Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Another thought on Depression and the Spirit

If you suddenly had a profound but temporary deafness, and your hearing came back slowly, it seems reasonable that you would first hear the strong, loud, brash noises, and would slowly progress to hearing the soft, quiet voices, right?

I wonder if the experience is the same with when a person finally starts to heal from a profound depression.  I have heard often that anger comes back first. Anger is a loud, brash, strong emotion.

 It seems like if you lost all ability to feel emotionally, you would be angry anyway. So while you were trying to heal, if the strong, brash emotions came back first, it would be pretty intense to have anger come back first.

And then, I suppose, it would be reasonable to assume that the healing process would involve re-learning to comprehend what you were feeling, and also what to do about that, how to respond. And, it seems reasonable that the still small emotions associated with the Spirit would be among the last to be felt, and you'd have to re-learn how to recognize them and what to do about that.

Just like any recovery from a catastrophic injury, it makes sense to let it happen slowly and foster the growth and recovery. But you wouldn't expect someone who had to re-learn walking after an accident to skip from bed to professional ballet dancing, and we shouldn't expect someone recovering from a catastrophic mental illness to jump from nothing to all the finest, most elusive details all at once, either.

Thoughts about Depression and Prayer

So I watched that movie about depression the church just released (and cried through the whole thing), and then later today read Hilary Pope Erickson’s blog here: http://www.pullingcurls.com/2015/11/how-to-find-hope.html. She’s an old friend from Timpview and Tim’s ward growing up, and her family has struggled with her husband being a band guy and being inspired to quit his job in a neighborhood she loved to get a Master’s degree in music, and his job cutting his hours to half, and they’re living where she doesn’t like living, and now he’s completely unemployed and they’re living off her blog income and odd jobs, and that’s not really enough...and he finally got an interview for a job she really, really wanted him to have, back in her home town, and he didn’t get the job. And she was devastated, having begged Heavenly Father to not let her get her heart set on something she couldn’t have because it’s too painful, and she immediately sank into a crushing depression, but didn’t identify it as that. She identified it as being dead inside. Which is what depression is. But here’s the interesting thing--she talked about praying and getting nothing, when she felt like she had been getting answers before, and about being angry at God and yelling at him and then apologizing and still getting nothing. She found solace in hoping for hope. That’s a neat little trick there, and effective.

But the not hearing God anymore thing really struck me. Third time I’ve heard that same story from depressed people. No, fourth--first time was on my mission when I realized you had to have hope to have faith and so depression makes faith nearly impossible. Once from Tim, once from Hilary, and once from a lady who wrote an article that was published in the Ensign (here: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/02/depression?lang=eng). All the same story.

So I had a lot of thoughts about this all evening.

Here are my theories: Depression makes us deaf to emotion, so we can’t feel it ourselves or hear it in others.

We are trained our whole lives to “feel the Spirit” and so when Depression strikes, and we become deaf to feeling, we can no longer feel the Spirit either, and can’t feel God speaking to us. So then we think He’s not.

But what if He still is and we just can’t hear it anymore? 

I had this idea on my mission (or just after): What if the Holy Ghost speaks to our individual spirits, and they understand each other, but the words and sentences don’t reach through our mortal limitations, and so the result is we feel the emotions evoked by the message without actually hearing the message itself because of the limitations of our mortal brains and bodies. We learn to identify the feeling, the vague impressions, the snippets of ideas as "the Spirit" because that's all we actually consciously experience. But what if there is more to it than that? What if the "feeling" the Spirit experience is actually the side effect of the interaction the same way feeling happy after getting good news is not the actual experience, but just a little piece of it?

I have no idea if that is what is actually happening, but if the feeling part of the experience associated with communicating with God is the only way we learn to “hear” that God is speaking to us at all, and that is taken away, we would think He is not speaking anymore and He must hate us or something. The familiar tag that says, "God spoke to me and I should take it seriously" is just plain missing, and we feel Nothing, so we assume that, therefore, God has shut up His mouth and doesn't want anything to do with us anymore.

But what if He is still speaking to us? What if He keeps talking and answering same as usual and we just don’t know it? What if He does go about intervening in life, and giving us instructions, and leading us down the right paths, and we just lack the familiar experience of hearing? What if our spirits can hear even if our bodies can’t, and so the message just doesn’t get through consciously, and we are left unaware that an experience even happened?

