The referendum against Utah's recent tax reform ended on Tuesday, having collected an estimated 150-170,000 signatures out of the 116,000 that were required. It would have taken some time to verify the final count, and some would have been rejected, but we were pretty dang confident we had this in the bag. Then it became moot because the Legislature was so scared by this upswelling of resistance that they repealed the tax reform altogether. Now, instead of being put on the ballot in November, it's simply ceased to exist. Of course I hope Utah will still remember in November exactly which people voted for that train wreck in the first place, and I hope this will leave a lasting impression on anyone currently in or planning to enter politics. I have to admit the referendum would have most likely been a flop without the endorsement and enthusiastic participation of the Harmon's grocery store chain, where I would happily shop if they had a location in Logan, and the conservative think tank Sutherland Institute who encouraged people to sign by running radio ads telling them not to sign.
I finished submitting the supplementary materials for my graduate school application. The requirements use all this pompous academic language, of course, and it's intimidating and it makes me feel like I'm way out of my depth when I just want to write fun science fiction stories. Realistically, though, and I'm not trying to be cocky, but realistically, I'll be very surprised if I don't get in. I think the skill exhibited in my writing sample will speak for itself, and I also know the professors giving me recommendations will speak very highly of said skill, especially the one who urged me to consider graduate school and teaching in the first place. By my estimate I was the third best writer in his class the first time around and the second best the second, but of course that's kind of subjective and when I told Stormy she was probably the best she said "No, you definitely are." I think my biggest strength is that I fill a different niche than most. Nobody else in any of my writing classes over the years has focused on fun science fiction stories.
I recently lost a substantial chunk of one of my teeth, substantial enough for me to see the sensitive core with my naked eye and touch it with my naked finger, which I only did once. I assumed the remaining chunk would have to be pulled out and I was surprisingly quick to accept that. It's way in the back where nobody would notice, and I've already learned to chew without it, and I figured this life is mercifully short and I'll get it back when I'm resurrected so whatever happens to me in the meantime doesn't matter. I was far more concerned about the cost. I just got Medicaid but it doesn't cover anything dental because the US government has decided those things aren't super important. Imagine, then, my relief when the dentist said he can repair my tooth in half an hour and it will only cost $254.84 if I pay the same day. He might have to follow up with a root canal, but there's no sense worrying about that yet.
The situation with my neighbors... hasn't changed at all, but after the initial shock, I surprisingly don't much care. Their wrongness is their own loss. It will also make my memoir that much better.
This review of my site on Webwiki, the first one from somebody who isn't me, isn't new, but I just noticed it the other day and it made me happy.
Thank you, Jason. Now I'm all like
and I hope to continue putting out the same level of quality, but no promises.
I've had a few bits and pieces of writing on this site in the form of embedded word documents and downloads that don't really work on mobile devices and would be too tiny to read comfortably if they did. I don't think search engines can go through them either. Since these are mostly unfinished pieces of crap from my middle and high school years, moving them into the twenty-first century (which my middle and high school years were already part of, but I'm speaking metaphorically, in a self-deprecating remark about my own lack of technological prowess) hasn't been a priority, but in the last few days I've been finally doing it, transplanting the text from these documents into actual web pages.
The most horrifically painful thing about some of my early writing is the godawful attempts to straight-up copy Douglas Adams' one-of-a-kind writing style. In fairness, he left us much too soon and I would be doing a legitimate service to the world by providing more works in his vein if they were of equal quality and not just pathetic knockoffs. And I guess I don't regret the experiment because I believe that it had a lasting impact on the evolution of my actual genuine writing voice. I think I can see a bit of Douglas Adams in my writing voice, but just a bit, thank goodness.
Anyway, I was skimming through this unfinished sci-fi epic "The War" as I moved the text over - I had intended to read it all straight through, but that was too painful - and this little bit stopped me in my tracks. When I wrote it as a teenager in 2008 or 9, it was just a silly attempt at humor with virtually no real-life subtext intended, but anyone reading it today would be unable to avoid what TV Tropes calls Unfortunate Implications. It's - well, I'll just let it speak for itself.
[Beginning of excerpt. The setting is a party/dance with members of many alien races present.]
