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

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Bit of Harlem at BYU, and Visa Versa

"A Bit of Harlem at BYU" by Sally Atkinson is a BYU Magazine story about Lakia Holmes, a girl from Harlem who ran into the LDS missionaries there. She ended up being part of an LDS group in Harlem with apartments in a building they called "Harleman Halls" - the Harlem answer to Helaman Halls housing at BYU. (Articles on both topics are at the same link, with the "Bit of Harlem" story being near the end of the page.)

What impressed me about Lakia's story is how she overcame her challenging start to life.
Growing up in Harlem hadn't been an easy life for Holmes. Her mother was addicted to crack, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time, and her father left soon after Holmes was born. She bounced around foster homes and struggled in school. "I spent more time on the street than I did at school," she says. But by the time she met the missionaries, Holmes had finished her GED and was taking college courses in the Bronx.
I was also impressed with how the other LDS folks reached out to Lakia:
Soon after joining the Church, Holmes moved from her grandmother's apartment to Harleman Halls--only a few blocks away but a foreign environment nonetheless. Since seven of the building's apartments were then home to Latter-day Saints, Holmes had an immediate support network. Her Relief Society president lived two flights up. Her home teachers were just steps away.

Still, Holmes worried she might not have much in common with her white Mormon neighbors. Her attitude changed after she and a roommate cooked up a Southern feast, showcasing Holmes' roots, and invited people from the stake. "We had all the fixin's--pigs' feet, collard greens," she says. People were hesitant about the pigs' feet until a friend who had loved them on his mission devoured a plate full. "I'd never seen someone who wasn't black be so happy to have pigs' feet," Holmes says. "It was cool to see people trying something they'd never even seen before and getting to know a part of my life and culture."

Being surrounded by so many returned missionaries and BYU grads, Holmes soon began to desire those same experiences for herself. Six months after moving into the building, she was on her very first airplane flight, headed to BYU for school. A year later she was serving a mission in Atlanta.
Wow, this woman impresses me. I love seeing this kind of drive, overcoming a lot of barriers to move forward with her education, then having the faith to not only join the Church but also to go on a mission.

I'd like some tips on eating pigs feet. I'm an experienced collard greens eater, but pigs feet I've shied away from so far. But it's cool that the willingness of others to try that made a difference. Prospective missionaries, take this advice: learn now to eat and enjoy foods way outside your comfort zone.

Thanks to Sally Atkinson for a great article about a great Latter-day Saint. Lakia is now at BYU and is Relief Society President in her singles ward. Way to go!

A Religious Fairness Doctrine: Why Not Prepare Now?

With the "Fairness Doctrine" facing a vigorous resurrection, it's time to prepare for phase two: the Religious Fairness Doctrine. No need waiting - why don't we prepare now for "religious fairness" to meet tough new standards that we could see one day? For example, does your ward currently have one-sided sermons and prayers, all focused on your own narrow moral and religious views? It would be wise to offer equal time to non-believers and dissenters. Scriptures might need to be edited to present more balanced viewpoints, perhaps alternating pages from ancient prophets with columns from the New York Times or at least Harry Potter. Primary kids would get CTW rings for one hand to balance CTR rings on the other. And of course, we would have to have a number of ward disservice projects each year.

If you've been hanging out in a cave recently - something I've found to be the best way to deal with this election - you might not have been paying much attention to the threat of the Fairness Doctrine in political speech. The Fairness Doctrine is a nice-sounding name for government control of broadcast speech through the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC). It began in 1949 but really become a factor in the 1960s when it was used routinely for political aims. It put radio stations at risk when they addressed political issues. Many resorted to watering down their content or going through the motions of having "equal time" for opposing views. In general, there was a chilling effect on speech. Only after 1985, when it was repealed under the Reagan Administration, did radio broadcasters dare to regularly broadcast politically-oriented talk-shows, and in that free market, conservative talk-shows have dominated. Some folks would like to fix all this unbalanced free speech by getting us back to the Fairness Doctrine. The risk, I'm afraid, is not only bringing a one-sided "fairness" to talk radio (i.e., to shut up annoying or dangerous voices), but perhaps to extend control to the Internet as well (via "network neutrality" or other tools). Talk radio is certainly the target, if you've listened to the politicians calling for the Fairness Doctrine. They aren't complaining about lack of fairness in newspapers or on TV, from what I've heard.

A little history might be helpful here. Thomas W. Hazlett and David W. Sosa of the CATO Institute have a 1997 paper, "Chilling the Internet: Lessons from FCC Regulation of Radio Broadcast." They review the effect of the Fairness Doctrine to shut down conservative opposition. Here's an excerpt:
In 1962 President Kennedy's policies were under sustained attack from conservative broadcasters across the country. Of particular concern to the president were vocal right-wing opponents of the nuclear test ban treaty being considered by the Senate at the time. The administration and the DNC seized upon the Fairness Doctrine as a way to "counter the radical right" in their battle to pass the treaty. The Citizens Committee for a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was established and funded by the Democrats, orchestrated a very effective protest campaign against hostile radio editorials, demanding free reply time under the Fairness Doctrine whenever a conservative broadcaster denounced the treaty. Ultimately, the Senate ratified the treaty by far more than the necessary two-thirds majority.

