Musings on Mormonism

Things even out

I was afraid that Jack Handey is dead, but -thank goodness!- as of March 3, 2008 he is still kickin! Check out his article at The New Yorker.

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.

For my dad, the economist

From time to time, I find myself actually interested in economics – these periods tend to coincide with when I am earnestly applying myself in whatever econ course I’m enrolled in at the time. Now is one of those times!

So, I searched for “iso-cost” on Google, and found this picture:

…ok, you got me, those are iso-quant curves, not iso-cost curves! Iso-quant curves follow different combinations of inputs which produce the same amount of output. If you think that’s boring, well, I was once like you 🙂

For more great econ fun, check out the blog where this picture originated: Jake Does Econ 101

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.

Thoughts on love, family, and North Carolina

For a while now, I have had long-term plans of checking out and quite possibly settling in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. That area, between Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, is known for its high-tech industries and highly educated populace. As I see it, living there would be like living in DC, except that people would be friendly and not as absorbed in work, politics, and other things with which elites occupy their time. My hope is that it would also provide social opportunities with people more like myself (i.e. those who are intellectually curious and ambitious, but laid-back and easygoing). Yes, I am talking about dating as much as I am talking about making new friends. More, really 😉

Anyway, I haven’t actually been there yet, so this is all speculation based on a number of positive reports of the area. I have a roadtrip planned for next weekend, however, which will allow me to scope things out. Specifically, I will be trying to figure out if it is possible to transfer to one of the grad schools down there, and/or find a good job. As I like to put it, I’m not married to anyone, nor to DC, nor to George Washington University, so if I find a sufficiently appealing option elsewhere, I’ll take it!

I just finished talking to Tiff on the phone, and catching up on her blog. I learn good things from the examples of each of my family members, and one thing I always take from Tiff is the happiness that comes from parenthood (although she may be tempted to question such a perception). Single life is much easier than married/family life, I’m sure, but I know it is not as fulfilling, and far from the end-all of existence. Whenever I visit with family – especially when there are nieces and nephews involved – I feel like a dormant part of me comes alive again. Much of it has to do with love, I think. A life focused on meeting one’s own selfish needs is hardly a life at all, it seems.  Real joy comes through putting others first, from living for others. My guess is that this kind of love comes about only in the most sacred of human relationships, those between husband and wife, and between parents and children.

During the Christmas holiday, Dad shared a quote by Dag Hammarskjöld (not a household name, but a wise man, nonetheless). He said:

It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.

I have thought much about this quote since Dad shared it with me. It is the kind of notion which flies in the face of conventional wisdom of single people like me (and yet, so unlike me!). If I ever brought it up in class, my peers would scratch their heads in bewilderment, and not just because I’m talking about Dag Hammarskjöld in an economics class 🙂 To clarify, I am not against laboring “diligently for the salvation of the masses”, and I certainly do not think it ignoble. However, I am completely convinced that family life is more important than any other aspect of life, and I strongly suspect that to ignore and replace the impulse for family with other things, even very good things which help other people, is to miss the mark. Such a realignment may even be motivated by selfish reasons (fear is another plausible motivation). After all, a happy family comes about from hard work, self-sacrifice, humility, discipline – in other words, a happy family is costly, and not everyone is willing to pay such prices. I’m reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s keen observation in the beginning of Anna Karenina that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Admittedly, I didn’t get very far into the book, but I interpret this to mean that the happiness of a family depends on the application of certain principles, and that the failure to discover, commit to, and apply such principles may very likely lead to the discovery of a unique brand of unhappiness! Some innovations should never be made, I say 🙂

So, to sum up, families and love are good, and North Carolina might be good too!

“Full Conversion Brings Happiness”

I’ve been studying and thinking about conversion lately, and I found this talk by Elder Richard G. Scott to be quite elucidating. Below is an excerpt:

“With characteristic doctrinal clarity and precision, President Marion G. Romney explained conversion:

“Converted means to turn from one belief or course of action to another. Conversion is a spiritual and moral change. Converted implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and his teachings but also a motivating faith in him and his gospel. A faith which works a transformation, an actual change in one’s understanding of life’s meaning and in his allegiance to God in interest, in thought, and in conduct. In one who is really wholly converted, desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died. And substituted therefore is a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.”

