The Beginning of the End of Enemies?

I have been wondering lately whether we are seeing the dawn of a new age.

Well, OK.  Not the dawn of a new age but the dawn of a new age with respect to certain things.

First thing you should know is that I am a Mormon.  Or, as the church prefers it, “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  In other words, I’m a Mormon.  Yes, I tithe.  Yes, I wear the magic underwear.  Yes, I have attended services in a temple.  The whole smash.

Now, for a Mormon, I’m fairly liberal.  That’s made easier because I live in Blue state.  What’s more, my beliefs tend to be more than a little heterodox–made possible by growing up in an agnostic Jewish family, becoming a Lutheran in my teens, having seen the Charismatic Revival of the ’70s, having become increasingly agnostic myself (a return to my roots, yeah!) and, finally, having met my partner of 28 years (so far) when I was 26, having proposed marriage, and having learned that I would have to be a Mormon to marry her, having become a Mormon.

I like to think of myself as as “faithful agnostic.”  Maybe I’ll write about that more later.  Maybe I won’t.  Now, back on topic:

When I was young, a friend of mine loaned me a reel-to-reel tape that contained, inter alia, National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner, which featured, inter alia, the Deteriorata.

Now, to understand Deteriorata, you must first recognize this poem, Desiderata, which had become rather popular by the time I heard the former in 1976.

Where Desiderata included the following:

Take kindly the counsel of the years,gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Deteriorata substituted this:

Gracefully surrender the things youth:  birds, clean air, tuna, Taiwan.

I think the Mormon (“LDS”) church is now, at long last, gracefully surrendering the things of youth, and that one of those things is the notion of enemy.

When I first joined the LDS church, I often heard mention of so-called “anti-Mormons,” people who sought to do the LDS harm through scurrilous publications, casting aspersions on church history and leaders, and so on and so forth.  In my youth, I had certainly heard plenty of aspersions cast on the church:  that it continually revised its scriptures, rewrote the bible, that Joseph Smith had been a fortune-seeker and had many youthful “wives,” that Mormonism was an unChristian cult, etc.  As it happens, many of these allegations–with the exception of the last–are to some extent true.  However, none–with the exception of the last–undercut Mormonism any more than the following snippet from Emo Phillips undercuts mainline Christian divisions (or, as Emo calls them, “franchises.”):

Frankly, most of, and the most scurrilous of, these attacks came from a book lent me by my youth pastor, R, Walter Ralston Martin‘s Kingdom of the Cults.  I was dating a girl whose family was a member of the RLDS church (an offshoot of the LDS) at the time, and this was R’s attempt to make sure that I didn’t absorb any false doctrine.  It certainly helped to end that relationship.

Anyway, anti-Mormons.  These were the bugaboos of the LDS church, and by that I mean bugaboo in its most traditional sense:  “a common allusion to a mythical creature in many cultures used by adults or older children to frighten bad children into good behavior.”  Or as the sociologist Émile Durkheim might have said, the bugaboo is an outgroup against which an ingroup can contrast itself in order to strengthen its solidarity.

Having come through Lutheran Christianity (which is an amazing diverse thing, portions of which I greatly admire) and the Charismatic movement (of which I became greatly suspicious), I found myself studying sociology, and Durkheim spoke to me.  I think it was then that I started to become skeptical of the “unseen enemy”–as if the politics of the 1970s and the internal skepticism of Stalinist and Nazi approaches to life in Animal Farm had not already taken deep root in my mind.

I came to see most enemies as bugaboos, and continue to do so.

So when I encountered talk of anti-Mormons, I saw these as bugaboos.  That’s not to say they don’t exist (they do, as I have outlined above–and for the same reasons as the bugaboos of the LDS franchise).  But it is to say that such bugaboos are the focus of youth.  They are the fictions used by minds that are not quite sure of themselves, or of their followers, to help keep things in line.  Remember, if you venture too close to the edge of the earth, you’re going to fall off!

Now, when you have such bugaboos, you tend to be overly cautious of things that might let them undercut you.  You sweep a lot of stuff under the rug, where they can’t see it, and you try not to (hence the Salamander controversy).  Don’t look too closely, just believe, you are told:  “My country, right or wrong.”

