Review, Book of Mormon (The Show, That Is!)


When I heard that Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame were doing a musical comedy based on the Book of Mormon, I had high expectations. This week I finally saw the show, and they did not disappoint me.For those who don’t know, the play is the story of two American Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda. One is a narcissistic over-achiever, the other an Asperger-ish compulsive liar. This, combined with the hellish conditions and cynical inhabitants of the village they’re sent to, makes for some very hilarious and un-PC hijinks.

It’s interesting, when you’ve been listening to the sound track for a long time, to see what the actual show is like. I ended up going twice, because my girlfriend Arlys’ employer changed the date of a conference we’d been planning around. Rather than trying to sell the original tickets and risk not seeing it at all, we bought two more. On Tuesday night I saw it with family, and on Thursday with Arlys. Both times it was fantastic, with top-notch acting, singing and dancing. Seeing it a second time was an opportunity to notice the details and laugh at the jokes I’d missed the first time. Not that I’d have gone twice otherwise, because even high in the second balcony, the tickets weren’t cheap.

I realize that all traveling Broadway shows are pricey these days. It’s just a shame that when a show appears on a college campus (the Gammage at ASU) that the students can’t afford to see it. My son, an ASU freshman, was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t notice too many other people his age when we were there. In any case, the performers all did an excellent job and deserved to be well paid. They were accompanied by a top-notch live orchestra. It’s worth noting that Parker and Stone are among the world’s richest comedy writers (at least, according to one of those Internet “top ten” lists.) I sure wouldn’t complain as the money rolled in.

The Book of Mormon is probably the most politically incorrect musical to ever win nine Tony awards. Besides plenty of vulgar language, it lampoons a major religion, albeit a religion that’s overwhelmingly white and conservative. It gets an equal amount of comedic mileage from the horrible problems of modern Africa – war, famine, AIDS, and female genital mutilation. To the writers’ credit, they didn’t throw in any lines that blamed this on the white man. They did, however, have the African characters complain that foreign missionaries would tell them lovely stories and then leave without fixing anything. The part about an insane general trying to force circumcision upon helpless women was probably furthest from reality. From what I’ve heard, African women are usually the ones who are the most adamant about subjecting their daughters to this barbaric practice.

It was fascinating how much actual Mormon / Latter Day Saints doctrine made its way into the show. The opening historical background sequences reminded me of time long ago when I went to the visitors’ center of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City (or Sal Tlay Ka Siti, as the Africans call it.) Of course, it’s all presented in a satirical, cartoonish fashion. My favorite song is “I Believe,” in which Elder Price begins by singing about the standard Christian dogma we all know – that God created the universe, that Jesus died for our sins, that there’s some good in everyone. He continues with the more unusual Mormon beliefs – that ancient Jews sailed to America, that God lives on a planet called Kolob, and that in 1978, God “changed his mind about black people.” Another of the best musical numbers had the sci-fi obsessed Elder Cunningham being chastised by Joseph Smith, Lt. Uhura, hobbits, and Yoda.

I’ve heard very little about LDS reaction on the show, which seems to portray Mormons as well-intentioned but bumbling do-gooders. When I first heard of the show a few years ago, the reviewers claimed that it was popular among younger Mormons, though I personally don’t have any close friends in the church I’d feel comfortable about asking. I definitely wouldn’t recommend the show to anybody who’s offended by profanity, sexual humor, or mockery of religion. To everyone else I say, for Christ’s sake, see it!

(Picture of Salt Lake Assembly hall is from Wikimedia Commons.)



Calling All Free Speech Warriors!


Those of you who’ve been following the #Gamergate and Hugo Award controversies are no doubt familiar with the term Social Justice Warrior, or SJW for short. SJW’s are the folks who are easily offended by perceived instances of racism, sexism and homophobia, and relentlessly push for everything to be perfectly diverse and fair. I wish them no ill will, and they have a right to their opinion, but I reject it emphatically!

