above the eyes:

Page 28 of the Aztecan Codex Borgia, housed at the Vatican Library, has several similar images of Tlaloc. Here is a detail, as labeled by Dr. Helen Burgos Ellis for the Khan Academy, showing the characteristic "goggle-eyes" of the god:

Humans are also depicted wearing goggles in Mesoamerican artifacts, with the goggles sometimes shown on the forehead (perhaps to more clearly show that there are sacred or mystic goggles present and not just big round eyes). Here's one example, also from Mesoweb.com, dated to 300 to 550 A.D.:

Looking more closely at the goggles, it looks like they aren't just circles stuck on the head, but have a supporting structure that disappears under the hair. If it were a cloth band, it would go over the hair. Could this be part of a solid frame, like those of modern spectacles, that can slide under the hair of the head? Looking closely, that might be the case. Color me speculative, but these could fool some of us modern viewers into thinking it looks somewhat like "spectacles" with a rigid frame.

Let's turn again to the excellent 2018 article, "Goggles," from the Hammocks and Ruins blog. Regarding the origins of Mesoamerican goggles, the roots go back to the Olmecs, whose chronology can fit with the Jaredite culture of the Book of Mormon:

Most images of a goggled sculpture refer to the Rain God Tláloc. His goggled mask stemmed initially from the Olmec sources, the first Mesoamerican civilisation, and moved simultaneously into the Teotihuacán, Maya and Zapotec. The mask from Veracruz is principally understood as a Jaguar being (worshipped first by the Olmecs); however there are also the overriding implications of the 'Midnight Owl'. The Teotihuacános are thought to have derived the infamous feathered-serpent from the image of an owl fetching a serpent from a cave (with the ability to traverse its darkness). Mexican art historian, Miguel Covarrubias, demonstrated that later images of Quetzalcóatl, feathered serpents, and rain gods like the god Tláloc were all derived from the Olmec were-jaguar (half jaguar and half human being), who served also as a rain deity for the Olmecs, and was associated with sacrifice and the underworld (the Olmec rain deity did not wear goggles; that was added later by other Mesoamerican cultures).

So the concept of goggles in Mesoamerica goes back to the Olmecs, but became prominent among later Mesoamerican cultures, just as the "interpreters" began with the Jaredites, and became important among the leaders of the Nephite faith. They are connected to Quetzlcoatl and other Mesoamerican gods, but can be used by humans, and are related to the concept of an owl traversing the darkness and seeing through darkness. That seems consistent with Alma's statement about the interpreters when they are passed to his son Helaman's charge in Alma 37:

20 Therefore I command you, my son Helaman, that ye be diligent in fulfilling all my words, and that ye be diligent in keeping the commandments of God as they are written.

21 And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters.

22 For behold, the Lord saw that his people began to work in darkness, yea, work secret murders and abominations; therefore the Lord said, if they did not repent they should be destroyed from off the face of the earth.

23 And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.

But it's earlier in Mosiah 28 where we get a description of these ancient interpreters:

10 Now king Mosiah had no one to confer the kingdom upon, for there was not any of his sons who would accept of the kingdom.

11 Therefore he took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and all the things which he had kept and preserved according to the commandments of God, after having translated and caused to be written the records which were on the plates of gold which had been found by the people of Limhi, which were delivered to him by the hand of Limhi;

12 And this he did because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed.

13 And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow.

14 Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages;

15 And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people;

16 And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.

Two stones fastened between the rims of a bow: that sounds like a rigid bow, or a frame of some kind. Could it fit on the head as shown in the image above of the human with goggles on his forehead?

The Hammock and Ruins article also gives an example of a Mixtec mask with goggle-eyes that could have been worn in rituals by a priest. They also observe the close relationship between Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl, in which Tláloc in at leat one case "acts as Quetzalcóatl's avatar, the feathered serpent.... Scholar Cecelia Klein has suggested that the ringed eyes of Tláloc refer to a mirror, which represents fire or water, which are other attributes associated with the Feathered Serpent."

Reviewing the symbolism of the googles covered in the article, the author states:

So the symbolism identified so far is the social status, star (deity), water (symbol of the underworld), owl (ability to see in the dark underworld). Our ball player example fits the bill in that sense as well. The ancient ball game (invented by the Olmecs and adopted by the whole of Mesoamerica) was seen as a struggle between day and night, and a battle between life and death. Ball game courts were considered portals to the underworld. Through the game, the players (including the kings) confronted the forces of the underworld to obtain rebirth and fertility. By playing the game, they symbolically entered the underworld to match themselves against its leaders, to defeat death and recreate life. (I deal with this topic in more detail in my post Ball Players.) In the underworld, they would have needed the owl's ability to traverse through darkness, hence the use of the goggles. So it seems all the symbolisms are connected with each other.

Some of these concepts may relate to the Book of Mormon teachings on the interpreters (see above), which explain that the interpreters not only help bring revelation/light out of darkness, but help in overcoming and defeating the works of darkness pursued by the Adversary and his followers.

The role of goggles in Mesoamerican lore covers multiple cultures and many centuries, so there's not one simple idea to capture it all. But there are some potential overlaps with the Book of Mormon, enough to wonder if either Mesoamerican goggle themes might have influenced some Jaredite prophet to fashion a goggle-like device to hold the sacred revelatory stones he used, or if the use of such a tool by Jaredite and Nephite seers might have inspired related practices and themes among Mesoamerican neighbors. Your thoughts?

If nothing else, the next time someone says that Joseph's "spectacles" from ancient American were a ridiculous anachronism, you can admit that they are absolutely right -- based on what scholars understood in Joseph's day. But in terms of what we are learning today about ancient Mesoamerica, we can at least say that sacred "goggles" worn by priests and gods were known in ancient Mesoamerica, and theoretically could have some relationship with the Nephite and Jaredite interpreters. That's still speculative, but does suggest that Nephite "interpreters"/"spectacles" might not be as ridiculous as once thought.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Don't Google "Spectacles," Google "Goggles": The Nephite "Interpreters" as a Book of Mormon Anachronism

When Joseph Smith received the gold plates of the Book of Mormon, he also apparently obtained the Nephite/Jaredite "interpreters," said to be like "spectacles," that could be used to assist the prophetic work of translating the plates. Spectacles? From ancient America? Isn't that just a bit anachronistic, given that spectacles or eyeglasses are a relatively modern European invention?

First, when I hear statements about well-known modern European inventions, you know, things like the world's first mass-produced book, movable type, the blast furnace, paper money, and smallpox vaccination, it's often good to check if these things may have actually been invented in China, as was the case for all these items, as we've learned from decades of research by Cambridge scholar Joseph Needham and his successors. No, the Gutenberg Bible, wonderful as it was, came over a century after the world's first mass-produced book printed with movable type, the Nong Shu (or the Book of Farming) by Wang Zhen in 1313, an amazing story that was recently recognized and honored by the Paper Industry Hall of Fame in my town of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Eyeglasses can trace their origins to Italy, but China deserves some credit for sunglasses, as do the Inuit Indians of North America. The Inuits used ivory from walruses carved with small slits that could be placed over the eyes to reduce the intensity of light reflected from the snow and help them prevent sun blindness (see "Who Invented Eyeglasses?"). But surely that Native American innovation had nothing to do with the "interpreters" of the Book of Mormon, right? Right, as far as I know.

