31 October 2006

Farewell, My Friends

So, this is my final blog entry before NaNoWriMo starts. I make no guarantees about the regularity of any blog entries for the next month. I'm going to try to do a "Best Sentence of the Day" thing--which may sprout into "Worst Sentence of the Day" or perhaps "Clunkiest Dialogue of the Day." But even that may fail spectacularly. And in terms of content, the only way you will get any substance is if I get terribly frustrated and need to rant about it. So it may be in your best interests to simply ignore anything I write for the next month. Show up around December 1st for your regularly scheduled programming.

Hey, in all the time you free up from not reading my strange ramblings, maybe you can write your own novel!

Or not.

10 Reasons Why I Am INSANE for Attempting to Write a Novel this Month
10. November is the beginning of holiday season. I'm supposed to be able to spend lots of time goofing off with my family.
9. I have no plot--only a vague sketch of a basis for a fantasy world. Really vague.
8. More importantly, I have no characters. Nope. None.
7. The last time I completed a work of fiction was . . . 6th grade. For reals.
6. And that was completely derivative of Princess Bride.
5. Um, homework. Midterms. Math. Chemistry.
4. Recently, I've actually come to like nonfiction a lot better than fiction. Why in the world am I trying to fight that?
3. The type of novels I usually like involve a lot of preplanning and thought.
2. I've never written any fiction that I actually am proud of. (See #7.)
1. Really, what sane person can write a novel in a month?!?

As my favorite anime says, "she is truly doomed." Wish me luck, people! Donations of novel-friendly food (no stickies or greasies) are accepted.

29 October 2006

More of the Same

Typical controversial BYU political discussion over at Katherine's blog. What interests me is not the issue at hand, but the attitudes taken by the participants. The statements in particular that bother me:

Anonymous #2: Instead I hear a young BYU college kid that is more concerned about being trendy or rebellious than actually standing up for what you believe.
Katherine: . . . For many (most?) people saluting the flag has become a thoughtless act. I'm not convinced that the numerous people I passed who were flirting and giggling or engaged in full conversation while standing with their hands over their hearts were respecting and appreciating the symbolism of the flag and the anthem any more than I was.
I have two problems with these statements, which I view as the same attitude just in different clothing. First, the actions of the crowd have little bearing on whether a specific action is right or wrong. A#2, I know from reliable sources who you are, and you don't know Katherine. Until you know if she belongs to said group, the actions of that group are irrelevant to her personally. Same goes for what Katherine says. Whether or not those people are appreciating their national symbol has no effect on whether it is moral or not for you not to do so. Both of these are arguments based on what other people are doing, which we should have learned in elementary school has little impact on what our standards should be.

Problem two is these two attitudes represent the most unconstructive stereotypes of Mormon liberals and Mormon conservatives towards each other. Noticing these stereotypes was one of the things which caused me to start blogging in the first place. As Katherine shows, liberals have the idea that all conservatives are airheads who are simply following what their parents taught them and can't think for themselves. Equally bad is A#2's attitude that all liberals at BYU are only liberal because they want to stand out and rebel from their parents, that their beliefs are based on social pressures not understanding.

I've been put into both holes lately, and let me tell you, neither stereotype is justified. Yes, there are people on either side of the block who don't care, but they really aren't the ones you should be addressing, are they? I continue to advocate that until we drop these stereotypes and consider the opposition as real, rational people, there will be no progress towards the truth. We must act as though our opposition has the same information we do and has put exactly as much thought into their position as we have. Then and only then do we have a true basis for discussion. Even if it appears they don't, there's no use arguing with someone who doesn't have a level of thought to their opinions anyway. We must combat the ideal enemy if we want truth. Combating the enemy's flaws only wins the debate, not the heart. (And if the heart isn't your goal, I have no help for you.)

Stake Presidency

I love my stake presidency. A lot. So much that I am considering stalking them into their home wards after a) they are released and b) I get too old/married to live in Singles' Wards. (Of course, this will probably never happen, since I thoroughly intend to live in downtown SLC if possible, and certainly not anywhere in Utah County.) But let me quickly describe them in all their awesomeness:

  • President Larsen -- Amazingly humble, and yet not as annoying as most of the people you know who are trying to be humble. Just the right amounts of humorous self-effacement, deference, and silent dignity. I personally think this man is closer to true humility than anyone I know.
  • President Brenchley -- Choir director for the Orem Institute, he manages to incorporate hymns into his talks without making you want to giggle. He has this great speaking style that makes me think of a 19th century preacher, complete with loud rebuking and hand gestures. Picture a voice thundering out the following catchphrase while pounding on the pulpit: "We do not stand for the hymns of Zion, unless specifically invited to do so."
  • President Keech -- Tonight I figured out the perfect description for President Keech: a modern Cicero, complete with brilliant legal abilities (he clerked at the Supreme Court) and a very strange voice. His talks are always intensely personal and doctrinal, yet up-to-date. At tonight's fireside, he advocated we use the "Indiana Jones" method when faced with the unknown. This is the same guy who showed a clip from Hitch as part of our Sunday school lesson at ward conference. Certainly knows his audience and how to appropriately incorporate outside sources.
I've never felt as close to any local authority figures in the church as I have to these men. They are truly called of God, and I know they are the ones I need to be hearing from at this time in my life. I really don't know why I'm blogging this. I just feel the need to share my impressions of these amazing men.

