Friday, April 13, 2012

DVDs are Here For a While Longer

I keep seeing predictions of the demise of the DVD and Blueray disks. I am here to tell you it is bunk. CDs are a goner though.

So how do I rectify the two? Three little letters, DRM.

When I download a song from Amazon or iTunes I can move it to any player I have, no restrictions. This means that I can have it on my phone, regardless of manufacturer, on my Notebook, and on my multimedia center PC. I can also choose the interface I use to play that music, regardless of manufacturer or operating system. Because of this flexibility the reasons for maintaining physical copies is pretty much done for.

Actually, I had some music I purchased from iTunes back in 2006 that I lost the CD I had made to play it in my car. I went to iTunes, and there it was, waiting for me to download a fresh copy of my lost purchase. Try that with a CD.

The pricing of CDs have even made buying used a losing proposition.  Unless you are buying something not available as a download (Really? Pop Goes the World by Men Without Hats is not available for download?) you really don't save any money.  The one advantage of CDs is that you have something physical you can sell and get some of the money back, but if you look at it as a deposit on the music, you still are ahead on the downloads based on the paltry amounts they will give you for CDs these days.

Unfortunately videos are a completely different story.  Downloaded videos are so locked down that your ability to use them becomes severely compromised.  In reality you can only play downloaded video files on some of your devices, and certainly you are limited in which players you will view it.  So if I download Reckless Kelley from iTunes, I can watch it on my iPad, or in iTunes, but I can't import it into Plex, my main media player.  And so I am stuck.

This leaves you with two options.  You can buy the DVD (which takes time, but is the route I have chosen), or you can download it off of some of the free torrent sites.  Honestly, the pirated video is actually the most useful in that you can have it immediately and just move forward.  I buy the DVD, rip it to a format that my iPad is happy with and upload that to Plex.  It will often take several days to get the DVD, and then 3-6 hours to actually rip the files.  What a pain.  But by going this route I have the option of using the file as I see fit.

And that is the downfall of video downloads.  So long as they are hampered by DRM, pirating and DVD/BR disks will be around to stay.  Maybe that is how they want it, but it is a dumb model.  I just purchased a used DVD of Johnny English Reborn for $7.  With shipping it was $10. It cost me the same (or less) than a download, and if I wish, I could resell it and get most of that money back.

What the market demands is easy access to content on our choice of device and interface.  I'm willing to pay a fair price for that, but I must be able to use it where I see fit.  Until then don't get too worried about the immanent death of your videos on DVD or Blueray.

Oh, but CDs are a goner.  No doubt about that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Vitriolic Anti-Mormonism

Well, this is getting further down the Mormon rabbit hole than I originally thought it would.  Go figure.

One of the things that most people within the LDS faith notice at a fairly young age is that the loudest and often most dishonest detractors of the Church are former members.  The obvious question is, why?

I can only speak from my opinion, but I believe that the same reason many who leave is the same reason some who don't believe in full still cling to or return to the faith.

One of the most unique beliefs of the LDS faith is in a living, personal, God who reveals truth today.  This revolutionary idea is one that is core to everything Mormon.  Not only that, but he actually reveals truths through a Prophet who is living today, instead of some old guy in a 2000 year old book.  The counter to this is that it is a faith that is very demanding.  You don't become the Church that members give the most money and time to charity without being demanding of your adherents.

Trust me, there are a lot of demands on you.  I don't say that to complain.  Everything you do as a Mormon is your own choice.  Free will is a core tenant.  There are plenty of people who say "no" on a regular basis.  But if you believe in the faith, there is a compulsion within yourself to do these things, and it does take a lot of effort.  On the positive side, there isn't a whole lot of time to sin :)

I think a majority of people who stop going don't actually leave the Church, they just get tired, fade out and forget what they once knew.  Once you stop living it day to day, it becomes very difficult to get back up to the energy level needed to live the faith.  Even with a short "time off" the return can be difficult in getting back into the flow and it only gets more difficult the longer you are out.

Intentionally leaving, by this I mean making a conscious decision to leave, necessarily means giving up that living God.  The dissonance involved in that has got to be dramatic.  Imagine believing you are able to pray and get answers from a God that is here today, and actually cares about you as an individual and then walking away from that.  The only way you can give that up is to convince yourself that you are brainwashed, crazy or deluded.  In any case, you have very few options.  One thing you must do is convince yourself that everything you have believed and experienced is a lie.  If you actually manage to do that then you cannot help but feel that everyone who is in the Church is likewise deluded, and it then becomes your life's mission trying to convince everyone you are right.

In my experience a significant number of the people who consciously choose to leave the Church claim to become atheists.

