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“So You’re Going on a Mission” Squeaky Clean! August 23, 2016

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Continuing on with the chapter-by chapter review of the 1968 handbook for prospective Mormon Missionaries:

Chapter 10, Grooming Care

shiny teethThis chapter is really short compared to the chapter on table manners.  Most of it is just the usual nagging-mother litany of take a bath, comb your hair, brush your teeth, use deodorant, put on a clean shirt, shine your shoes, get that dirt out from under your nails, smile, and for goodness sake don’t slouch.  Nothing that these kids’ moms haven’t been telling them for years.

But there are a couple of gems here:

 “Once upon a time a lady opened her door, looked a Mormon missionary up and down, and then commented: “My but your shoes are shiny. Why don’t you come in?” (pg 90)

And then there’s this puzzling metaphor:

“Carry a clean handkerchief, but don’t use it for nose-blowing.  An elder who pulls out a dirty handkerchief to wipe the perspiration off his head and neck slides down his totem pole with a bang.”(pg 91)

I don’t know what that means either.


But the other part to having that squeaky-clean Mormon image is making sure those blindingly white shirts stay that way.  So let’s go on to:

Chapter 11, Clothes Care

Most of this chapter is a laundry list of laundry tips.  Also included is other advice on clothing care, like three paragraphs about deciding whether or not to darn your socks.

There’s lots of tips for stain removal, including a suggestion to use Goddards Dry Clean on food stains.  I hadn’t heard of that!  So it looked it up.  It was removed from the market a few years ago because the ingredients were hazardous.  Or how about this tip:

“Shoe Polish  Take off with rubbing alcohol or carbon tetrachloride. (pg 97)”

poisonWait what?  I’ve never seen carbon tetrachloride for sale as a stain remover.  I’ve never seen it for sale at all!  So I looked it up.  Turns out that it’s a nasty chemical indeed; exposure can cause many physical problems including nerve damage and acute liver failure.  It’s use as a drycleaning solvent was discontinued in the 1950’s and it was banned in consumer products completely in 1970.  So her information was already way out of date when this book was published, and she was recommending a hazardous chemical as a household laundry product.

“Many missionaries save themselves a considerable amount of money by taking advantage of self-service dry cleaning.” (pg 97)

mr-yukIs that still even a thing?  Again, I’ve never heard of this.  Back to some research.  Apparently coin-operated drycleaning machines were introduced in 1960, and still exist. Perchloroethylene is the main solvent used in drycleaning, and has been since 1948.  But it’s use is beginning to be phased out now – turns out it’s a central nervous system depressant and probably a carcinogen!  It’s better to leave the drycleaning to the professionals.

Most of the rest is pretty ordinary stuff, like how to wash and block a sweater, or how to iron if you don’t have an ironing board.  Pretty boring, so that’s enough of this chapter.  Next time – how to get along with your assigned companions!

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Which fork? August 21, 2016

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Continuing on with the chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guidebook for prospective missionaries.

Chapter 9, Table Manners Care

So let’s review what we’ve learned about the lives of missionaries so far:  They are sent to a random location somewhere in the world, they aren’t allowed to contact their family and friends for emotional support, and they are expected to sell a product that no-one needs door-to-door for ten hours a day, six days a week.  Then they are expected to cook for themselves, keep their quarters sparkling clean, spend all day every day with the stranger that they have been assigned as a companion,  and during their free time they are expected to study, fast and pray.  If they are stressed and frustrated, that means that they aren’t believing hard enough, and they need to study, fast and pray more. (more…)

Nonbeliever LGBT survey August 17, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
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As part of a long-term research project, Friendly Atheist has created a survey about the attitudes of the non-religious on LGBT issues.


If you are non-religious and would like to help them with their research, you can link directly  to the survey here:


(Hemant asked people to spread the link on their social media, and this is the only social media I use. )

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” What’s cooking? August 16, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Humor, Responses.
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Continuing with a chapter-by-chapter dissection of the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon missionaries.  Still talking about Chapter 8, Food Care.

Before I begin discussing the book, I’d like to refer everybody to the wonderful website of James Lileks, and especially his Institute of Official Cheer, which is the source for all the wonderful photos of  1950’s and 60’s “food” I have included below.