Flush with success, the DNC and the Kennedy-Johnson administration decided to extend use of the doctrine to other high-priority legislation and the impending 1964 elections. Democratic Party funding sources were used to establish a professional listening post to monitor right-wing radio. The DNC also prepared a kit explaining "how to demand time under the Fairness Doctrine," which was handed out at conferences. As Bill Ruder, an assistant secretary of commerce under President Kennedy, noted, "Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters in the hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue."

By November 1964, when Johnson beat Goldwater in a landslide, the Democrats' "fairness" campaign was considered a stunning success. The effort had produced 1,035 letters to stations, resulting in 1,678 hours of free airtime. Critical to the campaign was the fact that much of the partisan commentary came from small, rural stations. In a confidential report to the DNC, Martin Firestone, a Washington attorney and former FCC staffer, explained,

"The right-wingers operate on a strictly cash basis and it is for this reason that they are carried by so many small stations. Were our efforts to be continued on a year-round basis, we would find that many of these stations would consider the broadcasts of these programs bothersome and burdensome (especially if they are ultimately required to give us free time) and would start dropping the programs from their broadcast schedule."
Brace yourself for fairness, and order your CTW rings today! (Now in two flavors for added balance: "Choose the Wrong" and "Choose the Wicked.")

Update - clarifying material from my response to some comments:
Are concerns about the Fairness Doctrine unfounded paranoia? I hope so, but there's been fresh talk in Washington by Pelosi et al. about the need to bring it back. Shouldn't that at least raise an eyebrow?

That slurping sound in Washington is not just coming from Paulson's 700 billion slush fund sloshing in a few pockets - it's also coming from the salivation of politicians looking forward to further expanding their power. Does it take a delusional imagination to think that what already happened in the past couldn't happen again when the Fairness Doctrine is revived?

These kind of concerns aren't just tied to Obama, who actually said he opposes reinstating the doctrine (well, for now anyway). McCain, on the other hand, has done much more to threaten the future of free speech, in my opinion, through McCain-Feingold, which could be used much more actively in the future than it is today. Don't think I'm looking to him to save the eroding Constitution. This is not about Democrats vs. Republicans (or, more properly, Money Party A vs. Money Party B).

Net Neutrality is another nice-sounding concept, but it carries the sting of expansive regulation. Anyone who hasn't noticed how regulations expand in scope in the hands of those with an agenda hasn't been watching Washington for the past few decades.

The idea that Net Neutrality could join with Fairness to create a monster of Internet content regulation is controversial, but when an FCC Commissioner raises this as a possibility, it's not necessarily completely groundless. For those of you who have missed the news, here's a summary from a note in Wikipedia's article on the Fairness Doctrine:
On August 12, 2008, FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell stated that the reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine could be intertwined with the debate over network neutrality (a proposal to classify network operators as common carriers required to admit all Internet services, applications and devices on equal terms), presenting a potential danger that net neutrality and Fairness Doctrine advocates could try to expand content controls to the Internet. It could also include "government dictating content policy".
Hope he's wrong! Hope I'm wrong, too! Now that's the kind of hope this country needs.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Servant or Master? A Reminder on the Role of Government

"The Proper Role of Government" is an old talk from Ezra Taft Benson, given in 1968 before he became President of the Church. He knew a few things about the workings of government, having been Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower. He was worried about the incursion of government into all aspects of our lives back then and its tendency to grow like cancer when unrestrained. He'd be amazed to see where we are today as we move from a Republic to a Kleptocracy. This is a critical time for our nation. I suggest the solution is not in choosing between the presidential candidates of Money Party A or Money Party B, but in pressuring our elected officials in Congress to fulfill their duties in resisting the Kleptocracy and stopping the cancerous spread of power in the hands of a few. They have the power to resist and drive real change. One Congressman, one Senator at a time - change is possible if Americans wake up.

As food for thought, here are 3 verses from scripture (Doctrine and Covenants 134) on government:
1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.
2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. . . .
7 We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all acitizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.
The right and control of property in verse 2? That's anathema to many of our politicians, who have no objection to stripping away your property for all the good causes they come up with (like, say, helping their banker baron friends or handing it to nations that don't like us). And protection of life? The sheer horror of partial birth abortion, so vigorously supported by some politicians (even a leading candidate) as a "right" when it can be nothing else but callous murder, is a warning sign that those who rule are not just men. If one can be so callous as to allow partial birth abortion - or, unthinkable as it is, would call for killing viable babies who by chance survive an abortion attempt - how can any human being think such a person has any right to represent Americans in the halls of government?

We must urge our elected officials to stand for the fundamentals rights our freedom is based upon - respect for life, respect for property rights, and respect for freedom of conscience. All are at risk, but change is possible.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Running Out of Time? Support the Chronological Bailout

Americans aren't just running out of money, we're running out of time. Given how huge the time crisis is, we all need to encourage Congress this week to pass the chronological bailout. While the financial bailout set us back $700 billion (just in time!), with the chronological bailout, Congress will set us back another 70 years or so.

