Musings on Mormonism

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Society category.

US Healthcare is going crazy

So, I’ve already posted one interesting article after another on Facebook today (well, they’re interesting to me, and I think they are pertinent to pretty much everyone). I thought I’d actually take some time to share one of these articles here, taking into account my dad’s complaint that Facebook is stealing potentially good blog content.

Healthcare. It’s not going anywhere. Or rather, whether or not the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) sticks around long enough for each of its measures to go into effect, the problematic-ness of health care in the US is not going anywhere. Check out this nice collection of graphs for a good overview.

Summary: Americans spend a lot more than other developed nations, but aren’t as healthy. The wealthy and old, not surprisingly, spend the most on healthcare. And, if you care about what’s going on with the federal budget (again, it’s pertinent to you if you are an American), you should care about Medicare and Medicaid because they are expected to explode over the next several decades (not unlike how I once heard in a Stake Priesthood meeting at BYU that the Church is literally exploding in South America! Ok ok, unlike that)

Boys apparently aren’t doing well

…I have encountered this idea before, but have not as of yet devoted a lot of time to processing the various sources relating to it. According to this and this article in the Deseret News, boys and young men are falling behind girls and young women in a variety of ways, so much so that a “multi-partisan Commission of thirty-four prominent authors, educators, researchers and practitioners” was convened in 2010 “to accomplish three goals: investigate the status of boys and their journey into manhood; identify both surface and underlying problems confronting boys and men; create a blueprint toward solutions” (source here). At some point (I can’t figure out when, exactly, but at least 11 months ago), the commission submitted a proposal to the Obama Administration requesting the creation of a White House Council on Boys and Men, much the like the White House Council on Women and Girls which exists; to date, there appears to be no movement by the White House on this (I will not offer speculation as to why).

Anyway, to summarize, boys aren’t doing well in our society, and it appears to be a problem with both short-term and long-term implications. This is not about championing one gender over the other, but because the well-being of both is crucial.

Assorted thoughts, courtesy of the health care bill

I stayed up late tonight watching the results of the health bill vote, and it got me thinking about a number of things:

-how rhtetoric factors into the political and policy process.

-the general reasons that rhetoric can be effective (usually because the target audience doesn’t have access to better information and/or a sound understanding of the relevant issues, but also because of emotional appeals)

-what does this health care bill actually do? I have a vague understanding, which I have acquired primarily from newspapers and news on TV, neither of which is beyond reproach. I sure haven’t read the bill, and the prospect of doing so makes me start to feel dizzy. Incidentally, I recently saw the world’s fastest speed reader go through the bill on live TV, and then summarize it (I only saw portions of the show, unfortunately). As I understand, the bill prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, eliminates life-time coverage limits, provides a way for all people to be insured (I don’t know exactly how, but apparently it’s not the public option), requires everyone to purchase insurance and, as with any good health care legislation, nationalizes the student loan industry. A more complete understanding is pending.

-I was blessed to have a very erudite father and a lively and intellectually-engaging family culture growing up, and currently have roommates who are renaissance men in their own rights. However, I think most people lack a forum where they can comfortably ask questions, seek understanding of confusing or complicated issues, and not have to worry that they are somehow being duped.

-because I want to start a nonprofit organization some day, and am constantly on the lookout for compelling ideas that are also sufficiently marketable, I wonder if I can somehow convert these ideas about rhetoric, persuasion, and complex or poorly understood issues into a viable nonprofit organization.

-along the same lines, if I were to pursue a course providing research, analysis, and communication of poorly understood and/or complicated issues, how could I make it work? For one, I would have to be, or to be able to become, knowledegable about relevant topics. Also, I would have to exude some sort of credibility, achieved by a fair-minded, thorough approach, as well as credentials (part of the persistent rationale for sticking with my grad program – I want to understand policy)

-thinking about how I can be considered credible, I recalled the range of college courses I have taken, and (here’s where I toot my horn) the intellectual curiosity which motivated me. Also, while searching for my contact lens after its unexpected exodus from my eyeball to the bathroom floor, it occurred to me that my current political understanding (admittedly incomplete, but not half-bad either, if I do say so myself) is almost completely self-taught, something of which I am quite proud. I have taken only two political science courses in my lifetime, both of which were more focused on specific areas (the international political economy of women, and urban policy problems) rather than providing a general framework for political thinking (that I mostly had to figure out myself, which again, I pride myself on).

