How Leo Tolstoy Exposed Donald Trump in War and Peace

War and Peace came out nearly 150 years ago, in 1869, but some of it–one chapter in particular–resonates with current events.

A man without convictions, without habits, without traditions, without a name, and not even a Frenchman, emerges- by what seem the strangest chances- from among all the seething French parties, and without joining any one of them is borne forward to a prominent position.

The ignorance of his colleagues, the weakness and insignificance of his opponents, the frankness of his falsehoods, and the dazzling and self-confident limitations of this man raise him to the head…his opponents’ reluctance to fight, and his own childish audacity and self-confidence secure him military fame. Innumerable so-called chances accompany him everywhere.

UntitledTolstoy wrote these lines, near the end of his great book, about Napoleon, but when I read them last night, I thought of Donald Trump. Only small changes are needed–just replace “French” and “Frenchman” in the excerpts in this post with “Republican,” for example, and you pretty much have cutting-edge commentary for today’s op-ed page.

This ideal of glory and grandeur- which consists not merely in considering nothing wrong that one does but in priding oneself on every crime one commits, ascribing to it an incomprehensible supernatural significance- that ideal, destined to guide this man and his associates, had scope for its development….

He had no plan, he was afraid of everything, but the parties snatched at him and demanded his participation….his insane self-adulation, his boldness in crime and frankness in lying- he alone could justify what had to be done.

*

He pretends to fall into a swoon and says senseless things that should have ruined him. But the once proud and shrewd rulers of France, feeling that their part is played out, are even more bewildered than he, and do not say the words they should have said to destroy him and retain their power….One after another they hasten to display their insignificance before him.

Really, just read the whole chapter. The whole thing is basically about Trump. Not only that, but the failures of the GOP leadership are also laid bare here. Was Tolstoy a prophet? Are we doomed to see another 1812 in the not-too-distant future?

Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson #4: In Nephi’s Vision, Who’s Talking When?

I mentioned in my notes on lesson #1 that I like to picture and even map out the structure of text, but I also find it useful to mark out who’s talking when there are multiple speakers.

Below is a PDF copy of 1 Nephi 11-14 with all the dialogue color-coded. The angel doesn’t have much to say at first, but monologues quite a bit in chapters 13 and 14.

Some of this attribution is speculative or convenient, though, so take it with a grain of salt. For example, in 13:34, I have “Behold, saith the Lamb of God” as spoken by the angel, just to make it clear that the angel is quoting the Lord there, but that phrase might very well be part of the Lord’s statement–in fact, it probably is. Ditto in 14:7.

Nephi’s Vision– Color Coded Dialogue

My Students Feel Hester Prynne’s Pain

My juniors just started reading The Scarlet Letter, that tale of the poor Puritan Hester Prynne, who has an affair, gets pregnant, and is subsequently shamed by society ever after. In chapter 2, she must mount a scaffold and spend part of the day being stared at and scorned by the entire town, in an act of public shaming meant to punish her sin.

After reading that part with them, I asked my class, “Can you imagine what that must have felt like for Hester? To be forced to stand on a stage while a thousand people stare and judge you for your human mistakes?”

They all looked a bit amused as the answer to my clumsy rhetorical question finally became clear to me.

You see, I teach at a school for the performing arts.

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Paperback Inflation?

Last week I was browsing in a thrift shop for used books. I spotted this old edition of Tess of the D’urbervilles, which is marked with a sticker for the low, low price of 75¢. Of course, that discount is actually a fifteen cent increase over the original cover price, which is clearly visible next to the sticker. Yes, folks, apparently this old book is worth more used than it was when it was new. That’s the economy for you.

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How I Do A Semester Review

Last week my school district had semester exams–we’re halfway through the year! The week before, my classes spent a day doing this review of the semester’s units.

I put up six poster-sized sheets of butcher paper around the room, one for each of the major units we’ve done so far. In the center of each, I wrote the theme (Romanticism, logical fallacies, Revolutionary rhetoric, literary analysis, etc.).