There is an option that seems to be becoming more popular: the a la carte version of Mormonism.  Pick the things you like and try to wash away the things you don't.  This is very different than having questions and being willing to wait for the answers to come at a later time when answers aren't immediately available.  It is more permanently disregarding certain points that you don't like for whatever reason, even working against those parts actively, and then attempting to rectify the remainder so you can stay within the faith.  I don't fault these people.  The LDS beliefs are compelling, even when there are parts you don't like.  The conflict of believing half of something is, for some people, less than giving up the parts they really love.  The problem is that it really is an "all in" faith, and this will always compromise your ability to be truly within the faith.  You will always be in conflict with one foot in, and one foot out.

If you haven't lived as a member of the LDS faith, you really cannot understand how beautiful yet demanding it is.  There are a lot of people who just can't live it day to day, but for those can, that demanding nature invests you in it and helps you to keep moving forward.  Once you are invested in it, giving it up takes some significant changes in yourself and your life perspective, and that is why some of the loudest voices against the Church are former members.  It isn't that they have some new or different insight into Mormonism, it is that they gave up something dear, and need to justify that decision over and over.

Have I covered 100% of the people who leave the church in this article?  No way.  The reasons for leaving are as unique as the people who leave it.   But I would bet I that almost everyone who has left the Church (or taken strong positions in opposition to it from within) would feel some discomfort with how close one of these reasons hit the mark.

So with that said, understand, people who speak with "authority" against the Church  in whole or in part, usually have some kind of an axe to grind and thus their objectivity should be in question to some degree.  I think that there can be some good things that come from the discussions that are brought up, but in many cases, to justify their opinion, things have been twisted, facts lost or created, and context conveniently is ignored.  These people cannot speak for the members of the Mormon faith at large as they do not believe in the same way, nor do they live in the same way as those members who are active full adherents, and thus they are detached, living differently and believing other ideas.  If you have rejected core beliefs or even the whole of it, and have chosen to live contrary to that belief system, your insight into that system is necessarily at best tainted, and probably not even applicable to those left behind for the purposes of understanding how they live.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Disagreement vs Bigotry

You know, with all the coverage out there about Mormons, as one, you can't help but get a sense of who and what the authors are.

I have been very pleased to see several articles that were obviously well researched, and substantively got their facts correct.  For the articles I commend the profession.

Unfortunately I see the broader effort taking shortcuts, resorting to old stereotypes, and re-publishing outright lies and misinformation.  It is pretty easy to tell who has an agenda, and who wants to report the facts.

A more extreme example is Lawrence O'Donnell's tirade which has been reported on here and here.  If you haven't been exposed to his rant, don't.

In most cases, taking the few minutes to have a member of the LDS Church look over the article would highlight most of the issues that are in question, and allow the author to sharpen up the copy.  Unfortunately it is more salacious to start an article about Mormons spending three paragraphs about a polygamist sect (polygamy has been banned in the church and is reason for excommunication for 120+ years now) only to say, halfway into the article that they don't have anything to do with the LDS Church now.  Don't you think that is kind of misleading?

The other problem is context.  If you take any religious act and pull it out of context it becomes strange and unrecognizable.  That is easy.  What is hard as an author is to give the practice the context that helps it make some sort of sense.  Baptism for the dead is an easy one to get weirded out on, but when it is put in the context of the person still having the right to choose, and that it should only be done for family (anyone doing otherwise is breaking policy) it starts to make more sense.

Another issue is taking statements by Church leaders from a century ago, that have been discredited by more recent authorities, and holding them up as doctrine.  Brigham Young said some pretty radical stuff.  Some of it was spot on.  Some of it was out there.  Heber C. Kimball (my GGG Grandfather) is said to have kind of been one of the first PR guys for the LDS Church.  By that he spent a lot of time going around saying things like, "Now what Brother Brigham really MEANT to say was..."  Elder D. Todd Christofferson  gave what will become a legendary talk in the April 2012 General Conference addressing some of the philosophy behind why we can discard some of the wack stuff said in the past.  What it comes down to is that we are all human and say dumb things, and sometimes the Lord has to correct even the leaders.

So are you here to lob bombs or to educate?

I have no problem with probing questions about our faith.  What I do have a problem with is taking things either out of context or that have been disregarded for more than a century and holding them up as look how WEIRD they are.  Even more so, I can't stand the lies.

Trust me.  We are weird enough.  You don't need to propagate lies and half truths to find weird here.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Mormonism "Lite"

I have been reading a lot from and about Joanna Brooks and several of her compatriot feminist bloggers. There is some resistance to their views within the orthodox LDS Church members, and one article that stood out defending her position is here.

First, let me state that I believe that one of the great things about the Mormon faith is that there is a core set of beliefs that are tightly defined and well documented, yet around that is an area that allows some space for speculation and variation.  If you want a concise relatively modern take on LDS beliefs, probably the best book would be the manual used in Priesthood and Relief Society (the adult men's and women's Sunday School classes) called Gospel Principles.  You can read it right here.

