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

Thursday, February 13, 2020

How to Win an Argument with God: A Lesson Sponsored by the Corona Virus

Ever since I participated in debate competitions in high school and maybe before, I have relished the occasional thrill of winning an argument against a smart opponent. Forgive me for bragging, but I can rightfully boast some pretty impressive victories, especially my many victories against the smartest opponent of all: God. That sounds pretty amazing, I know, but I've discovered that it's relatively easy to win arguments against Him. In fact, I won several in a row in the past few weeks.

The key to winning the argument is first listening so you can know what to argue against. Prayer is a great way to get started. Pray and seek for guidance in some aspect of your life. Humbly sense that guidance. Feel free to write it down. And then, think carefully of all the reasons why it is ridiculous and doesn't apply to you. Strong logical skills are a plus here if you want a decisive victory. Provide your reasons, dismiss His suggestion, and voila, you are likely to win because I've found that He often doesn't do much of a rebuttal.

God, in fact, is a terrible debater. No offense, but it's true. In debate, after one side critiques your proposal, it's important to carefully respond to and rebut each argument they have raised. God, I'm sad to say, is rather weak in this regard. Although He's the Ultimate in intelligence, His mastery of debate techniques seems to pale in comparison with the skills most of us mortals have.

For example, two months ago, in praying for guidance on the things I needed to do, I had a distinct impression: go to the Shanghai office of Woori Bank (a Korean bank that was said to be a relatively safe place to park some money in a world where many banks are now close to insolvency) and take out the money I had there in an unusual US dollar account. It wasn't much, but wasn't trivial. I actually wrote that down on my to-do list for that week. I would write it down again for two or three more weeks after that. I came close to going right before our recent trip to Vietnam, but fortunately was able to come up with some very logical reasons about why there was no need to do that. It would be 6 months before I left China and had plenty of time, and the time I took to do that in January would be time I couldn't do some important things for my work, my callings, whatever. It just made no sense, and I provided persuasive reasons why I could delay that prompting. No rebuttal. God walked away. Bingo, I won! Such an easy victory. (I say that with all due respect.)

I had similar victories as I was packing and preparing for our short trip to Vietnam almost a month ago. I was repeatedly prompted to bring my journal, to bring a backup hard disk, to bring extra cash, to bring a an unnecessarily large supply of medication, and most strangely of all, to bring some of my collection of magic tricks that I use daily when I am around my grandchildren. My arguments were to the point and overwhelmingly persuasive: "There's no way I'm going to be doing magic tricks for Vietnamese kids. There's no need for extra cash in Vietnam and it could be stolen. I need to travel light, so my heavy journal will be a burden that I can deal with after my short trip. And bringing my backup disk puts me at risk of having it and my computer stolen while traveling -- a disaster." God just didn't have any reply to such persuasiveness. Victory, victory, victory! So sweet.

On the other hand, now that the Corona virus has swept across China and made it impossible or unwise to return home to Shanghai after my short trip to Vietnam,  causing my wife and I to flee to the US as "medical refugees," where we are now hanging out with family, I can somewhat admit that some of those illogical suggestions might have been slightly useful after all. Since I may not be able to return to China before my visa expires, I may not ever see that money at Woori Bank. I called them yesterday and they explained that for my protection, the only way they will ever let me access the US dollars in my account is to show up at their office in Shanghai with my passport (and visa, of course). The good news, though, is that if I die and my wife can provide proper documentation and evidence of death, she may have a chance of getting some of it if she also goes to China. The helpful employee I reached was chuckling over my situation and the impact of China's and the bank's regulations. Hilarious, I know! My other bank accounts have ATM cards that allow me to withdraw money here in the US, but not that special US dollar account with the appropriately named Woori Bank.

The journal, with some precious accounts, would have been nice. The medication would have been useful but I found some more in Vietnam. The hard disk would have been helpful, but I bought another. The magic tricks, well, surprisingly, they would really come in handy now that I am staying much of the time with a family of six grandchildren who are magic addicts and visiting another grandchild in Minnesota tonight who also loves magic. So, grudgingly, I can sort of see some point to some of my Opponent's suggestions, but that doesn't change the fact that I absolutely won the argument -- and lost some valuable resources and time, while gaining some unnecessary worries.

I guess winning arguments is not always the best policy when dealing with God. Yes, I'll acknowledge His awesome intelligence, but wish He were a more vigorous debater so it wouldn't always be so easy for me to win.