Last time we took a look at all the wonderful advice, and lack of it, for safe cooking for the new missionary.  This post, let’s see what it is that they are actually supposed to be eating.

Worst Jello ever


Answers to “A Question for Atheists” August 14, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Questions, Responses.
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Godless Cranium linked to a post at flyinguineapig, with two longish questions for atheists. Flyinguineapig appears to be a strongly christian blogger, but these questions aren’t really the typical “gotcha” questions that I would expect to see on a blog of that sort, so I’ll go ahead and tackle them. Rather than try to answer in the comments at either of those blogs, I’ll post my answers here, and link back to them.  Also, I prefer to write my own answers before I read through everybody else’s answers.

My first question is more general. I see this among atheists and my agnostic friends. People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence because of the lack of some kind of proof. It occurred to me that I have no idea what kind of proof you’re looking for. Furthermore, it seems to me that, in many cases, not just in the case of spirituality, what constitutes proof is at least somewhat subjective. I would love to get a few different perspectives, so my question is, what would prove to you that God exists?

Let me start with this part of the question: “People deny the possibility of any deity’s existence…”  Most atheists I know don’t actually do this, so the question is starting out with rather of a strawman assumption.

The difficult part of this assumption is – how do you define a god?  It’s a really nebulous term.  I know what the christians mean when they talk about their god, but the question here is “any deity”.  What characteristics would a being need to have in order for us to consider it a god?  Let’s look at a few examples: (more…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Food Safety August 11, 2016

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Continuing with the 1968 guidebook for prospective Mormon missionaries.

Chapter 8, Food Care

This is rather a long chapter, and includes some useful information. For example, it includes an English-metric conversion chart for measurements.  If I were travelling overseas and needed to cook there, that’s something I could still use today.

Since the missionaries will be on limited food budgets, there’s quite a bit of advice on buying less expensive foods, and how to avoid wasting food.  And, as usual, there’s the usual harping on cleaning up everything.

But one of the main themes of the chapter is:

“One sick elder means two incapacitated elders, because one does not proselyte alone: therefore as a consideration both to yourself and your companion, take every precaution in the preparation of all food and drink which is to enter your body.” (pg 70)

So let’s see how our author does on food safety advice.

“B grade or cracked eggs are just as good for scrambling and general cooking as are the A grade” (pg 64)

survey says

Cracked eggs are likely to be contaminated with salmonella.  Cracked eggs should always be thrown out.

“If you are going to fry something rather than bake it, use butter, olive oil, bacon fat, or shortening.  Margarine is not satisfactory because it burns easily.” (pg 67)

survey sayssurvey says

Butter has solids in it that can burn, and isn’t very good for serious frying (like deep frying) unless you use clarified butter.  Margarine is not acceptable because it usually has a fairly high water content, and will spatter as the water boils off.  The various kinds of vegetable oil are cheap and great for frying, but are not mentioned.

“HINT: if you have a fat flare-up in a skillet, extinguish it with dry baking soda.” (pg 67)

survey sayssurvey sayssurvey says

If you have a grease fire in a pan, first turn off your stove and put a lid on your pan.  Baking soda is only useful in putting out small fires, anyway.

“There are many foods, however, which need to be cooled quickly and refrigerated rather than being permitted to stand several hours at room temperature.  Some of these are … potato salad, … and anything containing salad dressing.” (pg 70)

survey sayssurvey sayssurvey sayssurvey says

Mayonnaise actually slows spoilage.  So does anything with a good amount of vinegar in it, like salad dressing.  If something is going to spoil from being left out, it’s from the other ingredients in it, not the mayo.

“Always take the meat out of the market paper and rewrap it in wax paper with ends open so the meat can breathe” (pg 71)

survey sayssurvey sayssurvey sayssurvey sayssurvey says

Meat doesn’t need to “breathe.”  That’s for fresh vegetables and wine.  Meat with the ends left open will dry out, and can pick up whatever bacteria and spores floating around your fridge. Plus, re-wrapping adds germs from your hands, which are one of the biggest sources of bacteria in the kitchen.  Leaving it in the original wrapping until you are ready to use it minimizes the potential for contamination.

