April 2019 General Conference Notes



Elder Soares–Teach and Learn the Gospel at Home


We hear the voice of Jesus Christ through those who speak at this conference. We have a divine mandate to seek to learn and teach the gospel, like the Ethiopian and Philip. Gospel study helps transform us and make us more happy and productive. Old Testament reference to promises about gospel learning and teaching in the family–LDS prophets also so testify. Our lives need to be rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. Story of the two disciples on the road to Eumaus. Learn to bring the gospel to the CENTER of our lives. We need to show our beliefs by the way we live. Actions speak louder than words. Sincerely rejoice with inactive people in their success! Never reject or misjudge–just love them! Like the father of the prodigal son. Make your home a center of gospel learning. We must guide our children like Philip led the Ethiopian. Seek to learn and to teach!


Becky Craven (YM 2nd)–Careful vs. Casual Gospel Living


Happiness is found in CAREFULLY living the gospel, and striving to become more like Jesus Christ. CASUALNESS can lead us away from the gospel/covenant path–references tree of life vision to illustrate this. World is laden with distractions, getting “near the tree, but not to it.” Casual efforts may lead us into forbidden paths, or into the great and spacious building. Never say however, except, or but when it comes to following our leaders or living the gospel. There is never a right way to do the wrong thing. Be a little more careful in living the gospel.

  • Are we careful in Sabbath worship?
  • Prayer and scripture study? Come Follow Me?
  • Temple worship and temple covenants?
  • Careful and modest in appearance and dress?
  • Careful in wearing of temple garment?
  • Ministering to others and fulfilling callings?
  • What do we read and watch on TV and mobile devices?
  • Careful in language, or do we embrace the crude and vulgar?

We are each in the process of growth and change. How do we mark ourselves? Can others see Christ in our countenance? We are not meant to blend in! We may not be perfect, but we can be WORTHY.


Elder Brook Hales (70)–Trust in God / Thrive Despite Setbacks


Story of missionary’s coat. Entitled to a “constant stream” of revelation when we live the gospel faithfully. Short term disappointements may turn into better blessings later (like the 116 pages story earlier?). Story of a blind woman who serves and blesses the world despite challenges. “You’re always pleasant and happy!” “Well, you haven’t been at home with me.”

Continue reading


Notes and Quotes 2017-2018

Arts and Entertainment

Nordlinger, What Does It Mean For Art To Be “Relevant”? 

From Symphonies to Sonatas, Favorite Haydn Recordings

Burning Cole: On “Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Where Are Conservatives in the Arts?

“Supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music, a master comparable in greatness of stature with Aristotle in philosophy and Leonardo da Vinci in art.” No overstatement whatsoever attaches to this, the opening of the entry for Johann Sebastian Bach in Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. So vast and stunning is his achievement that Beethoven believed him misnamed: Playing on the German word Bach (brook), he said that the composer should, instead, be called Meer (ocean). —source










Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years

What happened when I made my students turn off their phones

Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound


The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone

Why Senior Faculty Should Teach First-Year Students

“Despite being immensely popular―and immensely lucrative―education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity―in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. Learn why students hunt for easy As and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy. Caplan draws on the latest social science to show how the labor market values grades over knowledge, and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers. He explains why graduation is our society’s top conformity signal, and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. He advocates two major policy responses. The first is educational austerity. Government needs to sharply cut education funding to curb this wasteful rat race. The second is more vocational education, because practical skills are more socially valuable than teaching students how to outshine their peers. Romantic notions about education being ‘good for the soul’ must yield to careful research and common sense―The Case against Education points the way.”    source


This won’t be news to anyone who teaches for a living, but recent research at the Reading Center of University of Stavanger in Norway shows that people who read words on paper remember them better than those who read words on a screen

Mark Bauerlein interviews Camille Paglia on teaching







Godfrey Elfwick on Titania McGrath

A Millennial Reviews

The second-worst poet in English, by Anthony Daniels

7 Brilliantly Useless Websites You Won’t Believe Exist


End of Semester Bingo

Dave Barry: 2017 Year in Review

Dan Brown is a very bad writer




Language and Literature

32 of the most beautiful words in the English language

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell on why we need libraries – an essay in pictures

Browsing the Stacks: A Photo Appreciation of Libraries

Joseph Epstein, “The Bookish Life”

100 best books of the 21st century…so far

Barack Obama’s book recommendations

Five Reasons To Keep Track of Every Single Book You Read

Long ago I wrote off Christopher Tolkien as a mere slug riding on his father’s legendary coat tails, but this amazing article showed me how very wrong I was.

Poem: “The Tanager,” by Billy Collins

If only I had not listened to the piece
on the morning radio about the former asylum
whose inmates were kept busy
at wooden benches in a workshop
making leather collars and wristbands
that would later be used to restrain them.
And if only that had not reminded me,
as I stood facing the bathroom mirror,
of the new state prison whose bricks had been set
by prisoners trucked in from the old prison,
how sweet and free of static my walk
would have been along the upland trail.

Nothing to spoil the purity of the ascent—
the early sun, wafer-white,
breaking over the jagged crest of that ridge,
a bird with a bright-orange chest
flitting from branch to branch with its mate,
and a solitary coyote that stopped in its tracks
to regard me, then moved on.
Plus the cottonwood fluff snowing sideways
and after I stood still for a while,
the coyote appearing again in the distance
before vanishing in the scrub for good.
That’s the kind of walk it might have been.

The Hedonism of Reading Good Books

100-year-old Reviews of Classic Books by An Inmate at Sing-Sing

Mark Athitakis (newsletter #2) on Ove Knausgaard:

If you do want to give Knausgaard a try, a few tips.

