Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

On Gun Control

Much of the problem is that the rational folks on both sides of the issue often ignore each other in favor of pointing to the crazies on the other side and saying “That’s just crazy!” They also tend to ignore the crazies on their own side, and focus on the other rational folks on their side. Thus, they function in a paradigm where all the crazy people are on the other side, and all the rational people are on their own side. It’s a false paradigm. Until that falseness is widely recognized, the issue is unresolvable.

What rational folks on the gun control side need to hear and understand that the pro-gun folks understand:

  1.  Semi-automatic is not machine gun. You get one round fired each time you pull the trigger. You just don’t have to work a bolt action or lever action to load the next round.
  2. Semi-automatic rifles are useful for hunting and target shooting. They are used for these things far more often than they are used to kill children in movie theaters, by many orders of magnitude.
  3. There are millions and millions of firearms owned by lawful and responsible people which never cause a problem for any lawful person or society. Owning a gun and carrying a gun does not prove that a person is unstable or dangerous.
  4. Most hideous gun events involve the violation of multiple existing gun laws. Like mass shootings in gun-free areas.
  5. Changing gun laws doesn’t change gun realities. Only law-abiding people change their behavior in response to changes in law (obvious to anyone who has driven a public road or freeway). Changes in law will not stop those who disregard the law, but it can turn safe and honest people into unintentional technical criminals.

What folks on the pro-gun side need to hear and understand that the gun control folks understand:

  1. Many people have never had any contact with a firearm of any kind. What they know of them, they have learned through TV, movies and books, where they are used to kill and injure people hundreds of times a day. They find guns scary, and don’t understand why any sane person would want them to exist.
  2.  While they might like to think of a world without weapons and violence of any kind, they don’t really think it’s reasonable or useful to talk about taking all guns away. Reasonable regulation is not necessarily the camel’s nose that leads to full registration and forced disarmament.
  3. It does make sense that people who own guns use and store them responsibly, and that they be trained to use them safely and effectively. Nobody wins when people use and store their guns irresponsibly. These things will probably not be legislated, but it’s good to advocate them at every turn, to show the gun control folks that the goal is not to produce a fantasy wild-west scenario.

A little assurance from each side that their goal is not what the other side fears can go a long way to calming people down. After that, constructive dialogue can follow. It’s not as much fun at pointing at the crazies on the other side and laughing at them. It requires more thought and consideration. That’s why it rarely happens. But it is possible.

Ether 12:27

I wrote this as a contribution to the Mormon Stories Sunday School blog, so it could be included in the Mormon Stories Sunday School podcast. 

During a difficult part of my life, while dealing with addictive and compulsive behaviors, I discovered Ether 12:27, and found it a great help in changing my life.  I had read it many times, quoted it not a few, and liked it prior to that point, but I didn’t discover its meaning until I was in that place.

Before, it was a nice, kinda gauzey scripture about how God will make weak things strong, with the emphasis on the strength.  But, when I looked at it more closely, I noticed there was much more to it than that.

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.”

This seems counterintuitive.  If we come to God, we won’t get a pat on the back, we will be shown our weakness.  That doesn’t sound very pleasant.

“I give unto men weakness that they may be humble;”

This does not say that God gives us specific weaknesses — it says he gives us the state of being weak.  I think this is the most misread part of the verse — I know I read it the other way for a long time.

He gives us this state of being weak to give us the opportunity to be humble.  This implies that, without being inherently weak, we would not be able to be humble — very compatible with King Benjamin’s formulation that “the natural man is an enemy to God.”  Out of the box, left to ourselves, we aren’t friends to God, but, because of this gift of weakness, we have a chance to be humble and rebuild our relationship with God.

“and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me;”

And if we humble ourselves before God, then, and only then, is his grace sufficient for us.  God’s grace truly is amazing, but we have to prepare ourselves to receive it through this process of humbling ourselves before him if we are to receive it.

“for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them”

If we add faith in God (the first principle of the Gospel) to this humbleness before God, then he will make “weak things” become strong unto us.  That’s the first time in the verse we have plural weak things, rather than the state of being weak.  Might this mean that our individual weaknesses (in the sense of Dorcas Lane’s “one weakness”)?  Or are other people in our lives “weak things?”  I don’t know, but I think this part, for all that it’s the part people seem to notice in the verse, is the least important part of the formulation.  We don’t need to understand in detail exactly what will be made strong, because the payload is more to be found in the previous clause.

If we humble ourselves before God, his grace is sufficient for us, and we also need to have faith in him.  Humility is understanding our own lowness, and his greatness.  Faith in him is trusting that he is there, that he loves us, that he wishes to help us and heal us, and that he will do so if we will allow him to.  This became my plan for recovery, and, over a period of years, it helped me through quite a bit of healing and growth.

