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Monday, December 22, 2003

Reciprocity 

We here at BNL are always thrilled when Clark comes and adds his incredibly intelligent thoughts to our ramblings. I have to admit, however, that when I visit his Mormon Metaphysics, his own posts are usually way above my head.

I was excited to visit this morning and find a very interesting post I could actually get my mind around. It's about how mythology and historicity can get mixed up as stories get retold. He points out that it happens in our own Church history, just as it does in the Bible. I encourage you to check it out (I'm not sure how to link to an individual post of his, but this will take you to his site).

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Sabbath Day vs. Regular Day 

This topic has probably been visited several times in the Mormon blogosphere, though I've found nothing about it recently. So here's my take:

I remember growing up with certain rules pertaining to Sabbath day observance: no movies (unless produced by the Church or really old '30s films, which I learned to love), no television, no music with drums, no swimming, no basketball, no tennis, etc (although badminton was permitted). I always wondered what handbook my parents were reading when they came up with these rules only to grow up and find out there is no handbook!

So here's the problem, I love music that comes from bands like Led Zepplin, Cake, Jethro Tull, Maroon 5, Collective Soul, Duran Duran, Scorpions, Depeche Mode, and U2 just to name a few. As you may have guessed, under most Mormon family rules, none of these bands qualify as Sunday listening material. So the age-old question remains, if they are not suitable for the Sabbath, then why for every-day listening? Same goes for some of my favorite movies.

Most times, people answer this question something like this, "Sunday is a day of rest that we need to use to come closer to Christ, read the scriptures, be with our family, etc." That's a fine enough answer I suppose but wait, shouldn't we be doing those things during the week also?

So it seems to me that there are at least two trains of thought here:

1) Sunday is a special day where we do special things that we wouldn't normally do and refrain from those things we normally do.

2) Our weekdays should reflect the behavior that you would find in the Celestial Kingdom, making the main difference between weekdays and Sundays the fact that you generally go to work on weekdays and that you generally go to church on Sundays.

Now, most of us probably live in some gray area, which combines these two trains of thought. But back to my original question... should I stop listening to this heathen music? And switch to the ever-so-holy and pure classical music? One thing's for sure, it'd probably make me look more intellectual.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Come On, We Were All Thinking It 

Forgive me if this seems a bit juvenile (and especially if there are any Ben Affleck fans reading this), but this definitely takes the cake as the funniest thing I've read all day.

While I'm at it, the funniest thing I read a few days ago was this comment by Nate over at Times and Seasons about the BYU dress code.

Joining the "True" Church 

The other night I went teaching with some missionaries from my ward. We read from the Book of Mormon with a lady who was "not progressing," as they say. She certainly enjoyed speaking with the Elders, and had only good things to say about the Book of Mormon, but saw no reason to "change churches." The missionaries said things to her like, "I don't mean to say anything bad about any other church, but they're just not the true church." Since we've been talking about what it means for the church to be "true," this seemed like a particularly interesting context.

Leaving aside the questionable rhetorical technique (I don't mean to insult you, but . . . well, come to think of it, yes I do), what do missionaries mean when they say that people should be baptized because our church is "true"? For being a major point of persuasion, it's awfully hard to pin down excactly what it means. Even the smart people (and people like me who pretend they're smart) who have weighed in on this post and others haven't been able to come to agreement.

But more than dwelling on what "true" means, I'm really asking why someone would join our church (not to imply that I think it's a bad idea). What's so great about it that people are willing to adopt lifestyle changes (Word of Wisdon, etc.), enter into a new and quirky culture, and become more involved than people are in many other churches?

Most of the reasons I can think of for why I'm a part of this church have developed over years of having a testimony. What is it that investigators gain in just a few weeks or months and 6 discussions that makes them take the plunge?

Whatever it is, I think it's what people might mean when they say "the church is true."

Truth Part 3: The Wonderful Ambiguity of Words 

*Part 1 , Part 2

Well, this discussion on truth has been most fruitful. I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone would whip out the dictionary definition on us. Logan's friend, Kaimi, was that someone and has been most helpful. Before I go on, I must admit that, in my last post, I got a little too caught up in whether or not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the "same" or "different" from The Church of Jesus Christ (for those new to this topic, the church that existed while Christ was on the earth). Logan, thankfully, put an end to that by stating the obvious: one is just the restored version of the other. Depending on what "restored" means to you, you can come to your own conclusions.

