Excessive Road Signs and Arbitrary Detailed Commandments

Do traffic signs make us safer? A couple of months ago in The Atlantic, John Staddon argued that, on the whole, they may not:

I began to think that the American system of traffic control, with its many signs and stops, and with its specific rules tailored to every bend in the road, has had the unintended consequence of causing more accidents than it prevents. Paradoxically, almost every new sign put up in the U.S. probably makes drivers a little safer on the stretch of road it guards. But collectively, the forests of signs along American roadways, and the multitude of rules to look out for, are quite deadly.

. . . [W]hat is the limited resource . . . in the case of driving? It’s attention. Attending to a sign competes with attending to the road. The more you look for signs, for police, and at your speedometer, the less attentive you will be to traffic conditions. The limits on attention are much more severe than most people imagine.

This problem–where well-intended safety measures multiply and ultimately make us less safe–reminds me of a similar issue that I think sometimes arises in the Church. The problem occurs when we receive commandments that are arbitrary and detailed.

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They said, “Let us win.”

John McCain in Friday night’s debate:

I’d like to tell you, two Fourths of July ago I was in Baghdad. General Petraeus invited Senator Lindsey Graham and me to attend a ceremony where 688 brave young Americans, whose enlistment had expired, were reenlisting to stay and fight for Iraqi freedom and American freedom.

I was honored to be there. I was honored to speak to those troops. And you know, afterwards, we spent a lot of time with them. And you know what they said to us? They said, let us win. They said, let us win. We don’t want our kids coming back here.

And this strategy, and this general, they are winning.

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Documenting Changing Church Rhetoric on Gender Roles

My impression is that Church rhetoric defines women by their roles more often than it does men. Women are wives and mothers. Even if they aren’t technically mothers, women are mothers, because that’s just who they are. Men, on the other hand, sure we’re admonished to be good husbands and fathers, but those roles are discussed as being much less central to who we are. I would be shocked, for example, if someone gave a talk titled “Are We Not All Fathers?” in General Conference.

When this difference in the centrality of women’s and men’s gender roles is discussed, one hope that is often held out is that the Church is changing. Women are coming to be defined less by their roles and more as people of worth even if they don’t take on those roles, and men are being reminded more often that our roles as husband and father should be central to our lives.

It occurred to me recently that I could easily test for whether such a change is actually occurring by looking at how often different words are used in articles archived at LDS.org. Read More

Tracting: Is It Worth Doing?

We tracted a lot in my mission. It was the activity we defaulted to if we had nothing else to do, and we frequently had nothing else to do. But nobody I ever met through tracting was ever baptized. I’m sure this is at least partly a reflection on my (lack of) skill as a missionary. But I’ve also wondered if tracting is worth doing at all, even if it’s highly skilled missionaries doing it. Read More

My Trouble with Spectator Sports

On April 29th, the San Antonio Spurs beat the Phoenix Suns and dismissed them from the NBA playoffs. I’ve been a passionate fan of the Suns for several years, and I was hugely disappointed that they hardly put up a fight, losing this first round series, 4-1. I watched parts of the series, but not all of it. It wasn’t for lack of interest that I didn’t watch it all, though. It was that I couldn’t bear to watch my team play badly or see the Spurs or their fans rejoicing. In the deciding game of the series, for example, I turned the TV off when, with under a minute to play and the Suns down one point, Boris Diaw got the ball in the low post and then turned and threw a cross-court pass to . . . nobody, and the ball went out of bounds. The fans in San Antonio went crazy and I felt sick. So I turned the game off. I was happy to miss the agonizing final seconds.

But what if the Suns had won? Would I have kicked myself for giving up too early? Read More

Something Different in the First Presidency Letter?

Yesterday a letter from the First Presidency was read in my ward’s sacrament meeting. It sounded like the standard letter that’s sent every so often asking members to please not write to Salt Lake about our concerns but instead to talk to our bishops or branch presidents.

But at the end I thought I heard something different from what these letters usually sound like. There was a bit where I think they said if you have a question or concern that your stake/district/mission president agrees might be helpful to bring up to the general leadership of the Church, your president can write about it to them on your behalf. Read More

Why I Don’t Like Scouting

As a teenager, I didn’t like scouting because I didn’t like outdoor activities like camping, hiking, orienteering, and whatnot. So I did very little scouting related stuff, and that only after much arm-twisting by leaders and other boys (who, to their credit, were typically very nice about it). As I lived in Utah Valley, this made me borderline inactive. Read More

Swearing Survey

When the Giants beat the Patriots yesterday, and thwarted their attempts at perfection, I expect that a great collective curse was uttered by half the population of New England. Thinking of that got me to wondering about swearing in general. If you’re interested, I have a few questions.

n

How often do you swear?
View Results

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From the Children’s Songbook to the Hymn Book

If I understand correctly, several hymns in our hymn book appeared first as children’s songs. Isn’t this the case for Called to Serve, I Am a Child of God, and Families Can Be Together Forever?

So, since the precedent is set, I would like to see Beautiful Savior, which currently appears only in the Children’s Songbook, added to the hymn book. Every time I hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing it, I wish that we could sing it in sacrament meeting.

Are there any other current children’s songs that you would like to see moved to the hymn book?

More Thoughts on “Raising the Bar”

The discussion of “raising the bar” in Steve Evans’s Friday Firestorm #24 last month at BCC got me to thinking about what the possible effects of this more stringent missionary screening policy might be.

The screening process that includes interviews with a missionary candidate’s Bishop or Branch President can result in two types of errors. A candidate can be approved to serve a full-time mission when he or she should not have been, or a candidate can be kept home when in fact he or she was qualified to serve. If the goal of the screening process is thought of as a medical test diagnosing “shouldn’t serve syndrome,” the first kind of error would be a failure to diagnose a true case (a miss), and the second kind would be diagnosing someone who isn’t a case (a false alarm).

So what does raising the bar mean for these two types of errors? Read More

Secular Usage of “Preside”

In a discussion last year at T&S about what it means for a husband to preside, Jim F. argued that it doesn’t really matter what preside means outside the Church because the word just isn’t much used outside the Church (and perhaps court). Kiskilili disagreed, saying that she thought that secular usage was more common.

At the time, it occurred to me that this would be a relatively simple question to get data to answer, but I put the thought on the back burner, so I am just now getting around to trying to answer it. I chose to search newspapers to attempt to answer the question, given that they tend to have a very broad target audience and are fairly widely read (although I know they aren’t read as much as they used to be).

1. Is preside ever used in a secular context? Read More

How Do You Read Books (and Watch Movies)?

I just picked up Tyler Cowen’s Discover your Inner Economist, and found that he has some rather unorthodox suggestions for how to get the most enjoyment out of reading books and watching movies. He argues that when it comes to these experiences, the major limiting factor is the scarcity of our own attention. Cowen’s approach? Quit early and often if something loses your interest:

When should we finish a book we have started? In this regard I am extreme. If I start ten books maybe I will finish one of them. I feel no compunction to keep reading. Why not be brutal about this? Is this book the best possible book I can be reading right now, of all the books in the world? For me at least, the answer is usually (but not always) no.

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Why Discourage Women from Serving Missions?

About a month ago, my beloved sister (and occasional ZD contributor) Melyngoch entered the MTC on her way to the Sweden Stockholm mission. I expect that she will be a very good missionary. She seems to have a great sense of purpose: she knows who she is and what she is doing and why.

I suspect that there are probably many twenty-something women in the Church who would similarly make very good missionaries. So I wonder why the Church discourages women from serving. Read More