1. Give My Struggle a hundred pages. Every book teaches you how to read it, and each author works at a different pace to establish style, theme, and so on. You can grok what James Patterson is up to within five pages, Henry James in 25, Toni Morrison in 50. I suggest giving My Struggle 100 pages not because he’s more complicated than James or Morrison but because his goal is to stretch out experience, to better evoke the feeling of living in it. That means it can take a while for him to flesh out a scene, and that’s the ding on him—his language is unlovely, quotidian, etc. If you love carefully crafted, gemlike sentences, he’s not your guy. He’s sawing planks, not hand-crafting armoires. But I’ve rarely found My Struggle slow or wasteful; give him the space to work and he can be one of the more powerfully immersive writers you read.

2. Those 100 pages shouldn’t be the first 100 pages of Book One. The defining element of My Struggle is its avoidance of prettified, figurative language, but the series opens with Knausgaard trying to figure out how to get into his narrative, which means he leans on those old familiars, making the opening pages feel labored. Luckily, you can start pretty much anywhere with Knausgaard, because the plot is effectively the same in each book—man lives in constant fear of becoming his father. I started with Book Three, a magnificent portrait of the tweenage boydom. (Book Six might be less seductive, being in large part a kind of metacommentary on the previous five, but what might generally be called “the Hitler stuff” is worthwhile, so you do you.)

3. Try Spring instead. Knausgaard’s “four seasons” books are generally easygoing observational essay collections on everything from plants to household gadgets to, yes, dogs. Spring is something of an outlier, billed as fiction and with the same kind of characterizations and style of My Struggle, addressing his concerns about being a husband and father at a smaller scale. If “My Struggle” feels like a double black diamond run, Spring is a bunny slope, but it’s no less emotionally potent.

Mark Athitakis (newsletter #1):

Everybody has daily reading goals, right? A few years back I began to feel exhausted with the stack of new books I was obligated to read for review and prize-judging duties. So I came up with a fix: Read more. Read something not-new every day, just 20-25 pages or so. It didn’t make my TBR stack any shorter, but it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever done as a reader: It’s how I got through Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, The Last Samurai, and more. My current not-new reading is Barbara W. Tuchman’s 1984 book, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Doorstop histories aren’t usually my thing, but it was strongly recommended by two readers I respect, and she writes with admirable precision and an eye toward connections between our brutish past and brutish present.

She was inspired to write about the medieval era, she explains, due to its echoes of the WWI era—-plague, war, Christian ideals taking it in the teeth. But what mostly comes off the page is the sense that humanity’s station has always been degraded, in every era—-it is at once dispiriting and fascinating to read about pervasive anti-Semitism and institutional greed. So I’ve been taking a kind of comfort in the passages where I can tell myself, hey, at least we’re not that bad. To wit:

In village games, players with hands tied behind them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the frantic animal’s claws. Trumpets enhanced the excitement. Or a pig enclosed in a wide pen was chased by men with clubs to the laughter of spectators as he ran squealing from the blows until beaten lifeless. Accustomed in their own lives to physical hardship and injury, medieval men and women were not necessarily repelled by the spectacle of pain, but rather enjoyed it. The citizens of Mons bought a condemned criminal from a neighboring town so that they should have the pleasure of seeing him quartered. It may be that untender medieval infancy produced adults who valued others no more than they had been valued in their own formative years.

Arthur Henry King’s “Reading List For a Lifetime

Poem: Robert Hedin, “Owls

Owls glide off the thin
Wrists of the night,
And using snow for their feathers
Drift down on either side
Of the wind.

I spot them
As I camp along the ridge,
Glistening over the streambeds,
Their eyes small rooms
Lit by stone lamps.

Robyn Sarah’s Exquisitely Untrendy Poetry

London Review of Books on Hugo’s Les Miserables

For Centuries, Readers Annotated Books With Tiny Drawings of Hands

“The shaky writing of the 13th-century annotator known as the Tremulous Hand, who is believed to have made as many as 50,000 notes on Old English manuscripts in an attempt to make them comprehensible to later readers, is revealed in all its wobbly glory by a new project from the British Library.”

How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs

7 Sentences That Sound Crazy But Are Still Grammatical

Milton’s blinding reading list

“My class meets for an hour at ten thirty every morning, and as I labor to decipher our daily Wheelockian pronouncements, I remember why I loved Latin to begin with. Each sentence is a little puzzle, a Rubik’s Cube of words to be rearranged into their proper order based on arcane rules and hidden clues. There’s a creative thrill, too, in the task of transforming Latin into English…More than anything, though, I love Latin because it has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with anything in my life. Classics evangelists who argue for the practical utility of Latin, its historical significance and English vocabulary-building potential, are profoundly missing the point: Latin is fun because all its native speakers are dead and will never have to meet you.”   source

My Sammelband has Frisket-Bite: A Short Glossary of Delightful Library Terms

People Share Their Best Bite-Sized Horror Stories, And They’re Terrifying


Poem: Donald Hall, “An Old Life

Snow fell in the night.
At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish
mounded softness where
the Honda was. Cat fed and coffee made,
I broomed snow off the car
and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart
before Amy opened
to yank my Globe out of the bundle.
Back, I set my cup of coffee
beside Jane, still half-asleep,
murmuring stuporous
thanks in the aquamarine morning.
Then I sat in my blue chair
with blueberry bagels and strong
black coffee reading news,
the obits, the comics, and the sports.
Carrying my cup twenty feet,
I sat myself at the desk
for this day’s lifelong
engagement with the one task and desire.




