Friday, May 31, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That My Family Should Partake (1974), 12-13:
If we unwisely push onto governments the management not only of our economy, but also the management of our children and our morals . . . the civil servants of the future may be neither civil nor servants!

The Obligation of Memory

In a thoughtful and thought-provoking interview the Chinese author, Yang Jisheng, talks about "the obligation of memory":
If a people cannot face their history, these people won't have a future. That was one of the purposes for me to write this book. I wrote a lot of hard facts, tragedies. I wanted people to learn a lesson, so we can be far away from the darkness, far away from tragedies, and won't repeat them.
Mr. Yang sounds much like another historian, Moroni:
 Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been. (Mormon 9:31)
Being wise, however, entails actually learning about the past and the triumphs and mistakes of the past.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Maxwell Institute Announcement

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute announced today that Brian M. Hauglid has been appointed as the director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. You can learn about him here. For his contributions to Book of Mormon scholarship, see here, here, and here.

Brian has been a long-time collaborator. I wish him well.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 11:
Once the gospel grove sheltered by tall and stalwart redwoods has been abandoned, where will society seek shelter from the storms? In the sagebrush? In the reeds of rationalization? Hypocrisy at least is an attempt to hide shame, but today the very flaunting of certain behavior indicates that our deterioration is reaching some advanced stages. Boldness is not always courage, and when some things come out of the closet, they bring the darkness with them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
We cannot shrink from the fact of the Church’s ecclesiastical exclusivity merely because this makes us uncomfortable with nonmembers, for our special mission is not a measure of the worth of others, but really a measure of our vital and demanding role in relating to and serving all others.

Onchsheshonqy 7/19

A vulgar man who puffs up his character increases his stench (P. Onch 7/19)
 The expression rendered here as "vulgar man," rmṯ ḫm, has been translated as "little man" (Glanville) or "small man" (Lichtheim). My interpretation is based on the dialogue that Setne and Tabubu have in P. Setne I 5/3-10 where Tabubu uses the same expression, rmṯ ḫm, in her reply to Setne's offer of 10 gold pieces to sleep with her:
I am pure; I am not a vulgar person (rmṯ ḫm). (P. Setne I 5/8-9).
Tabubu repeats this phrase several times (P. Setne 5/19, 23, 25). She refuses to have sex with Setne in the street (P. Setne I 5/10) or anywhere until he (P. Setne I 5/19-20) and his family (P. Setne I 5/23-24) have all signed the marriage contract. This sets up a contrast between the actions of a pure person, and those of a vulgar person.

The expression translated "puffs up" means to increase, make big, but the expression "big" refers not just to size but with people it means to be wealthy, important. The leading men in society were called the "big men."

The term translated "stench" is a term of opprobrium with a long history, going back nearly two millennia before Onchsheshonqy.

Onchsheshonqy's point is that increasing the wealth or power of a vulgar person simply increases the power of his vulgarity. It does not improve his character. Wealth and status do not change what we are. An increase in fame, money, or power usually do not magnify or even improve our good qualities, they tend to magnify our bad qualities. Most mortals do not handle power well and usually the best way to bring our someone's bad qualities is to increase their power or wealth or popularity.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What a Woman

The story of Judith shows a very different take on the ideal woman from the modern woman.

The key parts are in the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of Judith. In the twelfth chapter Judith dresses provocatively and seduces Holofernes. He gets drunk and passes out, apparently not noticing that she was not drinking. Then in the thirteenth chapter, Judith takes Holofernes own sword and cuts off his head. She then puts it inside a sack and carries it back to her besieged city where it is hung from the wall. Holofernes' men discover him dead and decapitated and the siege is lifted.

Judith is portrayed as a pious woman. But her piety does not fit well with most modern notions of a pious woman (she is much more in the model of Jael in the book of Judges), although she does fit the modern movie heroine.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
We possess some absolute truths that have, where we have applied them, placed us on the “strait and narrow way,” and we are further told that there is “none other way” for salvation. All of this suggests an ecclesiastical exclusivity that seems to embarrass some in the Church, for implied is not just an institutional exclusivity, but also a conceptual superiority with regard to salvational things.

Monday, May 27, 2013

In Memory of the Fallen

Memorial Day was originally started to remember and honor the casualties of war. There are, however, other kinds of casualties and I would like to honor some of them today. So far as I know they are all still alive, and I am grateful to have been associated with them:

Steve Booras
In 2003 Steve and I spent three weeks working together in Ireland. He had a good photographic eye, a good knowledge of the equipment, and a good way with people. He was always gracious. One could always count on Steve to quietly and efficiently do whatever he was asked. He would always deflect the credit; in Ireland he acted as though he was my assistant, though it was really the other way around.

Alison Coutts
Alison is a superb editor and an even better administrator. She could always be relied upon for an honest and candid opinion. She was fiercely defensive of those who worked under her. She could also get things done; she would pick up the slack and put in extra time, doing whatever menial task was necessary (indexing, typesetting, copy editing, running errands) to get the project done on time. She was a real pleasure to work with.

Dan Peterson
Witty, polished, and prolific, Dan Peterson has been a close friend of mine for over a quarter of a century. I cannot think of anyone who has worked harder on the projects he cared about. He has wide interests and is effective at fitting details into the big picture. He takes time to listen to others and is willing to consider and think through even unusual ideas. He is unfailingly articulate and genuinely charitable.

George Mitton
George is gentle and polished. He has an immense capacity to wade through nonsense knowing full well that it is nonsense. Unfailingly kind, he is genuinely concerned about and interested in what others are up to. He is also very wise about how to approach sensitive topics. I have never regretted following his advice.

Greg Smith
Greg reminds me in many ways of the great Thomas Young. Like Young he is a physician, and like Young his interests and contributions stretch beyond medicine. He has a great capacity for work. He has read whatever I sent him and responded quickly and thoughtfully. He also has a great capacity for compassion which is good in both a physician and a person.

