Monday, November 30, 2009

I love the [insert decade here]'s

Boy, I can't wait for the next ten minutes to be over with so I can be nostalgic about it.

Please check out #44, which is just pure awesomeness:

Dear Mr. Lucas:

It has come to our attention that your actions over the past decade in the production of the films Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode 3: Return of the Sith (hereafter referred to as "Star Bores") as well as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (hereafter referred to as "Grandpa Jones") infringes upon the rights of millions of moviegoers to preserve their childhood memories unscathed. This is a clear violation of your contract with the public to create films worthy of the legacy that you, yourself, began in 1977. Your recent actions have been grossly negligent, displaying a complete lack of regard for taste and artistic merit. Star Bores and Grandpa Jones represent a failure to satisfy the duty of care mandated for a filmmaker of your status.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I'll be back next week with more posts, but for now, let me plug the concert again and give you another preview:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pure awesome

This is the coolest thing I've seen in a while:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday music post: Ave Maria

Come to the Salt Lake Men's Choir's Christmas Concert. We will be singing some great numbers, including this one:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The history of the LDS Church's position on housing and employment rights for gays

UPDATE: Welcome, Times & Seasons readers! You may want to check out the greatest hits of my blog here.

Over the last few days, I have been involved in a conversation at another blog. One of the questions was whether the Church’s recent endorsement of the Salt Lake City anti-discrimination ordinance is "entirely consistent with the Church’s prior position on these matters" as its statement indicates. The Church's current position is certainly consistent with their statement given before the Proposition 8 vote that "The Church does not object to rights . . . regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference." However, the record of the Church previous to the 2008 vote is much less clear.

Before I get into the results of my research, I want to hedge a bit: Because the Church has so many ways of unofficially putting out its message (the Deseret News, mid-level officials, etc.), trying to interpret whether a message reflects the desires of the Church is often an exercise in Kremlinology. Therefore, I will try to give you my primary sources so that you can decide for yourself whether you agree with my conclusions. With that disclaimer out of the way, let me begin . . . .

I initially stated at T&S that I thought that the Church had publicly opposed housing and employment protections for gays. This is because I had remembered reading that they supported Colorado's Amendment 2, which prohibited any designation of gays as a protected class until it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. I reviewed my notes, and my source for this was Michael Quinn. His support for this conclusion, however, was based on the fact that Rex E. Lee helped draft the brief in support of the amendment while he was president of BYU, which would have "required specific approval from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles." This seemed somewhat inconclusive to me, and so I went in search of more evidence.

While I could not find any other contemporaneous accounts of LDS involvement in Amendment 2, I did find some information on another event that the Church seemed more involved in. In late 1997, the Salt Lake City council passed an ordinance similar to the one that was just passed. While the Church did not make an official statement at the time, editorials (see also) in opposition to the ordinance were written by the Deseret News, and the Area President over Salt Lake City instructed bishops to encourage their congregations to attend the city council meeting on the night when they were to vote on whether to repeal the ordinance.

While it is likely that none of these items in isolation would provide good evidence as to the Church's position regarding housing and employment rights, taken as a whole, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Church was working against these measures.* Indeed, rhetorical choices such as "granting official sanction to the same-sex lifestyle" sound somewhat familiar.

However, if you really want to figure out if the Church has changed its position on gays and lesbians, just take a tour of old Ensigns. The official position of the Church as recently as 1996 was that there were no such people as gays and lesbians:

We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.

Comparing last week's announcement to that statement is like comparing night and day. By advocating housing and employment rights, the Church has crossed the chasm from adjective to noun--that is, the Church acknowledges that gays and lesbians exist. And that's a mighty big first step.

* There is, however, one really fantastic story in Idaho of how the Mormons were the crucial vote in defeating an amendment similar to Colorado's Amendment 2. But that's a story for another post . . . .

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

News Flash: LDS Church comes out in favor of (some) equal rights for gays

So by now, you've all heard the news that the LDS Church has backed a Salt Lake City ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment. Elder Holland has even suggested that the statute should be applied more widely, leading some to wonder whether this will give momentum to the Common Ground Initiative, which ended up stalled in the last legislative session. Even conservative Senator Chris Buttars admitted that "a person ought to be able to have a roof over their head and have a job. I don't have any problem with that."

