Bu Shi !


As I’ve learned Chinese, one of the funniest things I’ve seen is one of the most common terms used: bu shi.  The first word is a negative, like the English “not,” and the second is a basic “to be” verb, also used to express agreement or assent.  So, the phrase “bu shi” basically means, in usage, “that is not accurate.”  If somone asks you if you are a doctor, and you are not, your answer could include the phrase “bu shi.” 

The funny thing here is the pronunciation, if you haven’t figured it out yet.  The sound would be close to saying “boo shih,” which, out loud, sounds an awful lot like a popular yet vulgar expression in English that is also used to mean “that is not accurate.”


G-H-O-T-I Spells Fish

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to an entire series of recorded lectures, but last week I picked up Michael Drout’s A Way With Words III: Understanding Grammar at the library, and I was immediately enraptured.  I haven’t listened to anything else since, burning straight through the seven discs during my drive times this week, absorbing the whole eight hour extravaganza. 

Drout is one of the most personable speakers I’ve ever heard lecture; his humor, pop references, voices, and casual approach were always perfect: he could have been sitting right next to me.  The lectures were substantive, too.  Not only does he review the basics, with some twists, but he clearly explained some things that I’ve seen other teachers clumsily belabor. 

For example, when the sticky issue of the pronoun of indeterminate gender came up (using “he” or “she” when you don’t know if the subject being referenced is actually male or female, as in, “Any student who wants to get a good education should read his little heart out”), instead of resigning himself to the lame stand by of using an inappropriate “their” (it’s singular, not plural), and decisively rejecting such politically correct constructs as “s/he,” he announces a policy so catchy and utilitarian that I’ve wanted to shout it as a battle cry ever since: Pluralize the antecedent!  (Which would make my example from before into, “Any students who want to get a good education should read their little hearts out.”) 

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Irresponsible NLV Police Union Billboards

I support the police.  I and my family have written letters of support to local law enforcement before, I’ve had letters in the newspaper showing support for them, and I’ve written about it here more than once.  When negative publicity comes to the police, I give them the benefit of the doubt. 

That’s why the North Las Vegas Police Union’s new billboard campaign upsets me so much.  It’s illogical, cheap, and incendiary–the opposite of how they usually operate.

The billboards, put up all around town this week, say things like, “Due to recent police layoffs we can no longer guarantee your safety.”  The union is trying to get the public to call in to the city council and voice outrage over budget cuts.  Read the union’s web site for this campaign here.

These billboards, and the web site, raise some difficult questions:

  • You can no longer guarantee our safety?  When did you ever?  Is such a thing possible in a free country? 
  • Your web site lists scary crime statistics in our city–are these the result of a recent spike, or are they the normal pattern for North Las Vegas?  If the latter (which it is), how do you explain your failure to live up to the previous guarantee of safety that you’ve implied?
  • Aren’t signs like this basically an advertisement to criminals that they’re more likely to get away with crime, so we can expect more crime to be committed?  If crime does go up, how can you know that it is due to the cuts in staff, and not your public campaign telling criminals that you expect crime to go up? 
  • If crime does not go up, and if the police department successfully repels any attempted increases in crime in North Las Vegas, will this union apologize to the city council and, indeed, to the city of North Las Vegas for using such underhanded scare tactics?

Honestly, in the long run, I can’t see these signs gaining the local police department much support.  It’s things like this that turn people off from unions.

Two Poor Wayfaring Men of Grief

167 years ago today, Joseph Smith, first prophet of the LDS Church, was murdered by a mob in a jail in Carthage, Illinois. 

As he and a few friends sat in a room in the jail, awaiting what they knew to be an imminent ambush, Joseph asked John Taylor, who would later become the church’s third president, after Brigham Young, to sing his favorite song for him.  The song was “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” which is about a man who keeps coming across a humble, suffering stranger throughout his life; the narrator keeps helping the stranger, regardless the sacrifice involved, until the end of the song, when the stranger is revealed to be Jesus Christ, who then offers salvation to His faithful friend. 

The song may have comforted Joseph in two ways.  He probably identified with the singer, who , like Joseph, had undergone almost constant adversity in a life devoted to serving Jesus.  Joseph also likely found some measure of peace in the fact that his difficult life was only a shadow of the suffering the Savior endured, as the song describes. 

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The Best Movie You’ve Never Seen

A project I’m doing this year has required me to watch a lot of old silent movies.  I’ve seen a few Charlie Chaplin movies, as well as two D.W. Griffith epics, and a few others.  They’ve all been worthwhile, but there’s no problem picking the one I’ve most enjoyed.

Buster Keaton’s 1927 film The General is a silent film in black and white, and is one of the funniest, most action-packed movies I’ve ever seen.  I loved every minute of it.  It’s brilliantly fun.

The majority of the film takes place while one train chases another, and then the hunter from the first half becomes the hunted later on.  Buster Keaton performs almost constant slapstick, always with a quiet, deadpan demeanor, and performs more dangerous stunts than I could count.  Since there are no stuntmen or special effects to speak of, I actually had to remind myself that the many stunning visuals in the film were achieved by actually doing them on camera.  Keaton could have died multiple times while pulling off these stunts and jokes.  (Jackie Chan has always said that Buster Keaton was a huge inspiration in his own career.)

This version on YouTube (the movie’s in the public domain) has a jazz soundtrack added, from a German band which apparently often performed along with this film (you know, like The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon).  It perfectly complements the action.  You’re in for a real treat.

A Passion For Prayer

I was assigned to speak to another ward today on behalf of our stake Sunday School presidency.  The topic was “the power of prayer.”  I think it went well, but this was actually the first time I’ve addressed another ward’s sacrament meeting, and I think I may have gone a little too quickly–my talk only took ten minutes.  Still, I’m pleased with it.


In salesmanship, there’s a classic example of how to show people how amazing something very simple is.  You advertise to someone that you’re selling a product that can perfectly record every event in life and thought they ever have; it’ll also keep track of every single piece of information you ever need to remember.  It’s extremely low maintenance, and even has a built-in correction accessory, in case you use it wrong.  It’s lightweight, portable, durable, lasts for years, uses no electricity or fuel, and on top of all that, costs less than a dollar.  What could this incredible new invention be?  It’s a pencil.  Keep that in mind for now. 

My subject today is prayer, specifically the power of prayer.  Now, I’m sure I don’t need to sell anyone here on the importance of prayer, but even though we all believe in prayer, and try to pray often, I know that sometimes we find that we don’t always love it, sometimes we don’t look forward to it, sometimes we don’t make it a priority or even find joy in it.  So, I’d like to take a few minutes and share with you what I found as I sought, in preparation for this talk, how we can develop a greater passion for prayer. 

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David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge: My New Favorite Political Book

Though I’m a very political person, I usually don’t like political books.  I tend to find them lazy, filled with unfounded assumptions, and generally just preaching to the choir. 

My biggest complaint about political discourse in our society is that it is characterized by talking past each other; we turn each other into straw men and pat ourselves on the back when we knock the other side down.  What we desperately need are discussions that elucidate the basic priorities of political positions and attempt to explain them to those who may not connect with them easily. 

In The Secret Knowledge, Mamet offers what is by far the best introduction to the conservative worldview that I have ever read.  His collection of three dozen wide-ranging little essays on political topics brilliantly shows the reader not only what conservatives believe, but why we believe it.  Perhaps his excellent writing here is based on the fact that he has spent his life as a liberal, but only in the last several years has he examined things seriously enough to reform his beliefs.  (Read Mamet’s original essay that generated this new book here.) 

David Mamet is a born teacher.  Continue reading

Truth Is Stranger Than Science Fiction

I’m reading Robert A. Heinlein’s 1966 masterpiece, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.  The premise here is very clever: the historical outlines of the American Revolution have been transplanted to 2076, where a rag-tag group of outsiders colonizing the moon throws off the overbearing bureaucracy that has burdened them from Earth.  In this scene, the Russian-speaking narrator observes an informal new congress debating what the new government should look like, with some suggesting laws just as onerously regulatory as what they’ve gotten rid of:

Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please.  Rules, laws–always for other fellow.  A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up.  Because not one of those people said: “Please pass this so that I won’t be able to do something I know I should stop.”  Nyet, tovarischee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing.  Stop them “for their own good”–not because speaker claimed to be harmed by it. 

 Did you know that in New York it is now illegal for resturants to cook with trans fats?

The Anti-Book of Mormon Musical

A lot of wise things have been said of this runaway Broadway hit, but this review is by far the best:

The main thrust of its claims about Mormonism is that Joseph Smith made it all up, and that his message does not apply to the modern world. It portrays Mormons as naïve and simplistic. Of course, Mormons are also a cheerful, polite, and well-meaning bunch, and as such, are basically harmless. But the only way for them to truly do good in the modern world is to change their story so it applies to current problems, which should be fine since their scriptures were made up in the first place. This is all very appealing to the audience and to theater critics. They are made to feel superior to the delusional Mormons, while at the same time, feel good about themselves for acknowledging that it is important to help relieve suffering in the world. They don’t have to feel bad about lampooning the Mormons since the show acknowledges that Mormons are nice people, and since it is just satire, after all.

The creators of the show are welcome to their opinion, and even to advertise it in a propagandistic play (for what else is the play’s value?), but such lazy cultural tropes, in a better world, would at least be honest about the basis of their approach: an immediate rejection that the Book of Mormon, and religious beliefs in general, might have any grounding in historical fact.  Certainly, again, anyone is free to conclude that such is not the case after they have considered and investigated it, but until they’ve done so, how are they honestly qualified to assert so boldly that it isn’t true? 

Nobody would care a lick for a random layman’s scathing indictment of particle physics or macroeconomics.  Why is it OK, even encouraged, in our society to simply spew hot air about religion?  Why is so much respect accorded to the mockers of faith, especially when they present mere prejudice as entertainment? 

Far more offensive than any possible content to the show is that those who participate in it, including the audience, are so satisfied of their superiority, despite a massive ignorance of what they claim to definitively scorn.

Adventure and Refreshment at Mount Charleston


Last Saturday, to beat the heat here in the depths of the Las Vegas Valley, the Hustons retreated to the bucolic splendors of the nearby Mount Charleston area.  I looked for a trail to hike that wouldn’t be too long or too short, or too easy or too hard for our children (and whose porridge would be neither too hot nor too cold…oh wait, that’s something else).  Also, parking and access to the trail had to be free. 

We settled on the Fletcher Canyon Trail, which is just under four miles round trip, and which has a gentle but noticeable slope.  I also liked that trail because it offered so much shade, going well into the forested area, as well as a stream and sheer cliff faces overhead at the end, boxing you in with 200 foot walls on either side. 


The hike offered plenty for us all to gape at: a few deer on the drive up, a huge spider’s nest in a tree hanging over the trail, large trees fallen over a dry part of the stream bed (suitable for daredevil stunts), a lizard in the bushes, bats that thought nothing of flitting around us and then landing still on the closest tree (ready for close inspection by curious youngsters), and the stream itself, which was crystal clear and ice cold, and which was apparently good for dunking our heads in, and for pouring on each other.  After cooling off in that water, a couple of us bottled some to take home, boil, and enjoy. 

Incidentally, there was a picture on the front page of the Nevada section of the Review-Journal yesterday that showed exactly the same thing–two kids on the Fletcher Canyon Trail playing in the stream.  Weird. 

A great few hours all around.  One of our more successful hikes, and one of the most scenic since the Great Snowy Valentine’s Day of 2009.

Pearls Before Dude

First, read today’s Pearls Before Swine cartoon here.

Second, consider this: the strip is wrong.  Were the Coen Brothers to make a literal trailer, I mean an actual recreational vehicle, it would still rock.  Its tires would offer witty, subversive social commentary, its decals from tourist traps nationwide would somehow inspire nervous laugher with their dark humor, and a plethora of memorable, screwball characters would seem to effortlessly emanate from its undercarriage septic tank. 

It would be a thing of beauty, managing to clean up at the Oscars while still being enduringly embraced by the inde circuit.  For indeed, Joel and Ethan can do no wrong. 


Bachelorette ESP

The Mrs. and I have watched the last few episodes of The Bachelorette, and when comic book villain Bentley took off, I told her right away that he’d be back.  How did I know?  Because the show is obviously scripted up the wazoo, and it makes no sense to write out the main bad guy so early in the season.  It had to be a tease to build suspense, and he would certainly return. 

Lo and behold, he is returning. 

Chalk up another victory for the psychic powers of a heavy reader–the few simple plot devices out there get pretty easy to spot after a while. 

And how do I know it’s scripted?  Puh-leeze.  In a recent episode, the bachelorette confronts the villain about a rumor she’d heard that he was going to leave because he was scum.  He denied it and she believed him.  Later, in the same episode, he left and gave her a lame excuse, and she believed that, too.  It didn’t even occur to her to make a connection there?  C’mon, nobody could possibly be that stupid. 

Except TV screenwriters.