Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Active members of the EQ: 11.
Active members of the EQ a month from now: 9.
Number of active members of the EQ we lost in the past three months: 5. A similar number moved out the previous summer.
The ward has always depended on students and student's spouses who were just here for a short time (under a year to four years). Especially since part of our ward is downtown Cincinnati, and so we get everything that comes with that (lots of members living in poverty, lots of members without cars, etc.) For example, the last and the current EQ presidents, the last two executive secretaries (currently we just go without), and the current and last YW presidents all fit into the student/student spouse category. Now just two couples in the ward fit that definition. Tough times ahead.

If you're thinking of moving (going to grad school, finding work, etc.) I know just the place...
Please. Before they demote us to a branch, or force us to combine with some other ward. Small is great, but there is such a thing as too small.

And no, we don't have an EQ secretary, or an EQ teacher, or any of those others EQ callings I hear rumors about. Heck, we're lucky to have a president and two counselors right now...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Doctrine and Covenants, Government, and Religion

I gave a lesson to the youth in my ward on July 4th; they asked me to talk about the gospel and its connection to the government. I meant to post about it earlier, but a kidney stone (which made itself known literally five minutes before the lesson, calmed down for the lesson, and then came back with a vengeance to ruin most of the rest of the week) derailed me. (My strength is finally back to almost-normal, I think.)

I don't think they knew what they were getting themselves into by asking me to teach. I didn't. Teaching adults is easy--create good questions and have them discuss the questions until time runs out. The teenagers here had a harder time speaking up, meaning I had to teach more.

Anyway, I made some interesting discoveries in researching the lesson. The first thing that came to mind was the 12th Article of Faith. While important, alone it's way too simplistic for any decent discussion of the topic. Plus, it seems like many people focus on that one scripture and ignore all other scriptures. Fortunately, an entire section in D&C provides some real meat.

I highly recommend a thorough reading of Section 134. Here's what I found most interesting.
First, separation of church and state. Verse 4 reads in part, "We do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion." In other words, the government has no right to tell us when to pray or how to worship. To me, this sounds like an argument against things such as mandatory prayers in school (although I realize this scripture can be interpreted in different ways). Certainly, minority religions (such as the LDS church) depend on the separation of church and state to keep majority religions from telling us how to worship. It's unfortunate, in this respect, that the Supreme Court, the body that interprets the First Amendment which gives us our religious liberties, is so void of religious diversity.

Verse 5 is also interesting. It begins, "We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such government." Notice the exception? We're not bound to sustain or uphold governments when our inherent and inalienable rights are not protected. What rights are those? Verse 2 gives us some hints: "The free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life." In other words, if your free exercise of conscience is not protected, you have no obligation to uphold the government. My interpretation is that the free exercise of conscience includes the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. LDS teenager Helmut Huebener, then, committed no sin when he and his friends spoke out against the Nazis in Nazi Germany, even though they broke the law by doing so. Those who engage in religious ceremonies that harm no one are also, in my opinion, not committing sin, even though the U.S. government may view such acts as illegal.

Any thoughts on this subject? It's much more nuanced than those who frequently quote the 12th Article of Faith realize. In any case, I'm grateful for the freedom of religion in the U.S. It may not be the optimum level of freedom, but it's better than most other countries (even most other civilized countries). I'm a big fan of Europe, but when it comes to religious freedoms, the U.S. is superior.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Hulu update

Warehouse 13: horrific. It's got to be pretty bad if I can't manage to finish the first episode. Take Adam Sandler's worst movie and turn it into sci-fi. Yech.
Grade: F.

Persons Unknown: OK. People who like dark might like it--it feels more horror than sci-fi. I don't really recommend it, but I won't discourage anyone from watching it either.
Grade: C.

Day Break: awesome. Just 13 episodes (like Firefly, it was canceled mid-season). Pretty much a cop/mystery show with a sci-fi twist. Very intense (definitely a PG-13), with some great characters and some great actors. It ties up fairly well at the end (in other words, it does in 13 episodes what Lost couldn't do in 121). And yes, Adam Baldwin plays himself, as he does in every TV show he's in. Grade: A-.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

What the Republican Party would need to do to win me back

“As I look out at the political landscape now, I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas."
Bob Bennett, Republican Senator from Utah

A little known fact--not too many years ago, I considered myself a Republican. Not that I ever really thought much about politics back then, but...
More recently, I registered as Republican--but that had more to do with being able to vote in the primaries in Utah (the winner of the Republican primaries in Utah almost always wins office) than actually agreeing with the Republican platform.
I'm also a big fan of moderate Republicans (Jon Huntsman's my hero, and I used to like McCain before he conformed).

But I'm not a Republican. And, at least most of the time, I won't vote for Republicans. If Republicans want to win me back, here's what they need to do.

1. Focus on cost effectiveness. Eliminating a huge money-saving provision in the healthcare bill by falsely labeling it a "death panel" is not the way to go about this. Nor is giving huge amounts of money to defense contractors. Republicans complain about high taxes and about how much the government is spending; if they truly believe this, they need to focus on cost effectiveness. Instead of attacking programs that help people, they need to focus on how to provide the same benefits at a lower cost. It's not hard. For example, changing food stamps so that they can only be used for specific healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, etc.) instead of on candy, potato chips, and soft drinks. How would this save money? By driving Medicaid costs way down. Simple solution. Still taking care of the poor, but saving big money doing it.

2. Be pro-science. Obviously, the Republican party has significant links to Big Oil and the religious right, two organizations that have some definite anti-science leanings, at least in regards to specific areas. (They also have big links to tobacco, which also used to have anti-science leanings, but got overwhelmed by an enormous amount of scientific information regarding the dangers of tobacco). Granted, some Democrats are anti-science when it comes to vaccines and such, and both McCain and Romney believe evolution occurs (as opposed to Palin and Hucklebee, who don't), but overall, Democrats are more scientifically literate.

3. Be pro-education. Education is an investment. Smart Republicans would negotiate with teacher unions, and offer decent money (ie--a living wage) to teachers (especially young teachers) in return for less job security (meaning ineffective teachers would be able to get booted more easily).

Also, they would implement summer programs that would allow high school students the chance to graduate a year early. Schools would save money by using resources (school buildings and teacher benefits) more effectively, and more teachers would have the opportunity to work--and get paid--for work done in the summer. There's the cost-effectiveness idea again.

4. Charge people for driving on roads. Roads should be paid for by those who use them. I'm not suggesting we toll every road; I'm suggesting we pay for roads, road repairs, and road maintenance solely through gasoline taxes, and decrease all other taxes that currently pay for roads. Benefits? People actually pay for what they use. Plus, less air pollution, reduced medical costs because of reduced air pollution, and a greater incentive to move away from our addiction to oil.

5. Be willing to negotiate and compromise on immigration. Focusing solely on "strengthen the border" while ignoring everything else is stupid. We need comprehensive reform, and it won't happen as long as Republican politicians continue to make foreigners scapegoats. Half the children being born in the US are minorities, and unless the Republican party starts recognizing this, and starts showing these minorities more respect, the Republican party will die with the baby boomers.

Any other ideas for Republicans? I think Republicans have a lot of good ideals (limited government, an emphasis on high moral standards, etc.) But I have to agree with Bob Bennett. Republicans currently have plenty of slogans, but not enough real ideas.