“All right,” Hok announced, leaping to the nearest hovering microphone on ridiculously long gangly legs. He was a short, skinny green man with a gargantuan head and pointy ears. “All right,” he repeated, “hang on to your kramblotches, because it’s pippiks’ choice!”
There was a slight groan from some of those assembled, elicited by the fact that there was only one pippik present, a suddenly rather confused-looking Troikot.
There is a simple pattern followed by many species throughout the universe, and that is this: male, female. The reason this is followed by many species is that it’s simple, it works, and if you believe in an all-powerful Hand guiding it somewhere along the line you can imagine Him wanting to keep it consistent. For those who like to keep it even simpler, the options of hermaphrodite and null were made available. However, the Universe being the humongous place it is, some species are bound to be dissatisfied with these perfectly reasonable choices, and choose to come up with their own fancy alternatives. Pippiks, then, are only one of thousands of relatively obscure genders to be found throughout said Universe. Kramblotches, on the other hand, are completely unrelated organs found in some species for the purpose of throwing at predators.
When it comes to interstellar travel, this also brings up the problem of gender pronouns. The language of a species with its own special genders will have developed its own special pronouns, of course, but usually any being from a normal male/female/hermaphrodite/null species will not want to bother memorizing all of the pronouns for the thousands of relatively obscure genders that exist. As a result, most choose to lump them all under the “it” category. Some find this offensive, but, others argue, they should have thought of that before their species decided to create its own genders anyway.
“Ask that cute farfel over there,” whispered a Queezik.
“I don’t swing that way,” the Troikot timidly whispered back.
Hok’s keen ears picked up their exchange and he grinned in spite of himself. He knew, of course, that there was only one pippik in the room, but he was trying as best he could to be fair and tolerant of everybody. Sexism, of course, was unseemly even by this society’s standards.
[End of excerpt]
So. Much. Cringe.
I've avoided talking about all the sex and gender controversy (except that one time, which I won't apologize for) because it's surprisingly complicated and I don't want to say ignorant things. I know that chromosomes are complicated and there are several - not percentage-wise, but numerically - demonstrable exceptions to the "XY = male, XX = female" dichotomy. Externally female bodies may have only one X chromosome, or even XY chromosomes and useless internal testes in place of ovaries, to cite a simple and surprisingly common example. I do think a lot of other people don't know as much about it as they think they do either, even when citing "science" as their authority. A couple months ago in the Mormons Building Bridges group someone posted an article about a study that had allegedly found that, marriage expert Mark Gungor's hilarious routine notwithstanding, there is no difference between men's brains and women's brains. And more recently in the same group someone posted an article about a study that had allegedly found that transgender children's brains matched the gender they identified as, not their biological sex.
I may be missing something obvious, but I can't help feeling like it's fundamentally impossible for both of those claims to be true. Of course it's not my place as a non-scientist to reject either or both of them without being able to explain why, but neither is it the place of other non-scientists to imbue either of them with more authority than it actually has. Scientific truth is not established overnight by one scientist or team of scientists. A study may be interesting but means very little unless and until its results are replicated in additional studies. This often never happens. There's also the issue of news outlets and other lay people misinterpreting studies to mean what they want them to mean - for example, this happened a few years ago:
Study from BYU: We found that religious people who use pornography are more likely than non-religious people who use pornography to describe themselves as "addicted" even if they show no signs of addiction.
Almost Everyone Else: This study from BYU found that pornography addiction is a myth created by religious guilt.
These people seemed to believe they were objectively reporting the study's results, when in reality they were doing something else: making crap up. In any case, I'm going to reserve judgment on most of these issues for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, it costs nothing to be kind.
I do still consider it plausible that the vast majority of alien races would fall into something recognizably analogous to the male/female dichotomy, just as the vast majority of advanced organisms on Earth do even with chromosomal arrangements that in many cases radically differ from ours. Sexual reproduction is weird and gross but it works because, by mixing and recombining parents' DNA, it drastically boosts the genetic diversity of the species, which in turn makes it far less vulnerable to being suddenly wiped out by disease, climate change or whatever. This obviously requires at least two parents. Three, four, or a dozen would create even more diversity, but the exponential difficulty of actually pulling it off in practice would more than nullify that benefit. Of course, there may be aliens out there who aren't even made from DNA as we understand it, but that's also too complicated for me to think about right now.
Ugh, I need to get the taste of that excerpt out of my mouth, so here's another from the same scene that I don't hate.
