Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Employment Update(s)

My wife and I got married in April 2001. Shortly thereafter, she was hired to teach summer school at an area high school. By the end of that summer, I had been promoted to an improved position, so when the high school didn't have room to keep her in the fall, we were fine with that.

A few weeks ago, my wife began a job at our city library. Yesterday, I started a new term teaching. So for the first time in nearly 19 years, we are both working now. But now we have four kids.

If I was a good blogger, there'd be a point to this story.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Today's Test of My Wokeness

I was in the post office today. I said, "I'd like to buy some stamps." The clerk went to a special folder and pulled out a sheet of Gwen Ifill stamps. "Do you know who this is?" he asked.

"Uh, yeah, she was a news lady."

"Yeah! Good job!"

"She did presidential debates."

"Yeah! I ask everybody who comes in. I didn't know who she was when we got them; I had to go look her up."

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Complete History of My Life as a Runner

The first time I ever ran for sport and/or leisure, I was in fifth grade. My brother was a distance runner in junior high, and had just graduated. Somehow, my parents and the junior-high coach came to an agreement to pull me out of elementary school for junior-high running events. I do not remember being consulted. I guess I went along because running two miles was better than an hour of fifth grade.

I kept running since then, probably because running is the only form of solitary exercise that doesn't involve a membership fee and doesn't make you look insane when you do it in public. I ran in junior high and high school for my school teams. I ran for fitness for years afterwards. I have completed a half-marathon and two marathons. All without really being a big fan of running.

Tuesday morning, I went for a run. I got about four houses away and tripped on an uneven section of sidewalk. I had my phone in my left hand, so I rolled onto the outside of that arm instead of bracing with my palm. I got some road rash and decided to return home instead of bleed all over myself for the rest of my run.

Is this my last time ever running? I've never been a giant fan of it, and maybe this is the result of failing reflexes as I age. Maybe I should just be an old guy who walks now.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

This Blog Is Now a Half-Assed Food Blog

My wife began a job this week. This is the first time in over 18 years that she has worked outside our home. And so I'm assuming some housekeeping duties that had previously been her purview. And that is how I've come to cook dinner a few times this week.

SATURDAY: home-made pizza. My wife made the dough the night before and refrigerated it. She told me lots of things--too many things, it turned out. Some of the information was not received. Like that there were two bowls of pizza dough, or that there were two kinds of cheese, only one of which was for pizzas. Anyway, in a loaves-and-fishes-like miracle, I fed all of us on half the pizza we were supposed to eat, thereby allowing us to have some more home-made pizza just a few days later! And when I sent a kid to get the cheese, he came back with the cheese that was supposed to be for tacos, thereby allowing us to have a giant bag of pizza cheese for later! Sadly, my wife didn't see these success stories as success stories, and instead she encouraged me to listen better. I encouraged her to be more selective in the information she shares so it's easier to retain the important bits.

"How was the actual pizza?" Extremely edible. Although I had to bake it for about twice as long as called for, because the middle of the crust stayed doughy for a long time. But--good news!--I figured all that out and fed us fully-cooked pizza instead of doughy pizza.

We had root beer, and I didn't know if it was for the pizza or for ice-cream floats later. I didn't want to ask out loud, because our one son would insist we have it for dinner, even if that wasn't its intended use. My oldest son has expressed a slight interest in learning French, and since it's the only thing he's even slightly interested in, I've encouraged that, and I've studied some along with him. I thought this would be a perfect chance to use our nascent French skills. So I said to him, "La bière de les arbres..." and I gestured at the ground, to signify the bottom part of said trees. He said, "I don't know what you're saying. But I think I know. I think it's for dinner." So we had it with dinner. (It turned out this was some of the information I had not retained.)

TUESDAY: curried chickpea salad in pitas, and zucchini fritters. Smashing success! "How so?" I found and used all the ingredients, and the entire thing was edible. I had my son Google "grated zucchini" to see if we should peel it first, because both ways sounded right, but all the pictures of grated zucchini still had the peels on, so I left them on.

What's next on my plan of kitchen conquest? I don't know. I'm not responsible for dinner again until next week.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Is It Spiritual or Is It Temporal? Yes

With this year's Come, Follow Me curriculum coming from the Book of Mormon, I've spent the past few weeks reading some in the first two books of Nephi. I was struck again with the times Laman and Lemuel want to know if something should be taken spiritually or temporally, and how Nephi's answer is always "both."

In response to Nephi's interpretation of Lehi's dream, they ask, "Doth this thing mean the torment of the body in the days of probation, or doth it mean the final state of the soul after the death of the temporal body, or doth it speak of the things which are temporal?" (1 Ne. 15:31), to which Nephi replies "it was a representation of things both temporal and spiritual" (1 Ne. 15:32). In response to Nephi's reading Isaiah 48 and 49 to them, they ask, "What meaneth these things which ye have read? Behold, are they to be understood according to things which are spiritual, which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh?" (1 Ne. 22:1), to which Nephi replies "the things of which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual" (1 Ne. 22:3).

