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Archive for May, 2009

Many ward welfare committees have emergency preparedness plans ready to put into effect in case of some kind of disaster–earthquake, drought, house fires, etc.  However, few areas of the Church are properly prepared for the imminent scourge of zombies.  In order to help our brothers and sisters around the world, the following may be copied or adapted for inclusion in any emergency preparedness plan:

EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS PLAN–ZOMBIE ATTACK

Preparation:  In order to be ready to face a sudden onslaught by a cannibalistic army of the undead, the ward welfare committee will:

  • Arrange for a series of regular firesides where church members and friends from the community will be invited for training in distinguishing zombies from sloppy or apathetic young people, fortifying doors and windows on short notice, stockpiling materials for those barricades, maintaining and properly using firearms for eliminating zombie aggressors, and practicing putting down unfortunate neighbors who have been bitten.
  • WARNING: it is not recommended that anybody be instructed to combat zombies with fire, unless a well-trained professional has access to a flame thrower that can stop a zombie in its tracks.  If you set a flesh-eating monster on fire, most of the time all you get is a flesh-eating monster who can now burn your house down, too.
  • Hold a series of practice drills where people will be contacted spontaneously and expected to move immediately to their “safe place” with their family: either their own basement or the nearest church building. 
  • Do not use the mall as your ward’s safe place.
  • HINT: the steeples of older churches make excellent nests for snipers to set up during a zombie attack. 
  • (more…)
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To those who followed the link from my (awkwardly written) comment on a post at the excellent “First Thoughts” blog, welcome!  Browse around and let me know what you think.  Please let me recommend this post from a few weeks ago, about a man whom I greatly admire, Pope Benedict XVI.

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carolI wanted to like this movie so much.  It was billed as a conservative comedy, intelligently lampooning the pompous foibles of the left.  It had an all-star cast.  It was new and fresh and different, bucking the liberal Hollywood trend.

And it turned out to be one of the very worst movies I’ve ever seen. 

My first clue should have been the movie’s first joke, where a Frisbee thrown at a family picnic hits a woman in the head, who then falls over.  Really?  This is a big screen-worthy joke?  That’s not even worthy of America’s Funniest Home Videos

The film, using for its template A Christmas Carol, takes a Michael Moore stand-in who hates the 4th of July and haunts him with spirits who show him how great America is and what patriotism really means.  It’s a great idea and makes this movie’s total failure even more discouraging. 

An American Carol comes to us from the minds who made the classic Airplane!, still one of the funniest movies ever made.  Sadly, only a little of that screwball silliness makes it in here, and where it does, it’s off-cue, obvious, and inappropriate to the mood of the rest of the film.  Example: (more…)

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What has been described by one member of my ward at church as “the most rewarding church service” he’s ever given–including his mission–and has miraculously given another friend at church a discovery about her own family history?  The LDS Church has had its indexing web site up for a while now, but I didn’t try it until last week, after my bishop challenged ward members to get involved.  It’s amazing and I encourage everybody to try it and help.  You don’t even have to be Mormon–anybody can do this, and it really is fun!

Go to www.FamilySearchIndexing.org and click on “volunteer” on the right side.  You’ll get some easy directions and then you start “indexing,” which means that you’re part of a worldwide effort to digitize old census, marriage, and other vital records so they’ll be preserved forever and be available for anyone to access instantly online.  When you sign up, a scanned copy of one such record will appear on your screen, and your job is simply to read the old record and type the information into the fields provided on the screen. 

I’ve found my history-loving and puzzle-solving interests piqued by this great opportunity.  (And, yes, someone in my ward did get sent–despite the physical odds being millions to one against it–a page with one of her own ancestors on it.)  As I read these pages, I find myself not only trying to decode some pretty bad handwriting and wrapping my head around some odd names, but also trying to figure out some life stories.  Sometimes I’m just impressed by what these records teach us about life a hundred years ago. 

