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Archive for July, 2012

I’ve lost track of how many articles lately, and how very many comments on articles,  claim to reveal to the world the secret, sinister beliefs of the LDS Church.  Their attempts at scandalous revelations tend to revolve around the same few topics, and they’ve all been squarely addressed (I covered the whole “Mormons want to become gods who rule their own planets” trope last summer), so I don’t want to analyze them one by one here.

What most strikes me about these alleged controversies, though, is how deep into obscure arcana the critics have to dig in order to find objectionable stuff.    If the worst dirt you can find on an organization is based on a handful of rumors, gossip, and secondhand quotes from 19th century figures, how bad can the organization really be?

Imagine a make and model of a car that someone wants to take down.  So they write some snarky blurbs about it online that show the world the truth: the company logo on the rear end is kind of derivative.  And the antenna is a bit hard to unscrew.  And don’t even get me started on the horrors of the rubber coating under the front passenger floor mat.

“Trust me,” says our automotive Internet muckraker, “I know all about the dark, seedy underbelly of this scam.”

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Sunday School Honors?

Something that critics of the LDS Church, both those on the inside and on the outside, like to say is that the Church doesn’t openly teach what it “really” believes.  They accuse the Church of hiding the truth about its more challenging doctrines and history behind a facade of bland pablum.

I could easily argue the problems with this view: that church materials and General Conference talks are actually deeper than many suppose, and that the church does nothing to hide anything related to it and even facilitates such research far more than people give it credit for (Some critics like to “shock” Mormons by revealing that Joseph and Hyrum Smith  defended themselves with pistols when attacked in Carthage Jail; the Mormon church is so scared of this fact and works so hard to cover it up that the pistols in question are on display in their official history museum, at Temple Square, free and open to the public).

Besides, if church-produced materials are so facile, I suppose I could quiz you on them and you’d know them all backwards and forwards.  Wait, what?  You mean you haven’t really squeezed every drop out of them yet?

Or consider this: the textbook used in church history classes is already an oversized monster and more than 600 pages long.  You don’t think the Church is trying hard enough to teach people about its history?  Good grief, just how much longer do you want that book to be?

But I think the biggest flaw with this criticism is that it simply isn’t the Church’s job to make sure that everybody everywhere knows everything about it.   (more…)

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A lot of public services are being cut around the country, I’m sure, as municipalities run out of money.  However, I think we in North Las Vegas have a uniquely extreme situation.

Everyone knows that this has been the hardest hit area in the whole country–last month, in an unprecedented move to slow the financial hemorrhaging, our city council declared a state of emergency.

As debates continue about union contracts, recreation centers, and public services in general, one desperate act by local leaders has hit my family especially close to home.

They cut the library’s hours.

This is really only a minor inconvenience, sure, and other library districts have cut their hours, also, but the result here seems acutely sad to me, and not just because my family loves the library so much.

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I’m still inspired by this guy.  I’m reading his book about the Nile trip right now.

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Let’s say that you’ve had a late 90′s model Compaq Presario computer moldering away in your closet for the last few years now.  Then, let’s assume for a moment that you’ve been in the mood for some decluttering this summer, and want to get rid of it.

In fact, the only reason you haven’t done so yet is because you’re so paranoid about identity theft and such things that you’re worried about letting it leave your possession, even in the trash or if the hard drive was reformatted.

So, maybe you’d finally figure out a way to satisfy your fears on that point.  Maybe it would even be a way that would lead to an original and exciting activity for the whole family.

Exhibit A

 

Exhibit B

 

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Stop Sign Shenanigans

Confession time: when I’m driving up to a four way stop and someone else is approaching from a different direction, I brake before actually reaching the intersection if it will help me establish a claim to the right of way, so I can go through first.

The art here is stopping close enough to where you’re really supposed to stop that it still looks legitimate.  Braking a few feet short completely blends in, but trying to get away with ten yards is just being a jerk.

Am I the only one who does this?

 

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Pro Community

Everyone knows I love The Simpsons.  Usually, when talking about it, I tend to focus on the quality of its satiric social commentary.  However, there’s another area where it excels which draws me in, too.

The Simpsons invented and perfected the art of both subverting sitcom conventions while generally operating within and even celebrating those conventions.  It’s a genius balancing act of ironic innovation and standard storytelling, and they were the best.