I have watched Tim for three years now following promptings of the Spirit without knowing he was doing it, completely unable to recognize the promptings consciously because the feeling was gone. All feeling was gone. I marveled that God was speaking to Tim “in stealth” so that Tim didn’t even know (but, to his credit, he obeyed anyway, perhaps because somehow his years of training in knowing God's voice still worked, even if his brain and body couldn’t hear.)

It reminds me of Benji learning to read. For a long time, if I said, "Please read this to me," he couldn't do it. But if I was reading something, he would stand over my shoulder and say nothing and then suddenly ask questions about the text I was reading, even though I hadn't said anything either. He couldn't read if he tried to read. He couldn't understand that he could read. BUT...if he didn't know he was doing it, he could read just fine. 

If Tim didn't know he was hearing God, he could do it just fine. But under the pressure to feel an answer in prayer, he got nothing. He couldn't do it. Just like Benji trying to read.

If it were the case that God kept talking but we lacked the ability to hear, wouldn’t that change the way we prayed? Instead of yelling at God and being angry and then feeling abandoned and stopping praying, perhaps we would ask instead to recognize how God was speaking to us now, now that things were different--you know, like asking someone to speak to you in sign language because your ears no longer worked. You'd have to learn sign language, too, but perhaps that's the point--when depression strikes and we can't feel the answers anymore, perhaps we should assume God is still speaking and ask Him to teach us sign language, to help us understand His messages anyway, even if we have to learn a new language of hearing the Spirit in order to do so. 

Or perhaps that we would pray to know what to do even though we couldn’t hear it at the moment. Or perhaps for the patience and faith to keep praying even though we were deaf to the answers. Or perhaps for ways to see and "hear" God's love for us even though we could no longer feel it? Or perhaps for ways to obtain and hold on to Hope--the doctrinal Hope Elder Holland talked about--even when we are not capable of feeling the emotion of hope. 

Still, can you imagine how hard it would be to keep calling your parents on the phone even if the phone was broken and you couldn’t hear them talking back to you? 

Gives me reason to be patient and kind if someone is depressed and saying God isn't talking to them. The last thing they need to hear is "Of course He is. You're just not listening." Perhaps they really, truly are incapable of hearing the way we've trained everyone to hear. It's not a choice to not listen if your body is incapable of hearing. 

But knowing we might just be incapable of hearing, and not having something to repent of or something that's just wrong with us that is a character failing, perhaps that's enough to give us patience and help us approach the issue from new angles, without losing all our faith and going farther from healing and hope in our frustration and confusion.

One thing I've learned about depression in the last three years is that it is a profound breakdown in the body's ability to process and feel emotion. And, like learning to walk again after a catastrophic accident takes a long time and hard work, learning to feel again after a catastrophic depression can take a long time and hard work, and it seems reasonable that if we spent all our lives learning to recognize God's voice by our feelings, we have to re-learn that experience, too.

I don't know if it's even necessary to feel to recognize God's voice. That's the way we do it, for sure. I have no idea if it's the only way. It might be. It might not. It certainly is a test of Faith to keep speaking to and obeying a God who we cannot hear, and trusting a Savior is helping bear our burdens if we ask Him to when we cannot feel that. 

We do have a promise from Elder Holland (who lived it, so he knows), that things will get better, and we’ll be able to hope again. I suppose that means we can learn to hear again, too. It's a long but not permanent spiritual and emotional deafness? So perhaps, like Hilary hoping for hope, the answer is to hope for healing, even if it takes a long time.  

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Did I just read that?

"Your eyes are setting foot where man has never been before, at least not for a very long time."  Roger Tomlin, about looking at Roman inscriptions from the first decade of London's existence. (http://www.ksl.com/?sid=40012114&nid=235&title=2000-year-old-handwritten-documents-found-in-london-mud)

Because eyes have feet.

And because man has never been where he wrote things down.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Mother in Heaven

Mother's day week, so the inevitable happens: progressive Mormons start posting about Mother in Heaven.

I tried to imagine Mother in Heaven. I'm pretty sure she knows as much about our lives as Father in Heaven does.

I'm also pretty sure that she's not some lesser figure up there hanging around being God's housekeeper. I'm pretty sure she's an amazing, powerful woman.

So that leads me to the conclusion that she is not more involved in our theology and worship because she doesn't want to be. Maybe she's busy taking care of the all the people who have yet to be born, or doing some other work. I mean, if she wanted us to pray to her, wouldn't she have said so?