Here’s a more detailed introduction from an Ensign article a couple of years ago.  And here’s a fun little article about it from this month’s New Era magazine. 

Here’s a screen shot of a page I was working on this afternoon, from the 1920 census in the county of Spartanburg, South Carolina:

ss1

 

You can see the fields on the bottom third of the screen where you enter the information from the picture of the record in the top two thirds.  Here’s the biggest thing I noticed as I did this page:

  • Margaret Emory was living with two daughters and a granddaughter.  Margaret was a widow, as was her 31-year-old daughter Betty–presumably little Dora’s mother.  What was life like for these four women, living together, two of whom had lost husbands? 
  • (more…)

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A letter in the Las Vegas Sun this morning attempts to rebut the assertion that waterboarding isn’t torture because similar technqiues are used to train our own military.  The letter writer claims:

The difference is, the airmen know what is happening, and they also know they won’t die at the hands of their fellow airmen. Can the same be said for prisoners who were subjected, some more than 100 times, to a similar technique?

 

Now, wouldn’t that actually make it less likely that it would be viewed as torture?  When Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was taken in to be waterboarded for the 98th time, was he thinking, “Oh, no!  The first 97 times just made me disoriented and uncomfortable, but this time I’m sure they’re going to kill me!”

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Lately I’ve been thinking about Frank Herbert’s Dune.  I can’t believe I still haven’t read the ultimate science fiction masterpiece.  Last week I checked it out of the library but, overwhelmed that I’ve bitten off more than I could chew with what I’ve currently got open and bookmarked, took it back with a heavy heart this afternoon.  As I dropped off the book, I casually perused the used book cart nearby, seeing…an old paperback printing of Dune, in perfect condition and on sale for 25¢.  Recognizing the cosmos speaking to me when I hear it, I scrounged up the quarter and put Dune that much higher on my to-do list.

Life is good.

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coveyI’m a 7 Habits guy.  Though it’s been about eight years since I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, its impact on me has been indelible.  For the first couple of years after reading it, in fact, I would stop myself before starting many activities and ask myself, “Wait, is this really a quadrant two activity?” 

So I was excited about the release of The 8th Habit, which I’ve checked out of the library a few times…but haven’t really been able to get into.  A few weeks ago I saw that Covey had recorded a lecture of himself teaching the 8th habit to an audience, so I checked that out, hoping a visual abbreviation would help me get the gist of it.  Even better, the version that I picked up had an audio version on CD, and since my time to listen to things in the car is far more substantial than the time I might find to watch things at home, I cheerfully popped the CD into my car and listened to the whole thing in one day. 

It.  Was.  Terrible.  The whole presentation reeks of touchy-feely affirmations with vague, watery, new-agey platitudes that have little utilitarian value.  What I’ve always liked about the 7 Habits (and I presume what millions of others also appreciate) is its practical, down-to-earth applicability.  This one comes across as a whole lot of bloviating puff about some simple, obvious concepts (“serve and inspire others”), some of which are already well defined in the original 7 habits (“set goals”).  This 48 minute lecture of weak fluff is supposed to represent the essentials of the 8th habit?  This does not do anything for my desire to finish the book. 

I’ll be proactively shunning this waste of time for the foreseeable future.  If anyone wants to defend the 8th habit book, please do–I’d hate for my opinion of Covey’s work to be so sullied as it is by this embarrassing tripe.

 

Final Grade: D

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bearToday I watched some episodes on a DVD I checked out from the library of the first season of Man Vs. Wild, the fantastically cool show on Discovery channel about the ex-British Special Forces soldier Bear Grylls who shows you how to survive in impossibly inhospitable terrains around the world.  My four-year-old daughter sat in with me on an episode about the harsh landscape of the Scottish Highlands.  Her thoughts on:

  • Bear skinning a dead deer to use its skin for a shelter: “Eww!”
  • Bear peeing into a canteen and putting it under his shirt to stay warm: “Eww!”
  • Bear showing us how to get out of a swampy bog by stripping down and jumping into one: “Eww!”
  • Bear killing a rabbit by karate chopping the back of its neck: “Eww!”