[Beginning of excerpt.]
“Let’s go find a seat,” said Bert. They turned around and nearly bumped into the nine-foot tall hairy mass behind them. It reacted slightly less than a tombstone, but the purple snake coiled around its neck reared up and hissed at them violently.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Alicia, who had spilled soda all over her clothes in response. “Er, nice pet,” she said to the hairy creature, hoping to make light of it.
“How dare you speak that way of my fiancé?” demanded the snake.
[End of excerpt.]
It's a dumb joke, but I find it amusing. At least I was supportive of interracial marriage long after it was cool.
Why do I put these garbage writing samples, these "sins of my youth" as Hergé would call them, on the internet instead of burying them forever? First of all, because when I'm famous everyone will be fascinated to see how my writing has evolved. Joking but serious at the same time. Second, because despite how bad they are, they're actually not that bad. Oh sure, they're too painful for me to read, but they have their moments of brilliance and I can see in them the potential that my teachers saw and urged me to cultivate. They're better than some Legend of Zelda fan fiction I've read. Heck, they're better than some things I read from some of my undergraduate English classmates. Not singling anyone out but just being honest. And maybe some people who hold me to a lower standard than I do, who aren't personally embarrassed by the existence of this old writing, can actually enjoy it. I enjoy the Star Wars Holiday Special, which shouldn't be possible for a carbon-based life form, so it's not that far-fetched.
While I was skimming through "The War", I laughed out loud at a part where (spoiler alert) one character who's just learned English as a second language refers to puppy love as "dog lust". Maybe I'm just an idiot, but I think that's one of the funniest things I've ever written.
My closest friend, by whom I mean someone who actually lives very far away that I don't talk to very often but who knows more about me than anyone else except God and doesn't think any less of me for it, is almost exactly the same age. She's a week younger than me. In her twenty-six years, she's been in more relationships than I can count and been engaged once or twice. In my twenty-six years, I've never been on a second date. She, by her own admission, is somewhat codependent and can't stand to be alone, so she ends up dating guys that she knows aren't a great fit. I, in contrast, am so settled into my solitary lifestyle and eternal cycle of rejection that the hypothetical prospect of being in a relationship, even with someone I really really like, is deeply unsettling and becomes less attractive the more I think about it.
But regardless of our differing paths we're both equally single. I muse on that sometimes and I invariably conclude that, as far as this one topic is concerned, I'm the luckier one. It must be so much better to never have something than to have it and then lose it. Over and over again, no less. When I'm thinking rationally I determine that my phenomenal failure rate has been a blessing in disguise.
Recently she lamented that she had been on a date with this guy and really hit it off and was hoping for things to become quite serious. Alas, some girl he'd been interested in for years chose that time to reciprocate those feelings, so now he's with her instead. My friend is very bummed out. I was able to empathize because this sort of bullcrap is my least favorite bullcrap of all the multitude of bullcrap that constitutes what we call dating. You don't operate in a vacuum. You can't just stand on your own merits; you also have to be better than everyone else who wants what you want. It doesn't matter how much you want it, how hard you try, how well you plan, how hard you pray; someone else that the object of your affections finds more attractive than you can come along and erase all your efforts in an instant, and there's nothing you can do about it. Often there's no way to even see it coming.
I shared with her the metaphor that I'd come up with for these situations. It's like playing a video game where, at random intervals, invincible enemies pop out of nowhere and instantly kill you and send you back to the beginning.
Actually, let me back up. Figurative language isn't really my thing but I think this metaphor has potential. I will attempt to explain what dating was like for me as an Aspie YSA by comparing it to a video game. I didn't grow up to be much of a gamer because my parents thought every console prior to the Wii was evil or something, but I enjoy them when I get the opportunity. (Legend of Zelda FTW). They're a nice way to relax and escape from the existential horror of this sick joke we call mortality. Usually.
Okay, so first of all, you've heard about this metaphorical game growing up and people have tried to make you excited for it. You're intrigued, but it's not the sort of thing you'd take the initiative of choosing to do in your spare time. You're more of a book reader. As you get older, people try to encourage you more and more, offer to help you with it, and whatever, to the point where you cave and decide to see what all the hype is about.