It lays out pretty much the whole cannon as is needed to reach all the goals within the LDS belief system.  Everything else is really academic curiosity.

You will note that in the General Conference talks (General Conference is the twice yearly broadcast meeting for the whole LDS Church in which the Church's highest authorities speak) almost all the topics can be found in this book.  It would actually be a rare occurrence that they would talk about anything NOT in that book.  They keep things basic, and intentionally so.  We have a hard enough time living up to this stuff.

So if these core beliefs are so well canonized, why is there such a diverse range of opinions within the Church?

When you get outside of these core beliefs, you are delving into what is often referred to as the "mysteries" of the gospel.  That isn't to say that there aren't some pretty well documented and understood beliefs in this range, but often the scriptural basis for is light, or there are conflicting opinions in that area.

A really good example of this would be the theory of evolution.  I grew up with many people poo poohing the credibility of evolution, and even stating the Church was against it.  It caused a real crisis for me because the evidence is overwhelming.  You can recreate it in the lab reliably, and it is shown through many different types of natural records.  There was enough dissonance that it caused me to begin to research the Church's stance on it more in detail.

It was at this point I came across this research paper:  "The Mormon Myth of Evil Evolution".  This article was transformative to me.  In it it makes the argument (quite well I might add) that not only does the Church not take a stand on evolution, but that there have been deep divisions within the highest leadership of the Church on the matter.  The final document issued by the Church on the matter gave a range of theoretical possibilities, including evolution, and acknowledging that we really don't know.  It was actually really interesting to see the humanity of the LDS leadership as contained in that document, and it gave me great comfort that we DON'T have all the answers.

On that basis I have been very willing to give a much wider birth to diverse opinions within the membership with a couple of caveats: First, when it strays outside the core curriculum, it should be stated as opinon, and second,  it shouldn't conflict with those core beliefs that have been for lack of a better term "canonized".  Those core beliefs all intertwine and intersect such that you really cannot pick and choose among them.  If you are Mormon, that is what they are.  It is OK to suspend judgement until a later time, as often we are in a process of learning and growing in our understanding, but to deny those items outright is to deny the very things you are trying to embrace as a Mormon.

So, if you tell me that you don't believe we evolved from apes, I can live with that and we can move forward.  But if you try to teach me that Book of Mormon isn't the product of Joseph Smith translating an ancient record, what you are telling me is you don't believe in a core doctrine of the Church, and you have moved well out of alignment with what I consider it to be Mormon.

Here is a better example.  The whole of the LDS faith began when Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees, knelt and prayed to find out which church to join.  In that event a number of specific events happened, each of which are key to our theology.  God the Father and Christ the Son appeared to him.  This is vital.  It is the rock on which our gospel is based.  Either they did or they didn't.  It is binary, and the truthfulness of the whole Mormon faith rests on that question.  If they did then we know know that God and Christ are separate and distinct individuals.  We know that they do still communicate with us.  We also know based on their advice to Joseph that he shouldn't join any of the churches at that time that they have some pretty specific ideas about what is Christ's Church and which is not.  In fact, Joseph was told Christ's Church would be restored.

We can learn several important things from this.  One of these is the idea of Mormon exceptionalism.  If the other churches are wrong, and His church is being restored, and if we accept that They came to Joesph, then we can safely assume that this Church has something none of the others do.  As was said in what has become known as the "First Vision" the other churches have many good things and teach truths, but they had been tainted with "abominations" and none have the whole truth.  This was reserved for the church that was to be restored.  As a member of the LDS Church, to deny this exeptionalism is to deny the very foundation of the faith, and undermines everything else that the Church brings to bare.

This does not mean that others cannot have spiritual experiences, nor does it mean that God doesn't love them or give them blessings or that we shouldn't engage with other denominations in productive ways.  Quite the contrary.  But it does mean that other churches don't have all the working parts of Christ's Church and gospel as He would have it.

And so when, in the first article I listed above, the diversity of spiritual experience among other denominations is seen as a reason to discredit LDS exceptionalism, I do call into question the whole of the thought process of that individual.  Espousing tolerance, empathy, brotherly kindness and love to our brother's and sisters of different faiths is correct and good, but to diminish what we have because they have some too misses the whole point and makes all of the author's ideas to be standing on no foundation.  Or at least not the same foundation I recognize as that of the LDS faith.

So, while I think that some of the intolerance of the diversity of view within the LDS orthodoxy is pompous and does not give credence to how much we really don't know, I think that the attempt to twist or change LDS theology to meet someone's specific agenda (feminist or otherwise) is just as pompous and steps out of bounds.  Play on the fringes and bend them to your hearts content, but the core beliefs are really not up for debate, and if you begin to debate them then you have a much bigger problem on your hands.  The Mormon faith is not one you can pick and choose principles, they are set and well documented.  To stray from those will by definition set you outside the faith you are striving to stay within.