Notes and Quotes: September 2014

EDUCATION

I’ve always said this: teachers don’t leave because of bad pay, they leave because of poor working conditions.

WSJ: Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher.

 

HUMOR

I suspect I find this funny for reasons other than those the artist had:

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LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

Gioia’s intro to Finnegans Wake

WSJ: Shakespeare as a Life Coach.

14 Reasons to Read the Classics

Fight the Moral Madness: Read Charles Dickens to Your Kids

 

LIVING WELL

Fun parkour video.

I’m a sucker for great astronomy photography.

Beautiful photo of contrasts.

Sunset AND a castle?  Wow!

Here’s a chart I found online with some good productivity ideas:

how-to-be-productive_530adf38cc928_w1163

 

POLITICS AND SOCIETY

Ten Ways Mormons Can Celebrate Independence Day”  Good advice for all of us, for every day.

Great essay about defining conservatism–required reading for all poli-sci wonks.

On conservative literature–a good start.

The complicated politics of Shakespeare.

On ostensibly conservative college students being intellectually stunted:

“They cannot think with a conservative worldview because they have had limited exposure to conservative values. Children spend thirteen years in a school system which was founded upon progressive ideals about education and which increasingly promotes statism. For eighteen years the entertainment industry communicated to them an equally progressive worldview. From all sides children are taught to believe in the inherent goodness of humankind and to cherish the values of tolerance and diversity. There is no good and evil; there is just diversity. There is no justice and truth; there is only tolerance for other opinions. Democracy has become a good in its own right instead of being founded upon virtue. When democracy becomes its own end, any atrocity can be justified by a majority vote.”

Great comment on an Instapundit link about politically biased professors:

I noticed that back when I was in university: the liberal students were so used to everyone around them validating their opinions that they didn’t learn to make good arguments; the conservative students knew they needed good arguments, so they learned to make them,

The unfortunate part comes when these liberal students go through many years of schooling, get loads of validation for twittering about the talking point of the day, and then turn into incredulous, raging jerks when an adult conservative makes a point contrary to their ideology.

 

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Two Great Temple Resources

1. This post at Jr. Ganymede makes some excellent observations gleaned from the temple. I especially like how the author uses his thoughts to draw spiritual lessons for appreciating the wisdom of our Heavenly Father.  

2. This video about symbology in LDS architecture, particularly in temples but also in regular meetinghouses, is fascinating. It made me look at my own Sunday church building differently, and more reverently.  

 

Emerson and Melville on Melancholy

Two great quotes I picked up on earlier this summer when I read Eric Wilson’s Against Happiness:

 

I compared notes with one of my friends who expects everything of the universe, and is disappointed when anything is less than best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme, expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate goods.

–Emerson, “Friendship”

So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. ‘All is vanity.’ ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore jolly;—not that man is fitted to sit down on tombstones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon.              

But even Solomon, he says, ‘the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain’ (i.e. even while living) ‘in the congregation of the dead.’ Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

–Melville, Moby Dick, ch. XCVI

 

More of Mill on Living Well

From chapter 5 of the autobiography…

On happiness through ignoring yourself:

The enjoyments of life (such was now my theory) are sufficient to make it a pleasant thing, when they are taken en passant, without being made a principal object. Once make them so, and they are immediately felt to be insufficient. They will not bear a scrutinizing examination. Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Let your self-consciousness, your scrutiny, your self-interrogation, exhaust themselves on that; and if otherwise fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe, without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in imagination, or putting it to flight by fatal questioning. This theory now became the basis of my philosophy of life. And I still hold to it as the best theory for all those who have but a moderate degree of sensibility and of capacity for enjoyment, that is, for the great majority of mankind.

 

On music:

The only one of the imaginative arts in which I had from childhood taken great pleasure, was music; the best effect of which (and in this it surpasses perhaps every other art) consists in exciting enthusiasm; in winding up to a high pitch those feelings of an elevated kind which are already in the character, but to which this excitement gives a glow and a fervour, which, though transitory at its utmost height, is precious for sustaining them at other times. This effect of music I had often experienced; but like all my pleasurable susceptibilities it was suspended during the gloomy period. I had sought relief again and again from this quarter, but found none. After the tide had turned, and I was in process of recovery, I had been helped forward by music, but in a much less elevated manner. I at this time first became acquainted with Weber’s Oberon, and the extreme pleasure which I drew from its delicious melodies did me good, by showing me a source of pleasure to which I was as susceptible as ever.

 

On finding enjoyment in simple things:

Relieved from my ever present sense of irremediable wretchedness, I gradually found that the ordinary incidents of life could again give me some pleasure; that I could again find enjoyment, not intense, but sufficient for cheerfulness, in sunshine and sky, in books, in conversation, in public affairs; and that there was, once more, excitement, though of a moderate kind, in exerting myself for my opinions, and for the public good.

