Thursday, December 17, 2015

What Amazon Prime benefits cannot be shared with your household?

As I write this, most Amazon Prime benefits can be shared with a spouse or significant other, as long as you feel comfortable sharing a credit card with them. However, several things cannot be shared:
  • Access to the Prime Music library
  • Amazon Music purchases
  • Amazon Video purchases
It's possible that they're restricting music and video in an effort to keep prices low. I imagine buying a "family license" would cost more than buying a "personal license." Why that doesn't apply to ebooks and audiobooks, I can only guess.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Mother

I'd like to present a moderate, comprehensive approach to abortion, based on three overall principles, which I see as equally essential:
  1. Mothers have the right to choose when and if they have children.
  2. Unborn fetuses have a right to life, which is secondary to the mother's right to life.
  3. Sex, parenthood, and childbearing are sacred, and worthy of the highest protections our society can offer.
Most of the debate around abortion surrounds the competition that can arise between the first two principles: does a rape victim have a right to an abortion? Does consensual, unprotected sex constitute consent to the possibility of pregnancy? What about consensual, protected sex? Is abortion a valid back-up option for birth control?

The questions are challenging, and different people prioritize life and choice differently. My purpose here is not to claim that life is more important than choice, or that choice is more important than life. My purpose is to show how we can protect them both, simultaneously.

Similarly, sex education debates about birth control vs. abstinence are really about a false dichotomy between sexual agency and sexual sanctity; in reality, teenagers do make choices about sex, and sex is sacred, and the data I've seen shows pretty consistently that teaching about birth control, or even providing free birth control, does not make teens more promiscuous. In other words, whether they happen to have birth control handy is not usually the deciding factor when teens decide when to become sexually active.

A comprehensive approach to sexual agency, the sanctity of unborn life, and the sacredness of sex and parenthood involves at least four major policies:
  1. Public and private recognition of the dignity of the unpaid work of caring for children
  2. Support for parents who are struggling to provide for their children
  3. A culture that encourages teen fathers to be involved in their child's life and support
  4. A culture that celebrates both abstinence and birth control
Allow me to explain.

I loved Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate. I really did. But to me, his most offensive comment was not about the 47% who would vote for a Democrat no matter what because they benefit from government programs (which he apologized for)--I already knew he didn't really understand poverty, without him saying something unkind and memorable on the subject. No, what bothered me most was when he said that young mothers on government aid should be required to have a job outside the home so they could learn "the dignity of work."

How often we use the word work in that way--as if paid work, outside the home, was all that counted?

"Oh, your wife has kids. Does she work?"

"Your baby is 2 years old now. Are you planning to go back to work?"

"When are you going to put that degree of yours to work?"

Of course she works! Stay-at-home parents are some of the hardest workers in this economy. By failing to recognize their unpaid work, we put a huge amount of pressure on new parents, especially women. We could resolve this by using the word "work" differently, by recognizing that having a kid under 5 is a full-time job in our SNAP and TANF and other government aid requirements, and perhaps even by having a national database that tracks the amount of unpaid work being done in our civilization.

This leads into my second point: as a culture, we need to support young parents. Imagine how many more women would choose not to have an abortion if they knew their families, their churches, their governments, their employers, or other organizations would help them every step of the way? (Being unable to afford a child is consistently the top reason for getting an abortion, followed by fear that the new child would disrupt their career or education plans.) Imagine if we had decent maternity leave, paternity leave, and other programs to care for new parents!

Some people criticize those who have children because they know that they will have substantial help from parents or government programs. But having a child is an enormous sacrifice, a sacrifice that should be honored. Unless both the financial care and the caregiving labor are primarily given by someone else, by the parent's own choice, the parent deserves to be respected as such.

Getting fathers involved would add to that support system, financial and emotional. I'm not an expert on this, so here's a list of facts on teen dads. Educate yourself. Fatherhood is sacred and powerful and worthy of respect, no matter the age. Most teen fathers do want to be involved, even though they may not be of much support financially.

Finally, we need a culture that celebrates abstinence and birth control. It is my understanding that teaching abstinence in schools is marginally effective for kids who haven't started having sex yet, but kids who choose to wait are almost always doing so because of their religion or their family. On the other hand, birth control education in schools, as well as providing free birth control, are very effective for teens who have chosen to be sexually active.

Sexual agency--the right to choose when and with whom to have sex and children--is a sacred part of our free will. It is so central to our sense of self that being raped can cause PTSD, just like almost dying can. Birth control enhances our sexual agency, and if used consistently with one's conscience and religious convictions, it takes away nothing from the sacredness of sex and parenthood. It makes it easier to protect the mother's health by spacing out children; it allows a sexually active couple to go to God and ask how many children they should have, and when.

