A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year in Review

Remember the good old days of 2013? Neither do I. It's been a whirlwind year, as witnessed by the fact that I still haven't posted any pictures of my Ireland trip. Maybe I'll finally be able to get up a post about that in 2014. However, I wanted to end the year by reporting on my New Year's resolution from January. My one resolution for the year was to Be Happy.

Yesterday while cleaning out my room I found my list of "What Makes Me Happy?" and "What Makes Me Unhappy?" I've been successful in increasing some of the stuff from the happy list, but haven't made much headway in removing or mitigating some of the unhappy influences. On the list, I wrote the following at the bottom (I was so wise in January, what happened?): "Overarching question: What does God want me to do?"

In May, I got a new calling* in church. It's something that I would never have volunteered for, and I remain convinced that I'm pretty terrible at it, even after more than half a year of practice. But as I think about it (and pray about it), I realize it's what God wants me to do. That seems really simplistic, but it doesn't make the calling any easier, or does it help me on a practical level know what to do with the calling.

Sometimes we know the "big picture" of what God wants us to do, but he doesn't give us every stepping stone along the way. Like "being happy" we may get a broad theme but the daily decisions are left up to us. This can be incredibly frustrating or incredibly liberating. I tend to find it the former, but the decisions we make hopefully help us grow into better, kinder people. I keep waiting for the "Calling Fairy" to come tap me on the shoulder and fill me with knowledge of how to serve. It hasn't happened yet, so I keep "muddling through." As I think about goals for 2014, I'm stumped. I still want to be happy, of course, but I feel like that goal was too broad and vague for a full year.

Reading this post at the Mormon blog "By Common Consent" really touched me, especially #2 of the five goals. I think the author is right about home and visiting teaching.** I think it's key to ministering and loving others. So maybe my goal for 2014 will be to be a good visiting teacher. It's a simple, somewhat measurable goal, and I think serving others really does bring me joy. So, I'll give it a shot. More to come on some other 2014 goals in future posts.

In the meantime, what are you doing tonight to celebrate the New Year?

"What are you doing New Year's Eve?" Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt

*"Calling" is Mormonspeak for a church responsibility - teaching, administering, or serving in any church capacity, because the Mormon church is run by volunteers at the local and regional level
**Home and visiting teaching are programs of the Mormon church whereby you are assigned to visit people who you may or may not know on a monthly basis. Your job is to serve and love them.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Most WonderFULL Time of the Year

Last night after wrapping what I thought was my final present (whoops...missed one), I realized I hadn't set out my full manger scene. At that point, it was past midnight so it was technically Christmas Eve. "What a perfect metaphor for my life," I thought, "I've forgotten the true meaning of Christmas amidst all the trappings of the season." I got out the pieces, and assembled them on my dresser. I like this particular manger set only because I've had it for a long time (15 years at least). The figures are all children, which is cute. It's a cheap ceramic set but I love it.

This Christmas has been a busy one for a lot of reasons, and I've felt a lot of guilt about forgetting the most important things. December has been FULL to the brim and I have felt pretty sleep deprived. I lurch from one thing to the next and haven't really been good about prioritizing. However, this month I've also had some really wonderful experiences. Because most of these revolve around music, I can share some of these experiences with you.

Of the 107,000 videos of this Mormon message on YouTube, I think I've caused half of them.  It's been my sanity check to remind me to give my heart to service - to NOTICE others who need help and to actually act on it. FYI, at the end of the song there's an opportunity to download a free copy.

"What Shall We Give?" Mormon Tabernacle Choir

My church Christmas program featured this lovely "Poverty Carol," which has beautiful lyrics you can read here. The phrase "come all men who stumble" really struck me.

"Poverty Carol," Palos Verdes High School Chamber Choir

My dad also sang this peppy carol in a quartet in church, I loved it:

"Glad Noel," Lorna Linda Jr. High Choir

I discovered Francesca Battistelli's Christmas album, which I like.

"Heaven Everywhere," Francesca Battistelli

"Christmas Is," Francesca Battistelli

Ballet at Christmastime means the Nutcracker, and thanks to work, I got to see a fantastic version this year (not the one linked below, but still great).

"Russian Dance" from the Nutcracker, Performed by the Mariinsky Ballet

The capstone experience was going to a Messiah sing-a-long and being surrounded by people singing those beautiful words.  I don't think I had ever focused so much on the words when I listened to Handel's Messiah, but there are some beautiful scriptures which make up the text of that piece. I especially loved singing the names of Christ: "Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father."

"Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah, Sung by the Harlem Gospel Choir

As I was rushing around today on last errands, I saw a beautiful sunset. It reminded me of the lyrics to a non-Christmas song, Amazing Grace.  "Oh it is wonderful, that he should care for me, enough to die for me, O it is wonderful, wonderful to me." It is indeed a wonderful time of year to remember the Saviour, and all he has done for us. It's a time that can remind us of our inadequacies (we can never quite do EVERYTHING we plan to do), but can also fill us with wonder at the glory and mercy of God.

"Amazing Grace," Soweto Gospel Choir

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Feminism and Femi Nazism

Note: I started this first paragraph long ago, and I can't remember what the original point of the post was going to be, but I made the ending up!

On one of the many standardized tests I took in school, I remember the informational section asked you to list your parents' educational attainments.  For my father, it was easy, I knew he had completed law school, so I carefully filled in the bubble next to "post-graduate degree" with my No. 2 pencil.  For my mother, however, I paused, hovering over the pre-printed circles.  I know she graduated college, I thought to myself, but did she have a post-graduate degree?  Unsure, I filled in "college degree" and resolved to ask her when I got home.  When I did, I discovered that my mom does indeed have a Masters degree in education.

Society still seems to value the important work of motherhood less than other occupations. You don't get social security credit for raising children, or really any of the societal status that comes with working "outside the home."  My mom is a smart woman who I'm sure could have been a great teacher, school superintendent, or anything else she really wanted to be. I was lucky that she choose to waste spend her time with me instead.

I'm all about supporting women who make the choice to be moms. It's a really tough job, and I admire so many of my friends who make that sacrifice (though I don't know if they would term it a sacrifice, and I don't mean anything derogatory by use of that term).  But the important thing to note about this is that it's a choice. Some women who do have children work outside the home. Whether it's out of economic necessity or their own volition, working women don't love their children any less. I work with some pretty amazing women who have chosen to be moms and accountants, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I don't think I've said anything above that hasn't been said before (and better) by others, but the point I want to underscore here is that both stay-at-home moms and working moms are really feminists. Feminism is about making choices and owning those choices - it's about giving women every opportunity to grow and develop in whatever path they choose. Feminism says that if a woman can run a household, she can run a country, and vice versa. There are trade-offs and opportunity costs that come with each road, but feminism is about giving women more roads than one.

Just a side note about one of the worst straw-man arguments against feminism. Feminism is not some kind of femi-nazi cult requiring all women to "be like men" or even to be the same. Feminism is about unlocking the potential greatness of 50% of the world's population, recognizing the talent and abilities of each women, and removing the conscious and unconscious roadblocks to success that hinder the progression of women (and, by extension, hinder the progression of men too!). I'm lucky that my college educated mother read to us, cooked for us, and generally put up with us in the house for 18+ years. I'm grateful she was also a feminist who taught me to think for myself.

