Category: Life


Publish and be damned

– Attributed to Arthur Wellesley

 

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I’ll try and keep this short.

The reason politics matters is not that we can change it, it’s because it can change us.

I’ve seen more walls erected in the debates over the US Presidential election and Brexit this year, than Trump could ever hope to build as President.

I’ve also been finding continual surprises in the way my friends have been/are voting.

Probably the most commonly used phrase this year has been “I can’t understand why anyone would vote for…”.

Maybe it’s time we did.

Because that same person will still be there after the election is done.

Saruman_Chosen

How half the country will feel in 48 hours

I’d been meaning to make this post ages ago, and have it all complete and referenced and linked and stuff, but, as usual, I delayed and procrastinated and now the time has run out, so this will have to do.

So tomorrow is the UK’s referendum on its membership of the European Union.  Many I think, me included, will in part breathe a sigh of relief when it’s all overThat said, I do think this is a significant decision, so I think I feel I have a duty to make my position plain as I actually think this is just the beginning, whichever way the referendum itself goes:

  • Why this decision needs a referendum

There has been some talk that this decision should never have been put to a referendum at all.  The most famous example of this is, I think, by Richard Dawkins, and it exemplifies one of the great misunderstandings about what it is we’re actually voting about.  His appeal that lacking a degree in economics or history somehow disqualifies his views is based on the assumption that we’re making an exclusively economic or historic (whatever that’s meant to mean) decision.  It is not.

This is a question that has broad ramifications for who has ultimate decision-making authority for the UK.  A referendum on such an issue is the very essence of ‘Consent of the Governed’, and the idea that it’s a decision for our ‘betters’ (with tongue-firmly-in-cheek) is as anti-democratic a notion as I can think of.

  • The campaigns

Oh my word, kill me now!  I thought referendum campaigns couldn’t get much worse than the AV referendum, but yet again I underestimated the political class.  From everything getting compared to Hitler at some point, to the scaremongering (either of the risks of leaving or the threat of immigrants), to the dodgy numbers (£350m anyone?) to the petty personal politics – we are not voting on whether Boris Johnson should be Prime Minister, people! – the media campaigns have been appalling.

And then there’s the tragedy…:-(

I have to say, though, I’ve been impressed, for the most part, with my social media friends on all sides who have, for the most part, honestly tried to grapple with the issues and, also for the most part, kept it cordial.  In or Out, if we are to survive as a nation, this is a skill that must never be lost.

  • The economics

I’m just gonna come out and say this and you can judge me if you want: No, I don’t take the prognostications of a profession that specialises in being wrong seriously.  What sort of a silly question is that?  More seriously, leaving aside the issue of the strange assumptions that all these doom-laden forecasts have been based on, there’s a strange sense of deja-vu about having a large swathe of economists recommend a course of action with regards to Europe.  Quite simply, the track-record isn’t great.  Common-sense credibility is in short supply…

That’s not to say there aren’t risks associated with a Brexit, but they mostly stem from the idea that the rest of the EU is more interested in ‘making an example’ of Britain than the welfare of their own citizens (which is a topic I’m going to leave to last).

  • Immigration

I’m only going to make one observation here, and it’s a more broad point really.  There’s much hand-wringing over attitudes to immigration, and certainly there is some justification in that and a desire to change it, but a word of caution.  You can’t enforce friendship with the sword.  The idea that political unity overcomes cultural divides is, I think, a dangerously wrong idea.  Wrong, because it ignores the limits of democratic legitimacy, and dangerous because it predisposes political discourse to grant greater and greater powers to government in an attempt to solve a problem that, in fact, it is incapable of solving.

The other caution is that it does not help the cause of anti-racism to conflate immigration concerns with racism.  This has been an issue in political discourse for a long time and is counter-productive.  It may make you feel good, but its main effect is to delegitimise the voices of those with genuine grievance and as Kennedy said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”  Maybe not quite so extreme as that, but hopefully you get my point.

  • Democracy and scope of government

If there’s one thing that I think the Eurozone debacle shows, it’s that the kind of halfway house between a federation and a loose association of nation states that currently exists is unworkable.  The traditional EU answer to any such difficulty has always been ‘more and bigger’, and I don’t see much evidence of that changing (with the possible exception of Donald Tusks recent comments – probably sparked by what he sees as the end of Western Civilisation; no, that’s not an exaggeration, that’s actually what he said!!)