The story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon gave the world several apparent anachronisms before a single word of our Book of Mormon ever made it into ink. Some of these earliest Book of Mormon problems are are arguably no longer relevant in light of growing evidence for their plausibility, including the existence of ancient writing on metal and the use of stone boxes to bury sacred treasure in the ancient Americas. But one of these initial issues remains that I've seen used by critics several times recently, including in comments on this blog, to question the plausibility of the Book of Mormon. It's the argument that the Nephite "interpreters" (sometimes called a Urim and Thummim) that were included with the gold plates, are anachronistic based on their description as being like "spectacles." Actual spectacles or eyeglasses, after all, are a fairly recent modern invention that were not in use anywhere on earth, as far as we know, in 400 A.D. or earlier.

Are we sure the "interpreters" looked like spectacles? Several descriptions are shared in the Book of Mormon Central article, "Is There Evidence That Joseph Smith Possessed a Urim and Thummim and Breastplate?," Feb. 18, 2018:

Joseph Smith described the Nephite interpreters (which, over time, came to be known as the Urim and Thummim) as “two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.” Martin Harris said they “were about two inches in diameter, perfectly round, and about five-eighths of an inch thick at the center; but not so thick at the edges where they came into the bow.” He added that they were “white, like polished marble, with a few gray streaks.” John Whitmer called them “two crystals or glasses.” Lucy Mack Smith said they resembled “two large bright diamonds.”

David Whitmer reported that they were “white stones, each of them cased in as spectacles are, in a kind of silver casing, but the bow between the stones was more heavy, and longer apart between the stones, than we usually find it in spectacles.” William Smith further explained that a “silver bow ran over one stone, under the other, around over that one and under the first in the shape of a horizontal figure 8 much like a pair of spectacles.” [footnotes omitted]

The word "spectacles" is used a couple of times, and the word "glasses" is also mentioned. That also seems consistent with the brief description of the ancient Jaredite interpreters that the Nephites had apparently received (a topic for discussion later, but see Don Bradley's excellent book on the 116 lost pages of the Book of Mormon), said to comprise "two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow" (Mosiah 28:13).  Based on the published history of spectacles or eyeglasses, those terms certainly seem out of place in Jaredite and Nephite times. The website AntiqueSpectacles.com offers a timeline for the development of spectacles or eyeglasses, dating the origin to Pisa, Italy in 1286 AD. The site also exposes several artistic blunders in which paintings erred by showing spectacles in use during the time of Christ.  See "Two Unique Anachronisms Showing Eyeglasses."

Unfortunately, it thus seems that anyone Googling "ancient spectacles" will quickly find evidence that it was unlikely for ancient Americans, Mesoamerican or otherwise, to have known about spectacles. Were there optometrists among the ancient Americansproviding the Nephites with eyeglasses or spectacles? Of course not. So is there any hope for plausibility for the Nephite and Jaredite "interpreters," one of the first issues that may arise in considering the plausibility of the Book of Mormon account? Trying to turn Inuit "sunglasses" into "spectacles" doesn't seem helpful: they were just slits in ivory, not glasses, and I don't believe we have evidence that they were in use well before 400 A.D.

However, this problem, as happens in many debates, may be influenced if not largely determined by the assumptions we make, which then affect how we search and what evidence we look for and find. The interpreters, though looking like spectacles or eyeglasses to some modern witnesses, were not spectacles that help correct vision in daily life. They were stones held in a frame, perhaps translucent, but certainly not simple corrective optics designed for any individual's poor eyesight. They were not ordinary tools for anyone to use, but were mystic, revelatory tools to help a prophet bring forth light out of darkness, to reveal information such as translating ancient scripture, in some kind of sacred experience involving vision. They were tools for a prophetic seer, not for ordinary seeing in ordinary light.

Maybe we need to consider something other than "spectacles" or "eyeglasses" when we explore the potential ancient parallels to the ancient "interpreters" Joseph had.

I'll offer one suggestion that didn't occur to me until I opened up a newly purchased used book on Mesoamerica and almost immediately saw this while looking for something else:

The book is Susan Toby Evans, Ancient Mexico & Central America: Archaeology and Culture History, 2nd ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008, first published 2004), and the image is from p. 306. This "goggle-adorned portrait" depicts the founder of the Copán dynasty. Here the goggles may be used to link the subject to the Storm God known as Tlaloc or to highlight his association with Teotihuacan, where goggle imagery abounded.

Goggles! Interesting. So here's one speculative suggestion for new perspectives on "spectacles": rather than Googling "spectacles," what would happen if we Googled "goggles" or, more specifically, "Mesoamerican goggles"? When I tried that, there was quite a surprise. The first hit for my search was a remarkable article showing and discussing numerous examples of figures from ancient Mesoamerica wearing goggles. The article is "Goggles," dated Dec. 18, 2018, from the outstanding website Hammocks and Ruins by a couple of Mayan enthusiasts and adventurers. Here are a couple images from the article and a few I've found at other sources:

Here is a Totonac culture figurine from El Zapotal in Veracruz at the Xalapa Museum of Anthropology (though the photo is of a replica in the National Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City) . See "'Spaceman'" at the Mexicolore website. This appears to be a human ball player. Are the goggles meant to be personal protective equipment or do they play a mystical role?

And here's a Mayan figurine also depicting the founder of the Copán dynasty, shown at Mesoweb.com:

Here's an image of the Storm God Tlaloc from Wikipedia:

Another from Wikipedia:

Based on their survey of the literature, the authors at Hammocks and Ruins say this about the meaning of goggles in Mesoameria:
The images above show that goggles were worn by gods, rulers, ballplayers and warriors. So what did they represent? Here is a summary of the various symbolisms of the goggles that I have found so far:
  • noble status, as part of the king's ceremonial headdress (not for eye protection, because there's no evidence that the goggles contained lenses of any kind)
  • penetrating gaze of the gods, which separated them from the common folk
  • the power of the Sun
  • Venus and its duality: twin stars of Venus, the movement of Venus in and out of the underworld as both Morning Star and Evening Star.
  • owl's eyes, the owl’s ability to traverse the darkness of the cave or the underworld
  • a symbol of water (found in caves/underworld)
  • stars/constellations/deity status
  • a symbol of sacrifice
  • a paradise of life after death
Could it be that legends of a mystical means for gaining divine vision spread from either the Jaredites or  Nephites and became associated with a mystical adornment associated with powerful gods, with seeing in darkness, and elite priestly status? Or could the transfer have gone the other way, with a Mesoamerica google-theme influencing the way humans framed the mystical stones used in the interpreters? In either case, perhaps it's worth further exploration.

Yes, highly speculative, but I hope you find it to be an interesting possibility.

More thoughts and information on this issue to follow in Part 2.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Another Update on the River of Laman

Warren Aston, whose personal explorations in the Arabian Peninsula have done so much to expand our knowledge of Lehi's Trail and the candidates for some of the places mentioned by Nephi in the Book of Mormon, has shared another update about the River Laman at Book of Mormon Central.