26 October 2006

Scientific Romance

Last night I was watching Nova again, particularly Einstein's Big Idea. (Yes, I'm a nerd, get over that. It's faster than reading the book it was based on.) Can I just say this is about the most adorable scientific documentary I have ever seen? And I really do mean it. The program covers the lives of all the scientists whose discoveries contributed to the formation of E=MC^2. The science was mostly stuff I knew anyway, but the lives of the scientists utterly fascinate me.

And here's where we come to the title of the post, as I particularly liked the portrayal of the romantic lives of these scientists. Yes, it's probably mostly made up, but it was so adorable! Antoine Lavoisier working side-by-side with his wife, the downfall of Emilie du Ch√Ętelet--a French physicist--who died in childbirth, and Lise Meitner's tragic near-relationship with her co-worker Otto Hahn, who would eventually steal her Nobel Prize. Of course, the best was Einstein's courtship of his wife. I mean, who couldn't find this romantic:

ALBERT EINSTEIN: What would I see if I rode on a beam of light?

MILEVA MARIC: What? A beam of light? By what method do you propose to ride on this beam of light?

ALBERT EINSTEIN: The method is not important. Let us just imagine we two are young, radical, bohemian experimenters, hand in hand, on a journey to the outer reaches of the universe, and we are riding on the front of a wave of light.

MILEVA MARIC: I really don't know what you are suggesting, Herr Einstein. Do you wish to hold my hand or ridicule me?

ALBERT EINSTEIN: Ridicule you? No, never. I merely want you to help me to understand. What would we see, do you think, if we were together, and we sped up and up until we caught up to the front of a beam of light? What would we see?

Uh, okay, maybe you just have to see it. But I think it's adorable. This may be because I also think Einstein is adorable. But maybe that's just because I love IQ. But who doesn't?

Which brings me to the real point of this post. As I said earlier, I've recently discovered an affinity for chick flicks. But not just any chick flicks. I like chick flicks about nerds. My most recent favorite mushy crap is the story about Ender's parents meeting from Orson Scott Card's First Meetings. Any guy who would do what John Paul Wiggin does is pretty amazing. He'd certainly have my attention. :D

25 October 2006

Snow Happy

It SNOWED today! For most people, this is bad news. Snow means wearing coats, walking to school in wet shoes, and just plain being cold. I, on the other hand, adore snow. Snow was exactly what I needed today. I've been feeling depressed lately--turns out, snow is the perfect cure. So, in honor of this tender mercy, I give you:

25+1 reasons to like snow

  1. the way snow muffles all the sounds
  2. making snowmen (or snow dinosaurs)
  3. dying the snow colors with food coloring
  4. snow angels
  5. snowball fights
  6. sliding down hills
  7. skiing!!
  8. everything is white and clean (for a while at least)
  9. purity
  10. contemplative atmosphere
  11. fluffy!
  12. eating snow
  13. catching snowflakes on your tongue
  14. sweaters
  15. scarves and hats
  16. fireplaces
  17. hot chocolate (not just for breakfast anymore)
  18. cold people + warm blankets = cuddling!
  19. Christmas songs (or at least I feel less guilty about singing them)
  20. Christmas lights reflecting off the white sheets
  21. snow means my birthday is coming!
  22. icicles!
  23. the "thawing-out" feeling after coming in from the cold
  24. driving in newly fallen snow
  25. doing donuts in the parking lot
  26. watching the flakes melt in your hand

In other news, less than one week left until NaNoWriMo starts! Gah!

The Solution

The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.
- Oscar Wilde

24 October 2006

Inconclusion

On delicate wings
soaring through clouds
or as a fallen leaf
headed for earth.

Soaring through clouds
unmarked glass,
headed for earth
perhaps paradise?

Unmarked glass:
poison
perhaps paradise
an enigmatic liquid

Poison
distilled from
an enigmatic liquid
deep in the mind

Distilled from
dying wishes
deep in the mind
heavy as stone

Dying wishes
on delicate wings:
heavy as stone,
or as a fallen leaf.



(P.S. If anyone recognizes the form of this poem, tell me! A high school teacher showed it to me once. Now I love it, but I have no idea what it is called. Maybe I'll make up my own name for it.)