“When milk is on the verge of turning sour, sweeten it by adding a bit of baking soda” (pg 72)

survey sayssurvey sayssurvey sayssurvey sayssurvey sayssurvey says

The acid taste of milk that has begun to spoil can indeed be neutralized with a little baking soda.  But that doesn’t change the fact that your milk has begun to spoil.  Using that milk in baked goods would be better than drinking it, so the baking heat can kill off the bacteria.

Actually, apart from these mistakes, what jumped out of me is what information on food safety was missing from the chapter, which is a lot.  There’s no discussion at all of what kind of cookware is appropriate to use for what foods (except a recommendation for pressure cookers, with no caution about how those can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use them). Nothing about keeping pan handles turned so that you can’t knock into them, or about using potholders.  Nothing about how to select and use knives to avoid cutting yourself with them.  Nothing about how you should have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen.

And there’s a long paragraph about washing your hands, washing your vegetables, keeping your work area clean, disinfecting your dishtowels, etc. etc.  But there is no explanation at all about cross-contamination, or how to avoid it.   This chapter should have said “Don’t put your cooked meat back on the plate that just had your raw meat on it.  Don’t cut vegetables for salad on the cutting board where you prepared raw meat.  Anything that touches raw meat needs to be thoroughly cleaned before it touches anything else.”   This is kind of a basic thing, butis something that I would not expect a 19-year-old to know.

This is long enough for now, so next post I’ll come back to this same chapter, and we’ll talk about what the missionaries might actually be eating!

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Our two faces August 9, 2016

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When I was working on my last post on the arrest of the Mayor of Fairfax, I pulled a picture of him off the interwebs.  As I was looking at it, I noticed that his expression was pretty asymmetrical.

Scott SilverthorneNow I’m not just picking on Scott Silverthorne here, this is often true about a lot of people.  We often seem to have two different expressions at the same time, one on each side.  But this photo seemed to be a good example.  Let’s take a closer look. (more…)

Religion and the Mayor of Fairfax City August 9, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Responses.
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Scott SilverthornePeople have mentioned seeing this in the national news, but for me it’s local news.  The Mayor of Fairfax City, Scott Silverthorne, has been arrested in a sting operation for agreeing to give an undercover officer meth in exchange for a gay orgy at a Tysons Corner hotel.  Also arrested were his meth dealer and another “friend”.  He just announced that he’s resigning as Mayor.  No surprise there.

Silverthorne has been through a heck of a lot in recent years.  He lost his day job in 2013, had to file bankruptcy and lost his house to foreclosure in 2015, and also had a bout with squamous cell carcinoma on his neck in 2015.  He’s been elected as Mayor several times (apparently it’s not a full-time job).


I have no issues with gay sex parties, other people’s sex lives are really not my business.  But meth?   I wonder if it’s the underlying reason for his job and financial trouble, or his way of trying to cope with it all.

But OK, so a politician gets caught in a sex and drug scandal, we see that a lot.  Usually I would expect that politician to be an evangelical christian Republican, just because that seems to be the normal pattern for this.  So I looked up what his political party is, and he’s an independent.  Hmmm, that’s pretty rare, but OK.

So I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I was pretty sure it was coming…

“My faith in God and myself will get me through the biggest challenge of my life. I ask that people keep me in their prayers,” Silverthorne told NBC4

And there it is.

The god who let all that crap happen to him, the god who didn’t give him the strength to say off meth, the god who didn’t send him a vision that a meth-for-sex deal was a really bad idea, that god is going to help him get through this.  Yeah, right.  Good luck with that.  I’m sure all the “thoughts and prayers” that will be coming his way will be really effective, too.