I'll end with a clip from the movie "Mona Lisa Smiles" about choosing a "traditional" woman's role.

Scene from "Mona Lisa Smiles," - Julia Roberts and Julia Stiles "You told me I could be anything I wanted"

Friday, November 29, 2013


3 things have recently gotten me thinking about empathy:

1) Nick Kristof's recent column on the demise of empathy. ( http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/kristof-where-is-the-love.html?smid=tw-share)

2) A column in the Huffington Post about the hopelessness of being poor in America. (http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4326233)

3) News story about a Mormon bishop who dressed as a homeless man. (http://www.npr.org/2013/11/29/247825783/costumed-as-homeless-mormon-bishop-teaches-a-lesson-in-compassion?ft=1&f=1001&utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=nprnews&utm_source=npr&utm_medium=twitter)

These three stories have reminded me that empathy, or seeing ourselves in another's shoes, is fundamentally important in both religion and politics.  Religion brings together people with different experiences.  Politics often forces us to face people who disagree with us.  In both situations, we need the humility born of empathy to see others and understand them.

King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon teaches a powerful lesson about empathy for the poor:

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just
But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

This scripture reminds me that I too am a beggar, and need to treat others who find themselves in difficult circumstances as I would want to be treated.  We may disagree on steps to help the poor, but I hope we can do so while agreeing on measures to assist those who live without hope.  I believe food stamps and other social safety next programs are vitally important to children and other innocent victims of poverty.

Apologies for the terrible links in this post, my internet isn't working this evening, so I had to resort to an app to post from my phone.  Hope they work!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


I have a hard time being grateful for things I don't like.  Experiences that are hard don't really bring gratitude to mind.  But really, trials make us gratefuller (is that a word?) for the good times.  We also grow in empathy for others through hardship. 

Don't know why I am posting about trials after a perfectly lovely thanksgiving, but I do think I am ultimately grateful for hard times.  This usually happens long after the trial or tribulation, but it usually happens.  It's a hard fought gratitude, and hopefully more worth the earning because of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving Eve!

Make sure that you, like President Bartlet, call the Butterball Hotline with any questions you may have regarding turkey preparation.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Minority/Majority Report

Late this week, Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate Majority leader invoked what some have termed the "nuclear option." This means that instead of requiring 60 votes to confirm the President's nominees, the Senate will simply need a majority (51). Of course, Democrats currently think this is a great idea, as they hold a majority in the Senate, and President Obama is also a Democrat. As has been rightly pointed out, they will likely feel differently when Republicans control the Senate and there is a Republican president.  

In this situation I don't think there's an absolute moral right here, but it does put a spotlight on the inherent tension between majority and minority rights in our democracy. This conflict is all over our constitution. The Bill of Rights prevents majorities from controlling minorities. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press protects unpopular movements or sentiments - popular opinions don't really need protection. For all our extolling our constitutional forefathers, many of them used "mob rule" as a bogeyman, and feared rule by the uneducated "common man" majority. 

Tension between majority and minority rights is baked into the structure of our government. The House of Representatives, or lower house of Congress, represents the people while the Senate is supposed to be a step removed from the people. Even the President isn't directly elected, instead chosen by electors. The Supreme Court in its isolated perch is the farthest removed from public opinion, supposedly allowing it to protect the rights of unpopular minorities. 

I believe Mormons should be one of the biggest supporters of minority unpopular groups. Early in our history, members of our church were beaten, driven, and in some cases murdered for espousing unpopular opinions. This history should make us defenders of opinions we disagree with. At one time or another, each of us will be part of a minority group, so while we are part of a majority we must protect minority rights. The only way we can make sure our religious freedom is protected is to protect others' freedoms to believe (or not believe). 

The debate about the nuclear option shows the power of a minority. Democrats have pointed out that of all the filibusters of nominees in the history of America, over half of them have been on Obama's nominees. See the graph below showing the number of filibusters over time. Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the Senate, has really used the power of the filibuster to block Obama's choices to head agencies, or even delay confirming nominees (the statistics show that the average Obama nominee waits 100 days longer than George W. Bush's nominees). Democrats rightly argued that Republicans were using the filibuster and other delaying tactics to oppose even non-controversial nominees. Minorities can abuse their power just as much as majorities can.
I think both parties have used the filibuster to do stupid things. However, blaming the filibuster is blaming the symptom of the problem, not the actual problem. The actual problem is a refusal to compromise and work together. The dysfunction in our government is present because of stubborn pig-headed-ness on each side of the aisle. It's a refusal to work with or hear the other side's arguments. Democrats were driven to it by obstructionism on the other side, but I think they would have been just as obstructionist in the current climate if they had been in the minority. I think this needed to happen simply to get some of the machinery of government working again, but it's sad that it needed to happen.

Better Late Than, You Know, Never. Or Something.

I think this happens every NaBloPoMo - I reach a point where I just don't have anything to say but I keep going nonetheless.  Today's news is that I made chili, with lamb and black beans.  It is (a) the first time I have made chili, and (b) the first time I've cooked anything with lamb in it. I think it turned out okay on both counts, so I'm counting that as success even if I didn't win the ward chili cookoff.

It's still Saturday in California...

"California Girls," Beach Boys

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wouldn't it be Nice?

The first concert I ever went to was a Beach Boys concert (yeah I'm that cool). One of their best songs, in my opinion, "Wouldn't it be nice?" I think about that a lot when I think about politics. Wouldn't it be nice if we all just got a long.  Today is a reminder that we don't all get along - JFK's assassination is a reminder of terrible evil that exists in the world.  Wouldn't it be nice if we all (Democrat and Republican) lived his words and asked "What can I do for my country?"

United, there is little we cannot do, but divided...I don't want us to be divided.

John F. Kennedy, "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You," Inaugural Address

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Don't know why, but couldn't come up with a good political post tonight. However, this song was on my mind, so I thought I'd share.

"Smile," Glee Cast

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three Thankfuls

Today, I am thankful for:

1. Dryers - see, most people say washing machines, but let me tell you, dryers are glorious!!!  I lived without one for my entire mission (considered myself lucky to have a ridiculous washing machine), and as I took my laundry out of the dryer tonight, I realized how grateful I am to have TWO dryers in my life.

2. Zone out action adventure movies.  Over the past three days I've hacked my old roommate's Netflix account and watched "Captain America" and "Avengers."  These movies are not deep, but they are fun.  "Thor" is going to be given a chance to turn my brain to mush next.

3. Friends who see the good in me.  If I believed in reincarnation I would say that I must have done something REALLY great in a previous life to deserve having these people in my life.  I must have done something good:

"Something Good," Julie Andrews & Christopher Plummer

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thank a Teacher!

One day, when I was on time (aka early) to early morning Seminary, my very conservative teacher asked me what I would do if I was elected President. By this time, I think he had probably realized I was a crazy liberal. Without much thought, I responded that I would defund the Defense Department and put all the money into Head Start. For those of you not familiar with Head Start, it's a program to help educate low income children before kindergarten.