I’m of a different opinion.  I think historical experience has shown that there are natural limits to the size and scope of legitimate governments and I think the EU is quickly exceeding them.  It’s not even about the way the EU is structured, although I think there are serious problems there.  You simply reach a point where things become too large and cover too many people to be either wieldy or meaningfully representative.

People have been talking about the risks of Brexit, but I don’t see how remaining in this structure is a particularly safe choice.

  • Democratic Deficit

To me though, the main problem in terms of representation in Europe is the way our national government interacts with it.  I really could have done with starting this post earlier to try and explain this better but here goes.

The phrase that I remember hearing most from my Uni days whenever I heard parliamentary debates was something along the lines of ‘we have to do this because it’s an EU directive’.  It seems the truth is that the government was totally happy at the EU level to make these directives and then ‘play dumb’ before their own parliament.  It is this, more than anything that makes this referendum a valid one for me, because governmental structures matter, and they matter because the form absolutely affects the function.

The sad truth is that I think successive governments support the EU because it makes their own lives easier.  It gives them a bogeyman to deflect blame onto, while they actually get what they want regardless of the public, and that is not a situation I want our own politicians to be able to exploit, and I don’t believe it can meaningfully change while we are part of the EU.

  • A vision of the future

While I think it’s meaningless to ask the Leave campaign as a whole for it’s vision of the UKs future relationship, it’s certainly valid to ask individuals what they are hoping for.  So what am I hoping for?  I mean, apart from the obvious pipedreams.

First, I think I’d be okay with the EEA option as a good compromise position, or something approximating it, and I certainly think it’s possible to achieve.  It takes us out of the more obviously damaging parts of EU law (like the CAP and VAT harmonization), while giving much more scope in our own affairs, but to be honest, I actually think the hard work in British politics only begins with a Brexit.  As many on the Remain have rightly pointed out, many of our problems are actually self-inflicted, but I think they misunderstand the remedy.  I think our biggest problem is that we no longer really know where ultimate responsiblity lies, and as long as that’s true, politicians will do what suits them, and cover for each other if it helps them.

What happens next though, depends very much on us, we will be left without excuse, but I will be voting Leave because I have faith that my fellow Britons are up to the task.  Even if you think this Tory government is terrible (and I wouldn’t even say you’re wrong), you’re still looking at 2 years before Brexit would actually happen and then we’re in election season.  You’re not giving Cameron (or Johnson or whoever) free reign here.

  • Malicious Lunatics?

…and if it turns out that the rest of the EU are hell-bent on making ‘an example’ of us?  That they would rather burn Europe to the ground than admit that a giant supra-national government actually isn’t that great of an idea?  All the more reason to get out now.  If the lunatics really are in charge of the asylum, they can do far worse to you if you stay than if you go.

Wrote this in my journal yesterday and felt impressed to share it here, for whatever it’s worth: [emphasis in original; hyperlinks added, obvs]

I understand the appeal of giving up.  There’s a certain finality to it, which when you’re in the middle of something that as far as you know will never end can seem like deliverance in itself.  Where there is no vision, the people perish.  The question is whom do we trust to supply the vision?  That answer seems to be the most important.

I’ll say this straight off: For me, this was the most important General Conference I’ve ever seen.  It’s not every 6 months that you go with a question and have nigh-on every talk touch on it in some way, and, like pieces of a puzzle, form a map to an answer.

I also think this conference is significant as a culmination of a certain urgency that I’ve been detecting in recent conferences.  The question before us is “Who do we trust as our guides?”.  This conference has laid out a guide to preparing for the trials to come, if we will accept it.  Otherwise, we may let our insistence that the Lord do things our way lead us to follow another path, and lack the necessary preparation. Continue reading

If it should be … the will of God that I might live to behold that temple completed and finished from the foundation to the top stone, I will say, ‘O Lord, it is enough. Lord, let thy servant depart in peace.’

Joseph Smith

Today I was set-apart as a counsellor in the Bishopric of my church congregation, and thus also ordained a High Priest.  While this could rightly be considered a significant personal event, it’s not normally something I would specifically mention on here (let alone announce!), but I do so because it provides a bookend for what has been a remarkable chapter personally that has taken place over (exactly) the last 365 days.

Much that has transpired I will not relate (and I doubt I ever will), but there are some things that I’ve learned from the experience that I wish to share and hope that it may be of benefit to you, dear reader!

