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

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Jobs Growth: More Comfort in Bogus Statistics

"Quack Doctors in the House" by Jim Willie discusses some of the statistical tricks being used to paint a rosy picture of the US economy. In addition to manipulation of the Consumer Price Index, which I've previously mentioned, he also discusses similar treatments of the GDP and jobs growth. Now there have been hundreds of reports in the mainstream media about job growth stats. Did you notice any of these articles pointing out that much of the "growth" comes from assumed but undocumented "growth" via a "Birth-Death model"? In this model, the government assumes that jobs coming in and out of existence from newborn and newly dead businesses aren't documented and thus must be added (via guesswork). Jim Willie makes this point:
JOBS GROWTH: The jobs picture is ripe with distortion. The April, May, and June job growth reports incorporated Birth-Death model lifts greater than the total number. June gains of 121k jobs included 175k mythical B-D jobs. May gains of 75k jobs included 211k imaginary B-D jobs. April gains of 138k jobs included 271k fictitious B-D jobs. Of course, the press and media failed to notice this point of embarrassment. Without these convenient B-D modeled new jobs, all three months would have registered a DECLINE in job growth, a point not even mentioned by the sleepy press & media. Moreover, newly created jobs continue to come far under the population growth requirement of 150k jobs monthly. The Birth-Death model remains a principal job producer, without any basis in reality, certainly no scrutiny.

Mike Shedlock also offers some insight into the questionable Birth-Death adjustments on job growth.

So why do I mention this here? Understanding the declining jobs market as well as the realities of inflation and a weakening economy are important to the concept of provident living and the temporal welfare of our own families as well as those around us. The Lord's counsel becomes more relevant all the time: stay out of debt, save and prepare for rough times in the future, have a food storage program, and get all the education you can.

And let me thrown in my own two cents: make sure your investments include at least a little of something that won't evaporate in an economic slow down or in a time of massive inflation. The scriptures warn us not to put our trust in gold and silver - please don't - but they are far more likely to preserve their value over time (or greatly increase) than the US dollar. (And now, with exchange traded funds like SLV and GLD, it's usually possible to include these in your 401k - but that's another story.)

And here's an interesting observation on the GDP in another article from Jim Willie:
The US GDP (economic growth) is exaggerated by 4% to 5% easily and most assuredly. Designed to remove price inflation from economic activity, the GDP Deflator is even lower than the goofy CPI. As higher costs filter through the economy, too little price inflation is removed. The result is that we label "inflation" as "growth" and claim strength, which is pure horse manure abuse of statistics, my chosen field. My favorite quote from all last year in [my] public scribbles is the following:

Any lack of proper adjustment in nominal GDP is falsely labeled as real economic growth. In my view, most of it comes from inadequate adjustment of higher energy and material costs, even food costs. Ironically, we boast that the economy is strong enough to handle higher energy costs, but evidence of that strength to handle more burden is distorted growth from wrongful (favorable) adjustment of those same energy costs! Most economic growth comes from hedonics to information technology and improper removal of general cost increases. The most glaring obvious higher cost born by the public and business world is for energy costs... Our GDP growth is mostly exaggerated technology spending and price inflation!
Look, I know some economists can produce seemingly great reasons for why the current Deflator and CPI are used and why they differ, but it's hard to believe that there is not serious temptation to select criteria that tend to make things look a little better.

Interestingly, the surprisingly low but still positive GDP stats reported yesterday were taken as good news by Wall Street. Since the economy is showing less growth than expected (it might be negative growth if better stats were used), maybe the Fed won't think we are growing too rapidly and maybe they won't inflict painfully higher interest rates on us, thus causing the economy to really tank, and since they might quit inflicting so much pain, maybe there is a chance for real growth - and so stocks shot up on the bad economic news.

This has become a recent trend in the market: bad economic news creates an aura of hope that the Fed (the unaudited, secretive masters of the economy - anyone troubled by that and by all the power concentrated in the hands of a few unelected officials??) might gives us a break, resulting in hope that drives stock prices up (after the terrible beating they've had when Bernanke growled a time or two). When the market depends on hope fueled by bad economic news, something is seriously wrong.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Sacrifice of Musicians Who Serve on Missions - Glad to See Stephen Beus a Winner!

Stephen Beus is a gifted 24-year-old pianist who just won the annual Gina Bachauer international piano competition. Not bad for a musician who did one of the craziest things an aspiring professional can do: he served a full-time LDS mission. See the Salt Lake Tribune story for further details.

The sacrifice of giving up two years at such a critical age is a serious one for musicians, athletes, and others in competitive fields. Thank goodness for the courage that some have to make that sacrifice, though it may jeopardize a scholarship or even a career. I'm glad some, such as Stephen Beus, have been able to maintain their competitive edge in spite of the break. It can be done!

