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Archive for February, 2010

My own sentimental interpretation:

The first movement of Dvorak’s Symphony no. 7 overwhelms us with its cosmic panoply of extremes.  It quickly sprints towards a sharp peak, only to reveal a range of ever-higher peaks beyond: the road map for this survey of the universe.  In less than eleven minutes, this movement cycles through a series of several scenes, each one a pairing of a quiet interlude with the climax towards which it grows: a humbling, noble declaration of grandeur.  The rippling waves of those stunning climaxes barely have time to fade, receding into faint little whispers of echoes, quaint reminders of the episode just passed, before they begin defying the law of entropy and sprouting again into the first steps in a chain reaction that will lead to yet another supernova. 

It would be hard to imagine a better summary of the sublime passion experienced throughout a human life. 

The second movement takes those meek, unassuming interludes from the first movement and develops them, amplifying them and giving them their due attention, teaching us that this, too, is a worthy aspect of life, and one worth celebrating.  For a quarter of the entire composition, we are invited to meditate on the lazy and mundane days we take for granted at the time.  This movement is the sound of Candide working in his garden.  But this is no mere peaceful reverie, for even here there are suggestive clues that remind us that, even if we do become comfortable during these easy times, they won’t last forever.  Drama will appear again soon. 

Movement three, however, takes this tour of life in a different direction.  (more…)

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Reading Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon today, I was most touched by the portion where the clairvoyant Cassandra waxes poetic about her impending doom.  She says:

Why am I then so pitiful?  Why must I weep?

…I will go through with it.  I too will take my fate. 

I call as on the gates of death upon these gates

to pray only for this thing, that the stroke be true,

and that with no convulsion, with a rush of blood

in painless death, I may close up these eyes, and rest.  (1286-1294)

 

I’m not sure if such an attitude predicts Roman Stoicism or is simply fatalistic, but her frank courage in facing an imminent and ignominious death reminds me of a few of the prophets in the Book of Mormon, men who similarly looked down the barrel of immediate demise and never blinked.  Unlike Cassandra, though, their motivating characteristic is in no doubt: they trusted God implicitly and thus had no reservations about going full speed ahead on the errands to which He had appointed them.

Take three representative examples.  First, Abinadi.  As this lone, wild man confronted the court of wicked King Noah, a prisoner, surrounded by those who had chosen to hate him and set themselves against him, he withstood their taunts and tempts with nothing more than teaching and testimony.  At one point, he speaks the truth so boldly that he radiates holiness, stunning his would-be adversaries.  He remarks on this condition, their physical inability to reach out and kill him, but then says, “But I finish my message: and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved” (Mosiah 13:9).  Before continuing his doctrinal dissertation, he then adds that what they do to him would be a type of how they themselves would die. 

Abinadi knew that he was being preserved by divine power, but he also knew that such protection was temporary, that it would only last until the mission was done.  If that had been me, I might have been tempted to draw out the lesson a little bit!  Abinadi, however, calmly and confidently finished his message, knowing full well that after he’d delivered it, the Lord would then let him suffer the death his listeners were so eager to mete out.  Did he resent that?  Was he afraid?  No.  As he’d said, being saved is all that matters. 

(more…)

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The fatal flaw with our society’s obsession with “multiculturalism” is that it is really nothing of the sort–there’s no anthropological searching for the best of various cultures so we can integrate them into each other’s, there’s no melding of multiple heritages to create a new and stronger fusion, and there’s certainly no understanding that these activities exist with awareness of some cultural values being more productive than others, more in line with the greater, general traditions of civilization than others. 

Allan Bloom, in his spiel against relativism in The Closing of the American Mind, makes this point when he notes that only Western European civilization has ever shown any interest in exploring and investigating other cultures.  What politically correct history calls colonialism, we might better call sharing and learning.  Remember the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian when the zealots indignantly ask, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” only to find themselves rattling off an ever-growing list of benefits of their unequal cultural interaction.  Bloom also laments that we no longer learn foreign history or languages as well as we used to–for all the bewailed closed-mindedness of previous generations, no one can deny that they took the rest of the world far more seriously than we do now.  Now, as Bloom further and incisively recognizes, all that is required is to feel good about other cultures. 

