Sep 17

Faculty Gender Balance at the BYUs – Graphs of the Data

Michael Austin has a great post up at BCC about how small a percentage of the faculty at the BYUs are women, and what a bad message this sends to students, both female and male. I thought it might be interesting to look at the IPEDS data he used in graphical form.

Here’s a scatterplot showing each institution’s percentage of faculty who are women as a function of total faculty size.

faculty-pct-women-by-total-count Continue reading

Sep 15

Q15 Members’ Perception of Time

In the past few days, many Americans have been remembering the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. One thing that strikes me in thinking back to where I was at that time is that it sure doesn’t seem like it has been a decade and a half since that awful day. It feels like it has been a few years at most. I’m in my forties, and I think this is a common experience: time feels like it moves faster as we get older. I look at my kids, particularly my five-year-old, and how unbearably long an hour can be for her, or a week, or how wonderfully long a summer can be. For me, they’re all gone in a flash. One day it’s Memorial Day, and then I turn around and it’s Labor Day and summer is on the wane. And then I blink and it’s Christmas, while of course for my five-year-old, that same amount of time on the calendar has taken forever to pass.

One theory (attributed to the philosopher Paul Janet) for why this happens is that as we age, each successive year (or whatever unit of time you like) constitutes a smaller and smaller fraction of our lives. When you’re five, for example, the next year is as long as 20% (1/5) of your life, whereas when you’re 50, the next year is as long as 2% (1/50) of your life. The result is that each successive year feels shorter than the previous one, and this difference is particularly dramatic between the first few years of life, when the years pass relatively slowly, and most of adulthood, when they’re shorter and similar in length. Here’s an article talking about this theory in a little more detail, and here’s a cool visualization created by a designer named Maximilian Kiener that really illustrates it well.

I thought it might be interesting to use Janet’s theory to get a sense of how long ago Q15 members perceive historical events to be. From the way many of them often talk about the evil they feel is relentlessly increasing in the world, I wonder if part of what they’re feeling isn’t just caused by the perception that time speeds up as you get older. If bad things happen at a fairly regular pace, as time feels like it’s going faster, the bad things seem closer together in time. And as many of the Q15 are really quite old, time likely feels like it’s going extremely fast for them.

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Sep 01

“We don’t know much about Heavenly Father either!”

Every time someone complains on the blogs about the fact that we know next to nothing about Heavenly Mother, someone else busts out the tried-and-true argument that we shouldn’t feel bad about this, because we don’t know much about Heavenly Father either. (For example, see the discussion following Tracy M.’s wonderful post “But Where Am I?” at BCC a few days ago.)

This is not a good argument. It kind of suggests that people are wishing to hear little details about Heavenly Mother. Like maybe is she left-handed? Or what’s her favorite color? Or her shoe size? Or how did she and Heavenly Father meet during their mortal probation? Perhaps she was a dentist and he was a bartender, and he totally botched her complicated drink request, but he had such a charming smile that all her friends said she should give him a chance, and she did, and the rest is history.

But of course, it’s nothing like this that people want to know. It’s the basics. The fact is that we know some very basic fundamental things about Heavenly Father than we don’t know about Heavenly Mother. Continue reading

Aug 30

Spiritual Disconnection

Prayer and personal revelation have always been the foundation of my religious life. I’ve counted on them. When the church has done crazy things and I’ve wondered why I was still a believer, I’ve come back to them as the core of my faith.

But lately I’m losing that core. I’m not sure what happened, but it’s been a long time since I felt like I was getting divine communication, since I felt spiritually connected. It’s been an adjustment. It’s not like I haven’t had patches of feeling distant before; I’ve always felt like it was kind of on-and-off. But this has been a long “off” period. And the timing has made it particularly difficult. My life currently feels like a disaster area. With this happening on top of that, I feel like God has abandoned me when I’ve been especially desperate for help. I want to believe in a God who’s loving and faithful, not random and capricious. But right now, it’s taking all I have to hang on to that belief. Continue reading

Aug 29

Things I Don’t Get

I’ve been thinking about some of the things that lots of people I know absolutely rave about, or I feel a lot of social pressure to like, but in reality I just don’t get—for whatever reason, they simply don’t click with me. A sample:

Podcasts: Sometimes it seems like all the fun discussion these days is happening on podcasts. Because of that, I want to like them. But somehow I don’t have the patience to listen, and I find it hard to stay engaged with them.