But in any event, the truly stimulating topic is that of the ambiguity of words. As Kaimi pointed out, truth has more than 15 definitions. As I've read comments to these posts as to the meaning of truth, it's interesting to try and figure out who's using which definition to prove their point. And as is often the case, an individual may use a definition of truth that is uniquely their own to support their case, which helps in creating some of the best atmospheres for discussion.

So now that we've had fun with truth, let me throw out a few other questionable words for you gospel scholars out there... In Bulgarian, there aren't separate words for "belief" and "faith". So is the distinction really that important? Next on the list: "testament" vs. "covenant". Again, in Bulgarian, there is no difference. If you think to yourself, I'm reading the Old Covenant and Doctrine and Testaments, it can get you thinking about what those words really mean. I almost laughed out loud when writing the phrase "really mean" because what do they really mean? We may not know. We only think we know.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

So Long as They Spell the Name Right (and their hyperlink works) 

Well, it appears that our name isn't very catchy. At least that hasn't stopped people from linking to our comments.

Okay, I admit that "Bob and Logan" may not exactly roll off the tongue. It's hard to come up with a name that encompasses the thinking of two college students who are so arrogantly opinionated on so many things (so far, Mormon thinking, economics, and movie reviews, and that's just our first week).

Any suggestions?

P.S. In the meantime, let me suggest the acronym "BNL".

Progressive Taxation 

On the always stimulating Times and Seasons blog, there was a discussion concerning Christian Taxation. Among the many interesting sub-discussions was one about the economics of regressive taxes (comments by Dave, me, Russell, me, Matt, me, Nate, me, Nate, and me). Here's my response (cross-posted on both sites):

Discussing economics can be difficult because it is so complex. It's hard to determine precisely how each factor individually affects the whole, and conclusions are extremely hard to verify empirically. So although there are many things to consider, I will try to keep the present discussion focused narrowly on this one topic: progressive income tax rates.

First of all, Nate, it is true that there is a diminishing marginal utility of wealth. A person's second $100 million dollars increases their utility a lot less than their first. But keep in mind that we're talking about taxing income, not wealth. For any two people with the same income, taxing them at the same income tax rate hurts the poorer of the two.

Next, you make an assumption with which I cannot agree: ". . . if you want an income tax scheme that is neutral as to private decisions (ie doesn't create incentives not to produce or to over produce) . . ." Every tax is an incentive not to produce. In the case of income taxes, it drives a wedge between the income paid to an individual and the income received. If the employer and employee could agree on a wage between those two figures, both would be better off than they currently are. On the margin, employment must decrease, as some employers that would be willing to hire for the inbewteen wage but not more will refuse to hire (and vice versa).

I also don't see how it is possible to "over produce." How can workers (to use our current example) be too productive? All it would do is increase profits, and thus wages, and thus living standards. The only thing lost when people produce more is leisure time, which people naturally stop trading for money when the utility reaches an equilibrium. If everyone increases productivity to the point of "flooding the market," then it will be less valuable to employers, and hence rewarded less. It will decrease on the margin. If there is no such thing as over producing, I can see no reason that we don't want to encourage people to work as much as they want to.

Economists do sometimes talk about the economy "overheating," but that refers to pro-cyclical forces that drive up inflation during prosperous times and act as stumbling blocks to economic recovery during recession, and not to individual decisions of trading leisure time for income potential.

But although over production isn't one of those forces, progressive taxation can be pro-cyclical. During times of economic growth, more taxes are collected since more people are receiving higher incomes and paying taxes on their greater income. Riskier high income professions (eg, day traders, dot-com executives) are successful, and provide plenty of tax revenue (encouraging politicians to spend it). During economic downturns, those high paying risky professions are the first to go (risky jobs must have a "risk premium" that compensates for their volitility, otherwise the job isn't worth it go into). Also, more resources are spent avoiding taxes (effectively "wasting" them as far as benefit to society), and people with wealth are less inclined to invest their money in riskier ventures (such as poor people starting business). The progressive tax structure that depended on revenue from higher earners (either those with risky jobs who are put out of business or those who are wealthy and can afford to wait for better times before investing extra time, energy, and capital) now brings in much less revenue than was projected, bringing with it defecits just when money is needed most for public spending.

It seems that progressive tax structures are designed to "punish" the prosperous. But that is not the same thing as "helping" the poor.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

More on Truth 

*This post of is a continutation of the discussion started here

Wow. First, let me say, these are the type of conversations that I wish we had in Church. I appreciate everyone's comments.

