Notes and Quotes: September 2015


Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlett Johansson Have an Older-Man Problem

Alien 3: The Lost Tale Of The Wooden Planet

The Noir-est of All the Film Noir Flicks

Why ‘Inside Out‘ Looks a Little Different in Japan [and] What’s on Captain America‘s To-Do List Across the Globe?


Prior problem behavior accounts for the racial gap in school suspensions

If Reading Shakespeare is Hard for You, You Shouldn’t Be Teaching English

Still, I don’t mind her parading of her own ignorance or her rubbish about “the way it has ‘always been done’” nearly as much as I do her patronizing insistence that “students of color” are unlikely to get anything out of the plays. This was less an opinion piece than a plea for career counseling—clearly the author is not suited for her job.

Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature

It is really quite remarkable what happens when reading a great novel: By identifying with a character, you learn from within what it feels like to be someone else. The great realist novelists, from Jane Austen on, developed a technique for letting readers eavesdrop on the very process of a character’s thoughts and feelings as they are experienced. Readers watch heroes and heroines in the never-ending process of justifying themselves, deceiving themselves, arguing with themselves. That is something you cannot watch in real life, where we see others only from the outside and have to infer inner states from their behavior. But we live with Anna Karenina from within for hundreds of pages, and so we get the feel of what it is to be her. And we also learn what it is like to be each of the people with whom she interacts. In a quarrel, we experience from within what each person is perceiving and thinking. How misunderstandings or unintentional insults happen becomes clear. This is a form of novelistic wisdom taught by nothing else quite so well.

Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values, and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender, or personality type. Those broad categories turn out to be insufficient, precisely because they are general and experienced by each person differently; and we learn not only the general but also what it is to be a different specific person. By practice, we learn what it is like to perceive, experience, and evaluate the world in various ways. This is the very opposite of measuring people in terms of our values.

4 Things Transformational Teachers Do

Allowing productive struggle to occur, using artistic and scientific instruction, modeling symphonic thinking, and encouraging students to lean into constructivist problem solving can lead to the holy grail of transformational teaching: epiphany.


Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once

Addressing students at the dedication ceremony, parents Arnold and Cassie Stigmore noted that while the college had adequate facilities to assist victims of discrimination, abuse, and post-traumatic stress, it had until now offered no comparable safe space for students, like their beloved daughter, who encounter an academic viewpoint that gives them an uncomfortable feeling.

New Magnet School Opens For Students With Interest In Receiving Competent Education

Several students told reporters they appreciate the new school’s highly original methodology, but conceded it may take a while to grow accustomed to the process of learning information and developing skills in a classroom setting.


The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape

Eight years ago, in the coastal township of Shawbost on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis, I was given an extraordinary document. It was entitled “Some Lewis Moorland Terms: A Peat Glossary”, and it listed Gaelic words and phrases for aspects of the tawny moorland that fills Lewis’s interior. Reading the glossary, I was amazed by the compressive elegance of its lexis, and its capacity for fine discrimination: a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”, while a feadan is “a small stream running from a moorland loch”, and a fèith is “a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer”.

L’Engle’s Conservatism

The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips

‘The Wake’ Poses Readers a Novel Challenge

Would it be possible to write a book that contained only words that had existed in Old English? The answer was almost.

Mr. Kingsnorth invented what he calls a “shadow tongue”—a kind of middle ground between Old English and the language we use today. He ended up using mostly, though not exclusively, words that originated in Old English. He spelled them using the alphabet of 1066. That is, no “k,” “v,” “j” or “q.” And he used no capitalization or punctuation, save for a period every few sentences.

Then he wrote his whole novel in it.

