Saturday, February 8, 2014

Martell Gee (d. 2014)

I received news that Martell Gee passed away this morning. He was a professor at a number of universities. He also served as a mission president and as secretary to one of the presidents of the seventy. He was a good man and will be missed.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ireta Midgley

I learned with some sadness that my friend Ireta Midgley has passed away. She was a kind and gentle person who will be sorely missed.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
So this is a real war—with real casualties—in which there can be no real pacifists. No wonder, brothers and sisters, there’s been such a long shelf life of the wry quip we’ve all heard about “free agency and how to enforce it.” In effect, some seem almost to ask, “Is this gift returnable?”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Brushing the King's Hair

Sometimes mundane details appear in ancient texts that show how human the ancients were.
Speak to my lord: Thus says Erra-gamil, your servant.

May Shamash and Nergal keep you in good health for 3600 years for my sake!

The king rose early in the morning, dressed his hair, and made his son sit on the throne. But he with his help sets out over and over for Kashir, saying thus: "When they treat my city badly [. . .]

(M. Stol. Letters from Yale [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981], 17.)
 Even the king needed to get up and brush his hair.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Evaporated by now is the earlier “no-hands” naïveté about how “I am free to choose.” Still, I am free to choose, even if I can neither be immune from the consequences of my wrong choices nor avoid accountability (see Romans 14:12; D&C 101:78).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More on the Death of Humanities

Classicist Victor Davis Hanson demonstrates why humanities used to be a useful education and why it might not always be such now:
When the humanities failed to make the case that its students were trained to be exceptionally good writers, logical debaters, and well informed about the events, people, literature and issues of the past, then the liberal arts no longer were granted immunity from the general reckoning that the university now faces.
Hanson is a good writer, a logical debater, and well informed about the events, people, literature and issues of the past. That many in the humanities no longer are is a shame.

Hanson cites, as an example, how
esoteric university press publications, not undergraduate teaching and advocacy, came to define the successful humanities professor.
I have certainly contributed my share of esoteric university press publications--they have their place--but it has been short-sighted of universities to limit themselves to those publications and say that is all that counts. Academics need to be able to demonstrate that something in their study might prove of more general interest, importance, and sometimes even usefulness than merely to the handful of people who perseverate over the field.

Davis notes that:
The campus exemplar became the grandee who won the most time off from teaching, garnered the most grants, taught the fewest undergraduates, and wrote the most university press books that in turn were largely critical of the subject matter that ensured his university position in the first place.
His remark reminds me of an article written by the biblical scholar, Jon Levenson, twenty years ago that noted the same problem in biblical studies:
After secularism has impugned the worth of the Bible, and multiculturalism has begun to critique the cultural traditions at the base of which it stands, biblical scholars, including, I must stress, even the most antireligious among them, must face this paradoxical reality: the vitality of their rather untraditional discipline has historically depended upon the vitality of traditional religious communities, Jewish and Christian. Those whom [Wilfred Cantwell] Smith termed "liberals'—that is, the scholars who assiduously place the Bible in the ancient Near Eastern or Greco-Roman worlds—have depended for their livelihood upon those who not only rejoice that the Bible survived these worlds but who also insist that it deserved to survive because its message is trans-historical.
(Jon D. Levenson, "The Bible: Unexamined Commitments of Criticism," First Things 30 (February 1993):26.)
The same trend shows up in Mormon Studies too. Hanson has some trenchant commentary on that too:
If the humanities could have adopted a worse strategy to combat these larger economic and cultural trends over the last decade, it would be hard to see how. In short, the humanities have been exhausted by a half-century of therapeutic “studies” courses: Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, Environmental Studies, Chicano Studies, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Asian Studies, Cultural Studies, and Gay Studies. Any contemporary topic that could not otherwise justify itself as literary, historical, philosophical, or cultural simply tacked on the suffix “studies” and thereby found its way into the curriculum.

These “studies” courses shared an emphasis on race, class, and gender oppression that in turn had three negative consequences. First, they turned the study of literature and history from tragedy to melodrama, from beauty and paradox into banal predictability, and thus lost an entire generation of students. Second, they created a climate of advocacy that permeated the entire university, as the great works and events of the past were distorted and enlisted in advancing contemporary political agendas. Finally, the university lost not just the students, but the public as well, which turned to other sources—filmmakers, civic organizations, non-academic authors, and popular culture—for humanistic study.
Hanson's piece is worth reading in its entirety, as is Jon Levenson's earlier piece in First Things.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
I am unresentful of the passage of time and am still well within the sound range of the kettle drums representing the cacophony of mortality. Yet I sometimes seem to hear, ever so faintly, the distant sounds of beckoning trumpets as these waft in upon me.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What is the Worth of a College Transcript?

Robert Pacquette reports on an experiment he conducted to find out if employers look at college transcripts. Some pay very little heed to them. One
wanted to know what, if anything, the applicant had done during his life to overcome adversity. “The true test of a person's value is not their résumé or performance in school. It is totally their personal value system and character.”
looked at the applicant’s transcript but not necessarily at the GPA. He wanted to know if the graduate had attended “what used to be [called] the standard courses in college (i.e., English, history, math, economics, government, etc.) . . . When I see a resume with a lot of non-standard courses, I am not impressed, and I ask why these more standard courses weren’t available at the college (as if I assumed they would take them if they were offered!) and the explanations I get are amazing and always unacceptable.”
Yet another said that his hiring successes
reduced to a formula he called P-O-I. “ ‘P’ is for persistence, a rugged determination that reflects the [applicant’s] willingness to invest whatever is necessary to develop a strong foundation of knowledge and technical competence. ‘O’ is for originality, the ability to think critically and creatively, to see the patterns and trends and answers that aren't obvious. Original people think and operate laterally and persistent people think and operate linearly. It is rare to find someone who is strong in both categories. ‘I’ stands for impact. Talent and imagination are not everything. You have to be able to perform. Some people have a track record of achievement that is built more on charisma and personal communication skills than raw talent . . . A track record of success in small endeavors is usually a good harbinger of success in larger ones.”
Academics, on the other hand, are fixated on the transcript. Many of them make awards and hiring decisions based largely on the transcripts.

As Nibley noted in the 1980s:
Grades are acquisitive, competitive, and phony; but they are the official legal certificates that everyone must have, issued in fixed denominations on a mathematically graduated scale, to be converted it is hoped hereafter into legal tender of the land—and that is the only thing that interests these young people in the study of religion, of all things! This is no trifling thing; the seeds of such corruption are all-pervasive.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That Ye May Believe (1992), 102:
Some people want to skip the seemingly plodding "spiritual method." As already pointed out, they are so busy surveying large, intellectual tracts that they fail to cultivate even a small behavioral tract. Theory rich and data poor! Intellectual speculation is easy, and compared to steady, spiritual submissiveness it makes few demands. The speculators end up "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14), staring beyond the obvious. Jesus confirmed that only if we will "do" will we then "know" (John 7:17).

Monday, January 27, 2014

Today's Maxwell Quote

From That Ye May Believe (1992), 102:
Jacob warned about those who sought for that which they could not understand (see Jacob 4:14). Their zest for exploring and speculating is not matched by their enthusiasm for obeying and doing. Consequently, such individuals do not really come to know for themselves (see Alma 5:45-47). Without that personal witness they are ambivalent and unable to defend gospel truths or doctrines. It is people's incapacity to defend the faith, wrote George MacDonald, which can turn them into persecutors.

Math is Hard

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal often uses the line "Math is Hard" to point out basic mathematical errors in news stories. The video in this post and the post associated with it demonstrate how all kinds of idiocy can come from people who know a little math. The video purports to show that:
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + . . . = -1/12
Even common sense will correctly tell one that is wrong.

Basically for any series
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + . . . + n = n(n+1)/2
Solving this problem was what tipped Gauss's teachers that he was good at math. (Not that he was the first to solve it, but that he figured it out at a young age and so got special tutoring in mathematics.)

The limit of this series as n approaches infinity is not going to converge on -1/12 no matter what crazy proof they talk about in the video. One cannot legitimately treat the various series the way that they do in the video.

Only if one converts the series into a function (and they are not really the same thing) could one argue that the resultant quadratic equation could be solved to show that it equals a particular pair of irrational numbers plugged into the formula could come out with an answer of -1/12. Since they are not integers, however, they do not work for the actual series. There is no valid way for anything in the series to equal -1/12.

Math may be hard but it certainly not that hard.