-lastly, do people value being helped to understand current events and salient issues enough to pay for such a nonprofit? I have some doubts, but I don’t really know for sure, one way or the other.

On slums, hearts, and Ezra Taft Benson

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”

-Ezra Taft Benson

I really like this quote, and have spent much time thinking on the distinction President Benson makes between the Lord’s and the world’s modes of operation. This was especially true during last semester, where I was taking a course on urban policy problems. Rest assured, while there was much talk of slums and environment, there was absolutely zero discussion of the Lord or changed hearts. Attending a secular institution in a practically-minded field like public policy, I didn’t honestly expect that such “fuzzy” spiritual notions would enter the classroom; nevertheless, earnest discussion of such pressing issues feels woefully incomplete without acknowledgement of the unseen, yet profoundly pertinent spiritual aspects.

Anyway, I got to thinking about this most recently (i.e. about 30 minutes ago) while working on a paper. I would like to pose a question in the hopes of getting some responses:

Should we have any misgivings about moving people out of bad environments?

Or framed another way,

If people are stuck in a bad situation, should an outside observer be more concerned with trying to reform and repair the situation, or with extracting as many willing souls to higher ground as possible?

I know what Batman from “Batman Begins” would say, but the Old Testamant, Book of Mormon, and other standard works of the Church might suggest otherwise. Somewhat surprisingly, in the aforementioned class, it seemed like people did feel uneasy about the notion of extrication (in the context of moving poor inner city people to the suburbs for employment), probably because environmental reform seemed more equitable.

Funny characteristics you can get scholarships for

My search for scholarships on fastweb thus far has not yielded any awards. However, if I weren’t such an unremarkable left-handed, half-Chinese, libertarian-leaning, intellectually curious and creative Mormon from Oregon, and instead possessed the following characteristics, maybe I could get some sweet cash too:

Against the Death Penalty


Birth mother who has placed a child for adoption


Canadian Citizen

Clinically Overweight

Displaced Homemaker

Drug Conviction (Misdemeanor or Felony)

Farm, Raised On


Foster Care Recipient

From Small Town <25,000 Population

Height: Women, 5’10” or above; Men 6’2″ or above

Last Name Van Valkenburg

Mobile Home Park Resident


Parent of Multiples (Twins, Triplets, etc.)

Public Assistance Recipient

Public Housing Resident

Residence Hall Resident (Dormitory)

Student, One of Multiples (Twins, Triplets, etc.)

Transplant Candidate

Transplant Recipient

Undocumented Immigrant


Where the happiness is

Just as I thought – things are happier out in the West! According to an extensive survey on well-being conducted by Gallup in connection with Healthways and America’s Health Insurance Plans, Utah, Hawaii, Wyoming, Colorado and Minnesota (go Kyle, you happy man!) top the list of happiest states, with West Virginia sulking at the very bottom (poor WV!). I wonder where Oregon, known for its gloomy weather, ranks? Also, I wonder about the findings for northern Virginia – I, for one, am not too happy about the living costs nor the culture of intensity and ambition (ok, this does appeal to me, but probably to a lesser extent than many others), but it’s quite possible that things really aren’t as bad as I sometimes think they are; behind all those stoic and somber faces I see every day may lie some truly exuberant spirits! (and I’ll admit, my conception of outward expressions of happiness may need to be expanded. One can be satisfied with life overall without necessarily wanting to shout it from the rooftops, as is my inclination)

Another interesting finding – but not really, because it almost goes without saying – was that wealth and happiness were highly correlated. This is yet another reason why I don’t want to be poor the rest of my life 🙂

Yet another reason why I love my Church!

Check out The Publicity Dilemma at the LDS Newsroom site.  I simply cannot envision a better summary of the issue. Go Church!


This world is full of tradeoffs – diametric values, ideals, or positions whose increase seems to inevitably come at the expense of its opposite. What follows are a few of my favorites (which is to say, they are interesting and fairly relevant); what are some of yours?


Equity vs. Efficiency: Putting resources (human or material) to use in a way that optimizes productive output (high efficiency) generally leads to the unequal distribution of said output (low equity). Conversely, allocating resources in a more egalitarian manner, e.g. redistributing income across classes, or assigning people to a task indiscriminate of skill level (high equity) tends to lead to decreased productivity, e.g. the incentive of the most productive economic actors is hampered by their lessened enjoyment of the fruits of their labors, or lower total skill level applied towards a task (low efficiency), respectively.