Stephen King on novelists who arguably write too much


25 Life-Changing Style Charts Every Guy Needs Right Now

They do: The scholarly about-face on marriage

The Exquisite Role of Dark Matter


The Browning of America

In days when people spoke more freely about such matters, dramatic change in the dominant population of the world’s dominant power would have been occasion for speculation and worry. About whether, for instance, as more of its citizens come from non-European backgrounds, the United States will change its idea of its cultural heritage. Or whether, considering the occasional tawdriness of whites’ behavior toward minorities in centuries past—displacing Indians, enslaving Africans, deporting Chinese—there is cause to worry about race relations once the shoe is on the other foot. Or whether European civilization, which from the time of Columbus to the time of Goodbye, Columbus, seemed to roll ever westward as if by a law of nature, is now beginning to ebb.

Milton Friedman puts a young Michael Moore (type) in his place:

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme

In fact, gender dysphoria—the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex—belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.

The larger issue is the meme itself. The idea that one’s sex is fluid and a matter open to choice runs unquestioned through our culture and is reflected everywhere in the media, the theater, the classroom, and in many medical clinics. It has taken on cult-like features: its own special lingo, internet chat rooms providing slick answers to new recruits, and clubs for easy access to dresses and styles supporting the sex change. It is doing much damage to families, adolescents, and children and should be confronted as an opinion without biological foundation wherever it emerges.

The Irresponsibility of Celebrating Transgender Children

This is the future that our new culture is proclaiming for troubled kids — a future of genitals that are like “wounds” and suicide rates that skyrocket beyond all reason, more than nineteen times that of the general population. After being put forward to the world as a transgender child celebrity, how free will Jazz Jennings be to pull back from the brink? In a world of red carpets, fame, and acclaim, who will tell Jazz the truth?

Symbolic Incoherence: Millennials and YOLO

Of Bicycles, Sex, & Natural Law

Natural law has not failed because it is an inadequate understanding of the realities of human life. Insofar as it has “failed,” this is the result of rebellion against the limited creaturely status of human beings on the part of the contemporary cultural elite, provoked by many factors, including, no doubt, a large dose of technological hubris. But there is no alternative to something like natural law, because, whether formulated well or poorly, it is simply a recognition of the reality of what men and women are and of their actual situation in this world. To the extent that the mechanistic, Darwinian understanding of the world is incompatible with natural law, it is both wrong and intrinsically immoral. There is no substitute for natural-law morality: in its basic form, it’s the only game in town.

Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics

1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

12 Times Mass Shootings Were Stopped by Good Guys With Guns

Liberal mag Vox cancels article they asked a philosopher to write because it didn’t toe the party line closely enough.


The Limits of Gifts

The Church is renewing its emphasis on the Sabbath and on teaching children on that day. Children can’t make choices for the Kingdom unless they have experienced the Kingdom. Otherwise they would be like Hydarnes, knowing only half. There is a saying abroad that public schooling is child abuse. That saying exaggerates. But there is probably a religious equivalent. Leaving the holying of your children to the Church alone is parental neglect.

Great summary of a Book of Mormon wordprint study.

How to Read the Book of Mormon . . . S-L-O-W-L-Y

You might think that mining the same territory so closely so many times would result in eight people saying the same thing every day in our papers, but it doesn’t at all. Every day, when the other seminar participants present their findings, I think, “Wow. How could I have missed that connection?”

That’s how rich the text is.


The irony of this to me is that every time I have engaged in the hard work of burrowing deeply in the Book of Mormon, the center has always held: The book stands up to close scrutiny.

Notes and Quotes: March 2015


The “learning styles” myth

Middle school reading lists 100 years ago

“Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One”

Occupy the Syllabus

The Last English Teacher

Economic truths about college



“Why the World Still Loves Shakespeare

“Dust to Dust: At 75, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is less persuasive than ever”

Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy

Tom Stoppard: I have to dumb down jokes so the audience can understand

Quantifying Literature!