23 October 2006

Some Reasons Why I Love Being a Student

  1. Free food. I have discovered, so long as I am moderately aware of campus events and freakishly early, I can get 3-4 free meals a week just from existing on campus.
  2. Free candy. Ditto.
  3. Pretending to be all scholarly. :D I was sitting on the floor in the hall of the BNSN this evening, doing some last minute cramming for my O-Chem test while eating a salad. There were a whole bunch of little kids in the building since it's National Chemistry Week. (Happy Mole Day!) As they walked by to go see the Chemistry magic show, they would all sort of stare at me like I was some kind of weirdo--Exhibit A: Hard Working College Student. Yeah, just you wait, children. Soon you will know the agony of midterms. Seriously, though, I am such a poser when it comes to studying. If I'm forced to accomplish something, it better look twice as hard as it actually is.
  4. Signing up for classes. Which I did today. Specifically, this morning at 6 AM. I always wake up early to sign up for classes, even though I'm basically guaranteed to get whatever I want with my slew of IB credit (167 credits and two years left! Ha ha!). Anyway, winter semester is going to rock--O-Chem, Writing Creative Nonfiction, and SHAKESPEARE! Now I feel all trunky about this semester.
  5. Signing up for a class in order to be required to read some of the stuff on your personal "to read" list. I just signed up for the Hugh Nibley class taught by the honors department. I guess it's as close as I'm going to get to the Mormon lit class, which the English department never seems to teach.

20 October 2006

Seeking Greatness

The other day, the idea of the "great Mormon writer" resurfaced in my mind via Ben's post on this quote:

The first great Mormon writer will be excommunicated from the Church for his writing.
Interesting. Like Ben and Richard Dutcher, I have to say I hope it isn't so. I have to trust that this community of faithful believers will not only have room for something great, but be an ideal starting point for such greatness. However, I can see where the quote is coming from, and I think there's some sad truth to this perspective. If you substitute "excommunicated from the Church" with "scorned by the Church community," you would be hitting much closer to the truth.

I guess I should start by defining what we mean by the great Mormon author (GMA) because there are many possible definitions. The obvious observations would be such a GMA must be a writer of renown who is Mormon. But beyond that, who is their audience, and for what purpose do they write? Here are the basic possibilities, as I see them:
  1. Mormon audience, faith promoting--This GMA writes the ultimate novel about the typical Mormon family. They affirm the good things in our community, cause us to weep when the children of their character fall away from the church, and basically make us feel warm and fuzzy when we read them. Think Deseret-Book-style fiction: The Work and the Glory would be the prototypical work of this GMA.
  2. Mormon audience, theological--This GMA gives us great analysis of our beliefs and the scriptures and may or may not also be a GA (General Authority). This is the category of writers like Hugh Nibley and CS Lewis (if he were Mormon).
  3. Mormon audience, community analysis--This GMA analyzes the foilbles of the Mormon community from a faith-based perspective. They are able to write critically with issues like social snobbery and homosexuality in the church, all without losing their faithful perspective. They would deal with our doubts and fears as Church members and portray us in all of our imperfection with an eye to correcting these problems.
  4. General audience, proselytizing--This GMA writes the great American novel about Mormonism. It is so great that it convinces even the most hardened skeptics to look into the Church further. It tells the tale of Mormon belief in such a way that the world can understand what it means to be a Mormon.
  5. General audience, literary--A normal great writer who simply happens to also be Mormon. Their works are read throughout the country/world by believers and non-believers to great acclaim. A knowledge of Mormonism is neither necessary to read their works nor gained from doing so.
In all likelihood, the GMA must fulfill all of these functions in some way. They are all important aspects of what it means to be a writer from any community. The problem is that certain of these functions are more easily acceptable to the Church community than others. Obviously, numbers 1 and 4 can be done fairly easily without offending anyone within the Church, except that perhaps someone doesn't like your portrayal of Joseph Smith. Number 5 is problematic because many within the Church would see you as being ashamed of your faith if you shoot for a general audience without any intent to convert.

But numbers 2 and 3 are, I think, where the original quote is coming from. Theological writings, outside of officially authorized Church literature, are a very delicate balance in the LDS community. Do we really have room in our society for someone like CS Lewis, whose theological writings are mostly logic based rather than scripture or modern prophets? I have yet to read any good logic-based theology from any LDS author, mostly because our beliefs center so much on authority (ethos, if you will). Yes, we have people with scholarly authority like Hugh Nibley, but even those types are viewed warily from inside the establishment. Many people are worried these things, as Ben says, get too scholarly and therefore detract from testimony and revelation. The GMA would have to hit the right balance in order to not alienate the rest of the Church.

Number 3, social commentary, is an even more dangerous category. I think in Mormonism we are naturally disposed to dislike criticism of our society for two reasons. First, because of the extensive social programs of the church, it's difficult to separate societal issues from doctrinal issues. Second, just from our history of being persecuted, we've become slightly oversensitive to any criticism at all. It's difficult for us the see the line there. Anyway, this is almost certainly where the quote is coming from. Social critics from within Mormon culture almost always end up being pushed to the outside--Robert Kirby, even some of Orson Scott Card. It seems to be impossible to be a mainstream Mormon and also a social critic. The GMA would have to manage to do both, or fulfill this quote by being pushed out.

Of course, if the GMA moves too far out, they can lose their faith, or at least their identification with the community of faith. And the GMA can never be someone outside the community--they must never try to be a neutral observer. A GMA has a vested interest in the community; they are part of us.