So you check out the instruction manual, and discover upon doing so that it's written in an amalgamation of Chinese, Sanskrit, and drunk spider footprints. Most of your friends, despite their assurances to the contrary, seem to read it just fine, and you ask them for help and they try to give you a summary. Sometimes people charge money for books and seminars about what they think it means.
The only way to actually figure it out, you finally conclude, is by trying the game yourself and learning as you go. So you start the game, and discover upon doing so that it's a maze. You know those antique DOS games from the nineties that are challenging, but reasonable, and you're just going along collecting items and figuring out where to use them and then suddenly there's this maze segment that's almost impossible to finish in less than an hour without a walkthrough? And it's completely disproportionate to the difficulty and tedium of the rest of the game and you're just like, What genius thought this would be fun? So this game is like that, except instead of side-scrolling or top-down it's first-person, which makes it even worse.
Also, there are land mines in the floor. So it's also like Minesweeper. Do you know how to play Minesweeper? I don't and I don't know anyone else who does.
You can't figure out the controls from the instruction manual, but your friends tell you what each of the five dozen buttons and triggers is supposed to do. You start the minefield maze and discover upon doing so the difference between theory and practice. Sometimes the controls do what they're supposed to, sometimes they do the opposite, sometimes they do nothing, and sometimes they leak battery acid all over your hands.
When you step on a mine, the damage varies. Sometimes your character dies and sometimes he just loses a limb or two. The plus side, if it can be called that, is that you have unlimited lives in this game. The downside of the plus side is that every time you die you get sent back to the beginning and the maze randomly rearranges itself. You get bored quickly and would rather not play this game anymore. But your friends assure you that everyone steps on mines and yes, it sucks and it's always going to suck, but what can you do? Apparently that's supposed to be comforting.
Also, even if you manage to avoid the mines through luck or telepathy, at random intervals, invincible enemies pop out of nowhere and instantly kill you and send you back to the beginning.
Why would anyone spend more than two minutes playing such a terrible, horrible, no good very bad game? Because apparently there's a really cool cutscene at the end, and when people reach it, they become so excited that they decide it was all worth it and decide how much they hated the game. Especially decades down the road when the rising generations are playing an even harder and stupider remake of the game, and these old people who beat it decades ago don't understand what the issue is. (You can just watch the cutscene on YouTube, but people will tell you that's a cheap counterfeit of the real experience because the audio quality is poor or something.)
Whatever. You're more of a book reader.
A recent article caught my attention, entitled "Feds take down the world's 'largest dark web child porn marketplace'." A more accurate headline would have been "Feds take down the world's 'largest known dark web child porn marketplace so far'", but nobody wants to hear that. The marketplace was jointly taken down by Germany, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with additional cooperation from fourteen other countries. This is a beautiful example of international brotherhood and also a beautiful example of what federal law enforcement can accomplish when it isn't busy trying to arrest people for smoking a plant. The main guy behind it, Jong Woo Son, is now serving a prison sentence of - eighteen months. I kid you not. That better be just the beginning of his problems, because even the judge who sentenced Brock Turner is looking at that and going "Seriously guys?" Personally, I think everyone with any degree of involvement should be shot and used as Halloween decorations, but nobody asked me.
I imagine that seeing all of this child pornography and tracking down the children and infants involved must be traumatic enough for the investigators. But on top of that, they knew about this marketplace for a couple years, even figured out Jong Woo Son's identity, but were forced to be patient and cautious, even to buy some of the porn themselves, in order to eventually take the whole thing down. That must have been hell. And I'm not gonna lie, it disturbs me very much to imagine God watching every second of this rampant child and infant abuse and doing nothing to stop it. But the alternative is even more disturbing. The alternative is that these children and infants just got very unlucky with their one shot at life, and nobody is ever ever going to make it up to them, and the bastards who did this to them will never get what's coming to them because nothing that mortal justice can do to them, let alone what it will actually do, is good enough. At least God offers a long-term solution.
I believe that God allows injustice in this life for at least three reasons. One, so we can learn to appreciate joy by contrasting it with suffering. Two, so we can develop our character by choosing how to react to our circumstances. Personally, I think anyone who applies either of these reasons to children and infants getting raped should be punched in the throat, but nobody asked me. The third and, I believe, only relevant reason in this case is that our freedom to make our own choices and decide what kind of people we want to be - indeed, the primary purpose of being alive in the first place - is too sacred for God to take away, even when those choices and those people are terrible. Jong Woo Son and his ilk have made their choices at the expense of countless innocents. But they won't live forever, and they won't avoid being held accountable for those choices.