For me, "losing" two years for my mission was more than compensated by the rich experiences and education I received in Switzerland. I met so many people from so many cultures - I taught people from 52 different countries while there - and saw so much of life that I never knew in the States. It felt like several years of education compressed into two. No regrets - but I was luckier than average in many ways, I suspect. I honestly feel that I was able to move forward faster in the rest of my life because of the experiences my mission gave. But even if it had been all sacrifice and loss, I think it would still have been worth it to go and serve.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tip for Helping Missionaries: Donate Good Mattresses

The mattresses in many missionary apartments aren't exactly chiropractor-approved. In fact, some are pretty old and worn. Missionaries might not know better and may not realize that they should be asking for upgrades, or perhaps upgrades aren't possible with budget limitations. But the quality of a mattress can have significant implications on the quality of one's sleep and one's health, in my opinion. Local members (or anybody else) could be good Samaritans by making sure that local missionaries have high-quality mattresses. A donation of a new or excellent used mattress could be a great blessing for a young man engaged in the tiring and challenging work of missionary service.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sandy, Utah - A Hotspot for Innovation?

In this weekend's The Wall Street Journal, Sandy, Utah was mentioned as an up and coming hotspot of innovation. While it didn't rank in the 20 most inventive towns in America (based on numbers of patents to small business and individuals), it did get special mention in a sidebar on page P6 of the July 22/23, 2006 edition. The small Utah community had 59 patents issue to individuals and small businesses last year, compared to 86 for the much larger Indianapolis or 132 for Las Vegas, both of which were also listed as "up and comers." According to the Journal, "In just over a decade, the city has built two million square feet of Class-A office space, which now averages 6% vacancy."

Something exciting is brewing in Sandy.

It's a great town that has produced some of America's most vital and loved resources - my wife, for example.

Now here's a question: what Utah company deserves to be called the most innovative in Utah? There are some great firms out there and a lot of new businesses booming, but who really leads when it comes to developing exciting inventions or patents?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Praise Darwin for California

I just got back from a conference on intellectual property in San Francisco. Unfortunately, it was next to the airport, which at first glance looked like a pretty uninteresting setting compared to downtown San Francisco. But during the few minutes I had for short walks, I ran into some interesting flowers along Bayshore Drive (Burlingame, CA), especially on a little walkway along the bay. Wishing to avoid legal trouble with any of you judges or ACLU attorneys out there, let me just say that the beauty of California's flowers makes me want to shout "Praise Darwin!"

If any of you know what any of these flowers are, please let me know. Thanks!

(Click to see the enlarged versions - 750 pixels wide, typically.)

Friday, July 21, 2006

The LDS Temple: A Happening Place

last Saturday my wife and I were able to attend a Stake Temple Day at the Chicago Temple. As I met old friends and acquaintances and watched other people interacting before and after the session, I was struck with how positive and joyous the Temple environment is. I didn't have time to go -- there were a thousand other things I needed to do -- but during the 3-hour drive home I contemplated just how positive and uplifting the Temple is, and how interesting it was that I felt grateful to have gone, even though it pretty much "shot" a valuable Saturday. From my perspective, the Temple experience strengthens marriages, helps people better understand and live their lives, and frequently brings joy through this form of service. And it's a wonderful place to meet people. Truly, the Temple is a happening place.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Conflation Happens: Nice Work by Michael Quinn on the First Vision

"Joseph Smith's Experience of a Methodist 'Camp Meeting' in 1820" is an valuable recent contribution from D. Michael Quinn for DialogueJournal.com. (Hat tip to Elden Watson.) Quinn provides extensive documentation about the revival activities in Joseph's area and effectively addresses the common anti-Mormon argument that the First Vision account must be fraudulent based on the allegation that there were no revivals around 1820 in Joseph's area, or based on Joseph's apparent conflation of some later events with events in 1820. I think this needs to be an essential resource to consider in dealing with several issues associated with the First Vision.

In addition to providing support for the existence of camp meetings in the time frame Joseph Smith gives, Quinn also demonstrates that it is quite common for people to combine related events from different times in their relation of actual historical events. The conflation of some similar events from different years in sharing an experience does not invalidate the experience.

What Do Mormons Think of Abercrombie and Fitch?

Abercrombie and Fitch, of course, were the two older brothers of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, older than Laman and Lemuel, the ones we often read about. Abercrombie (Hebrew for "less is more") and Fitch (Hebrew for "yuck!") were trendy moguls of fashion in Jerusalem and were the reason why the family had silver and gold. Unfortunately, they were not only rebellious, but utterly shocked their parents in the New World by introducing immodest styles for men such as their "Nothing But a Loincloth®" line that became an instant hit with many locals in the hot climate of Mesoamerica. (Scholars to this day fail to recognize that many ancient Mesoamerican carvings and figurines of mostly naked people were actually part of early advertising campaigns for Abercrombie and Fitch's fashion shop and the related businesses spawned by their breakthroughs in fashion.)

Lehi was so disgusted that he burned their beautifully illustrated catalog, forcing Abercrombie and Fitch to start engraving their designs on metal plates which could not be so easily by fire. Yes, that's where the idea actually got started. Nephi tried to stop their repulsive business by stealing the plates and later realized he could use them for his own record, starting another enduring trend among his people. But Abercrombie and Fitch only escalated their business, drawing upon the shrewd business skills of their brother Laman who helped draw numerous locals and much of Lehi's family into the fold of their scantily-clad customers.