This is the thorn in the side of any rational multiculturalism: this refusal to admit that not every facet of every culture is equal and deserves to be celebrated.  (more…)

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I just read about Alabama biology professor Amy Bishop’s shooting rampage that killed three of her colleagues.  Curious, I looked her up on RateMyProfessors.com, and found a few dozen reviews of her posted by former students.  Though there are some negative reviews, the majority are glowing, as seen from the screen shot below (I suspect the page will be taken down soon).  So she’s a homicidal maniac with a history of problems, but on the other hand, “she is hot but she tries to hide it.” 

Note that the Boston Herald article linked above (also posted today at Drudge Report) mentions that she is “a far left political extremist who was obsessed with President Obama,” and the same student review I just quoted from (visible below) also shares this: “she is a socialist but she only talks about it after class.” 

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Every time I drive through St. George, Utah, whoever’s in the car with me gets treated to a rant spurred by this billboard.  It’s been there for years and it’s hard to miss: it’s almost due east of the St. George Temple, ironically.  My problem isn’t with Starbucks or Ralph Lauren specifically–I consider coffee and name brand clothing to be bad things only insofar as God has commanded us to abstain from them–but for anyone to use the name “Zion” to advertise them is a gross affront to that holy word.  Imagine a store called “Jesus’s Sporting Goods,” or an ad for a restaurant showing a sacred symbol of any religion as an attempt to promote that restaurant.  Anyone should see how wildly inappropriate that would be. 

And yet, here we are: the name of Zion being used to hock things that simply aren’t compatible with Zion.  Now, I’m sure that whoever runs this mall or made the billboard has the geographical designation of the nature park in mind, and may not even be familiar with the LDS Church; furthermore, they’ve probably heard this complaint from many others before.  Still, at least it stands as a reminder to those of us devoted to building Zion of what a careless attitude towards it may lead to: a watered-down mixture of Zion and Babylon, worthless and spiritual in name only. 

But the label game reaches its all-time peak of skill and effrontery in the Madison Avenue master stroke of pasting the lovely label of Zion on all the most typical institutions of Babylon: Zion’s Loans, Zion’s Real Estate, Zion’s Used Cars, Zion’s Jewelry, Zion’s Supermart, Zion’s Auto Wrecking, Zion’s Outdoor Advertising, Zion’s Gunshop, Zion’s Land and Mining, Zion’s Development, Zion’s Securities. All that is quintessentially Babylon now masquerades as Zion.            –Hugh Nibley, “What Is Zion?”

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“Hey Huston,” you say.  “Whatever happened to that project where you were gonna do all the Boy Scout stuff?  Gave up, huh?”

No, but I have neglected it.  As I haven’t mentioned it for three months, I can’t blame you for thinking I’d quit.  I still have half of the second class items to do, but they all deal with outdoors stuff.  Last November, my family and I went out to try a new campground where I was going to knock out the rest of it, but we couldn’t find a good spot, so we went somewhere else, but by then it was too dark and cold to set up.  Long story short, we ended up at Burger King that night and I’ve had the project on hiatus ever since, tentatively waiting out the cold weather. 

Still, there’s plenty I could have done, especially after I read that I could work on second class and first class things at the same time.  The only thing I’ve done in the last few months was requirement 5, “Identify or show evidence of at least ten kinds of wild animals (birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, mollusks) found in your community.”  Using the animal index from Desert USA’s Mojave Desert page, the family and I took turns picking local animal life (mostly bugs) and sharing a few facts about them.  (Note that not all animals on that page refer to this desert.  Elephants?  Ostriches?  Uh…no.)

This delay has set me far back on my original schedule; I should be working on Star requirements by now.  I’ve resolved to finish both second class and first class ranks by the end of May, so I can take a big chunk out of Star over the summer.

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Upon recently finishing my long project of reading Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpeices, I could only think of that line from Robert Louis Stevenson, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”  I’ve previously written about the first third of this book (covering artists with last names A-D), and an incredible story that I learned about from it more recently, but that’s all still the tip of the iceberg. 

On each page, I was very conscious that I was being given a quick, cursory survey of what the history of art had to offer; these thousand images, with their brief explications, were just the tiniest glimmer of what was out there, a mere sampling.  I felt overwhelmed, but in a good way: it’s exciting to be reminded just how inexhaustible the good things of the world are.