Now that I've had a lot more time to reflect on my answer, I think the principles remains the same. Most of America's discretionary spending is devoted to the machinery of warfare and destruction. Wouldn't it be great if we spent that money instead on educating children and investing in their future? Don't misunderstand, I'm not saying we should stop spending any money on defense or national security, merely that we spend too much on these things. We could reduce the amount spent on defense and use that money to provide good schools to every child, not just the children who live in rich areas with good public schools.

Right now, public education is a very unequal system because it gives a really good education to the few, a moderately useful education to some, and a really bad education to too many. Part of the reason for this has to do with taxes. Property taxes are a big source of funding for local and state government spending on education. This means that areas where rich people live, which have high property values, have more money to spend on education, while poor areas with low property values become part of a reinforcing cycle of poverty. Money isn't the only factor determining education outcomes, but spent wisely I think it can certainly have an impact.

If we had a nationalized school system, we could even out some of the disparities in spending and help low income students achieve better. Ideally, public education can be (and should be!) the great equalizer - it can teach children how to read and how to love learning. In high school I took a calculus course. Now I can't remember any calculus, but I think that class and other well taught classes taught me how to learn, and I can apply those skills to learn the things I want to as an adult. Today I had to read through some IRS guidance to get an answer for a client and I think that part of the reason I'm able to do that is thanks to the work of good public servants who taught me to read and process information.

So, to quote a bumper sticker, if you can read this, thank a teacher! And for no other reason than that I once watched this in school, here's a great Schoolhouse Rock video:

"Conjunction Junction," Schoolhouse Rock

Monday, November 18, 2013


Someday I will have time to write an amazing blog post that will knock your socks off.  As you may have guessed, that day is not today.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


I got a few reminders of the importance of love today.  The first was a spiritual thought in one of the meetings I was in.  It's from President Uchtdorf's 2009 conference talk, "The Love of God:"

God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.

He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.

This was just so exactly what I needed to hear.  Loved it.  Then my dad introduced me to a new hymn this evening.  It's a Shaker melody and there's a great version sung by BYU Concert Choir, which of course isn't available for free online, but here's a version sung by a church choir that I found on YouTube:

Here are the lyrics to the song:

Love is little, love is low
Love will make our spirits grow
Grow in peace, grow in light
Love will do the thing that's right

Some versions have additional verses, I like them too:

Love is tender Love is best
In thy arms of holy rest
Keep me safe keep me still
Always open to thy will

Love thy neighbor, heal thy friend
Tender mercies now descend
Full of hope full of grace
As I gaze into thy face

Love surrounds me makes me whole
Love eternal fills my soul
Free from sin free from pain
When our Savior comes to reign

So, free advice for your week - share the love.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Movies like Jagger?

Sorry, my posts have been really lame of late.  I am hoping to write a nice long one tomorrow.  For now, I saw two movies today.  1) The book thief, and 2) Gravity.  Book thief was better, but the special effects of Gravity were pretty sweet.  That is all, over and out.

Friday, November 15, 2013


In search of an easy blog post, I Googled political protest songs and found this one.  Change will come, and hopefully for the better.

Sam Cook, "A Change is Gonna Come"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mormon Jokes

I can't remember if I've shared this before or not, but here is one of my favorite Mormon jokes.  Post your favorites in the comments - I always like a good Mormon joke!

A women walks into Sacrament meeting and all of a sudden, she realizes that her son, who was right behind her, is gone.  She searches everywhere she can think of in the building, and then heads outside.  She finds her son under a tree, defiant.  "Son, you really need to come inside."

He petulantly kicks a rock and says, "nobody in there likes me!"

She responds, "Now I'm sure that's not true."

He shakes his head.

The mother sighs, "Son, you've got to come in, you're the bishop."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thievery of Books

As a child in primary (LDS Sunday School for kids) we played some version of the newlywed game.  I have no idea or remembrance of why this was a thing, but I swear it was.  They would ask us questions that they had also asked our parents and see if we answered the same way.  I remember playing it and being asked what my favorite hobby was.  No idea how old I was at the time, but probably 8 or 9.  Having (somewhat) outgrown dolls at this point, my not-very-decisive answer was, "Softball?"  I still remember the adult leading the game responding, "While you're playing softball, apparently you like to...read!"  Yeah didn't get that question right, but on further reflection it's pretty accurate to suggest that reading was my favorite childhood activity.

As an adult I have far less time for free reading than I would like, which makes me sad.  But, I did finally start reading The Book Thief, which numerous people have recommended to me.  I like the way it uses language in unexpected ways.  Its narrator is Death, which is an interesting viewpoint.  Reading a book like that makes me realize that while I enjoy writing, I don't have that gift of language that great writers seem to possess and hone into a beautiful craft.  I love reading a book and being so enchanted or horrified or enthralled in the book world that the author has created that I have no idea of the passage of time.  Tearing myself away from a good book is very hard.  Books seem to steal the time away, like thieves in the night.

While this isn't maybe the best way to introduce the topic, I'm a big fan of public education.  Public education created my love of reading and nourished it into a lifelong hobby.  Tomorrow I'll talk a bit more about my views on public education, but for now, I think I'm going to force myself NOT to read the remaining half of The Book Thief tonight.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Give oh Give

Sometimes it takes a really really large typhoon to remind you of what you are grateful for.  Super Typhoon Haiyan recently hit the Philippines, tearing families apart and destroying homes.  I'm grateful to have a warm and secure home tonight, and that my loved ones are safe.  Here's a link to a list of resources to assist those affected by Haiyan: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=1659#.UoLtvfkqiSo

Be generous, and even if you don't have the means to be generous, be grateful and prayerful. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thank You Thank You

A veteran's day post seemed appropriate.  This video's silent tribute moved me:

President Obama, Wreath Laying, Arlington National Cementary, Today

But I think this video expresses my prayer for the brave men and women serving in battles all over the world - not just the military ones, but the battles against sin, against ignorance, against disease, and against despair.

"The Lord Bless You and Keep You," John Rutter Arrangement

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Prayer & Schools

Let's get one thing straight.  I hate Country Music.  Sorry, y'all, but even though I was raised in the (nominal) south, the twanginess irks my soul.  Admittedly, there are few songs that remind me of hilarious times with former roommates but I don't enjoy the actual sound of the songs so much as the memories they invoke. But, sometimes I can bear listening to the local bluegrass station if it doesn't get too twangy - it's mellower than country somehow. This morning I listened to a song that basically said the country was going to rot because we could burn flags but we couldn't pray in schools (actually, the song specifically said we were headed towards communism, but I'll save my loathing of that particular straw man argument for another time).

Now, I went to 13 years of public school, and I was never told I couldn't pray.  I must have missed this particular memo, because I do remember praying in school - before tests, during periods of social isolation and general awkwardness (aka Middle School), and any time I choose.  Just because I didn't recite a formulaic prayer that some bureaucrat wrote didn't mean that I didn't pray.  Nothing that I have found prevents you from praying in school, or anyplace else for that matter.  Recently, many of my most meaningful prayers occur in my car.

