Archive for April, 2008

As far as I’m concerned, Bob Dylan hasn’t put out a bad album in the last sixteen years. (I would have said nineteen, but, well – sorry, Under the Red Sky, I tried to like you). His original songs have been great lately – funny, pretty, harsh, and intense, all at the same time.

In fact, his music seems to be going so well that he has a surplus of songs. How else to explain the presence of previously unreleased Dylan recordings on countless compilations, tribute albums, and movie soundtracks, including a 2007 movie which I hadn’t heard of before, called Lucky You. Dylan contributed Huck’s Tune, which apparently played over the end credits.

This song is straight up gorgeous. It’s a murky waltz, full of long organ notes and sparse guitar picking. Dylan croaks through what sounds like an ancient melody, singing with what sounds like a genuine melancholy smile. And the lyrics embody what Dylan in his current incarnation does best – gone is the dazzling but showy wordplay, replaced with a more subdued sense of wordplay. “The game’s gotten old, the deck’s gone cold”, he sings at the end, and he sounds sad but not surprised or even disappointed.

Bob Dylan – Huck’s Tune: ★★★★★

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The final installment in a longer-than-I-intended series on Mormon fundamentalism. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 to get some background, otherwise, forge ahead!

True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days

Flock: 300-500

Locale: Manti, Utah

Extracurricular Beliefs: Wow, this is going to be long. First there’s polygamy, Adam-God Doctrine and the Law of Consecration, which are basically standard at this point, but there’s more here. They believe in “multiple mortal probations,” which is like reincarnation, but one keeps one’s gender and personality as one gets closer to godhood. They also believe in “rescuing” women: since women cannot hold the priesthood themselves, their place in heaven depends on the man they’re married to. If a woman is married to a man of low stature within the church, she can be “rescued,” by a man of more church authority. Essentially, more important men can take women away from less important men at will.

Two more. The TLC church believes that if the Temple rite is done correctly, one can “pierce the veil,” and talk to the dead. This is important, because then you can ask whether they would like to be baptised postmortem. It would seem that the dead usually say “Yes.” Finally, the leader, Jim Harmston, prophesied that the end times would come in 1999 and everyone but their church would be swept from the earth.

Mannerisms: Women are usually educated adults when married; they also own the Red Brick Store in Manti, UT.

Trivia: The church pursued adoption by the Sioux Indian tribe, since the tribe is not obligated to the US government. They failed.

Centennial Park

Flock: about 1500

Locale: South of Colorado City, AZ

Extracurricular Beliefs: mainly polygamy. Split from the FLDS church in 1986 when the FLDS went from government by council to government by individual; Centennial Park is still governed by council.

Mannerisms: wear modern dress, don’t marry off teenagers, and though they practice a form of arranged marriage, actually seem like they live in the same world as the rest of the country. They’re the main group raising polygamy “awareness” and trying to make it legal-so, they’re pretty public about it and the normal lives they claim to lead.

Trivia: are trying to piggyback the “polygamy equality” movement on the back of the gay rights movement. I’m not quite sure what I think about that.

Nielsen / Naylor Group

Flock: 200-ish

Locale: Salt Lake valley, UT

Extracurricular Beliefs: Polygamy, and what else I have no idea. Apparently they splintered from Centennial Park in 1990 because of “disagreements.”

Mannerisms: similar to Centennial Park, I think.

Trivia: the internet knows nothing about these people.

The United Latter-day Church of Jesus Christ

Flock: 100-200

Locale: Mostly David County, UT but also some in CA, AZ and WY.

Extracurricular Beliefs: Polygamy; Law of Consecration; Excludes black men from the priesthood. They split from the FLDS group during while Leroy S. Jenkins was prophet. They still accepted that priesthoods conferred by the FLDS were valid until Warren Jeffs took over.

Mannerisms: Men and women usually wear conservative, homemade clothing. Marriages are arranged, and if a man does something “bad” his wives can be taken away and given to someone else. Their webpage says they also turn off the electricity one weekend a month to live more simply and spend quality time together.

Trivia: the original leaders both converted from Anabaptism.

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To really get the most out of this, you should probably read Part 1 of the Handy Dandy guide, where I explained the doctrines that set these groups apart from mainstream Mormonism. Yeah, you know what polygamy is, but what’s the Adam-God theory?

