Two things

Yesterday, during a training on sexual harassment we learned that sexual harassment is wrong. I'm always confused by these training because who are the people who think the examples presented are normal? And how did they get hired in the first place? But, for a brief moment I thought the training was going to be a little more interesting. One powerpoint slide had a list of "stages" of harassment. At the highest level was the bulleted point "evident personnel action (e.g. discharge)". When I first glanced at it, though, I read personal, not personnel. Now, that would be pretty serious, wouldn't it?

The second thing comes from my institute class. I do believe that, for the first time ever in my church-going career, the phrase "dilating and effacing of the opening of the womb" was employed and, even better, as a symbol for the end of the world. It was charming, really.

Why teach The Great Gatsby?

From now on, when people question my choices in entertainment material, I am going to say, I watch x or read y so that I can, one day, stand atop my own Mount Olympus and "observe the stupid, bungling, relentlessly sinful acts of [my] children and still resist the temptation to thunderbolt them all to ashes".

This quote come from a devotional given at BYU in 2005 by the dean of the college of humanities, Van C. Gessel. The full text can be read here. I really like the underlying sentiment that Dean Gessel is presenting. Plus, the man quotes T.S. Eliot and references a Graham Greene novel in the brief talk, so I'm sold.

However, I am a little bit bothered by what appears to be a not so mild form of chronological snobbery. Is MacBeth really all that much better at showing us the end result of evil than, say, Requiem for a Dream? Or, can we not understand true sacrifice as well from Dancer in the Dark as we can from any work that predates the second World War?

My only hope here is that Dean Gessel was being provactive. That, if pushed into a corner, he'd admit that Ian McEwan's Atonement explains beautifully our inability to manage the consequences of our actions, despite the pressence of a vulgarity so base it doesn't even seem to register in his (Gessel's) world. But, at any rate, check it out. It's a very strong case for why avoiding evil in literature and art isn't what we're here to do.

for the missionary enthusiast

I'm uncertain how to feel about this. On the one hand, it's mildly amusing. On the other, it borders a bit too close to oversexualizing something that probably would best be left pretty unsexed. Though, it's not the first time Mormon missionaries have been put in...compromising positions. A GayVN Award went a few years back to a threesome scene involving two unsuspecting missionaries (To preempt questions: I watched a documentary about the gay porn industry, ok?). Granted, those "actors" weren't actual Mormons.

Are these guys here really, true-life returned missionaries or is this another case of selling a type and image but not a reality (cf. the Calendario Romano, which is staged by actors)? This is another reason to be a bit leery of the effort. The creator claims up and down that this Men on a Mission (irritating because it seems to suggest they're current missionaries) is legit. Though, some of his commentary on the missionary experience seems to suggest he has a slippery, at best, understanding of how it all works.

However, it's not all smoke and mirrors. One of the models just had his records transferred into my ward, as he's engaged to a nice young lady of the flock. And, the mission he wrote down on his intro card lines up with the one on the site.

We learn two things here. A. there are real Mormon men willing to disrobe for softcore and B. the Mormon world is really, really small.


Even before getting dressed this morning, I knew it'd be a bad day. My first tip off was that the ground outside was white. Yep, that's right, only October 18th and Zion has snow on her stones. I'm pretty sure I want my money back, Brother Brigham. So, after realizing that this mean that people on the freeway would drive like idiots, I gave into the fact that I'd be late to work. I mean, seriously, if it's not currently snowing, why do you have to go 40 mph? Why?

Alright, so strike one. Strike two was getting to work and realizing, holy crap, I have nothing to do today. These days are never good. If I don't have some silly little project I'm working on (printing shelf labels, reorganizing my collection, typing up minutes from a meeting), the day is interminable. Fortuantely, I did get a little respite at 10 when two boxes of books showed up. So, I got to unload those. But afterwards, I just couldn't pull it together to get anything else done.