I've never had a problem with the Supreme Court decision which barred mandatory prayer in public schools. These decisions are still deeply unpopular in the U.S., as many people seem to view them as an affront to their religious beliefs.  However, if you're Mormon, would you want to recite a Lutheran prayer or have that endorsed by the state?  If you're Catholic, would you feel comfortable having your children read a Muslim prayer?  If you're Hindu, do you want your children to have to pray about Jesus?  Any prayer general enough to please everybody would end up pleasing nobody.

Which brings me to my point: formal prayer in public schools would have to be so watered down in our pluralistic society that it would become meaningless form.  And I believe religion should be personal and integral in our lives, not just a token prayer at school, but a communion with the divine.  Government should give everyone's beliefs respect and protection of law, but it should not force belief on people - to do so corrupts government and religion.

To close, here's my favorite hymn that's also a prayer - it has a lot of meaning to me personally, so I hope you enjoy this beautiful arrangement courtesy of the internet:

"I Need Thee Every Hour," Sam Robson

Saturday, November 9, 2013

This Is My Jam

Ah, I'm not even 1/3 of the way through NaBloPoMo and I am already failing to come up with post ideas. It's been a long day, so I'm going to leave you with "my jam" - which is a Disney song, because I'm hard core like that.  I like this song, even though I have no idea which Disney movie it's from.

"I'll Try"

You're So Right, You're Wrong

This was going to be a longer post, but it's already late.  So, the long and the short of it is, sometimes people who I agree with annoy the crap out of me.  Especially one liberal Mormon facebook group which shall not be named - they are such whiners and can't see the good in *any* Republicans.  Ugh, good night, nurse.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Here's to the Hippies

I really like the LDS Church's recent statement on the environment, so I'm just going to reproduce it here:

God created the earth to provide a place for the human family to learn, progress and improve. God first created the earth and all living things spiritually, and all living things have great worth in His eyes.

The earth and all things on it should be used responsibly to sustain the human family. However, all are stewards — not owners — over this earth and its bounty and will be accountable before God for what they do with His creations.

Approaches to the environment must be prudent, realistic, balanced and consistent with the needs of the earth and of current and future generations, rather than pursuing the immediate vindication of personal desires or avowed rights. The earth and all life upon it are much more than items to be consumed or conserved. God intends His creations to be aesthetically pleasing to enliven the mind and spirit, and some portions are to be preserved. Making the earth ugly offends Him.

The state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected, with each affecting and influencing the other. The earth, all living things and the expanse of the universe all eloquently witness of God.

"I Speak for the Trees," From Dr. Seuss's The Lorax

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stop N' Not Go

I don't know why I haven't been aware of New York City's "Stop and Frisk" policy until recently.  It probably has a lot to do with me not being black or Latino and not living in NYC.  If you don't know what this program is, you can read the Wikipedia article about it here.

This program is appalling.  The idea that it's okay to stop people on the street just on suspicion that they're doing something wrong is a violation of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Apparently the Supreme Court disagrees with me and says that this is constitutional, but I don't care.  If a disproportionate number of people of color are being stopped, there's something really really wrong here. This program is not being applied fairly and even if it was, it's still an unreasonable search of someone. Where are all the Republicans who are complaining about Obamacare being a violation of liberty while this is going on?

So, I say to this program: Do not Pass Go, Do Not Collect Taxpayer Dollars.  Hopefully the new mayor will put an end to this program, because I think it's wrong.

The Daily Show, "Frisky Business"

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


NaBloPoMo is about quantity, not quality.  In case you haven't already figured that out, let this post be a revelation to you.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Poll - aways the same
Anti Anti Anti - no acclaim!
Now, who is to blame?

Every election season, I'm reminded of how singularly uninformative modern political campaigns are. Watching political ads provides me with no information to help me make a wise decision about for whom to vote.  This is nothing new, I'm sure there wasn't a whole lot of high-minded debate in the election days of Jefferson and Washington (there was, however, considerably more whiskey involved). Even if it's not a new phenomenon, it's an irksome one.

Campaigns from both sides race all over themselves to be against the other side. I wouldn't be surprised to turn on the TV and see "Candidate A wants to kill puppies, but Candidate B supports those loyal, true, middle-class American canines.  Elect Candidate B to keep America's kennels safe and secure! (Followed by, "I'm Candidate B, and I approve this message because I love Dogs. And America)"

The positive ads are no better at providing useful information.  "I'm Candidate A, and I'll work with both parties to create jobs and grow our economy." (Roll footage of Candidate A and a very telegenic family walking down a typical American street, and/or footage of Candidate A talking with furrowed brow to a multi-racial group of Ordinary Americans).

I think it's easy to blame the candidates, but really they are just doing what works. Negative advertising is used every election cycle, and the positive pablum that is served up is easily condensed into thirty second sound bites.  It's easy to blame voters, but who else are we to vote for?  If every candidate is using the same techniques, we can't really vote for the substantive candidate.  I can easily choose to blame the media, but they are just providing what the public wants.  Who can we blame?  But more importantly, how do we fix it? There's always this suggestion:

One thing I'm sometimes in favor of at this time of year is a shorter election season. If we can't fix the tone of the debate, maybe we can shorten it?  On the other hand, that favors those who already have name recognition rather than ordinary Joes. All I know is that I am anti-anti - I'm against all the negative campaign ads.  I don't know how to get rid of them, other than to never watch TV or listen to the radio while there's an election going on.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


It's sad that it's only the third day of this and I'm already running out of political ideas.  So, Charlotte Bronte, pretty awesome, eh?  Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time and I recently started re-reading it. This time I read the introductions she wrote for the various editions of the novel.  In one of them, she addresses her critics after thanking those who have assisted her in getting the novel published:

Having thus acknowledged what I owe those who have aided and approved me, I turn to another class; a small one, so far as I know, but not, therefore, to be overlooked. I mean the timorous or carping few who doubt the tendency of such books as “Jane Eyre:” in whose eyes whatever is unusual is wrong; whose ears detect in each protest against bigotry—that parent of crime—an insult to piety, that regent of God on earth. I would suggest to such doubters certain obvious distinctions; I would remind them of certain simple truths.

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.

These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is – I repeat it – a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.

The world may not like to see these ideas dissevered, for it has been accustomed to blend them; finding it convenient to make external show pass for sterling worth—to let white-washed walls vouch for clean shrines. It may hate him who dares to scrutinise and expose — to rase the gilding, and show base metal under it — to penetrate the sepulchre, and reveal charnel relics: but hate as it will, it is indebted to him.

I just liked this thought - that conventionality is not religion, and we should not mistake it as such.

A fun flirting scene from a recent adaptation of Jane Eyre:

Jane Eyre, 2006 Version, Money Matters & Flirting

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Halloween just passed, so I thought I'd post a political song about a ghost.  Specifically, the ghost of Tom Joad.  This song takes its theme from Grapes of Wrath, one of my all time favorite books and a great narrative - you should read it.

