Monday, May 17, 2010

say you want a revolution

"But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people. . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution."
~ John Adams

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ryokan reflects

Shaggy hair past the ears,
A worn-out robe resembling white clouds and dark smoke.
Half drunk, half sober, I return home,
Children all around, guiding me along the Way.

and this:

Today's begging is finished; at the crossroads
I wander by the side of Hachima Shrine
Talking with some children.
Last year, a foolish monk;
This year, no change!
Thanks to Doug B.

hanging by a dread

If more people bothered to actually read this document – including President Obama, who once taught constitutional law and who, in this year’s state of the union address, erroneously declared that the Constitution provided that "all men are created equal" – they would discover the unlimited powers it provided to government. Beginning with a preamble setting forth the purposes of the Constitution being "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty," the document proceeds to set forth how such purposes are to be attained.

Article I, Sec. 8 informs us that "Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, . . . to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States. . . ." Later on, we discover that Congress also has the power "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."

Standing by themselves, these words would provide the most ambitious tyrant with the only grant of authority that would ever be needed to carry out his or her desired purposes. As Lord Macaulay so well expressed it, "Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor." One can find in this document all the power needed for putting together any political program.

Suppose that I was given the authority to "provide for the general Welfare" and "to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper" for exercising this power? What could I not do, constitutionally, pursuant to such a grant? Who is to decide what constitutes the "general Welfare," or what laws are "necessary and proper?"

For those desirous of understanding the realpolitik – instead of just the rhetoric – of how (and by whom) constitutional powers are to be interpreted, one can begin with the insights of Humpty Dumpty, who advised Alice that "’When I use a word, . . . it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’"

Who, in our political scheme of things, is to be "master" of defining words, when one "can make words mean so many different things?" This is a power usurped, on behalf of the Supreme Court, by Justice Marshall in his opinion in the classic case of Marbury v. Madison. His convoluted reasoning came down to his finding, in Article III, a power of judicial review of the actions of other branches of the government, even though such authority is nowhere spelled out, or even hinted at, in the Constitution. When the Framers of the Constitution went to such great lengths to define – albeit in very abstract terms – the powers of the other branches, why would such a fundamental authority be omitted from the section on judicial powers? Through the use of a power of "judicial review" that is nowhere to be found in the Constitution, Justice Marshall made the Supreme Court the "master" of the meaning of words found therein.

In this manner, the Supreme Court became, for all practical purposes, the sovereign political authority. Its pronouncements – not those of the electorate, or of their elected representatives – became the final interpretation of the meaning of words subject, of course, to a later court providing a different interpretation. The Supreme Court – whose members are not subject to being voted in or out of office by the general citizenry – became the seat of arbitrary power. Members of the Supreme Court will vote their respective subjective preferences – or, more accurately, the preferences of the political establishment that elevated them to their status – for the ever-changing rules that will govern the rest of us in society.

This is why it is considered so impolitic to inquire of a judicial nominee his or her thinking on specific issues over which they are to promulgate binding definitions and rules of law. It is the nature of a sovereign not to be bound down, for such a limitation implies that his or her ultimate decision-making authority is subject to the approval or review of other forces who would, by definition, become sovereign. When it comes time for them to tell you of the rules to which you will be bound, rest assured that they will do so!
---Butler Shaffer

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Description of an early Christian baptismal rite of converts from paganism:'s baptism would come on Easter eve, during the midnight vigil. At the appointed hour, the baptizand (the person to be baptized) would depart the church for the baptistery, which typically housed a large baptismal pool or (if possible) flowing stream. There, in the semidarkness of that place, he or she would disrobe and--amid a host of blessings, exhortations, unctions, and prayers--descend naked into the waters, to be immersed three times by the bishop, in the name of the Father, then of the Son, and finally of the Holy Spirit. The newly baptized Christian would then emerge from the waters to be anointed with the oil of chrismation, the seal of the Holy Spirit, and to don a new garment of white, and would return to the church to see the Eucharist celebrated--and to partake of it--for the first time. On that night, the erstwhile catechumen would have died to his or her old way of life and received a new and better life in Christ.
--Hart (below)

Stated in its most elementary and most buoyantly positive form, my argument is, first of all, that among all the many great transitions that have marked the evolution of Western civilization, whether convulsive or gradual, political or philosophical, social or scientific, material or spiritual, there has been only one—the triumph of Christianity—that can be called in the fullest sense a ‘revolution’: a truly massive and epochal revision of humanity’s prevailing vision of reality, so pervasive in its influence and so vast in its consequences as actually to have created a new conception of the world, of history, of human nature, of time, and of the moral good. To my mind, I should add, it was an event immeasurably more impressive in its cultural creativity and more ennobling in its moral power than any other movement of spirit, will, imagination, aspiration, or accomplishment in the history of the West. And I am convinced that, given how radically at variance Christianity was with the culture it slowly and relentlessly displaced, its eventual victory was an event of such improbability as to strain the very limits of our understanding of historical causality.
--David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

can you guess?

