Helaman 13:26-27

It’s almost time for General Conference again, which means it’s almost time for another regular ritual among some Mormons: the Bloggernacle’s analysis of Conference.  This is where we get to hear from some self-appointed folk heroes which talks were good (because they liked them) and which were bad (because they didn’t like them).

Will President Packer’s upcoming address, for example, be met with a favor born of surprise and condescension, as sometimes happens, or with righteously angry criticism, as usual?  It probably depends on whether or not his remarks fit easily into currently popular worldviews.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the majority of Conference viewers–those outside of the elite, electronic, intellectual enclave–will seek out both comfort and correction as they come, at face value.


Hate Crimes Are the New Witch Hunts

“Is the accuser always holy now?  Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers?”  Arthur Miller, The Crucible

The biggest problem with hate crime accusations is that they are completely subjective.  Whenever anyone claims that a hate crime has been committed, all that means is that they perceive that a hate crime has been committed.  There’s no objective standard, no uniform physical sign that constitutes an undeniable smoking gun.

How could something so nebulous NOT end up getting abused for political gain?

Consider the current furor over the Rutgers student who has just been convicted of a hate crime even though there’s no actual evidence that he “hated” the victim, personally or publicly.  Continue reading

Two Thoughts on Prometheus

I am very excited about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.  With the arrival of the full trailer, however, I am left with two big questions:

1.  When will mankind learn?  When you find an artifact or message from an alien civilization, going to find them on their home planet is a BAD IDEA.  Something will go wrong, and you will die.

Unless it’s Contact, and the aliens turn out to be your dead dad.  Or 2001, and instead of killing you, the aliens turn you into a giant space fetus.  But in general, such situations never turn out well.

This must be like one of those zombie movies that apparently happen in a world with no zombie movies.  Why don’t any of those people ever seem to know what’s going on?  Does every zombie movie take place in a world where George A. Romero was never born?

2.  Why the heck would they name the ship Prometheus?  Isn’t that just taunting fate?

Prometheus was the mythological figure who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity, thus incurring the gods’ wrath.  Based on the spoilers I’ve read, that’s pretty much the same story here when the astronauts meet the super aliens who terraformed Earth.  They might as well name their ship Icarus or The Curious Cat or simply just Alien Chow.

“I’ve never heard of that yet, therefore it can’t be important”

I’ve been very lucky this school year–working at a performing arts magnet school, students seem to be far more pleasantly disposed towards English, which gets less respect in general.  It’s the class where students sometimes come in thinking, “I already speak this language.  What else do I really need to know?”  I’ve heard kids say, “Why are we doing this?” far less often this year than any other year, by far.

But on occasion I still hear kids assuming that they already know everything in English worth knowing.  Maybe this is an extension of the “teenagers know everything” meme, but this seems like a specific example.

This wouldn’t bother me so much if it extended to other subjects, also, but it doesn’t.  Math and science teachers, feel free to chime in, but while I’ve heard countless young people opine, “I’m sixteen and I’ve never heard of that author yet, therefore he can’t be any good,” I’ve never heard a student say, “I’ve never heard of that equation or element, therefore it can’t possibly be important.”




One fringe benefit of working at a performing arts magnet school is getting to be around some of the professionals who occasionally visit.  A couple of weeks ago, I got to sit in on a performance by the Whiffenpoofs, a men’s chorus from Yale.  Their work was amazing, and they interacted with the kids very well.  Also, apparently, later that night they performed at a private party for casino mogul Steve Wynn.

Here are some recent clips of them doing their thing.  As they are a senior-only group, their lineup completely refreshes each year, so only clips from the current school year show the guys who came to LVA this month.



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Recommended: Jeremiah

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 Anatomy lead 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.

Ironic: Current Anti-Mormons Just Copying Anti-Mormons in Book of Mormon

One of my favorite things about the Book of Mormon is how fully it presents the emotional depth of mature life experiences.  It profoundly describes, for example, both the crushing frustration and the soaring ecstasy of missionary work (Alma 31 and Alma 26, respectively), the anguish of parents who worry about straying children (2 Nephi 1, Alma 39), and the utter loneliness of those whose devotion to God has made them outcasts among their own people (Jacob 7:26, Ether 13:13-14, Moroni 1:1-3).

It seems unreasonable to me to think that undereducated, 23-year-old farm laborer Joseph Smith could have fathomed these extreme feelings, much less could have imagined them in rich detail.

Another example: there are three characters in the Book of Mormon who make it their professional business to publicly oppose the work of the Church, arguing that the beliefs of the Saints are wrong (Jacob 7, Alma 1, Alma 30).  By far the most fully developed of these is Korihor, the Nietzsche wanna-be in Alma 30.  The Book of Mormon presents his rhetoric in ample, sophisticated texture.  The prophet Alma ultimately engages him and responds to each attack with withering, syllogistic precision.  Their dialogue is worthy of Aristotle’s tales of Socrates.  And we’re supposed to believe that this, also, was written by the unlettered and inexperienced Smith?

But most impressive to me of all this, these days, is just how presciently Korihor prefigures the current spate of elite Anti-Mormon commentators who seek to enlighten the unwashed masses about the insane, conniving cultists from Utah in this cultural “Mormon moment.”  Continue reading

The Death of Talk Radio in Las Vegas

This might be the final nail in the coffin of a long, slow, agonizing death spiral at least two years in the making.  Conservative talk radio in Las Vegas, which used to foster multiple quality stations, is all but gone.

In recent weeks, Heidi Harris was given the boot by local AM station KDWN.  Harris had been a fixture of radio here for over a decade and, for a while, was the “last man standing” in the market.

The first big mistake local radio execs made was two years ago when KXNT fired local wunderkinds Heather Kydd and Casey Hendrickson.  Hendrickson, especially, had a gift for hosting talk radio, and it’s not surprising that he has landed on his feet elsewhere.  Even when I didn’t agree with him, his shows were fast and furious, full of variety and depth.  He’s a consummate performer and has a great career ahead of him.

Not long after, the area Fox radio affiliate went to an all-music format–an oldies station.  Too bad.  They used to air BYU football games on Saturday.

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Basically the Same Trick in Chinese and English

I recently saw this posting online.  Even though the Mandarin Chinese word “shi” is used below with four different tones of pronunciation, the same tone can still have multiple meanings.  Obviously, then, very common syllables in Chinese, like “shi,” can have tons of homonyms.  Thus, this.  I regret to say that the only words I clearly recognize here are the ones for “ten” and the “to be” verbs.


This reminds me of a similar trick in English: the “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” trope.  Actually a perfectly valid sentence, it can be phrased as “THE buffalo FROM Buffalo WHO ARE buffaloED BY buffalo FROM Buffalo, buffalo (verb) OTHER buffalo FROM Buffalo.”  The linked Wikipedia article also includes some other wacky semantic shenanigans.

Celebrating the Mad Magazine Fold-In

Honors have been pouring in recently for Al Jaffee, the 91-year-old comic genius who has been drawing the fold-in inside the back cover of Mad Magazine every month for over half a century.  Jaffee’s been lauded lately in outlets such as CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

I collected dozens of Mad Magazines as a kid in the late 80’s, and have very fond memories of the fold-in.  Like a lot of people, I tried to figure them out before actually folding them.

Definitely check out this amazing interactive archive of some of Jaffee’s classic work at the New York Times.

Try your hand at this fold-in below; since you can’t actually fold your screen, just try to imagine connecting the left 1/4 and the right 1/4 of the picture.

A Retiring Veteran Teacher Looks Back

A few months ago a veteran teacher and administrator I know retired.  When she left, she sent out a wonderful, long message to the staff, sharing a lot of experiences and feelings.  I thought people might like to see some of these, so below is an edited version of that email.  Impossible to read this and not respect good teachers:



I.  A History Lesson


1.  When I graduated from high school in 1960 (I WAS young for my class and I skipped 4th grade based on an IQ test), the government tried to hire me for the BIA at $4800/year because I took shorthand at 190 wpm and typed at 110 wpm with accuracy,  THEY NOTIFIED ME IN A TELEGRAM!–ever seen one?


2.  Education was important in my family so I went off to Augustana….no going to work after high school.    4 years later I got a teaching contract at  $4600/year–so much for 4 years of education, but the passion I’d had to teach since 8th grade was finally put to use.  I went to school with Garrison Keillor, Mary Hart, and David Soul (Solberg–Starsky and Hutch).


3. I was student teaching the day John Kennedy was shot.   Continue reading

Thistle & Shamrock

It’s been years since my local NPR station dropped one of my favorite shows, The Thistle and Shamrock, a weekly hour-long update on all things current in the world of Celtic music.  Luckily, they’ve started keeping some podcasts and archives of recent shows on their web site. I listen to it a lot while grading papers at work.

Highly recommended for all fans of Celtic music.  They always find a way to make each show full of variety and surprises, and I’ve never heard an episode without finding some new song I love.  The last show I heard, from a few weeks ago, featured this track by a new, young folk guitarist; it’s pretty catchy.

My 2012 NCAA Tournament Brackets

I know we want to see UNLV get a crack at Duke, but the way we’ve been playing lately, we’ll be lucky to scrape past Colorado, and I can’t believe we’ll get past Baylor.  The rest is open for discussion.

Looks like San Diego and New Mexico should represent the conference quite nicely.

Does the Atonement Have Masculine and Feminine Halves?

Latter-day Saints typically see the Atonement of Christ as comprising the suffering in Gethsemane as well as the crucifixion.  I’ve been wondering if there’s some kind of duality implied by the contrasting details in these two halves.  Consider the following chart, giving some details from Jesus Christ’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha:



Night Day
Private Public
Introverted/Psychic Emotional Suffering Extroverted/Physical Violent Torture
Primary instrument = liquid (bleeding) Primary instrument = solid (cross)
Inside of a garden On top of a hill
Cyclical narrative Linear narrative

Is it a coincidence that the circumstances of Gethsemane are stereotypically feminine, and the circumstances at Golgotha are essentially masculine?  Continue reading

Freedom Vs. Charity

Our political impulses might be boiled down to these two competing priorities: freedom vs. charity.  Our devotion to freedom is to guarantee the unimpeded right to pursue our own lives as we see fit.  Our dedication to charity is to foster the well-being of our communities as much as possible.

The problem is that to absolutely favor freedom is to leave those in need of charity out in the cold, but to exclusively prefer charity is to infringe on the autonomy of others’ freedom.

However, consider this:

When freedom is the priority, private charity can and will still thrive.

When charity is the priority, private freedom always gets circumscribed.