Sounds like a plan! Call your Congressdon today and say that you back the set back.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What It Means to Be Brothers and Sisters in the Family of God: Imagine Lifting the Veil for a Moment

Think of the people you've interacted with in the past week. Some friends, I hope, but also probably some people you can't stand, some you have to put up with, some you try to ignore, a few who might be genuine enemies or threats, and a host of people you really didn't notice or maybe even couldn't care less about. How different would this week have been if the Lord had lifted "the veil of forgetfulness" from your mind, allowing you to recall your pre-mortal existence as a spirit, one of God's many sons and daughters, waiting for this precious opportunity of mortal life?

Imagine the veil being lifted and finding out that all these people around you are people you knew before. What if you knew them so well and for so long that you were at least as close to them back then as you are with any of your best friends now? To get even more extreme (and perhaps completely incorrect), what if you could see that everyone around you was actually a "best friend" from before, people you loved intensely, knew well, and shared common hopes and dreams with?

I struggle to even pose the question because I find the implications to be troubling, overwhelming. When I fail to treat any human being with love and even joyous warmth, am I slighting a best friend?

When that cab driver asks me for my cloak for what clearly should be a half-cloak fare and I get irritated and object instead of giving him twain, am I missing a chance to show compassion to a dear friend in financial trouble? (Travel tip: Always bring extra cloaks when using cabs!)

When I am curt with yet another telemarketer offering me the rare opportunity to participate in a free survey, am I making life a tad more unpleasant for someone that the real me once loved?

So what if we could remember who all these people around us are and recall joyous relationships that persisted far longer than any of our mortal lives? Would that change how we treat others and respond to them? I think so, but struggle to cross that bridge. It's a question, though, that might help remind us of the practical challenge posed by that Mount Everest of human accomplishment - no, that's not right, for it is a mountain far higher that no human can climb alone, a mountain of divine, not human accomplishment that we are all called to scale: Mount Charity.

Part of the challenge is that it is not enough to have charity for a few selected people. The divine call is to love everyone, to recognize the divine origins of every human soul and our common relationship as sons and daughters of a Heavenly Father who wants us all to return to His presence, through the grace of His Son, and perhaps with a little help from our friends.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gavin Menzies' 1434?

I know 1421 was trashed by historians and that it does have some serious gaps, but 1434 doesn't seem to have as many problems. Whether a Chinese fleet brought the brilliant 1313 Chinese book, the Nong Shu, or it came from some other route, amateur sleuth Gavin Menzies seems to provide compelling evidence that China was the source for a number of important inventions credited to Da Vinci and some other Italians. Many controversial but exciting ideas in this work - including the whole concept of pre-Columbian transoceanic contact with the Americas (the theme of 1421 which remains highly controversial). Any of you familiar with 1434? Thoughts?

My biases for the Chinese people make the premise of the book difficult to resist. How ironic that the nation often faulted for copying from the West may have been the source for many of the breakthrough inventions that fueled the rise of the Renaissance.

The Church in Orlando: Are You LDS Vacationers Helping Out?

Wrapping up a fabulous conference in Orlando (Licensing Executives Society Annual Meeting). Chance to meet many amazing people, learn from some experts in law, business, and strategy, and give a presentation on "Conquering Innovation Fatigue" (coincidentally, this is also the title of a book to be published by John Wiley and Sons in Spring 2009 - not that I want to promote the book or anything). One thing I noticed here is that most cab drivers (based on my small sampling) haven't heard about the Church, even ones that have lived here for many years. None had LDS friends (one had an LDS cousin in New Jersey) and none knew that there is an LDS Temple in Orlando. Gasp.

Next time you LDS people are down here and have a cab ride, be sure to talk a bit! Some of the most interesting people on earth are cabbies. So get to know them and, occasionally, feel free to leave a Book of Mormon. I gave one to a kind man from Brazil and when he saw me again two days later, he told me he's already been reading and enjoying it. I'll see him one more time shortly, I think.

Well, not knowing where the Temple is shouldn't be surprising - one cab driver from another nation got lost taking me a little over one mile from the expensive conference site (Gaylord Palms) to my super cheap hotel in Kissimmee. I wasn't paying attention when I realized we had been traveling too long. He was relying on a Garmin GPS system that gave confusing directions. Instead of telling him to turn around, it said "Turn left, then left." He turned left, then took the next left, which put us on a tiny lane through a run-down neighborhood. Then the next "left, then left" command sent us into a dead end. After four stops trying to figure out where to go, I should have just gotten out, asked directions and walked - would have been faster. Over 30 minutes to go a mile. Next time that happens, I'm gonna punish the driver with my Johnny Lingo imitation.