I think I want to expand a little on one thing Danielle said: the idea that truths and commandments are different. Just based on the fact that it would be unusual for someone to bear their testimony and say, "I know that tithing is true" makes me think she has a point; it sounds awkward and out of place. BUT, now to something Clark mentioned... truth being "alive, loving, and ever increasing", and although he didn't say the following specifically, it sounded like he feels that truth and progression have a direct relationship. It seems to me that commandments could also be considered "alive, loving, and ever increasing" making them, at least, look like truths.

So now that I've set the scene, my next question has to do with the phrase "I know this Church is true". Do you think that phrase is new to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or do you think it was used while Christ was on the earth? Better yet, do you think, before Christ's coming, Israelites used the phrase? The reason I ask this question is because the "Church", during the time of Moses, was much different than the "Church" during the time of Christ and yet a third church, which is also different, is ours in these latter-days. Bear with my thought process here... my real question is, are these three churches currently "true" or is it that the two prior to our time are not true because, as we Mormons like to say, "this is the ONLY true Church".

When a member of the Church says, "I know this Church is true" doesn't that imply "as opposed to all the other churches, which are not true"? Wouldn't the two churches from the past (Moses' and Christ's) fall into the other-churches-which-aren't-true category?

Let me know if I'm making any sense...

Bob's Movie Review: LOTR: The Return of the King  

Let me just start by saying, for a movie with this kind of hype, it's not THAT good. It had all the right ingredients for an epic: battle sequences, love stories, Good vs. Evil, etc. But remember the random eagle that saves Gandolf in the first movie? If you're like me, you might have a faint recollection. Well, this movie has a scene with multiple unexplained random eagles that come save the day in a huge battle. I know, I know, if I'd read the book, I'd understand everything. I hate hearing that excuse. Movies shouldn't be made from books so that you have to read the book to understand the movie. Instead, I think the movie should represent on its own. So let's have some development as to why eagles continually save the day instead of scenes like the one which took at least 5-10 minutes of screen time all about a crazy father trying to burn his wounded-from-battle son. Reread that last sentence if you have to; there aren't any typos.

I think you will enjoy the movie more if you are warned ahead of time that there are approximately seven endings, which alternate from fading to white to fading to black. So if you think the movie's ending, it's probably not. I'm not necessarily against multiple endings, but some of them might have been better as deleted scenes to be included later on the DVD. Think of the glorious ending to "Return of the Jedi" where a grand awards ceremony is held in honor of our heroes. Wasn't that a great end to a great trilogy? Now think of the same thing but add on five more endings, one to wrap up the life of each character. We could find out that Hans Solo became a farmer, Princess Leia opened a beauty salon, and Chewbacka became a cook in a restaurant somewhere. Wait a minute, we don't care what happens to them next! The awards ceremony was the perfect ending.

Let's talk about Frodo for a minute, the world's worst hero. How many times do we have to see him make mistake after mistake only to hear Sam in the background, "Mr. Frodo, what are you doing?" Our hero doesn't face the normal challenges of most heroes; instead, he faces the challenge of stupidity. He's never influenced by the ring so he must be chosen, right? For being chosen, there are at least three scenes where you ask yourself, "who's side is this guy on, anyway?"

I've spent quite a bit of time picking on this movie... I feel that I should end by saying that it is, however, a very high quality film. The acting is all very well done. Viggo Mortensen, especially, is now my new Hollywood hero. The special effects are amazing, the cinematography is breathtaking, and the battle scenes are epic. If it didn't have three or four little things that really bugged, it would have been an A movie.

Grade: B+

Rated PG-13 for, you know, well-edited battle sequences that make a movie like this PG-13 and not R.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Ugh! Economics! 

I want to officially apolgize to anyone who may have visited this blog and read my last point about Austrian Economics. While it is something I think about, I should realize that one of the only things more boring to most people than economics is economic philosophy. I'll chalk it up to being inexperienced at this blogging thing.

For now, I'd like someone to tell me what it is that makes me not want to study for finals, which are this week. During the semester, I usually have no problem studying for tests, but right now I can hardly stand the thought of it. Is it my rebellious nature -- I don't want to do things that I'm forced to do, or maybe that I unconsciously feel like already being done with school?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Austrian Economics 

I've spent a little time today exploring the work of Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian School of Economics. Apparently, Lew Rockwell, whose articles I read frequently, is the director of the Mises Institute (who knew?).

Anyway, it seems to be an economic theory that is explicitly derived from the notions of libertarianism. Because of that, I find myself agreeing with a great deal of their thinking, but in the end, I find it most noteworthy as a reminder that I do in fact depart at times from "mainstream" libertarian philosophy.