He had previously noted how the river (a stream to us, though it was certainly bigger in the past and is still amazing and unexpected today in such a dry part of the world) was recently seen to be coming relatively close to shore of the Red Sea and did reach it when it surged from rains. But here, months later, at a dry time, it is seen coming all the way to the beach.

The data from Arabia related to Lehi's Trail from beginning to end has done much to help us better appreciate the reality of Nephi's record, and I think there's more to come. The details of an impressive valley with towering walls, a continually flowing "river," fruit trees, oases, and places where people could camp and live comfortably, all accessible from Jerusalem and consistent in location and setting with the Book of Mormon account is something that Joseph Smith simply could not have known about it, for learned critics with advanced degrees said the existence of such a place was impossible all the way up until it was found and pointed out. This must be viewed as at least possible evidence for the antiquity of a portion of the Book of Mormon, or else a very big stroke of luck.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Fear and Trembling and Sickness Unto 47 Million Deaths: Basic Math and the Pandemic Panic

A well-educated friend with a graduate degree from an outstanding university sent me this video from Dr. Emily Porter of Austin, Texas and felt it was enlightening. She artfully and eloquently explains why we need lockdowns to cope with COVID-19 or millions will die. It has been received with great enthusiasm and numerous supportive comments. It's viewed as credible, authoritative, and compelling. It's also a classic example of how a failure to be careful with basic math can lead to terrible conclusions that can drive all of us to despair (for various reasons). Sadly, this video has served to exacerbate unnecessary fear and encourage trust in some policies that may do more harm than good. Regardless of the merits of lockdowns, understanding the nature of the mistakes and tactics in this video, as well intended as it may be, can help us stand up to more bad science from others for this or other crises.

I'll break things down by looking at key portions of this video, marked by time. The video was posted to Youtube March 22, 2020, and thus data cited may be out of date, but some of the errors are timeless, or rather, happen all the time, even in discussions from experts that we are told to trust.

Setting:  Some credentials for the speaker, Dr. Emily Porter, are established verbally and visually. She's a doctor, she's wearing a white laboratory coat, she has a stethoscope around her neck, and tells us she has a sister, Katie Porter, who got elected to Congress and is apparently pretty popular. She seems like a passionate, intelligent, eloquent, and sincerely concerned medical doctor, and I'm sorry that there are some gaping flaws that need to be pointed out. As I explain below, these may not be her fault, and I don't want to criticize her personally. I suggest it's the soundness of the widespread and popular message she is sharing that needs to be considered.

Video @ 0:55 to 1:20: "CDC is estimating that 40-70% of [America's 331 million people] will get infected" with COVID-19. So, she says, let's say 150 million, on the lower end, will be infected. For the infected population, "80% will be just fine. 20% will need hospitalization."

Response: 20% of those infected need to be hospitalized? That's a remarkably high number. Even when we didn't know about all the asymptomatic people that don't even feel sick (about 35% of those infected), such a high hospitalization rate was not on the table, as far as I can recall. That rate only applies to the very old. Below is hospitalization rate data from the CDC, and while it was published in April less than a month after Porter's presentation, the knowledge of the hospitalization rate in March should not have been wildly off. The highest hospitalization rate listed is 17%, and it's for those over 85 years of age. Not an average of 20% for everyone!

Porter's error (if it's even hers) is probably unintentional, but it is a critical one that blows the threat way out of proportion. Unfortunately, the nature of this questionable blunder is very similar to another even more egregious error made minutes later.

For the 150 million who might become infected, she does not say how long this will take. For a virus to sweep through a population until herd immunity is established can take years or at least many months. Part of the fearful impact to come in this video is the implicit notion that we could have a huge population of sick people all at once. This needs more clarity.

Video @ 1:20 to 1:35: She warns that Italian hospitals are being overwhelmed by the virus, and we have even fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy, so we're in big trouble.

Response: Reasonable, but this neglects the vast differences in our populations, for Italy has a much older population with many more elderly people susceptible to the virus. Not exactly a fair comparison. (As we've seen since this video was made, our hospitals in almost every state were not overwhelmed, even in -- or especially in -- states like South Dakota that did not impose harsh lockdowns.)

Video @ 1:20 to 1:35:"5 to 10% of the 150 million that get infected will need vents."

Response: This huge number requires the incorrect assumption that 20% of those infected will need hospitalization. New York's early experience had about 1/3 of their hospitalized COVID patients on ventilators, so if 20% hospitalization were reasonable, then 5-10% on ventilators would make sense. OK. 

Video @ 1:50 to 1:58: "5% of 150 million people is 7.5 million vents needed in America." The caption drives this home: "7.5 MILLION VENTS."

Response: 7.5 million people needing ventilators sometime does not mean that 7.5 million ventilators are needed all at once. This assumes that all of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients are sick at the same time and each needs their own machine. This is an utterly unrealistic, even an impossible scenario. The disease does not spread across the country in a day, sending nearly 8 million people to ICUs all at once. This is an blunder that builds on the prior mistakes. Don't blame her personally --  this kind of questionable math and logic seems to be sweeping the nation, sort of like a pandemic on its own.

Video @ 2:00 to 2:40: Porter explains that we only have around 100,000 ventilators in the nation. To be conservative, she assumes we actually have 150,000. With 7.5 million needed but only 150,000 available, only "0.02% [sic] of people could get a ventilator if they needed one." She then explains that this means that only 1 in 50 people could get a ventilator.

Response:  A relatively minor math error here is reporting 0.02%, which would be 2 out of 10,000 or 1 in 5,000, an utterly unreasonable number. But this is probably just due to overlooking the meaning of percentage, for 150,000 divided by 7.5 million is 0.02. As a percentage you should then say 2%, not 0.02%. Fortunately, when she then explains that 0.02% [sic] means 1 in 50, she's at least back to a correct ratio, in spite of the confusion about percentages.

The important issue here is that she claims only 1 in 50 patients who need a ventilator can get one, when this is based on the bad assumptions that have already seriously tainted her analysis. It's way off. But the worst is yet to come.

Video @ 2:40 to 2:47: "That means that 49 out of 50 are gonna die. That is scary. That should scare you. That scares me." The big, bold captions hammer this home.

Response: Her presentation is based on the assumption that those who get ventilators live and those who don't will die. Even back in early March, it was becoming clear that many or most COVID patients on ventilators died. Ventilators are a last resort for desperate cases and often don't do any good. A more fair comparison would involve the number of seriously ill patients who will die without intubation versus those who will die even with intubation. Good data might not have been available for COVID-19 when she gave this presentation, but she should at least have recognized that there's still a high death rate for intubated patients even before COVID came along, and that not getting a vent is not necessarily a death sentence. There's no nuance here, all clear cut and dramatic without the caution demanded by science. Science demands a little nuance. Stirring fear, not so much.

A few weeks later, the evidence was indicating that things aren't anywhere as clear cut as Porter says. Sometimes ventilators can do more harm than good, and patients who seemingly need ventilators based on old criteria might be fine without one. See Sharon Begley, "With ventilators running out, doctors say the machines are overused for Covid-19" at StatNews.com, April 8, 2020. Now we also know that New York, said to be in dire need of more ventilators, had plenty after all.