Elvis Costello & Mumford & Sons, "Ghost of Tom Joad"

Friday, November 1, 2013

Short and Sour

It's time for one mo' NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). Basically it's an excuse to blog every day. This year I think I'm going to blog on a different political topic every day. I'll try to pick topics I haven't covered (or covered in depth), but if you have any ideas, that would be great - I daresay I will run out of ideas before the month ends!

In the spirit of keeping the posts short(er), I am going to attempt to do some of the posts as haiku, and maybe throw in a limerick here or there. The first one is about money and politics.

Unlimited money!
Boo Citizens United.
Bribe - not so funny.

I think there should be limits on money in politics - it's basically legalized bribery and ensures that those with money have more say in elections than the underprivileged. In short, it sours the whole political process with inequality.

Happy NaBloPoMo!  If you are participating, let me know, I'd love to follow your blog.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Gimme Some Darkness

One of the things I love about Mormonism is that it encompasses all truth.  I think there is much good and truth to be found all over the world.  I love it when I read something that expresses a truth in "non-Mormon" terminology - in other words, in a way I haven't thought of before.  I recently heard the following quote by John Taylor, the third President of the Mormon church, in speaking of medieval times:

"I have a great many misgivings about the intelligence that men boast so much of in this enlightened day. There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world. There were men who could tell the destiny of the human family, and the events which would transpire throughout every subsequent period of time until the final winding-up scene. There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness, and deliver me from the light and intelligence that prevail in our day; for as a rational, intelligent, immortal being who has to do with time and eternity, I consider it one of the greatest acquirements for men to become acquainted with their God and with their future destiny."  (The Knowledge of God and Mode of Worshiping Him, Discourse by Elder John Taylor, delivered in the New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Sunday Afternoon, Sept. 7, 1873.  Reported by David W. Evans.  Emphasis added)

I like the thought there was a lot of light in the "dark ages."  I was reminded of this when I read the following passage in "Dracula," by Bram Stoker.  It's spoken by Van Helsing, one of my favorite characters in the book.

"I heard once of an American who so defined faith: "that which enables us to believe things which we know to be untrue."  For one, I follow that man.  He meant that we shall have an open mind, and not let a little bit of truth check the rush of a big truth, like a small rock does a railway truck.  We get the small truth first.  Good!  We keep him, and we value him; but all the same we must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe."

I thought this was an interesting way of thinking about truth - a way to let our minds be open to all truths, and not let what we know prevent us from accepting bigger and more important truths.  This is why I love books - its ability to create worlds that are real and speak truths in unique ways.

Music can also speak truths, and while the song below has really nothing to do with this post, I'm including it anyway.

"Gimme Some Lovin," Steve Winwood

Monday, October 21, 2013

Who Shall Ascend?

Lately there has been a lot of press about the Ordain Women movement, which is advocating for the extension of priesthood to women in the Mormon church.  I haven't added my thoughts to the debate, because others have written much more eloquently about it.  I think this post by biggins comes closest to capturing my thoughts.  However, this post isn't about the topic of women and the priesthood, instead it's about how we talk about things like this.

In my opinion, the most disturbing thing about the Ordain Women movement has been the reaction of those who disagree with them.  These women have been accused of being on the road to "apostasy."  Mormons generally view the world in pretty black and white terms - you're either with us or against us.  This view of the world lacks a lot of nuance.  Just because someone sees something differently than you doesn't mean they're wrong.

One of the metaphors Mormons use a lot is that of the "Iron Rod."  This is a story from the Book of Mormon which tells of a dream shared by the prophet Lehi (and then later seen by his son Nephi too).  The Iron Rod represents the road to salvation, and you have to cling to the rod and "press forward" to reach the Tree of Life to receive salvation.  Although this is a great story, and I don't mean to quibble with the prophets, the story also breeds a certain moral absolutism.  If you are not on the "straight and narrow path" that is next to the Iron Rod, then you have wandered from the one true way and are lost.  This kind of thinking can be very problematic in both a religious and political context.

What could be a better metaphor that would encompass different points of view?  I've been thinking that Psalms 24:3-4 might provide an answer.  That scripture reads:  "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?  He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully."

Instead of thinking about the road to eternal life and salvation as an exclusionary path where it's "my way or the high way," allow yourself to think of the road to eternal life as a mountain or hill we all must climb.  Each of us sees different sides of the mountain, but we're all striving towards the same goal.  You may not have seen the boulder of biogtry in your path, but your sister on the other side of the mountain may feel her way is blocked by that insurmountable obstacle.  JUST BECAUSE YOU DON'T SEE IT DOESN'T MEAN THE BOULDER ISN'T THERE FOR HER.  Each of us is trying to reach Zion, where dwell the pure in heart.  You can't assume that because someone sees sexism in the church culture or feels excluded from church riturals that she doesn't want the same things you want.  She is pure in heart, and you are too.  

As another post put it, the pain is real.  There are women I know who do feel that pain, who feel that there are insurmountable cliffs that form a barrier to their service and activity in the church.  Some of them have already left, and some of them feel their path is simply too hard to struggle up any more.  We can help the stranded hikers, or those about to give up - we can ascend to the hill of the Lord if we do it together, in unity, love, and understanding.  We can try to understand their pain, their obstacles, even if we don't have them in our own path.  We can do what we can to shoulder their burdens and understand, instead of blaming them for pointing out those things that are holding them back.  Let's not lift up our souls to vanity, but instead cleanse our hands (and hearts) of any malice towards those who struggle, who yearn for zion, but see it with different eyes than us.

In short, let's love one another.  And think about constructive ways to address the pain many women feel.  Here are some good thoughts.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Craftiness of Women: DC Edition

What, you may rightfully ask, has this Molly Mormon Democrat been doing with herself?  Tax accounting busy season was over September 16th, and we've only had one measly post since then!  Shocking and Shameful Shirking!  I know I have neglected this blog dreadfully over the past couple of weeks, but I have an excuse.  It's not even related to the government shutdown (speaking of which, aren't you tired of this ridiculousness?  and aren't you glad this blog post is NOT about that?).

For the past several weeks I have been busy getting my craft on.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Every once in a while, I dream up an overlarge vision of a craft that I need to make.  As we all know, I work best on a deadline (otherwise the craft project can drag on for years).  My friend is just about to have her baby, so I made it my goal to finish this project in time for his birth.  Although Baby Boy wouldn't be able to use his gift immediately, I need to have a set time frame to complete, otherwise I just procraftinate.

My friend was super excited that her baby would be born in D.C. because she is from the west, so I decided to make a D.C. themed Quiet Book.  If you don't know what a quiet book is, it's basically for a toddler to keep him/her quiet and teach motor skills and other educational concepts in a fun way.  So without further ado, here is evidence that I sometimes do things which don't involve a computer!

The Cover!
Page 1 - teaches how to tie your shoes - you can also move the flag up and down!

Washington Monument Page - teaches how to match shapes for the kites.

As a bonus, there's a little elevator inside the monument :)

The National Zoo - full of finger puppets

This is my favorite page - the Jefferson Memorial holds all the cherry blossoms to button on the trees.