Anyway, all the talk of Mother in Heaven, and the only image I can conjure in my mind is her putting her head in her hand and saying, "Oh, you silly children spending all this time talking about me, fawning over me, painting pictures of me, writing poetry to me. All I really want for mother's day is for you to stop fighting with each other. What I want is for you to do what your Father asked--go out and help each other, be kind, and stop doing stupid things."

Three thoughts on Rape Culture on College Campuses

There is much talk of rape culture on college campuses lately, but I'm finding the discussions to be stilted because of feminist ideology that has slipped in.

Three things that are bugging me:

1. We are ignoring Due Process.

In our eagerness to avoid "victim blaming" and our eagerness to push investigators to believe the victim and actually investigate, it's really, really easy to assume that "believing the victim" means an accusation is made and it's a done deal. Boys get expelled from school because we're so anxious to believe the victim. But we must remember that we are legally NOT ALLOWED to believe the victim except to the extent that we always investigate what a victim is saying. In our country, even in cases of rape, it is categorically innocent until proven guilty, which means even the vilest rapists get due process.

Believe the victim means we investigate. It means we don't write her off or blame her for the rape. It means we do post-rape examinations not at the cost of the victim, and we actually process every single rape kit as quickly as possible (is it possible within a week? That seems ideal).

It does not mean men are all guilty until proven innocent. Because we have to accept the reality that not all women are angels, and if men are guilty instantly on a woman's word when it comes to rape, then any woman can destroy any man's life on her word without any proof required.

2. We are ignoring the reality that self-defense ought to include the idea of not getting in dangerous situations whenever possible.

Recently, a big cat keeper at a zoo was killed by her cats. It came out in the ensuing investigation that she had not followed protocol.  Was it the cat's fault that she was killed? Yes. Would she likely be alive if she had followed protocol? Yes.

We are so anxious to not blame victims that it has become unacceptable to say to girls, "Don't go places where rapists go." It HAS to be okay for self defense to include preventative actions. And that means, while it is impolite to say to a rape victim, "You shouldn't have gotten drunk" and while it is absolutely true that even drunk, a girl should not be raped, it also has to be okay to teach our daughters, "Hey, don't go to frat parties, and if you are getting smashed, you're putting yourself at risk of getting raped."

Yes, we teach boys not to rape.

And we ought to also be free to teach girls to be wise. Don't walk in dark alleys. Don't use an ATM at night alone and flash the money. Don't get drunk with a bunch of boys at a Frat party.

In a perfect world, boys don't rape. But in a imperfect world, girls ought to at least be told not to go places where stats say you are more likely to be raped. That needs to be okay to say, to protect other girls, even while we are kind to girls who did get raped while drunk and don't write them off or ignore their plight because they were foolish. We still prosecute thugs who steal stuff even if you left your door unlocked. Victims of crimes are still victims, even if they made a dumb mistake. But we still use that to warn other people to not make dumb mistakes. Like getting drunk at a frat house.

3. Porn.

I brought this up and had it thrown back in my face that porn use is going up over all while rape is going down overall. So there can't be a connection.

But the stats they threw at me were overall, not on college campuses. So that's useless for my purposes.

So I'm not claiming using porn turns a boy into a rapist.

But I am saying that porn objectifies women. Even non-violent porn objectifies women. And there is ample evidence that using porn desensitizes men to real women, making it so that normal human sexuality is not interesting, so that men need a greater "rush" to get satisfaction, and also it makes what used to be "fringy" sexual behavior is seen as normal to the porn watchers. Teen boys who watch porn report to researchers that they think things like "choking" and "rough sex" are normal and that girls like that. Girls report that they don't but they think that's what sex is.  Porn also deadens men's emotional reactions to women's emotional and physical needs. I've seen this first-hand in men that I have met--their needs and emotions were the only ones that mattered. They had no empathy at all and very little sympathy, especially for women.

All of the effects of porn are the very things that have to happen in boys to create a rape culture.

Does that mean all boys who look at porn will be rapists? NO. But it empowers (if you will) some boys who might not rape to become rapists, and it dulls their sensitivity to women so they might not even realize it is rape.

Porn use has gone up at the same time that rape on college campuses has become an issue. If rape overall has gone down, I don't see that as relevant to this issue.

I would very much like internet pornography to be outlawed in the same way that TV advertising of cigarettes was banned. People who really want it will still get it, but we can spare entire generations of teenagers, and I suspect the rape culture will be addressed at the same time.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Did I just read that?