Taxi tip: The big black towncars don't use meters and some charge high "flat rates" like $16 to go a mile. If it's not a metered cab, make sure you know what kind of rate you'll be getting before you hop in.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Moving Toward Marriage: Thoughts on Dealing with the "Physical Narcotic"

I received a thought-provoking letter from a married, faithful LDS woman offering advice to young people about marriage. With the author's permission, I'll quote a few excerpts on Mormanity over the coming days. I'd like to start with her thoughts on physical affection for engaged couples or those in serious dating relationships. She makes the wise point that physical affection while dating sometimes can cloud judgment - and here she implicitly is referring to physical affection within the standards of LDS guidelines on morality (pre-marital sexual activity totally clouds judgment). She encourages other dating couples to exercise extra self-control to avoid the "physical narcotic" and think through some of the big issues about selecting your spouse and preparing for marriage. Here's a passage from "The Letter":
It is so important when dating someone to make sure that you don’t induce what I call the physical narcotic until as late as possible. It has been shown that physical affection arouses the body and the mind in similar ways to very addicting drugs. What does this mean? This means that you lose your ability to see warning signs or to reason when you are under the influence. I have heard that good marriage prep class teachers challenge their students to avoid any physical contact for a week to see if the relationship is based on more than that. I would take the challenge further. To those of you who haven’t started dating, I would suggest dating for several months without any physical contact. (For as long as you can.) For those of you who are currently dating, if you are being physical and started quickly, take a break for at least a month. I know it sounds harsh, but in marriage different things come up that prevent affection. After a baby is born, no intercourse is allowed for 6 weeks (doctor’s oders). There are other circumstances (illness, family visitors, etc) that arise, and it is important to know if your marriage can handle that kind of strain. It is also nice to know if your dating relationship is built on something more lasting than physical affection. As an important side note—being physically separated (like when my husband-to-be was away on his mission) is not even close to the same as abstaining when you are together.

Another benefit to not inducing the physical narcotic is the ability to see the other person as you will usually see them. Even in the most loving marriages, you don’t make out all the time. There are lots more times that you are washing dishes, sweeping floors, holding screaming children, etc. Can you handle that person with no sleep, no food? Do they seem nice under lots of pressure? Does your potential spouse have the ability to work? Does he/she clean without prompting—are they inherently neat? Does that matter to you? How do they behave when they are sick—especially the wife-to-be? The sad reality of marriage is that the mother has to be sick alone. She has to take care of children in spite of being sick. Sometimes the husband can be there to help, but usually there are finals, classes, and important deadlines that lead the loving wife to agree to be nauseous alone. Pregnancy sickness is the flu for 14 weeks. Can she do it alone?
I am frequently amazed at the temporary insanity that seems to beset some people when it comes to marriage. Some of those crazy marriages work, but when people seem to have nothing in common except physical attraction, the odds of unnecessary grief are so high. Even when there is a lot in common - goals, interests, faith, age, etc. - marriage is still highly demanding and sometimes painful, so it's vital to marry someone with the strength and commitment to press forward in order to realize the deep joy that come through married life. The real joy is years down the road.

I heard one comedienne quip that when she's dating a man, she has to step back and ask herself this question: "Is this the man who, for the rest of my life, I want to be leaving my future children with every other Saturday?" OK, it's a cynical question, but it is an example of trying to think clearly about the realities of marriage and the high odds of divorce when the foundation is lacking. Physical attraction is great, but it's not enough to make a marriage work. Don't let it make your most important decisions for you.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Those Endearing Gadiantons

Those endearing Gadiantons, the rebels for "social justice" or "agrarian reform" so beloved by the media (think Che Guevara, Fidel, Mao, Arafat), the strong and caring folks who just want to give the oppressed their fare share, tend to become a little less endearing once they gain power and squash opposition with blood and horror.

Russia, one of the world's most fascinating nations with some of the most amazing and courageous people, is also one of the most dangerous due to the reign of organized crime. One friend of mine in the US was involved in a business that had two Russian partners. One came from a wealthy family and was able to invest with family funds. The other was not so lucky and had to get a loan inside of Russia - a loan from the local Big Boyz. When the returns from this potentially promising business did not meet expectations, the Boyz viewed this as a financial crisis that required direct intervention. The guy who was behind in his loan had an unfortunate automobile accident that left him decapitated. Then the mafia visited the surviving partner and explained what he needed to do. They handed him a document that signed over the entire business to them and agreed that he would not compete. No chance to negotiate - accept the terms or suffer the consequences. He signed, lost his business, and fled to Canada. Chilling.

When Gadiantons rule, they dictate the terms and take what they want. No negotiation. It's the system, a powerful and proven system, one you don't mess with unless you want to get hurt. You gotta have confidence in the system - or else.

What always amazes me in the Book of Mormon is the audacity of the organized robbers and their compatriots such as the Kingmen, who dare to speak as if they are the good guys just fighting for the rights and welfare of the people, as if the System (the Gadianton ways) is good and noble, something the people should be glad to succumb to. After all, giving in is for their own good. This is the criminally insane mentality that could rob someone in broad daylight and say that he was doing it for the good of the victim, just trying to help. And when they do something blatant, like seizing a whole industry or burning down a village, they often publicly "regret" their actions, but explain that they were "forced" to do whatever crime they committed for the sake of the people, or for the good of the "system." Very scary - and the more power they get, the scarier and bloodier they become.

