To Elder Bednar: It’s the Message not the Delivery Method

In a recent press release, the LDS Church leadership (or at least its PR staff) acknowledges the growing problem of Millenials dropping away from organized religion.  Not necessarily from spirituality, but from the formal institutions.

The release proposed one possible solution to this exodus.  Extensive use social media.

The press release quotes Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from a speech he gave at Brigham Young University in August 2014.

I exhort you to sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth — messages that are authentic, edifying, and praiseworthy — and literally to sweep the earth as with a flood.

I disagree with the emphasis of Elder Bednars message.  Simply spamming the social media world isn’t really a useful solution.  What is a viable solutions is developing a message that resonates with existing and future members.  I would suggest that it is the message not the method of delivery.

Elder David A. Bednar Speaks to Young Adults.

Social media is obviously an important technology to broadcast the message, but it is more important to have a message that’s relevant to the 21st century.  The current emphasis on the following is misplaced:

  • Obsession with LBGTQ issues.  Continuing to hammer on them is driving young members away in droves and making missionary work more difficult in areas like western Europe.
  • Concentration on the trivialities of the Word of Wisdom.  Consideration should be given to a message like “moderation in all things.”
  • Emphasizing the dead over the living.  Soon over half of the membership will be living in developing countries.  Let’s figure out how to do more for member living in difficult situations around the world.
  • Not emphasizing the true message of Christ enough:  helping your neighbor.

The LDS Church needs younger leaders who understand the issues that burn in the hearts of younger (and older) members.  Until that happens, youthful members will continue to gravitate toward the “nones.”

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Installing Playground Equipment in Mozambique

During July 2017 at the invitation of the Carr Foundation, Bret Berger and I traveled to Gorongosa National Park in west-central Mozambique.  Our primary goal was to assist with the construction of a small playground at a primary school in Vinho, a small community located near the Park.

We brought the hard to find swing set parts with us from Utah.  In advance of our arrival, personnel purchased the steel pipe needed to complete the swing set installation.  The Park is in a very isolated location, so these advanced preparations were critical.

The actual assembly, construction, and installation of the playground equipment was accomplished by the metal shop at the National Park.  The swing set was, for the most part, assembled on site.  To get to Vinho, the parts were transported to a nearby river by John Deere tractor and wagon, taken across the river on a small boat (which functions as a ferry), and manhandled to the schoolyard.

Loading the Swing Parts on the Small Boat

At the school, park employees assembled the swing set, dug the holes for the legs, and placed the concrete.  Unfortunately we couldn’t let the children swing until the concrete hardened. So we returned the next day and attached the 4 swing seats.  The swing set was an instant hit with the local children.

Enjoying the Swing Set at Vinho

We provided the shop with plans for a climbing tower (with a fire pole down the center).  This they worked on for a couple of days but weren’t able to complete before we left.  But it was later installed by Park employees.

Welding on the Climbing Tower for Vinho

During the periods when we weren’t needed to assist on playground equipment, we went on game drives.  Gorongosa National Park has a nice variety of animals.  All four excursions we went on were enjoyable, with entertaining and knowledgeable guides.

Rogue Male Elephant in Gorongosa N.P.

Mozambique is the 7th country where my family, friends, and I have installed playground equipment, and the 3rd country in Africa.  The other African countries are Ethiopia and Uganda.

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Denver Snuffer Jr and Leaderless Organizations

Denver Snuffer‘s apostasy from the LDS Church has generated a lot of heat.  A recent major story in the about Snuffer and his movement has been wildly popular.  His books generate a lot of discussion and his presentations are well attended.  His doctrinal perspectives are mainly popular among conservative Mormons, zealots if you will.  Insisting that the LDS Church has departed from Joseph Smith’s preachings and practices, Snuffer and his Remnant movement (Snuffer prefers it not be called a church) focus on issues like:

  • the Second Coming
  • extreme food storage and prepping
  • dissecting the Holy Writ
  • importance of personal revelation
  • need for additional scriptures
  • less of a corporate organization

While these issues don’t resonate with me, the eventual evolution of Snuffer’s organization does.  According to Peggy Fletcher Stack:

Before long, hundreds of like-minded seekers traveled to hear him speak — in St. George, Phoenix and Boise — and poured out of their respective LDS pews to form “fellowships,” or small groups, usually gathering in houses and yearning for, well, something more.