(On a side note, as I wrote up these categories, I can see the case for Orson Scott Card as the GMA taking shape. He has major works in most of the categories:
  1. Mormon audience, faith promoting: Saints, Women of Genesis
  2. Mormon audience, theological: some essays--this is definitely a weak point; we have yet to see a Mere Mormonism from him.
  3. Mormon audience, community analysis: "Hypocrites of Homosexuality," A Storyteller in Zion
  4. General audience, proselytizing: perhaps the Alvin Maker series; also a weak point, according to some; personal beliefs incorporated into his works, but no great converting novel.
  5. General audience, literary: Ender's Game, short stories
And he has been able to maintain his faith while also writing critically about it. Really, perhaps the only thing that holds him back from obtaining this title is that he lacks great literature about the doctrines of the Church (nos. 2 and 4). However, I personally see these as more minor functions of the GMA, so I would say OSC is, if not THE GMA, at least as close as we have gotten.)

18 October 2006

Warm Fuzzies!

Ha ha! My sister posted a link to this on her blog, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to spread the happiness. Warm fuzzies!!!

This book was a huge part of my childhood. It's just one of those strange family culture things. Like watching Fraggle Rock, playing the VCR version of Clue ("Not Chinese. French Food." "Pizza!") or reading The Rain Babies or Big Sister, Little Sister ("Here, blow."). They're important, and when someone else has actually heard of them, it's a huge connection. Everytime I meet someone who actually likes Fraggle Rock, it's an instant twenty bonus points in my completely arbitrary point system. Also, no matter how cheesy they are (the BBC Narnia movies anyone?), you still take them entirely seriously because of what they symbolize in your life.

A Week+ without Blog Posts

Um, yeah, sorry about that. I've been sick, dazed, swamped with homework, shopping in Park City, etc. So, here's some stuff that should have been posted, but wasn't.

Forum Notes (10/10/06)
Wow! That forum was completely amazing. If you didn't watch it, you should be greatly ashamed. And then you should go watch it.

I really liked his idea of the "mobilization of moderation." I can't remember where I heard this statistic--perhaps in a US government class--but most people in the US will self-identify as moderate, and yet when time comes to do something about it, we go for the extremes. I think this problem comes from a lack of trust for "the other side." In theory, we know that most of us think in the middle, but just to be save, better to stay as far away from their side as possible. We really need to mobilize a moderate middle that's really willing to compromise and work together.

I also felt very validated that he mentioned an idea I blogged about for the last forum--that what we mistake for tolerance in our society is really apathy. The real path to tolerance is not through losing any standard of correct behavior. Rather the opposite: we must hold to a standard as firm as any. The real key to tolerance is charity, Christ-like love, in which we can care about and love everyone in such a way that we are always seeking the best for them. We view no one as our enemy, only as misguided friends.

And next week (24th) is also a forum. Interesting. I thought they only had forums once a month. Oh well. I like forums way better than devotionals anyway. Devotionals = Sunday school. Forums = clever discussion of scholarly topics that can apply to the gospel.

Divine Comedy Show (10/13/06)
I am a huge advocate of Divine Comedy. I think what they do is good for the BYU student body. At a university where everything we do is viewed with eternal perspective, we sometimes get too serious about things that don't particularly matter. We mistake our culture for our doctrine.

Humor is definitely a power tool for social commentary (see Robert Kirby, SLTrib columnist). And Divine Comedy does it well. There were quite a few skits employing the stereotypes of liberal and conservative Mormons, which I thought were hysterical. The portrayals were overdone just to the point where you realize how silly we are for categorizing people in these ways. The Boy Scout merit badge skit was simply awesome: the book burning merit badge, liberal spotting merit badge, and polygamy merit badge were my favorites. :D Nice skit playing off of the recent "offended by dance" letter in the Daily Universe, featuring the "Guide for when to be Offended, Mormon Edition." It's only funny because it's true. This is the kind of humor that can really do something powerful. It changes how people act and think.

Dating Comments (10/15/06)
It's pretty much established canon in our stake that the Sunday school lesson during ward conference will be a lecture on dating. No, it's not as bad as it sounds. Last year's was wonderful: we got to watch a clip from Hitch, and then have President Keech tell us the we should go on more frequent dates with less pressure. His focus was that we have shrunk the "dating continum" such that asking a girl on a first date has become almost synonymous with capital-D Dating, which is only a small step away from being engaged. We need to spread it back out, so that a first date is just that: a date. (I admit to being guilty of perpetuating this problem, but that's another story.)

Anyway, this year's was equally good, though a little more serious since it was President Brenchley, but still. Here's the highlights reel: "Brethren, we want you to be going on one date a week for the rest of your lives." (The feminist side of me wishes he would have extended such a challenge to the women, but then I remember how much I hate asking guys out and go back to my traditionalist senses. Anyway, theoretically, if all guys asked someone out once a week, this should work out to one date per girl. Unfortunately, I can attest this is not the case.) Remember Elder Oaks' 3 P's of dating: paired off, planned ahead, payed for. (Of course, "payed for" doesn't necessarily mean spending money. The implication, though, is an activity that one person is in charge of arranging for. If there's money involved, it shouldn't be "hang-out style"--everyone pays for themselves--at least until significantly later in the process.) Get to work! What's wrong with spending time and money on getting to know a person, even if you don't intend to marry them?