SJW’s are victims of magical thinking. They seem to believe that if only we use the right euphemisms, the pain of being black, gay, transgendered, or handicapped will go away, and the world will be filled with sunbeams, rainbows and unicorns. Conversely, a dirty joke or a naked picture is like the curse of the Dark Lord, spreading rape, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation in its wake. SJW’s focus on superficial, legalistic “solutions” as opposed to actually doing something to help the victims of discrimination, violence,or other misfortunes help themselves. Mollycoddling the officially designated “victims” with talk of “trigger warnings” and “micro-aggressions” helps no one.

At best, the SJW’s obsession with political correctness is a distraction from real issues. At worst, it’s an invitation to any tyrant who can mouth the right platitudes.

It’s not that I’m opposed to social justice, depending upon your definition of the term. To me, it means equality under the law, tolerance of different ethnicities, viewpoints, and faiths, and the freedom to pursue economic opportunity. However, it’s no justice at all if the welfare of the individual must be sacrificed to the collective. That’s why I hate the idea of favoritism in hiring (dishonestly called “diversity”), or hysterical, overwrought reactions to trivial offenses. A case in point is the silly controversy over Sir Tim Hunt‘s innocent remarks about women in science. You may or may not have found them funny, but the man didn’t deserve to be hounded out of his job over them! As a Nobel prize winner in medicine, Hunt’s contributions to society outweigh all the kvetching of all the world’s armchair feminists. Advancing human knowledge is both social and just!

This is why I’m declaring myself to be an FSW, or free speech warrior and First Amendment absolutist. All opinions, no matter how repugnant, deserve to be protected. Even Neo-nazis, Holocaust deniers, ISIS supporters and Westboro Baptists should be able to speak without fear of prosecution. As my favorite radio host John Holmberg has put it, “We need to know who the crazies are!”

So join me, Free Speech Warriors! You have nothing to lose but your self-censorship!

Illustration: Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952)

Building the Future: China Homesteads the Sea


In the wake of the controversy over Russia’s intervention in Syria, many of you may have overlooked the controversial events in the South China sea. As usual, our overlords on the Potomac are outraged whenever anybody anywhere takes the initiative without saying “Uncle may I?” The corporate media echoes their allegations that China is a horrible aggressor for reclaiming reefs to create island bases. Not so; China’s island-building is not only justified, it’s awesome!

Normally I don’t support anything governments do, which mostly involves killing people and breaking things. Even when in their constructive mode, they use resources stolen from the people by taxation. Sometimes, however, they create things impressive enough to almost make us forget that: the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Netherlands’ dikes and polders, the Trans-Siberian railway, the International Space Station, and the Suez and Panama Canals. These are astonishing feats of human endeavor, even if some of them used slave labor or forced peasants from their homes.

China’s man-made islands are similarly impressive, and more compatible with libertarianism than many of the other examples. As John Locke advocated, the Chinese are mixing labor with nature to create property. Several Asian nations claim the Spratly Islands, but only the Chinese have done anything significant with them,

The fact that China’s actions are self-interested doesn’t make them wrong. They’ve created several thousand acres of new territory, always helpful for an overpopulated country. Secondly, they’ve established a claim to the surrounding seas for future extraction of oil and gas. Most importantly, they’re building bases to safeguard the free movement of goods through these strategic sea lanes. Washington’s claim that this threatens freedom of the seas is Orwellian nonsense, because only the US habitually slaps blockades, embargoes and sanctions on countries that defy its dictates. China depends on trade for its survival; these bases are a kind of insurance policy.

Contrast China’s activities in the Spratlys to similar projects by America. On Diego Garcia, a remote island in the Indian Ocean, the US built a massive military installation and expelled the entire native population. In the US Territory of Guam, the Pentagon blocks the Guamanians’ requests for increased autonomy. The natives mustn’t have a say in the scope of military operations on their islands.

Furthermore, if China’s claim to the Spratly reefs is recognized internationally, private projects might fare better in the future. In 1972, a group of American investors tried to establish a libertarian nation on the Minerva Reefs in the Pacific, but the neighboring Kingdom of Tonga invaded and stole the fruits of their labor. Hopefully China’s actions will also weaken the Communistic “Law of the Sea” treaty, which restricts development by defining the oceans as “the common heritage of mankind.” Finally, if humans are ever going to colonize the asteroids or terraform Mars, we need to start somewhere. As the proverb goes, even the longest journey begins with a single step.