Video @ 2:47 to 2:50: "That should scare everybody who can understand basic math."

Response: This is one of the most accurate and fitting statements made, but in an ironic way. What she is saying in this video should alarm those who can understand basic math and see through the errors, with the biggest and scariest yet to come. It is frightening to see how much fear, panic, and self-imposed harm on this nation is being spread through fearmongering and a failure to do the math and consider the science.

Video @ 2:55 to 3:17: "The doctors have to choose who that 1 in 50 is. Can you imagine?" She suggests that doctors will tell people that since they once had cancer or some other disease, that they "are not worth saving." She also suggests that doctors will be force to let people over 80 die, "because that's that they are doing in Italy right now."

Response: Calm, authoritative fearmongering. That's a harsh word, and she may just be reflecting what's she gathering from other sources, but it's still a reasonable term. Creating a horrific worst-case scenario, based on flawed math and bad assumptions, and then driving it home in an emotional way, is fearmongering. Scary and effective, but not accurate.

As for assuming Italy's crisis would be ours, that's again unfair given their much older population. As for the claim that Italy was choosing not to treat elderly people, that may not be completely accurate, either. USA Today's fact check of March 20, 2020 on that Facebook rumor gives it a "false" evaluation, though I think they may have had to use triage in one overwhelmed region. But if that's not completely accurate on her part, it's a minor flaw relative to the key elements of this presentation.

Video @ 3:18 to 3:30: "Unless you want somebody to decide whether you're worth saving or your dad or your sister or your baby or your grandma, you have to do your part to prevent us from having to make thse decisions."

Response: Fearmongering that gets really personal, with a touch of added irrationality. She creates the most frightening, emotional scenario: having someone decide that your baby may have to die because the ventilator needs to go to someone else. By March, it was already abundantly clear that unlike the regular flu, COVID-19 is remarkably gentle on the young. The risk for infants and children is very close to ZERO. Even if there were only 1 ventilator in the country, it's not reasonable to stir up fears that maybe your baby is going to be selected by heartless doctors to die unless we shut down our economy, shut down the schools, and force people to cower at home. This is just fearmongering that goes beyond a mere lack of nuance. Does she not know that the young have virtually no risk? It's fair to worry about grandma, though,  and it's wise to encourage grandma to stay home, wear a mask, wash her hands, and be careful about visitors. But that's not her message at all.

Video @ 3:35 to 4:21: She discusses the meaning of flattening the curve. She shows how cases can increases exponentially and create a curve where the number of patients exceeds the fixed capacity of the healthcare system. She shades the portion of the curve above the dotted line showing the capacity, and then tells us what happens to all those in the region above the curve: "If we don't do anything, without protective measures, we're going to end up up here, above the ability to take care of everybody. What that means is that all these people, and probably more, die. They die. Because we don't have ventilators for them. And we have to start playing Russian roulette of who's gonna get saved."

Response: As discussed above, a ventilator for pneumonia or other respiratory diseases does not make a 100% plain-and-simple difference between dying or living. If you need a ventilator, you may still die and with COVID-19, it seems that most on ventilators still die. Not getting one if someone things you need it also does not mean you won't survive. "They die," end of story, is a dramatic oversimplification.

Video @ 4:21 to 4:46: Social distancing and protecting measures are discussed. She acknowledges the frustration of social distancing, not going out of the house except for groceries, having schools cancelled, of having to home school and work from home.

Response: Reasonable comments. (No mention of people losing jobs or the many adverse consequences of lockdowns and the ensuing economic devastation, but that has taken time for people to just begin to appreciate.)

Video @ 4:47 to 5:46: This is a key moment. We cut forward in her presentation to a scene with new numbers on her easel that aren't explained. The numbers show what must be the mortality rate for infected patients by age groups, increasing sharply with age. For those over 80 years old, the mortality rate is listed as 14.8%. At the bottom of the pad is a huge number: 47 million. She says, "There's a million reasons to be angry and just think this whole thing sucks because it does. But what really sucks is losing 47 million people."

Response: The "basic math" here is not explained, and maybe it's best that the methodology was cut to just focus on the fear. But it seems that she or someone she's following has taken the 14.8% mortality rate for those over 80, maybe turned it into the 14.5% number written below,  and applied that to the entire US population of 331 million, and generously rounding down to 47 million. That's right, 47 million.

So after all the math errors and faulty assumptions before, now we get the granddaddy of them all. We are faced with this terrifying, gargantuan number of 47 million people who will die if we don't do strict lockdowns, and it seems to be based on assuming that the terrible COVID death rate statistics for the most vulnerable age group, those few who are over 80 years old, suddenly applies not just to the 150 million who might eventually get infected, but to the entire population, eradicating one out of every six people. This is not just a slip of the tongue when she meant to say something like 470,000 people or something. She spoke it and has it written down. We are at risk of losing 47 million if we don't comply and obey the experts in white robes who can do basic math much better than the rest of us.

The whole pandemic panic got started with a discredited model from Imperial College that predicted 2.2 millions deaths in the US if we didn't take strong measured. That was wildly off. I just can't fathom how she or whoever provided her these numbers got 47 million and would use it in this presentation.

Breathtaking! Sadly, I couldn't find a single comment from hundreds made that pointed out the this bizarre and ridiculous gaffe and the other massive flaws in basic math, logic, and science in this video.

Incidentally, as a very minor point, the 14.8% mortality rate for 80+ may have been reported early on, but at least by the end of March a lower rate was being reported: 7.8% for the 80+ group. I think around 8% is still considered reasonable for that high-risk age group.

Wait, one last possibility to rescue this: could the 47 million be global deaths? Could that explain this huge number of deaths she's thinking about? No, I'm afraid not. See the next section below.

Video @ 4:57 to 5:24: "I'm doing my part. I'm also just listening to what I'm being told by the experts." "If you care about anybody other than yourself, including -- especially -- these 47 million Americans, that you will also do the same and just not complain about it."

Response: The math leaves me speechless. Such unjustified fear. But her message continues to be the message of many: "1. Trust the experts and do what you are told. 2. If you complain, you don't care about others. You're a bad person."

Conclusion: There's more to this painful video than just some bad math to poke at. She seems like a passionate, intelligent, eloquent, and sincerely concerned medical doctor, and I'm sorry that there are so many gaping flaws that need to be pointed out. Perhaps much of this is sharing things she heard from the media rather than checking assumptions and math herself, so don't blame here. These same kind of things are being shared and said from many sources.

At the time she made this video, we were being told we were just flattening the curve for a couple of weeks and that's all. She mentions that in this final section, also, that it's just two to four weeks. But the goal of flattening the curve and avoiding the overwhelming of hospitals was achieved, yet long past March we were being told in many places to continue cowering, that it's "cavalier" to send kids back to school, that we must have slow, gradual plants that might take many months of strict criteria before it's safe to buy things anywhere but Walmart and liquor stores, and that whatever the increasingly huge costs of the lockdown, it's "worth it if we save only one life," as Governor Cuomo put it, neglecting the cost in lives that is increasingly becoming apparent from many of the neglected side effects of this terrible cure in which the young and healthy with very low risk are locked up and the vulnerable were not properly protected (at least in New York and some other places), and in which everything from the media and some politicians seems focused on driving the message of "be afraid, shut up, and comply or you don't care about others."

