Introducing Dan Ellsworth

Dan Ellsworth grew up in Southern California (San Marino/Pasadena and Agoura), served a mission in Brazil, then graduated in international studies from BYU. Since his time at BYU, Dan has moved on to places with better architecture, less pole signs, and more University buildings named after women. He has worked for various defense contractors, including a year supporting the offices of reconstruction and contracting in Iraq. While in Iraq, Dan flew out to Spain and married a beautiful woman named Julee from Tennessee, then returned to Baghdad for an additional 8 months of work. His interests are in the study of Arabic, international and domestic politics, culture, cooking, exercise, and mormonism in its more honest and gritty flavors.
Dan commutes back and forth between Washington, DC and Charlottesville, Virginia and will be permanently situated in Charlottesville with his lovely wife in June 2007.

48 Posts
The Church and Immigration Law Apr. 30th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Given the heated discussions over Arizona’s recently-passed immigration law (SB1070), I think it would be useful to look at the Church’s most recent commentary on immigration. In 2008, when the Utah legislature was looking at passing a series of laws to crack down on illegal immigration, the First Presidency sent Elder Marlin K. Jensen (a lifelong Democrat) to discuss illegal immigration with legislators. From the Deseret News’ reporting of one event:

An LDS Church leader on Wednesday urged Utah’s lawmakers to “take a step back” and hold a “spirit of compassion” as they consider a slate of bills aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

“Immigration questions are questions dealing with God’s children,” said Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted, and urge those responsible for enactment of Utah’s immigration policy to measure twice before they cut.”

As one of three religious leaders speaking at a Interfaith Dialogue on Immigration at Westminster College, Jensen urged people to put a human face on the issue.

“Meet an undocumented person,” he said. “Come to know their family.”

The Church has not spoken out on Arizona’s recent bill, but they might, and it would be interesting to get their perspective on it.

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Epistemic Closure and The Gospel Apr. 28th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

The New York Times has a good article this morning that covers the debate within conservatism over the concept of epistemic closure, which basically is the idea that many political conservatives see conservatism as having definitively answered and settled all of the major issues of the day, from global warming to national defense to health care, and therefore when it comes to the issues, mainstream conservative thought does not need to be questioned or reexamined, only defended. From the article:

Mr. Bartlett, who lost his job at the Heritage Foundation after accusing George W. Bush of betraying the Reagan legacy, said in an interview: “Every intellectual movement needs to constantly question itself; otherwise it becomes stale. But conservatives have sort of reached a position of intellectual closure. They don’t think there are any new ideas of particular interest to them. Their philosophy is fully formed. The only question is how best to implement conservative ideas in the political debate.”

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White Horse by the Numbers Jan. 7th, 2010 at 9:22 am

The Church’s newsroom blog just put up a post here to address this Idaho political candidate‘s nutjobbery, which centers around the White Horse Prophecy of the constitution hanging by a thread, and the Elders of the Church (perhaps led by Mitt Romney or David Archuleta) somehow coming to the rescue of our constitutional system of government.

I would also point out that in Dallin H. Oaks’ landmark 1994 talk Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall, Elder Oaks singled out people’s obsession with the U.S. Constitution as being an annoying, possibly dangerous, gospel hobby:

My first example [of a personal strength becoming a weakness] concerns Satan’s efforts to corrupt a person who has an unusual commitment to one particular doctrine or commandment of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This could be an unusual talent for family history work, an extraordinary commitment to constitutional government, a special talent in the acquisition of knowledge, or any other special talent or commitment.

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Let me help you to go and see Avatar Jan. 4th, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Tonight my wife and daughter were out of town and I found myself in traffic on a DC-area freeway.  Rather than seethe in traffic hell, I pulled off the freeway and went to a theater to see James Cameron’s new movie Avatar.  This is a film that has conservative-leaning people in a tizzy these days, as they try to reconcile the left-leaning messages of the movie with the indescribable awesomeness of its viewing experience.  What follows are my five reasons why conservatives and others should put aside ideology for a few hours and head to a really good theater (this is critical) to see Avatar:
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Estrogen, Testosterone, and Spirituality Dec. 26th, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Some time ago, I was a visitor in an Elders quorum meeting where the quorum president announced the calling of a new quorum secretary.  While making the announcement, the quorum president broke down crying as he talked about the quorum member’s willingness to accept the calling.  I was astonished at the quorum president’s emotionality over this calling, and I imagined he probably loses composure pretty often over things that I might consider routine.  In past years, I might have seen this quorum president’s crying as indicative of a level of sprituality far superior to mine; for example, in the MTC I saw guys crying all over the place, at the strangest times, and I felt strange and lacking in spirituality for my lack of tears.  Over time, though, I’ve come to believe that there are many other factors besides the Spirit that influence our responses to things we see and hear in Church contexts, and I have come to respect the role of chemistry in responses and behaviors that we often consider willed and voluntary. Read more »