See the fishies swimming in the Tidal Basin!

Union Station - basically just an excuse to make trains.

Choo Choo train, plus the DC metro, of course

Baseball at Nat's stadium (playing the Mariners, my friend's husband's team).  Teaches number matching for the number of innings.

This is just because I love food - you match the color scoop to the cone.

A lot of the Quiet Book examples I found online said one of the kid's favorite pages is a notepad one, so this page is to hold a notebook for drawing.

While it didn't turn out as neat or tidy as I planned, I'm still proud of it.  I promise to not neglect this blog so much - maybe I will actually get back to posting every Monday.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Has It Come To This?

You know, I really like America.  It's not a perfect country, by any means, but it strives towards glorious ideals of equality and freedom.  I think most Americans realize that shutting down the government during a fragile economic recovery is a bad idea.  At least, I hope they realize it.  It is stupid, stupid, stupid.

Many people are blaming the Republicans for this imminent shutdown of the government, and I agree with them.  Republicans, you know that Obama is not going to let you defund his signature legislative achievement.  I understand you think it's a bad bill.  So why not make it better instead of repealing it?  Do you have any constructive ideas about health care?  I haven't heard anything except "Repeal Obamacare."  If I'm missing something, let me know.  Right now many people in this country don't have health coverage, and if they have a medical emergency, the rest of us pay for it.  What do you propose to do about it?  If you have no better solution than the Affordable Care Act, why do you even think you deserve to be in Congress?  How about coming up with an alternative instead of bashing those who are trying to solve a problem?

However, I'm also annoyed with, and fully willing to blame Democrats too.  Democrats, Obama-care isn't perfect, and a refusal to delay or amend it is just as pig-headed and stupid as the Republicans' refusal to fund the entire government without removing Obamacare.  There is no law so perfect that it can't be improved - maybe you can come up with some way to compromise with Republicans?

Unfortunately both sides are convinced that they are utterly right that I don't think a compromise is anywhere in our future.  Will we ever be able to get our country working again?  I'm just so frustrated with both sides right now that I can not even express it in words!

Maybe Jed Bartlet can express it best:

"Then Shut it Down," Jed Barlet, The West Wing

Monday, September 16, 2013

May Your E-files Be Accepted!

Well it's that time of year again, when I actually have time for other things in my life besides work.  Which is good, because I have a 62 mile bike ride at the beginning of October that I should really, you know, try not to suck at.  More on that in later posts!

In honor of today's tax deadline (in case you don't know, today is the deadline for extended returns for corporations and partnerships), I give you "Twas the Night before (Tax) Filing."

Twas the night before filing, when all through the firm,
Each CPA was typing, and beginning to squirm,
The tax returns were printed with much plaudit,
In hopes that the IRS never would audit.

The clients were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of refunds all danced in their heads.
The partner with his pen, and I with my pad,
Had just settled down to find out what changes he had.

When out in my cube there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.
Away to my telephone I flew in a flash,
Pushed the button real hard and my teeth I did gnash.

The dim light on my desk did pour,
Gave the lustre of twilight to old drafts of yore.
When what with my wondering ears should I hear,
But a recruiter with promises of a new career.

With a little old lie, so clever and slick,
I knew in a moment I didn't believe this chick.
More good than true her stories they came,
Of better jobs calling my name.

On bonus!  On Pay Hikes!  On wonderful things!
Which couldn't possibly come without strings!
To the top of the company, she promised I might
Ascend with an effort so sleight!

And then, in a twinkling and inkling so wise,
I realized while amidst all my office supplies,
That each job its pros and cons would bring,
And now, busy season ended, life's on the upswing.

Sorry, this may sound like bragging - but I do occasionally get calls from recruiters promising me an awesome job (and let me tell you, it's tempting when you are weak during "busy season").  But generally I feel really lucky to (a) be employed, and (b) have opportunities to learn a lot from people a lot smarter than myself.  Having had quite a few co-workers leave the firm I work in, I've seen both sides and feel like I know and am able to choose better because of it.  Now that busy season is over, I'm looking forward to being more involved in church service, seeing my friends on a regular basis, and re-introducing fresh fruits, vegetables, and non-microwaveable items to my diet.

A Merry Busy Season to all, and to all a Good Night!

Monday, September 9, 2013


In middle school and high school, I knew a girl who was perpetually happy - she never seemed to have a bad day.  Admittedly, she annoyed the living daylights out of me most of the time.  I used to think it was just an act, that no one could genuinely be that happy ALL THE TIME!  But as I got to know her, I realized that was just her default mode.  She was a modern day Pollyanna who could see the good in any situation.

As I've grown older, I realized I'm probably more like her than I care to admit.  I do look on the bright side and tend to (over?)emphasize the positive side of things.  Of course I readily admit that there is evil in the world, and truly heinous people who commit unspeakable crimes.  But there are also people who are good, and who try to do the right thing.  That's what I love about the video below, which is about ordinary people doing good and helping others, even in the face of devastating evil.  It's not limited to Americans, of course, but I do love these Americans and what they represent.  'Merica, baby.

"Boatlift, An Untold Story of American Resilience," Narrated by Tom Hanks

Meanwhile, I'll be over here, crying all the tears...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Origins of The Blog

Sometimes I wonder why politics and religion are so intertwined for me.  Most of the time I think it's probably because they are both rooted in my beliefs about justice and mercy, and how important kindness and love should be in our society.

But, my twin interests may have had a more prosaic beginning.  This blog may stem from the fact that, as a child, I often confused Wilford Woodruff (4th President of the Mormon church) and Woodrow Wilson (28th President of the United States).  They have almost nothing in common except that both their names start with "W."  So maybe some deep part of my subconscious still associates politics and religion because of this. 

Am I the only one afflicted with this confusion?  To this day, I still have to think about it when I refer to either of these men to make sure I say the correct name!

Monday, August 26, 2013


I need a little bit of inspiration in my life.  So, I read up on The Washington Post's coverage of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  One quote I really liked was by historian Richard Hofstadter in Dan Balz's column on the unfinished business of the March: "America is the only country that believes it was born perfect and strives for improvement."

We certainly aren't perfect, but I love us for trying, bless our hearts.  Let's keep on striving to make our Dreams reality, even really big dreams like racial harmony and peace on earth.

Monday, August 19, 2013


One of my biggest sins is envy.  I envy other people's lives, possessions, looks, careers, ability to successfully apply eye make up, and pretty much anything there is to envy (someday I'll do a post about how Facebook exacerbates this problem, but that day is not today).  Likewise, I think that one of our biggest political sins is envy. 

We envy our political opponent when he/she wins, and thus do everything we can to convince ourselves that they are evil or voters just didn't really understand what that person stood for.  We are convinced that somewhere, someone is gaming the system and getting more than their "fair share," and that thought convinces us that all people accepting any form of assistance from the government are reprobate bums.  We tell ourselves that rich people are tax cheats and exploiters of the middle class, and justify raising their taxes while keeping our own low. 