The accompanying picture is from and shows personnel on Fiery Cross Reef AKA Yongshu Island. Here’s an unrelated question for you military folks out there: though the female sailors look adorable in their blue camouflage uniforms, what’s the purpose? People don’t fight battles in the water, except as“frog men” (or should I say “frog persons?”)

Sources:, and Image at the start of the article is a LANDSAT-7 image of Fiery Cross, from April 2000. How things have changed!


Don’t Fear the Penguin, Part 3 – Linux Publishing Tools


At one time, Linux aficionados who write – especially self-published authors – faced the hassle of getting access to a system running Windows or Mac to get their books ready for publication. Those days are over. The open-source world offers increasingly powerful tools for writers. Though I’m not aware of a Linux version of the popular writer’s tool Scrivener at this time, I’ve never really felt a need for it, except for its handy e-book conversion feature. Now there are other options.

The first is Calibre, a general-purpose e-book management program created by Kovid Goyal. The program allows you to catalog your e-books, read them on your computer, and synch with your e-reader device. More important to me as an author is the e-book conversion feature. Calibre lets you import your word processor document, apply formatting, and generate features such as tables of contents. It also lets you view and manipulate the raw HTML code that comprises your book, which is really handy for both editing and troubleshooting. I want to give props to the program’s creator, because when I posted a question on the program’s forum, he answered it personally.

At this point I must note that there are two ways a writer can proceed in book creation, One way is to do the formatting in a standard word processor and a conversion application to get it ready. I’ve tried this in the past (on my first book Centrifugal Force) and it was a troublesome approach. Conversion tools inevitably mess up some of the formatting, particularly if you’re using Open Office or Libre Office rather than Microsoft Word. The better approach is to do as little formatting as possible up front, saving if for the publishing program. With this approach it’s helpful to use unique and consistent text markers for specific features of the book, for example, to use asterisks or hash-tags to indicate scene transitions. These can be updated by using the search/replace features of the publishing program. This is how I did my second book, Fidelio’s Automata — and I didn’t have to reboot to Windows AT ALL to do the conversion.

This brings us to the topic of desktop publishing. For those of you have never used one (PageMaker and QuarkXPress ) are popular non-free options), it’s a whole different animal than word processing. Desktop publishing applications are focused on layout, and making the printed matter look good. Word processors do this, but not well. For example, I’ve gone through a rather involved process to make Open Office suppress page headers on the first page of each chapter. Another important consideration is that just-in-time publishers like Lightning Source require a very specific type of PDF (PDF/x-1a:2001) to be submitted for book manufacture. Yes, any good word processor can export a generic PDF, but can they embed fonts and do other necessary setup?

For desktop publishing, the Linux world has Scribus. In the past the program had a number of serious problems. The worst was that the stable version didn’t create the correct PDF formats; for that you had to use an unstable beta version of the program. As of version 1.4.5, this is fixed. Another weakness affects Scribus’ most powerful feature, its scripting facility, which allows you to perform repetitive programming tasks quickly. Scripts must be written in the Python language, which isn’t at all difficult for someone who already knows programming. The difficult is with the program’s library functions, which the script must access to do anything useful. The Scribus help files contain a reference, but it’s not thorough enough. It took me hours of tinkering to figure out how to do search/replace within a multi-page document. It’s also not totally intuitive how to insert or delete pages without corrupting the left/right formatting. As with most open-source programs, there’s an online forum; unfortunately most participants seem to be doing short works like newsletters or fliers, not novels. There are “how to” books for Scribus, but I hate buying a general-purpose book to learn one task. Sometime soon I will convert my notes into a quick step by step guide for novel creation, which I’ll make available for 99 cents on Amazon, along with my custom python formatting scripts.

As you’d expect both of these programs are also available for Mac OSX and Windows.

Next week’s installation, if I don’t get distracted by any wacky news events, will discuss Linux tools for musicians.