Living Well

Fascinating profile with ideas from polymath David Gelernter



2018: The Year in Volcanic Activity

2018 Royal Society Photography Winners

100 best articles from 2017

On an old man taking walks: “Many write about walking as pilgrimage, as a stepping out into the unknown, a voyaging away from home and hearth. Like J.R.R. Tolkien’s protagonist Bilbo Baggins, we see the road as an invitation into strangeness and foreign territory, a means to adventure and change. Kierkegaard roamed the streets of Copenhagen, Dickens trekked through London, Whitman patrolled the streets of New York, and Rousseau rambled through Paris. These thinkers and literary men saw something exotic and freeing in the city streets. Walking, for them, was an individualistic and artistic endeavor. But Grandpa’s walking was neither of these things. He followed the same paths, past the same homes and shops, for decades. His walking was not a reveling in new turf or strange faces, but rather a ritual of commitment to the same earth, brick, and human components of place.”  —source

Surrounded by Books

The 25 Golden Rules of Running

The 1911 Heat Wave Was So Deadly It Drove People Insane

Another major difficulty that arises when thinking about which TV shows will last and be of interest to future generations is their length. Take, for instance, The Wire. A relatively compact series at 60 episodes over five seasons, the show would take about two-and-a-half days to watch from start to finish, assuming one forgoes sleep. Of course, no one who is employed (and no one who has a family) really binges like that; at two episodes a day, you can get through the whole thing in a month. That’s still a heavy commitment; two months, frankly, seems likelier. But what else could you have done with those 60 hours? According to HowLongToReadThis.com, which measured my reading pace to be a glacial 259 words per minute, I could finish War and Peace (21 hours and 15 minutes), Don Quixote (16 hours and 16 minutes), Moby-Dick (12 hours and 36 minutes), and still have plenty of time to squeeze in Crime and Punishment (7 hours and 3 minutes). Alternatively, I could read much of Kingsley Amis’s and Graham Greene’s fiction—the stuff worth reading, anyway—in roughly the same span of time.

What about movies? With 60 hours, you could watch the entirety of Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre—and then watch it again to pick up on all the nuances you missed the first time around. You could watch the first 27 entries on the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest American films of all time (more, if you skipped some of the lengthier, plodding works like Gone with the Wind). You could watch the last quarter-century or so of films to win Best Picture at the Oscars. You could take a tour through world cinema, watching the best of Akira Kurosawa and François Truffaut and Lindsay Anderson and Michelangelo Antonioni.

You could undertake any of those horizon-expanding artistic adventures—or you could watch one program that ran for a few years on HBO.  –source

O, Brave Old World! Conquering age through curiosity (Dalrymple)

The Tail End: visualizing how much time we have left

I tend to be skeptical of “life hacks.” It’s rare that we can use simple tricks make a major life change. But there’s nothing wrong with small life improvements. And using the Ratchet Principle I outlined in Masc #6, if you are continuously making small, incremental improvements over time, it will ultimately turn into real change.

So today I want to share some small things I do in my home in case you find them useful for yourself.  In return I’m asking you to email me any similar kinds of household habits you have.  I might want to use them myself. Also, if people send them to me, I will edit, anonymize, and compile them and send them out to everybody in a future issue so we can all benefit from each other’s discoveries.

To start off, here are some of my household habits.

1. Family Verse.  I took this idea from my friend Dwight. Every week his family recites their family verse at Sunday dinner. Not only did I take his idea, I took his verse. It’s Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” My in-laws also have a framed picture of this verse at their bedside.  I haven’t done something like that yet, but might well in the future.

2. Fishbowl Prayers. I have tried to make a point of adding some type of intercessory prayer at meals to make sure we make a habit of focusing outwardly as a family towards other people’s needs. I don’t do it 100% of the time because a) I’m generally ravenously hungry and b) I can’t often think of things to pray for on the spot. I read a story about a pastor – I think it was Russell Moore – who figured out an easy way to handle this by keeping a fishbowl of business cards of other pastors in the kitchen. At meals they pull one out at random and pray for that guy. I don’t personally have a fishbowl yet, but I can see the value in it to help further institutionalize our intercessory prayer habit.

3. Friday Fasting. My family fasts from meat on Fridays. No, I’m not Catholic. But it’s a practice I think makes a lot of sense for Protestants too, which is why I’m including it here. Why? First, it established a corporate family fast. It’s something we can all do together, even our 1yo, any of us who are sick, etc. Second, many Christians around the world do still fast from meat on Friday, so there’s also a greater sense of corporate fasting as the body of Christ. Third, the practice of fasting on Fridays is ancient. Why reinvent the wheel when there’s something we can do that Christians have always done? We’ve been very good at keeping this fast, though it isn’t fully meeting my expectations yet in terms of focusing our minds on the things of God. So I plan to make some tweaks – remember the ratchet. Note: we don’t refuse offers of hospitality in order to keep this fast. So if a family invites us over to their home on a Friday for a cookout or something, we are happy to accept.

4. Honor Thy Father.  I’m especially interested in ways that families can show honor to fathers.  There are obvious ones like having Dad sit at the head of the table, or say grace at meals. But my wife’s family had a rule when she was growing up that nobody could read the newspaper until Dad had read the paper. I’m still a newspaper addict, so I thought this was a great rule and have instituted it for our home.

5. Thanks Log.  I started keeping a “thanks log” in 2014. Whenever something good happens in my life, I try to just append a dated bullet point about it in an MS-Word document.  I don’t have to do everything as I don’t want to make this a huge chore or burden, but I end up including a substantial amount of stuff – maybe 3-5 things per week. It’s amazing the sheer number of things that go right in our lives on a daily basis that we don’t really remember or take stock of. Re-reading some of these periodically always helps keep me in a thankful and humble frame of mind.