We envy success or passion or any number of admirable qualities, forgetting that the envy just makes us less likely to achieve things we want.  Envy can be debilitating because it causes us to waste time and energy worrying about other people.  I don't really have a solution to all this (if I did it wouldn't be one of my biggest sins), but just thought it worth discussing.

Do you agree or disagree?  How does envy manifest itself in politics or your life today?

Monday, August 12, 2013


Recently I've been thinking about faith.  What does it mean to have faith?  A lot of it, in both a religious and political context, has to do with hoping for things that we can't see.  It takes faith in the system to cast a ballot and trust it will be counted.  It takes faith to believe in a God you can't see.  Faith is a prerequisite to both democracy and religion, but it seems to be undermined by a lot of forces in our society. 

Faith in the media is undermined when pundits on the left and right shout at each other instead of focusing on the truly important stories.  Trust in our elected leaders is undermined when we can't let them operate in broad daylight because then they won't be able to talk freely.  When people we have judged to be guilty walk free, we lose a little faith in the impartiality of our justice system. 

This isn't to say that bind faith is needed.  I believe God gave us brains and rationality so we could use them, and of course a healthy dose of skepticism is, well, healthy.  Political tyrants and religious cult leaders alike feed off the passive believers.  But the opposite of blind faith is equally as dangerous, it's a stubborn refusal to trust others, to trust God (and His timing), or to hope.  That kind of cynicism is a cancer on the body politic.

Emily Dickinson wrote that "hope is a thing with feathers," and our society needs more of that flight-enabling quality.  I need more of it, too.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Political Science

I can't remember if I've shared this before on the blog, but here's one of my favorite political songs, simply because I can't make the words of the blog post I want to write now.  Hope it brightens your Monday and makes you laugh a bit.

Randy Newman, "Political Science"

Monday, July 29, 2013

My Most Irrational Fear

Lately I feel like I haven't had much new to say about politics or religion, so I haven't been posting much. I feel like everything I want to do or say has already been done 38 times before (giving me more in common with the House Republicans than anyone would have ever thought - zing!*).  Perhaps it's second term blues, looming work craziness, or any other various reasons, but I feel off kilter.

So tonight, I wish to share with you my most irrational fear.  And it is this:

That's right, I have a serious problem, folks.  I have a fear of dropping things in gutters.  For realsies.  Constantly, I have a paranoia that I am about to drop something valuable into the sewer, never to see it again.  It manifests itself in strange ways.  If I have my keys or purse with me, I will literally move these items to the other side of my body to shield them from falling into the sewer.  Even if I am several feet away from the gutter opening.  This probably stems from me dropping a Peter Rabbit movie into the rain gutter (ACCIDENTALLY!) when I was younger than 5 years old.  But since then, it has simply become one of my irrational quirks of personality.  It's why I sometimes think of myself like Jane Austen's Mr. Bennet: "...so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humor, reserve, and caprice..." that the experience of (slightly more than) three and twenty years would be insufficient to understand my character.

Now please, could someone suggest a good blogging topic?

*Seriously, the House has voted 38 times to repeal Obamacare.  If someone can explain to me what the point of that is, I will gladly pack up my pencils and go home from blogging forever.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thanks, Mary and Liz!

So often the contributions of women are not appreciated or remembered.  That's why I really loved this post on the LDS history website about Mary Whitmer.  I can't really tell why it moved me to tears, but I loved knowing about her contribution that literally held things together.  175 years ago today, not too many years after Mary Whitmer hosted Joseph Smith, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott essentially started the women's movement in America by holding a convention on equal rights in Seneca Falls, New York.  Things have gotten much better for women since then, but I'm grateful for the contributions of the Marys and the Elizabeths to get us where we are.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is one of my heroines.  In honor of the anniversary of the start of the Seneca Falls Convention today, I'll share this quote that I got from Twitter:

Thanks, Liz!  Thanks, Mary!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Criminal Tragedy

Per the most reliable source available to me as a non-lawyer (Wikipedia), second degree murder is a murder that is not premeditated.  Murder is further defined as the unlawful intentional killing of another human being.  However, in the US we have chosen to add a secondary category of "manslaughter" which, when referring to "voluntary manslaughter" is killing without premeditation.  The biggest news story this weekend was the Zimmerman trial verdict.  George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida.  Zimmerman had called 911 and was told to NOT follow the suspicious person he reported to police.  Martin was unarmed.  These facts are not in dispute.  What was hotly contested over the course of the trial was whether Zimmerman was guilty of murder or manslaughter, or whether he acted in self-defense.

In the US, we have laws requiring that a suspect's guilt be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  In my mind, there's no doubt that George Zimmerman was an idiot.  And while I can't judge his motivations, it's certainly possible that the only reason Zimmerman viewed Martin as a threat was the fact that Martin was black and wore a hoodie (and IF that's the case, it's despicable).  But to focus on this one case overlooks a larger important point.  Since the events of February 26, 2012, over 30,000 people in the U.S. have died at the hands of a gun.*  That's an average of 3 per hour.  The rate of death in the U.S. by gun is exponentially higher than every other industrialized nation.  In the category of industrialized nations, America's gun death rate of 10.6 per 100,000 is followed by Finland at 4.6 - less than half!  It's no coincidence that the U.S. has 88.9 guns per 100 people.  The next closest country, India, has FOUR per person.

It's a tragedy that Trayvon Martin is dead, but it is CRIMINAL that we are not doing anything to reduce gun violence in this country.  George Zimmerman successfully argued self-defense and was declared not guilty.  But whether or not he spent time in jail, the truth is that gun violence is a preventable problem.  We can blame politics, blame the media, or blame George Zimmerman,  but it's a colossal problem that is bigger than any one case.  We need to explore "stand your ground" laws, "concealed carry" gun laws, and other laws on the books that contribute to this problem.  We need to examine our hearts, and banish any latent racism we find therein.  It's going to take all of us.

*We don't have published statistics yet for 2012 or 2013, but as over 30,000 people were killed with guns in 2010 and 2011, I feel like this is a rational assumption.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Charity for the Divine and the Democratic

Presidential candidates have (to seem) to be normal.  There's the famous test of ordinariness that's encapsulated in the question "Do you want to have a beer with..." this person?  (One more reason Romney couldn't be President...*zing*).  In a way, this is a uniquely American idea.  The theory presumes that a ruler is subject to the people, and is one of them.  He (or she...someday!) is a citizen.  In contrast, the Divine Right of Kings to rule emanates from the Gods, and in some cultures, the emperor or king is a descendant of the Gods.

Similar to democratic thought, the prophet of the Mormon church has always been considered an ordinary church member.  Mormons have a "lay priesthood" which means that ordinary church members lead services, administer the church, and run things on a day to day basis.  There aren't professional Mormon priests (although some people do work full time for the church and are paid to do so).

Yet, even though we think Presidents and Prophets as men of the people, we rarely get to meet with them.  We "know" them only through the carefully filtered glimpses we see in the media or in second- or third- hand reports.  I remember when I visited General Conference (the twice-yearly Mormon conference where the Mormon prophet speaks to all Mormons via satellite).  I stood in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle as an 8 year old, firmly convinced that if I could shake the hand of one of the Apostles, I would know the church is true.  It's childish, but I think it's a manifestation of a genuine desire to KNOW our leaders.