Michael Vick in Priesthood Aug. 16th, 2009 at 10:14 pm

On Sunday I taught the lesson in Priesthood, and I taught a make-up lesson from the JS manual, the chapter on Charity. One of the segments in that lesson has Joseph Smith referring to 1 Corinthians 13, which I think is the best exposition on charity to be found in the scriptures. During that discussion, one of the members of the quorum made the remark “If it’s easy, it’s not charity”, in response to Paul’s challenging verses in that chapter, and at that point, I decided to steer the lesson in the direction of football- I freely confess that at this time of year, I have a hard time thinking about anything but football when I’m in Church.
For those of you who don’t follow football- stay with me while I explain this. Michael Vick was a football player for the Atlanta Falcons, and at one point was the highest-paid player in the game. A few years ago, he was arrested on charges of financing and helping to run a dogfighting ring, where dogs are bred and tortured to fight while their owners bet on the outcome. The indictment against Michael Vick was horrifying to read, and he ended up pleading guilty and was sent to federal prison. This was the biggest story in sports, as it was the biggest, fastest fall of a career that any of us had ever seen. Many people, including myself, believed that Michael Vick’s image was beyond repair; he would serve his time, fall into obscurity, and never play a down of football in the NFL again. Read more »

Is it time for the Great Fight? Aug. 8th, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Warning: this post is written with the intention of being as inflammatory as possible.

If you have ever been in a well-matched fistfight, you probably understand the cycle of anger leading to the fight, followed by aggression and fury during the fight, followed by physical exhaustion that leads to a feeling of respect and positive feelings for the opponent you hated just a few minutes ago. This cycle does not just work on an interpersonal level; some of America’s closest allies are countries we have fought very hard in the past, while among countries we have not fought, there are a lot of examples of simmering anger that has never reached any kind of resolution. Read more »

Determining Doctrine Using Excel May. 31st, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Note: this post does not render well at low screen resolutions.

In my last post, I discussed Michael Ash’s book Shaken Faith Syndrome and his assertion that “The onus is upon us to determine when [Church leaders] speak for the Lord.”

I think everyone has their own mechanism for processing Church teachings; for some of us, the mechanism is very simple (“a Church authority said it, and therefore it’s Gospel…”), which often demands turning a blind eye to contradictory statements by other Church authorities. At the other extreme, a personal process for determining the soundness of a teaching can get so complex, weighing teachings against so many epistemological models and critical theories, that it becomes next to impossible to commit one’s heart to any given teaching.
In this post, with a nod to a couple of my favorite treatments of our approach to doctrine from Nate Oman and J. Nelson-Seawright, I’ll outline my model. This is a process I do subconsciously whenever I hear or read teachings from Church leaders or members, and when I gave it some thought a few nights ago, I realized that this process is more or less a weighted scoring system that translates neatly into a spreadsheet.

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Shaken Faith Syndrome’s Hard Medicine May. 28th, 2009 at 9:38 am

My wife and I recently had a group of friends over for dinner, and at one point in the evening one of my friends saw my copy of Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling on a table in our living room. This provoked an unexpected conversation about Church History, as my friend mentioned that a co-worker of his in the office had recently showed him the wikipedia page on Joseph Smith. My friend’s reaction to this wikipedia page was typical of a member of the Church unfamiliar with the details Joseph Smith’s history: the word “shaken” is definitely the best way to describe what his thoughts and feelings were. Read more »

Notes on Gender: a Silver Bullet Theory of Female Attraction? May. 7th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Recently, the Ensign and the New York Times ran articles dealing with aspects of female attraction; the Ensign article, found here, is the story of a woman who received a spiritual confirmation about who she should marry, then had a crisis of faith when her marriage came crashing down in disappointment over her husband’s inability to meet her expectations.

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Are “Faithful” Mormons Christian? Mar. 29th, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Recently on Meridian Magazine, Colleen Harrison published a raw and open-hearted account of how her perceptions of what it means to be a faithful member of the Church actually led her away from Christ and — she believes — led her children away from the Church.  The interesting thing about her description of her former views is, it is a list of activities and responsibilities that, I believe, is shared by probably the majority of active members of the Church: Read more »

5 reasons to really miss newspapers Mar. 15th, 2009 at 9:54 pm

I know that a lot of people on the right are savoring the demise of the newspaper industry, seeing a reliable bastion of liberal thought go down the tubes.  I happen to feel the opposite way- some of my favorite things I have ever read have been in newspapers, and I’m not sure that the medium of blogging will be as effective in making sure that this level of writing is given the audience it deserves.

Here are 5 reasons why I think I will really miss the demise of the newspaper industry: Read more »

In Defense of Oprah Jan. 28th, 2009 at 6:37 am

Several months ago, an email petition was circulated asking people to voice their protests to Oprah Winfrey regarding a show she did about sexuality. For the show in question, Oprah conducted a survey of visitors to the oprah.com website, and asked them to reveal the nature of their sexual practices and relationships. Quoting from the show,

Oprah says that one of the most surprising results from the Oprah.com sex survey regarded pornography. We asked, “Has pornography affected your sex life?” Of the 50 percent of those surveyed that said pornography has affected their sex lives, 72 percent said it has been in a positive way. Read more »

“Subject to erroneous information” Nov. 9th, 2008 at 8:53 am

My mission president once said (paraphrasing) that there is no more feverish swamp of misinformation an falsehood about the Gospel than in the talks and articles missionaries pass around to each other.  I believed that for a long time, but after the battle over Prop. 8, I now believe that political campaigns dwarf the mission field in their capacity to misinform, deceive, and create circular firing squads in the Church.

