Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An episode from the life of William James captures the problem well. He had been given charge of a turtle's heart for a popular lecture on physiology by one of his Harvard Medical School professors. The lecturer was demonstrating that the heart would pulsate when certain of its nerves were stimulated, and the pulsations were projected onto a screen at Sanders Theatre. Halfway through the lecture, James realized the heart was not responding, so he took it upon himslef, in a sudden and almost automatic response to the emergency, to make the proper motions on the screen by manipulating his forefinger such that the audience would not fail to gain a true understanding of the heart's physiology. Writing many year later-in a final essay on psychical research that was centrally about the balance of fraud and faith in what we can know-James admits that such simulation could be disdained as shameless cheating. Had he acted otherwise, however, the audience would have been cheated of an understanding of physiology. His forefinger had performed humbug in the service of understanding.
--from John Durham, Speaking into the Air

Church News: LDS Youth Gets Brief Posthumous Brush with Celebrity

Church News caption: President Barack Obama, right, salutes as an Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Church member Sgt. Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Ind., during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Oct. 29.

What's more, according to the News, "An Associated Press photo of Brother Griffin's flag-draped coffin being saluted by President Barack Obama at Dover Air Force Base was circulated by news agencies across the country."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

late (heart) breaking news

Bryant Gumbel to Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner in an interview during the 2000 presidential race: “In a macropolitical sense, do you think the Gore preoccupation with morality is a frightening turn for the [Democratic] party?”

Lot's Wife

And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.
--Anna Akhmatova

mistakes were made

Believe it or not, this phrase has its own entry in Wikipedia. Political consultant William Schneider suggested that this usage be referred to as the "past exonerative" tense.

The cause of much contemporary misery in Western countries - criminality, domestic violence, drug addiction, aggressive youths, hooliganism, broken families - is the nihilistic, decadent and/or self-destructive behaviour of people who do not know how to live. Both the smoothing over of this behaviour, and the medicalization of the problems that emerge as a corollary of this behaviour, are forms of indifference. Someone has to tell those people, patiently and with understanding for the particulars of the case, that they have to live differently.
--Anthony Daniels

No doubt a Soviet military conquest would have brought about a swifter and much more complete Sovietisation than did the crumbling of the Soviet Union; but there is no doubt that in the realm of practical reason the Soviet Union won the Cold War hands down, at least in Britain.
Who would have guessed that, within fewer than twenty years, the British would be more comprehensively surveyed as they went about their daily business than the poor Soviets ever were? That, once they stepped outside the confines of their house, almost all that they did would be photographically recorded? Attending murder trials as I do from time to time as an expert witness, I am astonished by how many of the movements of the accused (and of other witnesses) are recorded on video cameras, for production if necessary at some time in the future. We now live our public lives entirely on camera; every person in the country has his Boswell which is the surveillance camera.

Who would have thought, at the downfall of the Berlin Wall, that a British government would seriously consider recording all telephone calls and monitoring the use of the Internet by all citizens? Who would have thought that it would even dare propose that a centralised dossier on each and every child in the country should be kept? Who would have thought that it would likewise propose an identity card system that enabled the recording of untold information about each and every person, and what is more propose to charge the citizen for the privilege of being thus spied upon? Who would have thought it would have run advertising campaigns to ask citizens to denounce one another if they thought they were cheating on social security, thus introducing into Britain what might be called the Pavlik Morozov conception of truth-telling?

Not unconnected with this is the constantly-changing langue de bois, or Newspeak, used by the hierarchy of almost all public institutions, to disguise the reality of what is actually happening. Words no longer have any tolerably fixed meaning, but must always be construed in their dialectical sense. Experience has taught me, for example, that when the chief executive of an NHS institution says, ‘I am passionately committed to x’ he means, x is about to be disbanded or closed down, and about time too.
An atmosphere of fear now stalks the land: people are reluctant to speak their minds, even if what is in their minds is by no means outrageous. Whole subjects, some of them of great national importance, are now beyond the pale of acceptable discussion. In the public service, underlings are afraid that their superiors might get to hear anything that contradicts the latest ideological doctrine, or even that fails to use the latest accepted terminology, and that they might suffer accordingly. In Britain, careless talk costs careers.
--Salisbury Review

Friday, November 13, 2009

to those non-hat fetishists

not already famililar with "moses," the world's premier paper hat designer, said Hawaiian hatmaster created some 250 original chapeaux, using only paper bags during a creative burst in the 1980's. Below are a few samples. Many more can and should be seen at

Monday, November 9, 2009

The hand of Tyr

The only principles that seem to hold any sway anymore qua principles — whether they are held in a quest for power or in an intellectual confusion or in a lusty embrace of falsehood — are ones that have been articulated as ideals relatively recently in the West and are alien to its spirit: egalitarianism and pragmatism. Each of them has proved in one way or the other to be incompatible with the traditional culture of the West: egalitarianism has proved itself the enemy of justice and the supreme value and dignity of the individual; pragmatism has proved itself the enemy of honor, of far-sighted loyalty to principle, and of adherence to goodness. The West is being destroyed by Westerners who no longer love, indeed have come to hate, their achingly beautiful creations.