Today’s post outlines the groups themselves. This was going to be all one post, but it turned out to be too big, so I split it into more. Possibly three. Look forward to it!

Apostolic United Brethren

Flock: between 5,000 and 8,000

Locale: most in several towns in Utah and Ozumba, Mexico, where they have a temple; Pinesdale, MT; Lovell, WY; Mesa, AZ, Humansville, MO.

Extracurricular beliefs: the Adam-God doctrine, Law of Consecration, and Plural Marriage. The last was the main reason they split from the mainstream LDS church in 1886.

Mannerisms: church leaders do not organize marriages, people under 18 do not marry, and no one marries close relatives. One of the more liberal groups.

Trivia: in 1977 the leader, Rulon C. Allred, was shot by Rena Chynoweth , a follower of another Mormon splinter group.

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church)

Flock: between 6,000 and 8,000

Locale: Hildale, UT and Colorado City, AZ (formerly both known as Short Creek); recently built a temple in Eldorado, TX at the Yearning For Zion ranch. You may have read about it in the news.

Extracurricular Beliefs: Blood Atonement, the Law of Consecration, and Plural Marriage.

Mannerisms: girls are assigned to men based on a revelation by the prophet, Warren Jeffs, when they reach marriageable age. Jeffs’ definition of “marriageable age” has gotten him a ten-to-life jail sentence. Wives are required to be subordinate to their husbands, and everyone is subject to a strict dress code, which apparently derives inspiration from the stylite monks of yore: the higher the hair, the closer to God.

Trivia: Hilade / Colorado City has a gobsmackingly high occurrence of the rare genetic defect fumarase deficiency-about 60% of the world’s cases (about 20 out of 33) have occurred there. Variety in your sexual partners, folks. Don’t date people who look like you.

Latter Day Church of Christ, aka the Kingston Clan

Flock: 2,000

Locale: Salt Lake City and surrounding areas

Extraccurricular Beliefs: Polygamy is the only one I can find for sure (some of the important men have 30+ wives), but the Law of Consecration seems likely.

Mannerisms: Owns at least $70 million worth of gaming equipment throughout the Southwest, selling tp casinos, bars, etc. via the Davis County Cooperative; most members live in abject poverty. Routinely marry off underage girls.

Trivia: They specialize in incest, since the second leader of the group, John Ortell Kingston, believed he had to keep the bloodlines pure. Marrying first cousins, nieces or nephews, or half-siblings is pretty common.

Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Flock: 100-200

Locale: Modena, UT.

Extracurricular Beliefs: Mainly polygamy, but since they’re an offshoot of the AUB (outline above), I assume they also believe in the Law of Consecration and the Adam-God doctrine. The former leader, Gerald Peterson Sr., claimed that Rulon Allred’s ghost visited him after Allred was murdered and handed leadership to him.

Mannerisms: dress modernly, and claim to not marry off underage women. However, in 2001 there was a big court case in which Tom Green, a member of the church, was convicted of marrying (and having sex with) a 13-year-old, and they had a child. They are still married. Therefore, draw your own conclusions.

Trivia: Finding info on this group is pretty tricky. The best I have for this section is that, surprise, they’re secretive, but have a pyramid-shaped temple in Utah. One webpage claimed that the temple had something to do with the mainstream LDS church allowing black men to take the priesthood, but it didn’t really clarify.

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St. Aldegundis, also known as Aldegonde, Aldegund, or Adelgondis, was born in Flanders in 639 CE, in the county of Hainaut, which straddled the borders of modern Belgium and France. Her parents, Walbert and Bertilia, and her sister, Waldetrudis, are also all saints. In fact, her nieces and nephews by Waldetrudis: also all saints. They were all closely related to the Merovingian dynasty, who ruled the Franks until 751 CE.

The story of Aldegundis is, in part, your classic vow-of-chastity story. At a relatively young age she began having visions of Christ, and came to understand that she was to take no other husband but him. Predictably, her parents, saints though they were, had other ideas and wanted her to marry an English prince named Eudon. To solve this problem she ran away from home, but had to stop when she came to the Sambre river.

Showing excellent problem-solving skills, she called on God to help, and he sent two angels who told her to walk across the river on water, which she did, not even wetting the soles of her shoes. On the other side she continued a little way into the forest, then stopped to build a cabin. She received the veil-i.e., was made a nun-by St. Amandius, the bishop of Maastricht.