About the illustration: some people are crazy enough about Linux to get the Mighty Penguin Tux embedded in the skin. Tattoo by Kyle Dunbar.


Time to Abolish Reality?


I’m a writer of fiction, which means I spend a lot of time inventing scenarios that aren’t real. I also like to think that I’m good at distinguishing an actual news stories from a hoax. Occasionally I’m fooled, because reality itself has become strange – such as the story of a kid being expelled from school for doing PHP, which the administrators didn’t realize was a programming language. Thankfully, that was a hoax. Two days ago, for the first time, I was taken in by a story that appeared to be straight out of The Onion, but was actually real.

It appeared on Alex Jones’, a site well known for conspiracy theories and making innocuous events seem menacing. The headline was “Trannies want you to say ‘birthing individuals’ instead of ‘pregnant women.’” The gist of the article was that LGBT activists had persuaded the Midwives Alliance of North America to adopt politically correct language (such as ‘pregnant people’ instead of ‘mothers’) on their website. A group of midwives complained about this in an open letter, and a transsexual activist in turn accused them of ‘trans hatred.’

I was flabbergasted to discover the story was no exaggeration, but 100% real. The MANA website does indeed contain this bizarre PC language, and I quickly found a post by Trevor MacDonald on the Huff Post Parents blog, called “Transphobia in the Midwifery Community.” Mr. MacDonald, as a parent, don’t you have better things to do?

Being a conspiracy buff, I tend to see everything as connected. Mr MacDonald’s rantings bring to mind one of my favorite topics, magical thinking. Perhaps because we humans are the only animals with language, we ascribe to it more power than it actually has. This is why the ancient Hebrews considered the ‘name of God’ to have immense power; thus they mandated death by stoning for anyone uttering it casually. Likewise, Muslims see the Koran as being more than the message contained on its pages; therefore its ‘desecration’ will provoke violent protests. Millions of people seem to live in a Harry Potter world, where uttering the name ‘Voldemort’ will bring the Dark Lord to their door.

Such beliefs aren’t confined to the religious. Our society is awash with secular ‘social justice’ activists who flip out over mere words. Conservatives see this as the influence of Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist theorist who advocated promoting revolution by attacking the cultural foundations of society. That may be so, however, I blame the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Sapir and Whorf were two linguists who never actually collaborated. Their ‘hypothesis’ is the idea of linguistic relativity, that a language determines the way its speakers experience the world. Benjamin Whorf is best known for his study of the Hopi language, in which he speculated that its lack of past tense verbs influenced the way its speakers experienced time. This idea was all the rage in the psychedelic 1960’s. It was the basis for Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, in which the lone survivor of a Mars expedition is discovered, having been raised by the spirits of deceased Martians. His knowledge of the Martian language gives him a special view of the universe, as well as psychic powers. As much as I enjoyed the book, it was, alas, fiction. Even Whorf’s theories appear to have fallen out of favor in the linguistic community.

In other words, though language may influence our view of the world, it can’t change reality. Wishing for something won’t make it so. Even surgery can’t change biology. Woman can have babies; men can’t. If the facts of life intrude on someone’s fragile self-concept, that’s unfortunate.

Transsexuals have more serious issues to confront than ‘transphobic’ speech. A 2013 survey found straight Americans to be more accepting of gays and lesbians that they are of transsexuals. Perhaps it’s squeamishness; the thought of a man having his genitalia removed makes many of us cringe. Despite having these feelings myself, I support transsexuals in their personal struggles.The transsexuals I’ve met seem to just want to be accepted for who they are.

On the other hand, if I were an evil doctor bent on destroying the LGBT movement, I would secretly promote the social justice warrior mentality. Nothing scares the straight world more than outsiders who want to ‘corrupt’ their children and forcibly change their lifestyles. This is why Americans perceive ISIS/ISIL as such a threat, and why many people suspect it to a gigantic psy-op – evil, murderous and barbaric, but a psy-op nonetheless.

Yes, I support the LGBT community’s quest for acceptance and equality. But attacking the straight world for being straight is not the way to accomplish that.

Illustration is “Cinny Bun System” by Thunder Falcon on