You get the idea…

Still, a terrific show which I highly recommend.  Very fun!

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A recent post I read has impressed upon me that cohabitation and/or actively chosen single motherhood may well be the most critical threat facing families and society at large. 

Ann Coulter devoted a devastating chapter to it in her most recent book, but Joanne Jacobs has linked to a new study that finds cohabitation and voluntary single parenthood so prevalent that it is now very much the norm.  Her report reminded me of this incredible essay in City Journal–part of a theme that they focused on for a while–that details the many problems of our generation’s heedlessly hedonistic lack of values. 

I knew a guy who lived with a woman for a few years, having a couple of kids with her.  After a while, he started calling her his wife, though they refused to actually get married.  When he decided to leave her for another woman, that concept of hypothetical matrimony must have gone out the window.  Now he calls the new woman, to whom he also has not gotten married, his wife. 

Multiply that to a large scale and you see the environment in which the next generation will grow up.

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joyceThis little biography is no encyclopedia entry on James Joyce, no dry recitation of the vital statistics, listing facts and just getting the job done.  Irish writer Edna O’Brien loves James Joyce, may well be in love with him, and that worshipful adoration shines on every page of her story of his life. 

O’Brien frequently quotes critics of Joyce’s, then skewers their interpretations with the defensiveness of a mother bear protecting her cub.  This emotionally invested element is part of what makes James Joyce such a refreshing work. 

The other major factor in its success is O’Brien’s writing: she’s no mere dispassionate acolyte, but a full-blown disciple.  Her style is fiercely tempered in the crucible of her master.  O’Brien’s prose is a gorgeous, flowing fountain of wordplay, a worthy tribute to Joyce and the only truly appropriate vehicle for telling his story.  Though she rarely quotes him directly, she alludes to his language often, weaving it into the fabric of her own tapestry. 

Consider this bit of O’Brien, waxing poetic about Joyce’s composition:

to grind up words in order to extract their substance, or to graft one on to another to  create crossbreeds and unknown variations, to marry sounds which were not usually joined; assembling and dissembling, forever.

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There is a great inequity in justice in our public school systems.  I refer, of course, to the fact that some students have higher grades than others.  This can only be the result of institutional disenfranchisement, and must be corrected by government intervention.  Besides, our nation’s future faces catastrophic academic failure if we don’t artificially prop it up now.

By which I mean, the failing students need a bailout.

All of those kids who are only half as likely to do any kind of studying or homework as they are to even show up at all will be granted a special dispensation from the Department of Education, something in the neighborhood of, say, 800 billion points.  (Though, what with corruption, unforeseen needs, and poor management, that total will likely exceed a trillion points.)

So every slacker who sat there and chose to finish a class with a 2% grade will now get to graduate, which is perfectly fair.  Uncle Sam will guarantee the success of every student in America.  After all, what with the obesity epidemic, most American kids are “too big to fail.”

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My 10-year-old son recently had a book project to do for school on a fantasy novel he’d just read: Hilari Bell’s Fall of a Kingdom.  He really loved it, and he wanted to do something special.  He came up with this video idea, wrote out the dialogue, and staged it.  I just held the camera. 

The first half is supposed to communicate that the book is so engrossing that you’ll be oblivious to everything around you, you’ll be so absorbed.  The second half is his actual report, with a good dose of silliness.  He and I share the same sense of humor; why a flying monkey?  Why not?  Everything’s better with a flying monkey in it.

That’s my boy.  I’m so proud!

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As the year winds down in American Lit, I assign a style imitation exercise to review the major works we’ve read and the styles of some important authors.  The students’ job is to write a brief version of any four stories, each in the style of a different author.  Either the story or the author has to be one we studied in class. 