  • We are fundamentally broken

Part of the reason we are to forgive all of everything is because if we didn’t we would spend our whole lives being offended.  Look closely enough and you will find the faults of others that you seek.

Part of the reason we are counselled against pride is because we do not see ourselves clearly.  To do so would probably be the ultimate demoralisation.

If you find yourself disheartened at your personal struggles, take comfort that everyone else is struggling too, in ways that do not show.

  • There is a long list of people in my life that I have let down and there’s nothing I can do about it

Because I (along with the rest of you) am fundamentally broken, there is much in my life I have not done that I should have, and this will continue to be the case for a long, long time.  I apologise in advance.

We are going to let each other down.  We simply are, and we won’t be able fix it.  We may not even know we broke it.  But take heart…

  • Both of the above are OK….as long as….

The wonder of the atonement and power of Christ is that it and He takes the broken and the wounded and, by degrees, leads the soul bearing the corruption of this world through the water and the fire and makes them fit for the kingdom of heaven and thus eternal union.  And this can all happen without people seeing it, or acknowledging it.

One of my new favourite scriptures is Helaman 3:29-30:

29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—

30 And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.

  • Priesthood keys are real

For all the faults of the ones holding them (and I know plenty about *that*!), God established an order and when a thing requires the involvement of keys, trying to work around them or avoid them will. not. work.  Just so you know!

  • We wink at the commandments of God at our peril

So much that the Lord asks us to do requires faith, because the consequences are, at best, non-obvious and at worst firmly counter-intuitive under our paradigms, but the results of ignoring that guidance are and will be devastating.  The worst part is we will do our level best to pretend that it didn’t really happen, or it’s no big deal.  That will be a lie.

  • We will confess at judgement that the Lord is just

At the last day, when we stand before God, we will bring our excuses, our theories, our rationalisations, even our Strong Reasons(TM) against Him, and watch in horror as they crumble to dust before what really is.

Picking that sort of fight is a hiding to nothing.  And we get nothing out of it.

  • Jesus stands at the door and knocks……….and waits…………

“For all of this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still”

Wherever you think you are, whatever you think your faith is like, whatever you think you have done, whatever you think *others* have done, the Saviour calls to you.  While we need to open the door, He will be there when we do, even if no one else is.

 

A bit of a disjointed hotch-potch pot-pourri, to be sure, but I couldn’t let today go without saying it.

Time for a grand adventure, methinks.  Let’s see what the next 365 has in store…

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Carl Sagan

So for work-related reasons far too boring to mention, I’ve been thinking about databases.  You’re excited already, I can tell!

Anyway what started me off on this post was this suggestion from IndieWebCamp that you shouldn’t use databases for web application data storage, but rather use the native filesystem.  Now while IWC seems to be heavily focused on blogs and other small-scale social stuff as far as I can tell, I think there is a general principle waiting to be drawn forth, but I don’t think it’s what the author(s) here intend.

The page refers to this post bigging up 2d text arrays as a means of data storage and it’s at this point that I had a little realisation.  More specifically where it starts waxing lyrical about the wonders of such intuitive, user-friendly tools as grep and sed, and I started wondering if I was reading the musings of a masochist.

But yeah, my realisation.  Yes, databases are a nightmare, but they needn’t be, they’re just a tool being used at the wrong level.  When the people at IWC talk about human-readable data, they forget that as soon as you start talking about computing, there is no such thing.  You can’t take apart your hard drive and have a quick peek at your appointments for next week.  It’s all in code.  The reasons we think of some codings as being human-readable is because all the infrastructure to convert that code into a usable form (all the way from magnetic charges on a drive to ASCII) is standardised and ubiquitously transparent.  We don’t have to think about how it happens, it just does, and until we can do that with databases, they will always be black boxes full of hardship and corruption, and we will not gain the full benefits of their powers.

So how do we get databases to the level of transparent ubiquity that ASCII files enjoy?  Well, one part (standardisation) may yet prove itself beyond the wit (or more specifically, the pride) of man, but I have a suggestion to begin with.

Consider: Filesystems are data storage…..Databases are data storage…..Can I make it anymore obvious?…..oh….well….I guess I can…

No-one (well, nearly no-one) talks about filesystems anymore as rampaging beasts out to devour your precious data anymore, like they do databases.  Filesystems are reliable, because they’ve had to be – everything relies on them, including databases!  If databases want to go to the next level, they need to be the new filesystem.  And I mean that literally, make a kernel driver and run your OS from it!  Then, and only then, can databases take over the world.