NASA: The largest picture ever taken



“97 Articles Refuting The ‘97% Consensus’ on global warming

“1350+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skeptic Arguments Against ACC/AGW Alarmism

“The Absurdity of Gender Theory”

“An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent

“University bans use of ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ in all correspondence”

“Sorry, liberals, Scandinavian countries aren’t utopias

Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say



Explicating the Allegory of the Olive Tree






–From Read the Bible for Life















The Magic Toenail

My kids often ask me to make up little stories as I tuck them in at night.  Tonight’s was pretty good:


Once upon a time there was a magic warrior giant.  But this story isn’t about him.

The magic giant had a giant magic dog.  But this story isn’t about him, either.

The dog had a nail on his left big toe that could think and talk and cast spells.  This story is about him.  It’s called, “The Magic Toenail.”

The toenail had a sweet life, what with being magic and not having to go to school and all.  Everything was peaceful, until one day when a UFO landed in front of their castle.  Oh, by the way, they lived in a castle.

Gross purple aliens came out and started looking around.

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Notes and Quotes: December 2014


Classical sculptures in color
Great article on the late works of Turner



The main reason we should cherish liberal education as “great books” is that they almost all are—whether written in the form of prose, poetry, plays, or novels—poetic in this sense: They are all about showing, rather than telling. One of the great prejudices of our time is that the truth can be reduced to theory and information expressed directly through “critical thinking” that can, in principle, be displayed through logically ordered PowerPoint slides. But the strangest and most wonderful being in the cosmos—each of us—is too elusive and mysterious to be known through that mode. This means the poetic, indirect, or slow and circuitous mode of knowing could be even more rigorous and rational in its own way. The reason Socrates didn’t write at all, and the reason Plato wrote “dialogues” or really wordy plays, is that books themselves can so readily get in the way of wondrous love and “the joy of discovery” if they are viewed as one-dimensional prose. The difference here is the one between the “great book” or even a “real book” and the “textbook.”

The one true progress has little to do with political institutions or technical devices: It’s the progress that occurs in the directions of wisdom and virtue over a particular unique and irreplaceable human life, and our struggle today is to remember to focus at least some of our higher education on encouraging that personal progress.
Technocracy Versus The Great Books

What’s the Best Teaching Method?
English teacher turned Congressman corrects a colleague’s memo

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Four Best Places For Your Charitable Giving

We all have things we care about.  We all know of needs we want to help fill.  Likely, we all get frustrated because we just don’t have the resources to do all we want to do.

May I suggest that, if you’re reading this, you would care about the following things, and if more people would focus their charitable donations on these, a great difference for the better could be made.

I’ll propose what I find to be the needs that are the most worthy in the realms of politics, religion & literacy, and living well.


In politics, we live in an era where perhaps the greatest political need has arisen from the emergence of a new Puritan class of righteous elites, who set our cultural guidelines and persecute those who dare dissent.  This is a time of stifling conformity, paired with punishment for any who refuse to worship at the right altar.

Free speech is dying.

You might suggest that the physical threat of terrorism, or the more domestic threat of unsustainable debt, for example, are more dangerous than the almost existential desire for free speech.

You would be wrong.  While other issues have massive consequences which can be seen easily, the cowing of individuals portends even more damage in the long run.

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Notes and Quotes: October 2014


Looking back on Bill Murray in The Razor’s Edge

The definitive ranking of every Cosby Show credits sequence


25 great anti-jokes

The Little Rascals’ recreate movie poster 20 years after film was released


Delightful approach to Shakespeare’s language

Why Homer Matters

The savage greatness of A Clockwork Orange

Hear all of Finnegans Wake out loud


40 portraits of four sisters over 40 years

Milky Way photography

National Geographic 2014 photo contest

Photo: Spirits of Westminster

Art from the collection of Ray Bradbury


“Many human behaviours, quirks, eccentricities and woes which in the past would have been seen as parts of the rich tapestry of life are now branded mental disorders.”

Reviewed: How To Be a Conservative

Generation Wuss,” by Bret Easton Ellis

Why I Left My Last School

The 2010-2011 school year should have been my best ever: I was teaching at the same campus for the sixth year, teaching all honors classes, and only had classes that I’d taught before.