Lehi disowned them and decreed that there should be no mention of those two sons in any family records. And as the current record indicates, tensions between Nephi's group and his more fashion-conscious siblings escalated, forcing Nephi to head north in hopes of living life in a more modest environment. But once a fashion trend starts, it's hard to stop, and soon the land was sprawling with "Lamanites" - Nephi's euphemism for those who dressed with appalling bad taste (staying true to Lehi's command to never mention Abercrombie and Fitch again).

That ancient business has been revived in our day. Some of us find it ironic that showing people without much clothing is how one sells clothing these days. In any case, it is my opinion that the marketing approach of that store verges on the pornographic and certainly appeals to prurient interests and the glorification of immorality to advance its bottom line. In fact, a recent catalog apparently even has full nudity, drawing serious complaints from the tiny minority of parents who pay attention to what their kids are being exposed to. While the Church has not made any statements on this business, the leaders of our Church stridently urge us to avoid immodesty, pornography, and unwholesome media. My personal advice is for parents to keep their kids out of that store, keep them off the catalog mailing list, and encourage them to avoid their products. It's very popular among teenagers, but their parents rarely know what kind of messages are being sent to the kids who shop there.

(This was just added to my one of my Mormon Answers pages.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

"My parents were not people of blood" - Remembering Mosiah Hancock and the 1838 Mormon War

"My parents were not people of blood" - so states Mosiah Hancock as he recalls the desperate days of his Mormon family in 1838 in Missouri. Mosiah, then a child, watched his parents blockade their little cabin and stand ready with axes and a rifle to ward off assailants who lurked outside. The parents thought they were doomed, but were ready to make the mob pay dearly before they could harm their children. This poignant scene was one shared in various ways by many other Mormons facing extermination from bloodthirsty mobs stirred up by leading "Christians" and others in the area. As I'll mention below, there was blame to be spread to both sides, but the inhumanity of the extermination efforts against the Mormons in Missouri should never be forgotten.

Mosiah Hancock and his father, Levi Hancock, were two early Latter-day Saints who knew Joseph Smith. Both left us journals that provide much information about their lives and the lives of early Mormons. I have printed copies that I purchased several years ago for background information when I was writing about the 1838 "Mormon War" in Missouri and the issue of the "Danites," the group of secretive Latter-day Saints who were the source of some unfortunate and unnecessary violence during those troubled times. Both journals are available online at BOAP.org's resource, "Early Saints: Journals, Diaries, Biographies and Autobiographies of Some Early Mormons and Others Who Knew Joseph Smith, Jr. and/or His Contemporaries" -- a rich resource for studying the early days of the Church. I took up these journals again when I was about to give my printed copies to some of the Hancock's descendants who just moved into my ward. I'll still give them away, as planned, but had to spend a little more time with the printed text (always more enjoyable than online reading for me). Below is one interesting excerpt from the Mosiah Hancock Journal that adds his witness to some of the privations suffered by the Saints in Missouri. He wrote his journal decades after his childhood expereinces (he was only four years old in 1838, so much of his description may be based on what he understood from his parents and other Latter-day Saints - yet he still was an eye-witness to several terrible things.
I well remember when Brother David Patten and Brother Carter were killed at the battle of Crooked River; and also several of the brethren wounded! Brother Joseph Holbrack was literally hacked to pieces, and he was brought to our home about the first of April. My mother nursed him for about three months. He had to remain in the hay loft all the time until he was able to get out of the state. One evening, old Sam Bogart and two other men came hunting him. He was hid in the hay loft covered with flax. The men were heavily armed, and they searched the premises around before they came up to the house late at night. I would have all who read this to understand that my parents were not people of blood; yet there had been so much murder, rapine, and crimes perpetrated by the mob, that my father did not know how to treat the "Christians" of Missouri. Father got his broad axe and the "women's" axe for mother, and said, "We will set the bench before the fireplace for them to get warm---then if they start any trouble, I will grab the broad axe and you take the other axe and we will sell our lives as dearly as possible. We have Brother Holbreck and the three children to defend!" The axes were placed behind the door, then father stood in the door way, and mother stood with rifle in hand.....the bandits made their approach on the outside. Said Sam Bogart, "I have a search warrant for Joseph Holbreck". Father asked them to come in, but Bogart said he didn't believe Holbreck was there. So they went away.

I cannot attempt to describe my feelings as I stood on the floor in front of the fire while those three dark figures stood outside our door. I felt sure my mother would get one of them even if they killed my father. I shudder to think of those dark times. I wish all to understand that these things did happen in mobocratic Missouri----in that Christian land close to where the so-called Christians held their Christian meetings....right here in the land of the brave and the free! I am a witness of these things, and no one can deny them!

This fall we went over to Far West. I was always glad to see the Prophet and the noble brethren associated with him. What good meetings we had in Far West! I well remember the enjoyment we had at a prayer meeting. One evening I heard Brother Tubbs bear his testimony of the truth of the Gospel, and his daughter Betty also bore her testimony.