To be converted, you must remember to apply diligently in your life the key words “a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.” Your happiness now and forever is conditioned on your degree of conversion and the transformation that it brings to your life. How then can you become truly converted? President Romney describes the steps you must follow:

“Membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous. Being converted and having a testimony are not necessarily the same thing either. A testimony comes when the Holy Ghost gives the earnest seeker a witness of the truth. A moving testimony vitalizes faith. That is, it induces repentance and obedience to the commandments. Conversion is the fruit or the reward for repentance and obedience.”

For more great insights and explanation, check out the entry in the Church’s gospel topics section.

Things on my mind: December 13, 2009 edition

I want to jot a few things down before I go to bed at a decent hour for church in the morning. This will more of a journal-ish post, but I hope that doesn’t bother anyone. I’ve never been able to figure out the appropriate balance between sharing things about yourself and keeping personal things personal, and digital media certainly haven’t resolved that issue.

First, I helped a cute girl friend (note it’s not hyphenated, so don’t get any ideas) get a free bed this morning. It was good to see her, and help her get an upgrade in her sleeping arrangements. Acquiring a bed is actually a big step forward in getting settled in a new place. I didn’t get mine until I had been here for several months. In fact, for one uncomfy month, I slept on a leaky air mattress on a cold basement floor. Anyway, she made us yummy pancakes afterwards, and then we went looking for an ugly sweater for me at Goodwill (for an ugly sweater party later on). Surprisingly, Goodwill was short on marginally-Christmas-looking, flagrantly ugly sweaters. No, biggie though.

Anyway, it was good to spend time with her. Afterwards, I took a nap for a few hours, then decided my Econ final on Monday wasn’t studying for itself and got down to brass tacks. It takes so much more will power to sit down and study than it used to, and it’s something I admit I need to get better about, what with being in grad school and all 🙂 Later tonight, I went to the aforementioned ugly sweater party, and it was both really great and really short on hideous sweaters. The novelty of deliberately dressing poorly apparently doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, but also no biggie.

I just finished studying for the night, and had a few additional specific ideas I wanted to jot down. They are:

1) My social life is really quite good these days. For some reason, this occurred to me as I was studying econ. I think I am probably much more satisfied with my social life now than I ever was as a student at BYU. I count myself very fortunate to know so many great people here – not just smart people, not just successful people, but genuinely good, happy people. Life is far from complete for me, and the same holds true for my peers, but I’m grateful for I what I have, and what I have is quite a lot, really. I think Michael Scott from The Office sums it up well:

“As I watched Pam’s big, strong hand coming towards my face, I saw my entire life flash before my eyes. And guess what? I have four kids, and I have a hover car and a hover house. And my wife is a runner, and it shows. And Pam and Jim are our best friends, and our kids play together. And I’m happy, I’m rich, and I never die. And it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough for me.”

2) Happiness. This one has been on my mind a lot lately. In part, this is because of my concern for certain people who are close to me, and in part it’s because of my concern for myself 😉 Interestingly, we don’t talk much about happiness in our daily conversations, and yet I think most people, on a subconscious level at the very least, operate with it as their overall goal. But what is happiness exactly? And how do we obtain it? I’ll share my thoughts on those questions another time. For now, here’s what Joseph Smith said:

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”

Some might find this controversial; I just find it to make a whole lot of intuitive sense.

3) Discipline. This is closely related to #2. I had a thought today, which seemed sufficiently profound to justify being broadcast to the world via Facebook: discipline is necessary for happiness. I’ve had far too much experience with undiscipline and unhappiness which supports this, as well as a fair amount of happiness and discipline which support it. This is also something I intend to write more about some time.

Well, that’s all I wanted to write for now. Happy readings, everyone!

Things occupying my attention lately

My life is full of distractions, and to some degree this is healthy for me. If I get fixated on things, it can lead to an imbalance which ultimately makes me less happy. This is part of why I have been only partial committed to my grad program so far; I frankly don’t want it to dominate my life -something that could easily happen if I allowed it- when there are other aspects of life important to my overall well-being. Some of these aspects include:

1) TV. Yes, you read that right. Some may disparage TV, and I do think most of its bad reputation for corrupting and mushifying minds is wholly deserved. Nevertheless, TV serves an important function for me. It keeps me informed via cable news (imperfect and distorted by profit incentives, as critics love to point out, but still valuable), and, importantly for my emotional health, it keeps me entertained!  I’ll be the first to admit I probably watch too much TV, and I’ll also be the first to admit that I could benefit from having a wife/manager to help me stay on task, but there are certain shows I just love. A former roommate and I began watching Lost online some months ago, and I’ve been working my way through the seasons since then. Such a great show! I’m typically resistant to jumping on bandwagons, and tend to be wary of things that are generally well-liked (a seemingly elitist mindset, but not without some merit for one attemping to be an informed consumer), but I have been impressed with that show. The themes are interesting, the storytelling is good, and the characters have a fair amount of depth. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it’s pretty good for spending alone time to recharge, as introverts are wont to do. For other reasons, namely to laugh and to have a more socially-oriented viewing experience, I am a follower of The Office and 30 Rock. Both are also excellent shows, and to the extent that their humor doesn’t get too low-brow, I find them oh-so enjoyable! Good humor definitely has value in the marketplace, and I’m glad to live in a country where people can make a living writing funny things 🙂

2) Poverty policy. I don’t want to talk too much about this, because, despite being a public policy student, talking about policy is not that exciting to me. Not a good sign, I know, but I am still optimistic that there is a niche for me somewhere in my program. Anyway, I’ve been working on a paper about policy alternatives to address the problem of poverty. Among the options I’m discussing are subsidizing the employment of low-skilled workers, offering financial incentives to firms to relocate to central cities where the poor are concentrated, and, my favorite, reloacting the poor to suburbs where jobs tend to be concentrated. All of those sound pretty expensive, huh? I know, and that’s a big reason why a fiscal conservative like me has a hard time feeling excited about crafting policy. Designing sweeping policy seems like playing God on other people’s dime to me. Don’t tell Barack I said that, or he’ll have me boycotted. Or worse – he’ll publicly accuse me of not having enough hope! (which reminds me of this clip from Futurama)

3) Looking for work. My current job is adequate, and in many ways actually a great fit for me right now. However, I really could use some more substantive work experience, not to mention income. There’s not too much to say about this, especially with our job market the way it is.

4) My basement room. There’s a big crack in my wall which likes to leak water when it rains. My room got pretty swampy this past week, and now, with my carpets still drying, it’s getting pretty moldy :-/ Tomorrow, I’m gonna disinfectant-spray the crap out of them. Hopefully I won’t have to buy new carpets because hey, I’m poor!

5) New calling as the LDS Institute president. This one is a little daunting and even, dare I say it, inconvenient. I’m about to officially take the reigns this week. I believe that leading is teaching, and I would like to make that a big part of my philosophy with this calling, as I feel my strengths are not in event planning, typically the most salient and time-intensive part of what Institute leadership does. I’m really grateful I’ll have a council with whom I can share the burden of planning activities and such.

6) As always, the ladies. Currently, it seems like I have a lot of options, but not a lot of focus. Of course, there are certain ladies I am leaning towards, but it’s hard to make decisions about this kind of thing with all these distractions -which I suppose brings this whole post full circle 😉

Charting a return to happiness

As suggested by the previous post and the change to a cheerier visual theme, I am attempting to shift the focus of my blog to happier things. I have recently decided that my life has more angst, indecision, and idle contemplation than is healthy or, more importantly, conducive to real happiness, the design of our existence; at any rate, such vagaries of mortality receive much more attention in my public declarations than is helpful for anyone.

…and to prove that I mean it, here’s a happy flower!


Gordon B. Hinckley, on optimism

Who could have felt gloomy or discouraged around a man such as this? No one – that’s who!  🙂

“I am asking that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life we “accentuate the positive.” I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course.

What I am suggesting is that each of us turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my father would say: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve (from Ensign, Apr. 1986, 2–4).

Let us go forward in this glorious work. How exciting and wonderful it is. I do not know how anybody can feel gloomy for very long who is a member of this Church. Do you feel gloomy? Lift your eyes. Stand on your feet. Say a few words of appreciation and love to the Lord. Be positive. Think of what great things are occurring as the Lord brings to pass His eternal purposes. This is a day of prophecy fulfilled, … this great day in the history of this Church. This is the day which has been spoken of by those who have gone before us. Let us live worthy of our birthright. Keep the faith. Nurture your testimonies. Walk in righteousness, and the Lord will bless you and prosper you, and you will be a happy and wonderful people (from Ensign, Aug. 1996, 61).”

Link to full article here.