In the past, I have thought of this as related to the idea of the gathering of Israel; lots of church members like to think of the gathering in figurative terms only, so they don't have to think about a literal eschatology. But this past week, I began reading An Other Testament by Joseph M. Spencer, and I finished reading Temple and Cosmos by Hugh Nibley. And it got me wondering if Laman and Lemuel's false dichotomy couldn't explain some of the current problems with the Maxwell Institute.

In an essay entitled "The Terrible Questions," Nibley writes of the tendency of the early Doctors of the Church to assume something is figurative if its being literal would have been uncomfortable.

It becomes all allegory: "If one resorts to that easy, if self-contradictory, expedient of denying that the manifold of finite things has any existence, all problems disappear at a stroke" [Lovejoy, A.O. The Great Chain of Being, 92]. In other words, just say it is spiritual, and you have explained everything. [p. 359]
I read this from Nibley the same day that I read the following from Spencer.
I presuppose the Book of Mormon's historicity, but I do not much care about it. [...] By my reading, the Book of Mormon both implicitly and explicitly contests modern secular notions of history, such that it does not make much sense to demand that it be defensible in secular historical terms. [pp. ix-x]
It is this tendency to yield to every pronouncement of current scholarship, I believe, that is so infuriating to the critics of the Maxwell Institute (among whom, it could be argued, is Jeffrey R. Holland). It isn't just inspired fiction, and the refusal to "care" about the question reminds me of Laman and Lemuel, asking if we have to take these things for real or if we can just, you know, bracket some truth claims.

Monday, January 27, 2020

A Simple Theory of the Brother of Jared's Namelessness

There are a few different explanations out there for why Moroni never tells us the name of the Brother of Jared. But in my reading of Ether this week, I wondered if there might be an obvious one we've been overlooking: artistic choice.

At the beginning of Ether, a man named Jared has a relative who reaches the heights of personal spiritual experiences. And in the middle of Ether, a man named Jared has a relative who reaches the depths of personal satanic behavior. Is it possible that the choice to use the name the "brother of Jared" was done to contrast with the later "daughter of Jared"?

I've recently begun reading Joseph Spencer's An Other Testament (so far, not a fan), and he makes a big deal about the stylistic choices made by the Book of Mormon authors. Perhaps this is an example of another one.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Mid January Reading Notes

I recently read The Lost 116 Pages by Don Bradley. In it, Bradley makes a very convincing argument that the lost portion of the Book of Mormon manuscript would be closer to 300 pages of content, and the 116 figure comes from counting the manuscript pages that replaced it. He also attempts, through textual analysis and recovery of fragments shared by those who knew the original content, to summarize the material the lost manuscript might have contained.

I found the book very enjoyable and interesting. First, I'll summarize some factual things I learned, then I'll share the more-interesting of Bradley's surmises. Finally, I'll share what I think about the Words of Mormon/Mosiah transition.

Facts I Didn't Know:

  • Moroni told Joseph to marry Emma before his 1827 interview
  • Plates received on Rosh Hashanah, "secreted them in a hollow tree for 'about ten days'" (p. 12) would be Yom Kippur, Joseph saw Martin Harris in the interpreters on Feast of Tabernacles, possibly started translating on Passover in 1828
  • In addition to Emma, other scribes included Emma's brothers Alva and Reuben, and Joseph's brother Samuel
  • copyrighting the book "was aimed at stopping the conspirators from publishing the stolen manuscript" (p. 64)
  • D&C 10:28 (lying because it's supposed another lied) describes thoughts of Joseph's former money-digger colleagues; "Honor among money diggers, it seems, dictated that anything drawn from the ground by one member of a digging group belonged to all" (p. 11)
  • Martin's brother Emer said Martin scribed for nearly 200 pages
  • Zedekiah's reign began in political crisis, and Lehi's testimony of a martyred Savior instead of a political deliverer could explain the murderous response
  • The Liahona was three inches in diameter, with one spindle that pointed where to go and another that pointed at a picture of what was to be found there

Interesting Surmises

  • Likely that Lehi's departure was at Passover
  • Likely that Brass Plates and Sword of Laban were relics of Joseph of Egypt
  • Likely Lehi found the Liahona outside a tabernacle he had made
  • Likely Sword of Laban was Joshua's sword used in the Conquest
  • "Mosiah1 was not the heir of Nephi's dynasty" (p. 245)
  • Likely Mulek was hidden from Zedekiah, not from Babylonians