Her cabin in the woods eventually became a convent, which became the Benedictine monastery Mauberge, which in turn was taken over by canonesses.

She had visions all her life, but near the end she had a vision of Satan as a wolf. Her two hagiographers had different takes on how she handled this: according to one, she got angry and kicked him out. According to the other, she was compassionate and asked why he hates people so much (jealousy), before kicking him out.

In 684 CE she died of breast cancer. Her saint day is January 30, and she’s the patron saint of cancer, wounds, and sudden death.

I realize that I’m late on this bandwagon, but I finally discovered Google Books, and holy shit you guys. There is a ton of stuff there-public domain, some scholarly stuff, some regular books. The best part is that my academic fantasy has come true with Google Books: you can search inside a book instead of using an index or whatever. Wow.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Dreams, Visions, and Spiritual Authority in Merovingians Gaul, by Isabel Moreira

A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

A Dictionary of Saintly Women by Agnes Baillie Cunninghame Dunbar

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I’ve been lying awake nights the past two weeks, worrying over the fact that I am leaving all fifteen readers of this blog bereft of information on the recent fundie Mormon polygamy busts in Texas. The problem is, not only have I been crazy busy with the deadly combo of a college class, full time job and writing I’m actually getting paid for, it’s not like I have anything above and beyond a blog like The Plural Life. She’s been living in a hotel in Texas, going to court every day. I only have the internet!

Therefore, I present you with an excellent quick guide to Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. Keep it in your wallet, and next time your business acquaintance is all, “Well, I have three wives,” you can act like you know what you’re talking about.

Today will be an amusing and diverting explanation of doctrine that differs from regular Mormon doctrine. Tomorrow will be groups. Let the oversimplification begin.

FYI: The proper name for the Mormon Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The cool kids just call it the LDS church.

The Law of Consecration. This stems from an 1831 revelation that Joseph Smith had; basically, all families deed their property to the church, which then gives the family and any successive families “stewardship” over it, with the understanding that any excess be tithed back to the church. The whole thing is run by the United Order, but fizzled in the main church by about 1877 when Brigham Young died. Don’t call it communism, because this is voluntary. You know, the special kind where there’s not that much of a choice.

The Adam-God Theory. Not for the theologically faint of heart. This idea comes from an 1852 speech made by Brigham Young, who elaborated on it once and refused to talk about it after 1854. It says that Adam was God, possibly a God besides the regular God, and possibly a God who came to earth from a different celestial kingdom. (Basic Mormon doctrine: if you live righteously, you get a celestial kingdom with planets and wives and stuff.) Adam was also the father of Jesus via the Virgin Mary. The mainstream Mormon church rejected this pretty much out of hand.

Plural Marriage. Yeah, you probably already know about the polygamy one, though more correctly it’s polygyny-multiple wives. Many women can be sealed-married for eternity, into the next kingdom-to one man. Joseph Smith started doing it in secret around 1833, and speculation on why ranges from “It was a divine revelation” to “He couldn’t keep it in his pants.” It ended when the Mormon church was at odds with the US government over statehood: polygamy was illegal in territories, and in order for Utah to become a state, the mainstream Mormon church had to renounce it and outlaw it in the state constitution.

Blood Atonement. According to this idea, some sins (namely murder and adultery) are so serious that they cannot be given unless the sinner willingly sheds his or her blood and dies. In the original Mormon doctrine in the 1850s, it was stipulated that the atonement had to be voluntary, therefore no “blood atonement” killings, but it was tricky nonetheless. The mainstream Mormon church used it to justify capital punishment in Utah, but finally did away with it in 1978.

The Exclusion of Black Men from the Priesthood. I feel like this is kind of self-explanatory, but have some history. According to Genesis, after Cain killed Abel God punished him in a lively variety of ways, including putting some sort of mark on him. The early Mormon church claimed that black people had the “mark of Cain” and were therefore excluded from the priesthood, many temple rites, and also “celestial marriage.” It was all repealed in 1978, and the LDS church now loves black people.

Check back tomorrow for part 2: which Mormon splinter groups believe what.

(UPDATE: Part 2 and Part 3 are both live.)