I broke the students into groups of 4 or 5, assigned them to a poster, and gave them ten minutes to create a mind map on the poster, using markers I’d asked them to bring. They could use our textbook, online notes, whatever.

After ten minutes, I spot checked each poster, gave some quick editing advice as needed, and checked off that they were all contributing seriously (I’d told them that relevant illustrations were fine, but random nonsense like “buy my mix tape” was not).

Then they rotated to the next station, where they could edit what was there and add on more. Each team cycled to each station accordingly. Each student in each group had to contribute to at least one poster as a “scribe.”

By the end of class, they had produced mind maps like these below. I also posted these to our class web pages to help them study for the test.

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D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916): Complete Babylon

This video has the Babylon segments of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 silent film epic Intolerance. The entire 3-hour film rotates between four stories in different historical periods, and while each of the four has its charms, the Babylonian story is by far the best. As this classic of cinema celebrates its 100th anniversary, here is that story, complete and by itself.

 

Ode to Catch-22, from Stone Reader

My favorite scene from the 2002 documentary Stone Reader. The combination here of the elemental score, the slow and colorful visuals, and the simultaneously awakening and valedictory narration make this a truly beautiful bit of the filmmaking art.

I copied and posted this clip online because nobody has much from this great movie anywhere, and I want to spread awareness of it. I encourage anyone seeing this to appreciate this celebration of literacy and to purchase the complete documentary–it’s really a wonderful film.

 

Discipleship Worksheet for Ch. 1 of Howard W. Hunter Manual

08861_eng_CoverI had the chance to teach from this lesson at church today. It’s really an excellent chapter of the new book–I highly recommend it to anybody. I made the chart attached below to prepare for teaching it, and for personal use.

In case anyone else might benefit from it, the discipleship worksheet is here: Teachings of Presidents of the Church ch1.

 

Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson #2

My suggested personal study aids for this week. (I’ll try to post earlier in the week from now on.)

Lesson objective: “To help class members see, through the examples of Lehi and Nephi, that safety and salvation come through obedience to the Lord.”

When my family studied 1 Nephi 1 together this week, we stopped in verse 4 to check out the references in footnote d. Two of them go to Jeremiah.

With that in mind, I first want to recommend this movie:

 

 

From a post about it four years ago:

Checked this out from the library a while back and really enjoyed it.  This drama not only has better production values than most small, Biblical movies, but it even stars future Grey’s Anatomylead Patrick Dempsey, to boot.

Jeremiah tells a vivid story of the Old Testament prophet’s reluctant, melancholy rebellion against a corrupt and complacent status quo, and keeps the major narrative very faithful to the Biblical text.  Dempsey shines in this role; his acting strong suit has always been an uncanny ability to convey betrayed surprise–the hurt look on the face of a lost puppy dog.  That woeful innocence comes in handy a lot as he portrays the saddest prophet in Israel’s history.

Latter-day Saints have a special soft spot for Jeremiah, I think, as the Book of Mormon suggests that he was a contemporary of the first patriarch in that sacred text, a man named Lehi, who likewise foretold doom in Jerusalem and was violently rejected for it.  One can easily imagine Lehi preaching just around the corner in most scenes of this film.

The few shots of violence are tasteful and true to the source material, but perhaps a little too intense for the youngest viewers.  Other than that, anyone with an interest in Biblical literature, history, or belief would be better off for seeing Jeremiah.

Speaking of 1 Nephi 1, I like to picture the structure of things I read, as it helps illuminate for me the author’s intended messages more clearly. The following arrangement of verse 1 shows just how much information is packed into that first sentence: six factual statements about Nephi–three paired clauses describing who he is and how he got to be that way, and all meant to explain why he’s making this record; only that last of the six statements shows an active choice on Nephi’s part:

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Also, these two posts about the Book of Mormon come highly recommended:

2016 Gospel Doctrine- Recommended Resources on the Book of Mormon. I endorse all the titles shared there, most especially Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon.

A Book to Kill For #BOM2016

And, of course, I must urge you to keep up with the development of Book of Mormon Central this year. If it lives up to its potential, it’ll be a fantastic resource.