"It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones." - Luke 17:2
Yet another recent headline, this one of a Pew poll, reports what everyone already knew: that the number of self-identified Christians in the United States of America is in rapid decline. The natural impulse is to blame "the wickedness of the world", but I think Christianity more or less has itself to blame for this. Now I believe that the vast majority of denominations and individual Christians are, on the balance, good, and this is not an attack on anyone in particular. But one can hardly blame young people for leaving in many cases when they realize that the Earth is more than six to ten thousand years old, that their gay friends and family members aren't evil, that the Republican Party platform isn't scripture, and/or that a god who sends a solid majority of his children to live in circumstances where they will never have the opportunity to avoid burning in hell forever is unworthy of worship. The historical atrocities and the scandals and hypocrisy of various preachers, priests and bishops probably don't help either.
"Fundamentalists are to Christianity what paint-by-numbers is to art." - Robin Tyler
And yet the "liberal" churches aren't doing better. If anything they're doing worse. It's a bizarre fact of life that while countless people are leaving Christianity over LGBTQ issues, every single denomination that has embraced same-sex marriage is plummeting. Some are on course for swift extinction. I would imagine this is more a case of correlation than causation. I would imagine it has more to do with the the denominations in question loosening, softening, and dumbing down their doctrine to the point where Jesus is just a guy who said we should be nice to people. And many, many people want to believe in that version of Jesus, but by and large they have little to no interest in organized religion. Why go to church for the same sermon you could get from an episode of "Barney"? So appealing to them is a doomed endeavor from the start.
"[I]t is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds." - Jeffrey R. Holland
Of course the main reason I'm hearing about this poll is what it says about my denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those within the Church may or may not have noticed how all the bragging about how fast we're growing has quietly disappeared in the last few years. That's because it's not true anymore. It's also not true, as detractors assert until they're blue in the face, that we're shrinking. In fact this poll reports that we're holding steady at 2% of the American population. (Probably less than half of that percentage actually goes to church on a semi-regular basis, but whatever, we still love them.) So, yay? Other churches are shrinking but ours isn't. The bar for success has been set pretty dang low nowadays.
My church is certainly not devoid of real and perceived problems, and has also lost thousands of members (though not as many members as it's gained, which is where the detractors' basic algebra skills suffer a critical failure). But I believe it's managed to hold steady by making adjustments and compromises where it needs to, and standing firm where it needs to. It makes constant course corrections, as it's done throughout its history, to hew to the state of "optimal tension" described by Armand Mauss and others. For example, President Russell M. Nelson has made changes to reduce the amount of time that the Church takes members away from their homes and families, yet church standards and callings remain rather "strict" and "demanding" by the standards of most denominations, which ensures that participation actually has significance and makes lasting changes in people's lives.
"Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation..." - Joseph Smith Jr.
The negative reputation of organized religion is not entirely undeserved. But the great strength of organized religion that gets overlooked, that individuals simply can't replicate, is its ability to unify and empower people to accomplish good in the world. Organizations like my church and the Catholic Church are able to leverage their collective faith into countless local and global humanitarian efforts that of course no normal person could ever hope to replicate. That's not to say secular charities aren't wonderful, obviously, but just to illustrate that as far as faith is concerned, working together has far more practical efficacy than being "spiritual but not religious" on one's own. Believers, when they aren't being pricks, also edify and strengthen each other when they unite. This sense of community is such a basic need for most people that those who leave religion, or even those who are openly hostile to religion, struggle to find a secular replacement for it. And even when believers are being pricks, like me, they can still teach us how to love, if we choose to learn, which I usually don't because it's hard.
"In the life of the true Church, there are constant opportunities for all to serve, especially to learn to serve people we would not normally choose to serve - or possibly even associate with - and thus opportunities to learn to love unconditionally. There is constant encouragement, even pressure, to be 'active': to have a 'calling' and thus to have to grapple with relationships and management, with other people's ideas and wishes, their feelings and failures; to attend classes and meetings and to have to listen to other people's sometimes misinformed or prejudiced notions and to have to make some constructive response; to have leaders and occasionally to be hurt by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion; and then to be made a leader and find that you, too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous. Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, physical, and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (or may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, though disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be - and thus gives us a chance to be made better than we might choose to be, but ultimately need and want to be." - Eugene England
This weekend was the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I'm tired of explaining what that is twice a year, so from now on I won't. As usual I will fixate on a few details instead of attempting to summarize the whole thing.