In summary, we can simultaneously keep sex sacred, protect unborn children, and uphold the woman's right to choose, by providing a culture and support system that upholds parenthood. If we have laws against abortion, this would give these laws a context that prevents dangerous illegal abortions and protects mothers' well-being. If we legalize abortion, then this system would minimize the number of abortions.

I hope that this perspective offers a common vocabulary and set of goals that helps conservatives and liberals to be Pro-Mother, together.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My D&D Profile (according to an online quiz)

I Am A: Lawful Good Human Wizard/Cleric (2nd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores:

Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Secondary Class:
Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron's vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity's domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric's Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My Uneducated Thoughts on Transgender Issues

Mostly for myself, I'd like to use this blog post to outline what I do and don't know about transgender issues.

First, it bothers me that part of the definition of gender identity disorder is that a person prefers stereotypical activities, friendships, and clothes of their "true gender" rather than their physical sex. As a man who usually prefers female friends, who loves cooking and reading and writing, who relates better to women in most ways, and also as a psychology grad who is highly skeptical of stereotypes, I think we need something better to go on.

Second, contrary to common LDS opinion to the contrary, I can find no canon, doctrine, or consistent Apostolic teaching that it is impossible for a male spirit to be born to a female body, or a female spirit to be born into a male body. I see no doctrinal explanation for hermaphrodites. On this matter, I can only say, "[I] believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Article of Faith #9).

Third, Latter-day Saints have a unanimous Apostolic statement that gender is eternal, applying to spirit and body alike. Therefore, the gender of the spirit is of paramount importance.

Fourth, I don't know what it is like to believe that your true gender and physical sex are at odds. I don't know what sort of support, therapy, or counseling such people would need. But I know that the Savior knows, because if he experienced every sorrow, temptation, and imperfection of humanity on the cross, then he experienced the sensation of gender identity disorder.

Fifth, even if spirits can be born into opposite-gender bodies, it seems likely to me that there are people who believe that they have a spirit-body gender clash, but who really just don't relate to gender stereotypes. People like me: I have a male body, a male spirit, and strong feminine tendencies. If I am right, and there are people like this, then a sex change operation is not what they need. They need to see how foolish stereotypes are, and to embrace being a "feminine" man or a "masculine" woman: we have women of strength, determination, intelligence, and boldness, and we need them; we have men who are gentle, nurturing, relationship-oriented, and wise, and we need them.

Sixth, the Lord has to be the ultimate judge. He knows the gender of each spirit, the needs of every soul. He alone can care for us as we truly need to be cared for.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Why the Jedi and Sith need the Book of Mormon

Many Latter-day Saints have written about the unique impact the Book of Mormon has on our theology--how it clarifies and simplifies core Biblical principles like faith, repentance, and baptism, and how it resolves many of Christianity's sectarian feuds. I would like to write about how another conflict could be resolved by the book--the endless war between the Jedi and the Sith.

The light and dark Force-users of the Star Wars galaxy are locked in apparently endless conflict. On one hand, the Jedi believe in setting aside their emotions, perfect self-control, and service to society; on the other, the Sith believe in embracing human passion, seeking power, and putting the self above all others.

Likewise, the Book of Mormon contains conflict between good and evil: Nephites versus Lamanites, believers versus unbelievers, freedom fighters versus tyrants. The basic narrative would resonate deeply with any Jedi and many Sith. But more importantly, there are three basic doctrines that have the power to enlighten the Jedi and redeem the Sith. First, evil weakens personal freedom. Second, we are held accountable to a higher power for our choices. Third, passions should be bridled, not rejected or followed blindly.

The entire Sith philosophy is that unbridled passion is freedom:
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

The Book of Mormon explains why this is not the case: 
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive... down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

In other words, there are mysteries that belong only to those whose hearts are softened, and it is these mysteries that lead to freedom. The dark side, in contrast, leads to the "chains of hell," since the dark side of the Force is more addictive than spice. It is very difficult to stop using the dark side. It takes away your freedom.

It is commonly understood by Force-users that those who die become "one with the Force." They do not speak of this in terms of the common Christian concept of judgment, yet the fact remains that all will be held accountable upon their death.
It was appointed unto men that they must die; and after death, they must come to judgment.

This piece of knowledge could be invaluable for Jedi persuading people not to turn to the Dark Side. Indeed, in Alma chapter 30, we have a sample of Alma doing exactly that, persuading the followers of Korihor (who did not believe in judgment after death) to turn back to the way of goodness.