Looking back on the last nine hours, it's pretty clear I don't deserve the money I'm being paid. However, at the same time, I don't really get why I'm here at all. My job could (essentially) be done by someone coming in somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 hours a week. Hell, a trained chimp could do most of what I do (I mean, the selection of books'd be sort of tricky, but teach him to type and we'd be good to go).

My job, it turns out, is not as thrilling as it sounds on paper. People keep telling me this is a librarian's dream, building a library from scratch. Oddly enough, it's not really my dream. I became a librarian because... Actually, I don't really know how to finish that statement. I think part of it was fear that I couldn't hack real grad school and after that, a general sense that I wouldn't be hired in a market as competitive as academia (though, my track record on applying for library jobs may indicate that my unemployability is systemic and not context-specific). But, fear of failure aside, I became a librarian for the lame reason that I actually like to help people. I really do. I get off on doing reference interviews, on connecting people with information, on knowing not only how ISBNs work, but that you can search in the library catalogue on them using MARC tags. Oh, and being able to say things like, "Well, we'll just see what Ulrich's has to say about that, EBSCO."

More pressingly, I actually enjoy working with people. At my current job, I'm holed up in a library all by myself (though, I do have an underling now). This means very little interaction with anyone else. I'm not a fan, I'll be honest. Even if I were a drone in some technical processing area, I'd have others around me to talk to and complain with. I feel a bit like I've been banished. Or that I was never really wanted in the first place, but was hired out of a sense of obligation.

I'm starting to regret taking the job just a wee bit. But, I think we'll soldier through and stick to the original plan: staying here until I'm debt-free and then going to rack up some more costs getting a frivilous degree. Either that or, you know, dying.

five bucks in the garbage

How much do you think an annual subscription to the New York Times costs? I'll save you the trouble of actually looking this up and just tell you: right around $750. Ok, I'll give you a moment to ponder the absurdity of that figure.

And then, I'll tell you this story. I subscribed to the NY Times for my library. I got a couple a few weeks back, but they were hideously out of date (like a week and a half behind). I thought this must have been some issue getting the subscription started, so I just waited for more to show up. Nothing happened, but I promptly forgot any ways. That is, until yesterday. I saw my school's receptionist carrying some newspapers to the garbage. She tossed them out. I was in the midst of some other project, so I didn't give it much thought. (I was hanging up artwork behind plexiglass. Did you know that plexiglass, given half a chance, will give you nasty paper cut-like lacerations? I have the bloody knuckles and thumbs to prove it)

When I got back to my library, I spotted the NY Times on the shelf and though, I wonder... Turns out, yes, she had just tossed two days of NY Times (how many more did we lose this way?). Oh, but it gets better. She admitted to not looking at the papers, which can be the only reasonable explanation for why the papers did not make to the library. After all, they have a mailing label on them that lists not only the name of the school, but also my name and the word, very clearly LIBRARY.

I'm irritated.

judged not by the color of his skin, but the contents of his Honda Civic

I sometimes find myself thinking of the following situation. If I were in a car accident or my car was found abandoned in the middle of nowhere and people had to try and figure out something about me based on the contents of my car, what would they think? I'm not in the habit of storing things that are really all that strange in my car, but I am a bit, well, let's say different, shall we? Plus, I'm loath to clean up any space, let alone one that I spend about 40 minutes in a day. I think right now would be one of the most bizarre times to have a stranger try and conjure up an image of me based on my automobile.

The following is a list of items in my car. Let me know what, as if you didn't know me, what you'd make of it:

  • a number of cardigans strewn about the floor
  • several bottles of baby food
  • an entire trunk-full of fabric swatches (seriously, it took me four trips to the car to fill it up, that's how many there were)
  • an assortment of cds, to wit: Fifth Gear by Braid Paisley, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Chutes too Narrow by The Shins, Beloved Hymns of the Restoration by some guitar soloist, Taking the Long Way by The Dixie Chicks, Avenue Q and a compilation cd of various Death Cab for Cutie songs
  • a beach towel, which was obviously recently used
  • four packs of gum, all open with only one or two pieces missing
  • a set of empty picture frames from Ikea
  • three empty water bottles
  • a sandwich baggy full of granola
I think what we learn here is that it's time to clean out my car

Any opposed?