I didn't much care about the changes to the Young Men's program, which will have approximately zero effect on my life, nor would I have cared about the corresponding changes to the Young Women's program - except for my hope that they would dispense with the longstanding age-based class names, "Beehives", "Mia Maids", and "Laurels". From the time I was a teenager, I thought those names sounded stupid. But after learning their historical significance and the reasoning behind them, I just thought they sounded stupid. Really, just because a name made sense in Utah in 1950 doesn't mean we need to hold onto it forever. For zark's sake, the "Mia" in "Mia Maids" stands for "Mutual Improvement Association" which literally hasn't been a thing since before the current Young Women's parents were in Young Women. So I watched the women's session, or to be more precise, listened to the women's session while playing "Plants vs. Zombies", just to see if these stupid names would be relegated to the dustbin of history where they belong.
Yes, I could have just waited until after to find out, but I wanted the pleasure of witnessing this long overdue moment firsthand. And also feeling the Spirit and stuff. I was not disappointed. Although, now that the archaic term "Mutual" is being entirely jettisoned as well with respect to both the Young Men and Young Women programs, the Mutual dating app (which I wrote about at greater length here) may need to be renamed as well to retain its significance to future generations. I recommend "The App for the Assistance of Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Marrying and Procreating Within the Boundaries of the Lord's Divine Law of Chastity". It's not catchy, but every word is important.
My karmic reward for watching an extra session for such a petty reason came swiftly. President Nelson said some words and then he started talking about temples and I was like Wait, this is the way he starts talking before he announces new temples, but he does that at the end of the Sunday afternoon session, so surely he wouldn't oh who am I kidding, of course he would troll us like this just because he can and at that moment the WiFi freaked out and the audio inexplicably cut in to the late Elder Perry talking about the joy of keeping the commandments with soft inspirational music in the background, and I frantically refreshed the page while breaking a commandment or two in my frantic verbal outburst, and then President Nelson was back and he was blurry and his lips weren't synchronized with his voice but that was fine, at least I could hear him, but wait, was this a rerun of the temple announcements from April, because it sounded kind of similar, but no wait, it was fresh and he totally trolled us and I would have been pissed if I had missed that session or that fragment of the session.
What follows are my very professional and spiritual analyses of those temple announcements. With this batch compared to the last one, there seemed to be a bit of a shift back toward building temples where the number of members and stakes justifies it, as opposed to prioritizing convenience for members in far-flung locations even if they be few. But of course both elements are still at play.
Cobán, Guatemala - I expected this one, but not for a few more years since it's kind of out in the jungle, but then, with the way some recent announcements have gone, I expected the unexpected which means I expected everywhere and nowhere at once. Cobán, Reykjavik, Mars, it's all fair game for President Nelson, isn't it?
Bacolod, Philippines - It would seem that the Philippines has somewhat improved upon its historically abysmal activity and retention rates, with stake growth on the increase and five of its seven current or future temples announced in the last decade.
Bentonville, Arkansas - Arkansas is one of the states in the United States without a temple, and the Rogers area is one of the few areas in the United States more than two hundred miles away from one. So it's been on people's lists for years and gotten really annoying. Bentonville should be close enough to shut them up.
Freetown, Sierra Leone - How can the Church have a faith-promoting independent film based on a true story named after this city, but not a temple? It's about time that situation was rectified. By the way, notwithstanding its imdb rating, I recommend the film. "God's Army" it ain't but on the plus side, "The Singles Ward" it ain't either. And it's not a comedy but because it's set in West Africa it has a few moments that are actually funny without an insider knowledge of Provo culture that most people neither have nor desire.
McAllen, Texas - I'm surprised all the Saints in Texas didn't apostatize after they were told to stop bringing their guns to church. Miracles do happen in this day and age. It may serve several members in northeastern Mexico as well, but then again it may not, because owing to policies and politicians who will not be discussed here at this time, traveling across the border has become an absurdly arduous and time-consuming process. Even for Americans!
