Recent Suggestions for Improving LDS Missions

The subject of Mormon full-time missions has been a popular discussion area on the bloggeracle lately.  Two recent posts make important points.

Dave Banack on states unequivocally:  “We need to make the LDS mission a better experience for our missionaries (emphasis his).”  He suggests 4 changes that I totally agree with:

  • Emphasize service over direct proselyting.
  • Get them out of business suits, they are not salesman.
  • Allow more education and culture into the reading and study program.
  • Get them more involved with the wards they serve in.

Most of the comments to Banack’s post were generally supportive, but a few fell back on the argument that the LDS Church is a top-down organization and that the members should just be supportive.

Julie M. Smith, also on T&S, while reviewing Craig Harline’s latest book Way Below the Angels, made a plea for more candor in missionary reports.  Commenting on Harline’s struggles during his mission to Belgium in the 1970s, she states:

We get very few missionary narratives like this.  Which is precisely why the young Elder Harline was able to begin his mission with such an absurdly optimistic expectation for what his mission would be like.

Tire Road Warrior has consistently argued for more candor about the missionary experience.

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Galapagos Islands: Walking with Charles Darwin

I recently spent 5 days in the Galapagos Islands with my grandson, my brother, and my sister-in-law.  It was a great experience.  While the geology, geography, sealife, land biota, and scenery were great, it was the experience of walking where Charles Darwin had trod that made the trip truly memorable.  For me, it was a pilgrimage.

Once in Galapagos, we traveled from island to island in a yacht.  That sounds more exciting than it was.  Our cabin had bunk beds and was so small you could barely turn around in it.  But it did the job and the food was generally good.

Sea Lion Napping

Sea Lion Napping

Access to the remoter areas on the islands is heavily regulated, so we only saw very small areas on our short hikes and while we snorkeled.  Our guide kept our group of 16 together.  There was no wandering off.  But that didn’t really matter.  Just being there mattered.

Marine Iguanas Catching Some Rays

Marine Iguanas Catching Some Rays

Our guide had some knowledge of geology and of the recent history of the islands.  But his knowledge of Darwin and evolution seemed limited.  But he did take us to some amazing places.  Perhaps one of the most rewarding was a mangrove-covered inlet that was replete with giant sea turtles.  They swam all around our small inflatable boats (Zodiacs).  Their grace through the water is truly amazing.

Blue-footed Boobie

Blue-footed Boobie

For me, Darwin is a prophet.  He understood that everything is changing, or if you will, evolving.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a strong belief in evolution.  This led me to Alfred North Whitehead and a Process Philosophy (or Theology), the idea that everything is changing over time.  (For example, there wasn’t a static Creation, but there is an ongoing creating.)

During our stay in the Galapagos, we would island hop at night (sometimes in fairly rough seas), and hike and swim during the day.  On our day hikes, we saw a wide variety of animals, many unique to the Galapagos.  Many had little or no fear of humans, so we were required to stay at least 6 feet away.  Monopods for GoPros were supposedly banned because they can be used to violate the 6-foot rule.  Lucky for us, they had yet to ban drones, so we brought our Phantom Vision quad-copter along.

For my grandson, swimming with sea lions, marine iguanas, sea turtles, small sharks, sea horses, rays, and a wide variety of colorful fish (plus being able to fly the drone) was the highlights of the island trip.

The islands are volcanic.  There are volcanoes everywhere (most with rounded tops), and major lava fields that separate islands into a variety of ecosystems and micro-climes.  This separation is what caused many species to evolve in unique ways.  This diversity is what helped move Darwin’s thinking along.

Posted in birds, Creation, Environment, other animals, pilgrimage, Science, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Lucy”: A Movie Review

The recent sci-fi movie Lucy includes questionable science, laugh-out-loud dialogue, strange psychedelic graphics, a well-worn plot, an idiotic chase scene, and ridiculous violence, but I liked it a lot.  It is a guilty pleasure on a par with G.I. Jane and T2.

The movie is very violent.  In the movie Taken, half of Paris is killed.  In Lucy the other half is killed; shouldn’t that leave the “city of lights” depopulated? The violence is pretty much cartoon violence, but it’s violence nonetheless.

Lucy explores a theme that has been developed elsewhere:  using drugs to enhance human strength and intelligence.  Other movies with a similar plot include:  CharlyLimitless, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

In Lucy, Scarlett Johansson plays a woman, who against her will, becomes a drug mule.  The drug is surgically implanted in her body.  During a beating, the bag bursts and she develops supernatural powers.

Morgan Freeman plays a professor who spouts pseudo-science in the early parts of the movie, and inane dialogue toward the end.  When he looks at the enhanced Lucy and says something akin to “We are not worthy,” I laughed out loud.  But Freeman is a good actor and he successfully pulls off role.

The writer and director of Lucy is frenchman Luc Besson.  The only previous film by Besson that I have seen is La Femme Nikita (1990), which I enjoyed immensely and which received an 88 percent approval rating on rottentomatoes.

Johansson is very successful as an exploited mule, but is somewhat less successful as Rambette.  But, she is a good choice for the role.  She has a great screen presence. Unfortunately, she is not required to do much acting.  Her portion of the movie is constantly being interrupted (successfully I might add) by weird cutaways and psychedelic computer-generated graphics.

One part of the movie which could have been better developed was the relationship between Lucy and her French cop escort.  A physical love relationship between the two could have been the equivalent to a human making love to a Klingon (Star Trek’s warrior race).