None of these is earth shattering or totally unique I know. That’s the point. They are just simple, small habits. But there’s no reason not to do small things as well as large ones.     –Aaron Renn, The Masculinist #27

Majestic Mountain Views From Around the World

In pictures: Scotland’s far north

“Dark matter is as tangible as stars and planets to most astronomers. We routinely map it out. We conceive of galaxies as lumps of dark matter with dabs of luminous material. We understand the formation of cosmic structure, as well as the evolution of the universe as a whole, in terms of dark matter. Yet a decade of sophisticated searches has failed to detect the material directly. We see the shadow it casts, but are completely unaware of what the dark side of the universe may contain.”     –source




Politics and Society

Today’s teens are radically different from the teens of previous generations. They don’t care as much about freedom, take fewer risks, and live almost entirely online, which is making them “seriously unhappy”:
“One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. ‘We go to the mall,’ she said. ‘Do your parents drop you off?,’ I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. ‘No—I go with my family,’ she replied. ‘We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.’
“Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. ‘It’s good blackmail,’ Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. ‘We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.’  –source

The Trans Women Who Become Lesbians After Years As Gay Men

On the despair epidemic: Drug overdoses and suicide fuel drop is U.S. life expectancy


“Kirk wasn’t interested in defending a party agenda. He wanted to promote a cast of mind. In a 1963 letter to Jerry Pournelle, who would later make his mark as an author of science fiction, Kirk wrote, ‘There remains in this country a large body of support for an imaginative conservatism. Though the odds are against us, we may succeed in saving a good deal from the wreck of the modern world; and, as Henry Adams like to say in his mordant way, “The fun is in the process.”’ He sought to cultivate a moral imagination that allows us to see the world not only from the perspective of others but also from the standpoint of the past and the future. He had no grand plans of social regeneration, no aspirations for universal dominion. ‘“Politics is the art of the possible,” the conservative says: he thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom.’

“Above all, Russell Kirk reminded the world of what Edmund Burke described as the ‘partnership’ that exists ‘not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.’ He brought attention to what his friend and hero T.S. Eliot called the ‘timeless moments’ connecting us to both past and present.”       source

Ryan T. Anderson on the conservative vision of social justice

MIT Climate Scientist Dr. Richard Lindzen: Believing CO2 controls the climate ‘is pretty close to believing in magic

New Yorker profile: “Rod Dreher’s Monastic Vision

Why are our children so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends?

The Tech Industry’s War on Kids: How psychology is being used as a weapon against children

Thread: “Social justice attitudes…infecting areas of life/society affecting everyday people”

Who Are the Rich, White Men Institutionalizing Transgender Ideology?


“Identity politics cannot be understood apart from the preceding and concomitant social fact of family implosion. The year before the Combahee document’s publication—1976—was a watershed of a sort. The out-of-wedlock birth rate for black Americans tipped over the 50-percent mark (the 1965 Moynihan Report worried over a rate half as high). This rate has kept climbing and exceeded 70 percent in 2016. At the same time, other measures indicating the splintering of the nuclear and extended family expanded too. By 2012, Millennial women—who were then under the age of 30—exhibited for the first time the out-of-wedlock birth rate of black women in 1976: i.e., more than 50 percent. Millennials, of course, are the demographic backbone of identity politics.

“And the out-of-wedlock birth rate is just one measure of the unprecedented disruption of the family over the last half-century-plus. Consider, just in passing, the impact of abortion. In 2008, the Guttmacher Institute reported that 61 percent of women terminating pregnancies were already mothers of at least one child. Many children—and many grown children—have been deprived of potential siblings via pregnancy termination.

“Abortion, like single motherhood, is only one engine of a phenomenon that has come to characterize more and more American lives during the past half-century: what might be called the ‘family, interrupted.’ Many post-sexual revolutionary people now pass through life vaguely aware of family members who could have been but aren’t—whether via parental disruption in childhood or the long string of exes now typical in Western mating or abortion or childlessness by choice or other romantic and sexual habits that did not exist en masse until after the 1960s.

“Many of us now live in patterns of serial monogamy, for instance, in which one partner is followed by another. When children occur, this means a consistently shifting set of family members to whom one is sometimes biologically related and sometimes not: stepfathers, half-siblings, ‘uncles,’ and ‘cousins.’ As couples form and un-form, finding new partners and shedding old ones, these relations morph with them. The result for many people is the addition and subtraction of ‘family’ members on a scale that was unimaginable until reliable contraception for women—the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive in 1960—and the legalizing of abortion. Together they made the de-institutionalization of traditional marriage and family possible.”

* * *

“The result of all these shifting and swirling selves is that many people no longer know what almost all of humanity once knew, including in the great swath of history that was otherwise nastier, more brutish, and shorter than ours: a reliable circle of faces, many biologically related to oneself, present during early and adolescent life. That continuity helped to make possible the plank-by-plank construction of identity as son or daughter, cousin or grandfather, mother or aunt, and the rest of what’s called, tellingly, the family tree.”  –Mary Eberstadt, “The Primal Scream of Identity Politics

2017: The Year Reheated

2018: The Year Reheated





Excellent essay about our need for better resources for greater Biblical literacy in the LDS Church

Elder Holland Explains the Inexplicable Joy We Can Find in Belonging to the Church

An Experiment Upon the Word: A BYU advertising team finds that the best tool for changing perceptions about the Book of Mormon is the Book of Mormon.