Orem, Utah - This, in case I've failed to mention it before, is the city where I was born. Unless I'm mistaken we moved before my first birthday; in any case, I don't remember it one bit, and since it's basically Provo I've never had the slightest desire to go back and see it ever. Still, yay for getting a temple in the city where I was born. Especially since getting one in the town where I grew up is about as likely as Mars.
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - This is one of those locations where a few years ago people were bragging about the dramatic growth of the Church, and then it just kind of fizzled out overnight. (See also: Madagascar.) Still, membership numbers more than warrant a temple even without taking into account their poverty and the long distances to their nearest ones in Australia and New Zealand.
Taylorsville, Utah - ANOTHER TEMPLE IN UTAH!!!!!!! HOW VERY EXCITING!!!!!!! I CAN BARELY CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT FOR ANOTHER TEMPLE IN UTAH!!!!!!!1
Of course, I'm not one of those "uTaH dOeSn'T nEeD mOrE tEmPlEs" folks, because my intellect is capable of grasping the concept that buildings have a finite capacity and sometimes can get too full.
My favorite talk was by Elder Peter M. Johnson. An African-American from New York City, his voice has a cadence not quite like anything I've heard in General Conference before, and it riveted me to his every word so that I got more out of his talk than most. He could have read a phone book and I would have paid attention. This also would have given phone books a reason to exist. The missionaries seated near me who appeared to have fallen asleep might not agree, but to each their own. So, you know, go ahead and watch it if you haven't.
With only a few minutes remaining in the final session, I felt somewhat alarmed that nobody, as far as I could notice, had remembered to utter the words "this historic conference". But President Nelson slipped them into his talk and put me at ease. That man never lets me down.
In closing, I would like to change subjects completely and note the passing of actress Diahann Carroll. I read this little book of comics once that I could have sworn was written by Charles Schultz, but it had a multiracial cast and almost exclusively focused on race issues, but I can't find out anything about it now, but anyway in one comic this little black boy was like, "I'm very disappointed in this book 'Black Beauty'. I thought it was going to be about Diahann Carroll." And all these years later I still think that's one of the funniest things ever.
Dihann Carroll will be remembered as the first black woman to win a Tony award (back when the Tony awards had standards, no less) and the first black woman to star in a non-stereotypical television role (I guess we're not counting Lieutenant Uhura? idk, I'm just going by what Wikipedia says), but to me, she will mostly be remembered a. for the aforementioned comic, and b. for her guest role in "The Star Wars Holiday Special" as singing Wookiee porn. I don't know how else to describe it. Between her dialogue and Chewbacca's father's horrific reaction to it, one marvels that this scene was allowed on television in 1978 or ever. And then one realizes, oh, of course, by that point in the Special the censorship people reviewing it had slipped into a coma. As for why it, and the entire Special, was written and filmed in the first place, one can only hypothesize that the creators couldn't find real drugs and drank gasoline instead. Even so. She was the first black character with a speaking role in Star Wars (since James Earl Jones technically played a white guy), and still the only one with a singing role that I'm aware of, and that's worth remembering.
I realize it may sound like joking at best and complaining about first-world problems at worst when I express my disappointment at running up last night against Spotify's 10,000 song playlist limit that I wasn't aware of. You may consider it absurd that I would want to have more than 10,000 songs on a playlist. The reason I want to have more than 10,000 songs on a playlist is that I like shuffling every artist and every genre into an enormous game of chance. Heavy metal and polka and New Age and Dora the Explorer back-to-back is just fine with me. Many years ago when I got my first mp3 player, I had trouble even grasping the concept of a "playlist", because why would I want to choose just some of my music? My idea of a playlist was the entire Windows Media Player library. So here's my playlist, capped at 10,000 songs unless and until Spotify changes its mind. (There's a big discussion about it here, where Spotify went from "The 1% of our customers who want that many songs don't matter" to "It's not in our plans, but it's a good idea." So there's hope.)