There was a mob of 1600 camped in the vicinity of Far West. Judas Iscariot [George M.] Hinkle came in and reported the state of affairs in the camp of the mobbers. A person destitute of the Spirit of Christ might think there was something sweet about Hinkle. Someone got up and spoke in tongues; and Betty Tubbs spoke, saying that she well realized that the time had come for all to put their trust in God and not on man, `and for every tub to sit on it's own bottom', then she sat down! A few days later, Hinkle formed a brotherhood in a hollow square, and made them cast their arms of defense on the ground. He then delivered the Prophet over to the mob! After they had taken the arms from the brethren, they kept the brethren in the square for three days and two nights without food. The mob became very brave after they had taken the brethren's arms. One of their officers complimented the men on their bravery, and said, "Now you can go and do as you please with their women". Many of them left with the intention of committing rapine. When the terrified women ran out to escape those brutal fiends, it was more than the men in the square could stand! They ran out to protect their loved ones; then the mobbers turned loose and shot down men, women, and children! They shot the children because they said that "Nits Make Lice". I saw C. C. Richardson going from Far West with a white flag of truce. As he and his companions approached the camp, they were fired upon by the mobbers. Luckily, none of the brethren were hit, and a truce was patched up. But the mobbers were not to be trusted. After the brethren had delivered up their arms, father mounted his horse Turk, and rode off to Adam-ondi-Ahman. A party of forty-two of the mobs cavalry started in pursuit of father. A whisper came to him, "Go through the Hale thicket, then turn to the left." This he did, and it brought him in the rear of the gang that was pursuing him. He said to one of the men in the rear, "Where has that fellow gone?" I don't know", was the answer, "but we will soon catch him." Father stopped his horse and pretended to tighten his saddle-girth and then he escaped from his pursuants.

The night before the surrender, mother had run 250 bullets for father's rifle. Father and his brothers, and a few others, did not give up their rifles. There were 16 guns that were not surrendered. The owners taking their 16 guns into the thicket caused more consternation against the mob than all the mobber's guns caused against the Saints. But trouble had started! The nation with "eagle wings" was to make war on the Saints and overcome them. The Saints soon had to start forth to please the State of Missouri. . . .

It is a fact which should be remembered. . . . . the Hancock brothers, Levi, Joseph, and Solomon, with their guns guarded and fed 600 men, women, and children while camped in the woods after they had been driven from their homes. They were waiting for an opportunity to get away. I saw the Prophet marched away; and I saw, oh, the scenes I witnessed! I do not think people would believe them, so I will forbear. The howling fiends, although they wore the uniforms of the U.S., they were not to be trusted! So some of the brethren made three hundred tomahawks for protection.

I can hold it no longer-----and I tell the truth when I say.....I saw a thing in the shape of a man grab an infant from its mother's arms and bash it's brains out against a tree! Two men got hold of me and had it their own way for awhile; but before they commenced, they told me I could pray. I rehearsed a part of a piece spoken by a young Indian, "The sun sets at night and the stars shun the day; but glory remains when twilight fades away. Begin ye tormentors, your threats are in vain; for the son of Alnasmak will never complain." They showed me no mercy! . . I could look upon my body, and I was far above them and was glad; for behold, I saw a personage draped in perfect white who said to me, "Mosiah, you have got to go back to the earth, for you have a work to do!" How I ever came back I can never say!

I saw the fiends tie a young person to a bench---she was scarcely sixteen years of age----and fourteen things in human form performed "that" upon their victim which would cause a hyena to revolt at their fiendish orgies! It continued long after their fainting victim had become unconscious. This with other things too numerous to mention were enough to cause the Saints to pause and consider the dismal surroundings confronting them.

And they, the Saints, having descended from the mighty Abraham, went forth by the spirit of God to deliver their friends--and the mobocrats melted before them as the dew before the sun. Can you wonder then that these loved ones who were devoted to each other and to those enduring ties of love, freedom, and religious liberty--by right of their own, can you wonder then that they could not longer trust their captors, and were determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible? There were some three hundred men and women determined to march forth with spears and battle axes in hand to have their liberty, and to have their Prophet restored to them again. But, the word of the Lord came through the Prophet that the Brethren should have the Saints be patient. The Prophet's Brethren were a few staunch men in the Church known as the Spartan Group. Their words were few; but their works were great; and their faith was far reaching. They were of the old honest stamp, and if anyone could make a home or heaven in hell, they could! They were true to the Prophet of God and to the virtues and graces; and they never wanted to hold the fat position that Hinkle and some of the others tried to get. In fact, they seemed to be content with their lot as honest Saints.