But by the middle of second semester, I was worn out from constant frustration.  A series of cheating incidents had made me paranoid and angry, I had faced a massive outcry after raising expectations for late and missing work, and I had gone through several confrontational parent conferences due to both.

During Spring Break, though, I had resolved to make the best of it and restore my optimism.  I was grateful for a lot of things about that job: I worked with great teachers and students, my leaders were generally supportive, and I loved the work I got to do.  I decided to focus on the positive from there on out and make the last part of the year the best part.

Then school started again…

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Closed Bookstores

The Barnes and Noble on South Maryland Parkway shut its doors earlier this year.  That means that every major bookstore that was open in Las Vegas when I was in college, a mere fifteen years ago, is now closed.

The Borders on Sahara and Decatur, where I worked my freshman year, closed several years ago, just as the recession was starting.  The space is still vacant.

When I was in high school, there was a little Barnes and Noble affiliate called Bookstar just down the street from it.  They closed before I even graduated.  It’s a linen shop now.

The Borders on Lake Mead and Rainbow opened while I was in college.  They closed last year.

There used to be two bookstores in the Meadows Mall.  Both are long since closed, that mall now bereft of books.

There are just two Barnes and Noble stores left to service all of Las Vegas.  Both are in the same part of town: out west in the Summerlin area.

There is not, nor has there even been, a major bookstore in the northernmost part of the city, where I live.  I remember a little independent one in the strip mall at Rancho and Craig, but that was as close as it got, and they closed before any of these others.  A raggedy used book store on Ann closed a few years ago.  Other than the Barnes and Noble I started off writing about, I don’t think the easternmost part of town has ever had a big bookstore, either.

There are, however, still several fine used book stores in Las Vegas.  Thank goodness for that.


Family Feud Surveys

Every round of this show says that the answers came from a survey of 100 people.  Wikipedia says that there have been at least 8000 episodes.  Say there’s five rounds in each game (a pretty conservative estimate): that makes 40,000 of these surveys.

And at 100 people per survey, that makes 400,000 people.  Or one out of every 750 people in America.

I’ve never been called by their show with questions.  I don’t know anybody who has been.  Do you?  Sounds fishy to me.

If a Tree Falls…

“If a tree falls in the forest, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

NO.  Sound doesn’t exist outside of the ear.  Sound waves themselves aren’t really what we think of as “sound” until they’re decoded by the mechanisms in our ears.  No ears = no sound, right?

However, by that same thinking…

YES.  Does the question assume only human life is at issue here?  If animal life is also to be considered, and is present, then their ears would do the same thing.  Sound would exist.

Unless all the people and/or animals in the area are deaf.  Then, you could have all the people around you want, and there still wouldn’t be any sound.

Unless we allow for those deaf people and animals feeling vibrations through the ground to count as “sound”…

Boy, the things one comes up with on a Friday…

Telescopes Are Time Machines

I love thinking about how space is really a huge window into the ancient past.  We think we see all this great stuff out there, but everything we see is as old and outdated as the time it took the light from those things to reach Earth.

If something is 200 million light years away, we can’t see it; we can only see it the way it was 200 million years ago.

If the sun exploded, I don’t think we’d know about it for eight minutes.  Could the effect of broken gravity travel faster than light?  I doubt it.  And inertia would carry us along for a brief bit, right?

That would make a great science fiction story: a future where we have faster than light communication and travel, and we get word of the sun’s destruction from some satellite near Mercury, giving humanity a few minutes to evacuate the planet.

Here’s another: a future where we can zip across the cosmos–maybe through wormholes–and then look back at Earth and, thus, back into our own history.  In the year 3000, ships could fly out instantaneously to, say, about two thousand light years away, and watch the Crusades through super powerful telescopes.

Historical research sure would get easier.