Museums: I have a really hard time with museums; I just find them boring. Looking at objects and displays doesn’t do much for me.

Strawberries: It amazes me how much people love strawberries, how they’re widely seen as a treat, how they’re even dipped in chocolate. I simply can’t stand them.

Breaking Bad: So many of my friends love this show, and I see it appearing all the time in lists of the best television. I’ve tried to watch it twice, and seriously found it unwatchable.

Nature: It’s not that I dislike nature. I genuinely enjoy being in the mountains or visiting the ocean or being in a forest. But for me, it’s not a transcendent experience. It doesn’t really move me emotionally. For years, I felt tremendous pressure to be having certain experiences when I was out in nature that I just wasn’t having. It’s been a relief to let that expectation go.

The sacrament: In 41 years in the church, I have yet to have any kind of spiritual experience related to the sacrament. I’ve tried various ways of making it meaningful, but in the end it’s a ritual that leaves me cold. People talk about it making a difference to take it; I’ve never felt that way at all. I still take it, but I’ve stopped driving myself crazy trying to make it into anything special.

I’d be curious to hear what other people would put on a list like this.

Aug 25

Random Memories of Growing Up a Neurotic Mormon

I’m temperamentally a neurotic person, anxiety-prone and a worrier. Thinking back to some of the things I remember best about growing up in the Church, it occurred to me that many of them evidence an interaction of my neuroticism with my Mormonism. I thought it might be interesting to share some of these experiences.

  • At the ages of six and seven, I really internalized the teaching that children who died before the age of accountability would be guaranteed exaltation. I also didn’t learn too much (i.e., anything) about grace, and it was pretty clear to me that that was likely my only shot, since as soon as I was baptized and became responsible for my sins, I was sure to sin up such a storm that I would never be able to keep track of and repent of them all. Considering these facts, I mused a fair amount about suicide. I wasn’t particularly depressed; I was just thinking through things logically. I never made anything like a concrete plan, but I often turned the idea over in my mind, and wished that I could come up with a way to make it happen. It seemed perfectly in line with what I was learning at church: better to suffer a small pain now and have happiness later than avoid pain now and have sadness later. When I turned eight and went ahead and got baptized, I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t been able to work up the courage to go through with killing myself. I was resigned to the reality that I now had my feet firmly planted on the path to damnation.

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Aug 24

How Much Priesthood is Enough Priesthood?

I’ve pretty much always been the kind of feminist who thought women should have the priesthood; I remember telling people this when I was in high school, and while they often laughed it off uncomfortably as teenage rabble-rousing, I was perfectly serious. This hasn’t changed, but, in watching the Church’s response to Ordain Women and some of the baby steps they’ve made towards (and away from) equality, lately I’ve been thinking more about what wanting women to have the priesthood really means to me.

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Jul 07

Do Utah and Idaho use more unusual names than other states do? Part I

I enjoyed Jessie Jensen’s post a couple of months ago at BCC where she reported on a number of unusual names used for babies born in Rexburg and Idaho Falls in 2015. One question that came up in the comments was whether Mormons (or at least Mormons in Utah or Idaho) actually use more unusual names than people in other places do. I was interested in this question, and my co-blogger Katya pointed out that the US Social Security Administration (SSA) actually publishes data on how often different names are used in each state each year. So I thought it might be fun to look at these data, and see if they could help me attempt to answer the question.

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Jun 25

Obedience

I decided a couple of days ago that I should write something for the blog, since it’s been a month since anyone posted, and more than 6 months since I posted. I wasn’t really feeling inspired about what to write about, so I started looking at some old drafts, and this one caught my eye. I started it 5 years ago, but it’s a subject I’ve been thinking about again lately, so I decided to open it up and look at it. After reading the opening paragraph (which I could have written this week pretty much word for word), I knew it was the one to finish.