Mercifully, we may have found a way to retrieve the journal and some other much-needed items. I'll report on that story in a few days, which abounds in examples of the great kindness of some foreign and local friends in China who made that possible as an answer to prayer (it was also a rare example of me finally not arguing when there was a good argument to be made against an implausible suggestion). God may not be the best debater by human standards, but He often helps us find second chances or new paths forward after we make major blunders in our lives (sometimes as a result of a very persuasive win in our debates with God). Keep seeking Him and listening to His guidance, in whatever situation you are in. He may have some interesting things for your to-do list, whether it's something small that might help you to bless your neighbor, relieve someone in distress, solve major problems in your life, or prepare to flee your home on your own journey to somewhere unexpected.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

(Deja) View on the Corona Virus

Please keep China in your prayers. The unprecedented efforts to contain the Corona virus may bring rapid success, I hope, but also bring great hardship to millions for a time. The challenges for those living in fully locked-down cities like Wuhan, Huangguang, and Ezhou may be enormous. But even in areas where the virus is not raging, like the beautiful, modern metropolises of Shanghai and Hangzhou, life can be difficult. People coming home from travel, like two American friends of mine who just returned to Shanghai from Australia, or a European friend who just got back to Hangzhou from a visit in Shanghai, are finding that strict regulations make them prisoners in their own apartment as the government requires quarantine for travelers. That's if you are lucky enough to get home at all -- my friend in Hangzhou said that she got home just one day before a ban on travelers entering the city went into effect. I don't know how accurate that is, so I'm just reporting what she understands.

In Shanghai, people returning on Sunday and hoping to start work on Monday are in for disappointment and frustration. It may be one or two weeks before they can go back to work, depending on local rules. Once again, even while living temporarily overseas, the wisdom of having food storage and basic supplies in reserve is manifest, though quarantined residents may be able to go to the local market for essentials or have them delivered.

One man in Shanghai desperately needed to get his new passport that was sent by DHL to Shanghai, but had not been delivered to him for a number of days because DHL was largely shut down due to virus fears. It was only by going to DHL offices and "crying" for hours in front of the building that he finally got the attention of workers there who dug around in a pile of undelivered packages and found his passport, giving him time to get to the airport with just two hours to spare before his flight out of the country. Without that, he would have been in violation of Chinese law with an expired visa. You don't want to violate visa rules in any foreign country.

Such tales, though, may be nothing compared to the sorrows of those who are trapped in places they don't belong, without resources and friends, unable to leave. Or even local Wuhan residents struggling with the challenges of living life under a lockdown with so much uncertainty, in spite of valiant efforts now to provide support and services. An American trapped in Wuhan did manage to get a seat on a plane out organized by the US government, but the problem was getting to the airport, some 30 miles away from his home. A few weeks ago that would have been easy: just take a taxi. But taxis in Wuhan have been shut down except for a handful dedicated to taking patients to the hospitals, but this requires a complex process of getting approval from the local government committees for each region of town and there's no chance of getting a ride to the airport. With no feasible way to get to the airport, the man missed the flight and his seat was given to someone else. Fortunately, he had a second passport with Germany, and was able to get on the evacuation flight for Germany, a nation that kindly sent a bus to give German citizens rides to the airport. (Congratulation to those of you who recognize the many virtues of having a second passport. When things go crazy in your home country, it's nice to have another option.)

In spite of China now going all out to contain the virus, there seems to be widespread anger toward China and the Chinese people. There are accusations that China did not act quickly enough or still is not doing enough. But Chinese people are also experiencing blame and anger. Hotels, shops, and restaurants in some areas are turning away Chinese people. Rudeness and xenophobic hysteria abound in some hearts. As I left Asia a few days ago, after a two-week virus-free exile in Vietnam before I began a business trip to the US for an R&D project in Minneapolis (I just love the University of Minnesota, by the way!), I read a front-page article in the New York Times on my flight from Hanoi to Seoul and was pained to see further evidence of the worldwide anger toward China. Motoko Rich's Feb. 1-2, 2020 article, "Global Xenophobia Follows Virus." See also MarketWatch's "‘No Chinese allowed’: Racism and fear are now spreading along with the coronavirus" from Feb. 3.  This is a tough time to be Chinese. The video below from a Chinese man in Florence, Italy reminds us of the humanity of those facing prejudice because a virus originated in their country.

Some say there's a deja vu sense to this virus, which is causing so much hysteria around the globe. But there's reason for the hysteria: the virus has left China, and now has killed people elsewhere in the world, including (as of Feb. 4) Hong Kong (1 death) and Philippines (1 death), etc., etc., etc., for a total of, well, two deaths so far outside of China. But in China, nearly 500 people have died, so the death toll is on its way to reaching that of the worldwide 2009 influenza pandemic with the H1N1 virus. Well, on its way to some degree, I suppose. The H1N1 virus that started in the Americas spread worldwide and ended up killing over 200,000 people (maybe as many as 500,000). Not 200, not 500, but over 200,000.

Do you recall the the draconian measures taken by the US government to contain that virus in 2009 and 2010? And do you remember the worldwide hostility toward North Americans for that North American virus? The shunning of all things American, the refusal to allow Americans to stay in hotels or enter restaurants, the locking down of New York, Miami, and LA? The martial law, the quarantines, the months of delayed school and the crushing of the US economy? The inability to fly, travel, or even leave your apartment? My memory must be fading, because I don't remember any of that. I remember encouragement to get flu shots then and warnings about the virus, but not the massive, painful disruption of travel, work, school, and normal life, nor escalation in anti-American sentiment. It's our bombs that stir that up, not our virus management policies.