Words of Mormon/Mosiah Transition

Some people (Lyon and Minson 2012, p. 131) think Mormon's words end with Verse 11, and the rest of Words of Mormon is actually retained translation of Mosiah. Some people (Gardner 2013, p. 107) think everything from Verse 12 through 18 is Joseph Smith's summary of missing linking material. Some people think maybe just the phrase "And now, concerning this king Benjamin" is Joseph's addition. I am sympathetic to the idea that the first two chapters of Mosiah were lost with the original manuscript. Oliver Cowdery originally labeled Chapter I as Chapter III, and while there is reason to think it's because he thought it was still part of the Book of Omni, Bradley points out that Mosiah is the only book from Mormon's abridgement that doesn't have an introductory explanation. Mormon named books after the first writer, not the principle writer, and Mosiah begins with King Benjamin, not his father or his son. While the original chapters were much longer, they also made divisions at thematic breaks (Spencer 2016, pp. xiv-xv), so it is possible that the theme of Chapter I was King Mosiah1 and the theme of Chapter II was King Benjamin. However, as Bradley argues, the life and times of Mosiah1 were too important for Mormon to cover it all in one chapter. So I think what's more likely is that there was a Book of Mosiah, which detailed his exodus and merger with the people of Zarahemla, and Bradley is correct in thinking our current Book of Mosiah was, along with its two missing chapters, more likely the Book of Benjamin. I think all of Words of Mormon is, well, the words of Mormon, and the reason Mormon would have written a bridge that duplicated some of his own abridgment work is that he didn't know the point at which the narrative would pick up. Omni overlaps some with Words of Mormon, and Words of Mormon overlaps some with Mosiah 1:1, but that doesn't necessarily indicate that Mormon didn't write both Words of Mormon and the first however-many chapters of Mosiah.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Normal Distribution of Artistic Taste

I spend a lot of time thinking about the television series Alias, which ran on ABC from 2001 to 2006. Over the course of its five-season run, the show had about a dozen reboots. The original show was presented as "Sydney is going to be fighting to bring down SD6 for the rest of the show" (in fact, Vaughn says in the pilot that it would take "years" to accomplish), and then just over a year later, in the Super-Bowl lead-out episode, they were, like, "Screw it, Sydney beat SD6." Why? I imagine they weren't selling enough advertising.

Over and over again, this happened. In fact, at the end of one season, they were, like, "We've discovered that the real villain is some organization called 'The Shed,'" and then when they started the next season, they were, like, "Nah, The Shed wasn't a good idea. Never mind."

Anyway, I often wonder what the storyline would have been if advertising hadn't been an issue. If J.J.Abrams had been able to create an entire show, start to finish, and sell it as one block, so the decision to air the show was the decision to see the storyline through to the end. Does the Rambaldi stuff make more sense? Does Sloan stay bad? Does Irina Derevko come in? Sark? Evil Francie? Or even Evil Vaughn?

I'm pretty certain we wouldn't have the bit where Jack and Sydney talk about why buying a Prius made economic sense, and when Sydney and Vaughn need a strong truck and she yells out, "Vaughn, the F-150!" (I told you, I think about this a lot.)

I have been thinking about this again, in the context of another J.J. Abrams project, the three most-recent Star Wars movies. What's the storyline if Disney actually storyboards a three-movie arc? Is there a Snoke who just up and dies? Does Rose Tico say it was worth it to fail at a mission necessary for the survival of the Resistance because she got to ride some space horses through a fancy building? Does the kid at the end of 8 who uses the Force to be too lazy to pick up a broom do, like, ANYTHING else?

If we assume that artistic taste is normally distributed, with extreme tails of people who enjoy the Jackass movies and people who like Kurosawa films, and all the rest of us in between. The best art would be that which constantly pushed us towards the highbrow end of the distribution, improving humanity. Let's say that every bit of art can be rated between 0 and 100, and that the market it attracts are the people who would themselves rate within five points of the art. So anything more highbrow than the mean experiences less-than-maximum commercial success, because the small group of highbrow customers you pick up doesn't offset the lost lowbrow customers. So commercialized art will be middling, because that maximizes profit.

I'm sure this isn't a great insight that no one has ever had before. It just helped me understand why we should never expect great art to become a trend. Even when something new comes along and advances the state of humanity, the follow-ups will be dumbed-down versions of it, regressing to the mean.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Football Spot Technology

Long-time blog readers (such as there might be) will remember that I gave up on American football about 10 years ago. Back then, my kids were young enough that what they were interested in was really just a subset of what I was interested in. But now they're older, and they have their own interests. My third kid, Jerome Jerome the Metronome, is into American football, so now it's a thing that gets watched at my house again.