Robert White
I had only a few encounters with Robert White, but it is hard not to be impressed. The author of at least four standard textbooks, he has an impressive list of academic credentials. Although he is a kind an gracious person, since he is also a Queen's Council, and a formidable opponent, I would dread being on the other side of an argument with him.

Lou Midgley
Another individual I would rather not argue with, Lou is a tenacious researcher who considers all sorts of angles before coming to a conclusion. He has also seen a great deal and dealt with copious amounts of nonsense over the years. Understandably, he has little patience for certain types of nonsense. He is surprisingly generous with his time. He is good for a two or three hour conversation if you bring up one of his favorite hobbies.

Dan McKinlay
For a number of years, Dan and I shared the cubicles in a trailer. There was essentially no privacy there. It was Dan's task to handle the many queries that came in. He spent a great deal of his time on the phone dealing with them. He invariably was well-informed, courteous and kind. In his spare time, Dan found the time to be the sixth most productive researcher at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.

Paula Hicken
Paula was a quiet, efficient editor. She effectively did the many thankless tasks placed on her. If things were delayed, it was usually because someone up the line was not doing their work on time. She patiently dealt with a number of haughty authors and demanding superiors.

Paul Hoskisson
I have known Paul for at least a quarter of a century. He is surprisingly optimistic even when things give no reason for optimism. He plows ahead with projects that seem interminable and makes progress. He is a good editor who gives useful critiques and guides recalcitrant authors along constantly improving the essays on which he works. He is quietly productive. Having been a former student I appreciate him as a colleague.

I pay tribute to these great individuals for the work that they have done and the influence they have been in my life.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From For the Power is in Them (1970), 59:
We cannot, for instance, limit our chances to do good to those formal calls to action that come from the Church and be true to the spirit of the 58th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 26-29. The statement of the First Presidency of September 7, 1968, is an added reminder of the obligations we have to enrich and to shape our contemporary environment. We can brood because our favorite civic or political issue meets with silence on the part of some in the Church, or we can do our part individually.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Covenanting with the Word

Targum specialists will point out that many of the Targums avoid any anthropomorphisms that are there in the Hebrew texts. Thus, while the Hebrew text might talk of God having hands or feet or other attributes that humans do, the Targum will phrase it so that these are missing. This extends to interpersonal relations, such as covenants. Two strategies that the Targums use are substituting the expressions "the word of God" and "the presence of God" for "God".

This usage, which was present in the first century, has an influence on Christianity through the Gospel of John.

Some passages that illustrate this tendency, which leads to what appears in John, come from the accounts in Genesis:
And the Lord said: This is the sign of the covenant which I bring between my Word and between you and between every living soul with you forever and ever (Genesis 9:12 Targum Onkelos)
And I will set up my covenant between my Word, and between you and between your sons after you (Genesis 17:7 Targum Onkelos).
 One can see how such paraphrases feed into the Christian notions that the Word was God and that the covenants that Abraham made were with the Word, which the Christians interpreted as Jesus. For Aramaic speaking Jews of the land of Israel, the Christian interpretation would have corresponded with what they learned in the synagogue. The only question was whether they viewed Jesus as the Word of God or not.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From For the Power is In Them . . . (1970), 56-57:
In the brief stipulation of virtues to be possessed of men to be elected to public office it is difficult to improve on the relevance of the scriptures which counsel us to seek out individuals who are "wise," "good," and "honest." Too often we settle for one or two of these virtues only to be disappointed by acts which arise from the absence of one of the virtues in this triad. Each virtue is crucial, as history attests.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Strange Cut

Students of the Hebrew Bible are familiar with the fact that the expression for making a covenant is "to cut a covenant." Presumably this is because there was a sacrifice associated with the covenant and the death of the sacrificial animal was symbolic of the penalty that would be inflicted on a party that broke the covenant.

Targum Onkelos to Genesis 17:4, however, takes the expression "to cut a covenant" a bit farther than usual:
I will circumcise my covenant with you and you will be a father of many nations.
Genesis 17, of course, is the introduction of the covenant of circumcision, but this passage takes the expression a little further than we are used to.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977):
No attacks on the Church will be more bitter or more persistent than those made in the Salt Lake Valley. No taunts will be more shrill than those of apostates and excommunicants. In that valley and in the state of Utah, Church members will be accused of the "crime" of being a majority! Some clever defectors will imitate their model, Satan, and will try to take others over the side with them. Elsewhere, you will encounter the same sort of snobbery that gave rise to "can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Snapshot of Data Recalls What is Missing

This article has an interesting map of where the world's atheists live. Two things stand out about the map. The huge areas that are grey, meaning that they were not surveyed. The second is some historical perspective, which the article tries to supply. It would be very interesting to see maps showing answers to the question at different time periods in the past. Alas, for now, we have the same information for then as we do for Brazil now.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977):
The love of many will wax cold. Indifference, insensitivity, and cruelty will extend beyond obvious manifestations, such as abortion, to other things as well. Previous societies in deep decay and deterioration were characterized by the words past feeling, without order, and without mercy. (See Moroni 9:18.)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Some members among us have an unfortunate and exclusionary condescension toward others, while other members have a quiet certitude that causes them to assert their testimonies humbly because the Spirit has witnessed to them; they witness to others to maintain their integrity; they tell others the truth of salvational things “as they were, as they are, and as they shall become.” These two kinds of members read the same scriptures, but one disengages, Jonah-like, almost with delight, while the other will not leave his post in “Nineveh” so long as there are any souls to be saved. Probably the differing response is rooted in the differing capacity to love. The presence of absolute truth or apocalyptic insights in one who lacks the capacity to love is likely to produce some behavioral anomalies. Love leads us into—not away from—Nineveh: into the fray, just as Jesus was involved with mankind, for as G. K. Chesterton observed, He carried his five wounds in the front of the fray.