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

D&C 64:10

I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.

D&C 38:27

Thinking about grievance got me thinking about forgiveness, and Zion, and then I saw this and I better understood something that’s been resting on me for a while.

More and more I find myself being drawn to the idea that what the Lord calls us to when we are invited to righteousness is not some abstract standard of behaviour, but rather a total unity; a kind of social intimacy that we can never truly grasp in our current state.  Our sins are what keep us from that union, again in ways we do not grasp, so much so that we scoff at the commandments intended to lead us there.

But other than our own sins, we can let other’s sins (and even things that are not sins) keep us from that union too.  We can harbour bitterness and resentment, and then when the time comes that all must be brought together, our pain will demand that we stay away.  Separate.  Alone, to some eternally damning degree.

We will need to lay all our burdens down if we are to enter that ultimate celestial union.  Even if, for now, we must keep some at arm’s length for our (or their) safety’s sake, we can still long for the day when all barriers can fall.  We can keep heaven in our heart.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows

The young woman laments the whole campus landscape of alcohol-soaked hookup sex. “Women are encouraged to do it, which ignores all the risks for us,” she says. “You get embarrassed and ashamed, so you try to make light of it. Then women get violated and degraded, and they accept it. Who does this culture benefit? Alcohol predators. It doesn’t liberate anybody.”

Emily Yoffe

I would be my brother’s keeper;
I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.

Lord, I Would Follow Thee (LDS Hymnal #220)

About once a month or so, I see an article/blog post like this one appear on my Facebook feed.  Every month the same argument is made, and each month it makes less sense to me.  As you can see, it’s now bothered me to the point where I blog about it.

First things first: I don’t like the phrase “Modest is hottest”.  Simply because I don’t like slogans in general.  They are far too reductive and people have a tendency to take a slogan and behave like it is self-evident truth in itself, when it is merely a mnemonic summary of a larger concept.  I understand why people use them, and can even accept that because I’m strange and most people aren’t like me that what I think isn’t actually relevant on this, but it doesn’t stop me being annoyed.

But that’s not what this post is about.  I want to talk about this strange backlash going on these days against the concept of modesty, more specifically the idea that part of modesty’s value (at least, the part of modesty that concerns dress) is that it reduces possible temptations for others (and this is typically referring to men).  Moore has written a fairly standard criticism of this for the most part, I think,  so it seems like a good post to examine.

Moore writes:

The second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins…” Constantly telling a girl that a man’s thoughts and actions are her responsibility is doctrinally incorrect.

Leaving aside the seamless shift from the earlier ‘occasionally hear[ing]’ to ‘constantly telling’, this subtly distorts the second article of faith, and obscures the scriptural fact that we do bear *a* (as distinct from *the*) responsibility towards others’ attitudes and actions.   Jacob, son of Lehi,  spoke of the duty he and his brother Joseph felt towards those for whom they had a stewardship to teach:

And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.

Alma the Younger’s guilt during his incapacity was centred on the effects his words and actions had had on others to the point where he considered what he had done as tantamount to murder:

Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.

Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

In an even more analogous case, Paul sought to avoid situations where his actions could be misinterpreted by those without sufficient gospel knowledge:

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.

For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;

And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

The concept of immodesty as temptation even pops up in General Conference from time to time, most explicitly in recent times by Elder Oaks, I believe.

The idea that the concept of interpersonal responsibility is undoctrinal is false.  Indeed, it is specifically refuted in scripture.  Yes, there are fundamental limits to that responsibility, but it exists nonetheless, and it stems out of the intention that we regard each other’s welfare as our own.

Moore continues:

It also translates closely to the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to maintain the sexual standards of a relationship. Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot. What an unacceptable response to such a serious issue! What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, ‘I will not do that thing?’ No, this sorry drugstore psychology would have us say, ‘He just can’t help himself. His glands have complete control over his life–his mind, his will, his entire future.’… I refuse to buy some young man’s feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology.”
[emphasis in Moore]

[First, an aside, the transcipt of this talk (which is definitely worth reading in full, btw) that Moore refers to has been edited (I think for reasons of translatability).  In the original talk, the sentence “What an unacceptable response…” above was actually “Nothing I have heard on this topic makes me want to throw up more than that!”, which is much more like Elder Holland language!!  Anyhoo…]

The irony here is that this passage actually makes my point for me.  What is it about male irresponsibility that disgusts Elder Holland so much?  That it means women end up taking on more responsibility, ie that male actions and attitudes makes the female’s life harder.  So Elder Holland chews the guys out.