I started group therapy again this week, seeing as this is my last chance before I'll graduate and not be able to afford it. There's not much to say about that because, you know, confidentiality, but I wanted to mention it because there are people who think I shouldn't be open about my mental illness and I want them to know exactly what I think of that attitude. There are a lot of people who should go to therapy but don't because our society has wrongly made them feel that it's something to be embarrassed about. As a child when I had to go to a building labeled "Massena Mental Health Clinic", I felt humiliated and dirty inside, and I shouldn't have, but that's the mindset I was fed from literally everywhere. There are also a lot of people who should go to therapy but don't because their insurance doesn't cover it because our society decided long ago that only physical problems matter. Anyway, I already love my fellow group members, just as I did the last two times. I hope they love me too. It's going to be awkward if they don't.
When I was meeting with someone on campus for unrelated reasons having to do with me not being able to buy groceries because someone took all my money, and she started asking about my personal life and recommended therapy, she asked (among other things) whether I ever feel like hurting people. And I said "Yes" while thinking Duh. I highly doubt there's one human on this planet above the age of five with at least a bare minimum of mental capacity who has never wanted to hurt someone. Even on a good day when I enjoy being alive, I would bet my life that everyone from Gandhi to Mother Theresa to Pope Francis has wanted to hurt someone before. But there's this notion in our society that mentally ill people are dangerous and scary, even though the only statistically significant difference between violence from mentally ill people and other people disappears when drugs and alcohol are factored in. Gee, I wonder why mentally ill people in our society would feel the need to use drugs and alcohol. What a mystery.
I'm wondering, not for the first time, why several nobodies on the internet suddenly think it's their place to deny the medical and scientific consensus that addiction is a disease. I mean, just because people already have that attitude toward evolution, climate change, vaccines, the shape of the Earth, and 9/11 doesn't mean we need more things on that list. And their argument makes me want to claw my eyeballs out. So you see, addicts are just like non-addicts, with the same brain chemistry and education and life circumstances and social support, and the only difference is that addicts decided to start doing drugs for literally no reason because they're stupid, and this means that addiction isn't a disease because the definition of a disease apparently mentions something about "choice" in the invisible fine print somewhere, but STDs still count as diseases because reasons. That's not even a straw man - have you seen that stupid meme with the guy on the bike falling over? I hate to think how my close friend who turned to heroin because both her parents were abusing her must feel when she sees this garbage.
The fraternities on campus tried to recruit people (specifically male people) this week and I participated in as many activities as I could for the food. Now I know how to play poker. They were all real friendly, almost cultishly so, and I would be seriously considering joining up with one of them if it didn't cost five hundred dollars. That would probably be a great bargain if this were my first semester rather than my last, but it's not and it's not and also I don't currently have anywhere near five hundred dollars. I enjoyed my brief time with them except for the moment when I was at a potluck and a bunch of fraternity guys were clustered around somebody's phone watching something and I came over to see what it was and it was porn. What the crap, guys?
Barbara Res, a former construction executive on Trump Tower, recently claimed:
On this particular day, the architect had come to Donald Trump’s office to show him what the interior of the residential elevator cabs would look like. Trump looked at the panels where the buttons you push to reach a floor were located. He noticed that next to each number were some little dots.
“What’s this?” Trump asked. “Braille,” the architect replied. Trump told the architect to take it off, get rid of it. “We can’t,” the architect said, “It’s the law.” “Get rid of the (expletive) Braille. No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower. Just do it,” Trump yelled back, calling him weak.
The more the architect protested, the angrier Trump got. Donald liked to pick on this guy. As a general rule, Trump thought architects and engineers were weak as compared to construction people. And he loved to torment weak people. But did he think the architect would remove the Braille from the panels? Never.
Naturally, many people have chosen not to believe her claim because it's entirely inconsistent with the respectful, tolerant way our president has always spoken about demographics that aren't him. (That was sarcasm.) But even if there was a video of him saying these words, it wouldn't matter to most of them. It's been pretty well-demonstrated at this point that he can say whatever he wants with no real consequences, in fact sometimes to his own benefit. Yay, democracy. On a slightly related note, I've seen Braille on signs and wondered how blind people are supposed to know to put their hands there in the first place. Are they just supposed to touch every inch of every wall? That's gross.
Carla Ulbrich - Therapy Works
I have my doubts as to whether anybody actually listens to the songs that I share as a public service, so I haven't done it much this year. But here's one.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
C. Randall Nicholson
This is where I occasionally rant about life, the universe, and/or everything. I'm a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate me without guilt, but I'm also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual.