The Past Is a Foreign Country

This sign used to be at the state border in Nevada.

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The Versatility of Virginia Woolf

This wonderful woman knew every possible combination of words and then some. I don’t think she ever used the same sentence structure twice. She took the same basic raw materials of grammar that we all know, and turned them into complex prose masterpieces that defy any attempt to discern the nature of their creation. They’re like the notes that become a majestic symphony or the biological building blocks that become the most deftly graceful organism.

[On reading To The Lighthouse for the first time.]

Yes, It Was An Ambush

The latest article causing a self-righteous kerfuffle in the ever-outraged teacher blogosphere is this one: a group of students met with a Texas state senator to discuss school vouchers, and the exchange became combative.

The usual suspects are scolding the senator for his tone, and praising the students for being so well prepared for the meeting. However, this one line in the article makes me very worried: “They were given articles to review about private school vouchers before meeting with the senator.”

I have some questions about this:

  • Which articles were given to the students?
  • Were they taught to analyze and evaluate those sources, or just to absorb the ideas in them?
  • Were materials representing both sides of the issue provided?
  • Were the students encouraged to question the motives of their own teachers in this situation or not?

But I think we all know the answers. And thus we see the death of critical thinking.

A PTA mom quoted in the article said that the event was not an ambush, but clearly, it was.

1989: Hollywood’s Best Year?

I’ve said before that 1939 was Hollywood’s best year, but I think there’s also a strong case to be made for 1989, at least for blockbusters.

All of the following great movies came out in 1989:

  • Batman
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Back to the Future Part II
  • Dead Poets Society
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Abyss
  • License to Kill
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Field of Dreams
  • Glory
  • Lean On Me
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Lethal Weapon 2
  • Say Anything
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

 

It was an especially good year for comedy:

  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  • Turner and Hooch
  • Parenthood
  • Major League
  • UHF

And even the bad movies from that year are the very WORST bad movies:

  • The Karate Kid Part III
  • Ghostbusters II
  • She-Devil
  • Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Two Months in the Life of President Russell M. Nelson

elder-russell-m-nelson-mormonWhat major tasks have you completed so far in 2017? How much of your total strength has that taken? How much good has it produced? Consider just some of what Russell M. Nelson has done in the first two months of this year.

Nelson is the leader of the twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He works full time as a minister, only getting a stipend for living expenses. And he’s 92 years old.

He’s been doing this for over 30 years, since 1984. Before that, he was an accomplished heart surgeon. He has over 50 grandchildren and over 100 great grandchildren.

On January 8, he gave a 40 minute speech to an auditorium of thousands of young adults about leadership and faith. The speech was broadcast online. How much time and effort went into preparing it, do you think? Watch it to see how much passion went into sharing the message. Note that his demeanor is always funny, witty, and pleasant–there is no scolding or negativity coming from him. He loves what he does and whom he serves.

One week later, on January 15, he visited my congregation in North Las Vegas. He spoke for about 45 minutes here, about a variety of spiritual topics. His remarks were prepared, but he worked without notes. Afterwards, he slowly exited the chapel, shaking hands with anyone he could reach on the way out, and even picking up small children to embrace, including my four-year-old daughter.

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Political Differences, part 2

Strange that the alt-Right and the Tea Party each gained such prominence within just several years of each other–beyond a common antipathy to illegal immigration, they have very little in common.

The policy goals of the alt-Right seem to have more in common with the neo-cons of the early 2000s than they do with constitutional conservatives. Consider the current popularity of trade protectionism and the zeal for interventionism, for example.

Is there a relationship between the decline of the Tea Party and the rise of the alt-Right?

[Here is a great discussion of the alt-Right, particularly what Latter-day Saints should do about it. A couple of remarks from yours truly are part of a great discussion in the comments.]

Political Differences

Conservatives and liberals obviously see things differently, but lately I’m impressed by how their differences reflect preferences for opposing sides of the same coin. On issues from Obamacare to no-fault divorce, from abortion to welfare, our reporting and commentary reflect a choice of one value over another.

For example, conservatives see the social changes of the last half century or so and focus on how there is less cohesion, less community and stability than there was before. Their priority might be the success of the group, not the safety of the individual. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”

(Ironically, conservatives seek to ensure the success of the group by preserving the freedom of the individual.)

Liberals will look at the same issues and focus on how some old problems have been at least partially alleviated for some people by the same changes. Their priority might be the safety of the individual, not the success of the group. “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

(Ironically, liberals seek to ensure the safety of the individual by engineering wholesale change in the group.)

Perhaps this is why conservative media is more likely to report on big-picture stories of societal decline and abuse of systems, whereas liberal media is more likely to report on intimate stories of individuals being abused, but ostensibly being helped by institutional evolution.

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The Waterfall at Ice Box Canyon

This week my family and I spent a few hours hiking through Ice Box Canyon at Red Rock to see the seasonal waterfall. It’s fed by melting snow and, since this winter has been especially rainy here (and snowy in the mountains), we figured it would be strong this year. In fact, it was so strong that half the trail was flooded and we had to leapfrog and wade our way in!

Totally worth it, though. Here are some shots at the end.

[I also wrote about this hike eight years ago.]

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Salvador Dali and More at UNLV’s Barrick Museum

The Marjorie Barrick Museum at UNLV is celebrating its 50th anniversary with three cool new exhibits. Since I walk past it all the time and it’s free, I figured I should check them out. The most interesting one to me is the collection of Salvador Dali illustrations of classic literature.

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I knew right away I’d like this room! Tangential anecdote: back in my 2nd or 3rd year teaching, I thought it would be funny to put a sign with this quote over my classroom door. My principal disagreed and made me take it down.

The illustrations are to each volume of Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as Boccaccio’s Decameron. Each display gets turned to new pages twice weekly, so I suppose I’ll drop back in each time I’m on campus the rest of this semester. Go a minute out of my way to see more original Dali work up close? Yes, please.

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“AAAAA Aardvark Drywall Repair”

One of the benefits of phone books becoming obsolete is that businesses no longer need to give themselves ridiculous names like “AAAAA Aardvark Drywall Repair.” Kids, back in the day, people actually tried to get more customers by being alphabetically first in the phone book. The results rarely made sense, especially since everyone and their dog started putting random long strings of A’s before their business name. Looking for something in the yellow pages was like scanning a preschooler’s book on phonics.

Literacy Victories!

One of the best things I get to be part of as a teacher is introducing young people to great books they love. Granted, 99% of what I do in this department falls on deaf ears, but those glorious moments of success–few and far between though they are–really do make it all worth it.

Here are a few recent ones:

Last semester for a book project, one girl chose to read The Handmaid’s Tale from a list of options I gave. She loved it and, when they all had to do presentations on their books, she was overjoyed to learn that it’s being made into a series on Hulu.

Cormac McCarthy is always a safe bet. I often recommend his books to students, and they tend to love him. So many kids read his various books last semester that some classes had spontaneous compare/contrast discussions where they picked up on stylistic and thematic trends across his works. They did this on their own.

Earlier this month I had classes take notes on a documentary about Moby Dick. At the end of class when they turned their notes in, one girl was so excited about it that she had already put the ebook on her phone and said that she’d start reading it that weekend. This wasn’t assigned–she just wanted to read Moby Dick on her own. For fun.

Three Thoughts

  1. On a recent day at the temple, I decided to specifically look for all the references to symbolism in the endowment, both the implicit ones and the explicit (“Hey, you! This is symbolic!”) ones. There were at least a few of each, and it’s likely that I missed some. In particular I was struck by the use of words like “represents.” This really warrants more focus in future visits.
  2. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:39-41), this also applies to our relationship with God himself. When we’re asked to tithe, we should voluntarily covenant to consecrate the other 90%. When we’re assigned to serve for an hour, we should do more; we should “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will” (D&C 58:27) as we seek to “waste and wear out our lives” (D&C 123:13). When we’re called on to suffer and sacrifice, we should offer up the rest of all we have and are in life to the Father, anyway.
  3. Steve Reed of the excellent One Climbs blog recently posted a long analysis of Jacob 2:30, suggesting that our traditional reading of it as a hypothetical apologia for polygamy is wrong. It’s a very long post, but represents some of the most careful, detailed close reading of scripture I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if he’s correctly figured out Jacob’s intent or not, but he makes a compelling case. After his exegesis, we might read Jacob 2:30 like this: “The Lord says, In order to be spiritually converted to me, people must accept me as their leader; or else they’ll find themselves making these mistakes and be cursed.” Great stuff, Steve–consider submitting it to the Interpreter!

Nationalist Entitlement

A headline at Breitbart this week says, “Danes Should Not Become The Minority In Denmark.” A resolution just passed in their parliament to that effect. The article contains some predictably anti-immigrant sentiment.

So I looked up the birth rate in Denmark. It’s 1.7. Remember, 2.1 is considered steady, to keep the next generation the same size as the current population. Denmark has been below 2.1 since 1968. That’s nearly half a century.

I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to preserve “their” people–though to make it an issue of “us vs. them” is needlessly odious–since the loss of any ethnicity is tragic, but it bugs me when people say they want to preserve their culture…without ever doing what’s necessary to save that culture.

Nobody has a right to automatic cultural conservation. There’s hard work involved, and history teaches us exactly what that hard work is. It starts with creating a next generation. You can’t transmit your culture to children you didn’t have.

So don’t be surprised when others come in and that culture changes. Nature abhors a vacuum. Neither Denmark nor any society in a similar situation has a right to complain.