The rise of powerful "secret combinations" of greedy and elite gangsters in the Book of Mormon is what ultimately brought down two great civilizations. Chaos and bloodshed resulted from their insane appetites for power and wealth. The Book of Mormon warns us, in our day, to watch out for these things, and boldly states that they are had among all nations and will be operating here, seeking to overthrow freedom. We ought to care. They are difficult to detect in their early stages, but eventually the mask of compassion comes off and we get a glimpse of brutal reality - about the time it is almost too late to resist.

When I heard the Russian story about one year ago, I shook my head and said, "Thank goodness I'm in America, a free country."

So, uh, speaking of America, did you catch the news yesterday? No, not the Madonna news, but something perhaps even more interesting - especially for people who take the Book of Mormon seriously and understand its prophetic warnings for our time (e.g., in Helaman, Third Nephi, Ether, and a touch of Alma).

Here is the opening section of the Associated Press story by Martin Crutsinger, Oct. 14, 2008:
Government moves again to unclog credit lines

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush on Tuesday announced a $250 billion plan by the government to directly buy shares in the nation's leading banks, saying the drastic steps were "not intended to take over the free market but to preserve it."

Nine major banks will participate initially including all of the country's largest institutions, he announced, in a move that sent stocks soaring on Wall Street.

Some of the nation's largest banks had to be pressured to participate by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who wanted healthy institutions that did not necessarily need capital from the government to go first as a way of removing any stigma that might be associated with banks getting bailouts.

"We regret having to take these actions," Paulson said. "Today's actions are not what we ever wanted to do — but today's actions are what we must do to restore confidence to our financial system." . . .

Under the new multifaceted stabilization program described Tuesday, the government will initially buy stocks in nine major U.S. banks. When financial markets stabilize and recover, the banks are expected to buy the stock back from the government, Bush said in brief remarks from the White House Rose Garden.

"These efforts are designed to directly benefit the American people by stabilizing the financial system and helping the economy recover," he said.

Paulson told a Treasury Department news conference that the aggressive government intervention was "what we must do to restore confidence in our financial system."

A related perspective comes from the following excerpt from the Wall Street Journal's story, "At Moment of Truth, U.S. Forced Big Bankers to Blink" (but I think "truth" and "blink" aren't the right words).
WASHINGTON -- On one side of the table sat Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, flanked by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair.

On the other side sat the nation's top bank executives, who had flown in from around the country, lined up in alphabetical order by bank, with Bank of America Corp. at one end of the table and Wells Fargo & Co. at another.

It was Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Treasury headquarters. Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke had called one of the most important gatherings of bankers in American history. For an hour, the nine executives drank coffee and water and listened to the two men paint a dire portrait of the U.S. economy and the unfolding financial crisis. As the meeting neared a close, each banker was handed a term sheet detailing how the government would take stakes valued at a combined $125 billion in their banks, and impose new restrictions on executive pay and dividend policies.

The participants, among the nation's best deal makers, were in a peculiar position. They weren't allowed to negotiate. Mr. Paulson requested that each of them sign. It was for their own good and the good of the country, he said, according to a person in the room.

During the discussion, the most animated response came from Wells Fargo Chairman Richard Kovacevich, say people present. Why was this necessary? he asked. Why did the government need to buy stakes in these banks? . . .

Mr. Paulson said the public had lost confidence in the banking system. "The system needs more money, and all of you will be better off if there's more capital in the system," Mr. Paulson told the bankers.

After Mr. Kovacevich voiced his concerns, Mr. Paulson described the deal starkly. He told the Wells Fargo chairman he could accept the government's money or risk going without the infusion. If the company found it needed capital later and Mr. Kovacevich couldn't raise money privately, Mr. Paulson promised the government wouldn't be so generous the second time around.
Hey, it's for the good of the system. Surrender, and nobody gets hurt.

Did you catch what happened? A shakedown. Executives were forced to sell shares to the government - a step toward the ongoing nationalization of industry - and after selling at rock-bottom prices, they will be "expected" to buy them back later when the price goes up. "An offer you can't refuse." No one dared to - but the relatively healthy Wells Fargo CEO was justifiably shocked that he was being forced to sell when they didn't need government help and, of course, government control. Your money has been seized -- hundreds of billions of dollars -- allowing the Boyz in charge to shake down other businesses, call the shots, and get even more power and ultimately more money. Nationalization of industries, massive expansion of powers - this is no longer creeping socialism. It's a race toward virulent socialism with a vengeance, and done under the leadership of an alleged conservative President, who wants us to think that it's necessary and for our own good. Most of us are just sitting back and taking it, no squawking.

Now, more than ever, it's time for us to dig into the messages of the Book of Mormon meant to help us in our time of crisis. This is more than just a financial crisis we face.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Why Your Ancestors May Want You to Be Pro-Choice

I'm absolutely pro-choice when it comes to religion. I think everybody should have the freedom to choose faith in Christ, and the privilege of choosing baptism to follow Jesus Christ. I think they should have this freedom to choose - even if they lived and died without the opportunity to hear and receive the Gospel while on this earth. That's why I love the revealed and restored Christian practice of baptism for the dead. It's not about making people Mormon or violating the rights of deceased ancestors. It's about giving the deceased the freedom to choose. With baptism for the dead, if we are right, we can extend choice and the option of accepting a valid Christian baptism to those who died without that privilege. No harm is done if we are right - it's still their choice. If we are wrong, we're just wasting our time with a meaningless, innocuous ritual. Again, no harm done.

Got ancestors? Give them the gift of choice. It's one kind of choice where no one gets hurts.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"What If the Mormons Are Right?" Asks Journalist

In response to some objections by a different denomination to LDS baptism for the dead, the Belfast Telegraph has a remarkably sensible article on the topic (hat tip to Stan Barker): "What if Mormons are right and Catholics and Protestants wrong?" by columnist Eamonn McCann. Read the whole article, but here's an excerpt:
Why are the Catholic bishops so concerned about Mormons baptising dead parishioners? The Mormons didn’t invent baptism of the dead. The practice has a significant history within mainstream Christianity. The decision to order its abandonment was taken only after heated debate, and was a close-run thing.

What's the difference, anyway, between baptising the dead and baptising babies? A tiny infant will have as much understanding as a dead person - none at all - of the complex philosophical belief-system it's being inducted into when baptised, say, a Catholic. Transubstantiation? There's daily communicants go to their deaths without any clear understanding of the concept. So what chance the mewling tot?

Indeed, given that all Christian Churches believe that the soul lives on after death and retains understanding and consciousness of self, doesn't it make more sense to baptise dead adults than live babies?

Apart from which, if the Catholic bishops hold that the beliefs of the Mormons are pure baloney (as they must), and their rituals therefore perfectly meaningless, how can it matter to them what mumbo-jumbo Mormons might mutter over Catholic cadavers?
No cadavers are used, of course, just data. So if it is mumbo jumbo, who cares whether a Mormon computer lists Leonardo DaVinci as having been "baptized" vicariously as a result of some LDS guy getting baptized in an LDS Temple somewere? Even if it's not mumbo jumbo and even if DaVinci accepts the baptism we do for him, that doesn't make him "Mormon" as I see it - just a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. So what we do is merely intended to give someone an option to more fully follow Christ and doesn't make a person a "Mormon." The antis probably have some other nickname for the broader Church on the other side of the veil, and maybe even some shocking spirit literature to dissuade DaVinci et al. But mumbo jumbo or no, if DaVinci prefers being Catholic, he still is. No trauma inflicted!

Now maybe those who are overly concerned about Mormon temple practices can get back to worrying about real issues, like, say, why the mega-Enron-like leaders behind the current financial disaster aren't getting the same treatment as Enron executives? And you thought theology was puzzling!

The Poor You Have Always Among You

This prophecy now guaranteed, courtesy of the Dept. of Treasury, the Federal Reserve Bank, and Congress.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Learning from the Book of Mormon: The Blessings that this Cycle of Pain Can Bring

The parallels between the Book of Mormon and our day are enormous. I find special meaning in Alma, Helaman, and Third Nephi, the three books dealing with the few decades before the coming of the Savior. They are ripe with stories of a free and noble nation falling into corruption, greed, numerous wars, and secret combinations in which a band of well-connected wealthy gangsters essentially took over a nation. The Nephites got through cycles of wickedness and pride followed by disaster, pain, humility, and a resurgence in the Gospel, only to prosper again and move back toward pride.

As we stare into the abyss of a painful recession and perhaps even sweeping economic chaos, I hope we are prepared for two things. First, may we be prepared to feed and care for our families and others in need when trouble strikes, whether it's a hurricane, economic panic, or even famine in the land. How wise our prophets have been for decades now to warn us to calmly and steadily prepare for the times we are approaching. How wise some of you have been to heed their prophetic counsel. Second, may we be prepared to spiritually feed others as the trials ahead turn people from the Mammon of Wall Street to ponder deeper things, such as God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The times may be troubling, but to the prepared, these can be a joyou opportunity to love, to share, to heal, and to bless the lives of newly prepared people who may be willing now, after all their heartache, to open their hearts to God and receive Jesus Christ as their Savior, following Him into the waters of baptism, making sacred covenants to follow and serve Him.

It's harvest time, brothers and sisters. Did you hear the counsel of the prophet a few days ago, urging us to find joy now, to share and love and bless one another more than ever, and to reach out more than ever to share the Gospel with others? There are great blessings to come from what is ahead. A few will grow wealthy and powerful beyond all imagination, while earning pain and punishment beyond compare, while the humble among their many victims may receive the greatest gift of all - the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Updating LDS Classics: From Johnny Lingo to Johnny Bingo and the Eight Bailout Wife

The classic BYU film and staple of ancient seminary classes, Johnny Lingo (link is to Part 1 - also see Part 2 and Part 3), features a handsome and wealthy Polynesian trader who comes to an island to buy a wife, Mahanna, who others say is ugly. She knows how to cook, sure, but other jealous women can't figure why Johnny would be attracted to her. The father figures she's only worth a pig or maybe a cow, dowry wise, but Johnny shocks the island community by offering an unprecedented treasure of eight cows as if she were the ultimate prize. An eight cow wife! As a result, the ugly ducking realizes she must be beautiful and suddenly gets better hair, teeth, skin, and legs. She becomes so beautiful that the father, once shocked with the offer of eight cows, sees that she could have fetched 10 cows and now accuses Johnny of having cheated him. It's a faith promoting movie that helps audiences understand how much good can be achieved by dating someone rich, and helps young women realize how important it is to be hot. The most important thing of all.