Now consider how the address would have been different had the issue been that most women spent their life dressed for a slutwalk, while the men were showing excellent restraint.  Would he *really* have spent his time telling the men how they needed to keep on showing restraint and not said a word to the women?  The point is if we can reasonably adjust ourselves so as to be supportive of another’s efforts at righteousness, should we not do so?

As context for Elder Holland’s remarks, some Elder Christofferson:

There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality. The unfairness of such a double standard is obvious, and it has been justifiably criticized and rejected. In that rejection, one would have hoped that men would rise to the higher, single standard, but just the opposite has occurred—women and girls are now encouraged to be as promiscuous as the double standard expected men to be*. Where once women’s higher standards demanded commitment and responsibility from men, we now have sexual relations without conscience, fatherless families, and growing poverty. Equal-opportunity promiscuity simply robs women of their moral influence and degrades all of society. In this hollow bargain, it is men who are “liberated” and women and children who suffer most.

*and this is something I’ve blogged on before.

It turns out though, that Moore does not, in fact, believe her own position:

I know in my own life, I have always been meticulously modest. However, I have constantly been at the receiving end of some of the most degrading comments. “Wow, you can tell you have a huge rack even in that sweatshirt!” and “You’re a solid 8, except for your boobs. They’re a 10,” probably come in as most memorable. I had FHE brothers admit to me that they assumed I was not a very good Mormon because of the way I’m built. As sweatshirt man pointed out, there is really only so much I can do, short of wearing a giant bag to hide the fact I look like a woman.

For a long time, when I would hear these things, my mind couldn’t but help think that it was somehow my fault. I clearly wasn’t a very good person, or else I wouldn’t be having men say things like this to me. My value as a daughter of God was being degraded, and instead of demanding to be treated like a human being, I shrunk back, thinking I had been the one in the wrong. [emphasis mine]

I get it.  Those guys were douches.  But the whole point of the post was that it should be irrelevant what other people are doing; we should be able to act and think rightly, regardless.  Why does Moore suddenly claim victim status, blaming the douches for her loss of self-worth?  Suck it up, kid.  After all, your feelings are not their responsibility…

This is what irks me the most about this concept.  If we really were completely self-contained agency modules, we could have just been plugged into our own personal (and personalised) instance of some kind of Matrix-style simulation and got things done.  Yet we are here with each other.  We are meant to be together.  What we do affects each other, and we are meant to care about that, because we are meant to be helping.

———–

PS – One final thought which, strictly speaking, isn’t on modesty but was actually what motivated me to post in the first place. Moore writes:

Someone once told me that when you are teaching women to change what they do to prevent being assaulted or raped, what you are actually doing is saying “Make sure he assaults someone else.” You are not fixing the real problem, which is the man’s problem.

I thought I had heard everything on this topic, but it turns out I was wrong, and it also turns that this is what makes me want to throw up most!  I’m astounded first at the utter naiveity of it, as if no-one had ever considered/tried telling rapists not to rape before, but what filled me with disdain most was the realisation that if ‘teaching women what they [can] do to prevent being assaulted or raped’ is equivalent to saying ‘make sure he assaults someone else’, then not teaching women would be equivalent to saying ‘You need to take one for the team’.

And if that doesn’t make you want to throw up, then you and I are about to have a falling out.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

The Sound of Music – Do Re Mi

[While I have no context from the memory itself with which to place it in my history (my next earliest memory is from approx. 3 years old), I can tell you this much.  Of all my memories, this is the most lucid.  In all honesty, it is more real to me than the present moment.  I remember the sensation very clearly (and the suddenness of it, although I have no idea what was before – or after), and the very real sense that as far as ‘I’ am concerned, this is the beginning of everything.  Beyond that, I post this without comment.]

…suddenly…it is pitch black. There is a kind of faint, low rumbling noise, but it seems muffled in some fashion.  I think to myself “What’s going on here?!”.  About 3 seconds later it becomes blindingly bright and the muffling recedes away (although the rumbling goes with it)…

[And that’s it!]