What a twisted line of reasoning!

Anti-McKenna Ad

This ad has been bugging me for several weeks now.  In the world of half-truths and distortions which is political advertising, this really stands out as using really tortured logic.

The text, taken from the website of the organization sponsoring it, is as follows:

Republican Rob McKenna claims he’s a moderate.  But it turns out the National Republican Agenda would make abortion illegal, restrict access to contraception, cut education, essentially end medicare, and deny nearly 13 million women access to cancer screenings.  (2012 Republican Party Platform; CBS News, 8/1/2012; Us News & World Report, 3/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 4/4/2011; White House Council on Women and Girls 4/2012)

Rob McKenna is definitely not who he says he is.

Okay, let’s Just look at the claims here:

1. Republican Rob McKenna claims he’s a moderate.

Evidence for this claim — none given.

It probably is true that he has claimed this. McKenna has stated that he is no longer opposed to the Affordable Care Act and doesn’t want to see it repealed.

Oh, but that’s evidence that he actually is a moderate. Whoops!

Moving on:

2. But it turns out the National Republican Agenda would make abortion illegal, restrict access to contraception, cut education, essentially end medicare, and deny nearly 13 million women access to cancer screenings.

Evidence for this claim: (2012 Republican Party Platform; CBS News, 8/1/2012; Us News & World Report, 3/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 4/4/2011; White House Council on Women and Girls 4/2012)

The evidence supports the claim, although the terminology used to characterize what that evidence says is arguable and selected to make McKenna look as bad as possible.  Par for the course in political advertising.

Now, the whopper:

3.  Rob McKenna is definitely not who he says he is.

Evidence for this claim:  Nothing at all.

For claim 1 and 2 to justify claim 3, you would need to show some connection between things Rob McKenna has said about himself and some selected excerpts from the RNC Platform.  Evidence that he supported or endorsed the Platform would be a start, but you’d really want to show that he supported those particular sections as written and characterized here.  But none is given, or even seriously hinted at.

So, what you’d have to believe is that McKenna supports all of those things just because he’s a Republican, and all Republicans must slavishly follow every item of the RNC Platform.  So, when he says he’s a moderate, he’s really just trying to trick you because there is no such thing as a moderate Republican, and everybody knows that.

This is one of a series of ads.  Another has the same structure, but the 2nd claim this time has to do with McKenna supporting the campaigns of current and former Republican candidates.  Once again, the only way that fact has anything to do with a conclusion is if you accept that supporting a Republican candidate in any way is proof that you’re not a moderate and must, by implication, be an extremist.

These ads aren’t being put out by McKenna’s opponent.  They’re being put together by a list of usual suspects:  Our Washington, PO Box 9100 Seattle WA 98109. Jason Bennett, treasurer.
Top five contributors: Democratic Governors Association, Washington Education Association PAC, National Education Association Advocacy Fund, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Justice for All PAC.  Essentially, a Super-PAC funded by the people who have claimed outrage over the Citizens United decision that made the Super-PAC possible.

Full disclosure:  I’ll be voting for McKenna, because he’s the last remaining Republican in the race, and he’s not obviously unqualified to do the job.  I don’t think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I think he’s good enough to support.  I recognize that he’s not as nice looking as his opponent, and that he’s much more likely to have received some wedgies and noogies back in school.  But he’s not this evil, deceiving woman-hater these folks are using such insultingly stupid logic to make him appear to be.  I’m looking for people who support his opponent to distance themselves from this grossly misleading advertising as a way of showing they have more character than this.

Having Faith in Christ

This is a talk I gave four years ago that I found while looking for something else on my hard-drive. This is possibly the hardest Sacrament Meeting talk to write that I’ve ever written.

Having Faith in Christ

24 August 2008

I’d like to start my remarks today with an annoying nit-pick. While preparing them, I considered calling this challenging a false doctrine, which would likely have grabbed your attention, but, on reflection, I decided to call it an annoying nit-pick. I have heard a number of times that the first principle of the gospel is faith – truth to tell, I have said this before. However, this is not completely true, and I’m certain that most of the children in the Primary know what’s wrong with saying that. The first principle of the gospel is not just faith – it is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For the next several minutes, I’m going to discuss the difference between faith and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, why they are absolutely necessary, and how we can develop the faith we most need.
Continue reading Having Faith in Christ

From “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt

Morality binds and blinds. This is not just something that happens to people on the other side. We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right and they are so wrong. We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects.