From 9news.com: "Nate Currey with RTD estimates that between 80 and 90,000 passengers used the new line  since noon on Friday. That's well below, the about 18,600 they predict will use it on the average weekday." http://www.9news.com/news/travel/free-day-means-long-waits-for-dia-train/151330836

I guess the 80 is below, but last I checked, 90,000 was WAY above 18,600.

Also, 80 to 90,000 is such a huge range that it's practically meaningless. Perhaps they meant "80- to 90,000" or "80,000-90,000"?

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Missing Tim

Tim is gone today for the first time in a long, long time. He had pretty much sworn off traveling--even to Denver--and then out of the blue ended up with three trips this month: Chicago, New Mexico, and Tennessee.

And of course this first trip has been a doozy so far, with expenses above the expected ones reaching into the hundreds of dollars (not exaggerating), primarily due to other people's errors (like whoever schedules work schedules for TSA).

Over the years, I've seen many (if not most) of our performer and sound tech friends at one point or another publicly thank their spouse for letting them "chase the dream" and for "making this all possible" (meaning making it possible for the traveling spouse to tour and be a musician, sound tech, or other entertainment industry professional).

Over the years I've felt guilty because I never really encouraged Tim to throw caution to the wind and do whatever it takes to get famous or rich as a musician.

And I am so grateful that Tim decided clear back at the start of this insane adventure that family came first, and that he did not have the freedom to abandon us to pursue his career. He's tried to never be away for more than 4 days at a stretch. Sometimes that extends to 7 days, and once 10 (because he was on a ship and couldn't get off in the middle of the ocean).

Tim has actually turned down opportunities--more than once--that would have paid him well and set him on a path to a steady income because it would have required him to largely abandon us for long, long stretches at a time (270 days a year or more). He has been mocked and blacklisted for choosing to be home and available to us in person (not just on the phone). He's put his career and reputation at risk over and over to uphold his standards, openly refusing work when we were desperate for work because it would have required him to not put his most sacred duties (as father and husband) last instead of first. (And that's not counting all the times he has put his work at risk by refusing to do events that were inappropriate for a priesthood holder to attend, for refusing even the appearance of drinking alcohol, for refusing to wear immodest clothing, etc. He is constantly having to make choices to uphold his standards.)

And every time I see an entertainment person thank their spouse for making it possible for them to chase the dream, I feel guilty. I never did that for Tim.

But I also feel grateful that he never asked me to make that sacrifice. Not only that, he regularly expresses a desire to help me pursue my dreams.

I hope that some day God will bless us with a steady, livable income anyway, despite it being nearly impossible to have a music career and a family. I hope that Tim will be blessed with a lot of work that is family friendly because he has consistently chosen to put God's commandments and our family first.

But if not, Tim regularly reminds me that other musicians tell him--often--how amazing it is that he gets to have a family at all because in order for them to pursue their careers, they had to give that up. Almost all musicians have to give that up. And so, clearly, we have been abundantly blessed by Tim's choices, even if it is not with money. Despite this career that he has been driven to, we get to have an amazing family, and that is a rare thing indeed.

I'm glad for that night many years ago, when we were just 16, that Tim and I sat outside talking all night and I asked him, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and instead of answering, "A musician" or "Famous" or "Rich," Tim said, "I want to be a dad."  And I'm glad that he has consistently made choices to make that most precious dream the reality of his life.

We got the good part.

And thank you, Tim, for never thanking me for all the things I've sacrificed to make your career happen because thank you for never making me sacrifice those things.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Women and Success

It occurred to me again recently that all the talk of "success" is stupid if we don't define what success actually means.

If you define success as acquiring money or power over other people, then you are going to seek different things in your life than people who define success as happiness or raising good kids or whatever they think success is.

Combining that thought with evolution...

There is a long list of "female" behaviors that feminists are working hard to stamp out because they keep women from being "successful" (meaning making more money and having more powerful positions in a business world).

It struck me the other day that those very behaviors might be the result of generations of evolution--the women who were most likely to raise children who were most likely to have children of their own may have had a shared set of characteristics that made them more successful at keeping a family together, more successful at keeping a man in the house to provide and protect them while they were trying to survive pregnancy after pregnancy, more successful at raising children who were likely to go on and have successful families themselves.