That's why both of these recent moments resonated:

President Obama's Fist Bump after the State of the Union

Elder David Bednar and Elder L. Tom Perry (two Mormon Apostles) Fist Bump after General Conference
It's just a simple gesture.  But it signifies that these men are JUST. LIKE. US.  They're human, not divine.  We can relate to them and somehow, we are more willing to listen to what they have to say.  

One of my favorite definitions of the word "charity" is that "Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other."*  I LOVE that - "Charity is expecting the best in each other"!  That's a very divinely democratic idea - hopefully charity can extend to those we believe are divinely inspirited to lead us, as well as to those who are democratically elected to do so.  

* From Marvin J. Ashton's Talk, "The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword," April 1992 General Conference

Monday, July 1, 2013

Definitionally Speaking

What does it mean to be a patriot? To be a traitor? Both words have recently been applied to Edward Snowden, a former government contractor who recently revealed some of the NSA's spying secrets. To some, Snowden is a truly patriotic and courageous individual who brooked personal risk of prosecution to bring nefarious (and Anti-American!) policies to light. To others, Snowden is a traitorous scumbag who betrayed his country by revealing classified information.

Are the definitions of the words "traitor" and "patriot" relative or do they have absolute meanings?  Take one example from the American revolution, Benedict Arnold.  Arnold was viewed as a traitor to the cause of American freedom because he sold out the American army he was supposed to be serving, while to British he was a true patriot in serving the just cause of Great Britain in fighting the rebels.  At the time, how you viewed Benedict Arnold probably depended on which side of the war you were on, not so much an absolute definition of patriot or traitor.

July 4th is a time when we celebrate our "independence" from Great Britain, and we include in that celebration a litany of founding fathers.  We tend to lump (dump?) all these individuals into one broad category of awesomeness and pure righteousness, but we forget that among them were Benedict Arnolds and even lukewarm "patriots" who may not have been 100% behind the war.  There was disagreement even among the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution over the form and direction the new nation should take. To me, remembering the humanness of these people is very American. 

America can tolerate dissent and debate, and should not be afraid of open disagreement among Americans.  The very fact that both those who despise and those who lionize Edward Snowden can each claim the mantle of patriotism is a quintessentially American idea.  America does not mean that we all have to think alike or agree on what it means to be a patriot.  A patriot is someone who takes the ideas of America and applies them in their own way, towards a better community and a better land.  America is about building an open society that can survive Edward Snowden's revelations, absorb the knowledge, and become stronger through a discussion of whether this is something we want to do as a nation.  It's important to have that conversation, because its an American conversation to have.  Too often we claim exclusivity in our Americanism, saying that we are the "Real America" or that the other side is traitorous.  Instead of throwing labels, let's listen to the other side and actually have an adult conversation about this NSA program, its pros and cons, and whether it is justified. 

(And yes, it's ironic that I'm using a Russian song in my discussion about American dissent)

Monday, June 24, 2013

I Think I'll Try (Defying Gravity)

It should be pretty clear that I'm not a risk taker.  After all, I'm an accountant - kind of the definition of lame and "safe career choice."  But sometimes you have to try to defy even the laws of nature.  It's why I found Nick Wallenda's walk across the Grand Canyon foolhardy, yet oddly inspiring.  He's crazy, yet I admire him for taking chances. It takes bravery - you don't have guarantees of the outcome and he literally walked without a safety net.  I could not do that, but I need to start letting go of fear and taking chances - otherwise I feel like my life will be wasted.  Time to try defying gravity!

"Defying Gravity" from the musical Wicked

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

If a Girl Isn't Pretty

Have you ever heard of Fanny Brice?  She was a vaudeville star in the early 20th century.  Later, her life story was made into a musical and movie called "Funny Girl."  One of the songs in that musical, "If A Girl Isn't Pretty," reminded me recently of a feminist tic that I have.  I dislike double standards for men and women.  One that annoys me most is the standard set for men and women with regard to outward appearance.

Barbara Streisand, "If A Girl Isn't Pretty"

Often, women are expected to gussy themselves up in makeup, nice clothes, curled/styled hair, high uncomfortable shoes, and other expensive accessories.*  On the other hand, men can basically wash their hair and roll out of bed, put on anything, and it's totally fine.  Men aren't expected to wear makeup to cover up their real face or endure discomfort in the name of fashion, but somehow these things are perfectly acceptable to require of women, and the women who don't participate are viewed as ugly and unnatural.**

I was reminded of this double standard when listening to a version of another favorite Broadway song.  The relevant portion of original lyrics are reproduced below - this is a song composed by George Gershwin and is typically sung by a woman.  Keep your eye on the bolded lyrics describing the physical features of the woman's future love.

There's a somebody I'm longing to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone to watch over me

I'm a little lamb who's lost in a wood
I know I could always be good
To one who'll watch over me

Although he may not be the man some girls think of
As handsome
, to my heart
He carries the key

So, let's review the key elements here: a woman is looking for a man to complete her.  Even though he's not handsome, that's okay - he's a good guy who's going to take care of her (we can get into the other stereotypes of this song later - women needing men to complete them, I know, I know - we're focusing on one double standard at a time).  Now, let's look at the same lyrics when the song is sung by a MAN:

There's a somebody I'm longing to see
I hope that she turns out to be
Someone to watch over me

I'm a little lamb who's lost in a wood
I know I could always be good
To one who'll watch over me

Although I may not be the man some girls think of
As handsome,
to my heart
She carries the key

Recap: in this version, sung by a man, he's looking for a woman to complete him.  So far, we are simply reversing the lyrics sung by a woman.  BUT, notice he is *not* saying the reciprocal of the female version in that last stanza, which would be "Although she may not be the girl some men think of as handsome" - instead, the song leaves the guy as the unhandsome one, thus implying that it would be unacceptable for the woman not to be pretty.

Now, I'm probably reading wayyyyy too much into a simple song, but it's symptomatic of a culture that prizes only one type of beauty - the super skinny model kind.  As someone who admittedly doesn't fit that model of beauty, I find it disturbing that in small and big ways we reinforce the message that women must be beautiful (as the magazines define it) in order to be admired or worth pursuing.  How do we fix it?  Can we? Maybe we can fix it by admiring women for something other than physical beauty.  So, look for women who are courageous, honest, happy, or kind, and praise them for that inner strength and beauty.  It's time to look beyond our cultural blinders!  I hope we can still appreciate a great melody, right?  Especially when it's sung by a woman with a beautiful singing voice:

Ella Fitzgerald, "Someone to Watch Over Me"

*Note that I'm NOT saying that these things (makeup, high heels, nice clothes) are wrong - if you enjoy them, that's great!  I just object to having them be THE standard of beauty for women, and reinforcing the idea that if women choose other things, her natural look is somehow less beautiful.
**And yes, some of this is probably sour grapes, because I still have never figured out how to walk in heels or apply eye makeup successfully.