Home Churching in the Remnant Church

The Remnant, as some began to call themselves, would be radically democratic, a “federation of fellowships” with no clear leader, no rigid rules, no prescribed offices, no formal organization — setting themselves apart from what they see as the ultra-controlled and controlling LDS administration operating out of a grand old building and a skyscraper in downtown Salt Lake City.

And they emphasize the need for local control of funds:

Tithing monies remain in local fellowships, used for the poor in their midst, and are not sent to any central headquarters. There isn’t one.

This Remnant organizational experiment is interesting and bears watching.  Although I don’t understand how a movement can have a prophet with a charismatic personality and still pretend to be leaderless.  Snuffer, for example, believes that he has had direct conversations with Jesus Christ.  How can he help but be considered the titular head of the movement?

I am interested in seeing how the movement evolves.  Can it remain democratic and somewhat leaderless?  Will the home churching model for religious services survive?  Will the movement survive?

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Nobel Prize Laureate Comments on Current State of Climate Change Modeling

At the recent Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting for the Economic Sciences, Lars Peter Hansen my younger brother, commented on the current state of climate change modeling:

Discussions of climate change and economics can be challenging. There is nervousness in many quarters when I remind people of the limits to our knowledge of the transmission mechanism from carbon emissions to climate and economic impacts. There is a concern that this acknowledgement just feeds the appetite of the climate change deniers or provides an excuse for delayed action. But jumping to such conclusion like this fails to recognize a basic insight from decision theory. The possibility of bad consequences in the future could easily be sufficient for a call to action to immediate action. Moreover, it should be a part of a scientific approach to research in this area, as well as in other areas, to acknowledge the quality of the pertinent evidence. In my talk, I described what I consider to be a productive research agenda to promote the provision of quantitative tools to guide climate policy while respecting the fact that our knowledge is incomplete.

At the end of his presentation, Lars quotes Steven E. Koonin, former undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy:

Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future.  Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies.

Posted in Environment, geoengineering, lars peter hansen, Science, Simulations | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Brief Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

This most recent installment (Apes III) of the reborn Planet of the Apes movie series is a mess.  As much as I would like to recommend it, I can’t.

Through the years, I’ve observed three of the four varieties of great apes in the wild (the exception being the bonobos).  And I was awed with each encounter, particularly the gorillas.  This drew me to Planet of the Apes I, which I enjoyed immensely.  Planet of Apes II, not so much.

III is a simian adaption of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness.  And it doesn’t come close to measuring up to either.  There are also scenes in Apes III that are reminiscent of the fifth installment in the original series Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

The movie’s score is over-the-top melodramatic–overwrought–and unnecessarily distracting.  The casting of Woody Harrelson as the heavy (think Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse) is an embarrassing and needlessly distracting faux pas.  When Woody delivers his soliloquy during the heart of the movie, it is hard not to laugh.  He is a poor comparison to Marlon Brando.

Years ago in the Barcelona Zoo, I observed Snowflake the white albino gorilla.  At the time, he was the main attraction at the zoo.  It was eerie watching him (while he observed us).  In the movie there is white gorilla named Winter.  He turns out to be a traitor.  From a personal point of view, this was a major disappointment.  Snowflake deserves better; he served the zoo well.

Speaking of gorillas, they get a bad rap in this movie.  They are the militant, dough-headed enforcers.  And all too frequently the traitors.  In the wild, gorillas are anything but militant.  They are herbivores (they do eat insects) and rather docile animals, they spend most of their waking hours eating leaves, nuts, and berries.  I spent an hour in close proximity to a group of 14 in the wilds of Uganda.  Their size is intimidating but not their demeanor.

In Apes III, Caesar, the chimp leader of the great ape menage, heads out on his own to seek revenge.  He is soon joined by an orangutan, a bonobo, and a gorilla.  And to add to the mix, they soon pick up a mute young girl; she functions as their muse.  This all seems a little like a forced effort at diversity.

A Diverse Group of Apes

Caesar and His Muse

A “successful” movie must have a cutesy animal or cartoon character.  In Apes III, it’s an elderly balding chimp, who’s been living like a hermit.  He is dragged into the war and provides the required cutesy moments.  As far as the script/plot goes, he is half chimp and half ET.  By being old, the chimp is made to look more like ET.

Balding Elderly Ape in Apes III

ET, All He Needs Is Ears to Look Like an Aging Chimp

The simulated apes in the movie are quite impressive, particularly when in close up.  They appear so realistic that at times I almost felt they were real.  This is do the incredible work of costumers, makeup artist, and the actors, particularly Andy Serkis.  And much of the cinematograhy is gorgeous and many of the special affects are impressive, particularly the avalanche.  Too bad the dialogue, direction, and editing aren’t up to the technical support.