A couple of weeks ago, my ward held a joint meeting for the Relief Society and the Priesthood. Given the fact that my ward is only RS and Priesthood, we met in the chapel. This made the session feel much like another sacrament meeting, sans the ordinance, natch. We had two speakers and the topic was service. Like all good committees in singles wards (of which you'd think the scripture read, "groups without number have I created"), the service committee is headed by one sister and one brother.

The sister (we'll call her M.) went first and did a fairly good job. Granted, she stayed a little too close to traditional definitions of service (raking widows' yards, feeding the sick, calling up friends when prompted, etc), but it was presented adequately. She was, however, noticeably nervous. At one point, she even lost her earring (it flew off when a gesture, possibly inexplicable, went a little awry). She bore a nice testimony about the value of service and, all in all, was about what was expected.

Then, the brother got up. He started out by saying, "All those in favor of sustaining M. as hottie of the week, please make it manifest." His arm was raised to the square and a few others here and there joined in. Some people laughed. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how inappropriate this was. He gave the rest of his prepared talk, even soliciting comments, a feat made tricky in the chapel, but I was having none of it. Now, I can't decide if I like this guy or he if just irritates me (he's the bloke of "are you an intellectual?" fame).

Regardless of my personal feelings towards him, what he did was wildly offensive to me, as a Saint. Not only did it call undue attention to someone uncomfortable with the spotlight to begin with, which makes it quite uncharitable, I found it profane, blasphemous and taking way too many liberties with something very, very central to the Church and its mission.

A lot of folks probably don't think much of the weekly sustainings and releases. Some might think it's a nice way to be informed of changes in the ward. Still others might just think we're raising our hands to show that we support those called. Both of these are probably true and the second one is definitely a crucial part of the act (though, the language there is not strong enough and I'd go so far as to say we're vowing to support them in their church duties). However, what's really at play here is common consent. We have this straight from the Lord when he said "For all things must be in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith." (D&C 28.13)

In essence, common consent is what makes us a church and, more pressingly, a ward. Our vote is necessary for any person to be placed into any position of service, be it Relief Society President or hymn book organizer. Nor is this voting just pro forma; people can oppose, and have. Usually, granted, their worries are insubstantial enough to be placated by authorities (except in rare, terrible cases where genuine concerns went unheard). To make light of the very glue that holds us together as an ecclesiastical unit is much, much more distressing than even teaching false doctrine across the pulpit.

At the heart of my frustration here is that so much of Church instruction and focus is given over to what we must do personally to reach salvation. This, I agree, is important and we need to be taught to live the commandments. But, we're not just here to save ourselves. We're here to build the kingdom of God. To do this, we practice common consent. We home teach (and, fyi, YSA EQ Presidencies the Church over, the brethren need home teachers just as much as the sisters do). We visit teach. We commune with the Saints and help them in meaningful ways. Mormonism used to be so-community oriented, it's a little sad to see that go. I understand that insularity is not the best state, but the push towards the overly personal isn't the right direction, either.

As always, I don't really have a solution. I just hope that others are equally repelled by the flippant use of common consent. And I just needed to voice some frustration over its misuse.

vlogrop: Canada Demands Recount

They don't make movies like they used to. This is objectively true in the sense that they use different equipment now to shoot and edit the movies. But, also true by virtue of the fact that there is no more Production Code and that it used to be that dialogue and insinuation were much more heavily required. And, a lot more was asked of actors than good looks and the ability to read. More's the pity, too, since some movies made during the era of Code are exceptional not in spite of but because of the tight strictures.

Take The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, for instance. A girl feels it's her patriotic duty to wish the troops farewell as they head off to WWII. In the course of the evening, she gets drunk (though, the picture claims she's woozy from hitting her head during a particularly acrobatic dance move) and ends up getting married. Problem is, she can't remember to whom ("It had a z," she tells her sister when asked the name of her husband, now off in Europe). Not knowing anything about her husband becomes slightly more of a problem a few weeks later when Trudy discovers she's going to have a baby. For an idea of how careful and crafty this film is never once does it use the word pregnant. In fact, "I'm going to have a baby" is said only once, quite late in the film, and the rest is all suggestion and double entendre. Trudy decides to get Norval, the local army reject and all around much too nice guy, to propose to her.

What we have here is Knocked Up, circa 1944. What's more, Miracle was made in an era when you couldn't even say virgin on screen. Or girdle. Or show a birth, even in silhouette. Or exhibit "lustful kissing". Take that, directors who think you need violence, sex, swearwords and/or the mocking of policemen and clergy to make a good film!

To give more of the plot away would ruin the real treat watching this film is. Seriously, it's hilarious. It's a great combination of fast talking, visual gags and slapstick humor. The scene of the newspapers where the Russian one spells out СРАЗУ or the Chinese one comes in backwards the first time is one of the best lampoonings of film conventions I've seen in a long, long time. Basically, this is one of my new favorite movies, but then I love Preston Sturges, so it wasn't a very hard sell. It's too bad he had studio troubles so soon into his directing career.In essence, Preston Sturges is a genius. Check him out as his best here or as the director of The Lady Eve or Sullivan's Travels. I defy you to be disappointed in his work.

Since most my titles are flippant, we're going to leave this one blank

First of all, is there anything more horrific than child abuse? I am at a loss to name something. And, if that abuse is sexual, it almost passes the imagination about the pain, damage and scarring caused by the actions of the abuser. Since this is so far removed from my experience, I cannot even begin to understand what a victim must go through. My heart does go out to them and I wish it never had to happen to any child. Sadly, it still does.

Now, I have a question, though. Yesterday, another sexual abuse lawsuit was filed against the LDS Church. (Story here). The victims, six boys who were systematically abused by their Scoutmaster are seeking $25 million dollars plus punitive damages. Here's the question: what is the purpose of this lawsuit? Will the money really make the horrific, evil thing perpetuated by this man less destructive in these men's lives? As I said above, this is something (thank God) that I've never had to deal with personally, so maybe money is a sort of balm. Or perhaps the money is just a signal of regret on the part of the organization (now, whether the LDS Church ought to be held liable is questionable in my mind, but that's another debate for another time).

I could see some value to these large figure abuse cases if the Church was continuing to willfully ignore abuse and place abusers around children. This, I see, is part of the problem with the Catholic Church, as they continue to be a bit shadowy in terms of reforms. I'll admit that the LDS Church in the past probably did much, much less than they should have for victims of child abuse. But hasn't that changed? Haven't they responded? Aren't the new policies working? Granted, I don't have full answers to these questions, but I tend to think that the direction the Church has gone will have the effect of drastically reducing the chances of repeat offenders. Of course, it's a little harder to stop the first time folks, since you generally don't know who is going to do this sort of thing and under what circumstances.

Of course, maybe the new policies aren't working. One of the greatest liabilities that the Church faces, as an organization, the transient nature of its clergy and the surprising free reign local authorities are given. Also, the fact that members are very quickly assimilated into new wards and given positions of trust is another sticking point here, as an abuser could float around from stake to stake for quite a while before getting caught or even detected. But this veers to closely towards the question of whether the Church should pay at all.

I am not a litigious person. So these lawsuits for huge sums sort of baffle me. I'm equally baffled by most lawsuits, to be honest. However, in this case, it seems particularly strange to be able to affix some dollar figure to the irreversible injury that has plagued these men ever since they were molested.

I'd appreciate any ideas you can offer as to the end goal of this lawsuit or others of its ilk.

We'll even withold taxes for you!