Excellent Idea (10/17/06)
Speaking of dating, I'm always on the look out for fun and random things to do, but I think the idea of a improvisational desert night tops out as the best idea in recent memory. Yes, it even tops sardines in the HFAC and graveyard games in the Provo cemetary. Given my organized nature, I feel compelled to create an organized version of the rules. Try it out! This could be the new . . . tupperware party? Alright, that sounds lame. Nevermind, because this is definitely cool.

Improv Desert Night
Players: 4 individuals/pairs/teams

Equipment:
Basic cooking supplies, specifically flour, sugar (white, brown, powdered), butter, oil, milk, eggs, baking powder/soda, salt, cornstarch and vanilla, in quanities large enough for four recipies
Cooking equipment, including mixing bowls, saucepans, whisks, spoons, and pans
1 kitchen
1 secret ingredient per team, in quantities large enough for four recipes
1 cookbook per team
10 dollars per team

1. Select a time and place for the desert night. Find the largest kitchen area you can.
2. Before the event, compile and circulate a "Prefer Not" list for secret ingredients. Survey the participants for allergies and general dislikes. Encourage participants to be kind and not choose anything on this list as a secret ingredient.
3. Before the event, each team should choose a secret ingredient, Iron Chef style, which each team will be challenged to include in their dessert (eg. graham crackers, cranberries, peanut butter). Keep this a secret from the other teams.
4. Each team should bring a reasonable quantity of their secret ingredient to the event--enough to make four recipes of a size to serve everyone in attendance. On game day, once all teams have arrived, have each team announce its secret ingredient.
5. Teams will then have a short brainstorming session (10-15 min) to decide what type of desert they would like to attempt. The goal is to include as many of the secret ingredients as possible. Each team can use its own cookbook for ideas, but no one elses. Don't rely too much on the cookbook. Come up with unique creations. No spying!
6. After brainstorming has finished, head to the grocery store for a ten minute, ten dollar shopping trip. If a team needs any ingredients for its recipe other than the basic cooking supplies and the secret ingredients, this is the time to get them. Don't forget specialized cooking supplies. Ten minutes only! Those who are late will be severely mocked.
7. Back at the kitchen, the cooking madness begins! Teams have one hour to finish their dessert. Stovetop and oven space is first-come, first serve.
8. If at any time any team's recipe needs help, they may shout "May the Kitchen Gods have mercy on my spatula!" The other teams may choose to help them out or ignore their pitiful pleas. There's no reward or punishment for doing so.
9. When the time limit is up, each desert will be sampled by all. Each team will be scored on a scale from 1 to 4 (1=worst, 4=best) in the following areas:

  • Use of Secret Ingredients (one point for each used)
  • Tastiness
  • Presentation
  • Creativity
  • Sportsmanship
10. The team with the most points wins! Bask in your bragging rights as the master desert chefs!

09 October 2006

Random Nerdiness

Alright, so I stayed home sick from classes today, and in my infinite boredom, I rediscovered the game of life, which I stumbled upon a long time ago in my wanderings in that source of infinite knowledge, Wikipedia. No, this is not the same game of life that has the little cars and the pink and blue people. This game of life involves complex mathematical concepts and modeling of real populations. Crazy awesome patterns.

But that's not why I brought this up. There's a fun off-shoot to all this crazy math. Presenting the click maze! A nice little exercise in logic, though the rules aren't as clear as I would like. Basically, you can choose to move to a new square or stay put on every turn, but you must end up in a square with either two or three neighbors. Less than that, and your cell dies of "lonliness." More than that, and your cell gets crowded to death. There's only five levels, but you can get the idea.

Once you conquer all of those, you should move on to the regular game of life. I'm been experimenting with regenerating patterns . . . . It's very tricky and fascinating.

Did I mention I'm a nerd?

Refining "Refinement"

Even though I'm clearly way past the kairos for this piece, I'm writing it anyway because something definitely needs to be said. Here's my reaction to Elder Callister's devotional address, "Your Refined Heavenly Home," in three parts.

The Good:
In general, I liked the concept behind Elder Callister's talk. People outside the humanities/arts frequently underestimate their importance in shaping our souls. I was especially drawn to his ideas on refinement in speech. Not particularly the parts ostesibly about slang language. (Is he aware that the word "awesome" doesn't necessarily have to be used in an over-exaggerated way? Someone ought to hand him a copy of "How Great Thou Art," a great hymn that uses awesome in the way it was always intended to be used.)

What I really liked was his idea of good conversation. Too many times when I try to draw in concepts from great literature into conversations, I get blank stares before the talk turns back to the football game or who went out with who last weekend. It's sad that so few people actually want to discuss great things. To me, conversation and philosophy should run together, and anything you discuss in a paper can also be made into a great conversation. I'm so glad that I have CS Lewis Society and the Writing Center as good outlets for more refined conversation.

I also liked his discussion of music, partly because he agreed with my opinion. :D Music is a way to try to express the glory and power of certain words. I also liked that he pointed out the importance of seasonal music. Last year I had a roommate who hated Christmas music and it drove me batty. Certain songs are associated with the feelings of certain seasons, and playing them enhances the spirit of the season.