Finally, the Book of Mormon resolves the ages-old debate over passion. Many Jedi object to the Order's teaching that passion is forbidden, that marriage is outlawed, but the only philosophical alternative appears to be the Sith teaching that passion should be embraced completely, without hesitation or self-control. The Book of Mormon provides a vocabulary for a middle ground, rooted firmly in the Light:

See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.

Imagine how much more powerful (and emotionally healthy) the Jedi would be if they understood this one concept! They would raise families--resulting in greater numbers of Jedi--and they would have humanity's most powerful emotion to strengthen their use of the Force. Their love for each other and for the world at large would become legendary, and they would be known for their sincere goodness, instead of their pride. In short, the Book of Mormon would completely transform their culture, and prevent many from falling to the Dark Side because they wanted to have passion, but did not know how to bridle it.

So, if you ever have a chance to visit a galaxy far, far away, take a few copies of the Book of Mormon with you.

Addendum: I didn't mention how the Book of Mormon's central message--the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ--would affect the Jedi, because I wanted this post to be more silly than sacred. Obviously, accepting Jesus would transform the Jedi and redeem the Sith more powerfully than any of the particular doctrines above.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

An LDS Psychology Student's Thoughts on Perfectionism

As a Latter-day Saint who has struggled with anxiety (I've been in therapy and tried medication for it, and I stressed myself out enough on my mission that I only served 10 1/2 months before my body started to give out), and as a Psychology student (I'm not a licensed therapist, but I have gone to graduate school in psychology-related fields), I'd like to share my personal study of perfectionism. I'll begin with three talks and one book that really helped me, and then I'll introduce my own thoughts.

First, Cecil O. Samuelson presented a difference between "doing your best" and "perfectionism." If you're really struggling with this issue, his article is indispensable. I still remember discovering his comparison list at the bottom of the above link, and being floored at how precisely I fit his definition of perfectionism. It was quite a dramatic thing for me. (This isn't terribly important, but there is one inaccurate statement in his article: there's no consensus in the psychological community that perfectionism is a "medical condition." You can't be diagnosed with perfectionism, according to accepted criteria. You can be diagnosed with anxiety, which may center around your fears of failure or imperfection.)

In his article "Perfection Pending," Elder Russell M. Nelson explained the difference between mortal perfection and eternal perfection. We can become perfect at some things in this life, but even Jesus never described himself as "perfect" until after his resurrection. This article is also an essential read. A favorite quote: "When comparing one’s personal performance with the supreme standard of the Lord’s expectation, the reality of imperfection can at times be depressing. My heart goes out to conscientious Saints who, because of their shortcomings, allow feelings of depression to rob them of happiness in life. We all need to remember: men are that they might have joy—not guilt trips!"

The next article, Elder Dallin H. Oaks's "Good, Better, Best," is especially close to my heart, since he gave it while I was a missionary. It's an important principle that I apply to many facets of my life, and it can help tone down perfectionistic anxiety. Just realizing that you didn't make the best choice, but you still made a good choice, can lessen your panic. I wrote a more detailed article about my personal experiences with this a few months after I came home.

A prominent LDS psychotherapist named Wendy Ulrich wrote a book called Weakness Is Not Sin, which explains something very profound. Sin is disobeying God. All other failures are less important to him, and may even be success in his eyes. You didn't get your project done on time? You disappointed a friend? You forgot about one of your goals? That's too bad, but it's not necessarily a sin. Somehow... I made it into adulthood without realizing this. Now, it's a big part of how I deal with failures. First, I ask myself, did I fail God? Or not? Do I need to repent, or just try to do better next time? She did a wonderful job with this book. It's a short read, too.

After reading Elder Nelson's Perfection Pending, and hearing him repeat those insights at a mission fireside, I still felt something missing. I thought and prayed about it, and I came to the following conclusion: there is a difference between perfect obedience and true perfection. I believe that we should never go to the opposite extreme from perfectionism and justify our sins to any degree by saying, "Well, nobody's perfect." (That phrase is a fairly healthy way to respond to weakness, but not to sin.) Instead, we should immediately ask for forgiveness, because perfect obedience is possible in this life. In fact, there are special promises in the Book of Mormon of peace and prosperity to those who "keep the commandments of God." I suspect that those scriptures aren't talking about being mostly obedient, but being 100% obedient, and developing perfectly obedient habits is the work of a lifetime. Find me a scripture that says otherwise. 1 Nephi 3:7 actually confirms that perfect obedience is possible, because of...