Some people tried to class the Mormons with the Danites. The Danites were of a different stripe, however. The Danites tried to hold an outward friendship for the Prophet, and for the teachings of the Savior, but it was not skin deep. They tried to get a hog's office among the Saints, which proved their love for 'loaves and fishes'. They usually got a few traps that no decent devil would be justly proud of. Oft times they would locate a dwelling in a neighboring town on the prairie or in the woods. There they would let their bottom door swing in for all sorts of low-down characters to meet; where they could always boast of a deck of cards and a candle; and felt themselves safe from official scrutiny. They usually had plenty of horses when needed; and they were quite able to get up and speak in prayer meeting. They were hale fellows, well met with the black-legs and the apostates of the country. They would pay some tithing in order to pave the way for them to get benefits; and they would say, "Hurrah! for Mormonism" when they were around the Saints, and then some black-leg who belonged to the same gang would bawl out, "I'm a Mormon"! They have always been a clog in the Church and a clog in the country wherever they have been.
The 1838 Mormon war was the culmination of years of violence against Latter-day Saints, who had been driven from two states before Missouri and had been driven from two counties within Missouri. In previous attacks from Missouri mobs, the Saints learned that the government of the state had no interest in protecting unpopular victims of violence. The Saints were on their own, and in 1838, it became a literal war of survival against forces bent on the expulsion or extermination of the Mormon settlers. After having tried to deal with their problems through appropriate civil and military channels, the Saints realized that they would have to take military action on their own to survive. Thus, in mid-October, LDS leaders sent their own state-authorized militias in Caldwell and Daviess counties to actively resist mob efforts. Unauthorized and improper events took place, possibly under influence of the Danites, inculding crimes of burning homes of settlers in Daviess County where the Mormons needed to drive out the gathering mobs. Naturally, the use of force by Mormons, even though it weas in the name of self-defense, only further infuriated the mobs and the pro-expulsionist Governor Boggs. The so-called "Mormon War" would culminate in the imprisonment of Mormon leaders, a genuine massacre of Mormon settlers at Haun's Mill, and the issuance of an inhumane extermination order from the Governor of Missouri authorizing the expulsion or extermination of Mormons.

In 1838 the Mormons, having settled in the northwestern part of the state, were now gathering in force and were resolved not to be driven out again. Call it self-defence or stubborn militancy, the Saints were prepared to fight and resist the local mobs who were again bringing fear and violence to the Mormons. They would resist, even if it meant driving the mobs out of the area with force. Thus, in October of 1838, several bands of Mormons associated with local and legitimate militia groups appear to have gone well beyond what legitimate state militias were normally allowed to do - but the Mormons were in a desperate bid for self-preservation. Mormon groups marched across county lines from Caldwell County into Daviess County, a place associated with mob attacks against the Saints. Sadly, some of the Mormon troops burned and plundered homes of some Missourians, most of whom had fled the county. For many, such acts were generally viewed as justified by a desperate need to remove the lethal threat of mobs. Orson Hyde and Thomas Marsh, both Apostles, were offended by the militant actions for defense and broke ties with the Church and wrote affidavits accusing the Church of much evil, though they both later repented of what they had done and returned to the Church. Unfortunately, it is probable that burning and plundering occurred under the influence of Sampson Avard's Danite band, who had been taught by Avard that God wanted the Mormons to have the wealth of the Gentiles and to seek vengeance regardless of the law.

Certainly the Saints made some tragic mistakes and some even committed awful crimes in dealing with their neighbors. They can be said to have brought some persecution upon themselves, but there were plenty of religious bigots more than happy to stir up mob action against the Mormons and drive them out. It's a good reminder of just how tenuous peace and religious liberty can be, and how important it is to maintain cool heads when things get ugly.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Thank You, Darwin!" - A Tip on Gratitude That Could Keep You Out of Jail

Next time a judge gives you some great news, don't say something stupid like "Thank God" or "Thank you Jesus." This kind of unprotected speech can get you thrown in jail, as Junior Stowers just found out in Honolulu. As CBS News reports:
Junior Stowers raised his hands and exclaimed, "Thank you, Jesus!" in court last month when he was acquitted by a jury of abusing his son.

But his joy was short-lived when Circuit Judge Patrick Border held him in contempt of court for the "outburst" and threw him in jail.

Stowers, 47, sat in the courtroom and a cellblock for about six hours until the judge granted him a hearing on the contempt charge and released him.

The judge at a July 7 hearing dropped the contempt charge, a petty misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail.

Stowers couldn't be reached for comment. But his attorney in the contempt case, Deputy Public Defender Susan Arnett, said he wasn't treated fairly.

"I don't think there's anything about saying 'Thank you, Jesus' that rises to the level of contemptuous behavior in this case," she told The Honolulu Advertiser.
When you want to express your gratitude in court, stick with safe and government-approved expressions, such as "Thank you, Darwin!" or "Praise senseless chance!" Even "Cool!" works.

Friday, July 14, 2006

666 Revealed: The Closing Price of Gold Today

If you hurry and take a peek at Kitco.com, on the right-hand side you'll see today's closing price for gold: $666 an ounce. Rush out and get some extra food storage, some duct tape, and a can of WD-40. Then lock your doors. 666 may be here - and this time it's not just Elvis.

Of course, if you're smart enough to own some precious metals, this may strike you as good news.

The erosion of the dollar and the depressing instability of the stock market raises serious questions about preparing yourself financially for the future. Real inflation is much greater than the "official" low numbers we are fed. Even if you are beating the market in your 401k, you are probably still ending up with less purchasing power year after year because of real inflation. So what does one do? Well, I think you need to include investments that will still have value if the dollar drops a lot. And don't forget a hearty food storage program - and please don't forget the duct tape.

People You Wouldn't Invite into Your Home

A great observation from David Frost:
Television enables you to be entertained in your home by people you wouldn't have in your home.