Poem: “Creed,” by Maryann Corbett

Grace is not a Mormon heresy, LDS leaders and scholars say after doctrinal ‘climate change’

Ministering the Ordinances of Exaltation to Individuals and Families

How to Read the Bible: Slowly, and Sport with the Words

The Book of Mormon Gets the Literary Treatment

BoMC: Take Your Scripture Study to the Next Level

5 Things to Know Before Studying the Old Testament

“I, for one, would feel to walk on hot lava and chew broken glass,” he said, “if I could find a document, any document anywhere, containing any new words of Christ — 50 words, 20 words, one new word from the Son of God — let alone hundreds of pages that record the appearance, teachings, covenants and counsel he gave to a heretofore unknown audience.”  –Jeffrey R. Holland







gaechter and welch

Robert Pack Painting of Paul Gaechter and Jack Welch in Innsbruck in 1968

Exam Math

I teach English, not math, but when I was preparing my own students for this week’s semester exam, I explained the grading breakdown like this: “This exam is 20% of your semester grade, with 90 multiple choice questions at one point each and then a ten-point essay at the end. So…how much of your overall semester grade depends just on that essay question?”

Most of them guessed quickly and guessed wrong. Several got the right answer, but only a couple got it right away. (The answer is 2%. Basically, 10% of 20.)

That led me to share a couple of other math-based exam observations I’ve made over the years.

I asked classes what someone should do if they had a combined semester grade of 9% going into the exam. Most of them said to study and work really hard. Many of them were shocked when I said the correct answer would be to sleep in and skip it. “In that situation, you could ace the test twice and still fail the class, so what’s the point? No amount of sweating over the test at that point could save you from months of consistently bad choices, so why bother? It would be a waste of time.”

Some of the less studious among them seemed offended at the very idea, but most of them were receptive, some even seeming to have a “eureka” moment.

Then I told them that there’s another, more positive side to that coin: “What if the exam were worth 10% of the semester grade and you had earned 103% up until that point. What should you do then?”

After a variety of guesses, I again suggested that the best course of action would be sleeping in and taking the day off. Again, many were shocked, but the most studious among them seemed greatly gratified by the observation. For those who were still stymied by the idea, I gave a similar explanation: “In that situation, you could take a goose egg on the exam and still have a 93% for the semester, which looks the same as 103% on your transcript, which is what matters, so what’s the point? No amount of sweating over that test at that point could hurt or improve the bulletproof grade you’d already worked so hard to earn, so why bother? It would be a waste of time.”

I told my classes that I’d seen a lot of students over the years work their hearts out on exams for no real gain, some because their grades were too high, and some because their grades were too low.

Finally, I hastened to make clear that neither of those situations applied to any of them! I just wanted to emphasize the importance of a strong work ethic, situational awareness, and math.


“Home Church” Encouraged in 1993

515Q9YXJX5L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_The concept of a home-centered church is really nothing new. In his 1993 book Raising Up a Family To the Lord, Elder Gene R. Cook establishes such a mindset in the first several pages, as a foundation for the rest of the book. This excerpt shows how he conceived of the concept, and it’s very much what’s being endorsed today.

I’ve always been impressed that this amazing book came out two years before the Proclamation on the Family. My wife and I are going to re-read it in preparation for 2019. To anyone looking for ideas and encouragement for making home the core of your family’s church life, I strongly recommend it!




40 For 40 Progress Report 12/12

My year of being 40 is now over. Of the 40 goals I set for myself this year, I finished 36. Here are the three I did in the last month, followed by some overall reflections and a look to the future.

34. Give my wife 40 back rubs. I feel a little bad that only one of my 40 goals involved my wife, but I think this was a pleasant bit of loving service, and I should keep this up. I’ve already done another since finishing the goal. I also feel a little bad that it took me until the final month to complete this one. Note to self: do something special for your wife in the near future.

35. Don’t say anything negative about anyone for 40 straight days. This one was *super* hard. I had minimizing my sarcasm at school in mind here, and especially making sure my children know that I love and respect them with the words and tone I use at home. As the year went on, I kept struggling with how to really make this practical, since I have to discipline others and since I can’t control how they react to me. Still, the ball is in my court, and over the last several years I’ve gained a lot of awareness about how deficient my own social skills have always been, and I’ve made a lot of progress there, but there is still quite a ways to go. I kept having to start this over, often with modified expectations and definitions for myself, and only as this new school year started have I felt consistent enough in maintaining positive relationships with young people that I can honestly check this off….but I need to keep focusing on this as much as any of the other things I’ve done this year, and maybe more.

36. Learn 40 new Portuguese words each month. Probably my greatest success this whole year. Technically, I finished this goal after just a few months, with the expected word count at just 480 (Duolingo puts my vocabulary today at 3145), but I’ve never studied or practiced anything this consistently before. Today is day 70 of my current streak on Duolingo; gunning to break my record of 81 days. I’m at level 15. I understand and use some choppy Portuguese pretty regularly at home, but I’m nowhere near fluent yet–not even conversationally–and I intend to keep going until I am. Learning a new language has been a challenging joy.


The four goals that are as yet unfinished are running a 10k 40 times (I only have 25 done), listening to 40 jazz albums (I’ve loved the several I’ve done so far, but there’s very little progress here), sketching 40 drawings (about halfway done, but I recently decided that I want to focus on drawing birds, and the rest of the goal will be directed at that), and learning 40 new chess moves (I’ve made a ton of growth in chess this year, but still have a ways to go before calling this one good).

One reason why I didn’t finish is merely the overwhelming stress of the first quarter of a school year. I get so busy, so stressed out, that I disappear into my work. I’ve never figured out how to cope with that and still live my life. I guess I need to keep working on that, so I don’t keep losing so much of myself for two months a year. At least I got over that bought of bronchitis a few weeks ago.