Do you find yourself agreeing with any or all of these statements?

1.  My positions and ideas reflect an enlightened and well-considered view of reality, while positions contrary to mine are founded in ignorance and stubborn stupidity.

2.  My views arise from my capacity for compassion; opposing views arise from people’s capacity for cruelty.

3.  I use all available tools for evaluating an issue (logic, intuition, imagination, creativity, inspiration, etc.), while the people I disagree with rely mainly on the predigested propaganda of liars.

4.  LDS people who didn’t support Prop. 8 don’t know what it means to follow the prophet.

5.  The Church would be better off without the kinds of members who dissent on issues like Prop. 8.

6.  The Church’s position on homosexuality is founded on the critical lie that homosexuality is chosen.

7.  Homosexuality is a biological trait, never “chosen,” and is therefore sanctioned by God.

8.  An attitude of obedience and deference to Church leaders is chosen, and has no biological/genetic component.

9.  Gay marriage is the most immediate threat to families.

10. The Church’s position on gay marriage is founded in the same kind of ignorance and prejudice that informed its denial of the Priesthood to people of color.

11.  Every member of the Church is able to articulate the Church’s positions on homosexuality and gay marriage with the extreme level of sensitivity and thoughtfulness those issues require, so every member of the Church should be enlisted to articulate the Church’s views to their fellow citizens.

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Who did you sit with in high school? Sep. 13th, 2008 at 11:50 pm

A couple of years ago, David Brooks wrote one of my all-time favorite columns in the New York Times, where he riffed on some ideas from Tom Wolfe about how we choose our political leaders and allegiances.

…everything you need to know about America you can learn in high school. For example, if you want to understand American class structure you’d be misled if you read Marx, but you’d understand it perfectly if you look around a high school cafeteria.

The jocks sit here; the nerds sit there; the techies, drama types, skaters, kickers and gangstas sit there, there and there. What you see is not class in the 19th-century sense, but a wide array of lifestyle cliques, some richer, some poorer, but each regarding the others as vaguely pathetic and convinced of its moral superiority.

[Wolfe observed] that especially when we are young and forming our identities, we make sense of our lives by running little morality plays in our heads in which the main characters are Myself, the hero, and My Adolescent Opposite, the enemy. Read more »

A Warning to Religious Conservatives Aug. 6th, 2008 at 6:49 am

If you are a religious and political conservative, be careful to bridle your tongue or you might end up writing a massive tirade attributing an extreme environmentalist, anti-family message to a movie that was actually written to promote a Christian theme.  Sadly, if the only tool you possess is the hammer of conservatism, everything that bothers you will take the shape of the nail of liberalism, and you might, as seen in the M* post referenced above, end up doing damage to the Church by publicly projecting evil intentions onto the work of good people of other faiths. Read more »

How Brigham Young helps me with the OT Aug. 5th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

A little while ago, I contributed a few thoughts to this discussion on the Old Testament.  For a long time, I have had feelings about the OT that are similar to the ones Kaimi expressed, that among the valuable stories and lessons taught in the book, there are also passages that are simply batty. Read more »

The Rise of the Retrosexual Jul. 18th, 2008 at 7:36 am

During the mid-nineties, I had long discussions with my friend Tagore about what it meant to be a sensitive nineties man, a form of manhood demonstrated in Bill Clinton’s seemingly bottomless capacity for appearing to understand and empathize with people in low places.

This was a confusing time to be a man, if you couldn’t recite Maya Angelou and cook couscous.  And with the end of the Clinton presidency, gender trend-setters made a serious error in trying to promote metrosexuality as the next iteration of American manhood.

Given the success of Shrek and the recent emergence of highly successful cable shows Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, Tougher in Alaska, Ax Men, Black Gold, and others, many observers are seeing a backlash against the trend of metrosexuality that swept U.S. pop culture a few years ago. Read more »

Gail Collins on Twilight Jul. 13th, 2008 at 9:27 am

I found this column from Gail Collins today, commenting on the Twilight series.  I have not read these books, but I have heard from numerous women about them, and I find it really puzzling how women who decry pornography for conditioning men to have unrealistic views of the opposite sex seem to have no problem with the Twilight series’ portrayal of males.  Read more »

The Word of Wisdom and Vegetarianism Made Easy Jul. 10th, 2008 at 3:05 pm

I have long believed that the Word of Wisdom asks us to have a mostly-vegetarian diet.  For years, I found this extremely difficult to adhere to, for two reasons: 1) meat tastes very good, and 2) so much of our convenience food has a strong meat component.  I always said that if I were in a situation where vegetarian eating could meet those two criteria, I would try it, and eventually the right circumstances emerged when I went to work in Iraq. Read more »

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