If you have time (it's pretty long), I suggest you read this article by Lew himself that does a great job of applying Austiran economics to a great many situations. If not, I'll cover a few of the things I find most interesting.

For one, he points out that of course the operation in Iraq isn't going as smoothly as planned -- it's just another government program gone bad. That concept actually made me laugh when I read it, but I have to agree that it rings fairly true. He beautifully illustrates how tariffs can only create the illusion of protection. In reality they harm everyone, including the "protected" industry. He says, "It comes down to this: statesmen and public officials, no matter how powerful they may be, cannot finally control social outcomes."

Beautifully said. I guess where I depart from Lew Rockwell and Ludwig von Mises is when they argue that government is not qualified to perform any activity that provides goods and services, including defense, education, roads, etc. The way I look at it, charging government with certain tasks will always result in the loss of some economic efficiency, but it is possible for people to acknowledge and accept that loss in exchange for a feeling (perceived or real) of security.

Overall, the Austrian School interests me enough for its site to make our exclusive list of economics links, but I can't say that I endorse everything that it proposes (for whatever that's worth). I am excited, however, to explore it further and find more points of departure.

Is Truth Eternal? 

Yesterday, a lesson in Church made me ask the question posed by the title off this post: Is truth eternal? First of all, truth is one of those abstract concepts that, when defined, can be understood differently based on the flavor of the current definition. The problem is that at first glance, animal sacrifices, polygamy, and the law of consecration are all eternal truths. It seems that there are references made to all of these as such somewhere in the scriptures. But obviously, polygamy is currently "wrong" and is illegal in the United States. Animal sacrifices, also, I'm sure would be frowned upon. So, are there inconsistencies with the notion that something can be an eternal truth but at the same time be against the law and enough to get you thrown out of the Church?

Another question to be asked is that of degrees of truth. Again, at first glance, a dichotomous question is usually used to ask whether or not something is true. It either is true or it isn't true. Then what about tithing vs. consecration? Can certain truths be preparatory truths for other truths? Is this inconsistent with their eternal nature?

As the Drudge Report likes to say, developing...

Good Ol' Saddam 

Well, the big news is obviously the capture of Saddam Hussein. No question it's a huge victory for the US military. But how will it affect the world in general? Those who supported the war loudly proclaim that his trial will show the world his numerous atrocities, his Al-Qaeda links, his bad hair days, etc (for example, here). Those who opposed the war swear that it means nothing, and that attacks will likely intensify (here).

As someone who supported invading Iraq, I am generally unpersuaded by commentators blasting the president and his efforts. What, do they think we should have let him go after finding him?

But Jude Wanniski argues that the truth that will come out in Saddam's trial may not be what everyone thinks. I might dismiss him out of hand, too, except that I usually agree with him when he debunks global warming, brings rationality back to the AIDS in Africa discussion, or points out the real economic reasons for African poverty. That's why I can't help but wonder if he's right when he points out that maybe we don't have any of the damning evidence that we seek because there is none. I hate to bring up an overused argument (and my support for the Iraq war doesn't hinge on this), but we haven't found the WMD's yet, for example.

Maybe Saddam's capture will bring all this to light. I hope so. But at this point I'm still holding back.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Your Friend and Mine: Charity 

Because of the confluence of preparing a sacrament meeting talk and finishing a class in Buddhism, I have had some interesting thoughts concerning Charity. Buddhism is a fascinatingly complex religion (maybe I'll go into more of its specifics another time). One part of the "Eightfold Path" that leads to enlightenment and the end of suffering is that of "Right Mindfulness." Right Mindfulness involves the focusing of attention on something, without judging or reacting.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, a widely known Buddhist Monk, one of the Miracles of Right Mindfulness is the miracle of understanding, which comes along with our acceptance. He says, "Understanding is the very foundation of love. When you understand someone, you cannot help but love him or her."

That's an interesting statement. Does that mean that tied in with God's love for us is His understanding of us? If understanding is the foundation of love, can we only love if we understand, or can we love someone before we understand them?

While many of these philosophical questions come to mind, I have to say that the statement feels pretty good to me somehow. At first glance, I'm willing to accept at least that the better we understand someone, the more deeply we can love them. Seeing as how love encompasses the two greatest commandments, I'm also intrigued to explore the connection with understanding further.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Hello, World!  

This is the first post on our new weblog. Expect lots of changes for the first little while as we get things figured out.

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