I’ll extend my deadline for those four last goals until the end of this year. I want to keep up good habits, including the habit of goal setting for self improvement itself, so today I’m starting a new fitness goal to do planks every morning and evening. This is a great way to live.

Since just a few months into the project, I’ve been analyzing it and asking myself if it was really making me happier, though. Was this just robotic list checking? Was I focusing on that instead of experiencing life more deeply?

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Notes: Joseph Smith Papers Conference and BYU Sperry Symposium

Below are notes on the 2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference, at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and on two of the talks at the 2018 Sperry Symposium at BYU the next day.


2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference Notes

Janiece Johnson, “Embracing the Book: The Material Record and Early Book of Mormon Reception”

For 1st gen. LDS, family history still gets written in Bibles, not BoM, though sometimes baptism into church goes there. “Stories enabled access to divinity.” Marginal notes in BoM tend to be keeping track of complicated new narrative. Some created a table of contents. Patience Cowdery uses manacles (pointers) to annotate “seed” and “ancestors,” plus an index she made in the back. Frederick G. Williams 1st edition made an index of doctrine and narrative, and a list of 20 “lost books” from the Bible. Apostle William M. McLellin annotated with doctrinal index and notes showing close reading over many years…also drawings!

Sherilyn Farnes, “‘Able to Translate Any Where in the Bible’: Translation and the Early Saints”

On Edward Partridge’s study of Hebrew. EP studies Hebrew to translate Bible, including with Kirkland school of prophets. Considered useful for preaching—impressive to hearers. Approaching Antiquity: JS and Ancient World, put out by RSC—check it out! Alfred Cordon journaled that people wanted to hear Greek or Hebrew and then they would believe! James Harvey Partridge (Edward’s younger brother) was eulogized as a “learned Biblical scholar.” “Do good, lay aside evil…render assistance to fellow men and glorify the Lord” as a purpose for learning Hebrew. JS said this learning would prepare people for the endowment. Language study led to history study. JS studies Hebrew AFTER his inspired revision of the Bible.

Stephen Smoot, “The Dynamics of Revelatory Translation in Early Mormonism: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study”

JS’s concept of translation was “idiosyncratic” by modern standards. 1. Zeptah/Egyptus—Earliest manuscript of BoA has Zeptah instead of Egyptus and Egyptes in place of another Egyptus. BoA may confuse Zaeptah’s/Egyptus’s gender in the same way some ancient records do for that lfigure. Is Hebrew in BoA because of JS knowledge of Hebrew (reflected in his translation) or from an ancient scribe? “Not a 1-for-1 unsullied Ur-text.” 3. JS use of Elohim in plural in BoA couldn’t come from his Hebrew tutor Seixas. JS’s knowledge and language influenced the nature of the BoA text.

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Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci: Reviewed and Recommended

Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read: lucidly edited and vividly written, it balances any and all aspects of such a work perfectly. I’ve been sharing excerpts from it with all of my students, and now we all eagerly await the much-ballyhooed film version starring Leonardo Dicaprio.

Besides the extremely riveting writing, the book has 150 full color illustrations and thick, heavy, glossy paper. I was wondering how such a luxurious volume could have a cover price of only $35, but found the answer as I progressed through the book–the publisher skimped on the binding, and pages started coming out in big chunks, as seen below. Deeply sad.

Other than that, every page was pure joy.

Some of my favorite passages follow:


It would have been worth an extra twenty bucks to have better binding!


On his obsession with observation


On dissecting eyeballs



On a historical meeting of three major figures


A sobering lesson for our own lives as well, I hope–Isaacson does this plenty of times


I also enjoy when Isaacson interrupts his narrative to ask readers to pause and ponder what’s going on


On the Mona Lisa


“He enjoyed the challenge of conception more than the chore of completion.” Great line.


The moral of the story

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October 2018 General Conference Notes


President Nelson

Church supports the family, not the other way around–we need a home-centered church. “We are each responsible for our individual spiritual growth.”


Elder Cook–2 hour block

60 min sacrament meeting. SS on 1st and 3rd Sunday, priesthood and women’s meetings on 2nd and 4th. Home-centered, church-supported balance. Deepen conversion! More time to study the gospel at home! Gospel study at home will be significantly enhanced! New SS classes will support home study course. RMN wants us to “walk the covenant path.” Honor the Sabbath day and the sacrament (emphasized for last three years now). New “Come Follow Me” program helped people move from reading scriptures to *studying* them. The 12 and FP prayed about all this in the temple.


M. Joseph Brough (YM 2nd)–Enduring Hard Things

Sometimes we have to face hard things. Asking “why?” never takes away the hard thing. Examples. NAM: “I have given you leukemia that you might teach with authority” (check the wording on this). Forgive others who have hurt us, and turn ourselves over to HF. Great story of forgiveness. Then an even better story of his missionary daughter! “We can always rejoice when we keep the commandments.” Testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.


Steven R. Bangerter (70)–Gospel-centered Family Traditions

Infuse children with strength to face challenges of life. (Great illustration of stones here!) Jesus Christ is our precious corner stone. Advice on family traditions. Parental interviews. Consistent, wholesome family traditions that include prayer, church meetings, etc. will bless our children. Helaman 5:12. Proverbs on training children. Are we exercising faith in the Lord’s command to teach our children? (check wording of this one)

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40 For 40 Progress Report 11/12

School started in the middle of August here in Clark County, so September represented most of the year so far–a heinously busy time when I’m swamped by learning hundreds of new names and trying to establish a solid foundation for the rest of the year. I often get sick near the start of a school year, and this year was no different–I’ve had bronchitis for a few weeks now (though I’m getting much better).