On one list, the movie Lucy is described as having transhumanist themes.  I suppose that is true.  Certainly drug-induced enhancement and mind upload are transhumanist themes.  But this movie is more camp, than a serious examination of science and technology.  For example, the mind uploading scene at the end of the movie is just plain bizarre.

In some respects, Lucy is a prequal to the movie Her.  At the end of the former, Johansson is uploaded to computers, and in the latter she is a resident there (never to show her face).

Lucy received generally tepid reviews, getting only a 64 percent approval rating on rottentomatoes.  But many of the reviewers over analyzed the movie.  Lucy isn’t a science or technology expose, it is campy, escapist fun.  By all means, see it or rent it.

Posted in Movies, Science, Technology, transhumanism | Leave a comment

LDS Missionary Reading Material

Apparently, unbeknownst to be me, LDS missionaries are limited in what they  can read.  I first became aware of this in a post by Dave Banack.  One of his suggestions for improving the lives of Mormon missionaries was:

Allow more education and culture into the reading and study program.  One LDS permablogger who had his mission president’s permission to read more widely in LDS and other religious and theological books said it changed his life.

It was great that MP gave his permission, but not so great that the missionary had to get permission.

In reaction to the T&S post, I wrote:

This statement is symptomatic of one big problem.  Why should a missionary have to get permission to “read more widely”?  Missionaries should be encouraged to enlarge their knowledge base.  And shouldn’t need permission from their MP on what to read.

Controlling what missionaries read makes us look like a cult.

Ben S., the permablogger in question, responded:

I can think of several good reasons to have general restrictions on missionary reading material, but I think we’ve over-corrected to be excessively narrow, which is probably counter-productive.

Susan commented that she didn’t see a compelling reason for missionaries reading books outside the Mormon sphere.

Ben went on make his own T&S post titled “The Hypothetical ‘Missionary Library.'”  In it he listed the currently approved books for missionaries:  Jesus the Christ, Our Search for Happiness, True to the Faith, and Our Heritage.  While Ben is critical of the current restrictive list, his list is equally restrictive, only longer.  In response to my idea of no list at all, he commented:

I think missionaries at a minimum need some general guidelines, or it would be Harry Potter and (if we’re lucky) The Work and the Glory all the time.

Okay, maybe missionaries need some direction in what they read.  How about restricting them to non-fiction and classical fiction?

In the age of the Internet, controlling the message (or the information flow) is no longer possible or productive.  And it is best for LDS missionaries to be intellectually well rounded.  Let’s sh!t-can the list.

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Photographs of Quito Hotel Taken from Our Drone

On a recent trip to South America, my grandson and I had a 24-hour layover in Quito, Ecuador.  We stayed at the Hosteria San Carlos, a small hotel located near the airport.  We took the occasion to test our newly purchased Phantom Vision drone.  I promised the hotel staff, I would send them a couple of photographs.  The drone has a fish-eye lens.

San Carlos Hotel Located near the Airport in Quito, Ecuador

San Carlos Hotel Located near the Airport in Quito, Ecuador

San Carlos Hotel as Seen from a Phantom Vision

San Carlos Hotel as Seen from a Phantom Vision

Selfie Taken with Drone (My Grandson Is at the Controls)

Selfie Taken with Drone (My Grandson Is at the Controls)


Posted in Technology, Travel | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Artsy Designs for Wooden Swing Sets

I recently located two artsy designs for wooden swing sets.  The first example seems well suited for a high-crossbar (long chain) swing.

Elegant 2-seat Swing Set

Elegant 2-seat Swing Set

Without 4 legs, I wonder about its stability, particularly for longer-chain swing sets.

The second is made of wooden logs, and has an attractive rustic feel.  It seems better suited for a low-crossbar (short chain) swing.

This Rustic Swing Set is Visually Appealing

This Rustic Swing Set is Visually Appealing

My only concern with this design is its unrealistically large angular supports.  Smaller logs might be more aesthetically appealing.

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“A Most Wanted Man”: A Short Movie Review

The 2014 spy thriller A Most Wanted Man is very much the product of a perfect storm.  It has a talented director in Anton Corbijn and a great lead actor in Philip Seymour Hoffman (the last movie he completed before dying from a heroin overdose), and it is based on a novel by the incomparable John le Carre (who also helped with the script).  Could a movie with these bloodlines fail?  Sure, but this one does not.  It is a great movie, and is highly recommended.

I enjoyed Corbijn previous cinematic effort–The American (2010)–a lot, although it got only tepid reviews (66 percent rating) on rottentomatoes.  The movie recounted the demise of burnt-out hit man played by George Clooney.  (Note:  his female co-star, Italian Violante Placido, is a real stunner).

Corbijn’s oeuvre, which includes photographs and music videos, resonates with one general theme–loneliness.  According to the director:

I didn’t sit down and think, I’m going to make films about loners.  I’m just drawn to that romantic idea.  It always appealed to me–a man alone, how he copes with stuff.

The loner in A Most Wanted Man is played by Hoffman.

According to Belinda Luscombe, writing for Time magazine (28 Jul 2014):

[Hoffman's] character is Gunther Bachmann, a German intelligence operative stationed in Hamburg, a city now under intense scrutiny from the intelligence community as the place where the 9/11 hijackers conspired.  Bachmann is attempting to catch a high-level terrorist using a precarious human ladder of unwilling or unknowing participants, all of whom need him in some way.

The story is le Carre at his best:  spying, intrigue and betrayal.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant in the movie as the jaded intelligence officer.  This movie is a perfect way to remember the great–but troubled–actor.  A Most Wanted Man was well received by the critics, garnering a 90 percent rating on rottentomatoes.  It is rated R for language.

Posted in existentialism, Movies | 1 Comment