Recently, the LDS church has begun to make public a lot of its historical documents, including those that could–in theory–have been used by anti-Mormons to attack it (see, e.g., this essay on polygamy).    To me, this is morally on a level with Nixon saying “OK, here are the tapes,” or Clinton confessing that he did in fact, “have sex with that woman.”  It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen, especially, the sort of thing that doesn’t happen when you think you have enemies.

Have the anti-Mormons disappeared?  Probably not entirely.  And they probably won’t for a long time.  But I think that this new openness is testimony that the LDS church is growing.

When I was in college, there was a company called Argus that printed wide variety of motivational and “spiritual” posters (turns out it’s still around) which were sold by the Logos Christian Bookstorein Dinkytown, Minneapolis.  One of them included a partial quote from Bob Dylan’s It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)–the last line from the verse which is reproduced in its entirety below:

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

I think that the LDS church is gracefully surrendering the things of youth, which include enemies.  I believe that the LDS church is growing, overcoming the problems with its theology that have dogged it through its blossoming in upstate New York through its transformation into a worldwide community.  It will never be the same as other churches, which is fine (else what’s a franchise for?) but it is growing, not dying.  It has a place for the orthodox, and it is starting–just, and not yet very much–to make a place for those who don’t quite fit.  Its response to the heterodox is still defensive, but it’s possible that the church will yet widen its embrace, and that gives me hope.

Would that we could all at least begin to surrender our enemies.

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Totally Pumped

Let’s start at the beginning. Roughly 43 years ago, in the fall of 1971, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This, in my opinion at the time, totally sucked. Every single day since then—some 16,000, give or take, I have stuck one or more needles full of insulin into an arm or a leg (or occasionally my butt) so that I could stay alive. As science and medicine got better, the number of shots went up; for around ten years, I have been taking four or more shots a day.

That ended on Friday.

On Friday, I took one shot, and then began to use an insulin pump.

And by that evening, I couldn’t imagine why I hadn’t been using one of these for years.

The pump itself is a reasonably simple device…a syringe is driven by a motor through a very high-ratio gear box, and that whole thing is linked up through a small computer that calculates the dose based on your current blood sugar, the carbs you’ve eaten recently, and the duration of the insulin you have in the syringe.

Oh, and it has a remote that has memorized a large number of foods that you can use to calculate the insulin dose. And for those it hasn’t? Well, that’s what Google is for.

Technically, the whole thing is kind of sweet.

But beyond the technical—I haven’t stuck a needle in myself for days. Days. OK, I do have a flexible plastic tube (the cannula) stuck into me, and I’ll have to change it in a couple of days, but. No needles!

So this will be a new technical adventure. I haven’t tried it in combination with the bike, yet, due to unremitting bad weather (today was wet and cold and dark).


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To Rosetta and Philae:

Congratulations!  What a long strange trip…but now the fun begins!

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I love science fiction.

I did not like this movie.

And you know, I can’t tell exactly why.  I’m a big fan of apocalyptic dystopias and last-minute saves (try Cities in Flight).  I love big rockets and spacecraft and all that jazz.

What I don’t like is boring.  And that’s what Interstellar ultimately was for me.  It felt much longer than its already considerable length.  And I think the answer is that while the film talks a good game about love, it doesn’t really show the good game.  The characters are far too sterile, even as we’re told they’re not.

Example (spoiler):  In a fairly early scene, Cooper is told by his daughter’s principal and teacher that Murph has been getting into fights for insisting on the truth of America’s 1969 moon landing.  The teacher, who is not all that much younger than Cooper (who has flown at least into the stratosphere) teaches and believes the line that the space program (at least the lunar portion) was faked; that it was no more than propaganda designed to force the USSR to bankrupt itself.

Leaving aside the factual wrongness of that last assertion (nobody even believes that the arms race was intended to bankrupt the USSR; and NASA [and USSR equivalent] budgets were never more than a tiny portion of their respective countries’ military budgets), Cooper’s response is critically wrong.

In response to the teacher’s (or principal’s, I forget which) comment about “useless machines,” he reminds them that one of the useless machines that no longer exists is the MRI, which might have saved his departed spouse, which would be a good thing, because she’d be meeting with the teacher, and she was always the calm one.