This is all to explain (though not excuse) my relative lack of progress in the last month. Despite how far I am into most of the remaining goals, I only finished two since last time.

That leaves me with seven to go, and while I probably could push through and finish, I’m not sure I want to. Doing so would be stressful, and while these activities have been very valuable to me, cramming so much into the last month seems arbitrary, if not destructive. I don’t want to punish myself, or come to hate these things. I’ll gladly give myself an extension, just as I’ve felt free to modify goals as the year has gone on.

So I only expect to finish a few more, and do the rest maybe by the end of the year. And I’m happy with that. And isn’t that what matters here?

Here’s the two I finished in September:

REVISED: Wrestle or play chess with my kids 40 times. I revised this from just wrestling to adding another activity that we could bond over and which would be good for the kids, largely because wrestling in the hot summer is such a drag. I taught two of my daughters to play, though neither of them loves it like my two sons at home do–we all still play frequently, and I usually lose now (and I’m really trying to win!). This has been extremely rewarding all around.

REVISED: Do push ups for 40 straight days. Originally this said “40 push ups in a set,” which was odd–it didn’t match the ethos of most other goals. I changed it to this much more rational version (besides, I could never get further than the low 30’s in a single set!). My fitness habits tend to rotate back and forth between running and weights–mostly depending on what’s injured when–but because of my running goal for this project, I’ve ignored weights for months. This goal didn’t help as much as I’d hoped it would–after 40 days of (often lackluster) push up sets, the only real difference is that I got slightly better at doing push ups. *sigh* Back to the gym…

40 Haydn Symphonies

I used the top 40 entries in this ranking of all 104 Haydn symphonies, from ClassicFM. Oddly, the one that’s likely my very favorite, No. 45 (“the Farewell”) wasn’t on this list at all.

40. Symphony No. 91
Vivacious–alternately pastoral and balletic; middle movements reminded me of Beethoven’s symphony 6–not very similar, but in the same genre. Ebulliently positive! Grade: B (7/16)

39. Symphony No. 27
Even more energetic than the last one, this little symphony is downright assertive–an in-your-face slice of life adventure that clearly, cleanly illustrates the basic narrative pattern, including a sweet daydream center and a rousing, victorious finale. Simple, but not insubstantial. Grade: B- (7/16)

38. Symphony No. 86
I enjoyed the sprightly, peppy final movement, but even that felt…uninspired. A good listen, but nothing special. Grade: C+ (7/17)

37. Symphony No. 100 (‘Military’)
The ClassicFM reviewer said, “If you played the ‘Military’ as you were going into battle, you’d be more likely to ponder the true meaning of combat, the myriad social and emotional implications for those who partake, the poetry you might write as a result.” Way wrong. The 2nd movement especially is thoroughly martial in spirit, and the whole work is aggressive (but, being Haydn, never quite violent). A solid and rousing piece! Grade: B (7/17)

36. Symphony No. 53 (‘L’imepriale’)
The ClassicFM reviewer called this Haydn’s “most overtly stately symphony. You can pretty much march around the room in a wig to this one for the duration.” I think that’s too limited, too narrow. Only the very beginning and much of the central episodes sound like that to me. I also hear the same dreaming gestation at the core, as well as the bubbling triumph so typical of his final movements–this symphony, as usual, is a hearty slice of joie de vivre. Grade: B (7/17)

35. Symphony No. 14
My reaction here surely shows my illiterate ignorance of music. I didn’t identify the progressive genius in the final movement extolled by the ClassicFM reviewer as well as on the Wikipedia entry for this work. I found this whole piece simplistic, predictable…and often dull. Grade: D (7/17)

34. Symphony No. 99
What a huge difference going from early in his career with the last entry to late in his career with this one! THIS is a masculine symphony, full of controlled strength, and a joyous celebration of it. Great stuff! Grade: A (7/18)

33. Symphony No. 82 (‘The Bear’)
The reviewer’s comments about the manliness of this piece are spot on. I listened to the “Composers by Numbers” version on YouTube at first, and found it pretty blah, but then I tried the live one linked above, and liked it much better. I love watching an orchestra play. The orchestra is one of history’s greatest inventions. Grade: B+ (7/21)

32. Symphony No. 61
The reviewers called this one “bracing,” and I think that’s a good fit, if too stuffy. It’s more like “vivacious.” This is another one full of joie de vivre, bookended by movements so sharp they almost sting. Grade: B+ (7/30)

31. Symphony No. 79
There must be more going on here than my untrained ear picked up on. This one seemed decent and fine–bland, backhanded compliments. The general tone came across as pastoral, and I always enjoy that. Still, nothing here was especially surprising or pleasing. I liked it, but didn’t love it. Maybe if I got to know it better… Grade: B (7/30)

30. Symphony No. 90
Now THIS is a masterpiece! I can’t believe it’s only #30 on the reviewer’s list. I love how perfectly in thematic harmony the slow movements are with the faster ones. And the series of false “Return of the King” endings are a bold joke. Finally, the music itself is simply so superior here–this is quite a dazzling feast of audio excellence. Grade: A+ (7/30) Continue reading

40 For 40 Progress Report 10/12

I finished five more goals in the last month. I now have two months left to do the final nine. All of them have progress made–most of them are mostly done–and I feel good about completing all 40 before November 2.

27. REVISED: Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day for 40 days. This may well be the hardest one so far, and I gave myself far more leeway than usual. On an average day, I was really only getting about three servings, but I was doing my best and decided it was good enough. I felt like I was okay to check this one off because I resolved to keep working on it daily, and here I am a month later, still getting as many fruits and veggies as I can each day. Good habits are what I’m shooting for with most of these, anyway. It makes a big difference.