The variety in the book was astonishing, covering hundreds of years (and a few even going back thousands), dozens of nationalities, and every conceivable kind of painting.  Seeing so much perfection in so many forms was undeniably humbling.  The alphabetical organization of artists created surreal but sublime juxtapositions: medieval Nativity art on the left page was often paired with experimental 20th century social protest art on the right.  The only downside of this arrangement was that artists of the same nationality often have similar names, so the hyper variety of the book was frequently interrupted by more tedious periods where you would only see Dutch or Italian or Spanish painters for four or five pages.  Still, that’s hardly boring.  The plus side here, again, is that this also allowed the several father/son legacies in art history to be shown together, which was interesting. 

Not only was I impressed with the works themselves, but the stories they covered opened up another whole new vista to me.  Many of these paintings were inspired by the same stories, which had been unfamiliar or completely unknown to me before–either they tend to be the favorites of countless artists, or just Sister Wendy, since she picked them for her book.  At any rate, just from the fragmentary comments throughout the book when illustrations of these stories came up, I now know pretty well the narratives of Judith and Holfernes, Raphael and Tobias (and his dog), and St. George and the dragon.  After seeing a dozen variations on the image in paintings, I’ll probably never be able to look at a spoked wheel again without thinking of St. Catherine

Here are my favorite paintings from the book, from artists with last names E-Z:

  • Fetti, Melancholy
  • Fragonard, Young Girl Reading (pictured)
  • Goyen, Windmill By a River
  • Hammershoi, Study of a Woman
  • La Hyre, Allegorical Figure of Grammar
  • Landseer, Monarch of the Glen (pictured)
  • Lagilliere, Elizabeth Throckmorton
  • Magritte, Empire of Lights
  • Ostade, Rustic Concert
  • Potter, Watchdog
  • Poussin, Landscape With the Ashes of Phocin
  • Pynacker, Bridge at Grancheville
  • Raeburn, Reverend Robert Walker Skating
  • Redon, Anemones and Lilacs In a Blue Vase
  • Ribera, Archimedes
  • Robert, Imaginary View of the Grande Galerie In Ruins
  • Roslin, Woman With a Veil
  • Ruisdael, Extensive Landscape With Ruins
  • Sandby, Rocky Coast By Moonlight (pictured)
  • Turner, Norham Castle, Sunrise
  • Vernet, Storm On the Coast
  • Vuillard, Portrait of Theodore Duret
  • Wyeth, Drifter (pictured)

 

Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces is, sadly, out of print.  Though it carries a cover price of $40, most copies available online are going for far more.  Though it’s certainly worth whatever sellers are asking, two of the copies for sale on Ebay right now are going for only $15 and $25.  I’m thinking about it…

Final Grade: A+

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Yet Another Star Wars FAIL

Near the beginning of Episode II, when Obi Wan has jumped out the window and is hanging on to the droid that tried to kill Padme, and the assassin sees the droid and Obi Wan coming towards her, why the heck does she shoot the droid?  Wouldn’t it have made much more sense just to shoot Obi Wan?  But I guess then the movie would have been over. 

On a related note, perhaps she could have asseverated vertiginously with a dichotomy of pulchritude.

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Vocabulary Fun

For the first time this school year, I’ve had to call in sick (bronchitis, I bet).  As I wait for the doctor’s office to open, let’s start catching up on some neglected blogging!

The following are some cool words that, in nearly two years, I have never used on this blog:

  • asseverate
  • vertiginous
  • dichotomy
  • pulchritude

I’ll try to work each of these in, naturally, in some future posts by the end of the year.

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Clerk: May I help you, sir?

Me: Yes, I’ll take this model crib, please.

Clerk: That one? Let me show you our deluxe model, over here. It has advanced safety features, that make it far superior to the cheaper model you were looking at.

Me: So it’s safer? Does that mean that the crib I was looking at is unsafe?

Clerk: Oh, no! All of our cribs are perfectly safe! But this one just has extra features that make it even more safe!

Me: So there’s less of a chance of my baby getting hurt in the fancy crib?

Clerk: That’s right!

Me: That means there’s some chance that my baby could get hurt in the cheaper crib. Why would you sell a crib that isn’t safe?

Clerk: No, no, no. That crib over there is absolutely safe, but this one is even better than that.