And finally, what English major worth her stuff wouldn't jump at the idea of good literature as the "minor prophets?" This is what I'm always trying to tell people about the importance of literature. Sure, their insights are not as profound and directly gospel oriented as the scriptures, but they offer insights into the human condition and human potential that we can get in no other way. Another good quote: "Refinement and spirituality are two strings drawn by the same bow." Learning about these famous books makes us more sensitive to other people, which helps us increase our charity towards them. And alternately, studying the gospel draws us to seek out more and better media. As we increase one, we usually increase the other.

The Bad:
A few points in his talk certainly rubbed me the wrong way, but I think these are common misconceptions about media, so I'm not surprised to see them pop up here.

The first thing that bugged me was, of course, that he throws out TV and DVDs as purely negative things in contrast to the supreme virtues of reading and music. Highly educated people seem to have this bias against film, which I hate. Film is simply a medium, a neutral way of communicating certain types of thoughts in certain ways. It has its limitations compared to writing, painting, and music, but it has its advantages as well.

What he really meant to criticize was not the medium itself, but rather the content thereof. But the same trashy content can be found in all mediums. Is reading some sappy chic-lit any better (intellectually speaking) than watching it? And how is watching a Nova series on string theory less edifying than the book covering the same material? It's very tempting for us to say "All reading is intelligent, and all movies and television are a waste of time" because this is a lot easier than going the extra mile to judge the actual content of the media. But those who dismiss film so off-handedly will certainly miss out.

On another note, the connection he builds between highly educated people and salvation made me a little wary. I'm sure he didn't mean it this way, but it implies that people who live the gospel can't possibly be worthy of exaultation unless they share his taste in music and books. In this way, his talk is alienating to the poor saints in other countries. Are they any less worthy of the Celestial kingdom because they had not time in their lives of subsistence to read the great works of literature? This talk is a little middle-class centric, something which the church needs to avoid.

The Ugly:
(This last section is doubling as my 5th progymnasmata assignment, which is to do either a refutation or a confirmation on something. Thus the slightly more formal tone and summary of the situation. Also, I realize it is disproportionately long compared to the other sections, but alas.)

Elder Douglas L. Callister's status as a seventy and a law professor might seem to put him beyond reproach, but no amount of respect ought to justify the offensive and inappropriate remarks found in his recent devotional talk. Either Elder Callister has been more careless about the implications of his words than most lawyers would allow themselves to be, or he is far more insensitive to the situation of women than most General Authorities. Whatever the case may be, his remarks on physical appearance were unbecoming of both his education and his station in the church.

During his devotional speech entitled "Your Refined Heavenly Home," Elder Callister addressed the importance of physical appearance in a relationship. He begins by telling the story of a young husband seeking to compliment his wife on her various talents and skills. After a few days, the husband is rebuffed by his young wife who says, "Don't say any of those things. Just tell me you think I am beautiful." He follows up this story with a statement that:

Every man has the right to be married to a woman who makes herself as beautiful as she can be and who looks in the mirror to tidy herself up before he comes home. Every woman has the right to be married to a man who keeps himself clean, physically as well as morally, and takes pride in his appearance.
I find the behavior of the wife in Elder Callister's anecdote quite difficult to believe. Although it is true that some women enjoy being complimented on their personal appearance, it would be a rare woman indeed who would prefer it to the exclusion of all other compliments. Compliments tend to mean the most when they are about our accomplishments earned by much effort. Skill in keeping house, cooking, raising children, and good conversation must be earned with much diligent work, but it not often noticed. Compliments in these areas would show the husband had a genuine awareness and appreciation of how much effort the wife put into the day-to-day running of the household.

As to the matter of beauty, much of what is being complimented comes simply from the genetic lottery. Unless a woman has spent an inordinate amount of time preparing her appearance, as for dates, formal dances, and other events, one might as well compliment her parents for her beauty rather than her, since they had much more control over the outcome than she did. Although the occasional compliment on personal appearance is wonderful, it is much like congratulating someone on rolling a twelve in a dice game, or getting a good hand in poker. Sure, it's wonderful luck, but what comes with little thought also merits little thought in the long run.

Even if we concede that the wife in the story might have really appreciated being called beautiful more than any other compliment, the conclusions that Elder Callister draws from this story are certainly poorly fitting to his audience. The students that constituted his primary audience are not to the point in their lives where they have "let themselves go," as he says, because they were already settled down with a family. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Many, if not most, of those listening were not yet married, and are therefore still quite concerned about the ability of their personal appearance to attract a spouse. Rather than convincing these students to shape up there own appearance, Elder Callister's talk merely gave license to many to increase the importance of physical appearance in their search for a potential spouse. This is counterproductive to several other parts of his speech where he advises students to concentrate on the inner personality and appreciation of the arts as important points in a potential date.

Another problem lies in that Elder Callister's conclusions are not equal for both genders. His conclusion, that men have a "right" to a beautiful wife, contrasts strongly with his statement that wives deserve a husband "who takes pride in his appearance." Essentially, he states that women ought to concentrate on how their appearance pleases others, specifically their husband, but men ought to have pride in their appearance for his own sake. There is no mention of husbands trying to look handsome for their wives, only that they should be clean and proud of how they look for their own sake. His comments reflect an attitude now outdated by several decades of feminism, and thus inappropriate to a modern audience who believes that women should be valued equally with men, and not just for their "beautiful" appearance. Nearly all the women I've spoken to about his devotional were offended by the sexist nature of his remarks.

Certainly, our physical appearance has a large impact on how we act and think. We should keep ourselves clean and neat at all times. But Elder Callister's approach to this topic was poorly done, as it puts physical appearance higher in importance than one's personal achievements of character.

(A much better talk on the importance of personal appearane was given by Sister Susan W. Tanner, the Young Women General President, in October 2005 general conference. One line in particular stuck with me and has become my personal motto regarding the importance of appearance: "“You must do everything you can to make your appearance pleasing, but the minute you walk out the door, forget yourself and start concentrating on others.")

07 October 2006

A Little More Insanity in the Blogosphere

Oh dear, now my sister has a blog. This could be then end of your sanity as you know it. But seriously, I love my Heather. She's much more writerly than me. Seriously, I admire her creativity and confidence in her work. Nothing much on her blog yet, but she's good at producing interesting stuff, so keep an eye on it.

I promise there will be an actual post later . . . .

05 October 2006

Crimes and Punishments

Ah, the debate on evil in literature continues. First, more attempts to ban Harry Potter. Utter nonsense. Second, Joni's post and Ben's reply on the subject. Yes, long comments are an excellent opportunity for posts with minimal effort. Continuing . . . .

Well, there's hope for you yet, Ben. I was beginning to worry that you had a completely unreasonable perspective on evil in literature. However, could you clarify what you mean by "One trap that it’s easy to fall into is thinking that it’s okay to consume portrayals of evil that do bring us down and offend the Spirit"? I'm still not exactlly sure where you're saying the line should be drawn . . . .

Additionally, what happens if not all the evil/un-virtuous characters repent of their evil doing? It's realistic to real life--not everyone repents, or even acknowledges the existence of evil, in their lifetime. Also, in reality, a lot of people who do immoral things live fairly happy and successful lives. An important function of literature is to deal with these delimmas--think book-of-Job-style, only inverted (why do the evil prosper rather than, why do the righteous suffer). But would you see books like that as an "endorsement" of evil?

In reality, not everyone comes to the same conclusion as to what is right and wrong, and I feel that has to be portrayed in our literature. This doesn't mean I don't believe in absolute right and wrong--of course I do--but you have to admit that not everyone sees them in the same way. Not every character has to come to the same moral conclusion, in my opinion. It's not realistic to life. I tend to go by the overall message of the book, rather than the attitudes of individual characters.

Also, novels that come to "incorrect" moral conclusions are sometimes also important to understand. If we can't reconcile ourselves about why that viewpoint is wrong now, our faith could be greatly shaken when we come up against those ideas in the natural course of life. Ignoring them doesn't make them any less sophistically tempting. We can't just ignore things that challenge our faith--we must deal with them, albeit in a faithful way.

Have you ever read Crime and Punishment? I would be interested to hear your perspective on the portrayal of evil in that novel. I personally think it's a very moral story, but I think you might disagree.

Oh, and happy 100 posts to me!

04 October 2006

Class-y Thoughts

I have all my classes today. For those of you who are wondering, here's an example of what goes on in the life of a double major--thoughts from my religion, English, and science courses all rolled into one.

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A thought on the Sermon on the Mount:
In chapter 5 of Matthew, Christ contrasts the old law and the new law. In the first few examples, the old law represents the extreme sin, the new law the internal cause behind it. Murder is a result of anger, adultery is a result of lust. If we stop the cause, there's no real need to worry about the sin. But then, Jesus brings up this old/new law pair:

38 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, An aeye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not aevil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right bcheek, cturn to him the other also.
So the ultimate cause of justice is mercy? Interesting. Obviously, this is not quite the same as the others: this is a pair of virtues rather than sins. But I can see how justice is a lesser virtue derived from the ultimate virtue of mercy. Justice arises from a desire for fairness--to make sure there's no unfairness to any individual because we care about them. Mercy is the extension of that--not only giving each individual a fair standing, but giving them exactly what they need. It's a more individualized form of justice.

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Notes on the rhetoric of general conference:
  • Nice use of the commonplace by President Hinckley in his Sunday morning talk--almost telling the Martin handcart company stories, but not quite; just enough to bring in the emotional component.
  • Apparently, the priesthood session is usually the best because it can assume a lot more things about its audience. No need to consider non-members. Saturday sessions run a close second, since most non-members and civic authorities watch the Sunday sessions.
  • Delivery/memorization has gotten a lot better since the Conference Center was built. The speakers are more aware of their audience. However, we still fall asleep. Delivery leaves a lot to be desired.
  • Perhaps this is why videos have been inserted? They still creep me out.
  • Conference has become a lot less Utah-centered in the past few years. Gone are the days when a speaker can say they grew up in Alpine and have everyone know what they mean. Even what a landfill is needs explanation, just to be sure the analogy will work for all audiences.
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You know you've taken too many math classes when:
  • You have a favorite matrix. (It's the identity matrix, of course!)
  • A black hole with mass zero sounds completely logical.
  • Learning more complex things actually makes your life easier.
  • Your class cheers every time something reduces to the zero vector.
  • Your teacher doesn't know the difference between CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll. (True story: my math teacher was convinced that CS Lewis wrote Alice and Wonderland.)