 

On poetry (and mountains):

This state of my thoughts and feelings made the fact of my reading Wordsworth for the first time (in the autumn of 1828), an important event in my life….   
  In the first place, these poems addressed themselves powerfully to one of the strongest of my pleasurable susceptibilities, the love of rural objects and natural scenery; to which I had been indebted not only for much of the pleasure of my life, but quite recently for relief from one of my longest relapses into depression. In this power of rural beauty over me, there was a foundation laid for taking pleasure in Wordsworth’s, poetry. the more so, as his scenery lies mostly among mountains, which, owing to my early Pyrenean excursion, were my ideal of natural beauty. But Wordsworth would never have had any great effect on me, if he had merely placed before me beautiful pictures of natural scenery. Scott does this still better than Wordsworth, and a very second-rate landscape does it more effectually than any poet. What made Wordsworth’s poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a Source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connexion with struggle of imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence. There have certainly been, even in our own age, greater poets than Wordsworth; but poetry of deeper and loftier feeling could not have done for me at that time what his did. I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with a greatly increased interest in the common feelings and common destiny of human beings. And the delight which these poems gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from the most confirmed habit of analysis.

John Stuart Mill on Good Writing

My love affair with Mill’s autobiography continues. This paragraph from chapter 4 reviews the effect that an editing job he held had on his own writing.

The middle struck me as a bit funny: he notes that some readers found someone else’s style too convoluted; this, in a sentence with eight commas and a colon. I actually love Mill’s constant subordination–it makes his prose exact, but he never overdoes it. Each sentence of his always has a perfect balance between precision and fluidity.

Also, I like the description of good writing elements at the end: the idea of fleshing out the bare bones of composition and creating something “lively and light.”

The time occupied in this editorial work was extremely well employed in respect to my own improvement. The “Rationale of judicial Evidence” is one of the richest in matter of all Bentham’s productions. The theory of evidence being in itself one of the most important of his subjects, and ramifying into most of the others, the book contains, very fully developed, a great proportion of all his best thoughts: while, among more special things, it comprises the most elaborate exposure of the vices and defects of English law, as it then was, which is to be found in his works; not confined to the law of evidence, but including, by way of illustrative episode, the entire procedure or practice of Westminster Hall. The direct knowledge, therefore, which I obtained from the book, and which was imprinted upon me much more thoroughly than it could have been by mere reading, was itself no small acquisition. But this occupation did for me what might seem less to be expected; it gave a great start to my powers of composition. Everything which I wrote subsequently to this editorial employment, was markedly superior to anything that I had written before it. Bentham’s later style, as the world knows, was heavy and cumbersome, from the excess of a good quality, the love of precision, which made him introduce clause within clause into the heart of every sentence, that the reader might receive into his mind all the modifications and qualifications simultaneously with the main proposition: and the habit grew on him until his sentences became, to those not accustomed to them, most laborious reading. But his earlier style, that of the Fragment on Government, Plan of a judicial Establishment, &c., is a model of liveliness and ease combined with fulness of matter, scarcely ever surpassed: and of this earlier style there were many striking specimens in the manuscripts on Evidence, all of which I endeavoured to preserve. So long a course of this admirable writing had a considerable effect upon my own; and I added to it by the assiduous reading of other writers, both French and English, who combined, in a remarkable degree, ease with force, such as Goldsmith, Fielding, Pascal, Voltaire, and Courier. Through these influences my writing lost the jejuneness of my early compositions; the bones and cartilages began to clothe themselves with flesh, and the style became, at times, lively and almost light.

57 Perfect Tens

I just read these two great posts about rereading favorite books.  I very rarely do that–I’m one of those who have so many new things I want to read that it’s hard to justify making time to go back to books I’ve already finished.

Still, this made me review the notes I’ve kept on my reading–a list of every book I’ve read since 2001.  From that record, I see that I’ve given exactly 57 books a perfect 10, not suggesting that they’re all masterpieces, but that reading them was pure, supreme joy for me.  If I were stranded on a desert island, this would be my library.

  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey
  2. As You Like It, William Shakespeare
  3. A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe
  4. The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham
  5. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary vol.1-3, Bruce R. McConkie
  6. Raising Up A Family to the Lord, Gene R. Cook
  7. Charles Kuralt’s America, Charles Kuralt
  8. The Know-It-All, A.J. Jacobs
  9. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  10. Beowulf, Seamus Heaney, trans.
  11. The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
  12. Heroes of History, Will Durant
  13. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
  14. The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan
  15. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
  16. How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton
  17. The Stranger, Albert Camus
  18. Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
  19. America Alone, Mark Steyn
  20. The Tetherballs of Bougainville, Mark Leyner
  21. On Liberty, John Stuart Mill
  22. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  23. Code of the Woosters, P.G. Wodehouse
  24. A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs
  25. Reading the OED, Ammon Shea
  26. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
  27. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  28. The Westing Game, Ellen Rankin
  29. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  30. Rise To Rebellion, Jeff Shaara
  31. Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces, Wendy Beckett
  32. The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert
  33. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
  34. The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
  35. Dune, Frank Herbert
  36. No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
  37. World War Z, Max Brooks
  38. Richard II, William Shakespeare
  39. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  40. Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus
  41. Henry IV, Part I, William Shakespeare
  42. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
  43. Carry On, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
  44. The Secret Knowledge, David Mamet
  45. Noble House, James Clavell
  46. Flatland, Edwin Abbott
  47. Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
  48. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  49. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
  50. Paradise Lost, John Milton
  51. Elric of Melniboné, Michael Moorcock
  52. One For the Books, Joe Queenan
  53. Dubliners, James Joyce
  54. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
  55. Odd Thomas, Dean Koontz
  56. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  57. His Excellency: George Washington, Joseph J. Ellis

 

More of Mill on Education

From the middle of chapter 2 of John Stuart Mill’s autobiography, my thoughts exactly:

And I do not believe that boys can be induced to apply themselves with vigour, and what is so much more difficult, perseverance, to dry and irksome studies, by the sole force of persuasion and soft words. Much must be done, and much must be learnt, by children, for which rigid discipline, and known liability to punishment, are indispensable as means. It is, no doubt, a very laudable effort, in modern teaching, to render as much as possible of what the young are required to learn, easy and interesting to them. But when this principle is pushed to the length of not requiring them to learn anything but what has been made easy and interesting, one of the chief objects of education is sacrificed. I rejoice in the decline of the old brutal and tyrannical system of teaching, which, however, did succeed in enforcing habits of application; but the new, as it seems to me, is training up a race of men who will be incapable of doing anything which is disagreeable to them.

Why We Need Definitions, Borders, and Boundary Maintenance

Cross-posted from Millennial Star.

 

PART I: INTRODUCTION

Can you define the word “chair?” Seems simple—let’s say it’s a small, raised platform that’s supported by legs and which typically has a back against which your torso can rest. That definition brings to mind a single, simple, useful picture—in short, a conservative ideal of chairs.

But might that seem too restrictive?  So let’s say a chair can have variations. Chairs with wheels are chairs, too, and shouldn’t be judged for being different! Those tacky old chairs that are shaped like a giant hand? Those are chairs that demand to exist as they are—a chair that lives on the fringes of society and is getting tired of being mistreated.

Maybe accepting some natural variations is morally decent, though, right? But now we’re on a slippery slope. There are some people who claim to be more high-minded than the rest, who embrace diversity and tolerance as the greatest values, and who therefore feel driven to constantly expand our understanding of chairs for us, for the good of those would-be chairs which have been marginalized and for those of us who are too culturally dull to know that we had many more chairs among us in the first place.

Is not, they indignantly say, a chair anything on which one might reasonably sit?  Is not a bean bag a valid chair? A couch? The ground itself? Well, perhaps, we’re inclined to say, for we see many of our peers nodding at the wisdom of this, and feeling good about ourselves for being such pioneers of inclusion.

And now we’re solidly in liberal territory (liberal, after all, connotes expansiveness above all—the eternal obsession with widening existing things). Once we’ve established that the very surface of the world could be called a chair, for it can kind of serve a similar function if forced to, we have given a green light to the radicals who insist that it’s a moral imperative to recognize as a legitimate chair anything and everything that could ever conceivably be used for sitting. The hood of a car, a rock, a stack of books: all chairs.

By this point, much of society has decided that—in line with the warped thinking that has gotten us this far—virtue lies in defending the most extreme minorities possible. Life becomes a contest to advertise our righteousness by campaigning for the most imaginative visions of chairs.  The tops of skyscrapers, piles of razor blades, the backs of sleeping grizzly bears: all are supposedly just as valid as any other kind of chair.

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John Stuart Mill on Living Well

I’m getting a lot out of Mill’s autobiography. From the end of chapter 3, wise advice:

I learnt how to obtain the best I could, when I could not obtain everything; instead of being indignant or dispirited because I could not have entirely my own way, to be pleased and encouraged when I could have the smallest part of it; and when even that could not be, to bear with complete equanimity the being overruled altogether. I have found, through life, these acquisitions to be of the greatest possible importance for personal happiness, and they are also a very necessary condition for enabling any one, either as theorist or as practical man, to effect the greatest amount of good compatible with his opportunities.

And near the end of chapter 4 Mill details the casual self-improvement programs he and some friends conducted, mostly as a sort of intense book club. They studied languages, read and discussed serious works, and debated issues. Where are such groups today?