Vulgar, debasing, tasteless fools -- don't bring them in. How about a good book tonight?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Headbutting and Other Ways to Fail

If you are looking for secrets of failure to add to your life, look no further than losing your temper. It's a fabulous way to fail in whatever you do and to disappoint and hurt others as well. A perfect example of this comes from the World Cup Cup championship game between France and Italy. Consider the demise of France's star soccer player, Zinedine Zidane, known by many French as "God." (To many of us in Wisconsin, this is outrageous and blasphemous - haven't the French heard of Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers??) He was ejected from the game after he lost his temper and delivered a vicious headbutt to an Italian player, Marco Materazzi (the "Animal"), after Marco allegedly insulted Zinedine's mother and sister. He was thrown from the game, leaving his team at a disadvantage. The game would later be decided by penalty kicks and he, the best penalty kicker on the team, was not there to help. Perhaps France would have lost anyway, but his departure for a ridiculous and shameful loss of self-control may have cost his team the World Cup.

There is a serious lesson in all this. How vital that we maintain self-control, that we not give in to anger when insulted by our adversaries. There are those who delight in baiting others and getting them to over-react and say or do something stupid. There are rarely any consequences for a carefully delivered insult, and almost always consequences for the person foolish enough to give in to anger.

Be prepared for those moments. And soccer players, take note. I hear the Italian team is now adding regular drills to practice their insults on the field.

Anger is an area of key concern to the Lord. It is interesting that some of the first words the Lord spoke to the Nephites when He came to the Americas dealt with controlling our anger and avoiding contention. Remember 3 Nephi 11:29-30:
29 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.

Monday, July 10, 2006

San Diego Temple - 1024 x 768 pixels

Here's one of my photos of the San Diego Temple. Click to enlarge this to 1024 x 768 pixels. Feel free to use the photo as you wish as long as it's for a wholesome purpose. If you publish it or post it elsewhere, please acknowledge the source.

Ouch! I've been rebuked sternly, but in love, as always, for putting my name on the temple photo. As I mention in the comments, this became a habit after I found people all over the Web stealing photos from my site without giving credit. Sorry about that. I actually do sell some of my photos and feel I need to identify the source. But, since the purpose of this post was to provide a public service rather than more self-promotion, I offer two compromises.

First, for those who are sorely offended by the subtle presence of my name on a photo of the temple - I suppose it may seem disrespectful, even blasphemous to plaster my name right on top of the temple - here is a link to a revised version in which the temple photo remains pure, undesecrated by direct contact with my name.

For those less offended souls who simply would simply prefer my name to be a lot less prominent, here is a revised, more humble version in which I bet you won't even notice that the photo is marked.

Both new photos are 1024 x 768 and can be used as a background on your computer or for any other righteous purpose.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

From the Swamp

Not far from my house is a gas station next to a swampy piece of land. Seems like an ugly area, but on a bike ride the other day, I stopped and took a closer look. Swamps, for all their mosquitoes and microbes and decay, can be so beautiful. I took these photos and rode on, but resolved to stop by occasionally and see how the tiny "Black Swamp" is doing.

Mortality is often like a swamp, with its impassable natural barriers, lurking dangers, and blood-sucking sources of grief. Yet, for all its sorrow, the swamp can offer such beauty and such valuable learning, when we have the right perspective.

(Click to enlarge.)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Responding to the Lonely Perspective of Atheism

A friend of mine shared with me a dark and terribly lonely poem he wrote expressing his atheistic perspective in life in which he asserts that life is cold and cruel, and that man is utterly alone. I'm interested how one best responds to the lonely existential perspective that atheism often gives? (Yes, prayer is one key, of course, but getting there can be the challenge.) Not looking for pat answers of quick fixes, but perspectives that may have helped some of you.

Reconstruction of a macahuitl by Scott Brian

Scott Brian, a graduate student of Archaeology at BYU, has made several reconstructions of a macahuitl (I've also seen this spelled macauhuitl or macuahuitl), the ancient Mesoamerican weapon that can be described as a wooden club with sharp obsidian blades. Another term that can be legitimately used is "sword" - a term the Spaniards used when they faced this fearsome weapon that could cut better than metal swords. (See my LDSFAQ page on metals and weapons in the Book of Mormon.) Thanks, Scott! Beautiful work.

Click to enlarge the photos. They are used here with permission, but may not be published in print without Scott's written permission.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Pain, Pain, Pain: A Scholar Decimates My Work

My award-winning treatise, "Was the Book of Mormon Plagiarized from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass?," has just been utterly decimated by a young scholar at a major university. Frankly, I have to admit he is right on many of his points, but I hope is wrong about his final conclusions. To come clean, I will share the full message he sent me, and then I'll consider what next steps I may need to take.
I am a graduate student preparing my masters thesis on the origins of the mormon movement based on 19th century reformative doctrines. I am trying to link the doctrines of Josoph Smith to the major social and religious movements of his day. I have just finished reading your piece on the origins of the book of mormon and found it terribly biased and not one bit true or plausable. I doubt you will stop circulation of your paper on my account, but you seem to be deliberately misleading your reader in the hopes of catching someone ignorant unawares. I am not a mormon, and have no interest in the LDS church except as a 19th century religious movement and its evolution into the new millineum, but I am offended as a scholar to see writing so weak and desperate to support a perspective that it sacrifices integrity and empirical probability to give an illusion of possibility.