He and his older brother, Articulate Joe, both hate the process of spotting the ball. I agree that it's pretty ridiculous to bring out a chain that is EXACTLY 10 yards long when the ball is resting wherever some old dude thought he saw it last. This got me thinking about why football doesn't have a technological answer to the problem. Something like soccer goal-line technology.

My understanding of goal-line technology is that there is a sensor in the middle of the soccer ball, and when the sensor is beyond the line by the radius of the ball, it knows the entire ball is beyond the line and signals a goal. That works great for a spherical ball, but footballs are oblong. So any sensor in the middle of a football would need to know its orientation to the ground as well. So if the sensor is pointing at the line along the ball's long axis, it knows it has to be farther away from the goal-line because the pointy end sticks out more. But all that math is perfectly solvable; you tell me the vector of the football's main axis and I can tell you (theoretically, since I've forgotten most of my vector calculus class) the distance from the middle of the ball to a vertical plane tangent to the surface of the ball. Boom, no more touchdown reviews that end up wrong (like in the BYU-Hawaii bowl game last month). And this tech can also be used to spot the ball on EVERY PLAY. Imagine that running underneath the hash marks were a series of LED lights, and they were synced with the video feed (like how cricket reviews of leg-before-wicket are synced). All that's needed to know the EXACT spot of the ball is to mark on the video feed the moment the runner is judged to be down. The LED corresponding to the correct placement lights up, the referee places the ball there, and on we go.

Is that an expensive solution? Probably. This isn't for every Pop Warner field in the country. But it seems to me the NFL makes enough money to get this going in the 30 stadia they use.

Perfect touchdown reviews, and perfect spotting, is technologically possible. If the NFL isn't using it, it's because they don't care to get it right.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Early January Reading Notes

The first week of January, I read two papers. The first was "The Brass Plates Version of Genesis," by Noel B. Reynolds in Interpreter, Vol. 34 (2020). The second was "Economic Insecurity and the Causes of Populism, Reconsidered," by Yotam Margalit in Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Fall 2019). Here are a few notes I made while reading. "I don't care," you say? I know.

Reynolds makes two points that interested me. The first is, "David seems to play little or no role in the Book of Mormon understanding of the covenant between Israel and God" (p. 64). This struck me, I think, because I'm finishing my first-ever straight-through reading of the Old Testament, and I have been amazed by how much the book is about David. Both books of Samuel, both books of Kings, and both books of Chronicles are all David-centric, while David's ONLY mention in the Book of Mormon is a condemnation of his unapproved marriages. Whoever wrote the Old Testament was a MUCH bigger fan of David's than whoever wrote the Brass Plates. It would be interesting to contemplate why.

Secondly, Reynolds points out that Laman's criticisms of Nephi presented in 1 Ne. 16:38 are thematic allusions to the characterization of Satan presented in Moses 4:4. This is interesting because it makes Laman seem a little more reasonable when you understand that he has arguments, not just opposition. In fact, if Laman's arguments are scripturally based, it would indicate that Laman paid some attention to the contents of the scriptures. I've always wondered what type of reaction Laman would have to Nephi killing Laban; is one reason Laman and Lemuel are always plotting to kill Nephi because they think, "Holy cow, our kid brother KILLED A DUDE?! What WON'T he do?!"

The Margalit paper makes the point that minor changes in levels of political support can turn a loser into a winner, but those changes, while they have major results, probably have minor causes, too. So instead of looking at the election of Donald Trump as some bellwether of massive changes in public opinion, recognize that whatever "caused" Trump's election only produced a two- or three-percentage-point change in voters' choices.

Two interesting points Margalit makes are these. "[A]nti-immigration sentiments among natives center to a large degree on the social and cultural aspects. Where economic concerns do come into play, they rarely have to do with people's personal interests and mostly concern the way immigration affects society as a whole" (p. 163). So voters aren't populist because they care about the economy, but because they care about cultural cohesion. This seems to be directly opposed to Andrew Yang's argument about the economic changes that got Donald Trump elected. So would Trump voters prefer English classes for immigrants over job-protection programs with the same cost?

The second Margalit point: "Tabellini...finds that a populist-like political backlash was strongly and positively tied to the cultural distance between immigrants and natives. This occurred despite the fact that the economic impact of the migrants was neutral or positive" (p. 167). His reference is to a forthcoming paper by Marco Tabellini in Review of Economic Studies, entitled "Gifts of the Immigrants, Woes of the Natives: Lessons from the Age of Mass Migration." This was noteworthy to me because a lot of pro-immigration arguments, like Bryan Caplan's in his book with Zach Wienersmith, Open Borders, appeal to the economic benefits expected for natives. But it turns out natives don't care. You have to show natives that immigrants will assimilate. And, maybe it's just my perception, but I don't think immigrants assimilate more now than they did in the 1920s. My ancestors came here to become Americans, not for a larger paycheck. I don't think that's the attitude of many immigrants today.