Until now.  Certainly the reigning champ of satire for at least a decade has been South Park, and now the geek contingent has a new paragon of worshipful TV meta-analysis.  It’s Community.

I’ve watched on and off for all three seasons, but it was only in the second half of this last season that I started watching faithfully.

If you haven’t seen the two paintball-themed, spaghetti Western parody episodes that closed season two (“A Fistful of Paintballs,” “For a Few Paintballs More”), you’re missing some of the funniest TV ever made.

But they just got snubbed in the Emmy nominations for the third year in a row.

Here’s  a great bit from the credits of the second episode they aired.

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Does Teaching Make Us Dumber?

While student teaching during college, an older veteran complained to me about something I’ve wondered about ever since.  She said that years of teaching basic, remedial English had atrophied her own higher thinking skills.  Bitterly, she said that she could no longer remember how to analyze things like she could in college, because she hadn’t had to use any mental ability more complex than explaining simple grammar in decades.

That scared me.  But it’s wrong.

It may have been true in her case, but it’s a choice she made.  Why didn’t she read more, or exercise her mind in other ways?

“Because teaching takes too much time!” might be implied.

But that’s a choice, too.   (more…)

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As an English teacher, I sometimes show black and white movies in class, which almost always elicits groans and complaints from most of the students.  Something I usually tell them is to notice how well black and white can create sharp contrasts and evocative atmospheres in settings, far more so than color can.

I like to use the first few minutes of Citizen Kane as an example of this–try imagining those exterior shots in color.  It would lose all of its intimidating power.

 

This summer I’ve seen David Lean’s 1948 version of Oliver Twist, and it makes the same point.  Those first few minutes out on the stormy moors wouldn’t be half so gloomy if they were in some glossy, digital HD rainbow.

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I just got home from seeing a marathon of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, including the new one, and I have to work out some thoughts.  I kept this spoiler free, but most of these ideas will make more sense after you’ve seen it, which (spoiler alert?) I strongly recommend you do.

  • The biggest question, of course, is how good is it?  Does The Dark Knight Rises live up to the other films, especially the second?  Certainly it’s an excellent work, and I’ll be honest that my preference is for the new film (even though I eventually loved The Dark Knight), but I’m fairly confident that most people will say that they thought The Dark Knight was even better.  Most fans of the series will still opt for its darker, more complex vision.  Fair enough.
  • But consider that they are very different movies.  TDK was a dense, episodic thriller.  In fact, watching it again during tonight’s marathon, I was struck by just how much ground Nolan covered.  TDKR, however, is a more linear narrative, with a single focus, albeit one that constantly crescendos to an emotionally explosive climax.  Where TDK packed in as much of everything as possible, TDKR actually goes out of its way to strip down the distractions of excessive characters and subplots so it can develop its primary interests as much as possible.

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I had to see what the fuss was all about, so today while the family and I were at Costco, I picked up one of their several hundred copies of 50 Shades of Grey, opened to the middle, and read three pages (the end of chapter 18 and the beginning of chapter 19).

Wow.  Everything I’ve heard about it seemed confirmed in just those three pages: an insecure, immature female narrator finds her security in submitting to a powerful man whose own stability is less than healthy.

So basically, it’s Twilight, except that the writing here is absolutely execrable.  I know we all make fun of Twilight, but Stephanie Meyer’s writing really isn’t awful, just servicable–it’s a plain, dull instrument, but at least it’s competent.

But E.L. James’s writing is so bad it’s scary.  I haven’t seen supposedly professional writing this bad since Eragon.  I read plenty of labored narration and stilted dialogue in just those three pages (“Holy cow!  I’m going to meet his parents!” sticks out in my memory right now), as well as botched metaphors and hilariously juvenile descriptions of sex.

It’s so wretched that I have to wonder if it’s on purpose.  Here’s my theory: 50 Shades of Grey was actually written by a group of misogynistic 12-year-old boys.  These jerks have a twisted plan: they want millions of women to fall in love with this stuff, identify with it, and publicly proclaim allegiance to it (a blockbuster movie is in the works).

Once stage one of the plot is complete, the boys will reveal their scheme to the world.  They wrote the book to embarrass women everywhere.  They want to confirm every pitiful anti-woman stereotype out there.  Fans of the book will be exposed as emotionally damaged, and women’s public image will be set back half a century.

So far, their plan is coming off without a hitch.

Be suspicious, ladies.  Be very suspicious.  I smell a trap.

 

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July

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