The enabling power of grace! This is touched on in the famous works The Infinite Atonement by Tad Callister and The Continuous Atonement by Brad Wilcox, and the apostle Paul never seems to stop talking about it. My first real understanding that Jesus helps us keep the commandments at an internal, psychological level came through a book called Willpower Is Not Enough, and I now make praying for grace part of every self-improvement goal I set, and every repentance process I go through. Without grace, we are nothing. See also: the entire scriptures. For me, perfectionism includes the temptation to be so prideful as to wish that I weren't dependent on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. (Never gonna happen--even perfectly obedient people need the Atonement.)

However, while we take hold of that enabling power, we still have to deal with today's shortcomings somehow. King Benjamin spoke of "retaining a remission of your sins from day to day" (Mosiah 4:26), and the Lord told Alma the Elder, "Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me" (Mosiah 26:30). As long as we are moving forward, God's forgiveness can come today, not after we are perfected. We can have the peace of knowing we are on the right path. This is a sacred topic, and a personal one, yet it is reflected in the sacramental prayers: we covenant that we are willing to keep all the commandments, but we don't claim that we actually do. We do always remember our Savior; we repent when we sin, and we try to do better when we fail.

Various psychologists have divided perfectionism into several dimensions: good and bad, self-focused and other-focused. Good ("adaptive") perfectionism means high standards, challenging goals, and pushing yourself. Bad ("maladaptive") perfectionism means obsessing over failure, being dissatisfied with your performance no matter what, and unrealistic goals. (See also President Samuelson's article at the top of this post.) Self-oriented perfectionism is a strong concern with your own perfection; other-oriented perfectionism is a strong concern with others' perfection. Other-oriented perfectionism involves being judgy and unkind. If you do it, stop it.

As I have transitioned from bad perfectionism to very high (but realistic) expectations for myself, I have found something interesting: when I fail, I can't just fail. I have to take some time to mourn my lost goals. As a perfectionist, I give my heart to my goals, and failing at a big goal feels exactly like a bad breakup. Is something wrong with me? Or with my old goal? Will I ever succeed at anything? Do I still know who I am? Why did this happen? etc. And if I rebound onto a new goal too quickly, I can't really commit. I'm still living in my last failure. Sometime writing my feelings out helps; lots of psychologists recommend a feelings journal to work through things like this.

Anyway, good luck. May the Force Be With You. This is not a perfect ending to a blog post, and I accept that. *takes a deep, calming breath*

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Joshua and his TARDIS

(Originally published on our private family blog.)

Since he was old enough to say, "Please," Joshua's been asking to watch Doctor Who. Over the past two weeks, he's taken to acting out the show with vaguely police-box-shaped objects. We've laughed at him pretending an empty Pop Tarts box or container of baby powder is the TARDIS. He likes to hold it up to our window AC unit--apparently the cold air is the time vortex--and make noises he associated with the show, like screaming, pretending the TARDIS is crashing, and saying, "Doctor, wait!"

Today, we reached new heights.

During a visit to Barnes and Noble, we saw a display of Doctor Who collectibles. T-Shirts, sonic screwdrivers, replicas of the TARDIS, the works. Joshua ran up to them, excited, and started saying "Doctor Who!" over and over. He found a soft, toddler-friendly TARDIS and played with it for a while, until we tried to distract him by taking him across the store to the children's book section. He turned around several times and asked for Doctor Who, but we persevered.

Finally, we got to the enormous selection of children's books, with bright colors, toys, and everything a toddler would want.

Joshua immediately booked it in the opposite direction, doing his best to retrace our steps back to the Doctor Who display. We tried to distract him with a book from another TV show he loves, Dinosaur Train; he even has its theme song memorized. But after about 13 seconds, he ran off again--"Doctor Who!" A globe managed to hold his attention for another 20 seconds.

He led us around the store for about ten minutes, searching desperately for the display, and we continued to hope he would forget about it. The depth of his feelings soon surpassed his vocabulary, so he pulled out a word I'd never heard him use before: favorite. "Where is Doctor Who? It's my favorite. Doctor Who? Where are you?"

Finally, he made it to his best guess of where the display should be, maybe twenty feet from where it really was. He ran around in circles for several minutes, calling out for Doctor Who and saying it was his favorite. We took pity on him and led him to the display.

"Doctor Who!" In his excitement, he used another new word: "Perfect!"

He played by the display for another five or ten minutes before the adults got bored. We decided that two new words and staying focused on one thing for 15 minutes was pretty impressive for a two-year-old, and we bought him the soft TARDIS toy.

He hasn't spent more than five minutes without it since.

He's as bad as Amelia Pond.