As inspiring as that old movie is, the cultural setting is hard for audiences to relate to. It's time for an update, and I've got a proposal: Johnny Bingo and the Eight Bailout Wife.

Johnny Bingo begins in a paradisaical Caribbean island setting where families of failed Wall Street firms are living in a "Bankstah Paradise." Sports cars, private jets, dozens of servants, and luxury 24/7. But everyone is in suspense when mega-billionaire and Wall Street hot-shot Johnny Bingo comes to the island. Johnny is the shrewdest trader of all, having led Wall Street's biggest failure of all, the one that took down most of the US economy. He has come to take a wife!

Everyone assumes he will go after the most beautiful, but he surprises the community by announcing that he wishes to marry Hanna Mae, a Dartmouth accounting grad who really knows how to cook (the books). Unfortunately, Hanna Mae is essentially worthless, her father explains, because she has four criminal cases against her that are pending, as well as pending investigations by Congress, the FBI, and the SEC, plus an IRS audit in the works. He figures the dowry she brings in won't be more than a few thousand stock options and a Congressman or two. But Johnny Bingo shocks the community with his offer: in addition to 50 million euros, Johnny Bingo will pay off the judges in each of the four criminal cases, will pay off all of Congress, the FBI, the SEC, and the IRS. That's right, he offers eight bailouts, and Hanna Mae (a.k.a. Mae Hanna) is to be an eight bailout wife!

Hanna Mae can finally relax, and has the time and money to get the dental work, face lift, hair styling, and liposuction that she's been yearning for (indeed, her attorneys had advised her to stay ugly because many juries despise those who are rich and beautiful). She joins Johnny Bingo's firm, and with her financial skills, guides him in raiding massive pensions, creating complex new forms of financial derivatives, and generally perpetrating incredible fraud on Wall Street that brings the global economy to horrific new lows, immune from prosecution because he owns much of Washington and has pre-paid for a Presidential pardon should anything stick. Hanna Mae and Johnny Bingo return to the island, where everyone admires Hanna Mae's new beauty and grovels at Johnny's delicately sculpted feet with diamond-studded platinum toe rings, before learning that Johnny has bought the island and they are all being evicted. Hanna Mae's father accuses Johnny Bingo of being a crook and of having cheated them all, but he disappears before he can testify. It's a faith-promoting story that reminds us all how important it is to be rich and well connected, while still emphasizing old-fashioned values like the importance of being hot.

Any of you have connections with the BYU film department?

Oh, Did I Mention We're All Toast?

Wait until the kids are asleep before you read this somber report from Tom Szabo: "The Fed is Bankrupt: Update on the Helicopter," giving some insights into what is going on behind the scenes with the current financial crisis, and why we could face rapid inflation, even hyperinflation, very soon. Zimbabwe did it by doing the same thing we're doing. Don't think we're immune from the disease that spreads when politicians and banksters are given a free license to print all the money they want. The helicopter refers to Ben Bernanke's statement a couple years ago that if there was a financial crisis, he'd recommend loading up helicopters with cash and dumping cash over America. That's what he's been doing - inflationary creation of money to dump into the system. But it's not working as he hoped.

This is a great time to shore up your food storage, pay up your property taxes and credit cards, and cut down on unnecessary expenses. If you have anything left to invest, you are extremely lucky - might want to think about something that won't vaporize if there is hyperinflation or if the CEO is a crook. I recommend silver, being at a ridiculous low at the moment (on paper - the price for real silver is typically much higher as there is something of a shortage).

Stay calm and cheerful. We'll get through this, especially if you've got food storage. Meanwhile, go Packers!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Busy Times Ahead for Temple Work: Millennial Saints Serving God Day and Night in the Temple (Rev. 7:15)

Referring to the glorious future time of the Millennium, Revelation 7:15 makes reference to the people of the Lord who will "serve him day and night in his temple." So what are these Saints doing in the Temple all day and all night? Round-the-clock temple work of some kind? Well, we Latter-day Saints may have a few thoughts on this matter. Could it be that the great redeeming work of baptism for the dead and other vicarious ordinances will be done once all the missing records that we can't find ourselves have been graciously provided so that we can complete the temple work for all of Adam's family who wish to receive the full blessings of the Gospel?

Sounds like a good idea to me. What a busy time that will be! Without political corruption and ongoing financial crises to worry about, I'm glad that there will still be something for us to do.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The MTC Choir at Conference: One More Element of a Wonderful Conference Day

General Conference, what a great experience! If you missed the sessions on Saturday, there are two more on Sunday, so tune in and catch it on TV, where possible, or at LDS.org. What a huge smorgasbord of languages they offer! I enjoyed listening to conference in Swahili for about 30 seconds, then a couple other languages.