It's too bad that collectively we are now looking at the very things that make motherhood easier and families more successful, and make women more successful in their homes, and saying that those are flaws we need to get rid of in favor of characteristics that make women more successful at pocketing cash or becoming the boss of other people at work.

Those characteristics, like touching skin more often, apologizing more readily, couching everything they say in gentle terms, tuning in to nonverbal social cues and responding to them, being less aggressive at listening and getting what they want....those things are good when the people you are dealing with are four years old. Or twelve.  Or three months. Children don't need to be treated with a straightforward hardline approach to life. They need to be listened to even when they can't express themselves in words (so mom being tuned in to body language and the underlying, unspoken text is a big big deal). They need to have corrections presented clearly but gently and as suggestions so they don't feel crushed by it. They need gentle molding and redirection and hints and touching. They even need mom to touch her own face often to draw their too-low-eyes up to where they are supposed to be paying attention. Children need suggestions and guidance, not bossiness and control and aggression.

And women who are interacting on a regular basis with other moms, all of them working their tails off and fragile in their own rights, and all of them working with similar challenges that have to be solved differently (because every child is different, and so is every mom-child relationship), need to be treated differently than coworkers do. "Hinting and suggesting" instead of saying exactly what needs to be done is a positive, peaceful way of communicating when done right in this kind of circumstance. Sure it doesn't work in a business, but evolution didn't train women to think and interact that way to succeed in business, but to succeed in a different kind of world in which they were stuck, through their biology and lack of birth control.

See, these things are not flaws in women if women are to navigate worlds primarily full of tender children and other women who also have children. These are qualities, behaviors, characteristics that the feminists are so ashamed of might be the result of eons of evolution. These things might be good and helpful behaviors for women to succeed in their traditional roles.

So maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge the feminine as evil and the masculine as desirable, even if the masculine behaviors are more likely to make you rich.


I have got to stop reading Peggy Fletcher Stack's stuff in the paper. She's not exploring religion. She's consistently trying to tear it down.

Anyway, reading her latest has made me want to ask a few questions.

Is it God's church or not?

Does He have a hands-on role or not?

And, most importantly, can He/does He have the right and ability to make rules, laws, and commandments for us or not?

And, as a follow-up to that: Are we exempt from obeying if we don't understand or think the laws, rules, etc are stupid?

Whenever she questions--again--women and the priesthood in church, I just want to ask her, "Does God get to make the rules for His church and His people, or not? And if He does, what are you going to do about it?"  I used to want to explain the details of why she's wrong, but I'm not interested in that anymore. I just want to say that. What I just said. "Does He get to make rules for His own church and people, or not?"

And if He does....what are you going to do about that?

All of the arguments boil down to this: Does He get to make rules? How is He supposed to let us know what they are? What's supposed to happen if we think He made a mistake? How can we know someone isn't doing what Korihor accused the church leadership of doing--hijacking God's church for their own enrichment and power trip?

ALL of the other arguments really do boil down to very few. Who is in charge and what are they allowed to do?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Solutions to the Pinewood Derby Problems

Several friends have now mentioned to me that whole-ward pinewood derbies are better. Nobody plans to win because there are too many cars. It's all about creativity in presentation, and watching the fun, and usually someone loses on purpose so no small child has to.

I really like that idea.

Another solution we thought of is to test different things. Yes, run races for quickness. But also run a distance race. Or a which runs the longest, not necessarily the fastest. And a "who goes up a hill best" race. And a race for going very straight and not veering off to one side or another. Or a race for which car floats best. Anything else besides speed just to change things up and point out that while some cars are great for speed, if you need them to float they might not work.

And also just patience with a stupid system. That's always good advice, especially when people are all volunteers who were assigned to do this, and they're doing the best they can.

Why I hate the Pinewood Derby

Pinewood Derby day! Our great celebration of '50s boyhood returns. Even though the '50s are long gone and good riddance.

Benji was so traumatized by last year's Pinewood Derby that he refused to participate this year. He let Anda take his car and build and race for him (which I thought was fair, since she didn't get to do it purely because of her biology.)

I hate the pinewood derby. Really truly despise it, even though my kids have had good experiences along with the bad.

Here are the things I hate (and proposed solutions):

1. I really, honestly do not believe that Jesus would set up little, sensitive boys to work hard only to be crushed. I can't imagine Him attending the Pinewood Derby and watching 12 of 17 boys go home in tears and thinking, "Gosh, isn't this a great event?!"