(A little background.  Virginia does cities differently than any other state.  Elsewhere, cities are jurisdictions within counties.  Not in Virginia.  Here cities are independent entities.  You can live in a city, or in a county, but not both.  Some of our counties have reorganized into cities, because they like the government structure better.  You’d think Arlington, from its size and urbanization, would be a city, but it’s a county,  and Virginia Beach and Portsmouth, which are both the size of counties, are incorporated as cities.  So even though Fairfax City is entirely surrounded by Fairfax County, and many services are jointly run with the County, the City is not a part of or subordinate to Fairfax County.  It’s a separate, if small, entity. Only about 24,000 people. )

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Stay Healthy! August 5, 2016

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Continuing on with the series on the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 7. Health Care

Dr Kildare

See your doctor

This is a very short chapter, which surprised me, even though I suppose it shouldn’t.   What I noticed mostly about it was not what it said, but what it left out.

Of course, it’s going to tell the missionaries to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, get some exercise, and avoid exposure to infectious diseases, the normal basic stuff, since it would look really bad for their young people to be sent out to preach and then immediately collapse.

And there are a few old wives tales, also predictable considering that this book was written by an old wife.  She says,

“Get out of wet clothing as quickly as possible, particularly wet shoes and socks.” (pg 58)

Which we know will not give you a cold.

And in the section about whether to take vitamins,

“…many of these habitual non-users do believe in taking Vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on.” (pg 60)

Which we now know does nothing for preventing or treating a cold.

She spends quite a bit of time talking about weight, and either losing or gaining weight while on a mission.  At least she does connect being homesick and on an unfamiliar diet with possible weight loss, and being overfed by generous hosts as a possible cause of weight gain.  But she connects weight entirely to the amount a person eats, and makes no mention of the effects of exercise, or that the missionaries are at an age where their teenage physique may be filling out into a normal adult physique.  A missionary who suddenly finds themselves walking and biking for miles a day may put on some muscle weight, and there’s no mention of this.  Her tone about weight is generally pretty negative:

“HINT: You must have a physical examination and take the doctor’s report to your stake president at the time he interviews you for a mission call.  If you are really overweight at this time you won’t even ben called.  Overweight not only poses a serious health problem, but it can cause friction between companions.  A missionary who eats modestly could become a bit disgruntled when required to pay half the bill for a food gorger!”(pg 59)

I have a feeling that the reason they aren’t sending out overweight missionaries is more about the image of the Mormon church than about the missionaries’ health.  A young person who is heavy, but does not overeat and is in pretty good health overall might be really good at preaching, and would probably benefit from all the exercise on a mission, but they aren’t going to be sent.  And the biggest eater I ever knew was rail-thin!  Having a thin companion is no guarantee of a low food bill.

But the part of this chapter that stunned me as to its brevity was is the part about getting medical and dental treatment while travelling.  There is absolutely no mention of health insurance.  Zero.  Wikipedia says that by 1958 75% of Americans had some form of health coverage, but this author simply ignores this.  What insurance information to bring, when to contact your insurance company, finding out what coverage you have before you leave, that’s just completely absent.  This may be my 21st century perspective biased by our outrageous 21st century health bills, but a youngster who finds themselves needing costly treatment while in a foreign country could really use some good advice on what to do, and how to deal with insurance companies.

And another major subject that’s ignored is the fact that these kids may be travelling to places where the diseases and health hazards are different, and they should be prepared before they go.  In her chapter on travelling she even itemized the airline weight limits for different airlines, and I was expecting that maybe she would give a useful list of different diseases prevalent in different countries, and what measures and equipment should be taken to avoid infection.  A nice chart showing where you need mosquito nets, where guinea worm is a problem, and where you have to watch out for schistosomiasis would have been a great resource.  Nothing.  She also recommends that the kids get their flu shots, but there’s no mention of any other vaccine.  She could have helpfully listed what vaccines are available for diseases prevalent outside the U.S. but again, nothing.  Not even a friendly reminder to ask the locals about which snakes are venomous, or which insects carry disease.

And of course, it goes without saying that she doesn’t mention how to prevent STD’s, or even that they exist.  Since 100% abstinence is what’s expected of the kids, there’s no consideration that they might need to know anything about disease prevention there.  Mormons aren’t supposed to smoke either, so that’s not omitted as well.

Not this doctor

Not this Doctor!

Next up – cooking!  Woo hoo!