According to all historical records I have read (except for the mormons, who maintain that it was "translated" in about two months in 1829), the Book of Mormon was written between 1826-1829, and published in 1830. Whitman would have been 7-10 years old at the time. His early education was in type setting (1832), and later as a teacher (1834), his first publication was in the Democratic Review at 20 (1839). It is unlikely that a large portion of his life's masterpiece was completed and ready for plagarization by the time he was 10. Further, Whitman lived in Brooklyn, and Smith lived in upstate NY, and much of the Book of Mormon was written in Pennsylvania as well. In 1830, the white population of New York was 1,873,663 according to the US census. Whitman and Smith lived on opposite ends of the state, both were insignificant boys (smith would have been in his early twenties). It is far less likely that Smith or Cowdery met Whitman than your paper would indicate. Further, the analogies that you show between BofM and LofG are weak and superficial, Whitman clearly wrote about wars and fortifications at the Alamo AFTER the 1936 defense of the San Antonio mission, not as an eight year old living in Brooklyn as your paper suggests. I'm not going to waste more time on you except to say you should be ashamed of yourself. You're not ignorant, which tells me you have deliberately lied and manipulated the ideas of great men to make a weak and futile point. If you are a christian you are going to Hell. If you are a scholar, you are simply unethical.
Ouch. "If you're a Christian, you're going to hell" - maybe this is a good time for those anti-Mormons to be right about us not being Christian. In any case, this is obviously a very painful day for me, coming to the sudden realization that my scholarly work on Whitman and the Book of Mormon was, after all the impressive evidence, completely misguided.

Update: Yes, this is a genuine email, reproduced verbatim. I showed it to my family moments after reading it, and one son said, "Dad, I would have thought you made this up if I hadn't seen the email myself." But really, I've had this kind of reaction several times to pieces that were meant to be satirical.

Now in fairness to the non-LDS student, he was taking on what he thought was a ridiculous and dishonest anti-Mormon Web page. Obviously, he didn't read the whole page or pay attention to some of the details. Missing the (many) hints that it was satirical, his reaction makes sense. In fact, I owe him a double thanks: (1) Thanks for the effort to speak out, and (2) thanks for making me chuckle. The error is understandable, though it is best to read a little more carefully before launching such a heated attack, especially when it involves consigning someone to hell.

Snow In Jerusalem

I had a question recently about 1 Nephi 11:8, where Nephi sees the tree of life and describes the fruit as being white like "the driven snow." The inquirer assumed that it does not snow in Jerusalem, where Nephi dwelt, and wondered if the reference made any sense. A truly minor point, but I've often heard people make the assumption that Israel must be free of snow. No, there is occasional snow, even right in Jerusalem. Here's one example: Leiah Elbaum's page, Jerusalem in Snow, showing the heavy snow that Jerusalem had in a storm in 2000. You can even see a picture of snowman in Jerusalem.

What's perhaps even more interesting is the absence of snow in the rest of the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon were based on element's from Joseph's environment, and if he was describing a people who lived or at least fought major battles in the New York area (around the puny hill where the plates where buried, which many Mormons incorrectly and implausibly associated with the Hill Cumorah of the text), then we would expect the snow and cold of winter to play a key factor. But instead, we have battles in winter, such as the one in Alma 51 at the end of the year, where the Lamanite soldiers were exhausted "by the labors and heat of the day" (Alma 51:33). Having a Jerusalem dweller in the arid Middle East make reference to snow while having no hint of snow in all the rest of the record from the New World seems contrary to what one might expect if Joseph Smith had fabricated the Book of Mormon, relying on his knowledge and experience. But once we explore the text and realize that it best fits in a Mesoamerican context, not in New York, then the tendency to have battles in winter (the off season for agriculture) with heat, not cold, makes plenty of sense. What doesn't make sense is that Joseph Smith was the author.

Monday, July 03, 2006

FairWiki: Joseph Smith's Marriages to Young Women

A favorite approach of anti-Mormons to shake up investigators and members of the Church is to suggest that Joseph Smith's polygamous marriages to several younger women made him an immoral lecher. Look, I'm not comfortable with polygamy as practiced Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the prophet Abraham, or any of the other polygamist prophets of the Old Testament. It's an area where I need to realize three things: (1) we do not know what really happened in these marriages - there is just not enough information to resolve many of the questions, (2) my sensibilities might not be the same as the Lord's, and (3) if mistakes were made, they do not necessarily detract from the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the reality of the Restoration any more than some of Abraham's seemingly questionable family matters prevented him from being called the "friend of God."