Cooper’s lines are delivered coolly and calmly.  But would an astronaut be cool and calm about such a matter?  Wouldn’t he at least yell once?

And that was pretty much my favorite scene.

By all means, go and see it if you haven’t.  It’s not a terrible movie.  But it is a legacy of Star Wars and the drowning of character in a sea of special effects.

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Slight Design Change

I liked the photo, so I made it the header.  Slight change in the title color as well.

That is all.

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Might as Well Cut My Hair

Speak out, speak out against the madness
Speak your mind if you dare
But don’t, no it’s a special don’t try to get yourself elected
And if you do, you better cut your hair

Because it appears to be a long night
Before the dawn

It’s been a long time comin’
It’s goin’ to be a long time gone
But you know that the darkest hour
Is always just before the dawn, hmm

–Crosby, Stills & Nash, Long Time Gone

In the wake of the midterm election, a lot of my friends are feeling those lyrics.  And you know, I’m not sure that they should.
I’ve recently been reading Richard Rhode’s excellent (if highly critical) book about nuclear policy,  Arsenals of Folly.
Rhode’s point in the early chapters of the book is that the United States and the Soviet Union developed their policies each out of fear of the other, and that the fear was generally unrealistic.  Each side’s leaders were aware not only that nuclear war would be a global catastrophe, but also that either side only possessed 150-300 military targets that could be usefully targetted with nuclear weapons.
Yet, by the early 1960s, each side possessed thousands of nuclear warheads, mounted on long- and short-range missiles, carried in bombers, and cruising the ocean bottom in submarines (some were also fielded as artillery shells and among the smallest were weapons that could be carried and deployed by mechanized infantry.)
What was behind this massive display of overkill?
Fear.  Sometimes this was merely fear of the unknown, and sometimes it was deliberately manipulated fear–the kind of thing that lead to an incredibly large increase in the defense budget in the early 1980s.  Rhodes quotes David Stockman:
rhodesBut fear was the driver.
So what does this have to do with the election?  Well, it may well be that the Republican party has been driven by a genuine fear of government during the Obama administration.  Obamacare, to use the Republican-coined and administration-adopted name, is a huge thing.  It’s the kind of thing that present-generation Democrats feel government ought to be doing, and that present-generation Republicans feel that government should not do under any circumstances.
It’s kind of like the USSR placing missiles in Cuba, in other words.  If Rhodes is right, and as a historian, he’s pretty good, then the USSR did not place its missiles in Cuba in hopes of staging a preemptive attack on the United States, or of threatening one.  Rather, the USSR placed those missiles to maintain parity with the US, which had missiles located pretty close to the USSR, including Turkey.  It’s worth noting that as a result of the stand-down from the Cuban crisis, those missiles were subsequently removed from Turkey.  But I digress.
The point is that we live in a society driven far too heavily by tit-for-tat.  It’s reasonably clear that while Bill Clinton may have had an interesting personal life, for example, that the real reason Republicans called for impeachment was to even out the playing field.  The GOP was still smarting from Nixon’s downfall, and wanted parity.  There are countless other places where parity is an issue (consider that filibusters are never bad things when you’re the party out of power, but that they constitute evil attempts to overrule the majority when you are the party in power).
It’s my hope that the Republicans’ gaining control of the Senate will act to place limits on fear.  All parties out of power are, to a greater or lesser extent, necessarily reactionary.  The GOP is in power now (save for the Executive; arguably the conservative-GOP alliance now controls the Judiciary, though there conservatism and liberalism are different, so it’s a mistake to see the court too much as a player).
I suspect that the GOP will continue to act as an out-of-power reactionary party for a month or two; then its members will realize that it’s time to understand that Obamacare will not be repealed (in part, because it’s popular in the broadest sense of the word), and will begin to act positively.  I don’t expect that the GOP’s “positivism” will always be to my liking or that of my friends, but we’ll see.
In any event, it becomes harder to complain about Washington when you are Washington.
The GOP holds Cuba now.  Let’s see how things go.
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A Bicycle Dreams

a bicycle dreams

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