Political Science

Freedom vs. Order: This one is pretty self-evident. The fewer restrictions placed on behavior, the more chaotic and disorderly things tends to be. Just look at any household with a disparate ratio of children to parenting presence.

Freedom vs. Equality: This is one I had never considered until I read it in one of my brother’s old political science textbooks recently. The idea behind this is that a government/society which seeks to promote equality generally does so at the expense of individual freedom (e.g. affirmative action in the work place curbs the freedom of the employer to make its own hiring decisions). I’m still thinking this tradeoff through – it seems to be based on the premise that freedom invariably leads to inequal treatment of others, but this may or may not actually be true, depending on your definition of “equal”. The tendency in today’s debates is to frame “equality” as absolute sameness, which I think is absurd and impossible, not to mention not the only possible definition of “equality”.

Personality Psychology (it’s no secret that this topic is one of my favorites, but I offer this tradeoff by way of subjective observation, not judgment)

Depthiness vs. Upbeatfulness: Emotional and/or intellectual depth and sophistication tends to preclude being lighthearted and fun (when you’re focused on the weightier matters of the cosmos, jocularity can seem distant and disingenuous). On the flip side, what’s the use of sitting around ruminating in your ivory tower when there’s so much life to enjoy!


Justice vs. Mercy: The quintessential Christian dilemma, this dichotmoy is, I believe, reflected throughout various facets of life, including the areas above. But it can be troublingly problematic. If we believe in a God who adheres strictly to divine standards and can neither overlook any bad behavior nor leave unrewarded the acts of the true and faithful (justice), can we believe that that same God can also forgive us when we inevitably fail to live those high standards, if not fall far, far short (mercy)? Stephen E. Robinson, author of “Believing Christ” said it best: the answer is a resounding “YES”! Jesus Christ, as the mediator of all mankind, provides a way for the demands of justice to be met while offering mercy to those who truly want Him to be their savior. Strangely and sadly enough, there are some who would gladly take mercy, but only if it came with no strings attached; such people, I think, fail to grasp the significance of either justice or mercy. But the most important thing here is that Jesus Christ makes both justice and mercy fully efficacious and coexistent without requiring any sort of compromise which would render either divine standard arbitrary and fatally unreliable. What an inestimable blessing!

(as an added temporal benefit, this divine reconciliation of opposing ideals gives me hope that the other above mentioned tradeoffs may also somehow be settled satisfactorily.)

Any thoughts or tradeoffs of your own to share? Please do!

Wise words from Neal A. Maxwell

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

A fantastic talk given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell at BYU about some of the things we can expect to see (and are currently seeing) in the latter days, and a discussion of doctrines which ought to give some encouragement and perspective on it all.

Meeting the Challenges of Today

Halloween trends reflect poorly on the state of society

Today, I was talking with our office’s front desk security guard, and he remarked how parents are increasingly taking their children to private Halloween parties rather than go out trick-or-treating as a matter of safety. My immediate thought was “How sad is that? Our society is such that people have to hold their own isolated parties just to keep their kids safe on Halloween.” This was just one more reminder of 1) the perils of the latter-days, where dangerous weirdos (I don’t mean this facetiously, but can’t think of a better word) threaten the safety of children and 2) the need for good, upstanding, friendly neighbors. We, as Latter-day Saints, or as honorable, principled, citizens, ought to strive to be those neighbors! Also, I can’t help but think that the ever-intensifying push for more rights somehow encourages the lack of restraint which I believe leads to the cankering and polluting of human souls and the coarsening of society. I don’t consider myself a political conservative per se, but I do think that our society, blinded by the drama and glitter of “progressivism”, is a little too eager to throw away old values, and then are surprised when it’s not safe to take their kids out any more. I realize I am dealing in vague generalities here, and that I have not exactly made a slam-dunk argument linking expansion of individual rights and the erosion of cultural values to increased sociopathy (although I know that many have tried to do just that – which I applaud and am always interested to hear about), but it is my gut feeling. Although I’d have a hard time convincing anyone based on a gut feeling, for me, at least, it is an epistemology I have grown to trust. Perhaps when I run into some more convincing evidence, I will post on this subject again.