I felt tonight like I should write a post (not because I feel bad about not having blogged in forever, though I do a little bit — luckily my blogmates are quite relaxed about things like that — but just a nagging feeling that I should write something), but there wasn’t anything in particular I felt like I ought to write about. I signed on and started looking through my saved drafts to see if there was anything I felt like finishing, but nothing stuck out to me. Then I got distracted putting kids to bed, cleaning up the house, etc, and left it alone until a few minutes ago, when again I felt like I should write something.

When I left off I was thinking about possibly finishing one post I’d started a while back that talked about one of the main themes in my patriarchal blessing — faithfulness. When I came back, however, I started thinking about the other theme in my patriarchal blessing, which I touched on briefly in that post — obedience. In that post I only mention briefly that obedience is one of the main themes of my patriarchal blessing and then move on. I remember that the reason for that was that I was somewhat uncomfortable with that being one of the themes of my patriarchal blessing, and I felt the same way when I re-read the draft earlier today.

You see, I’m not particularly comfortable with obedience. It’s not a principle I like very much, or one I’m particularly good at. Continue reading

May 26

Abdicating Authority to the Algorithms

Supporters of chicken patriarchy like to cite calling on family members to say prayers as an example of a duty that the father in a family, as the presider and priesthood holder, must perform. I suspect this is a preferred example because it carves out a required role for the man, but it avoids the offensiveness of men’s supposed duties that fans of paleo-patriarchy might cite, such as the duty to be the final decider in matters of schooling, employment, or spending.

Because this is such a oft-cited example (in blog discussions at least), it is with some glee that I report that as the husband and father in my family, I have abdicated this duty to an algorithm. And not even one of my own making! One of my kids came up with it. And to be fair, calling it an algorithm is making it sound way more complicated than it is. It’s a very simple system. In case you’re curious, here’s how it works. Family members are ordered by age, and each family member is assigned a number from zero to number of family members minus one. The day of the month is then divided by the number of family members, and the remainder is matched up to one of the assigned numbers to find who gets to say family prayer. For blessings at mealtime, the meal number (1, 2, or 3; no allowance is made for things like second breakfast) is added to the date. For example, today is May 26th. There are five people in my family. To decide who says the blessing on lunch, we take 26 (day) + 2 (meal number), divide by 5 (number of family members), yielding a remainder of 3, so this means it’s my second oldest child’s turn (since the family is numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 in age order). Continue reading

May 20

Support the Exponent!

The Exponent II blog is having a fundraiser this weekend. You’re likely familiar with them, but if you’re not, you should definitely check them out. They do amazing work keeping women’s voices alive and drawing attention to women’s issues. This is a great cause to donate to, and there are even prizes! Click on the link below to find out more.

Fundraiser

May 17

The Pope Gives Ordain Women a Shot in the Arm

Pope Francis said a few days ago that he will organize a commission to look into having women serve as deacons in the Catholic Church. Now of course he wasn’t guaranteeing that he would end up taking any action, and deacons aren’t priests, and Catholics aren’t Mormons. But I still wonder if even this signal of people considering a possible change in another church might not bode well for the cause of Ordain Women.

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May 04

Who Will Canonize the Family Proclamation?

I admit I breathed a small sigh of relief when this last General Conference ended without the Proclamation on the Family being presented to be added to the D&C. It seemed like it might have been an opportune time: the first annual (April) Conference following all the twentieth anniversary celebrations last year. So I was glad that it didn’t happen, but it occurs to me now that the question of the Family Proclamation getting canonized might be less about when it happens and more about who makes it happen.

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May 01

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Biblical Namesake

This is based on a talk I gave in my ward in February 2016. 

I don’t think I’m giving away too much of my identity on the internet when I tell you that my name is Hannah. Growing up, I liked my name: it’s a palindrome, and, for someone of my age, it was relatively unusual. (I mostly only met Jewish girls my age with the name.) I also liked that, like my brothers, I was named after a Biblical figure; I liked the feeling of being part of history, a long chain of tributary Hannahs, and the sense of weight and importance it gave to the name.