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“The Whole Concatenation of Diabolical Rascality”

Probably the single coolest phrase in all of scripture, right there.  In Doctrine and Covenants 123, Joseph Smith encouraged the Latter-day Saints to keep track of all the “libelous publications,” as well as property damage and physical abuse, they had suffered.

Verse 5 uses this unique and memorable phrase to summarize that record: “the whole concatenation of diabolical rascality.”  Isn’t it wonderful?

First of all, it’s funny in the way that wordy phrases are, using multiple long, obscure words right next to each other.  Also, it’s a perfect example of that 19th century style of excruciatingly exact wording.  The individual words themselves are quite funny, too.  “Concatenation.”  Just say that one aloud.

Everybody should definitely highlight this phrase in their own copies right away.

And if you haven’t read the Doctrine and Covenants, you really should.  Who wouldn’t want to read a book that has gems like this in it?

 

 

Reviewed: The Brainy Bunch

downloadI wanted to like this book because I think I would like this family.  Sadly, I’m judging the book based on its content, not how appealing I find the authors.

The cover promises that this is “The Harding family’s method for college ready by age twelve.”  That’s what they’re famous for: of their ten children, those who have turned twelve by now have all been enrolled in at least some kind of college class by then.

But the book isn’t really a useful how-to.  There are a couple of short chapters in the second half that address their methods, but it’s mostly common sense: lots of reading, daily writing of any kind followed by revising, lots of math exercises and computer math games, and then a lot self-directed research on subjects and fields that interest them (and by research, they often mean Google). And a ton of prep for the SAT.

There really isn’t too much more than that.

So what’s in this book?  The first half is entirely stories about the family.  They’re nice, but probably not what anybody’s paying for.  I’ve read the books by the Duggar family, and they also tell stories about themselves, but their stories are just to support the larger purpose of sharing their ideas about life.  For the Hardings, it’s the other way around.

Many chapters are followed by pages written by the children, including the very young ones, that are often nonsense.  The book ends with some random messages from the father to people who are not the reader.  All this shows what this book really is: a vanity project.  That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it hardly inspires confidence that this is worth the reader’s time.

It’s also not very well written.  Each chapter reads like it was written independently of the rest, with no guiding plan.  Concepts repeat themselves endlessly–we’re treated to the definition of quincenera, for example, multiple times.   Continue reading

Great Education Quotes From John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Chapter 1

Mill’s story of his unusually successful education is worthy of study for every parent, student, and teacher.  Or any lover of clear, precise prose, for that matter.

The single best quote comes from near the end of the chapter:

 

A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can.

 

Here are five others worth pondering:

 

  1. It was at this period that I read, for the first time, some of the most important dialogues of Plato, in particular the Gorgias, the Protagoras, and the Republic. There is no author to whom my father thought himself more indebted for his own mental culture, than Plato, or whom he more frequently recommended to young student. I can bear similar testimony in regard to myself. The Socratic method, of which the Platonic dialogues are the chief example, is unsurpassed as a discipline for correcting the errors, and clearing up the confusions incident to the intellectus sibi permissus, the understanding which has made up all its bundles of associations under the guidance of popular phraseology. The close, searching elenchus by which the man of vague generalities is constrained either to express his meaning to himself in definite terms, or to confess that he does not know what he is talking about; the perpetual testing of all general statements by particular instances; the siege in from which is laid to the meaning of large abstract terms, by fixing upon some still larger class-name which includes that and more, and dividing down to the thing sought—marking out its limits and definition by a series of accurately drawn distinctions between it and each of the cognate objects which are successively parted off from it—all this, as an education for precise thinking, is inestimable, and all this, even at that age, took such hold of me that it became part of my own mind.

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North Las Vegas Stake Pioneer Day Fireworks, July 26, 2014

Every July for 40 years, the North Las Vegas Stake of the LDS Church has put on a Pioneer Day celebration that has become legendary. Here are the fireworks from the end of last night’s festivities. Yes, they are close to the crowd, and yes, this is done with the permission and supervision of the fire department! Sorry for cutting off the first bit of the first song.

Great Writing About Great Writing

“Something has happened to me, something that I must record. I strain to recapture my feeling of purple. It quickly comes, and there I am in my imagination weaving in and out of desolate trunks with my eyes wide open. In a flash of energy, I write several sentences on this experience. But then rises in my mind that amassment of sludge and the doll fragment. I think to myself that I shouldn’t be excited over this season of sordid appendages and squalor. I stop writing. I look over what I have written. It is turgid, hyperbolic. With slight disdain, I begin to mark out extraneous words and phrases. I feel the brisk satisfaction of making lean what had before been bloated, of rubbing off a layer of dirt. In the end I am left with a three tight sentences and the slow-burning rapture of successful creation, the play of energy and form, the beating heart and the mind that’s chilled.”

–Eric G. Wilson, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, 46-47