China is responding to the crisis by locking down many cities, stranding over 50 million people, with martial-law measures in many other cities with tough regulations forcing many to be quarantined and hindering travel, work, and normal life. Perhaps too extreme, one can argue. There is also the cessation of much public transportation or blockades on roads in and out of many cities, the shutting down of thousands of tourist attractions, delayed operations for millions of employees, delayed school for millions, and so forth. Such extreme measures to contain this virus, and yet there is still international hysteria and blame. Outside of China, two have died, a few hundred are affected. It may get much worse, but right now, it's noting compared to seasonal bouts of influenza and nothing close to our own H1N1 pandemic that generated hardly any hysteria and resulted in a government response that was not exactly aggressive (I'm not saying it should have been -- I really don't know what should have been done). My point is, do we really need to shun China and be angry at the Chinese people for this one?

Yet the virus has unusually dangerous characteristics and may merit the extreme measures to control it. I'm not sure. But I hope we'll keep this in perspective relative to the thousands of deaths the US experiences every flu season from related though perhaps less severe viruses. And I pray that we'll remember China and recognize the great burdens the Chinese people are bearing, and not add to their burdens unnecessarily. Keep China and the Chinese people in your prayers, and thanks to those who are taking steps to help rather than to blame.

Update, Feb. 5 & 6, 2020: Mortality Rates
Regarding mortality rates, the official data from China suggests the mortality rate may be around 2%, though an early estimate from a small sample suggested it could be 11%. Hopefully mortality will decline as experience in gained and as treatments begin earlier for those at the most risk. However, current morality rates are based on total death relative to total cases, but many of the total cases are very recent, while the deaths are coming from infections that began perhaps a week or two ago when the number of cases were much lower, so the reported fatalities now during a rapidly escalating pandemic are surely severely underestimated, even if all the numbers being reported are accurate.

Here is some information on the mortality rate of the Wuhan Coronavirus relative to some other related viral infections, provided by ScienceAlert.com:
The 2002/03 SARS outbreak (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) started in Guangdong Province and killed 774 people out of a total 8,096 infected. The 2012 MERS outbreak (Middle East respiratory syndrome) killed 858 people out of the 2,494 infected.

The respective mortality rates for SARS and MERS patients was 9.5 and 34.5 percent, far higher that for the new coronavirus, which French health minister Agnes Buzyn put at "less than five percent".

That rate is likely to decline, experts say, as the ratio of deaths to reported cases continues to widen.

The coronavirus "is less deadly than SARS or MERS, but it is more contagious," Buzyn said in a press conference Tuesday.

The seasonal flu, by comparison, kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the United States, the mortality rate among people infected with influenza is about 0.13 percent, the Centers for Disease Control has calculated.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Superbowl Culture Shock

Since leaving for China over 8 years ago, I occasionally experience some culture shock when I come back to the United States. A couple hours ago I felt so fortunate to finally be back in the US after having been caught outside of China when the Coronavirus scare became serious. Instead of returning to China as planned, we prolonged our stay in relatively healthy Vietnam, and then flew via Seoul, Korea to a major US airport in a city where I have a business trip this week.

After clearing customs, I went to a rental car desk and waited in line to get our car. Then I saw one of the more incongruous scenes I've encountered. A sweet, young Muslim girl wearing a hijab was at the desk helping people, and right behind her was a large TV screen showing what looked like a scene from a sordid "gentleman's club" a.k.a. "creepers club" with scantily clad women writhing to flashing lights. I looked away but was really shocked that this would be what a rental car agency would show to its customers. When I looked back, one of the women was now climbing a pole for what I feared would be a sketchy performance. I had gone off to the side of the line for a moment and could see a women at the front of the line looking shocked herself. What's going on?

I think in response to that woman's concern, the signal was cut and only later turned on again, revealing that this was the Superbowl and I had just seen a portion of the Superbowl's halftime show.  Welcome back to the States, Jeff! When we got to the front of the line, we were the only ones left and had plenty of time to chat with the Muslim girl there, who was probably the best example of great customer service I've had in renting a car. Kind, friendly, and professional, and with her manager's support, went the extra mile to solve a problem for us. It seems that they were just putting on the game as a service to customers and she had not seen the offensive performance (of the female performers, not the refs or the 49ers), but she could tell something was wrong from a reaction or two. She told me that so much has changed in the 8 years I've been away, and mentioned a couple of other offensive situations that school children are likely to be exposed to these days. "It's getting crazy," she said of the declining moral climate in the States.

OK, I only saw a few seconds of the show and may be taking things out of context, and undoubtedly am offending fans of the stars. Plus I am clearly out of touch with America’s vibrant pop culture. But for an old prude like me, I think it was not appropriate entertainment. This is a reminder to me of the harm to common sense and basic values that occurs when a nation and its elite influencers (Hollywood, the broadcast giants, the sports industry, etc.) lose their moral compass and become addicted to pornography or become insensitive to what used to be considered common family values.