It Becometh Every Man that Hath Been Warned

Though I took a number of classes from Hugh Nibley, I never attended his gospel doctrine class. Hugh Nibley's gospel doctrine classes were legendary. All kinds of people would show up at his chapel just for his Sunday School class. They would fill the room and bring their tape recorders hanging on his every word. (I do not approve of that sort of thing. You attend the ward to which you are assigned, and you try to sustain your own teacher by attending to the extent of your ability, which is hard to do if you are in Primary.) I never had a reason to attend that ward and thus never had a reason to attend his Sunday School class. My brother did live in his ward for a time and so did other friends. I cannot remember where I heard this interpretation of his concerning the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants but I think it was from my parents who were visiting my brother.

The relevant scripture is Doctrine and Covenants 1:4-5:
4 And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.
5 And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.
Nibley pointed out that the scripture means that we are to serve as a voice of warning and the only thing stopping us is ourselves.

We usually are pretty effective at stopping ourselves. We might stumble because of the placing of our words (Ether 12:25). We might be worried because of the mocking and the pointing of fingers from the great and spacious building. We can come up with all sorts of excuses for not providing a warning voice.

Of all people, Jeremiah had plenty of reasons not to issue that voice of warning. He was mocked and imprisoned and physically abused and at one point was ready to give it up:
7 O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.
8 For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily.
9 Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay. (Jeremiah 20:7–10)
When we have the truth as a burning fire shut up in our bones, we cannot stay it, and none can stay us.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

One Virtue of Pessimism

I take some comfort that Elder Dallin H. Oaks described Elder Neal A. Maxwell as "something of a pessimistic worrier" (Bruce Hafen, A Disciple's Life, 377). There are certain virtues of pessimism. A pessimist can expect the worst and gratefully count blessings when things do not turn out as bad as expected. Sometimes things actually are as bad as they seem. In those cases the pessimist may actually be a realist. There are also times when things turn out even worse than the pessimist anticipated. In such cases the pessimist turns out to have been overly optimistic. But in many cases the pessimist can be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Wonderful Flood of Light (1990), 113:
The correct manner and motivation for reproof are indicated in Doctrine and Covenants 121:43. In practice, however, when we undertake to reprove we frequently are prompted not by the Holy Ghost but by ego.

On Forgiveness

A month or so ago Greg Smith had a very thoughtful post on forgiveness:
Even more insidious is the invocation of these doctrines [of forgiving the sinner] by the abuser or sinner. They urge the victim of their evil acts to “get over it,” “move on,” and so forth. Such efforts ring rather hollow—they represent nothing but the evil-doer’s desire to be absolved. The perpetrator does not want to be called to account (or, at the least, wants to do so once in a superficial way and be done with it). He or she certainly does not want to suffer the consequences of the sin—they do not want to be confronted with the on-going pain they have caused. They often hope to minimize what they have done, argue that it is “all in the past” and the relationship simply needs to “move on.” They avoid, in essence, the making of amends and providing restitution.

This is a cheat. Restitution is key to repentance, and the process is stalled until efforts are made. And, no restitution can really be contemplated or even begun until the sinner and victim have “counted the cost.” Victimizers are understandably keen to avoid this painful, often drawn-out process. It takes time, new “hidden” costs are forever appearing from serious sin, and the perpetrator finds to his dismay or distaste that his own discomfort goes on and on, just as the victim’s suffering does. And, it may be that true restitution would mean the loss of gains—in power, material resources, prestige, self-image—which prompted the original sin. True restitution means the loss of any ill-gotten gains and then some: small wonder that wrong-doers want to invoke forgiveness, because it means that all debts are settled. There is no need or expectation that we need even try to return to the status quo ante. To even bring the matter up is gauche, “unchristian.”

I agree with what he says and would like to add to his thoughts.

While God says that we need to forgive others, he does not specify a time period in which this must be done, nor does he say that we should specify a time period in which this should be accomplished. It seems to me that at a certain point in time, we will find our spiritual progress blocked if we do not forgive. It seems, however, both wicked and evil to demand, for example, an abuse victim to forgive her abuser while the abuse is on-going. Even once the abuse stops, it might take considerable time for the victim to reach the point of forgiveness.

While forgiveness can occur without the guilty party repenting, it seems pointless to expect the victim to forgive when the perpetrator has not repented. It seems especially wicked for the perpetrator to expect the victim to forgive the perpetrator for crimes the perpetrator has not repented of. Forgiveness is not a substitute for repentance.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Selfishness likewise causes us to be discourteous, disdainful, and self-centered while withholding from others needed goods, praise, and recognition as we selfishly pass them by and notice them not (see Morm. 8:39). Later on come rudeness, brusqueness, and the further flexing of elbows.

Fun With Logic Problems

In this article that came out on Thursday, BYU entrepreneurship professor Nathan Furr says about entrepreneurs:
The proof that you’ve nailed the problem is that people will give you their money.
This can be restated as a conditional sentence:
If you have solved the problem, then people will give you their money.
This sounds correct. The contrapostive of this statement has the exact same truth value:
If people will not give you their money, then you have not solved the problem.
While the inverse and the converse may indeed be true, their logical truth does not depend on the logical truth of the original statement, so I will not confuse the issue by going through them.

Now, lets suppose that you are running a business or organization and Nathan Furr's statement is not only true but true of your business. You have solved a problem and so people are giving you money. Let's say you change something in the business and people stop giving you money. If people will not give you their money, then you have not solved the problem. Whatever you were doing before must have been solving the problem. Whatever you changed must have made your product or service cease to solve a problem and so people have stopped giving you money.

But whoever said that business decisions were necessarily logical.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

But Men at Whiles are Sober

One of the more sobering passages for any Christian comes in the Sermon on the Mount:
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21–23)
In verse 22, Jesus notes that many, not just some, will find themselves at the last day thinking that all this time they had thought they were doing many wonderful works in the name of God and find out that Jesus does not recognize them or their works. All kinds of atrocities are committed in the name of piety: "whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." (John 16:2). A thoughtful Christian probably should be doing as the apostles did, becoming "exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26:22).