I fear that education in basic math and independent thinking must simply be widely lacking in our educational system. If someone with a  lab coat and a stethoscope around their neck tells you something, do you feel compelled to believe and comply, or do you have the ability to question and push back when something is said that just doesn't make sense? I suggest more of us should be willing to ask tough questions.

Excessive fear of COVID-19 has been used to force religious groups to stop meeting, even to the point of not allowing drive-in services. It's been used to create a spirit of fear and trembling among many, including children who are really not at risk. The CDC's current estimate of the overally mortality rate is around 0.26% when asymptomatic cases are included, which make it's maybe twice as bad as what we face in most flu seasons, but does it really merit this level of fear and trembling? Does it merit prolonged lockdowns and insistence that we can't go back to normal until a vaccine is available -- when this class of virus doesn't appear to have any examples of successful vaccines, and when other viruses like HIV don't have vaccines yet after nearly 40 years of serious effort? The fear that most people are accepting is not nearly as science based as they have been led to believe. It's time to ask tougher questions and not lose complete sight of the overall welfare of our nation and our young people. Look at the many unhealthy side effects of the lockdowns and the many deaths that will follow the self-inflicted economic wounds we are creating. It's a time for thinking and asking better questions. It's a time to really do the math -- but carefully.

Related news:
  • A leaked internal report from the German government is leading many Germans to question the wisdom of their relatively mild lockdowns. Many are suspecting that the official narrative behind the panic has been exaggerated. Germany seems to have had some related "bad math" problems.
  • 500 doctors sign a letter to the President warning that the lockdowns are doing more harm than good. The media is downplaying this as just a bunch of Trump supporters playing politics. The concern for lost lives and ruined health should not be so callously dismissed. 
  • Oxford's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine published a report on March 17 on global  COVID-19 data, "Global Covid-19 Case Fatality Rates." While this has been updated several times since then, it has long given us clear information that can help counter the urge to panic. "Taking account of historical experience, trends in the data, increased number of infections in the population at largest, and potential impact of misclassification of deaths gives a presumed estimate for the COVID-19 IFR somewhere between 0.1% and 0.41%."
  • CDC's latest estimates on mortality rates also gives much lower numbers than those used to create the panic over COVID-19. Their 0.4% number does not reflect the impact of asymptomatic cases, which may further reduce the effective rate. Still worse than the flu in most years, but not wildly so. It's a deadly disease, certainly, especially for the elderly and those with severe health problems already. Perhaps we should focus on protecting those that are are risk and let the rest of the population leave their quarantine and get back to school, work, church, beaches, whatever. Just a thought.

Book of Mormon Reminder: Resist Voices That Stir Hate and Violence

 1. The Book of Mormon's Warnings Against Manipulative Power Seekers Who Stir Us to Anger

The Book of Mormon is becoming more relevant day by day during this time of dramatic tension and sweeping upheavals in our society. One important lesson from the Book of Mormon is that society is often threatened by the power-hungry, whether it be those already in power seeking for more power and wealth, or for those seeking to overthrow the existing order to seize power. Ordinary people often cannot relate to the mentality of a megalomaniac like Amalickiah who would be willing to destroy so much to gain his selfish goals, but world history is littered with the ruins of such unusual people, rare though they may be. An important contribution of the Book of Mormon for coping with their threat is comes through insights into how they work. Their key tool is manipulation of their followers and, when possible, the populace at large. Anger, hate, and fear are their key tools -- in other words, it's all about manipulation through emotions, and toxic ones at that. But there is often an ideology or even a "faith" that can support the emotions and justify the desired actions, just as the manipulations of King Noah, would-be-king Amlici,  Amalickiah, and the Gadianton robbers were all propped up with an appealing worldview/faith that countered the Nephite faith and offered an allegedly more rational philosophical/religious framework that turned abhorrent pillaging, looting, and bloodshed into a virtue and a just cause.

Look how often the Book of Mormon shows us how the wicked use bold accusations and eloquent words to "stir" others to anger, often with the hidden or explicit agenda of gaining power for themselves. Laman used sweeping language to condemn Nephi as evil in his quest to be the leader of their small group. "And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger" (1 Nephi 16:38). Nephi later writes that Satan "stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness" (2 Nephi 9:9), here apparently drawing upon language from the brass plates version of Genesis, perhaps closely related to our current Book of Moses, as I'll discuss in a following post this week. Likewise in 2 Nephi 28:20, he tells us that Satan in our day "shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good."

Limhi reports that the Lamanite's King Laman, seeking to gain the wealth of the small Nephite colony in the City of Nephi, "began to stir up his people that they should contend with my people; therefore there began to be wars and contentions in the land" (Mosiah 9:13).  Peace was achieved with that king, but when he passed away, his son followed the same business model: "he began to stir his people up in rebellion against my people; therefore they began to prepare for war, and to come up to battle against my people" (Mosiah 10:6). The business of war is almost always rooted in stirring up the people to anger, as we should increasingly note today. Common people generally don't want war, but those seeking power and wealth need it for their aims, and thus manipulating the people to anger against an enemy, real or imagined, is needed.

Ironically but not unexpectedly, the wicked are swift to accuse their opponents of the same things they do, and that includes charging those who oppose them with fearmongering and spreading hate or divisiveness. Thus, the vile King Noah seeks to maintain his tyrannical power by censoring and ultimately executing the prophet Abinadi. King Noah said, "I command you to bring Abinadi hither, that I may slay him, for he has said these things that he might stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people; therefore I will slay him" (Mosiah 11:28). But when finally confronted with Abinadi and his impressive prophetic presence, King Noah was about to relent, but his priests, seeking to maintain their own power and topple this enemy prophet, manipulate King Noah with familiar tactics, appealing to the King's ego: "the priests lifted up their voices against [Abinadi], and began to accuse him, saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in anger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain" (Mosiah 17:12).

But one of those wicked priests, Alma, was profoundly touched by Abinadi's words. He spoke out in favor of the prophet, but had to flee for his own life. He repented and returned to the real Nephite faith and began teaching others. This movement drew the attention of the king, who saw it as a hreat to his power and used the muscle of the state to stamp out this unwanted message. His justification? "The king said that Alma was stirring up the people to rebellion against him; therefore he sent his army to destroy them" (Mosiah 18:33). Such religious persecution is widespread in the world today, though it is rarely given much attention in the mainstream media since it doesn't seem to fit their ideology (IMHO).

In an interesting and relevant scene from around 90 B.C., a power-hungry elitist, Amlici, seeks to become king. His followers try to persuade the Nephites to abandon their new system of government and seeks to gain "the voice of the people" to reinstitute the throne. When the voice of the people (we often jump to the conclusion that this was a one-man-one-vote kind of election, when that's not necessarily how it happened nor what the text requires) came back with a firm "no" to the proposal, "Amlici did stir up those who were in his favor to anger against those who were not in his favor" (Alma 2:8) and launched a civil war that killed thousands.