 

13 Pictures of Death Valley

I took these pictures with my phone’s camera during a spontaneous family vacation this last weekend.

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Sunset from Zabriskie Point, January 1, 2016

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Cloudy afternoon at Mesquite Sand Dunes, January 2, 2016

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Cloudy afternoon at Golden Canyon, January 2, 2016

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Golden Canyon, January 2, 2016. Here, I love the contrasting brightness of the three triangles in the composition. I like the vertical shot for a similar reason.

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Late afternoon through the clouds from a narrow passage in Golden Canyon, January 2, 2016

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Sunset from Golden Canyon, January 2, 2016

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Looking out over Death Valley at dusk from Artist Drive, January 2, 2016

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Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Lesson #1

Each week in 2016 I’ll post (or re-post) things relevant to that week’s Sunday School lesson about the Book of Mormon.

Lesson #1 has the following objective: “To help class members understand how the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and how abiding by its precepts helps us draw nearer to God.”

These items might help with that:

 

 

 

The Condensed Book of Mormon, in 15 Verses

Lehi, King Benjamin, and President Monson On Why We Follow the Prophet

Coincidence or Commentary?

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I picked up Saladin Ahmed’s fantasy novel Throne of the Crescent Moon from the library this week, having heard that it’s really original and well written. Most fantasy novels still take place in a fantasy version of medieval England, but this one is set in a fantasy version of the medieval Islamic world.

As soon as I opened it, though, I found this bookmark that some other reader had left in it. As you can see, the bookmark is an ad for a local Holocaust Resource Center.

I guess it could be a coincidence, but it’s not hard to see that there could be something behind it. A Jewish message placed inside an Islamic book? Seems like it might be supposed to say something political, but I’m not sure exactly what the message is. Who left it and why? There are no clues beyond what we see here.

5 New References in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So I just made a video out of my various observations about the new Star Wars movie.

 

 

Clearly, this is all that’s been on my mind. Even on Christmas Day, as I put together a desk for one of my kids, I saw a subtle Star Wars reference in the hardware kit that came with it:

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Escape to the Mountain: Genesis 19 as a Timely Reminder for Latter-day Saints

Genesis 19 is one of the most sordid, controversial chapters of the Bible. As such, it’s not often seen as a fount of wisdom.

Yet, a perfectly timely spiritual message is in this narrative.

Before “the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire,” an angel warned Lot to take his family and “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19:17)

Was Lot’s response to act like Peter and Andrew, who, upon being called to the ministry, “straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matt. 4:20)? Or like Alma, who was abused and rejected as a minister in one city, but after leaving was instructed by an angel to go back and persist, so “he returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah” (Alma 8:18)?

No. Lot’s immediate instinct wasn’t obedience, but quibbling and negotiation: “And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord…. I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die” (19:21-22).

Not only did he decline to follow the angel’s clear counsel, he proposed following his own inclinations: “Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.” (19:20)

Continue reading

The Simpsons and the San Bernardino Shooting

Dracula

The media and government’s response to things like the San Bernardino shooting reminds me of this scene from the “Treehouse of Horror IV” episode of The Simpsons:

News anchor Kent Brockman: Another local peasant has been found dead, drained of his blood with two teeth marks on his throat. This black cape [clearly marked “Dracula”] was found on the scene. Police are baffled.
Police Chief Wiggum: We think we’re dealing with a supernatural being, most likely a mummy. As a precaution, I’ve ordered the Egyptian wing of the Springfield museum destroyed.

In our case, I suppose it plays out like this:

Mainstream media: Another mass shooting has occurred, in a well-planned and coordinated attack. Pro-ISIS propaganda was found posted online by the suspects, and their house was full of pipe bombs. The motive is unclear.
President Obama: We think we’re dealing with racist conservatives, most likely Christians. As a precaution, I’m going to demonize them and push for even more gun control.

I realize I just compared President Obama to police chief Wiggum. My apologies to police chief Wiggum.