28. No sugary treats for 40 days. Following the lesson I’ve learned that abstinence goals work better in conjunction with replacement goals, I did this one at the same time as the one above about plant food. Much easier than I thought it would be! …perhaps because I let myself have soda as a cheat, and I greatly increased my salt intake. Still. This is surely the only time in my adult life I’ve gone a month without chocolate. Now, I can moderate my diet with much more awareness than I had before.

29. Eat at 40 new places. This is was such a great goal! I discovered so many fantastic new taco places, and have actually bonded with several new students this year by talking about it. I started by wanting to branch out into new foods, but I discovered that there was a whole deeper level of Mexican food that I had never tried. This project was delicious. What a great idea. I’ve posted updates a few times, but I’ll share the rest of the notes soon.

30. Watch 40 great films with my children. I started this one with an eye towards what I had done with my older children–Citizen Kane and such–but mostly I ended up showing them better stuff in areas they liked, just a little more mature than what they were already watching. It was a great start to sharing my passion for film. I originally understood this goal as meaning “grown up classics, not silly kid stuff,” but several of the films we watched were children’s classics, and it was time well spent. I think each kid found some quality new stuff for us to chew on. So, mission accomplished.

31. Listen to 40 works by Haydn. I decided to listen to the top 40 entries on a ranking of his symphonies, and to listen to each one twice. I’ll post the list with notes tomorrow. It was a great, deep experience with music. Honestly, I feel a bit wiped out after it. That was a lot of masterpieces to cram in one right after another. But, hey, #yolo, right?


Sacrament Talk: Real Discipleship

A couple of months ago, I spoke in church on the assigned topic of “real discipleship.” Below is a script I wrote out for it.


My hope for this talk, and for any meeting or class we ever have, is for all of us to get two main things: to be empowered through learning the gospel to live in ways that will bring us closer to God, and to be encouraged to do that in a way that will make us happy in everyday life. As I prepared this talk, I prayed to write a message that would help do that for all of us. That’s what I want out of this talk, and I hope that sounds good to everybody, so let’s get started.

But first, yesterday I had an idea. If any of the youth in the ward have tuned me out, listen up, this is for you. With your parents’ permission, if anyone under 18 wants to keep track of the scriptures and apostles I mention today, and get in touch with me later to talk about it, I’ll bring you a treat or snack of your choice–again, with your parents’ permission. So, Aiden, pay attention, son. You have your dad’s permission.

I’ve been asked to speak about discipleship today, and that’s a huge topic, but it also cuts right to the center of how we live our lives. When the bishop asked me speak, the phrase he used was “true” discipleship. I guess that’s meant to be the opposite of a false discipleship, and that reminds me of a General Conference three years ago, when Elder D. Todd Christofferson mentioned a great German leader from another church named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was famous for using the terms “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has….It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

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The Poetry of Donald Hall

I wrote recently of a goal to read a new poem every day for 40 days, and how the best thing I got out of it was discovering the work of Donald Hall, who had just passed away. I can’t recommend his Selected Poems highly enough. Two items will have to suffice here. First, the opening of “The Stump.”


Second, here’s Hall briefly introducing a great work called “Names of Horses,” which he then reads. On YouTube, the text of the poem is in the description.

This is earthy, elemental, full bodied stuff, a meditation on the great details of basic life, appreciated fully. It’s not all nature and tools, though–his book also includes plenty of domestic and family life, as well as other aspects of existence. His ideas are open, and his mind is strong.

Another piece in his Selected Poems ends with the lines, “I will live in a steady joy. I will exult in the ecstasy of my concealment.” I want to read much more of his work.

40 For 40 Progress Report 9/12

In the last month, I’ve finished 6 more of my goals, bringing the total to 26. That leaves the final three months of being 40 to do the remaining 14. I actually feel pretty good about it–I have significant progress and/or a plan for each of those. Here’s what I completed in July:

21. Listen to 40 blues classics. Posted about this here.

22. Send 40 encouraging cards. I sent cards to 40 sick kids and their families through Sunshine Snail Mail, a great group with a simple idea–sick kids love getting cute stuff in the mail. Most of the cards I sent were of a funny off-brand variety: few regular birthday cards and such; mostly “happy 45th anniversary” and “happy father’s day, grandpa!” cards, just at random. I also sent some Christmas cards in July. That oughta make them smile, or at least take their mind off things.

23. REVISED: Read a poem every day for 40 days. I altered this from the original about *writing* 40 poems, because that goal just didn’t make me happy–I didn’t see what I would get out if it. It felt like an arbitrary chore. The idea for this one made me smile, and I *did* get something wonderful out of it: I discovered the amazing Donald Hall. More details here.

24. Study 40 paintings. I read three art books this summer–Thomas Cole, The Annotated Mona Lisa, and Art Explained–each of which could have technically counted for this. After the third, I felt like I had learned enough about specific works to check this off. Art history is really interesting.

25. Read 40 great books. The list is in this post here. I notice I’m reading more non-fiction than usual this year.

26. Take 40 baths. I love a good relaxing soak, but I never feel like I get enough time for it, thus this goal. Unfortunately, it sometimes felt like a chore, also, just forcing myself to do this, but fortunately, it was still really refreshing. Probably not necessary to try to do this so often, but definitely don’t regret trying to rest more.

The Nora Ephron Writing Rant

I’ve created an electronic version of one of my favorite lectures: the revision lesson based on sarcastically destroying a Nora Ephron essay. Former students, get ready for a quality stroll down amnesia lane!