Me: (pauses) The cheaper crib is safe, though? It doesn’t pose a danger to the baby?

Clerk: Yes, sir. That’s right, sir.

Me: Great, I’ll take the cheaper crib.

Clerk: (sigh) Yes, sir.

Shopping for car seats goes much the same way.

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I tried this with my English 101 class last week to great success.  After reviewing the criteria for writing a good evaluative essay (including, ironically, establishing criteria), they read a copy of a review of something (one day I had them bring in reviews of things they liked–I saw reviews of movies, music, cameras, and a Snuggie–the next day I gave them positive and negative book reviews of Catcher In the Rye, as Salinger had just passed away). 

After they studied their piece, I asked them to write a paragraph or two on the back, evaluating the review.  How effective was it?  Was it crafted suitably for the intended audience?  Did it give sufficient background information (or too much) on the item being reviewed?  Etc.

Then I had them exchange papers with another student, who then read their review of the original item’s review.  I then had them write a paragraph reviewing the review that had just been written by their peer, using the same criteria. 

Then I had them trade papers with someone else, who then read everything written so far, and who then wrote a review of the most recent review (which itself, remember, was reviewing a review).  By this time, they were adequately cognizant of writing with the requirements for good evaluation in mind.  I thought about extending this exercise to further rounds, but decided that this was silly enough.  But it worked!

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  • Myrtle
  • Zelda
  • Fanny
  • Gertrude
  • Phyllis

Their time has come again.

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Most love songs are about falling in love, or getting back together, or just about lust.  Few and far between are songs that celebrate being together in a stable, joyous relationship for a long time (especially marriage!).  As Valentine’s Day comes up, here are the first five great songs I could think of about love that has lasted and grown over a long time, alphabetical by artist:

Eric Clapton, “Wonderful Tonight”

Chris De Burgh, “The Lady In Red”

Collin Raye, “One Boy, One Girl”

Kenny Rogers, “Through the Years”

Shania Twain, “Still the One”

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A couple of weeks ago my wife and I watched the suspense movie Flight Plan.  It’s pretty good, but what really stuck with me was the turning point for the main character.  [WARNING: spoilers follow]

Jodie Foster plays a distraught widow flying with her sad young daughter and her husband’s body from Europe back to the US, when she wakes up mid-flight to find her daughter apparently kidnapped.  The kidnappers have planned it to look to everyone else like the daughter was never there and the mother is crazy with grief.  The plan is so devastating that after being restrained and made to listen to a psychiatrist, Foster’s character seems to begin to believe herself that she only imagined that her daughter was really there. 

But just as she’s about to abandon herself to despair, she leans over, almost sobbing, and breathes on the cold little window.  That’s when she sees it: the heart that her daughter had drawn on the window after fogging it up with her breath right after boarding.  The kidnappers hadn’t known about it and therefore couldn’t erase it.  This was one solid evidence that couldn’t be ignored, couldn’t be explained away.  It’s a proof that awakens her from the slough of despond and, ironically, considering what everybody else aboard thinks of her, strengthens her sanity.  It instantly reassures the mother and revives her will to fight.  Needless to say, from there she launches an ingenious solo investigation that leads to the kidnappers being punished and her daughter being rescued. 

For me, in real life, that heart on the window is the Book of Mormon.  The world is full of spiritual conspirators of all stripes who would love to convince us that we’re crazy for believing in Jesus Christ, even going so far as trying to remove any arguments for Him from our culture, history, and public lives.  Like those poor souls who were lost in the mist of darkness in Lehi’s dream (1 Nephi 8:23), many of us do become swayed by the massive tide of majority opinion whispering in our ears that we’ve been deluded

But when we’re being assaulted for our belief, and especially when we’re tempted to give in and give up, we can always lean over and see that perfect, beautiful, crystal clear little heart on the window, left there by the One in whom we place our faith, and on whom we center our lives.  The Book of Mormon is a solid physical evidence that God is not only there, but knows us and loves us, and is helping us find our way back to Him. 

And just like that valiant mother in Flight Plan, when we’ve had our spirits lifted and filled by that blessed gift, we can go back out and fight the evil with twice the power we had before, we can endure in the face of any opposition, and we can win the goal of our contest: a reunion with the beloved family member who left us that precious gift in the first place. 

[image source]

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