Here are two examples I gave them (I know, neither Shakespeare nor Star Wars is American Lit, but I had the idea and couldn’t resist):

The Empire Strikes Back, as written by William Shakespeare

VADER:  Fair young apprentice, it is I who am the father of thy fleshly tabernacle!

LUKE:  Oh, forswear it, vile wretch!

Never shall the days come when I shall agree

To partake of the black compact thou hast proposed.

The very seraphs of heav’n shall blow their mighty trumps

Ere I rule the galaxy with thee!

Napoleon Dynamite, as written by Emily Dickinson 

Alas and woe is me,

For bereft of the sweet tots am I.

My lily-white palm reaches–

Out–to cast away the button of

The flippin idiot who–

Votes for Summer in place of Pedro–

My heart drops and yearns for…

Ninja skills!

They came up with some pretty impressive stuff.  Here are some ideas, just to give you a sense for their creativity:

  • Twilight, by Mark Twain (he highlights the pathetic flaws in every character by sarcastically mocking their lame, emo worldview)
  • William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” by Herman Melville (a sixteen-word poem becomes a stark, 1000-page epic: “So very much of the innermost intensity of our eternal, ethereal souls depends upon the minutest particularities of crimson hue inherently blasted, seared into the fibre of the side of the wheelbarrow…” etc, etc)
  • A Walk To Remember, by Edgar Allan Poe  (The way it was meant to be–less corny romance, more gory phantasms torturing the dark secrets hidden inside us all.  The girl still dies.)
  • William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily,” by Dr. Seuss  (“I would not, could not with a corpse…well, maybe I could.”)
  • The Crucible, by Dorothy Parker (the men accuse all of the women of witchcraft because they’re neurotic and needy–the women tartly retort at first, but end up agreeing and hanging themselves.)
  • Moby Dick, by Stephen King (Ahab can’t kill the whale because it’s a psychic, flying alien!  But Ahab turns out to be a vampire from another dimension!  Now we’ve got a story.)
  • The Great Gatsby, by Mr. Huston (everybody dies on page 2)

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A group of students working on a review assignment for my American Literature class this week got creative and decided to write a mash-up of all our major novels from throughout the year.  I think I’ll end up reading a silly story about Atticus Finch defending Hester Prynne on charges of witchcraft (said case to be financed by Jay Gatsby), all to be done as they float down the Mississippi River on a raft as they all look for work as farm hands in California.  That is, of course, if they can kill the white whale first.

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38480424When Olive Kitteridge won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a few weeks ago, a colleague reminded me that some of her AP students had recently gotten to have a luncheon with author Elizabeth Strout and talk to her about her book.  I’m told that the students’ primary question was why her book was so depressing, and that Strout retorted that her book wasn’t depressing, but realistic. 

With that personal connection in mind, I read Olive Kitteridge.  Strout is right: the book isn’t depressing.  But it is plain, ordinary, and underwhelming.

Olive Kitteridge’s closest kin in the American literature canon is Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio; each is a collection of related short stories, which taken together form a mosaic of a town and offer several perspectives on a principal protagonist, in Anderson’s case, Joe Welling, in Strout’s, the eponymous Olive Kitteridge.  In that sense, the novel also bears a resemblance to another, more recent work with this same conceit, David Shickler’s excellent (and superior) Kissing in Manhattan

Anthologies of short stories typically don’t sell well, and most authors avoid them.  The copyright page for Olive Kitteridge shows that many of its chapters were published alone over more than a decade.  This feeling of discontinuity–or rather, a forced continuity–is apparent throughout.  The chapters where Olive isn’t the main character yet she pops up anyway, sometimes only in a throwaway reference, stick out as desperate attempts to make the conceit work.  One wonders if older versions of these stories were lightly revised to include Olive’s name just so this could be published as a novel as opposed to the collection of short stories that it is. 

As it is, Olive Kitteridge isn’t bad, but bland(more…)

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