The Book of Mormon frequently reminds us that it is the elite in society who are some of the most dangerous people, not just because of such obvious threats as Amlici's civil war or Amalickiah's massive campaign of violence, but also because of the local disorder they cause as part of their business model. This is a profound and subtle point that we can see in operation in many ways today. In Ammonihah, corrupt administrative officials called "lawyers" were stirring up trouble that resulted in a steady flow of work and income for them: "Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek" (Alma 11:20).

"Stirring up" to anger is how Satan moves the Lamanites to seek the destruction of their own converted brethren (Alma 27:12); it is how the leader of the Zoramites stirred up his people and the Lamanites to see to destroy the people of Ammon (Alma 35:8-10); it is how Zarahemnah gained influence over the Lamanites to manipulate them into war against the Nephites, "that he might usurp great power over [the Lamanites], and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage" (Alma 43:8); it was the basic tool of Amalickiah (Alma 46:30, 47:1, 48:3, 51:9),  a tool of other power-hungry kings, tyrants, and enemies of the Nephites (Helaman 1:18, 4:3, 4),  the key tool used to Satan to gain and maintain a grasp on the hearts of men (Helaman 16:22, 3 Nephi 6:15), and the mobilizing force on both sides of the horrific civil war that wiped out the essence of the Jaredite civilization (Ether 15:6).

When Christ ministered to the Nephites, one of the first things he taught them was the warning that contention and anger was a tool of Satan:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

Such teachings had a profound and peaceful impact on human society for several generations, but they sound fell back to the natural ways of vengeance and violence as the Nephites and Lamanites battled it out again, and then the victorious Lamanites continued to war among themselves, all because "Satan stirreth them up continually" (Moroni 9:3).

Stirring up the hearts of men, whether it is to anger, to other forms of wickedness, or to yielding to the manipulations of maniacal power seekers continues to be a dominant tactic of the Adversary today. It may be easy to see that happening when we look back at history, but do we have the awareness to recognize when we are being manipulated? Do we trust what we are told? Are we easily stirred to anger? Are we easily led to violence and war, whether it is civil or against other nations? Are we easily manipulated to surrender to the machinations of those seeking to control us and expand their power?  From a Book of Mormon perspective, it would seem reasonable to be skeptical and  question the motives of those who influence our society in ways that might stir up hatred and violence, whether at home or abroad. It is wise to question the motives of those from any party who stir up raw emotions to promote war, bloodshed, their own expansion of power, or the surrender of liberties. Treating the Book of Mormon as relevant history can help us better cope with real challenges today, in my opinion.

2. The Horror of the Riots Sweeping America

Shocking violence is erupting in the name of opposing violence. Virtually everybody of every race seems to agree that what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis was an outrage. Black people are offended. So are whites. We want our police to be servants of the people, protectors, bringers of peace, not brutes, not militarized thugs, not killers. I sympathize with those who wish to peacefully protest. But some of the peaceful protests have been turned into violent riots.

I have spent a lot of time in Minneapolis for work and have family and friends there. It is a place that celebrates diversity, where citizens of many colors and immigrants from many nations do a great job of being friends and working together. So what's leading to the massive destruction of that beautiful and once peace-loving city?

Local citizens, black or white, in Minneapolis and other cities don't want to burn down the stores they shop in. They don't want to destroy their neighborhoods. Even when outraged over a horrific killing, they don't want to smash the windows and loots the shops of black owners (many of those facing the wrath or rioters are black) or white owners who had nothing to do with the crime. They naturally don't want to kill or beat up random people to make a statement against violence.

I don't think it's the locals out of control here. There seems to be a coordinated effort to bring in hundreds of thugs, many if not mostly white, perhaps either stirred up to anger or just encouraged by some vile ideology or incentives to be violent. Some say it's white supremicists, others say it's Antifa, the radical leftists known for violent tactics. But I believe that the violence is definitely not an expression of the average local black people in Minneapolis or our other cities, though I fear this violence will only increase racial misunderstanding as some people make that assumption.

Who's behind the coordinated violence? Yes, coordinated. One of  the multiple clues that a coordinated, funded effort is at play would be the many pallets of bricks that are being brought in to major cities and deposited ahead of time in key urban areas for the convenience of the thugs will be come out in force at night. Amazing and pretty obvious. Who paid for these? Who brought them in? Who's organizing the violence? This should be exposed ASAP.

These events go far beyond natural outrage over George Floyd. Violence is being deliberately fomented. Citizens of all colors should demand that the instigators be found and that concerned black communities not be smeared with blame for what Antifa or other radicals of any color or ideology have done. But the radicals need to be stopped.

Our law enforcement agencies, with all their vast domestic spying tools created ever since the Patriot Act was rushed through Congress in the name of stopping terrorism, should be able to figure out who purchased and delivered these bricks and who sent all the texts and emails that coordinated the arrival and even busing of thugs to unleash chaos and terrorism in our cities. Why are these powerful tools, enable with dramatic and questionable legislation in the name of coping with terrorism, apparently not being used to prevent or instantly stop domestic terrorism? I'm not saying I think government should be able to spy on its own people without a cause, but since that power has been taken, at least use it to protect us.

Meanwhile, voices that stir up hate and violence in response to an act of injustice need to be called out and questioned, not listened to. Those seeking to inflame may have ulterior motives. Ask questions, don't succumb to hate or anger, but do stand boldly but peacefully against violence.

Kudos to those who were calling upon the officer to get off the neck of George Floyd. How sad that other police at the scene, now fired, apparently didn't dare stop or question what was being done. May all police everywhere realize that their job is to protect people, not to just follow orders and go along with whatever someone in authority tells them. May we all have that attitude and be able to stand, when needed, against oppression and tyranny.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Faith and Fear in the Midst of Snitching: A Firsthand Account

While the tragedy of the Corona virus pandemic has brought out many examples of good as people pull together, sacrifice to help each other, and show courage in many ways, there have been many troubling developments as well. One of the unfortunate developments is the encouragement from some government for neighbors to snitch on each other. There are neighbors in some cities who are acting like spies, taking notes on the activities of their neighbor and looking for evidence that people may be violating the oppressive regulations against "non-essential" travel or violating draconian social distancing/forced isolation regulations.

When simple activities explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights (e.g., the freedom to assemble, freedom of religion) become criminalized and normal social relationships are soured with distrust, spying, and eagerness to report others to an overly powerful government, something very ugly has happened. With that thought in mind, I'd like to share the recent experience of a friend of mine who lived in fear of his neighbors for a while in a city where snitching related to the Corona virus was a serious threat. I share it both as a warning of what we may face in our society, but also as an example of a parent in a fearful situation finding guidance and strength through prayer to be able to cope. The account below, used with permission, was written for a broad group of his friends, many of whom are not fellow members of his faith. What he did not explain is that the fervent prayer he describes was actually a priesthood blessing he gave his daughter as they were on the eve of a necessary move that could result in either returning home safely or possibly facing a nightmare. To protect my friend's privacy, I have edited out a couple of statements that would could have made it easier to track him down, just in case.

I will also add that my experience in Shanghai was often blessed by kindness from our neighbors. One of them, our landlord for the past couple of years, has been one of the most friendly and loving people we know. She took my wife to dinner recently at a marvelous restaurant and is always bringing us food and doing other kind things. We've had such friendly and kind neighbors. I'm sorry that my friend went through quite a different experience in another part of China, but what he faced and overcame may have valuable lessons for some of you.