Below is a passage from the "Spaulding Manuscript," supposed source of the Book of Mormon. Can you guess what verses of the B o M derived from it? (Should be obvious)

"In making this decent, six young women & five young men by a surprizing dexterity in whirling their bodies as they dcended cleared themselvs from the quagmire—The rest as their turns came plunged in & came out most wofully muded to the great diversion of the Spectators. The incident which excited the most meriment hapned when the last pa[ir] decended. by an unlucky spring to clear himself from the quagmire he brot his body along side of the declevity & roled his whole length into the midst of the quagmire where he lay his whole length in an horizontal position on his back neither heels up or head up, but horizontally—soft & easy—but alas when one unlucky event happens another follows close on the heal.—the fair, plump corpulant Damsel, his affectionate sweetheart came instantly, sliding with great velocity—she saw the woful position of her beloved—she wished him no harm—she raised her feet this bro't the center of gravity directly over the center of his head—here she rested a moment—his head sunk—she sunk after him his heels kicked against the wind like Jeshuran waked fat—but not a word from his lips—but his ideas came in quick succession—tho't he, what a disgrace to die here in the mud under the pressure of my sweet heart—however his time for such reflections were short—the tender hearted maid collecting all her agility in one effort dismounted & found herself on dry land i[n—] instant—not a moment to be lost; she seized her lover by one leg & draged him from the mud—a curious figure, extending about six feet six inches on the ground,—all bismeared from head to foot, spiting—puffing, panting & strugling for breath.—Poor man, the whole multitude laughing at thy calamity, shouting, rediculing—none to give thee consolation but thy loving & simpithetic partner in misfortune—
Upon my soul, exclaims droll Tom—Stern formost—that bouncing Lass ought to have the highest prize for draging her ship from the mud—She was cleaning the filth from his face.

how he did it

In many ways, the most reasonable way to understanding the odd combination of ancient and modern elements in the Book of Mormon is to assume that Joseph Smith introduced nineteenth-century terms and concepts into the text during the translation process as he struggled to put the ideas into his own words. [Royal] Skousen’s [studies], backed up by the 4000 pages of his six-volume analysis of textual variants, made me change my mind. I now believe that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that the Book of Mormon is not in Joseph’s words, but that he read a pre-existing translation off the seer stone—a translation provided by God. Usually, closer analysis leads away from traditional, conservative, or naive ideas; history is nearly always more complicated than we first imagined. In this case, however, the most comprehensive, detailed study points toward the simpler, more miraculous alternative (even if it leaves us scratching our heads about the non-standard grammar and sometimes awkward diction).

I had always assumed that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon in much the way the process is depicted in LDS artwork, but the evidence for his use of a seer stone in a hat is so clear and compelling that I was entirely persuaded. I realized that God does not always work in ways that seem respectable or reasonable to us, and I decided that I would not be embarrassed or defensive about following the evidence, wherever it might lead.
--Grant Hardy

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"They look a bit like a sabre-toothed sausage"

But It isn't just their unusual appearance that attracts attention: their behaviour is about as strange as it gets in the mammalian world.

For a start, these little creatures live in huge groups. On average, you will find colonies made up of 80-100 individuals, but sometimes they can grow to a 300-strong group.

More bizarre still is their social structure. They behave like the mammalian equivalent of a social insect. Dr Faulkes points to a mole rat that looks almost twice as large as any nearby. And it is clearly pushing around some of its punier companions.

"That's the queen," he says. "Even in these really huge colonies, there is only a single female that breeds. And she mates with one or two, or sometimes three, breeding males.

"And then the rest of the colony, of both sexes, have their reproduction suppressed and never ever breed." But the sex-free mole rats have another job: "The small ones tend to act as workers, so they carry out colony maintenance activities,and keep predators, such as snakes, at bay.

Dr Faulkes explains: "They behave like the mammalian equivalent of a social insect - they have many, many similarities with bees, ants, wasps and termites." Throw in on top of this the fact that naked mole rats also live for an unfeasibly long time for a small rodent - 30 years in captivity - and that they also seem to be resistant to cancer, so it is easy to see why scientists are so interested in them.
To further sate your thirst, see:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Guerrilla Public Service

After the Los Angeles artist Richard Ankrom missed his exit off California Highway 110 one too many times, he decided to indulge in a little “guerrilla public service.” Ankrom crafted three reflective sign components—a number 5, the word “North,” and an arrow—and artificially aged them. He also whipped up an authentic-looking California transit authority uniform. On August 1, 2001, he shimmied out over the freeway in broad daylight and used his unique artwork to tag the tricky left exit to Interstate 5 North.