I didn’t much like that Biblical figure, though. The lessons I got about her in Primary and even Young Women’s were always lessons about Samuel that framed her only as the faithful mother of someone important, not someone important in her own right. Moreover, every time her story was referenced the other kids looked at me, more or less surreptitiously, and teased me: “Ha, ha, you want to have a baby!” In Primary I did NOT want to have a baby, and this teasing oddly stung, to the point that I dreaded Hannah references in church. (From this I also learned that kids can tease you about anything; kids, don’t do this.)

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Apr 19

Will It Play in Papua?

In another life I was a linguist, interested particularly in linguistic typology, the field of searching for true language universals—and thus some of the deepest building blocks of human language—through description and classification of existing languages into broad types and comparative features. Functionally, and a little flippantly, this means typologists write papers proposing models of how languages work, and then, almost invariably, other typologists familiar with the languages of Papua New Guinea write a response saying, “No they don’t,” with copious counterexamples. Think that all languages have a word for “blue”? Look at Dani. Think that there’s no language with doubly articulated stops? Look at Yeli Dnye. Think that the verb for ‘give’ always takes three arguments? Look at Saliba.  Think that all languages count on their fingers or therefore bias towards base-10 numeral systems? Look at Oksapmin.

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Apr 14

Why do Church leaders dislike the internet?

In Elder Ballard’s recent address to CES teachers, he warned his audience several times of the dangers of the internet to their students. For example, he admonished teachers to

Teach [students] about the challenges they face when relying upon the Internet to answer questions of eternal significance. Remind them that James did not say, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him Google!”

Wise people do not rely on the Internet to diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and physical health challenges, especially life-threatening challenges. Instead, they seek out health experts, those trained and licensed by recognized medical and state boards.

james did not say ask of googleWhy do Church leaders not want young people looking for for answers on the internet? One often-cited answer to this question is that they don’t like the information students might find–information that will likely contradict the carefully curated view of the Church and its history that is typically taught at Church and in seminary and institute classes. For example, students may learn that perhaps Joseph and Emma’s marriage wasn’t quite so idyllic as it is often portrayed, what with him marrying many other wives, typically behind Emma’s back.

Elder Ballard specifically mentions this problem of negative information in his address. He says that CES teachers should introduce students to faith-promoting approaches to controversial topics so that students will measure any more negative interpretations that they encounter later against what they heard first from their teachers.

I think Church leaders are concerned with more than just information when it comes to the internet, though. There are two other things that people also find there that I suspect they also dislike: validation and voice. Continue reading

Apr 03

The Mental Health System Strikes Back

I’m sitting in a small room on the fifth floor of the local hospital. I’ve had to change from street clothes to scrubs, and my possessions are being examined to see what I can keep. I didn’t bring in much; I turned most of it over to my sister Melyngoch when she left me in the ER. A nurse is sitting at a computer, answering question after question. I haven’t been in this particular hospital before, but I’ve been in enough similar places that the drill is familiar.

I’m reading the questions over the nurse’s shoulder. She has to check boxes about my attitude. Am I hostile? Aggressive? Withdrawn? I can’t help but notice that all of the options are negative. She checks “other,” and writes, “overly polite and helpful.” I can’t help sighing a little—it’s a reminder that whatever I do, however I act, it’s going to be seen through the lens of dysfunction. She asks my name, to find out if I know who I am, and I answer her. She asks if I know where I am. In the psych ward, I say. She corrects me, explaining that this is actually the “stress care unit.” I just smile. I know perfectly well where I am, regardless of what they’ve decided to call it.

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Mar 31

Predictions for General Conference

General Conference already got underway last week, but I’m a bit slow, so I’m just now getting to making some predictions for the remainder of the sessions. You can help me out by telling me which in each pair of possible events is most likely to occur in the remainder of Conference.

Which in each pair is more likely?

  • President Monson talks about widows.
  • President Uchtdorf talks about airplanes.
  • President Monson talks about widowers.
  • President Uchtdorf talks about spaceplanes.
  • President Monson talks about Windows.
  • President Uchtdorf talks about Linux.

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