03 October 2006

Excuses and Announcements

So I may not be posting as regularly as usual this week. My lappy is in the shop, getting her DVD drive replaced. Sad day.

And I am now signed up for NaNoWriMo. Let the insanity begin!

A Definition

Vomitous (adj.) is a word used to show disgust at anything overtly romantic, especially the variety of romance found in movies oriented towards single women. This word originated in 2004, when a young BYU co-ed explained that the romance contained in “chick flicks” made her feel like throwing up. Ever since, the term vomitous has been applied to describe many events or objects related to amorous feelings, though the word can be extended to describe the actions or character of a person. The term is usually used in a derogatory manner.

Usage Examples:

“People who watch Sleepless in Seattle disgust me—that movie is so vomitous!”

“Bringing her a dozen red roses would definitely be vomitous, but if that’s your goal, then go ahead.”

“The missionary she’s been writing to for two years just came back. He called her on the phone last night, and now she’s acting all vomitous.”

Vomitious is definitely not appropriate in formal writing or speaking, but can often be used to humorous effect in casual conversation. Caution should be used concerning what situations are appropriate for the use of the term. Use of the word vomitous implies a lack of romance in the life of the speaker, and perhaps jealousy of those who do have a significant other. The word is mostly used by jaded, female BYU students annoyed that they don’t get as many dates as their roommates. Using the term in the presence of others who don’t feel the same disgust for romance will make the speaker’s situation apparent and possibly depress the number of dates even further.

01 October 2006

Conference Blog-cast: Part 3

It might surprise you to find out that my blog-cast was actually useful to someone! On Saturday, Heather, my sister, was on her way home from working in Alaska this summer. She wasn’t able to watch conference, but she was able to get on the net for a few minutes and read my blog summary. :D Happy coolness! Oh, and the internet is too slow at my house to actually post after every talk, so some of this won’t go up until noon or so.

“How Firm a Foundation”: Hurray! My favorite hymn! And they even sang the sixth verse, which is the best one.

President Thomas S. Monson: My mother points out that the metaphor of Canadian roads is less than apt, considering the highway that just collapsed there. :D Good discussion of desires versus values: we may desire to become better at something, but until we really value that skill or attitude, we can never really acquire it. The gospel is really the practice of turning these desires to change into actual values, and from there into character. We need to turn these things into an essential part of our character. As we've said many times at CS Lewis society, the gospel is not about obeying commandments; it's about becoming what God would have us be. Sheesh, what’s with the videos? Can’t anyone just use their imagination anymore? Nice use of both the opening hymns in his talk.

(Hey, I have wireless! Maybe I can post this stuff.)

Elder L. Tom Perry: Plan of Salvation. Made possible by our Savior. Geez, that makes it sound like a PBS program. Sorry, that's probably not appropriate, but really: "made possible by"? I love it when they do the summary of European history in a gospel context. There were several good talks about the Reformation in last October's conference. I should go re-read those. But it's just interesting to view all of history as part of the plan of salvation.

Richard C. Edgley (Presiding Bishopric): Dishonesty is symptom of greed and arrogance. I like that idea. It's not a problem but a symptom. Once we can solve the underlying problems, telling the truth is no longer hard. We must first get rid of the dishonesty in our hearts.

Margaret S. Lifferth (First Councilor in the Primary Presidency): Overindulgence, over-scheduling, and expectations that are too high or too low as forms of child abuse. Interesting. Everyone in the world must care about children, not just their parents. Family worship is good, no matter how ineffective and disorganized it seems. I can definitely testify of this: FHE at my house was always chaos. No one ever wanted to participate and it required a lot of effort on my parents' part to keep things going. And yet. Though we may not have learned anything from the lessons or the scripture reading, the memory of doing it comes back when we are grown. The values taught at home eventually come back to children when they leave.

Anthony D. Perkins (Quorum of the Seventy): As a child, we have perfect faith, but as we grow, doubts increase. Another discussion of needless guilt in church members. Why can't we learn not take ourselves quite so seriously? I think we are almost always doing better than we think. "There is a difference between humility and humiliation." The Lord has not given us the spirit of guilt, but of hope for change. If we are not hopeful, we are not in the right path. Are you suffering from "Adult Onset Pessimism"?

Elder Russell M. Nelson: Discussion of the Abrahamic Covenant. In previous dispensations, covenant limited by time and location--relatively few people had access to it. Restoration gives access to all--not limited by time or location. We not only teach the gathering of Israel, but we participate in it. Abraham is linked to all members of the church. Each nation gathers unto its promised lands.

President Gordon B. Hinckley: Man, I love how straight-up President Hinckley is about the speculation on his health. He is so up with the times. Man, I never noticed that the GAs are so well aware with the church.