For nine months, no one noticed that the change was the work of a private citizen. Ankrom eventually leaked the story to a local paper. The sign was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times as art, and the locals enjoyed its functionality. The most unexpected reaction came from the California transit authorities: They left Ankrom’s civilian sign in peace for eight more years. It’s a rare day when performance art yields something useful, rarer still when public officials leave such a thing unmolested.

In November 2009, the highway authority took down the whole structure during routine maintenance, tragically destroying the signed original piece in the process. But then it paid Ankrom’s work the ultimate compliment, incorporating his edits into the new, official sign.

To prove that these sort of policed societies are a violation offered to nature ... it needs only to look upon the sanguinary measures, and instruments of violence, which are every where used to support them.

Let us take a review of the dungeons, whips, chains, racks, gibbets with which every society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in pride and madness, and millions in abject servitude, and dependence.

There was a time, when I looked with a reverential awe on these mysteries of policy, but age, experience and philosophy have rent the veil; and I view this sanctum sanctorum ... without any enthusiastic admiration.
--Edmund Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society (1756)
U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Eboni[sic] Knox boards an airplane headed for Afghanistan

"Within a matter of months, and certainly within a year, the United States will have upwards of 220,000 to 250,000 U.S. government-funded personnel occupying Afghanistan, a far cry from the 70,000 U.S. soldiers that those Americans who pay attention understand the United States has in Afghanistan,” Scahill said. “This is a country where the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said there are less than 100 al-Qaida operatives who have no ability to strike at the United States. That was the stated rationale and reasoning for being in Afghanistan. It was to hunt down those responsible for 9/11.”
--Chris Floyd

Monday, May 3, 2010

first, be true saints

Many think that they are going right into the celestial kingdom of God, in their present ignorance, to at once receive glories and powers; that they are going to be Gods, while many of them are so ignorant, that they can see or know scarcely anything.

Such people talk of becoming Gods, when they do not know anything of God, or of His works; such persons have to learn repentance, and obedience to the law of God; they have got to learn to understand angels, and to comprehend and stick to the principles of this Church. …I bear testimony of this, and I wish you would listen to counsel and lay aside every sin that doth so easily beset you, and turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart.

We cannot become perfect, without we are assisted by our heavenly Father. We must be faithful and of one heart, and one mind, and let every man and woman take course to build up and not pull down. See that you save your grain, that you may save yourselves from the wicked of the world. Try to take care of every thing that is good to eat, for this is the work of the Lord God Almighty, and we shall have times that will test the integrity of this people, that will test who is honest and who is not.

Omitting prayer is calculated to lead the mind away from those duties which are incumbent upon us; then let us attend to our prayers and all our duties, and you will know that brother Brigham and his brethren have told you of these things...

There are trying times ahead of you, do you not begin to feel and see them? If you do not, I say you are asleep. I wish that the spirit which rests upon a few individuals could be upon you, everyone of you, it would be one of the most joyful times that brother Brigham and I ever saw with the Saints of God upon this earth.
--HC Kimball

While visiting my parents last week, my father printed out a list of all the descendents of Harry and Myrtle Mortenson. Grandpa Harry died of cancer before I was born. Grandma Mortenson lived in Cleveland, in Emery county Utah, a little farming community out in the desert. A little bit of sidewalk, a couple of little stores, a church, a post office, some poplar trees, some open irrigation ditches, and old fences.

The print-out is small print, and seven pages. Grandma, from that little tiny town way out in the middle of nowhere had an effect for good that quite literally touched every corner of the world. Her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and now even great-great grandchildren include missionaries who traveled literally all over the world, missionaries to every continent. And all it took was that she loved her 5 children, her many grandchildren, and the great grandchildren that she knew. She loved the gospel. We knew that, and it meant something to us. She did it without office, position, internet, or any other media than birthday cards, and her presence at family gatherings, especially mission farewells and temple marriages.

There is a passage in the D&C 123:15 that I have reflected upon more and more over the years. "Let no one count these as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity which depends upon these things."

I've seen remarkable goodness spreading through the world because of a little old lady living much of her life out in a small desert community. I have also seen the contrast elsewhere, in families broken, and the links between generations broken, testimonies not so much lost, as simply abandoned, and with it, the potential for a continuation of spreading goodness.

Don't count yourself as a small thing, for there is much in futurity that could depend on you. From some perspectives, we are nothing, as Mosiah and Moses point out with such clarity, re-enforcing a lot of the messages we may get from life. But from another perspective, we are the sons and daughters of God, disciples of Christ. And if we hang around, repent when we need to, and keep our eyes open, we may sometimes get glimpses of why we are here, taking up a little space, on this little planet in an immense speck of a galaxy, for a meaningful moment or two in the vastness of time.
--Kevin Christensen

Terryl Givens

Here is an interview with Terryl Givens, who has written some of the most interesting recent books about LDS.