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Archive for August, 2011

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My Maxi Pads

So my new school gave me a box of maxi pads.  It’s normal at the start of a year for schools to give all the teachers bags of band aids for their students, since kids get lots of little cuts and need band aids all the time.  

But, though I’ve worked at several campuses, I’ve never heard of a school including maxi pads in that supply bag.  Of course, the student body at my new school is 75% female, so maybe that has something to do with it. 

I’m not quite sure what to do here.  Do the girls there know that teachers have this stockpile that can be dipped into as needed?  But I can’t imagine any girl ever having an emergency so extreme that she’ll approach a male teacher and say, “Excuse me, do you happen to have any maxi pads on you?”

Or am I expected to make an announcement?  “Attention everyone.  FYI, I have a box of maxi pads in my desk.  As you were.”  I seriously can’t imagine a scenario where someone gets one of these from me, and it isn’t all kinds of creepy. 

Advice is welcome. 

 

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Spot the Red Flags

Even at the start of a promising new year, one can’t hep but spot the occasional red flags; signs that a student will have problems–or cause problems–down the road.

At one of my UNLV remedial writing classes yesterday, I asked students to fill out an information card, as I do with all classes.  One young man, in response to a question about his hobbies and interests, put “Getting money.”  Helpfully, he illustrated this with a drawing of a Benjamin.

And in response to a query about what I should know to help him achieve better, he wrote: “I don’t like taking s–t from anybody.” 

He’s a criminal justice major. 

They had to give me a writing sample yesterday, a simple essay responding to an article by a popular mystery author giving writing advice.  Half of his essay was just about how much he hates reading and writing. 

And so it goes.

 

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I met 295 new people yesterday.  My six high school classes are all very large, but that’s certainly the norm these days.  That plus my two college classes puts me pretty close to 300.  Here’s the breakdown:

English II Honors (sophomores–three sections): 41, 44, and 37 students

American Literature Honors (juniors–two sections): 35 and 42 students

Leadership (grades 9-12, one section): 49 students

Not surprisingly, I’ve already asked about having that last class split into two sections, if possible.  (more…)

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I’ve been studying up on the Book of Abraham a bit lately, and as fascinating as all the scholarly, arcane parallels are, it’s even more exciting to see that some of Joseph Smith’s explanations of these symbols are easy to confirm in accessible pop culture. 

While critics have often had to come up with convoluted theories as to how Joseph got so many plausible details into the Book of Mormon, his equally startling “guesses” in the Book of Abraham are usually ignored…maybe because they are even more shocking.  How could Joseph have known what any of these old Egyptian hieroglyphics meant?  He didn’t know ancient Egyptian–hardly anybody in the world did!  The Rosetta Stone itself had barely been translated around the time that Joseph first started producing the Book of Abraham. 

And yet, what should have been wild shots in the dark hold up remarkably well nearly two centuries later, when the basics of Egyptian are so widely available, that a major hotel here in Las Vegas, the Luxor, makes them into a cute and easily recognizable theme. 

In Facsimile 1, there’s a weird creature shown near the bottom. 

The text defines it as “the idolatrous god of Pharaoh.”  Look closely–it’s a crocodile in the waters of the Nile.  So, did the Egyptians of Abraham’s time really identify Pharoah with a crocodile-god? 

They sure did.  His name is Sobek, (more…)

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I enjoy classical music on YouTube, especially when video creators are thoughtful enough to put long works in multiple movements together on playlists.  It’s nice to hear a single performance that way, rather than having to string together videos from different sources on your own.  Oddly, perhaps music’s greatest symphony, Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, no. 41, has never had a decent single performance together that I’ve been able to find. 

But now three have gone up in just the last few weeks. 

First, this audiophile gives us the four united movements in videos that feature the written score:

Next, this classical-leaning fellow illustrates his four videos with paintings of the mythological Jupiter, king of the Roman gods:

(more…)

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A story at First Thoughts this week about people wearing Hooters t-shirts to mass stirred a debate in the comments section: should or shouldn’t people come to church dressed however they want?  There were some strong words on both sides.

A few miles from my house is one of those huge non-denominational fellowship churches.  It looks like a nice place that does good for people.  They have a big sign outside with a picture of casually dressed people, and it reads, “Come as you are!”  Of course, the models in the picture are dressed in professional-models-at-work casual (polos, solid colored t-shirts, new jeans, etc.), not real life causal (stained wife beaters, torn sweat pants, Hooters t-shirts). 

(more…)

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“Bless This Meal”

I think we as Latter-day Saints should consider reforming how we pray over meals.  The primary purpose of these prayers, I’d say, is to offer gratitude that we get to have such wonderful food for us and our families, yet again. 

But listen to our prayers, and they almost always ask for Heavenly Father to “bless” the food for us now.  (My colleague even once wrote a satire of this tendency to request food be blessed to “nourish and strengthen” us.)  Is this, perhaps, un-grateful?  It seems to say, “Yes, thank you for the food.  But I’m not satisfied.  Could you now do more to make it good for us?”  As if the gift of ongoing sustenance itself isn’t enough.  As if our routine, rote recitation will automatically make whatever we’re eating healthy (I’ve heard such prayers over desserts many times, as I’m sure we all have). 

In fact, our predictable habit of asking for our meals to “nourish and strengthen” us strikes me as similar to the kind of set prayer we typically try to avoid. 

Also, when people are called on to offer such prayers, it’s usually with this wording: “Would you please bless the meal?”  As in some requests for priesthood blessings, this might be polite, but it’s inaccurate: we don’t bless anything.  We ask God to bless things for us. 

Maybe the most appropriate thing to do in these prayers is to simply offer real and humble gratitude that we are so constantly blessed with an abundance of delicious food.  Even without extraneous supplications for nutritoinal improvement, it’s already a profoundly amazing blessing.

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In Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, there are currently efforts at work to recall at least two recently elected officials.  It seems that as soon as anybody is put in office these days, someone wants to kick them out. 

As soon as any president steps into the White House now, somebody starts talking about impeachment.  No doubt there are people already planning to impeach whoever wins in 2012 and 2016.

This is ridiculous.  Recalls and impeachment were not meant to be political tools to use against those with whom you disagree.  People are trying to use nuclear options where a slap on the wrist is called for, or merely as a weapon in the arsenal of poor sports.  In general, I don’t agree with President Obama’s policies, but I would never agree to an attempt to kick him out of office because of that.  Good grief. 

Note to the recall-happy out there: That person you don’t like won a fair election.  You can complain and be involved in the public process all you want, but trying to trump up a scandal and yank every politician out of office is little more than pitching a tantrum, and not far from cheating.  It subverts the democratic system.  You want a politician out of office?  You got it.  It’s called another election, and it comes at the end of the term that a majority of voters decided to let them have.   Deal with it.

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There is a difference between policy and principle.  People of bright minds and good faith can disagree about policies, but principles are usually pretty universal.  Nobody is really anti-liberty, or anti-charity, but between policy and principle is priority, and that affects how the latter is realized as the former.  That’s where people on the political spectrum differ.  Focusing on foundational principles, though, will help us build on common ground. 

A good example might be what seem to be the most disparate groups in American politics today: the Democratic Party and the Tea Party.  Since the emergence of the Tea Party about three years ago, liberals and their friends in the media have often and openly vilified these conservatives, and largely acted kinder towards the mainstream Republicans that they had previously contested with in the court of public opinion.  Maybe it’s an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing. 

This is unfortunate.  The Tea Party and many liberals have something in common here.  Why does the Tea Party exist?  Because they feel that the mainstream Republican Party has failed them.  (Consider how many mainstream Republicans have jumped on the anti-Tea Party propaganda bandwagon so the kids at the cool table will like them.)  They needed a homemade outlet to protest the betrayal of conservative ideals in exchange for political success. 

So some of their principles might include empowering citizens in their right to petition for redress, and calling for an end to waste and corruption by those in power, by demanding accountability from leaders.  Aren’t these things good people of all political stripes can get behind?  Yes, we can and should debate each other vigorously about fiscal policy, and all kinds of policy, but can we at least recognize when there are underlying principles that we share?

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There’s a slogan that goes, “think globally, act locally.”  The idea is that we should orient ourselves based on big-picture priorites–even planning to be a small part of a larger movement or community–but be sure to behave and perform with a pragmatic focus on our immediate surroundings.  It’s not a bad motto for keeping your heart in the clouds rather than your head, and your feet on the ground instead of in your mouth. 

As I start a new chapter in life in a position at a different school, I’ve been working on tempering my pessimism with charity.  I like that I’m skeptical, even cynical at times; I think it insulates me from deception and ineffective actions.  However, it also makes me slow to charity and compassion.  As I noted in an analysis of the Book of Mormon once, we’re not supposed to become emotionally calloused. 

Excessive negativity also has another down side: it doesn’t help.  It might be comfortable, but it does little to actually produce results. 

So this week I’ve developed a new philosophy that I want to guide me this year: think negatively, act positively. 

I think this is how the strong people I know must operate.  I’ve known plenty who are ruthessly realistic about the nature of life, but who face every situation with the sunniest disposition possible.  I still want the tools of cold, hard reason to rule my thinking, but I also want to be an agent of more happiness in the world.  I’ve been practicing this, and I think I’m getting better.  And best of all: unflagging, energetic optimism does something.  You can see it in how instantly it improves things.  Positivity get results.  And for a cranky, old-fashioned curmudgeon, isn’t that what matters most?

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Maybe the greatest work of magic realism is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.  Marquez won the Nobel Prize after writing it, and Oprah later picked it for her classics book club.  Here’s the famous first line:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. 

Now here’s a trick question that should help you think about the nature of magic realism and better understand Marquez’s book: does this first line occur in the past, present, or future? 

 

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Tan Lines On My Feet

The first week of June, I found a great pair of sandals at Deseret Industries for $2.  I wore them all summer.  Apparently, I wore them outside a lot.  As you can see in the pictures below, I now have some odd tan lines.

Also, if you don’t like looking at gross pictures of some guy’s nasty feet, then you probably shouldn’t have already looked.

 

Summer sandals.

 

Summer tan lines!

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Excellent.  Today, the Daily Beast recognizes Romney and Huntsman’s uniquely pro-science stances in this presidential campaign as reflecting the nature of their faith.

One of many great quotes:

From the very founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its leaders have allowed scientific thought to coexist with their teachings, sometimes in ways that were radical for their time. Modern Mormon scientists, for instance, are quick to quote Brigham Young, who said in 1871, “In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular… whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or as many millions of years.”

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Beloit College has just released their new guide for faculty to understand this year’s incoming freshmen: the Mindset List, 75 facts about today’s students.  The top ten are:

  1. There has always been an Internet ramp onto the information highway.
  2. Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.
  3. States and Velcro parents have always been requiring that they wear their bike helmets.
  4. The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
  5. There have always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, and women have always commanded U.S. Navy ships.
  6. They “swipe” cards, not merchandise.
  7. As they’ve grown up on websites and cell phones, adult experts have constantly fretted about their alleged deficits of empathy and concentration.
  8. Their school’s “blackboards” have always been getting smarter.
  9. “Don’t touch that dial!”….what dial?
  10. American tax forms have always been available in Spanish.

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