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“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Cleanliness is next to… August 2, 2016

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Continuing on with the 1968 guide for prospective Mormon missionaries:

Chapter 6, Housekeeping Care


So these kids have been sent out to a faraway place where they are isolated from everything familiar, they are expected to spend grueling days on foot, out “spreading the word” for ten hours a day, six days a week, and they are expected to study constantly and shop and cook for themselves.  I can’t imagine that they are anything but exhausted from this routine.  So on top of this, they are expected to keep their quarters spotless and keep to a daily cleaning routine, because adding unrealistic expectations for cleanliness is just what these stressed-out kids need.

So let’s have a few quotes!

“Some elders leave for their missions without knowing how to … sweep, mop and wax a floor…” (pg 54)

Yes, I guess waxing floors was a thing in 1968.  (I don’t think I’ve ever waxed a floor!) But I don’t see that it would ever have been a good idea to make frustrated and exhausted teenagers wax floors.

They have a helpful numbered list of the reasons for their focus on cleaning, including,

“1. You cannot expect the Spirit of the Lord to dwell in dirty surroundings.” (pg 55)

So the all-powerful god, who will never desert you (unless you aren’t believing hard enough, see part 1), is going to desert you if your bed isn’t made.  How reassuring.

“2. If you are content to keep house in a careless, sloppy manner, this same attitude is bound to be reflected in you whole missionary outlook and effort.  Supervising elders, whose job it is to inspect the living quarters of missionaries, report that they can look at an apartment and just about tell what kind of total job its missionary  occupants are doing. (pg 55)

These kids are being judged not just on how well they preach, or how much of their free time is spent studying their holy books,  or how presentable they are on the job, but they are even having their rooms formally inspected.  And no matter how well they are doing at their “proselyting”, if they can’t at least fake being a neat freak for two solid years they will be found wanting by their supervisors.

“5. You never need to fear that a district leader will catch you in a mess and put you to shame by starting to clean up your quarters himself.”

Again, messiness=shame.

“6. One of your real assets is your landlady whose respect you must earn.  If you are strictly “top drawer” she spreads the good word at the grocery store; if you are careless and lazy, that is the image she will spread.”

Now I have this image of the landlady dropping in to the grocery store to catch up on the latest gossip.  Oh, and she’s totally going to badmouth her missionary tenant, who is polite, helpful, well-groomed, and pays the rent on time, but is a totally bad person because he sometimes leaves towels on the floor.  Shame, shame, shame!

cloroxThere is actually some useful advice in this chapter, apart from the constant judginess.  There’s advice on how to cope if assigned to an area with fleas or other pests.  There’s also some practical tips about washing dishes and tidying up messes as soon as you make them, and a recommendation for Clorox for cleaning bathrooms. Because a missionary wouldn’t want to face the ultimate humiliation:

“Your goal should be to keep your living quarters clean enough that your mission president’s wife could drop in unexpectedly without embarrassing you.” (pg 57)

Oh dear, let me clutch my pearls, the mission president’s wife might find dust in my room!  And once again, as in the chapter on homesickness, our author recommends housecleaning as a remedy for feeling depressed.

The last paragraph of this chapter is just so amazing that I need to quote it in full here:

“Living with Non-Members

Missionaries are usually urged to hunt for living quarters with non-members for three reasons.  First, members already know our Church  is true, and a missionary might just as well live with someone he can possibly convert.  Second, in accepting their calls missionaries have dedicated themselves to preaching the gospel.  It is too easy to become lax and take advantage of periodicals and TV and warm hospitality when one lives with or near members.  Third, members, thinking all missionaries are perfect, might become disenchanted if missionaries living in their home caused them to think differently.” (pg 57)

So they want missionaries living with non-Mormons so they can make a good impression on them.  And they don’t want them staying with Mormons, because they might make a bad impression on them.

But what’s  evident here is that they don’t want these kids finding any source of support and comfort during their two years.  The Mormon hierarchy wants these kids to be overworked, over-tired, uncomfortable, and worried about every little detail of everything.  Your home isn’t a place to relax and retreat from the cares of the day, it’s a place where you are supposed to antagonize your landlady with preaching (the same landlady whose respect you are supposed to earn), and you must keep it antiseptically clean, even if that’s not what you are used to or comfortable with.  Now smile and pretend to be happy!

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