If you want to understand another group, follow the sacredness. As a first step, think about the moral foundations, and try to figure out which one or two are carrying the most weight in a particular controversy. And if you really want to open your mind, open your heart first. If you can have at least one friendly interaction with a member of the “other” group, you’ll find it far easier to listen to what they’re saying, and maybe even see a controversial issue in a new light. You may not agree, but you’ll probably shift from Manichaean disagreement to a more respectful and constructive yin-yang disagreement.

These are the final two paragraphs of the non-summary part of the book, and they capture quite well the reasons why this book and author have really resonated with me.  I really recommend this book to everyone, because it gives an excellent explanation of why it is that we see moral issues the way we do, and why we see those who don’t share our personal morality as harshly as we do.

I particularly endorse the process laid out in the second paragraph.  The recently-deceased Stephen Covey referred to this as Habit Five: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  A little intellectual humility can really go a long way in the transition from being somebody who is always right, to somebody who is learning and right more frequently.

Progressivism, Eugenics, Hubris, and Strength through Diversity (the original)

(This is the original version of this post, which I believed was gone, and was very depressed about, but then set out to recreate, the result of which is here.  But, then I found this lying in my drafts folder, and thought I’d post it here.  My information on Margaret Sanger is better in the other version, but I still like the feel of this one.  My ideal form would probably be to merge the two, but I don’t think anyone will care that much)

This grew out of a comment in a thread on FB to the point that it is virtually guaranteed to earn tl;dr response from most anybody.  But it says some things I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately, and I prefer writing when the Muse strikes.

Progressivism (as in, the dominant thinking behind the Progressive Era, not the more recent usage synonymous with Liberalism, although there is a connection) and Fascism (as in, the dominant thinking behind the Nazi and Fascist movement in Germany and Italy), are both based in the notion that massive, centralized power in the State can and should be used to alter the nature and state of humanity and improve it. Continue reading Progressivism, Eugenics, Hubris, and Strength through Diversity (the original)

Progressivism, Eugenics, Hubris, and Strength through Diversity

This is the second attempt to create a post that explains some things I’ve been thinking on for a while now. The original version was essentially complete, and I was just ready to push “publish,” but I decided to spell-check it first, and spell-check crashed FB, and I lost the whole thing. I was very, very sad. And angry. But I really, really liked what I said, so I’m going to try this again. But I’m going to write it in OOo Writer, and paste it in here when I’m done, because I don’t want to try a third time. It came in response to a comment connecting Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and her ideas about eugenics and Adolph Hitler and his ideas about eugenics, where another commenter said that that comment displayed ignorance and lack of insight.

There is more merit to the comparison than you might think. Progressivism of Sanger’s time shares some key core beliefs to the Fascism of Hitler: the biggest of which is a belief that centralized political power, concentrated in the hands of the “better” people (defined, essentially, as the more-enlightened) could alter and improve the world, nature, humanity and human nature. Their differences, when it came to eugenics, were primarily those of method and means. Sanger preferred to keep the less “fit” from breeding by means of contraception, while Hitler preferred to gather them into camps, taking what he could that he wanted from them, and killing them in startling numbers. Clearly, these differences are very significant, and the latter are very (correctly) repugnant by today’s standards. But the goal was the same – improve the human race by stopping the less desirable from breeding. Sanger also shared Hitler’s belief that lighter-skinned people were superior to darker skinned people, but is, evidently, miscast as a vicious racist by several misattributed quotes or quotes out of context.
Continue reading Progressivism, Eugenics, Hubris, and Strength through Diversity

Useful Distinction: “Mistake” v “Bad Choice”

This is the first of what is intended to be a series of posts about useful distinctions I make between some common words and phrases that others use interchangeably.

When I hear “I made a mistake!  Everybody makes mistakes!” it usually tells me that someone has been caught doing something wrong that they can’t hide or get away from anymore, and they intend to minimize away what that something was.  When I have a chance, I talk about the difference between a mistake and a bad choice. Continue reading Useful Distinction: “Mistake” v “Bad Choice”

Religion and Science

Richard Dawkins, who nominally started this whole conversation, and whose picture is here to allow me to post this to Pinterest.

This is a collection of excerpts from a conversation I took part in with some other uncorrelated Mormons on Facebook  (some with 5+ scores on the Dawkins Scale), in response to an article pointing out how Richard Dawkins had “admitted” that he wasn’t totally certain of the nonexistence of God (which was determined by several in the thread to be neither news nor as significant as the person posting the link seemed to think).

My part began quite innocently, in response to the person who originated the thread saying “I think it is foolish to believe that we can see, or have access, to everything that is.”  I said:

It’s also unscientific. Science is limited to things we can see or have access to. It has nothing of value to say about anything beyond that, [n]or can it predict how long or far we will be able to mine the pile of things we can see or have access to to bring us further understanding or technical progress.
Continue reading Religion and Science