The passages immediately preceding and following this section from the Sermon on the Mount help to set it in context. The one before says:
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15–20)

Jesus tells his followers that there will be false prophets (and we should remember that the term for prophet in both Greek and Hebrew meant spokesman--a prophet is a spokesman for God) who will come to them. The term translated as ravening has alternate translations of presumptuous (if you are looking at Syriac) or rapacious, usurping (if you are looking at Greek). They can be recognized by their fruits, that is, their works. Are they productive, peaceable, good, or are they contemptible, clandestine, corrupt?

In the following section, Jesus says:
24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24–27)
In Matthew 7:21-23 and Matthew 7:24-27 the emphasis is on those who actually do the will of God. That will of God is announced by prophets, but not false ones.

Still a Christian ought to ponder, at least occasionally, that it takes more than claiming that one is a Christian to be recognized as one by Christ.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 108:
Lazy leaders will find it easy to rationalize too many times the possible gains in group effectiveness to be achieved by deliberate involvement.

The assertion that directive action by the leader saves time is not always borne out by the facts, especially when continuing compliance in spiritual things almost always involves building a commitment which will stand up under the pressure of time and circumstance.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Telling the Terrible Tale

Recently a colleague exasperatedly asked me why my blog covered such dreadful things all the time.

Well, forn spǫll fira means the ancient story of man. If it had been the forn gods spǫll, that is the ancient story of God, then it might be different. Men make a mess of things in ways that God does not. Men generally have not and do not treat their fellow mortals in a godly fashion. History reflects that. To contrast the way of God and the way of man, we actually have to look at both and see the differences; they are not hard to miss.

The fact that we repeat the same mistakes again and again show that we clearly have not learned from the past. One illustration of that is Paul Simon celebrating in not just one but two songs his ignorance. "Don't know much about history," he sang in one. "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all," he sand in the other. Granted Paul Simon is a bit dated, he was singing these things about the time the parents of today's children were born. Studies show that today's students are actually studying considerably less than they were when Paul Simon extolled the virtues of knowing nothing. History repeats itself, depressingly so.

But telling the ancient tale of man is actually telling a story. The narrator's art, or lack thereof, can make some difference, but there is the actual story itself. A first rate storyteller, J. R. R. Tolkien, put it this way:
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway. (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, chapter 3.)
What makes a story good to listen to and good to live in are usually not the same things.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Power is most safe with those, like Washington, who are not in love with it! A narcissist society, in which each person is busy looking out for number one, can build neither brotherhood nor community.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A.D. 328

A.D. 328 was the official consecratio of the new capital of Constantinople, the symbol of the new direction in which Constantine was taking the Roman empire. Constantine had planned it for some time, and construction had actually been proceeding for a couple of years. Now, it was official. Constantine rejected the old capital of Rome, and indeed, had always neglected it. Four years later, the bread distributions that had been a staple of Rome were transferred to Constantinople; the grain revenues that had supported Rome for so long now flowed in a different direction, just as the sources for that revenue began to dry up (quite literally, the canal system in the Fayyum was clogging up from neglect).

Indications of Constantine's new direction could be seen from a number of items.

In A.D. 311 Galerius issued an edict of toleration in the Eastern Roman Empire which stopped the active persecution of Christians. In A.D. 313 Constantine made Christianity legal. This is sometimes known as Constantine's edict of tolerance, but it turns out not to have been so tolerant. In 324, in the Egyptian city of Panopolis, Horion, son of Horion, applied for the familial post of prophet of the temple of Min. Constantine's government, however, rejected the application, and forced the whole family to relinquish their ancestral occupation (and the revenues) and find employment elsewhere. (The story is told in this book.) Christianity might be tolerated but the priesthood of Min would not be.

Actually, even Christianity would not be tolerated. Philosophical differences in the church of Alexandria caused a division in the Church. Constantine decided to settle the dispute, even though he was neither a philosopher nor a Christian, and did not really know anything about the subject. As a result of Constantine's meeting in A.D. 325, half of the Christians were condemned to persecution by their fellow Christians. The Christian world was also burdened with having to figure out and explain a poorly-thought-out and incoherent philosophical term.

Eusebius, a partisan of Constantine and his beneficiary, writes of Constantine in glowing terms, as though Constantine were the greatest thing to ever happen to Christianity, and had single-handedly ushered in the millennium. Alas, it did not prove to be such.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Mortal choices need not necessarily be wicked in order to do harm. Some choices are diversions more than they are transgressions. As a result of these diversions, the sins of omission mount up. And they constitute a real deprivation because of what we withhold from our fellow human beings. Perhaps it is unintentional, but without that first commandment, some things get omitted.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

An Academic Scandal Handled Correctly

While it is far too easy to find poorly handled academic scandals these days, it is actually a pleasure to see a major problem handled correctly. This report of a botched final exam at NYU created a big problem and was totally unfair to the students. The professor, Rick Pildes, however, handled the problem the best that he could, and serves a model of how to handle such a scandal. The report deserves to be read if not studied, but the solutions can be summarized:
  1. He acted immediately, within half an hour of the discovery of the mistake.

  2. He apologized and expressed his sympathy to the victims.

  3. He explained, as best as he could reconstruct, exactly how the problem occurred. He did not stonewall or dissemble.

  4. Even though he was not entirely at fault he took the blame and full responsibility for what happened.

  5. He assured the victims of a prompt solution and resolution even though he had to consult authorities and even if he had not worked it out yet.

  6. He apologized again to the victims.

  7. He worked out a reasonable solution and restitution that could be resolved within the week.

  8. He gave the victims reasonable options and a chance to make informed choices.

  9. He did extra work to make things right and the victims knew it.

Imagine how things might have turned out if other university scandals were handled this way.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
One of the worst consequences of severe selfishness, therefore, is this profound loss of proportionality, like straining at gnats while swallowing camels (see Matt. 23:24; see also JST in footnote 24a). Today there are, for example, those who strain over various gnats but swallow the practice of partial-birth abortions. Small wonder, therefore, that selfishness magnifies a mess of pottage into a banquet and makes 30 pieces of silver look like a treasure trove.

How Administrators Deal With Differing Points of View

Anthony Watts has unearthed an interesting story. At San Jose State, Allison Bridger (Chair of the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science) and Craig Clements (an Assistant Professor in the department) have decided that certain alternate views do not deserve to be heard. They have decided to literally burn books they disagree with.

The rewriting of history by destruction of the older records has a long history; the examples from ancient Egypt are too many to recount. But it does not always work the way the censors would like. Think of how effective Diocletian's burning of books was at destroying Christianity. No matter how competent Diocletian may have otherwise been, he is remembered first and foremost for his persecution of the Christians, burning their scriptures and other books, confiscating their property, and killing many of their leaders. They survived anyway. (This is not to minimize the destruction he wrought, just to point out that he did not eradicate the movement, he only destroyed his reputation.)

That modern academia would think that the destruction of books would be (a) effective, and (b) ethical leaves one to wonder what their knowledge of history and commitment to academic freedom really is. I guess some points of view are more equal than others.

The other curious thing is that the professors in question actually bragged about their deeds on their department website (though Watts reports that it has since been taken down). That is certainly one way to broadcast one's tolerance to the world.

Perhaps they thought they could do this because Dr. Bridger is a university administrator, many of which seem to think themselves unbound by ethics, morals, or laws. Perhaps they are simply following the subliminal messages from the pictures in the background. But that would mean that they were simply mindless automatons, incapable of independent thought.

In this case, one wonders what this did to Drs. Bridger's and Clements' carbon footprint. Shredding the book, while as intolerant and Orwellian as burning it, would at least not have increased the now allegedly lethal levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Aren't these people supposed to be against increasing carbon emissions?

Some of the first hundred or so comments on the story are worth reading.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Reading Yahya ibn Adi III

In his Reformation of Morals, Yahya ibn Adi extols the virtue of fidelity:
Fidelity . . . is steadfastness in what a man expends of himself and for which he gives his word as a pledge. It is leaving behind what gives him security, even if it is to his own detriment. One is not reckoned faithful who incurs no harm by reasons of his fidelity, even if it is only small. Whenever stepping forward into something he judges to be for the good of his soul brings him harm, one is the more developed in fidelity. This moral quality is laudable; everyone will profit from it. Whoever is known for fidelity will be taken at his word in everything he promises. Whoever is taken at his word has great dignity. However, the advantage for kings in this moral quality is greater, and their need for it is stronger. For, when some of them are known to have little fidelity, they are not trusted when they make promises, their objectives are not achieved, and their army and their officials do not have faith in them. (Yahya ibn Adi, The Reformation of Morals, trans. Sidney H. Griffith [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2002], 34-37.)
The Arabic term for this is wafā' which comprises notions of integrity, faithfulness, loyalty, fidelity, good faith, and even the discharge of a debt.

The opposite of this is perfidy:
Perfidy . . . is reneging on what a man will spend on his own accord, all the while guaranteeing the payment of it. This moral quality is to be deemed repugnant, even if there is some advantage and profit in it for the one possessing it. It is more repugnant in kings and leaders, and for them it is most harmful. No one relies on, and no man puts his trust in, any king known for perfidy. When he proves to be unreliable, the good order of his reign is vitiated. (Yahya ibn Adi, The Reformation of Morals, 50-51.)
The Arabic term is ġadr which also means treason or betrayal.

Someone could write a book on this subject, indeed a friend of mine already has.

Yahya discusses the penalties resulting from perfidy. The penalties he discusses are not legal penalties though at certain times and in certain societies they might carry such. They are the social consequences of betrayal. Nothing has changed in that regard in the millennium since Yahya wrote.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
At a university it is not inappropriate to remind you that that first commandment includes all of our heart, soul, and mind. The mind must surrender to God, too. It is my impression, looking about the world, that there are comparatively more knees bent in reverence to God than there are minds bent in reverence to Him. That human stubbornness tends to show up in terms of our unwillingness to submit our minds to Him.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Today, in place of some traditionally shared values is a demanding conformity pushed, ironically, by those who eventually will not tolerate those who once tolerated them. While incremental iniquity may not cause a huge decline all at once, the same somber direction is nevertheless continued, subtly and carefully, with no arousing jolts or jars (see 2 Ne. 28:21).

Two Worthless Books

Occasionally I run across a book where I wonder what was going through the mind of (a) the author to write such a work and (b) the publisher to actually put it in print.

As an undergraduate I ran across an Old Norse Esperanto dictionary. Here is an utterly useless book, good only in that exceptional case where you want to translate a dead language into an invented one. (I guess the library finally figured out that it was worthless because it is not in the catalog anymore.)

The other one is an English translation of the Septuagint (yes, such a thing actually exists). The Septuagint is simply the translation of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament into Greek, albeit it was done over two thousand years ago. The Septuagint is worth reading, but anything you would want to consult the Septuagint for, such as word choice or phrasing, will be lost in translation. Yes, there are some interesting textual variants, but they too will be of most use in the original; many of them will simply disappear in translation. So an English translation of the Septuagint is like having an English translation of the Tongan Bible. I cannot imagine why anyone would waste their money buying one.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Another Academic Scandal

These days it does not seem like much time goes by without another revealing story about higher education making the news. The latest is a report on the lawsuit on Nasar v. Columbia. This concerns Sylvia Nasar, the John S. and James L. Knight professor of business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and her lawsuit against Columbia University. Nasar accuses Columbia of diverting the funds from her endowed chair to purposes other than those intended by the donors. An audit by KMPG claims that “it appears that the Graduate School of Journalism did not abide by the original terms and spirit of the grant agreement.” Columbia argues that "Nasar’s suit is without merit and that even if all her allegations were true, the university could not be found to be in violation of the law." The reporter, Peter Berkowitz, concludes "if all of Nasar’s allegations are true and the courts of New York are unable to grant relief, it would mean that New York state law permits university administrations to disregard their written agreements with impunity and behave deceitfully when called to account." (Another account here.)

Sylvia Nasar has issued a statement on the lawsuit where she argues that "a great university must be able to assure donors that it will honor its promises." It is hard to argue with the sentiment or the logic.

In response, Columbia has gotten the donor to change the terms of the agreement so that it can still spend the money how it wants to rather than how the donor originally specified. I suspect that Columbia will do everything it can to settle this out of court as it would be bad news for university administrators if they actually had to spend endowment money the way they were supposed to.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Another insight that seems to recur again and again in confirmation is that the todays of life constitute the holy present. We can't fix the past. We may be able to repent of it, but we can't change past events. We can fashion the future, and we do that by using what someone has called the holy present, which indeed it is.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Eitt Skyldi Ganga Yfir Okkr Bæði

It is Mother's Day in the United States. Today we do what we ought to be doing every day.

In Njáls Saga, Njál's wife, Bergþora often nags him and goads him into action. She stirs up her share of mischief. One of the verbs prominently associated with her is eggja, to egg on. And yet, when Njál is stuck in his house, with enemies all about ready to burn the house down on top of him, she and the other women are offered free passage out. She replies:
Ek var ung gefin Njáli, ok hefi ek þvi heitit honum, at eitt skyldi ganga yfir okkr bæði.
I was given to Njál when I was young, and I have therefore promised him that one fate should go over both of us (Njáls Saga 129).
Then she walks back into the house and goes to bed while the house burns down around her.

Mothers are like that.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
We men know the women of God as wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, associates, and friends. You seem to tame us and to gentle us, and, yes, to teach us and to inspire us. For you, we have admiration as well as affection, because righteousness is not a matter of role, nor goodness a matter of gender. In the work of the Kingdom, men and women are not without each other, but do not envy each other, lest by reversals and renunciations of role we make a wasteland of both womanhood and manhood.

It's Mother's Day; read the whole talk.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
I have read a lot in my life—thousands of books, I'm sure. But rarely do I encore reading except for the holy scriptures. Therefore, I am even more anxiously engaged in the restored gospel than ever because the restored gospel is so engaging. It really does get a grasp on our minds, and there is no end to the exploration that one can make of it. It is, as I said from this pulpit years ago, an "inexhaustible gospel." To be anxiously engaged really does mean that we are engaged intellectually as well as spiritually, and life in the kingdom, as you all know, is also very engaging. So although some people at my stage of life might say, in effect, "Been there. Done that," not I. I feel instead this sense of anxious engagement in something that I have yet to take the full measure of.

Thoughts on Genesis 10

Genesis 10 is sometimes called the table of the nations. This is because many of the sons of Noah bear the name of entire nations. Because of this nineteenth century linguists named certain languages after certain of the sons of Noah. Thus we have Semitic and Hamitic language groups. A close look at the nations shows some strange connections (a table would be better):

Japheth's sons:
Madai (Medes, lived in modern Iran, spoke an Indo-European language)
Javan (Greeks, lived in Greece and Asia Minor, spoke an Indo-European language)
sons of Javan: Elishah (Cyprus), Tarshish, Kittim (Crete), and Dodanim

Ham's sons:
Cush (Ethiopia, spoke and African language)
One of Cush's sons is Nimrod who is over the Sumerian cities of Erech (Uruk),Babel, Accad and Calneh, the last three of which are Semitic speaking

Mizraim (Egypt, spoke a Hamito-Semitic language)
Phut (Punt or Somalia, presumably and African language)
Canaan (the Levant, spoke various Semitic languages related to Hebrew like Phonecian, Moabite, Ammonite)

Shem's sons:
Elam (in modern Iran, their language is unrelated to any other)
Asshur (Assyria, they spoke Assyrian, a Semitic language)
Arphaxad (perhaps the Kassites whose language is unrelated to anything else)
Lud (the Luwians, who spoke an Indo-European language)
Aram (they spoke a Semitic language)
As can be seen from the list, there is no connection between the languages spoken and which son of Noah they are listed under. As for race, that is even further from consistent. Genetics may be yet another matter.

It is possible to read too much into the lists in Genesis 10 and I think that has often been the case in the past.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Putting Our Money Where Our Heart Is

If one takes seriously the saying "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21) what does this map say about the United States?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
By focusing on himself, a selfish person finds it easier to bear false witness, to steal, and covet, since nothing should be denied him. No wonder it is so easy for governments to pander to the appetites of the natural man, especially if the trains continue to run on time, reassuring him all the while that his permissiveness is somehow permissible.

Nebuchadnezzer as God

In the book of Judith, Holophernes, chief general of the armies of Assyria, makes the following argument:
Who is God if not Nebuchadnezzar? He sends his might and he will destroy them from the face of the earth, and God will not save them (Judith 6:2).
A variation on the might make right argument, this one is more might makes not just right but deity. The standard ancient rebuttal was to point out that God could not only destroy but create as well. Any idiot can destroy something. Many of them do so unintentionally. To create, to build, shows more divinity than destruction does.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
If I have any concern about your generation, speaking collectively, it is that a few of our wonderful youth and young adults in the Church are unstretched—they have almost a free pass. Perks are provided, including cars complete with fuel and insurance—all paid for by parents who sometimes listen in vain for a few courteous and appreciative words. What is thus taken for granted, however innocently, tends to underwrite selfishness and a sense of entitlement. Selfishness and a sense of entitlement don't need any transfusions in our society today.

A Study in Contrasts

Two events last week came to my attention. One was an academic proclaiming to anyone who would listen how his latest work was the most brilliant thing ever written. The other was a very impressive individual given an award who insisted that really we are all just people and that he was no better than anyone else. The two remind me of a scripture:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
(Luke 18:10–13)
Le plus ça change . . . 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Each spasm of selfishness narrows one’s universe that much more by reducing his awareness of or concern with others. In spite of its outward, worldly swagger, such indulgent individualism is actually provincial, like goldfish in a bowl congratulating themselves on their self-sufficiency, never mind the food pellets or changes of water.

Illustrations of Leadership V

Today's tip:
Be organized. Time spent preparing . . . will be repaid many times over.
Most ancient Near Eastern creation accounts have the world coming from swirling chaos. That chaos can be productive, but it first must be organized.

The Egyptian pyramids were the product of intense organization. The pyramid of Cheops, for example, is said to have needed a 2.5 ton stone placed every two or three minutes over the entire reign of the king. Each stone required the coordinated effort of hundreds of people. It was certainly doable (after all, it was done), but the genius of the Old Kingdom was in organizing the labor to complete the structure. Labor had to be requisitioned, transported, coordinated, fed, and supplied. It seems significant that most of the papyrus documents that have survived from the Old Kingdom are work rosters, the plans for organizing that labor, and many of the royal decrees that have survived deal with such organization.

Above all, those doing the organization had to not only have it clear in their own minds what they wanted done but how to do it. How to do it included knowing what was involved in the various steps. Imagine if Senefru had decided that he wanted to build a better pyramid than the Step Pyramid, and fired all those who had been involved in the Step Pyramid and replaced them with a bunch of bureaucrats who had never built anything before. He probably would not have been able to build his own pyramid, much less the four he did build.
The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Illustrations of Leadership IV

Today's point is:
Be flexible. Meetings, . . . and other . . . events will not always go as planned.
Ramses II found this out when he went to Qadesh. Having been lied to by Hittite spies, he expected the Hittites to be far away. Instead, they were hiding behind Qadesh. The Egyptians were expecting a standard night's camp in a peaceful setting. What they got was an ambush. Ramses and the Egyptians were saved by being flexible and by the timely arrival of reinforcements.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
As I have watched a few personal friends over the years go through the ebb and flow of faith, I have wondered about the underlying causes. What happened? And again and again a verse in the Book of Mormon is the most satisfactory explanation. It is an interrogative in Mosiah 5:13: "For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?" This describes what usually happens: otherwise basically decent people simply get caught up with the cares of the world. If instead of drawing closer to the Master we become a stranger to Him, then we have lost our way. The decent people to whom this happens haven't engaged in major transgression, as a rule, but they have distanced themselves from the Savior and He has become a stranger to them.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Alas, gross, individual selfishness is finally acculturated. Then societies can eventually become without order, without mercy, without love, perverted, and past feeling (see Moro. 9). Society thereby reflects a grim, cumulative tally which signals a major cultural decline. This happened anciently when a people actually became “weak, because of their transgression” (Hel. 4:26). Speaking behaviorally, when what was once the lesser voice of the people becomes more dominant, then the judgments of God and the consequences of foolish selfishness follow (see Mosiah 29:26–27).

Illustrations of Leadership III

The third leadership tip is:
Communicate. A good leader knows how to get and give information so that everyone understands.
A good example of what happens with failure to communicate comes from the end of Eighteenth Dynasty in Egypt. When Nipkhururiya (Tutankhamun) died, his wife sent to the Hittite king Shuppiluliuma asking for him to send one of his sons to Egypt to marry the queen and become king of Egypt. Shuppiluliuma delayed while he assessed the truth of the information he had received. Only after another request did he send his son to Egypt. In the meantime, the Egyptian general Aye staged a coup and took over the country. He also had no scruple about dispatching the Hittite prince dispatched to rule Egypt. The Egyptians sent a message back to the Hittite king saying simply "Your son died," covering up the coup's complicity in his death. By this, the Egyptians and Hittites, who had largely been at peace, became enemies for three generations. The general Aye, however, did not long enjoy the fruits of his duplicity being supplanted by the next general to come along, namely Horemheb.

In this case, the failure to communicate that the situation had changed was impeded by the length of time that it took for messages to get from one capital to another. It was hardly helped by the Egyptians sending misinformation back to the Hittites.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

When We Undertake to Cover Our Sins . . .

From the Mormon Odditorium on April 20:
It has been the doctrine of some Elders in this Church (whence they got it I do not know, without they got it from the Devil,) that all the sin you can hide from your brethren and sisters, no matter what its nature and magnitude, will not be brought against you in the day of judgment. Such persons are greatly mistaken. For the sins you commit against yourselves and you God, unless repented of and forgiven, the Lord will hold his private council and judge you according to the degree of guilt that is upon you; and if you sin against others, he will make that public and you will have to hear it. You need not think that you can hide your sins. (Brigham Young, March 10, 1860, JD 8:362.)
I am not entirely convinced that we can really hide our sins as well as we think we can. Just as we cannot see the back of our head, other people see things about us and our actions that we cannot see ourselves. They know things about us that we do not know ourselves. That can include our strengths, but also our weaknesses and our sins. Those who say that if they do not bring up their sins that no one will notice them are simply deceiving themselves.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A Wonderful Flood of Light (1990), 83:
The cares and anxieties of the world occupy us as if we were children making dikes and castles on the beach, unaware that each day's incoming surf will erase our sincere but temporal labors.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 20:
The only way to avoid being overcome by the cares of the world, therefore, is to stop caring for the world. We must let go of the old world and not look back, and this is so much easier if we press forward with a steadfastness in Christ.

Church Approved Tags

This one is from the Mormon Odditorium for April 6:
"We must learn how to form judgments of out own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We can't depend on somebody else's light to tell us whether a certain idea is 'Church approved,' because new ideas don't always come with little tags saying whether they have been reviewed at Church headquarters. (Bruce C. Hafen, "Ambiguity in Law and Life," Clark Memorandum [Spring 2011], 18).
This is very true. I think it can be extended a bit as well.

It is not just that ideas can come without tags saying that they are Church approved. Sometimes ideas that are not Church approved can come with tags saying that they are. Time, experience, grounding in the gospel, and listening to the Spirit can help detect some of these. Two examples come to mind:

  1. When the Church says that it has no official position on Book of Mormon geography, it means that. Individuals who say or imply that their geography is approved by the Church are out of line. They are often seeking the impression of Church imprimatur to lure the gullible into lining their wallets. This has nothing to do with whether or not their geography is correct. It may be perfectly correct in the smallest of details but since the Church has no official position on Book of Mormon geography to claim or imply otherwise is to put oneself in a dangerous position. (I note that individuals like John Sorenson and John Clark argue their geographies on the basis of their own scholarship. I have never heard them claim any other authority for their geographic arguments other than logic, reasoning, and a careful reading of the text.)
  2.  Several years ago the ward I was living in had the policy that only hymns were allowed in Church meetings. No other music was permitted. I do not know the origin of the policy in that ward. It was claimed that the policy originated from Church headquarters even though no one could find anything in the handbooks that supported it. I was on the ward council when a letter came to the bishop from the First Presidency stating that that particular policy was explicitly not the policy of the Church and that there were beautiful and inspiring piece of music appropriate for Church meetings that were not hymns and that local leaders should use their own discernment on the issue. (Imagine that! Salt Lake trusted the local leaders enough to let them make their own decisions.)

I tend to be suspicious of those who claim that their ideas are "Church approved" when:
  1. they can point to no official written source for their claims, 
  2. they are not in a position of authority with direct contact with Church headquarters, and 
  3. they obtain direct benefit from their claims.

I tend not to be suspicious of my bishop because bishops get direct mail from Salt Lake almost every week about large and small matters. If I have a question about a policy, the bishop can probably show me the handbook or the letter justifying it. In the case of the music policy mentioned above, however, no one could produce a document from Salt Lake for the policy, which is fine if the policy is the bishop's policy and not claimed to be the Church's policy. I have no problem with the bishop having his own policy on matters that the Church has no position on, as when our bishop asked us all to read the Book of Mormon in a specific three month period last year. In my experience, bishops are usually good about identifying the source of various policies and usually do not directly benefit from their policies.

If the second counselor elder's quorum were to come to me and claim that he had oral instructions from Salt Lake that I was to give him a thousand dollars, however, I would probably hang on to my money.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward (1977), 17-18:
Emancipation carried to excess is typical of telestial trends that usually lack any inner controls. Only the Lord's way balances our need for liberty and belonging. If we cling to the world, we will have neither!

In such times we should not be dismayed if others do not hear and see what we hear and see. When the voice of God was heard, as recorded in the gospel of John, everyone did not understand it was the voice of God. Some thought that it was thunder. (John 12:29.) Many people can see the same spiritual signal, perceive the same social indicator, but some may be imperceptive and insensitive enough. They fail to understand the significance of what is seen and heard.

One cannot survive in such an age either if he tries to build his spirituality with mere fragments of the faith, with doctrinal debris from other ages. He must have the whole truth (and nothing but the truth) as the foundation stones of his spirituality. Otherwise, he can become very confused about what truly matters.

Catching Up on the Mormon Odditorium

I have been rather negligent in passing on good daily quotes from the Mormon Odditorium. This one is from April 4:
If I find a man, as I do once in a while, who thinks that he ought to be sustained in a higher position than he occupies, that proves to me that he does not understand his true position, and is not capable of magnifying it. (Brigham Young, 5 June 1859, JD 7:162).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

On Academic Fraud

Academic fraud is not the most pleasant of topics. Regrettably, it does occur. George Leef has a few thoughts on the subject. There are a certain number of mistakes that occur in academic research. These can be attributed to a number of causes (of which I list only a few):
  1. Human error: Humans make mistakes. It is a simple fact of life, and many of the mistakes are unintentional.
  2. Mistaken assumptions: Any endeavor presupposes a number of assumptions, many of which we do not realize we are making. Some of those assumptions may be wrong. If we are explicit about our assumptions we have a better chance of identifying which ones are mistaken. Unfortunately, we cannot be explicit about all of our assumptions.
  3. Mistaken observations: For whatever reasons, data can be recorded incorrectly. It is hard enough to tell when we make a mistake, it is often harder to say why someone else made a mistake, particularly when that individual is no longer around to ask.
  4. Wrong filter: We may be looking at a problem from a certain point of view. We may think we have the data explained but we may be looking at a problem the wrong way.
  5. Academic fraud: This is where individuals involved in research either invent their data or egregiously distort it so that it fits their theory. (Plagiarism is a separate case because the data may not be fraudulent, only the claim that it represents the author's or authors' own work.)
There are other possibilities as well. Fraudulent academic work deserves to be called out.

[Addendum: Another report on this incident with thoughts about  how the system encourages academic fraud and works against its discovery. The follow-up is a bit more meaty than the initial one.]

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Several times a year, we sustain fifteen Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators. So we know to whom to look, even though there are a few members who “seek not the welfare of Zion” and “set themselves up for a light.” (2 Ne. 26:29.) Furthermore, the Prophet Joseph clearly taught that recipients of that apostleship possess “all the keys that ever were, or that can be conferred upon mortal man.” (Cited by Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 1:137.)

Repetitive experience teaches Church members that we need not be prey to pretenders. Besides, “The day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, … neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people.” (D&C 1:14.)

Additionally, the very process of Church government also ensures that we do not have secret leaders:

‎“It shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.” (D&C 42:11.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:

Mostly, brothers and sisters, these great spiritual events went unseen by eyes spiritually untrained; therefore, they were lost in the swollen sea of worldly cares, a sea which never rests. One day, the historical record will be complete; but, meanwhile, the scriptures will be our guide concerning those transcending spiritual events in human history which are saturated with significance.

In any event, world leaders are busy with the world’s business. In 1910–11 a young Home Secretary defended, in Parliament, the proselyting rights of LDS missionaries in Britain. Amid parliamentary pressures, Winston Churchill held fast for religious tolerance. Major biographies on Churchill are silent on those episodes, the outcome of which was vital to us, but not the stuff of secular history.

The same general disregard attends those whom God chooses as His leaders; moreover, their imperfections are duly noted.

Would You Like Your Shishkabab Rare or Well-Done?

Roger Clegg has an amusing if irreverent skewering of one of academia's sacred cows.