I am not speaking of a minority of Westerners, either. The ubiquity of rock anti-music savagery is ample evidence of that. That not one father in a thousand can affect the immodesty of his daughter's dress at the beach is more. That chastity's only role in modern society is as a sanctimonious, self-serving tool to embarrass and destroy one's political foes is yet more. And that what passes for justice is driven by passion (as in the first Simpson trial, the McVeigh trial, and most recently the British-nanny trial) should count as final proof.

Politically, Westerners have accepted completely and utterly the notion that the state is not merely an organization for defending them from predator nations — which is what the state has claimed to be whenever its legitimacy has been called into question. Rather, Westerners have accepted the notion that the state should be a predator nation and that financing its predations, getting in on its predations, and benefiting from its predations, especially against one's neighbors, is smart. That is, Westerners have allowed a notion of "the practical" to defeat their loyalty to principle.

Even in our mythology, we see the gods forever favoring "practical" solutions rather than remaining true to their ideals. In one of their worst missteps, they attempt to bind the Fenris wolf with a cord spun with magic. Fenrir, suspecting treachery and knowing full well that the gods are lying when they promise they will release him if he is unable to break the cord, demands that someone put a hand in his mouth during his attempt to break the cord. Only Tyr, the god of war, has courage enough to accede to the wolf's demand, but Fenrir insists that it be not Tyr's left hand, but his sword hand. The cord holds, and Tyr's hand is snapped off.

On Ragnarok, Fenrir will finally break the cord and join the battle against the gods. Tyr's hand, however, will still be gone, and he will be defeated and killed precisely because he cannot fight as effectively left-handed.

Justice is not just a quaint notion for us; once we place it in the mouth of Fenris tyranny, whatever temporary advantage we enjoy will be ... temporary. We cannot purchase our survival with it, because without it, it is not we who survive, but some degraded corruption of ourselves.
--the Last Ditch

We hold this duncery to be self-evident:

On November 5, addressing the crowd of anti-PelosiCare protesters, John Boehner, Republican minority leader in the House, whipped out an object he said was his copy of the Constitution. He began bloviating that he stood with the Founders, who wrote in the Preamble of the Constitution, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

We can't attribute this gaffe to a mere misspeaking on his part. After all, he held up a physical object. Did he not know what he was holding? And he explicitly referred to a "preamble."

So I say, Really? Can we really not expect of elected officials, who take an oath to protect the Constitution — an oath Boehner has had to take at least five times — to know the difference between it and the Declaration of Independence? Is it really too much to expect a crowd who say they love the Constitution not to laugh this constitutional illiterate to scorn and run him off the stage?

Further: Because of his position, this guy probably has the largest staff in the Republican caucus. Does he have no one on his staff — not even one functioning mind — who works on his speeches who is capable of recognizing one of these documents from the other? Just how many historically illiterate people helped prepare his comments?

Worse: How many people listening to him didn't even notice? How many actually know the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and are able to distinguish one text from the other?

I have sometimes wondered what good a Constitution is if it can be ignored at will. Now I have to wonder what good a Constitution can possibly be — what good reasonable, unasleep people can expect it to be — when neither those elected nor those who vote for them know what is in the miserable thing. [Ronn Neff]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In Memoriam

wild rice

What gets you is the knowledge, that sometimes can fall on you in a clap, that the dead are gone absolutely from this world. As has been said around here over and over again, you are not going to see them here anymore, ever. Whatever was done or said before is done or said for good. Any questions you think you ought to’ve asked while you had a chance are never going to be answered. The dead know, and you don’t.

And yet their absence puts them with you in a way they never were before. You even maybe know them better than you did before. They stay with you, and in a way you go with them. They don’t live on in your heart, but your heart knows them. As your heart gets bigger on the inside, the world gets bigger on the outside. If the dead were alive only in this world, you would forget them, looks like, as soon as they die. But you remember them, because they always were living in the other, bigger world while they lived in this little one, and this one and the other one are the same. You can’t see this with your eyes looking straight ahead. It’s with your side vision, so to speak, that you see it. The longer I live, and the better acquainted I am among the dead, the better I see it. I am telling what I know.
--Wendell Berry, "Stand By Me"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What is my point of view?