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Wired has an article up about how the FBI purposefully delayed their investigation into the 2005 london bombings. It seems that an agent got some documents through a subpoena. The bosses want to get those documents through the Patriot Act (and set a precedent for getting documents without a subpoena), so they had the agent return the documents.

Look, this should not be that surprising. The FBI folks probably feel constrained by their dependence on judges to grant subpoenas. People chafe under authority – it’s human nature, everyone does it. The problem is that the  FBI are supposed to be constrained by the judiciary. The US government was set up to spread the power around. The players try to pull the power towards themselves, and away from anyone who performs oversight on them (see also: the president).

All of this is normal. The problem is the response. When these power grabs are attempted, they need to be slapped down. The judiciary should be pushing back. Maybe the FBI had the greater good in mind – I honestly don’t know. But no matter how noble their intentions could well have been, there’s no knowing what future leadership will be like. Which is why they shouldn’t have the power to seize documents willy nilly.

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This week we’ve got our first Armenian saint, St. Blaise. He’s probably the least obscure saint I’ve covered yet–at least one former Catholic I asked had a vague idea of who he was.

Blaise was also hugely popular in the Middle Ages, because he was one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers/ Martyrs, a group of saints who specialized in healing and were called upon largely because of the Bubonic Plague.

Getting to the bottom of his history is a little shaky; the first mention of him happens in late versions of the Martyrology of St. Jerome, dated to the late 700’s; the Acts of St. Blaise are dated to the mid-700’s. Since he is reported to have died in 316 CE, that’s plenty of room for error.

According to the legend, he was born to a noble family as a Christian, became a physician, and later the Bishop of Sabastea. Under the governor Agricolaus and the Emperor of the East Licinius, Christians were being persecuted again, and Blaise received a message from God telling him to go hide in the wilderness.

Later, some hunters out looking for beasts to kill Christians in the amphitheatre came upon Blaise in his cave, surrounded by sick wild animals he was healing. He was captured and taken to the jail to be starved, and on the way, he saw a wolf with a pig belonging to a poor woman in its jaws, and convinced the wolf to release the pig. The pig’s owner was so grateful that she secretly brought him food and water in jail. Possibly she was feeding him the pig.

While in jail, he miraculously healed a child who was choking nearly to death on a fish bone, making him the patron saint of not choking on things. He was first tortured with iron carding combs–what they use to make wool–and then beheaded.

St. Blaise’s feast day is February 3 for Roman Catholics and February 11 for Eastern Orthodox; that’s also the day you can get your throat blessed by having candles pressed against it by a priest.

St. Blaise at New Advent

St. Blaise at Catholic Online

St. Blaise at American Catholic

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Music habits change in ways that are hard to track and harder to predict. Most people have only a handful of albums in heavy rotation at any given time. As weeks turn into months, some albums drop out and new albums come in. And while some albums are boon companions, most music lovers have a need for new music. It doesn’t have to be brilliant – sometimes, you just want a fresh album to get into.

The music rotation defies any attempts at logic or analysis. I used to consider Exile on Main Street to be a decent album, but I didn’t understand what the hype was about. Then one day, I noticed that it had been in heavy rotation for close to a year. What was it about that album that was durable? Why did I get tired of countless other albums, but not that one? To this day, I still can’t put my finger on the answer.

Of course, they can’t all be Exile on Main Street (although I did have a similar, “Hey, I’m still listening to this” experience with the Kelly Joe Phelps album Lead Me On). Most albums naturally fall out of rotation for a while. And with these albums – particularly with more recent releases – it can be unclear if the albums fell out of rotation because it was time for something new, or if it was because they were never that good to begin with. Will these albums hold up? Or was I listening to them only because I wanted something new to listen to?

Which leads to today’s piece, Is That Still Good?, which very well might possibly become a recurring feature. In Is That Still Good? we look releases from a few years back, which we may not have thought about recently, and see how they hold up. One point – this is not about nostalgia. I’m not talking about how much you liked the “You’ve Got the Touch!” song from the Transformers cartoon. This is about that album you used to listen to when you were hanging out with your friends that summer.