Here is the account of a father in China caring for a daughter with the flu, not COVID-19:
From my vantage point in China, it looks as though things are careening out of control overseas, as the crisis that we in China have been living with for months is now hitting home in the West. My daughter and I were in a remote area of southwestern China, on vacation, when the panic hit here. When the news of the Wuhan lockdown reached [the large city where we were], people vanished from the streets, and everyone began watching each other, eager to report any friend or neighbor showing symptoms of any illness, or anyone suspected of having come from Hubei Province, where the epidemic was raging. Pharmacies were watching for customers purchasing medicine, and police and neighborhood watchmen were vigilant. Anyone sick with anything was being detained and quarantined, no one knew where, along with family members. All public places were shut down, so there was literally nowhere we could go.

And in the midst of this mass hysteria, my daughter came down with a bad case of the flu. No dry cough, no respiratory issues. Just a good old fashioned high fever, sore throat, and serious congestion. I realized that, if she were discovered, we might both be whisked away into some awful quarantine, or worse, she might be taken from me, and interned somewhere where she might come into contact with the real Corona virus. For several days, we stayed put in the house where we were staying, while I hoped and prayed for her fever to break, constantly monitoring her symptoms against what was then known of the Corona virus, to make sure it WAS the flu.

Day after day we waited. I was very careful to hide the piles of used tissues in non-see-through trash bags, so that no one snooping through trash bins would find the evidence, and to conceal the food that I was bringing back for her. Finally, on the day before the owner of the house (who was beginning to suspect we were harboring a sick person) told us we had to leave, we managed to get plane tickets to get as far as Chengdu, a city where [we had access to an apartment], where my church has representation, and where the U.S. government has a consulate -- a place with a support network. But there was a problem: my daughter was still running a fever, and all the airports and transportation hubs were swarming with people checking temperatures.

At this point, in sheer desperation, we resorted to a final fervent prayer that my daughter would be healed overnight, so that we would be able to escape. And in a turn of events that can only be characterized as miraculous, she awoke the next morning fever-free and almost completely better! By the time we went to the airport that afternoon, she was back to her normal self, after more than a week of illness. But I did not breathe easily until we were past the checkpoints and on the plane.

We subsequently made it back to [our destination city in China], where we have been living in relative ease and safety, with adequate food and other supplies.... Even as I write these words, life is returning to normal here. It turns out that this disease is not like the flu, in that quarantines and other commonsense safety measures do seem to work. But for a few weeks, it certainly seemed as if the world as we had known it had come to an end.

Believe me when I say that I understand fear, because both my daughter and I experienced the absolutely sickening, overwhelming helplessness that comes of being in the midst of world-altering events, in a far-off land where no help is forthcoming. Yet we both got through it, with a little prayer and a stiff upper lip. As your countries plunge into what we've already been through, know that it won't last forever. China had to power down for a while, but now it's powering back on; and the rest of the world will, too. To paraphrase Vera Lynn, who sang reassurances in a far darker time than this, the lights will go on again, all over the world. You will have your sporting events, your rallies, your schools and universities, your churches, your travel, your vacations, your parties, and all the other social activities that make our lives worthwhile. This thing will not last. Some of you may fall ill, but you will heal. Markets will fall, but they will recover. Fear may trouble your hearts, but it can be replaced with hope and optimism. Stay strong, use common sense, and use resources like social media to strengthen each other. That's what we've done here, and what you can do there!
May we all be spared from snitch-rich environments. Here's wishing for a return to a more normal and healthy society. But whatever our environment, we can seek divine guidance on how to cope and how to live. Keep growing in faith and prayer!

Saturday, May 02, 2020

“The Chicken Sacrifices Are Working!” A Novel Approach for Coping with COVID-19

Sacrificial victims in Hong Kong, a low-COVID-19 city.
“It’s not any lockdown that's taming the virus,” Ollie explained to me in our interview. “It’s the chicken sacrifices. This would be the worst time to stop them or we’ll have a total disaster. They are working, but we must increase our faith and the chicken body count. This is all a scientifically obvious fact and you cannot disprove that. The chicken sacrifices are working, and that’s why the curve is being fattened.”

“You mean flattened?,” I interjected.

“Fattened, flattened, who cares? What matters is the lives we are saving with science. The science shows that our chicken sacrifices are working to save human lives. We’re the ones making this happen.”

“But Ollie, what’s the evidence that it’s actually the sacrifices and not the lockdowns or other factors that are affecting the disease?”

“Can’t you see? After we called for worldwide chicken sacrifices in February, the sacrifices began and soon the expected number of COVID-19 deaths began to decline and the spread gradually slowed – because, of course, the sacrifices are working! Science is real.”

“But what about some of the spikes that we are seeing in places like Wisconsin?”

“Those correlate perfectly with a lack of faith, leading to a decline in chicken sacrifices or sacrifices that weren’t done properly. It all fits! Look at these charts! I’m warning you, if we don’t do more sacrifices more faithfully, we’ll see more spikes, even very big ones, but if we do see numbers dropping, it will show the sacrifices are working. It’s our work that’s making all the difference in every state and nation – and the hard work of many others who are following my guidance. It’s our science-based faith that’s controlling the virus.”

I was fascinated with what I was learning from the Chief Executive High Priest, Ollie Fogey, leader of a mysterious faith-based group that is sometimes called the “Cock-a-Doodle Cult,” more formally known as the Worldwide Worshippers of the Great Goat God (WWGGG), a god who apparently has a strong animosity toward chickens.

Frankly, it was hard to argue with the evidence. Every dip and rise of every curve had an explanation that fit his paradigm. Maybe we do need to offer more chicken sacrifices. All this time the rest of us were thinking that the lockdowns were doing the trick, or maybe just the social distancing and good hygiene that people were doing on their own, but the evidence for the success of chicken sacrifices might just be even better than any evidence for the success being claimed for the widespread lockdowns, and might be a little more logical, too. Frankly, I just couldn’t see the logic in the idea that shutting down gyms and small scattered businesses made us safer and healthier since the result was everyone congregating at Walmart or those "essential" liquor stores. Ollie at least had some logic and snazzy charts on his side, if you can accept the idea of an angry goat god who dislikes chickens. 

This religion, or “cult” as they prefer to be called, has a unique and allegedly scientific approach to dealing with COVID-19. I had the rare opportunity learn more through an interview their leader while he was in Wisconsin last week for their annual Spring Sacrificial Rites and Chicken Fry in the backwoods of northern Wisconsin during a beautiful full moon.

Ollie says he can neither confirm nor deny rumors that the WWGGG was given massive Federal bailout that was buried in the hundreds of pages of emergency COVID-19 legislation that was recently signed into law. Since nobody, especially our politicians, has had time to read the new laws, it’s still too early to know which special interests are getting how much. But WWGGG claims to be at the forefront of dealing with the Corona virus, and wants credit (if not cash) for what they have done for America and the world.