1. God is one of a number of superior intelligences who have learned-how we do not know exactly-to obtain glory and intelligence. They can create worlds and do much else.

2. These gods take us lesser intelligences, swimming about like fish in the sea, under their tutelage, saying they will teach us how to achieve intelligence and glory.

3. One of their great lessons is that we can do more acting together than we can standing (or swimming) alone. Thus, they bind us to them with multiple covenants.

4. We are not only to obey them; we are to join with our brothers and sisters in the order of the priesthood under God's direction. This priesthood goes back before the foundations of the earth and incldues all the gods who have gone before. They are bound into one God whose combined force and intelligence is the source of glory. We may even add to the glory by joining them-like computers strung in parallel, generating computing power. Hence the essential importance of unity.

5. In this sense, the priesthood is God. When joined together like the council of gods that organized the earth, it manifests its godly powers. At the same time, any one God can speak for the whole because they are unified. Adam can become the God of this earth under Christ's suzerainty.

6. We exist on the ragged edges of this holy order, but in subscribing to it we join the grand alliance that rules the godly universe.

7. Outside of this created order, only chaos reigns, but in the outer darkness are other intelligences such as Lucifer who have orders and priesthoods of their own, independent of and possibly in opposition to Elohim's.

8. Within the created order, the intelligences find their places, some as animals, some as stones perhaps, some as humans. The diversity of forms on the earth suggests the diversity of unorganized intelligences. Hence the detail in the temple account of creation of the many forms of life, each to fulfill the measure of its creation.

9. God is constantly recruiting intelligences to the godly path and the success of this operation depends on us. If we attract people to Christ, they get included; if someone doesn't reach them, these souls may slip to a lesser spot. God will not necessarily guarantee everyone the highest possible position for his or her intelligence. Some may fall to a lower rung because there was no one there to raise them up. It is scary, but it makes life real. What makes it less scary is that there are many way to grow in intelligence. The Mormons are not the only source of light. Christ radiates throughout the world, through many voices. We need only to listen to one to set our foot on the right path.

As I write, this doctrine tastes good to me. I believe it is the truth. All of it can be found in Joseph's teachings. But it is not being taught by the Church today. Jennifer Dobner, the AP reporter, told me that the Church chastised her for writing about doctrines of this kind, as if they felt they discredited the Church. President Hinckley has said he does not put much stock in such teachings. That may be the proper position for today when we are under attack from evangelical Christians. It would be a mistake, however, to discard them entirely. they are a precious cultural resource. It may be one function of my book [Rough Stone Rolling, a life of Joseph Smith] to sustain their life by explicating Joseph's thought as part of the campaign to preserve doctrine.
--Richard Bushman, On the Road with Joseph Smith

400 Members of Congress Not Suspected of Wrongdoing!

An online “security breach” yesterday disclosed a confidential House Ethics Committee document which revealed that dozens of members of Congress are under investigation for ethical lapses - i.e., being crooks, weasels, etc.

That means that more than 400 members are not being actively investigated by their peers for wrongdoing or all-round conniving.

This is the type of default that causes people to lose faith in the congressional ethics committee.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"[Consider] the irrigated valleys of Utah. These were settled by comparatively poor men....They live on small farms. They enjoy economic independence by the simple method of producing the variety of things which they consume. They live chiefly in villages and so have social advantages not usually within reach of farming communities....I love to think of those green oases among the Utah mountains. If dark hours shall ever come to the Republic, the dwellers in those lovely valleys will know nothing of it except by hearsay."
--Thomas F. Walsh, 1920

One kind of fault that pastors and spiritual directors must address is what is called the "besetting sin." One spiritual director of my acquaintance calls it one's "favorite sin." This is the sin, or fault, that one falls into time after time. It shows up in nearly every examination of conscience. Those who seek forgiveness of their sins find themselves confessing it over and over. We marvel that we dare to seek forgiveness for it; we marvel even more greatly that forgiveness can be obtained.

The fault differs from man to man. For most, it takes a form that modern society is pleased to call an "addiction." But it is not just those common attachments. It may be an easy resort to anger and violence. It may be small vanities or an excessive delight in the praise of others. This list goes on and on. I trust I have said enough on this subject: the reader is perhaps ahead of me and has already identified the fault in himself that seems most resistant to correction.

I postulate that societies, that cultures, bear this resemblance to men: that they are prone to a kind of besetting fault. And that the besetting sin of the West is the resort to the organized use of force. We call this organization the state.
--Ronn Neff