How To Tell The Future

  1. Read The Family: A Proclamation to the World.
  2. Find a principle that is simple, obvious, and universal.
  3. Rest assured that the next big wave of social activism will argue that the opposite is true.
  4. Repeat every 10 years or so.

Conversation With A Climate Cultist

Whatever its merits and mistakes, climate change science has certainly created a cult of bandwagon fangirls, eager to advertise their righteousness and stigmatize any heretic. There is now an alchemy of magical thinking online, existing to distinguish the superiority of those who prize moral rectitude over the actual scientific method. I saw a tweet from one such zealous disciple this week whose smugness prompted me to respond. I think the exchange speaks for itself.

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She didn’t answer after that, and I didn’t think pressing the point would have been productive.

Allegorical Readings of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

7ac78a6837587-560b93258816dWhat if the world of The Road isn’t a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but is just the same world around us? What if, morally and spiritually, we’re already living in the nightmarish hellscape of that novel?

The Man’s and the Boy’s journey isn’t archetypal, then, so much as it’s symbolic for each of us, trying to make our way through life in a society that in many ways is falling apart. McCarthy’s rapacious marauders are actually just the neighbors in our own communities. The devastated environment is the poisonously corrosive culture in which we all now live.

The Road could simply be about life in America in the early 21st century. Our protagonists are in the same position as many who try to preserve the heritage of civilization today.

Or, if we want a more specific application, maybe the wife-and-mother’s suicide was the major catastrophe that soured the world, and wasn’t due to it. The world only changed for these two men. Because of her loss, the world becomes this twisted, broken shell of its former self. The Man’s and the Boy’s journey is just them trying to soldier on in the wake of a lingering grief that they can’t escape. The novel proceeds from their vantage point, and everything else in the world is seen through the soiled lenses they now wear.

And you thought this book couldn’t get any sadder!

Symbolic Book Titles

I just had the idea to list books where the title is also the book’s chief symbol. So far I have:

  1. The Catcher in the Rye
  2. Lord of the Flies
  3. Ulysses
  4. The Bluest Eye
  5. The Bell Jar
  6. The Color Purple
  7. The Maltese Falcon

Please add more in the comments.

I’d also like to make lists of books where the title is an allusion (The Grapes of Wrath, The Sound and the Fury) and where the title is a complete sentence (Death Comes For the Archbishop, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter).

Forcing Students To Revise Their Writing

My college classes this last semester had some of the best writers I’ve ever had in English 101. I felt very lucky to get to work with them. But there was one thing about those two classes that irked me to no end throughout our first two big essay units: no matter what I did, they wouldn’t revise their work.

I marked specific things on their papers and told them what to do to improve them, but much of that advice was ignored on subsequent drafts. And when I gave general feedback about writing style and missing elements, nothing in the next draft reflected that at all.

Few things are as frustrating for an English teacher as seeing their careful commentary on student work completely ignored by those students.

I even integrated some basic revision exercises into our classwork to remind them of (introduce them to?) the mechanics and mindset of revision. I labored the point that first drafts are never good enough–that strenuous attention to perfecting work is a must in any endeavor.

Finally, after the midterm, I decided to launch a nuclear attack on the subject, and after returning the first draft of their third essay project, I gave them these directions:

For the revised draft due next week, you must take the first draft and revise it as follows:

Choose any two or three of the five articles given below. Incorporate an analysis and discussion of each of them (as per the original directions) into your existing essay draft. HOWEVER, you may not add any new paragraphs–that total must not change–nor can you just add new sentences to the ends of existing paragraphs. The new material must be smoothly integrated into the existing essay–the commentary from the first draft must be revised to also address the new material.

There must be new material in *every* paragraph of this revised draft.

BUT, this new draft must also be no longer than the original first draft–this means that some material from the first draft must be condensed and/or eliminated, and what you add will have to be succinct.

Yes, that’s a cheap, sneaky way to micromanage their progress, and I hated doing it, but it did get results. The next drafts were substantially different, and they were even better. Now I just have to hope that as they go through future classes, and the rest of their lives, they keep the lesson in mind and continue living it.

Horowitz in Moscow

I first read about this concert over a decade ago, in Charles Kuralt’s memoir A Life on the Road.  Intrigued by Kuralt’s portrayal of the pianist’s passion, I picked up a recording of the performance on CD.

It’s an incredible musical experience. I can’t believe I’ve never written about it here until now. Vladimir Horowitz’s return to his homeland produced a night of sentimentality and triumph.

Fast Food Reviewed: Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes

Here they are on Yelp. This place is on the southeast corner of Fremont and Las Vegas Blvd, right off the Strip. Great spot: big screen TV shows sports in a clean space, and the basic menu is somewhere between Five Guys and In-N-Out, both in price and quality. Closer to Five Guys, though.

My wife and I loved their stuff, but the sizes ran a bit small–order a bigger burger; you won’t be sorry. The fries were solid, and there are some great jalapeños you can add. Fry sauce is available! We didn’t try the shakes, because it’s cold, but we look forward to it another time. Definitely worth trying this place out if you happen to be around.

 

Anna Karenina

0451524497I don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger gap between how much I loved the writing in a book with how little I cared about the story.

Anna Karenina is a thousand-page soap opera. That’s about it. There’s a good couple and a bad couple. Things happen.

But hardly a chapter went by where I wasn’t floored by Tolstoy’s incredible insights into human nature. His talent for seeing into souls and painting them perfectly on the page is practically supernatural.

Anna Karenina had some of the same major story beats from War and Peace: the long aristocratic hunting vacation, the good man who publicly calls out the scoundrel who’s acting inappropriately towards his wife, the overt Christian sermonizing in the final act, the angelic woman who tends to a dying man.

That last part was by far my favorite part of the book. Perhaps it’s a cliché, but Tolstoy is never better than when he’s writing about death.

Are we supposed to sympathize with Anna? I didn’t like her husband at first, either, but he really does turn out to be a decent man, I thought. Clearly, this is a cautionary tale, but still, I would have called the book Kitty Levina.

6 Favorite Stories From President Monson’s Biography

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-7-04-24-pmBesides these six quotes, two things really jumped out at me from To The Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson:

One is that he has known and worked closely with fully half the church presidents of this dispensation. Think about that. Obviously, it will never be true of anyone else ever again. (He is also the last living Apostle to have been part of the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.)

The other is that the tale of his decades of ministry in East Germany is truly astounding. Seriously, someone should make a movie out of this. It’s one of the most harrowing stories I’ve ever heard out of the Cold War.

Here are the six stories in the book I liked the most–they really give a well-wounded view of who he is as a man:

  • Elder Monson’s sense of humor was manifest during one particular visit to Australia in the midst of a sever drought, where he noted with some amusement the names of the stake presidents–President Percy Rivers and President William Waters. He called this to the attention of his traveling companions, one of whom reminded Elder Monson that his name was Harry Brooks. The missionaries who met him at the airport were Elder Rainey and his companion, and when he registered at the hotel, the clerk could not find the reservation until, in searching the cards, he found Thomas S. Monsoon. (page 274)
  • At another mission presidents’ seminar, he set forth a seven-step plan for productive proselyting:
  1. Reports That Reveal
  2. Handbooks That Help
  3. Meetings That Motivate
  4. Schedules That Strengthen
  5. Procedures That Produce
  6. Love That Lifts
  7. Interviews That Inspire (page 356)

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My Conversion Story

An old friend recently asked me to tell this story, and I realized that I hardly ever do. I guess I don’t think it’s very special. But still, it’s mine, so here it is.

It starts in 8th grade, when the emotional problems that had always plagued me drove me to some anti-social behavior so severe that my poor parents had to withdraw me from school and place me in a mental health facility. By the time I was released to go home that summer, I knew that I was missing something and needed some kind of major change.

I’d always been a pretty religious kid, though my family never went to church much. I went to a kind of church class after school in 3rd grade, and enjoyed it. I tried reading the Bible a couple of times. I felt like there was some kind of spiritual truth out there, but I didn’t know exactly what it was.

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New Year’s Resolutions 2017

I get excited about goals and self improvement–I make a ton of resolutions every year and I actually keep most of them…or at least I keep trying to reach them. I also have a bucket list I made a decade ago and I keep track of progress towards each item; most of my resolutions come from that (alas, I’ve only finished six of them). It’s helpful to publish goals and create more accountability, so here are some plans for 2017.

Infinite, permanent “cold turkey” resolutions are rarely successful, so I’m starting off with a couple of one-month goals: no french fries, soda, or Netflix in January. I’ve done these before, and the short-term aspect works really well. Sometimes I renew goals like these, sometimes not. I’ve gone months without soda several times over the years, but I always end up going back. I’m okay with that, though.

I try to start new goal projects before New Year’s–I find that that helps, too. Less artificial pressure. I’ve already started those above, plus this one: only check Facebook and Twitter twice a day. Clearly, I’m trying to reduce time wasting. It’s weird that I feel boredom so often pulling me to these habits, but that just means that refraining is important.

I said that I make a ton of resolutions, but they don’t all start at the same time, nor are they equal. A list might be sequential throughout the year. Other items are small enough that they can be worked on in tandem. These are to be done in order: Update 72 hour kits, type 50 words/minute, work through a college algebra textbook.

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Celebrity Death Industry

Do you think that when younger celebrities get a job with an older celebrity, one of their first priorities is to write up a sad blurb about their work together to save for the day when they can finally hit “post” on social media? Are there digital warehouses of memes already set to go for any given celebrity passing?
 
It’s like the obituaries that media outlets keep on file for famous people. It would be surprising if they didn’t. Sorry, just getting a bit cynical about the predictability of the grief industry.

My Year in Books: 2016

I finished 37 books in 2016. For variety and quality, it was one of my best years for reading: nine “A plusses” this year, more than ever before!

1. Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, Patrick Kavanaugh (1/12, music, religion)–A+

2. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (2/6, literature, Garnett trans.)–A+

3. Pity the Beautiful, Dana Gioia (2/9, poetry)–B

4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (2/28, self-improvement)–F

5. Buried Alive, Gloria Skurzynski (3/1, young adult)–C

6. Thomas Cole, Earl A. Powell (3/1, art, biography)–B

7. The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (3/9, classics, Watts trans.)–C

8. Albert Bierstadt, Tom Robotham (3/12, art, biography)–C

9. Redshirts, John Scalzi, (3/19, science fiction, comedy)–B

10. Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C. Clarke (3/26, science fiction)–A

11. The Fifth Gospel, Ian Caldwell (4/30, mystery)–A

12. Browsings, Michael Dirda (5/10, memoir, reading)–A+

13. The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright (5/12, religion)–A

14. The Last Good Kiss, James Crumley (5/14, mystery)–B

15. The Anchoress, Robyn Cadwallader (5/19, historical fiction)–C

16. The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope (5/26, adventure)–B

17. The World’s Strongest Librarian, Josh Hanagarne (5/28, memoir, humor, reading)–A+

18. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester (6/13, science fiction)–B

19. We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride (6/17, literature)–A+

20. Fair Isn’t Always Equal, Rick Wormeli (6/28, education)–D

21. Mockingbird, Walter Tevis (6/30, science fiction)–A+

22. The Libation Bearers, Aeschylus (7/1, Greek drama, Lattimore trans.)–C

23. Never Go Back, Lee Child (7/12, mystery)–B

24. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann (7/15, literature, Lowe-Porter trans.)–C

25. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique Morris (7/20, sociology)–F

26. The Taking, Dean Koontz (7/28, horror)–A

27. Fluent in 3 Months, Benny Lewis (8/3, language/self-improvement)–A

28. The Knight of the Swords, Michael Moorcock (8/4, fantasy)–A

29. How to Be Perfect, Daniel Harrell (8/9, scripture study, religion)—B

30. The Eumenides, Aeschylus (8/9, Greek drama, Lattimore trans.)—C

31. Zion: The Long Road to Sanctification, Larry Barkdull (8/17, religion)—B

32. Inferno, Dante (8/26, poetry, classics, Anthony Esolen trans.)—A+

33. Submission, Michel Houellebecq (9/3, fiction, translated from French)—C

34. The Aeneid, Virgil (10/28, classics, Robert Fagles trans.)—A+

35.  A Winter Haunting, Dan Simmons (11/1, suspense)—B

36. To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson, Heidi Swinton (11/13, religion, biography)—A+

37. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (12/29, literature, Maude trans.)—A

The Daughter of Jephthah As a Symbol of Jesus Christ

jephthah-s-daughter-jpglargeWhile reading Judges 11, I reviewed some notes from one of my favorite books of pop analysis on the Bible, James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ: Beneath the Surface of the Old Testament, where he draws parallels between many figures there and Jesus Christ. Ferrell notes the following about Jephthah, the protagonist of Judges 11:

  • He was hated and expelled by his people
  • The people turned to him when they were in distress
  • When the people turned to him, he became their deliverer
  • He subdued the enemy on behalf of the people who had made him head and captain over them

This pattern of comparison with Jesus is clever and valid, but as I read the chapter, I was much more impressed with the character of his unnamed daughter, and the story of her sacrifice. Consider these points of similarity–the sacrificed person:

  • Obediently agreed to be a sacrifice in accordance with the plan of their father (Judges 11:30-31, 36)
  • Was sacrificed in a way reminiscent of a “burnt offering” (11:31)
  • Was sacrificed as part of the salvation and deliverance of Israel (11:32-33, 36)
  • Was the “only child” of the father (11:34)
  • Was sacrificed despite their loss causing the father great anguish (11:35)
  • Was sacrificed to satisfy the demands of justice (11:35)
  • Immediately before the sacrifice, solemnly went out from the people to a mountain area with their closest associates (11:37)
  • Was morally pure (11:37)
  • Inspired the behavior of those who followed (11:39-40)
  • Had their sacrifice memorialized in a regular ritual (11:40)

It’s not especially relevant here to debate whether her sacrifice was literal or metaphorical (the LDS Institute manual, however, opts for metaphorical), but either way, her position as a Christ figure is strengthened:

  • If her sacrifice were literal–and she died–her symbolism for Jesus is obviously much more graphic. Even Abraham didn’t actually have to kill Isaac!
  • If her sacrifice were metaphorical–and she was put in perpetual service in the tabernacle in some way, for example–then her life of selfless, consecrated service still directs us to think of Jesus.

Jephthah’s story certainly has strong elements that remind the reader of Jesus, but I think the lesson is stronger–more focused on the atonement–if he stands in for God the Father, and his loyal, anonymous daughter is a symbol of Jesus Christ.