Many in the gay community have argued that this is a transparent PR move. Maybe they're right, but I don't think it matters. Any softening of the Church's position deserves a great deal of praise, regardless of the reason the change was made. If the gay rights movement is only for those on board 100% of the time, we will fail. Being encouraging, civil, and looking for areas of common ground and agreement does more to help the cause of gay rights than insisting on ideological purity will. I agree with Andrew Sullivan:

For this degree of respect - even if it is not fully what I want or what gays truly deserve - we should reciprocate with respect as well. This is a moment of genuine dialogue and civil compromise. And it was accomplished in Salt Lake City among gay and straight Mormons and gay and straight non-Mormons in a way that other Christians in other places have been unable to replicate.

I communicate often with an LDS man from California who is totally rational in just about every topic that I have talked to him about, except for the gay issue. He is unable to believe that the gay community is willing to enter into dialogue. He is a person who many would say is anti-gay to the core, and yet it is clear to me that he is someone who can be reached if he can get over the bitter taste in his mouth. While I am not suggesting that we offer the Church unfettered praise for their actions, the Church needs to be recognized by our community for their efforts in trying to bridge the gap--that is the best way to encourage future progress.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday music post: Rhythm of Life

In case you missed the October choir show: (Fixed the broken link)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Apparently the BBC does not subscribe to the mercy rule

You definitely need to watch this debate. The archbishop of Nigeria and an English Conservative MP debate Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry on the motion "that the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world."

As a former debater, allow me to give a couple points of constructive criticism:

  • Don't do your topic analysis in the final speech.
  • Make sure you don't bring up what most would believe would be one of your weak points (see AIDS in Africa) as a plus for your side.
  • try and pick a debate partner whose voice does not make set people into convulsions.
  • At lease try to be conversant with the arguments against your side before appearing on national television and destroying whatever credibility your side has.

That is all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How is this not front page news?

So apparently, the LDS Church is lobbying for the business interests of its mission presidents. Check this out:

Several years ago, Salt Lake County was pushing a bill at the Legislature to allow its county and municipal fire departments to offer emergency ambulance service rather than having to contract with privately owned Gold Cross Ambulance . . . . However, Dan Eastman, then a state senator, told some legislative colleagues he had heard from LDS Church Apostle Russell M. Ballard, who discouraged any legislation that would hurt Gold Cross' business. The firm's owner, Gene Moffatt, was serving as an LDS mission president at the time, and Ballard felt it was unfair to go after the firm while Moffatt was away. So the watered-down bill that passed added new constraints that made it less attractive for local governments to bid against Gold Cross.

In Salt Lake County, two municipalities have done so anyway: West Valley City now operates its own ambulance service and Salt Lake City accepted the bid of Gold Cross competitor Southwest Ambulance Service. Still, Gold Cross maintains its monopoly in the rest of the county and in many locales around the state.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The subtle nihilism of horserace politics

This pissed me off enough to come out of my blogging sabbatical:

The extremes of the anti-war left before Iraq were every bit as inflammatory and loopy as the Tea Partiers today. Now, they were opposing a war that turned out to be a catastrophe for all involved, while the Tea Partiers are just opposing the working poor having a chance to buy health insurance. But if Godwin's Law is the point, many (but not all) on the left currently do not have a leg to stand on.

Putting aside for the moment the accuracy of the statement, the assumption that "Godwin's Law is the point" is astounding, but unfortunately altogether too common among the Washington commentariat. Most of the punditocracy has come to view politics as some sort of a game: form is analyzed while substance is ignored. The question is never "who is right?" but always "who won?"

Viewing politics as some sort of game in which there is no good, bad, right, or wrong, only winners and losers, is nihilism, pure and simple. Equating one side's employment of ad hitlerium arguments in service of denying people health care with employing those arguments in service of avoiding a disastrous foreign policy misadventure is akin to equating killing someone in self defense and killing someone because the sun was in your eyes. Politics is more than a game. The wise use of the power and resources of the State can lead to freedom, prosperity and enlightenment. Misuse of the State can lead to tyranny and misery. Politics, in many cases, really is a matter of life and death.

Now the obvious rejoinder to my point is that the Teabaggers sincerely believe that the health care plan will lead to tyranny and misery. However, this argument is again, rooted in nihilism, albeit a form of nihilism that has found a home in the major news networks. While in a pluralistic society all points of view should be tolerated, it does not follow that all points of view should be given equal respect. The Teabaggers' arguments have no foundation in evidence or logic and are not deserving of any more than a thorough debunking. The news media's insistence on reporting the controversy rather than analyzing the facts underlying that controversy is an implicit statement that there is no truth and that all points of view are equally valid. In sum, focusing on balance and tone to the absence of facts and substance says that a person's opinion on issues of war and peace is no more consequential than whether he or she likes Pet Sounds more than Rubber Soul. I will speak against this sort of nihilism at every opportunity, and if I sound shrill while doing it, that's a risk I'm willing to take.