Toward the end of the Priesthood session, watching the missionary choir from the MTC was especially poignant with my own son in the MTC right now (his companion, Elder Excel, was in the choir). As I looked at the missionaries and contemplated all the good that they stand for and pondered all the powerful, inspiring, and Christ-centered messages we heard today, one thought crystallized: I love this Church. The wholesome, joyous, soul-lifting teachings, the goodness of its leaders, the rich Spirit that it brings, all make me so glad to be a part of it.

Yes, there are questions I can't answer, historical details that leave me puzzled, and numerous imperfect humans with human failings at all levels of the church, but there is also a steady current of divine power and guidance throughout, with a wonderful combination of the spiritual and the miraculous with the intellectually satisfying, making it all the easier for intelligent and sincere members to find joy in serving God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength.

If you are wondering about the Church, listen to all the sessions we had today, read all the talks in the upcoming November Ensign, and ask yourself if the world wouldn't be vastly better off if this kind of material was being spread, discussed, and lived globally. I think many millions of individuals and many dozens of nations would be blessed by opening their doors more fully to the Church.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Back to "the Most Difficult Job in the Entire World": LDS Apologetics

As you may have noticed, in the past few days I've taken a break from what one of the world's leading experts on religion has called "the most difficult job in the entire world," Mormon apologetics. I guess it's harder than being a professional wrestler, harder than being a coal miner, harder than being a trapeze artist, and undoubtedly harder than mismanaging the US economy. What makes it so hard? One of our critics explained in a recent comment:
Dr. Paul L. Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, is considered one of, if not THE world's leading historian on the first century A.D. . . . has said: "I think the most difficult job in the entire world would be that of a Mormon apologist. Such a one must try to defend beliefs for which there is no evidence--archaeological, historical, geographical, or scientific--from external sources to corroborate what is claimed within the Book of Mormon on any matters not derivative from the Old Testament."
Well, no wonder I needed a rest. All the intellectual weight lifting of defending a religion without the tiniest scrap of evidence, logic, or support of any kind - you can imagine what a headache it gives me even thinking about making something up to defend the hopelessly indefensible. Much easier to whine about the loss of America and rise of Gaddianton-like theft of power and wealth.

So turning a blind eye toward Washington and Wall Street, it's back to the most wonderful job in the world, sharing the joy of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the power and truthfulness of the Book of Mormon -- mingled with a few of my opinions, of course.

But I can't resist one final note: I can't confirm it for sure, but I hear that one of the many subtleties slipped into the bailout bill to sweeten the deal for some reluctant politicians was a provision that sells Alaska to Russia for $5 billion to help pay for the bailout. I'm sure it was an innocent oversight, but one of the surprising consequences of that well-intended provision is that Sarah Palin is now a Russian citizen and no longer eligible for Presidential politics. Too bad no one read the bill before voting for it. Oh, and Islam is now the state religion. Well, if it gets us praying a few more times a day, it's a good thing, I figure.

OK, so back to LDS apologetics (before the rest of the sky falls, anyway). Here's a useful article summarizing where we are on the issue of horses and the Book of Mormon: Horses in the Book of Mormon by Mike Ash. An interesting and, yes, difficult topic.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Can a Good Mormon also Be a Good Marxist?

No. Just in case you wondered. Please, that's not just my opinion. President Thomas S. Monson himself has a friend whose cousin shares that opinion.

Marxism and any other system aspiring for total government power will ultimately punish genuine Christianity. The two are incompatible. In the end, the human greed for power and wealth will view independent religion with such distrust and fear that it must yield some or majority control to the forces of power. You cannot serve God and an all-powerful State. Most other religions are at risk, as well. How blessed we are to have a Constitution with separation of powers, with vast limitations on government power and a reservation of rights in the hands of the people. How unfortunate that it is being ignored.

Nobody seems to know what Marxism is anymore. They don't teach it on MTV like they used to. Ask the average voter to explain the difference between socialist economics and the economic programs of either Presidential candidate, if any, and you'll get a blank stare. The same blank stare you would get if you asked either of the candidates the same question.

But for those who are interested, here is some good reading from this week's Financial Post: Bailout marks Karl Marx's comeback. Interesting.

Hey, a lot of good folks support the bailout and see it as a step toward hope rather than simply turning over all our our money to one man to bail out the companies he's aligned with. You can be a good Mormon and have all sorts of differing opinions on what government should do. But when you recognize Marxism, I hope you'll just say no.

This bailout bill could have far more impact on our future than you are imagining, though. In addition to the massive centralization of power that it entails, a la Marx, the bill itself is growing to astronomical proportions as corrupt sweeteners of all kinds are added to bring in various politicians. It started off as a 10 page ransom note. Now the list of demands on our future have swollen to 450 pages. Steps toward nationalized mental health care are in there. Who knows what other surprises will be on our backs in future years?

Engineered crises to create excuses for massive seizure of power and wealth - naw, of course we can trust the big guys pushing it. They are so smart - what could possible go wrong?

A little related background reading:
Keynes on Inflation - PBS Article

Nixon tries price controls: Nixon and Price Controls - PBS Article

Socialist Economics - Wikipedia