Now, some leaders run it better than others. The person running ours this year worked very hard to reward the boys for honest effort without minimizing the accomplishments of those who actually won. So this can be a worse or better situation, but I still question what Jesus would do in this case.

2. It's long past time to get rid of events that only boys can do and girls don't get to. This bothers me a LOT. Right up there with 8 year old boys getting a fun activity every week and girls having to only have one every other week. WHO IS PLANNING THIS? Because it's wrong. I can accept that the priesthood only goes to the men in the church, but there is absolutely no reason for little girls to be punished for being little girls. I do not think God approves of treating our little girls this way.  If He does, He and I need to have a serious talk because in my view this is very, very wrong. (Which is why I let Anda make and race Benji's car instead of letting the other boys do it).

I was in a ward once where they let siblings and parents make and race cars, too, also on the ward's budget. This is a viable solution.

Another solution would be to run a second pinewood derby at a different time of year for the activity day girls. Modern girls need to know how to use tools and need to practice the engineering process, too, so why are we not including them? Plus they want it. And I know a whole lot of girls who feel hurt and sad that a church thing refuses to include them because they are female.

I cannot emphasize how wrong this feels to me. It makes me angry and hurt and it needs to change, and if I knew who to petition, I would write them a letter right now even though that never works for me (they always say no anyway). I would circulate petitions to all the wards I can reach and send them to Salt Lake City. This is just a really stupid thing to do to little girls and very very easy to fix. (I don't care that it's run by the cub scouts and they don't do girls. Why can't we just buy the same kits and give them to the girls and have an unofficial, don't-pass-it-on-to-regionals race? Most of the boys cars don't go on to regionals anyway. Or let's just choose to never pass any Mormon cars on to regionals and that makes it fair).

Can I add day camp on to this list, too? For real, people! Run the same number of equivalent events for boys and girls. Let's stop with the boys get to shoot arrows twice a year and girls have to do a "day of service" and paint another picture of the temple onto a stained 2x4 once a year. The girls want to shoot arrows, too, and the boys need to do service.

Proposed solution: Abandon scouts and have all the kids do a program like the girls do. Or make the girls program functionally identical to scouts (although I think the girls' program is superior).

3. The pinewood derby system, as it runs now, is deeply unfair to poor kids.

To make a car that is competitive even a little and not embarrassing to the little boys, you have to have the right power tools to cut with, you have to have graphite for the wheels, you have to have weights, and you have to have nice glossy model paint. All of these are expensive.

Solution: See number 4. Also, require everyone to use the kits the ward provides instead of allowing them to go out and buy a specialty kit (pre-shaped car).

4. The system is also unfair to anyone without special "inside knowledge."  This disadvantages kids whose parents are doing this for the first time, kids who follow the original intention of the program and make the cars all by themselves, disabled kids, kids who have parents who never were in cub scouts, and families headed by single moms. So pretty much everyone who is already vulnerable--just put them at a greater disadvantage to everyone else. That's a nice plan. I'm sure Jesus is super happy about that, making the kids who cry anyway cry more, and making the lives of the disadvantaged even harder. That's awfully nice of us! .

I have had people say to me, "Well, those people should ask for help. I'd help them! They can do cars at my house next year."  Yeah? Well how were they supposed to know that before their child was melted in tears because the car lost every single race because it was too light and they didn't even know that weights existed?

Some wards try to mitigate this (including mine) by having a weigh-in with tools, weights, and scales available, and the people who know how to place weights provide the weights (and the graphite for the wheels) and teach the others how to do it.

This helps a little, but doesn't solve the problem that people are not getting good instructions. The kits don't even include the rules for the size of the cars. I've been doing this for years now and still don't know what I'm doing, and just learned this year that the blocks of wood come too long and you have to cut an eighth of an inch off the length.

There is insider knowledge about how to place the wheels, where to put the weights, how to shape the cars (what kinds of tools to use), etc. Some people know this, and some don't, and you can't get the information anywhere.

This is an unfair system and puts fragile boys at a disadvantage and crushes them.