So, this brings us to Eels, and their 2003 album Shootenanny. I had just purchased an iPod, which was the first portable music player I had ever owned. Shootenanny was one of the first albums I listened to while walking, and it seemed perfect – it was springtime, I had an iPod, life was going great. It was full of bleak lyrics, but had toe-tapping beats and simple, catchy melodies. It was in heavy rotation for that spring, and stayed in light rotation for the summer after. Eventually, it was phased out as a new batch of new music came in – probably TV on the Radio, or whatever my dad happened to have sent me (look for an upcoming review on Dad Music).

The question is: Is it still good? Does this album have some depth to it? Or some staying power? Or did I listen to it because I didn’t want to listen Belle and Sebastian anymore? (And for the record – Belle and Sebastian does not hold up.)

Answer: It is still good. The sound on the album seems very 90s, despite having been released in 2003. It doesn’t sound dated, though – just pleasantly old fashioned. The songs are simple, verging on the simplistic, and the backing tracks often consist of nothing more than a few measures of music repeated over and over and over. However, this also means that there is little to get tired of. Gimmicks which sound new and exciting at first often quickly become annoying – luckily, E pretty much avoids them, writing simple songs with simple arrangements and clever lyrics. Plus, the album contains a few classics. Saturday Morning is told from the point of view of a kid who has woken up early. And Love of the Loveless is a perfect little pop rock song. And it turns out that Shootenanny is still a great album to walk to.

Eels – Shootenanny: Still good.

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That’s right: Pope Benedict XVI, nee Ratzinger, turns 81 today. Have a good one, dude. Someday when I rule the world you will have a show about your birthday, such as “My Super Sweet (Benedict the) Sixteenth.”

In other papal news, yesterday driving home from work I was listening to news radio, hoping they would explain what the traffic was all about, but they were talking about the pope’s visit instead. Bush is pulling out all the stops, it sounds like: inviting 9,000 people to the party, giving Benny a 21-gun salute, inviting a famous soprano to sing for him, and doing something else that Bush has never done for a foreign dignitary: meeting the Pope at the airport.

That made me really happy. First, in my mind the Pope flies in this:

Second, I love the idea of a cranky Pope getting off a long international flight and trying to find George in the madness that is Dulles International Airport, Swiss Guard in tow (and in full getup). To get from the gate to the main terminal at Dulles, one must ride one of these delightful vehicles:

I am convinced that Dulles got them for a real deal when they were auctioned off the set of Star Wars. Imagine the Pope, in his fancy vestments, big Pope hat, and diamonds-and-gold-encrusted laptop bag (what I imagine the Pope carries on flights), getting on one of these and staring out the window as it slowly crawls across the tarmac. Meanwhile, the Pope has taken out his cell phone–would the Pope have an iPhone?–and is trying to call George, but there’s no signal.

The Pope would probably have checked luggage. By that point he’s probably made contact with George, who’s waiting in the car on the downstairs level, looking at everyone coming out of the airport, thinking, Is that him? No, that’s big hair, not the Pope hat and wondering whether he should just park and get coffee inside. Meanwhile the Pope is standing at the baggage claim, directly in front of the chute from which the baggage comes, and all the people around him can’t decide whether to be annoyed that his big hat is blocking the view, or excited that the Pope is standing next to them. Someone takes a picture with a camera phone. The Swiss guard glares, but couldn’t take their fancy pikes because of airline regulations.

Their luggage finally comes, probably made out of a 13th century painting of St. Christopher, and the Pope goes outside to look for George. George has gotten impatient waiting and decides to circle around the airport once, so the Pope calls.

Finally George comes back, gets out, greets the Pope, they do a fist pound, the Swiss guard loads the luggage and they all get in the car (Pope calls shotgun. “He always calls shotgun,” one of the Swiss guard mutters).

“How was your flight?” George says.

“The usual. Heathrow was awful,” the Pope says.

“Heathrow’s always awful,” George says. “Are you hungry? There’s an IHOP on the way home.”

Picking the Pope up from the airport: five stars.

I know the Pope actually flew the Official Vatican Jet into an Air Force base, but I think my version is way better.

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An Advertisement

I didn’t want to have advertising on this site – unless, of course, it’s for a product I can truly and fully endorse. Luckly, I have no reservations about advertising Marshall Dillo here, up for auction at eBay. With a “Buy Now” set at $149.99, it would be a bargain at twice the price.

In case the auction ends or otherwise goes away, here’s the picture:

Marshall Dillo

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