The gym I somewhat infrequently frequent in the mornings is hiring. They have signs up all over the place advertising this fact. What I love about these signs is that they are brutally honest. You know those signs that say things like "Have fun and get paid!!!" or "Earn $3K/month part time from home!"? Well, it's a page of that book, but as if that book were written by a very clear-minded realist.

At the top of each of these signs is the simple: Get Paid!

That's right, the major selling point of this job is that, on some level, you are remunerated. They're not promising good times, a fast lifestyle or even particularly good pay. Instead, they guarantee that, if you show up for work, you will receive a paycheck.

To be fair, they might be banking on the notion that people will see these signs and think they are for something else, like a paid medical experiment or something, and then will be lured into reading about the employment opportunities at the fitness center. But, do they really want to hire the kind of person who's looking for paid medical experiments? I guess bottom-barrel scrapers can't really be choosers, can they?

Unclean, unclean!

Whenever a new Ensign arrives I have a flash run through my head. Basically it goes like this: what in here this month will bother me? It's usually not hard to find something, but I worry that I'm being a little negative at times. I mean, the editors of this magazine are surely trying their best to do the right thing, aren't they? Fortunately, the official mag of the Church has improved dramatically in recent years, both in production quality and content. For instance, a really puzzling and quite offensive story about modesty wasn't published there but rather in Church News, the newspaper supplement. (See here. But be forewarned).

At any rate, a new Ensign appeared this last Saturday and I decided to open it up and poke around. Elder Holland, one of the Q12 I actually rather like, has a piece in there on Same-Gender Attraction.

The Church seems to be putting a lot of focus on this issue, with sadly little depth. Is this issue really all that pressing for the general membership? I sometimes wonder if the recurring use of it serves other purposes. I think a lot of members use this as a sort of internal barometer on their own sinbound nature. They can look to the gays and feel disgust. Being reminded of this frequently reminds them that they're not so bad off after all. On the other hand, the gays can serve as a sort of latter-day leper. If you're willing to interact with them, serve them and love them, you're following Jesus' example. Both of these, for obvious reasons are horrific ways of thinking about gay members, so I hope this isn't why the Church prints these articles.

Perhaps, more simply, the Church is trying to soften its hardcore stance. Interestingly, the rhetoric of choice in sexual orientation has been replaced with an one of lack of knowledge. That is, we don't know what causes this problem. Gone with this, also, is the insistence on marriage as a cure or that the trial is specifically a mortal one. While this improves the situation, it doesn't really help non-gay members understand the complexities. And it leaves open the idea that it could be a choice. However, in turning away from blaming the sufferer, the Church doesn't look quite as homophobic. It's a long, long road from "being gay may be caused genetically" to actually accepting it as a possible spiritual reality that should be celebrated (or ritualized in an ordinance), but the change is a very, very slight step in that direction.

I do not doubt that most, if not all, of the Church leaders do in fact have concern about the gay members. The trouble is that you've got a bunch of married, late middle age to elderly men talking about an issue so far removed from their experience. I feel that single women (or women in general) must feel a little bit of resentment as well, when they're given advice from this same group. How can they really know what they're talking about? I know, I know, they're bright men who are inspired and all that. I just think it'd be really interesting to see how the church would change if you put different people in charge. Even on the ward level, a single sister who has succeeded in the business world as the Relief Society president, or a divorced man as the bishop, for instance, would surely change the timbre of the ward.

In all the muddled advice and simple answers ("love them", "talk with them", "don't blame"), Elder Holland offers one gem that I think should be emblazoned below Visitors Welcome on every church building: "When our actions or words discourage someone from taking full advantage of Church membership, we fail them—and the Lord." Clearly this applies well beyond the realm of same-gender attraction, but I think all Church members would do well to remember that the table has been spread and everyone has a place at the feast. Don't let's pretend the chair they're about to sit in is saved for someone else. Oh, and remember, it's not just your Church. It's our Church, too.