Solving problems 3 and 4 would be fairly easy:  Have a make-cars night together, starting with a workshop from a person who knows how to do it, and followed by a chance for parents and kids to make their cars together. Bring all the tools (including a band saw and sand paper) and all the supplies (fancy paints, brushes, graphite, etc) for any and all who want to join. Let the insiders teach the outsiders so everyone has the same resources and same information and all the help they need, without having to beg or guess who has the time and tools. Make it optional so parents who really want to just make their cars with their kids at home can, but assign some people who know what they're doing to help. Kids still get to make the cars with their parents, but without the disadvantage. Or invite the parents to come to the weekly scouts meetings the two weeks before the pinewood derby and do it there, for scouts.

An easier solution that wouldn't address problem 3 but would help with problem 4 would be to print articles from Boys' Life magazine about how to make a winning car. They have them. A lot of the insider knowledge is right there, but nobody gets Boys' Life (and truthfully most of it is useless propaganda for "buying in to the way we do things" anyway). Stuff like this would be immensely helpful: http://boyslife.org/hobbies-projects/projects/2952/speed-secrets/.  But the boys and parents don't even know to look for it.

5. This teaches a faulty engineering process. If you go by the pinewood derby, you get an assignment and supplies, and you make something and then that's it. No testing. But real engineers build-test-rebuild-retest-tweak-retest-redesign-retest.  It's a long process of trying and failing and learning from the mistakes and improving.

Solution: Let the boys do test runs the week before, send their cars home, and then run the real races the next week, after everyone has had a chance to rebuild and tweak their cars.

6. I am pretty sure the kits come unequal even though they look the same. I really want to get four kits and do nothing to them but insert the wheels--all with equal care--and then race them. If all kits are equal, they would tie. But the weight distribution within the wood itself, and the wheels and axles not being truly identical (some have burrs, some are unbalanced or slightly bent, etc), and other factors mean some boys are doomed from the get-go and some will win even if they do nothing to their car but stick the wheels on.

One year Dan made a car that functionally should have acted like a sail and slowed him down, but it won everything. The next year he made a beautifully aerodynamic car and it lost everything. Weights were the same (but placed differently). Obviously there is something more going on than is in the control of the boys, which means we are rewarding some people for their "work" when in fact it was the luck of the draw.

Actually, that's probably a life lesson right there: it doesn't matter how hard you work or how talented you are, some people just make a lot of money and some don't, and it's actually not due to cause and effect like we think. You work hard and do your very best and it doesn't matter at all because if you weren't handed a good kit in the first place, you're gonnna lose. That feels like real life.

There is no way to solve this problem, but we could minimize it by making all other things (like access to resources) equal.

7. We are subjecting our boys to this trauma to what end? Yes, people need to learn how to lose gracefully because we all lose sometimes. But when else in life are we asked to work very, very hard on something that is quite difficult for one shot at public glory/humiliation (only 1 in 20 gets glory--the odds are very bad unless you have a leader like we had this year who works hard to recognize all the work the boys did) and no chance to go back and fix things up and try again? This is not a "life lesson" or "practice at useful skills".  The kids would have a better chance at winning a coin toss, and that takes no effort.

What the boys learn from this is their best is not good enough, and that no matter how wonderful their creation is, they're going to lose. And that the only thing that matters is winning by someone else's standards, not how cool the car is, how innovative it is, how unique it is, how hard you worked on it, or if your kit came with warped wheels in the first place.  While sometimes in life the result is all that matters, sometimes the innovation matters more. And always when there is a single required quantifiable result (like speed), we have chances to collaborate with experts and run trials before we have to be tested.

Benji won't even try any more. And that's a shame because I'd like for him to have a chance to make something he loves and learn to use tools, but we have the system set up so the cards are stacked against him, the failure is public and obvious, and the risk is too great. I can't ask him to do that.

This is a fixable system, but people are so entrenched in tradition that they aren't willing, and that's a shame. That's what happens when the people who run the system are the people who succeeded in it in the first place. (This isn't true in Mormon wards, where people are called to run the system, but it is true of the higher-ups who are controlling the national rules; they wouldn't be in scouts if they hadn't had a good experience with it in the first place. They succeeded the way it was written, so they have no reason to change it for those who are not succeeding.) Now that I've written this, I can see so many applications outside of cub scouts (English teachers go into English teaching because they were the few who liked how it is done, for example, which perpetuates the system, and not necessarily to the benefit of most regular people).

And since I have no voice--there is nobody to complain to or agitate for change--there is nothing I can do except grit my teeth each year and cry with my boys. Especially when they lose because I couldn't get the wheels on straight because of some hiccup or another.

While I love the idea of boys building cars, I hate the pinewood derby. Even though my kids both won this year.