Though known to believers as “Grand Exalted Chief Executive High Priest and Nemesis of All Poultry,”  WWGGG Chief Executive High Priest Ollie Fogey simply goes by Ollie when dealing with non-believers. He’s a charming and passionate retired mechanical engineer turned Kansas farmer who became “enlightened” after being struck on the head by a flying shingle during a thunderstorm. When he came out of the coma two weeks later, he announced he was the spokesman for the Great Goat God. Thanks to great social media marketing, his movement has gone global and he now leads literals dozens of worshippers around the world engaged in “science-based” goat worship. He guides them through his role as Chief High Priest of WWGGG, and also advances the mission of WWGGG through many humanitarian projects through his influence as a board member of the Great Goat God Foundation.

It was still damp and cold right after the Spring Sacrificial Rites when we met. Believers huddled around the fires where the hundreds of sacrificed chickens were being deep fried. We shared a couple plates of fried chicken during the interview. Absolutely delicious, thanks to a secret revealed blend of herbs and spices. Proper social distancing was maintained for the interview. 

Q. “Ollie, what’s up with the chicken sacrifices? Why would your Great Goat God want that?”

A. “Anyone who has run a farm should know that the wisest farm animal, the goat, is terribly annoyed by chickens. They are the nemesis of all that is goatly. The Great Goat God is most pleased when chickens are sacrificed.”

Q. “And you think this has something to do with COVID-19?”

A. “Absolutely. COVID-19 is an expression of the Great Goat God’s anger toward humanity. He must be appeased by more chicken sacrifices. That’s our faith, but it’s not just faith – the science is firmly on our side.”

Q. “Science?”

A. “Certainly. The science shows a perfect correlation between our work and the progress being made in the disease. Did you not read my global pronouncement in February?  As the disease first began spreading to the US and Europe, I announced that 100 million would die from the disease – 25 million in the US alone – unless chicken sacrifices were increased significantly.”

Q. “25 million in the US? Even the most extreme computer models were only predicting 2 million deaths, and that was way off.”

A. “Those models are worthless and have never been close. Computer models can’t foretell the future, but chicken gut models can, and they consistently showed 25.2 million deaths, with a 95% confidence interval of plus or minus 0.3 million.”

Q. “Chicken gut models?”

A. “Yes, it’s a very scientific process of extracting future-oriented data from the entrails of a properly sacrificed chicken. It takes into account biomolecular metrics, climate change, geomagnetism, big data, forensic epidemiology, green energy, quantitative easing, and it's 100% organic and totally sustainable.”

Q. “That actually works? How do you know?”

A. “It works most of the time. It’s a gift. When the prediction fails, though, it means the bird wasn’t sacrificed properly.  When it comes true, it shows the sacrifice was done properly. Very reliable correlation.”

Q. “But COVID-19 is now on the decline, and there’s no way it will reach 25 million deaths here.”

A. “Yes, of course, because the chicken sacrifices are working. Don't you get it? Our faithful members, with literally dozens on every continent except one–“

Q. “No believers in Antarctica?”

A. “Wrong, we’ve got a Level 3 priest at Russia’s Vostok Station who is offering regular sacrifices as best he can – frozen chicken nuggets – and that’s clearly helping to stave off the disease in Antarctica. It’s Australia where we don’t have members yet. A troubling lack of faith.”

Q. “So you would predict Australia should be in chaos from COVID-19?”

A. “No, there are chicken sacrifices still being conducted vicariously, in a way, as the people there respond to my calls to increase their consumption of chicken.”

Q. “So the data for your success can include actual chicken sacrifices or general chicken consumption?”

A. “It’s fluid. Faith and life are complex things. But all the data conforms to my expectations and shows that sacrifices and/or chicken consumption is appeasing the Great Goat God and resulting in progress.  Or sometimes in lack of progress where the sacrifices and chicken consumption aren’t enough.”

Q. “Can you explain why New York is so hard hit, while other large states like Florida have much less trouble?”

A. “Certainly. New York has two great problems. One, there burdensome regulations make it very hard to do a chicken sacrifice properly, so fewer sacrifices per capita is a big problem there. Second, New Yorker’s don’t like chicken all that much, and they really dislike Chick-Fil-A. There’s just a handful of restaurants for the whole state. Lack of sacrifices and low chicken consumption angers the Great Goat God. But we are ramping up our efforts there, so we’ve seen some progress recently and avoided total disaster, thanks to our work. But if Cuomo or de Blasio take any credit for their recovery, it’s a lie. The science shows we deserve the credit. Also, consider South Dakota, with very few deaths and no lockdown. You know why? Because of their enlightened laws that make it easier for my followed to carry out frequent chicken sacrifices. Plus South Dakota has a lot of goats. It all fits.”

Q. “Ollie, what motivates you to do this? Some say there are conflicts of interest involved with all this chicken consumption you are calling for. Do you stand to profit?”

A. “It’s only natural that I should try to influence society where possible for the greater good of mankind. That’s why I’m on the board of Tyson Chicken, Chick-Fil-A, KFC, and a few other companies that are at the forefront of saving the world by appeasing the Great Goat God through their valiant commercial enterprises. But it's not about profit, it's about saving lives.”

Q. “I guess that’s reasonable. What’s next for your cult when this virus is tamed?”

A. “There’s always another crisis ready to hatch, waiting in the wings, so to speak. We are already devising science-based ways of applying our faith to cope with the demands of climate change. My chicken entrails modeling shows that the Great Goat God may soon express more anger with climate change, or possibly hyperinflation from excessive dollar creation, either of which will call for vast increases in chicken sacrifice. And there are other diseases yet to be tamed. Our faith and our science will both be in the right place at the right time.”

Ollie’s message may be one that humanity desperately needs. Come to think of it, the lockdowns may have forced more people to rely on high-chicken fast food rather than more expensive low-chicken restaurants, so chicken consumption probably has increased due to the lockdowns, which may be fueling WGGG’s impact. And the New York data certainly seems in Ollie’s favor. It all sort of fits. What if Ollie is right?

As we see signs of progress in fighting COVID-19, I expect that we will soon face a new round of controversy as different parties contend in claiming credit for the success. Will our victory be due to Dr. Fauci’s wise guidance, to the visionary leadership of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, the steady influence of the Gates Foundation in moving us to a vaccinated utopia, the inspiring example of local leaders like Governor Cuoma or Mayor de Blasio, the courage of California leaders in forcing people away from sunny beaches and covering a skateboard park with sand, or the tsunami of economic and policy influence from the legendary geniuses at the Federal Reserve Bank whose next brilliancy may be negative interest rates as the sure-fire economic cure to cure all cures? Maybe it’s Ollie and his small cult of goat worshippers whose chicken sacrifices and calls for increased chicken consumption that are doing the trick by appeasing a very irritable Great Goat God.

If you have better scientific tools to identify who should get the credit for our progress in avoiding the millions of predicted deaths or for the eventual taming of COVID-19, let me know. Meanwhile, I’m off to Chick-Fil-A for a science-based meal. If it saves only one (human) life, it will be worth it.

Meanwhile, dear readers, remember, you are safer at home, so please don't go out into the dangerous sunlight, don't go out into the fresh air, don't get any outdoor exercise, don't get a haircut (unless you are a mayor or something special), and for goodness sake, please just sit around gorging yourself with chocolate, ice cream, and liquor. It could save a life, though probably not yours.

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