The arguments of anti-Mormons regarding Joseph's wives tend to rely on 21st century sensibilities regarding age and age differences, with the assumption that these polygamous marriages involved sex and were all about sex. A reasonable response to these arguments and assumptions is found in new "wiki" entry in the FAIR Wiki by FAIRLDS.org , "Joseph Smith's Marriages to Young Women." I recommend this article. It deals specifically with the two most controversial cases of young wives, Helen Mar Kimball, who was 14 when married, and Fanny Alger, who was 16. It also provides perspective on the issue of age differences in marriages in that day.

Women can legally marry at age 16 right now in Wisconsin and many other states (typically parental consent is needed), and I've known women who were married at that age (and not just Hmong women, where marriages from age 13 to 16 are surprisingly common in Wisconsin). It's the age 14 marriage to Helen Mar Kimball that is especially troubling, but as Todd Compton points out, "there is absolutely no evidence that there was any sexuality in the marriage, and I suggest that, following later practice in Utah, there may have been no sexuality. All the evidence points to this marriage as a primarily dynastic marriage."

While I don't "get" polygamy, and am grateful not to have it be a part of our culture today, I think we need to be careful about condemning those who practiced it in the past. The evidence does not point to sex as the driving force for that practice, and it may not have even been involved in many of the marriages.

When it comes to discussing the evidence of authenticity for the Book of Mormon, I do not consider allegations of lechery in Church leaders to be a reasonable response, though it has all too often been a diversionary tactic. If the Book of Mormon is true, then something divine happened between 1820 and 1830, and that needs to be accounted for, even if one is troubled or even outraged by polygamy.

His enemies have written many volumes condemning Joseph Smith, but those who knew him best, those of strong Christian heritage, did not find a lecher or pedophile in their midst - they found a prophet of God teaching and striving to live a pure religion. While polygamy leaves many questions unanswered and may have been implemented poorly many times, I think it would be a terrible mistake to let it be the deciding factor that let someone give up on the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more information, here's an excerpt from my March 18, 2006 post:
Gregory L. Smith, M.D., offers a helpful and highly informed perspective on the controversial 19th-century practice of polygamy among Latter-day Saints in his article, "Polygamy, Prophets, and Prevarication: Frequently and Rarely Asked Questions about the Initiation, Practice, and Cessation of Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" at FAIRLDS.org. If you've struggled with the issue of polygamy (struggled with it philosophically, not in practicing it, I hope!), this article helps clarify why it was kept secret for so long, why it was not about personal ratification, etc.

Good Reminder on the Dangers of Immorality

Stones Cry Out has a good reminder about the dangers of immorality. Even with 100% condom use, 30% of the people in one study acquired the cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV). Condom use is proclaimed as a successful way to "reduce risk," but sexual morality seems like the only reasonable way, in my opinion.

Abstinence works. Morality works. Latex might not.

Some people engage in immorality and manage to avoid STDs and other obvious physical complications, but genuine spiritual and social harm is still there. How great the need to teach people to hold the higher standards that God has given us, and to remain or become pure and clean before Him. How great the need to teach the power of repentance and the hope it brings to those many who fall.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Protecting Minors from Christianity: MPAA Gives Movie PG Rating for Religious Content

Many Christians are upset over the MPAA's decision to give the clean family movie "Facing the Giants" a PG rating because of its "religious content." At least that's the reason the MPAA gave the evangelical Christian directors of the low-budget sports-oriented flick that conveys a message about faith in God, according to the directors. After broad negative publicity, the MPAA denies that religious content was the reason. See the ABC news story, an update on the story at Stones Cry Out, and see a TV news clip from WABC.

Guess it's no surprise that the ACLU thought virus has infected Hollywood.

So, how long before Mr. Krueger's Christmas goes NC-17?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Nehor Times: An Ancient Mesoamerican Publication Decoded

Mesoamerican scholars have decoded an ancient text in a new Mesoamerican script from a codex recently unearthed in Guatemala and dating to roughly 100 B.C. The script, known as "reformed journalese," was particularly difficult to translate. Rather than reading from left to right or right to left, as most modern and ancient scripts do, the "reformed journalese" script stumped translators until they realized that it read from left to far left.

The translated text appears to come from a lost ancient civilization known as the "No-fite" people. The text itself is a complaint published by the ancient "Nehor Times" regarding the military actions of a rogue general and dangerous religious zealot named 76-Porcupine, probably pronounced as "Mor-O-Nie." Mor-O-Nie had apparently relied on trickery and corruption to seize military power, and was now unjustly fighting against the peace-loving people of "Le-Mun" and their No-fite insurgent allies to impose his religious and political views on the oppressed peoples of the land.

The Nehor Times text reveals details of Mor-O-Nie's secret plans for finding enemy spies, an act that Mor-O-Nie must have viewed as treasonous. The text also accused Mor-O-Nie and his soldiers of locking up No-fite dissenters for their insurgency without fair trials and accused them of slaughtering civilian insurgents. A group of powerful judges, the apparent rulers of that ancient society, were reportedly outraged over Mor-O-Nie's actions and had imprisoned some of Mor-O-Nie's soldiers for their war crimes.

Many questions remain, but scholars believe that other manuscripts may yet be found to reveal more insight into the previously unknown No-fite civilization and the brave writers of the Nehor Times who were apparently the last hope for truth and justice in a civilization being ripped apart by religious zealotry.