Unfortunately, scene after scene of Apes III is overdrawn and much of the dialogue is far too wordy.  We get it already:  Apes are good, humans are bad.  And the movie in its present form is far too long.  Re-watch Apes I, it is good entertainment, and not nearly so ponderous and pretentious.

And please commit to help saving the few great apes that still exist on the earth.  Their habitat is rapid disappearing.

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“Power to the Crackpots” Really?

I used to have the following political cartoon by Charles Barsotti prominently displayed on a wall in my home.

However, with the election of Donald Trump (whom I didn’t vote for) to be PROTUS, I’m rethinking my political philosophy.  And I have temporarily retired the Barsotti cartoon.

Clearly being a crackpot isn’t nearly enough of a qualification to be President.  A candidate also needs attributes like:

  • having empathy,
  • being a uniter not a divider,
  • not being a racist,
  • having the capacity to recognize and tell the truth,
  • respecting all genders,
  • exhibiting charity,
  • being able to communicate clearly,
  • having a coherent and noble vision for America, etc.

All these attributes are missing from our current “crackpot” President.

Posted in anarchism, Organizational Dynamics, Personal Essays | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Homage to Dian Fossey

By Elizabeth Royte, NG, Sep 2017

On an overcast morning, with temperatures in the mid-50s, it takes me nearly two hours to hike from the outskirts of Bisate [Rwanda] through calf-deep mud and shoulder-high nettles to the research site established in 1967 by [Dian] Fossey in the high-elevation saddle between Mounts Karisimbi and Visoke.  The camp, which Fossey named Karisoke, began with two tents and grew to include more than a dozen cabins and outbuildings in a grove of moss-shrouded Hagenia tress, 80 feet tall.  Today, as in Fossey’s day, a profusion of ferns, vines, and grasses seems to tint the humid air green, and a stream flows through the clearing.  When the corpse of an infant gorilla disappeared, Fossey spent countless hours hunched on this stream bank examining adult dung for irrefutable evidence of cannibalism, but she never found it.

Dian Fossey Surrounded by Her Friends

After an intruder murdered Fossey in her bed in 1985–a crime that remains a mystery–researchers continued to work at Karisoke.  The camp shut down in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide, and rebels traversing the forest ransacked it.  Today the much expanded Karisoke Research Center operates out of a modern office building in nearby Musanze, and the only man-made traces of Fossey’s site are the foundation stones and the occasional stovepipe.

Despite the climb, drenching rains, and temperatures that can drop into the 30s, some 500 pilgrims a year trek to Karisoke to pay tribute to Fossey.  Many know her from her book Gorillas in the Mist, which inspired the 1988 movie.  On my visit, though, I have the place mostly to myself.  As I explore the grounds, trying to imagine Fossey’s life here, porters quietly scrape lichen from the wooden signs that mark the graves of 25 gorillas.  Just outside this rustic cemetery, a bronze plaque rises over Fossey herself.

The tall, outspoken Fossey was not universally loved.  Many locals considered her an interloper or a witch, who not only confounded cultural norms but also presented an existential threat to those who depend on the forest for sustenance.  From the start, Fossey made clear her priorities.  She chased herders and their cattle out of the park:  The animals trampled the plants that gorillas favored and forced them up-slope to temperatures they couldn’t withstand.  Every year they destroyed thousands of traps and snares intended to catch antelope and buffalo.  The snare didn’t kill gorillas outright but often pinched off limbs that became gangrenous or fatally infected.  Fossey captured and beat poachers with stinging nettles, burned down their huts, confiscated their weapons, and once ever took a poacher’s child hostage.  But her most effective tactic–and enduring part of her legacy–was paying locals to patrol the park and insisting that Rwandan authorities enforce antipoaching laws.  Fossey was a polarizing figure, but as Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee expert, once said, “If Dian had not been there, probably there might not have been mountain gorillas in Rwanda today.”

Contemplating the simple plaque on Fossey’s headstone, I’m struck by all that was extraordinary about this pioneer:  her 18 years in the forest, her epic battles for funding, and her struggles for academic legitimacy, physical health, and emotional connection.  It’s beyond irony that Fossey showed the world a largely peaceable realm of affectionate gorilla families, while her own life was characterized by bitterness and mistrust.

Posted in Africa, Books, Environment, great apes, Movies, Personalities, pilgrimage, Science, Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment