Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Fantasy books aimed at pre-teen children can be a bit formulaic. Usually a child, just before puberty, when they are feeling like they should be capable but feel powerless, is sent into a magical realm where they expect to be powerless but end up saving the world. Sarah Prineas Winterling (2012) is such a work. What was interesting to me about it was the way that the basic situation was that of the Hittite king Ammunas. The story takes this basic situation and tries to work out a solution. I doubt that Prineas has ever heard of Ammunas, but it was interesting anyway.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
When people proceed “without principle,” erelong they will be “without civilization,” “without mercy,” and “past feeling” (see Moro. 9:11–20). Such individuals do not experience real joy, such as being quietly and deeply grateful to a generous God, or of helping to restore those who “droop in sin” (2 Ne. 4:28), or of gladly forgoing praise and recognition so that it might flow, instead, to parched souls.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

We're 75th

This is old news by now, but Forbes places BYU at 75th in its national rankings.

On a completely irrelevant note, you can take Egyptian classes at the 4th, 8th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 22nd, 30th, 34th, 46th, 56th, 75th, and one unranked school. Which should go to show that general rankings are an exercise in pride and may or may not tell you what you want to know about a school.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 92:
Of course, a loving God, deeply committed to free agency, has left mankind free to reject and to violate His commandments. But there are no secular substitutes! The seventh commandment does not read, for instance, "Thou shalt not commit adultery except between consenting adults." Nor does it read "Thou shalt not commit adultery unless it is in a 'meaningful relationship.'"

Monday, July 29, 2013

Still a Good Policy

Victor Davis Hanson has some interesting commentary about how we have become a nation of liars (with numerous examples). He ends giving some reasons not to lie:
The majority has to tell the truth — to the IRS, to the police, to the DA, to the census — if a consensual society is to work. You readers tell the truth so that the society can survive an [insert name of liar here] or [insert a different liar's name here]. Average people must speak honestly or our elites’ lies will overwhelm, even destroy us.
If you have been in a place where certain people could not be trusted to tell the truth, then you know that little if anything can get done.
Two, this often sordid, sometimes beautiful world is not the end. There is transcendence. Lies damage our soul. Selling out in the here and now has consequences later on. If you are religious, your immortal soul is lost. If you are not, at least consider that your legacy, heritage, and remembrance are forever ruined. Ask the ghost of Stephen Ambrose. What good was all that money, all those interviews if based on a lie? All the insight and delight that he brought millions of readers was tarnished. And for what, exactly?
 Do you really want to leave a legacy of lying?
We must try to tell the truth, not to doctor films, edit tapes, erase talking points, or lie before Congress, fabricate heroic war records, or invent false sources. Again, why? Because we seek to do the right thing with the full resignation that in the here and now we will often still lose and will lose often and gladly telling the truth.
And we must do so when all about us are shredding and forging documents and lying to us and about us. To do otherwise is to forfeit the respect of others and ourselves.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 92:
And how much collegiality and neighborliness will there be unless we keep the ninth commandment by refusing to bear false witness and by insisting on fair play one with another? Such empathy and concern as are needed to cope with human interdependence do not arise out of mere biological brotherhood.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

From the Reader's Mailbag

I received a question from a reader asking if "the rest of the Lord" in Hebrews 4 is the same as the Sabbath rest (presumably in Genesis 2:1-3).

The short answer is the same word is used in Greek in both cases, though Genesis uses the verb form and Hebrews uses the noun.

There is a long answer that is more involved and complicated, uses Hebrew and comes to the opposite conclusion, but given that today is a day of rest I will not go into it.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 3-4:
To those who mean well but thoughtlessly speak of "building a better relationship" with God (which sounds like a transaction between mortals desiring reciprocity), it needs to be said that our relationship with God is already established, in a genealogical sense. Perhaps what such individuals intend to say is that we must draw closer to God. But we are to worship, to adore, and to obey God, not build a better relationship with Him!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Reverse Mussolini Fallacy

I ran across a new fallacy, the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy:
The Mussolini Fallacy is believing that, because Mussolini made the trains run on time (if he did), that excuses his other acts. The Reverse Mussolini Fallacy is believing that, because Mussolini made the trains run on time, making the trains run on time is bad.
Political debate often uses both the Mussolini Fallacy and the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy. Hugh Nibley discussed these issues in "The Unsolved Loyalty Problem." It is worth another look.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 119:
Enduring the requirements of repentance involves so much more than just a weekend of sorrow; scarlet stain does not fade away quite so easily.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A.D. 410

This date is generally considered to mark the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages. A.D. 410 was the year that Rome fell to the Visigoths.

Back in 382, the nominally Roman emperor Theodosius I (who actually ruled from Constantinople) signed a treaty with the Visigoths that made the Visigoths part of the Roman empire. While the Romans considered the Visigoths now part of the empire, the Visigoths thought differently. They despised Rome and thought of themselves as independent of it.

It was the general Flavius Stilicho's job to keep the Visigoths under Alaric I out of Italy. Alaric, however, persuaded Stilicho that if he would help Alaric, Alaric would help him capture Illyricum (basically Greece and Macedonia) for the Western empire. While they were preparing for the invasion, Alaric crossed the Rhine and invaded Gaul. So Stilicho called the invasion of Illyricum off and stuck Alaric with the bill. At that point, both Stilicho and Alaric thought that the other had double-crossed them.

In 408, Honorius, son of Theodosius I and the Western Roman Emperor, got into the act. Honorius and Stilicho had a fight about whether or not Stilicho would allow Honorius to go to Constantinople. Things escalated until Stilicho was deposed, took refuge in a church, but was hewn down anyway. The reprisals against Stilicho's followers and slaves who had been brought to Italy by him resulted in many of them fleeing to Alaric, swelling his army. By the end of 408 the Visigoths invaded Italy and besieged Rome.

The Senate tried to get Honorius to settle with Alaric, but Honorius kept reneging on his agreements and insulting Alaric.

Finally, on 24 August 210, the Roman slaves opened the gates to the Visigoths who plundered Rome for three days.

The Visigoths thus plundered the Roman empire from the inside. Rome probably could have been spared were it not for the treachery and double dealing of the ironically named Honorius.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 117:
For Latter-day Saints, the double irony will be to suffer abuse from some who claim we are not Christians, and at the same time, from others precisely because we are! Such can do wonderful things to concentrate our commitments. Was Jesus not persecuted both for not being the political Savior some Jews expected, and, at the same time, for being a threat to the political order?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Something to Remember the Next Time You Gut a Fish

The book of Tobit is part of the real Apocrypha, that is books that are part of the Septuagint--the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible--but excluded from the Hebrew Bible.

When Tobit and the angel Raphael (disguised as a relative of Tobit) are journeying by the Tigris, they catch a fish.
And the angel said to him: Gut the fish and taking out the heart and the liver and the gall, set them carefully aside. (Tobit 6:5).
After eating the fish, Tobit asks:
Azaria, my brother, what is the liver and heart and gall of the fish? And he said to him: The heart and the liver, if someone is bothered by a demon or an evil spirit, he should smoke these before a man or woman and he will never be bothered again. (Tobit 6:7-9)
When they approach Ecbatana, Raphael tells Tobit of his intention to have Tobit marry Sarah, the woman whose previous seven husbands had been killed by demons. The marriage is agreed upon, the documents are drawn up and the wedding feast is made.
When the feasters were finished, they led Tobit to her. When he was going he remembered the words of Raphael and took the ashes of the incense-burner and placed upon them the heart of the fish and the liver and smoked them. When the demon smelled the smell, he fled to Upper Egypt. (Tobit 8:1-3)
Remember, the fish was caught in the Tigris which is about 350 miles away by today's roads. So the fish was probably at least a month old and had not been refrigerated. Of course the demon Asmodeus wanted to flee to Upper Egypt a thousand miles away. Sarah, Tobit's new bride, probably did as well after getting such a wedding present.

Nothing quite says "I love you" like smoked fish guts.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 104:
Playing to the gallery in all its forms involves a wearying regimen. We cannot finally be concerned about pleasing Him if we are too concerned about pleasing them. Besides, playing to the roar of the crowd, be it a few peers or an imagined multitude, ends as an empty exercise. One realizes finally that he is in the wrong theater. We do well to let the bracing sea breeze of the scriptures clear our heads so far as the limitations and the risks of the praise of men are concerned.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How to Succeed as a College Student

A new study out of Georgia Tech reports that:
organized, motivated high school students who have demonstrated their ability to master advanced subjects are more likely to succeed as STEM majors than others who have not demonstrated that academic ability or who, though they may be talented and score well on aptitude tests, are disorganized or who do not think they would be happy remaining in science. Imagine that!
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. I strongly suspect that this applies to other majors as well. How do we find such successful students?
"So if colleges want to know who will succeed in college STEM programs," she added, "they should be looking at the AP test scores, not just registration for an AP class."

Did colleges really not already know this?
In academia sometimes the best research is simply a penetrating glimpse into the obvious.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From If Thou Endure it Well, 28:
These really are our days, and we can prevail and overcome, even in the midst of trends that are very disturbing. If we are faithful the day will come when those deserving pioneers and ancestors, whom we rightly praise for having overcome the adversities in their wilderness trek, will praise today's faithful for having made their way successfully through a desert of despair and for having passed through a cultural wilderness, while still keeping the faith.

A Spectacular Misreading

I have long been used to individuals misreading me. It is an occupational hazard as well as a common fact of human life. As Peter Novick pointed out:
There is nothing more tedious than the spectacle of disgruntled authors complaining that they have been misrepresented or, even worse, whimpering that they have been “misunderstood.” Academic authors, above all others, should be immunized from such concerns, after years of seeing the versions of our lectures we get back in blue books at the end of the term. (Peter Novick, "My Correct Views on Everything," The American Historical Review 96/3 (1991): 699.)
Individuals are free to read what I have written on this blog or elsewhere any way they like and there is nothing I can do about it. I have been aware that some individuals consistently misread my blog. One individual, however, understood yesterday's Maxwell quote as an attack on BYU President Cecil Samuelson. Such was never intended; such a thought never crossed my mind, and I publicly repudiate such a reading. I said, "I guess some things have changed." What I understood to have changed is that Elder Maxwell said that at BYU:
Such individuals [those with inarguably good scholarship and also with testimonies born of the Spirit] need never look anxiously over either shoulder.
At the moment that seems to have changed, at least in some corners of BYU. I do not know who is responsible for the change in those particular corners. I do not know how pervasive that change may be. I do not know if the change is the work of a single or multiple individuals, if it is purposeful or accidental. I do know that it is not right, particularly at a Church sponsored university. Our jobs should not be jeopardized for defending the Church, the gospel, or the truth.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Invisible Administration?

The economist Richard Vedder asks, what do 2,358 college administrators do? That magic number is the number of college administrators in the University of California's central office. It does not include the number of college administrators at various campuses in the UC system, which totaled 8,822 two years ago (more than the number of ladder-ranked faculty!). He points out that the UC system has 240,000 students and a budget of over 24 billion dollars a year, which That means that the UC system is spending over $100,000 a year for each student. Unfortunately, much of that $100,000 per student does not go to help the student, or even the faculty. It goes to the administration. Vedder wonders if half of the administrators were eliminated would the students even notice? It is a question worth asking. (See here for some commentary about how things are likely to go at UC in the future.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Twenty years ago, when President Oaks presided, a group of deans, administrators, and their partners heard my expression of faith in the future of this special university. Similar and specific things were also said 13 years ago at the inaugural of President Holland, including how “The greatest gift a [university or college] president can give his students is the example of his life” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoting Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh [president of the University of Notre Dame], speaking at the 59th Annual Meeting of the American Council on Education, New Orleans, Louisiana, 7 October 1976, p. 15).

President Rex Lee is certainly giving that precious gift to BYU, and likewise so are many others here. This is as it should be, since producing student credit hours without giving the accompanying gift of faculty exemplification is not enough at BYU! To seek and to maintain a consecrated, bilingual faculty—who speak both the language of scholarship and also of faith—requires retaining and recruiting those with inarguably good scholarship and also with testimonies born of the Spirit. Such individuals need never look anxiously over either shoulder.
I guess some things have changed.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Small Substitution

This is an interesting piece about Islam and economics brought to my attention by my friend and colleague, Dan Peterson. The author talks about how different people's attitude towards government is influenced by their position in government. I find the argument works on a smaller scale simply by substituting a smaller scale term for the author's use of "state":
It's simply an indisputable fact of human nature. The [administration] creates perverse incentives. It's not a conspiracy. It's not an agenda. It's just a fact. The [administration] cares not for reason and evidence. The [administration] cares about power. So, it will always prefer, publish and promote the scholar that legitimizes it's power. And the scholars who oppose [administration] power will always be ignored, obscure, and if necessary attacked. The [administration] will always chose Keynes over Hayek, and the seekers of Truth have an obligation to revisit their view of history, theology, politics, economics and every other soft science in light of that fact.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 65:
But sometimes we let our moods maul our faith, and a mood of hopelessness can ensnare us and prevent one from starting the journey back to full fellowship with God. One can certainly be entrapped by the adversary in dramatic ways, but the economy of temptation apparently does not require drama, if minor moods serve the same purpose. Major sin can destroy an individual quickly, but a sustained feeling of hopelessness can cause slow spiritual suicide with the same ultimate result.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thoughts on the Story of Joseph

This last week I had the opportunity of discussing the biblical story of Joseph to a very polite audience. Some aspects of that story are more striking this time reviewing it.

One of the highlights of Joseph's story is his forgiving his brothers. But Joseph does not just blindly forgive his brothers. He remembered what they did to him. So, he tested them to see if their repentance was real. He first threw them in prison (Genesis 42:17) just as he had been cast into prison because of their actions. Then he took Simeon as a hostage (Genesis 42:24) and demanded that they bring their younger brother with them next time (Genesis 42:15, 20). Their younger brother was, of course, Benjamin, the only one of the brothers with whom Joseph shared a mother. In doing this, Joseph could see whether they would be willing to betray another brother for monetary gain (and perhaps revenge) the way that they had him. If they returned, he could see if they had been mistreating Benjamin. When they came back, he contrives to have Benjamin imprisoned indefinitely (Genesis 44:1-13) to see if they cared at all about his mother's children.

Three chapters narrate Joseph's tests of his brother's forgiveness (Genesis 42-44) before the one that narrates his forgiveness (Genesis 45). Joseph did not practice blind forgiveness.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
Much time also ensued between the walk of Joseph's brothers back from the pit into which they had thrown Joseph and their later walk back (with much-needed corn) from Egypt to Canaan, when all the brothers who had treated him so terribly were saved by a generous Joseph. If we wonder today why, when individuals in groups become unprotesting participants in a veering toward evil, no one seems to speak up; and if we are perplexed that when some speak up it is only in a weak Reuben-type dissent (which makes "I told you we shouldn't have done that" a likely utterance)‚—if we wonder why those things happen, it is because individuals, in this case Joseph's brothers, failed. It is always the same, brothers and sisters. Our failures are individual. You and I, therefore, have an obligation to grasp those opportunities for truth saying and for restraining evil. If we do not, we will tumble, as Joseph's brothers did, collectively. Weak individuals make great dominoes!

Perhaps a young Joseph, of whom his brothers could not even speak peaceably, might even have given them some small cause for jealousy. But a matured, magnanimous, and highly spiritual Joseph (significantly and modestly) did not at first even reveal his identity to his poverty-stricken brothers. The tree rings on Joseph's soul must have been large, indeed, including the year when he was in the pit and was then sold into a strange culture in the beginning of a great adventure. Joseph was victorious "on the road."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 72-73:
Some may nevertheless be counting on God's generosity toward our "little sins," after which indulgence we are beaten with a few stripes and then are saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 28:8.) The naivete—"and if it so be that we are guilty"—rests on a doubt that God is really serious about our keeping His commandments. What a gross misreading of the nature of God!

Some Overlooked Thoughts

Somehow, I missed this intelligent discussion by Ralph Hancock from about a year ago. You can read Part I and Part II.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Another Recipe for Mediocrity

The University of Chicago used to have a very different take on economics than other schools across the country. It was even called the Chicago School of Economics and was noted for its particular type of economics and for winning more Nobel prizes in economics than any other school. Bryan Caplan notes, however, a change has occurred:
Economics at the University of Chicago is no longer very different from economics at other top programs. What happened? The proximate cause was lack of a strong instinct of memetic self-preservation. The ultimate cause, though, was that the Chicago School destroyed itself from within.
 He continues:
Future historians of thought will be puzzled by the transformation of the Chicago School. How does one get from Milton Friedman to Donald Wittman? My answer: Step by step, and myopically.
Milton Friedman could articulate his position and did so, and so could his colleagues. Eventually, however, came colleagues who could only articulate that they did what they did (whatever that may have been) and that it had something to do with economics. So through such myopia, it appears that economics at the University of Chicago has become just like economics at any other school, which is to say, undistinguished.

A distinguished program needs to know what it is that distinguishes itself from other programs. It needs to consciously preserve those distinguishing features.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 25:
Participative leadership frees those concerned to provide helpful feedback, whereas directive leadership often suffers from the fact that as the leader acquires more prestige and power, his followers may be less and less likely to level with him even though he wishes this were not so.

The disadvantages of participative leadership are that, at times, groups focus too much on feelings and become too immobilized to take needed action. A group may listen and hear only the signal of "an uncertain trumpet." Group problem solving can, when it miscarries, result in the stifling of individual creativity and can result in a great deal of mediocrity.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Does Peer Review Work?

This article suggests that it does not:
A growing interest in and concern about the adequacy and fairness of modern peer-review practices in publication and funding are apparent across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Although questions about reliability, accountability, reviewer bias, and competence have been raised, there has been very little direct research on these variables.

The present investigation was an attempt to study the peer-review process directly, in the natural setting of actual journal referee evaluations of submitted manuscripts. As test materials we selected 12 already published research articles by investigators from prestigious and highly productive American psychology departments, one article from each of 12 highly regarded and widely read American psychology journals with high rejection rates (80%) and nonblind refereeing practices.

With fictitious names and institutions substituted for the original ones (e.g., Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential), the altered manuscripts were formally resubmitted to the journals that had originally refereed and published them 18 to 32 months earlier. Of the sample of 38 editors and reviewers, only three (8%) detected the resubmissions. This result allowed nine of the 12 articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected. Sixteen of the 18 referees (89%) recommended against publication and the editors concurred. The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.” A number of possible interpretations of these data are reviewed and evaluated.
So 89% of peer reviewed articles could not pass the same peer review process from the same journal a second time. In fact, more were rejected the second time than were rejected the first (80%). This suggests that getting published in a peer-reviewed journal is less about quality and more about luck.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 17:
The unnourished and the shallow will not endure, because they cannot stand the heat. They are not likely to acknowledge that as the real reason, however, preferring to find a convenient cause over which to become offended, or wishing to cover behavioral lapses by a supposed grievance. These are they who, among other things, will end up, as my friend James Jardine has observed, "preaching what they practice"!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Public Relations in the Scriptures

Those who have read the last two day's posts in the blog might be ready to complain that the Church has an office of Public Affairs. This is true, and there is a scriptural mandate for it. That mandate is found in Doctrine and Covenants 123. This was an extract of a letter written by Joseph Smith when he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail after having been betrayed by those he had supposed to be his friends. While he was in prison, they were engaged in telling lies about him to the public. In the letter he outlined the public relations that should be followed by the Church
We would suggest for your consideration the propriety of all the saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts, and sufferings and abuses put upon them . . . And also the names of all persons that have had a hand in their oppressions, as far as they can get hold of them and find them out. And perhaps a committee can be appointed to find out these things, and to take statements and affidavits; and also to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat; And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that are published, and are writing, and by whom, and present the whole concatenation of diabolical rascality and nefarious and murderous impositions that have been practised upon this people—That we may not only publish to all the world, but present them to the heads of government in all their dark and hellish hue. (Doctrine and Covenants 123:1–6).
So the saints in general, and Public Affairs in particular, has the unenviable task of gathering all the misstatements and both publishing them and pointing out how they are false. Joseph Smith also warned those who were inclined to neglect or minimize this particular duty:
Therefore it is an imperative duty that we owe, not only to our own wives and children, but to the widows and fatherless, whose husbands and fathers have been murdered under its iron hand. . . . And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart—For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it—Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—These should then be attended to with great earnestness. Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things. (Doctrine and Covenants 123:9–15)
I note that Church Public Affairs has a section on their website that deals precisely with this kind of thing.

This sort of public relations we need more of.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Of One Heart (1975), 26:
Even something as small as a man's thumb, when held very near the eye, can blind him to the very large sun. Yet the sun is still there. Blindness is brought upon the man by himself. When we draw other things too close, placing them first, we obscure our vision of heaven.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Elder Maxwell on Public Relations

If Hugh Nibley's views on Public Relations are extreme and unsympathetic, we might expect a more sympathetic treatment from Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Elder Maxwell, after all, had begun his career in higher education as assistant director of public relations at the University of Utah in 1956, the same year that Nibley published "Victoriosa Loquacitas." (Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life (2002), 245.) In 1964 he became the Vice President for planning and public affairs for the University of Utah. For a decade and a half he was involved in and ultimately in charge of public relations for the University of Utah. Here is someone who knew public relations from the inside. We might expect a more understanding view of the profession.

At the end of his time in public relations, Elder Maxwell observed:
In a sense, God cares little for cosmetic “public relations” (A Time to Choose [1972], 23).
On the other hand, he admitted that
Public relations points can be made for the kingdom in varied circumstances (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward [1977], ).
Such points, however, were of lesser value:
God's martyrs are not permitted great concern over public relations, for truth is a relentless taskmaster. (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [1980], 16).
For Elder Maxwell truth was more important than public relations. If the choice was between following the gospel and public relations, he had no doubt which was to take precedence:
As the disciple enriches his relationship with the Lord, he is apt to have periodic "public relations" problems with others, being misrepresented and misunderstood. He or she will have to "take it" at times. ("Meek and Lowly")

 He warned that disciples should not take "a fretful, anxious public relations posture" (Meek and Lowly [1987], 108.)
Neglect of vital data, use of partial truths, plus "looking beyond the mark," can cruelly combine to blunt perspective and create, as it were, public relations problems. (Meek and Lowly [1987], 110.)
Elder Maxwell noted that it was when unmeek individuals neglected what they should have been paying attention to, looked beyond the mark and used partial truths that they created public relations problems. Nibley would have pointed out that it was entirely the doings of public relations types that caused the problems in the first place.

Elder Maxwell also noticed other tendencies of public relations. He referred to one passage in the Sermon on the Mount as a "stern passage—it was scarcely a soothing "public relations" pronouncement" (We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ [1984], 101.) Public relations pronouncements are supposed to be soothing rather than stern.

So, even though coming from an insider, Elder Maxwell's references to public relations, though softer than Hugh Nibley's are of the same tenor. Real disciples of Jesus will have public relations problems. God is not particularly interested in our public relations but in whether or not we are doing his will. Public relations is more interested in partial truths, in neglecting the fuller story. Truth is more important than public relations. As Nibley would have pointed out, the harshest critiques are no more telling than the admissions from the inside.

Still, there might be other ways at looking at the profession.

[To be continued]

Today's Maxwell Quote

From Things as They Really Are (1978), 55:
Simplicity requires plain language; and the more eroded and less precise language becomes, the less it communicates. Bureaucratic language in modern government is a classic example of this. When we don't like to face up to hard facts, we use soft words. We do not speak about killing a baby within the womb, but about the "termination of potential life." Words are often multiplied to try to cover dark deeds.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Nibley on Public Relations

In reviewing what Nibley wrote about rhetoric, it is interesting to note that he considers the modern equivalent of rhetoric to be public relations:
In its vagueness and all-pervasiveness the term rhetoric came very close to our own "business," or better, "public relations." (CWHN 10: 255.)
Anciently, societies used rhetoric "to justify, condone, and confirm its vices." (CWHN 10:260.) They had nothing but praise for "a cynical admiration for the clever ruse, the lie that was not a lie." (CWHN 10:257.) After all, "a rhetor will not hesitate to speak the truth when it serves his purpose" (CWHN 10: 252). Above all ancient public relations people demonstrated a "refusal to accept responsibility" (CWHN 10:257), all the while "they confounded issues and destroyed philosophy." (CWHN 10:265.). It was filled with people of low character and morals: "the worst people took to rhetoric like ducks to water" (CWHN 10:253). These low people played "a hard and sordid game of exploitation and survival played without scruples and without loyalties." (CWHN 10:250.) They had turned "from the honest search for truth to the business of cultivating appearances. (CWHN 10:245-46).

This is a pretty harsh critique and was published in 1956, reflecting Nibley's views earlier in his career. Did time mellow his views at all?

A quarter of a century later, in 1981, Nibley began the penultimate book he wrote with the following observation:
To discredit Joseph Smith, or anyone else, in the eyes of an uninformed public is only too easy, requiring but the observance of a few established routines in the art of public relations. That gets us nowhere honestly. (CWHN 14:1.)
Nibley here equates public relations with dishonesty and notes that it is used to discredit the prophets.

The next year, Nibley was using the same image of dishonest public relations:
John, like the early Hebrew prophets, liked the particular emphasis on the fact that Babylon has built up great power by deception. The word that Brigham Young likes to use is decoy: These things “decoy … [our] minds” away from the real values of things. They are irresistible. The merchants do research: they know what we'll take and what we'll not. They know what will sell, and they know the line that nobody can resist. This is the very real thing we are being tempted by. By these deceptions—through public relations, the skill of advertising, and people who devote their lives to nothing else than trying to entice—the devil tries to entice and tempt us, “by sorceries and witchcraft that deceive the nations” (cf. Revelation 18:23). (CWHN 9:330-331.)

For Nibley, public relations was in league with the devil.

Almost a decade later, in 1989, Nibley used the same trope:
The theme of Shakespeare's tragedy [Macbeth] is fraud and deception as a means of obtaining power and control; in the closing lines Macbeth admits that he has been taken in: “I … begin to doubt the equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth,” i.e., the double-talk of the promoter that put him on top, the rhetoric of Madison Avenue: “And be these juggling fiends no more believed that palter with us in a double sense; that keep the word of promise to our ear, and break it to our hope!” The worst thing about the “filthy air” is that it turns out to be a smoke-screen; Macbeth is led on and put off from day to day until he is done in. It is a smooth, white-collar scam such as Macbeth half suspected from the beginning: “But 'tis strange; And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray 's In deepest consequence.” What kind of honest trifles? Such pleasant bits as those pacifying public relations assurances, “We are not monsters or ogres, we are people just like you. We love our families just like you, we go to church too!” Or to quote the scriptures, “I am no devil” (2 Nephi 28:22). (CWHN 13:61-62)
In 1991 when Nibley addressed the Church Communications Department, he did not water down his opinion:
Ancient rhetoric . . . destroyed ancient society. Defined as “the art of pleasing the many,” it followed public taste and therefore always pushed downhill—rhetoric cannot lose: It is the ever victoriosa loquacitas, but the civilization that accommodates and adapts itself like a chameleon cannot win. Rhetoric is not to be cured of its vices by any technical or electronic refinements, for those vices are its very nature—the healthy cancer cells are the ones that kill, and rhetoric is a cancer. An example of this skillfully adaptive parasite is the manner in which commercials follow styles. Many of the big ones now have strong religious undertones. Recent commentators have noted the strong leaning toward spirits, ghosts, revenants, postdeath experiences, and the like in popular movies. In advertising the trend has been to sensitivity—a lengthy illustrating of heroic and climatic moments in the life of Winston Churchill culminating in celebrating those same sterling qualities of character animating the Southern Bell Telephone Company. We are now told that life simply cannot get better than following up some minor achievement, such as making a sale or winning a game or contemplating the future of one's children as successful doctors with a visit to McDonalds. And the point is that they really think that is the best that life has to offer. Babies are exploited shamelessly, with a crooning, husky, cracked, affectionate, slightly choked-up voice of an elderly gent to sell the product, which can be a truck, or a tire, or a power mower—somehow the baby shames you into buying it. The key word is message. What all these pitch-men have for the world is a message. It necessarily works by the principle of perverted values, Aristotle's doctrine of the mountain reflected in the lake; the less necessary an object is, the more it must be praised to sell it so that those who watch thousands of ads end up with a complete reversion of values, the most important things in life being deodorants, manageable hair, a sexy car, things to eat and drink, and, above all, the achievement of an absolutely perfect body without which the individual can never cease to be a reliable customer. This is what the Book of Mormon calls being carnally minded, the mainstay of all public relations. If you are perfect, then carefree is the operative word. To be youthful, beautiful, and at the beach where nobody does anything and nobody wears anything has become the common denominator. It is also the perfect Freudian escape to be free from the anxiety of age and death. What we want is a Paradise, and that is what Madison Avenue is out to give us. (CWHN 13:391-92)

So here public relations is a cancer that leads to being carnally minded.

He had used stronger words in 1976:
Let us recall that “making things appear what they really are not” is Plato's definition of Rhetoric: making false appear true and true appear false by the skillful use of words. With the recognition of the profession of Rhetoric of Public Relations as a legitimate activity, any civilization proclaims its moral bankruptcy. (CWHN 13:360-61.)
So for Nibley, adopting public relations was a proclamation of moral bankruptcy. The gospel did not need public relations.

So for Nibley's whole career, he warned against public relations. He did not think they were necessary and depicted them as evil. The organization that adopted them was inviting a cancer into the body and proclaiming its moral bankruptcy. This was even more apparent in transcripts of his classes.

Such were Nibley's considered opinions based on conscientious observations of over half a century and reading thousands of pages of ancient documents.

Nibley, however, was an academic and an outsider to the profession. There are other ways of looking at the profession.

[To be continued]

Today's Maxwell Quote

From If Thou Endure It Well (1996), 18:
As the Church spreads across the earth, so does Satan's dominion. Prophesied for our day are such things as wars, commotions, and distress of nations. These are not all geophysical. Perhaps even more destructive is the ethical relativism that denies any spiritual order and rejects divine and fixed principles of right and wrong. This we see reflected in a wholesale decline in moral standards and in the rapidly escalating incidence of cruelty, crime and corruption.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Seven Grooms for One Sister

One of the more famous passages in the book of Tobit occurs in the third chapter:
In that day it happened to the daughter of Ragouel, Sarah in Ecbatana of the Medes and she was rebuked by the maid-servants of her father because she was given to seven husbands and Asmodeus, the evil demon, killed them before she could be with them as a wife, and they said to her: Don't you understand that you have strangled your husbands; you have already had seven and never taken the name of any of them. (Tobit 3:7-8).
The comparison is usually with Matthew 22:25-28, a puzzle set to Jesus by the Sadducees.
There were among us seven brothers and the first, having married, died and not having seed, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second and the third until the seventh. Last of all the wife died. In the resurrection, therefore, of whom of the seven is she the wife, for all were married to her.
The difference is that in the puzzle set by the Sadducees, the husbands are brothers. That is not said in Tobit, where there are simply seven husbands. In Tobit, the marriages were never consummated. In Matthew nothing is said about that and the presumption is that they were all consummated. So, while there are similarities between Tobit and Matthew, they do not go very deep. Tobit may serve as a backdrop to the Sadducees' question, but the differences should not be ignored.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1980), 52:
These times, therefore, with their hardening effects and the abnormal way in which people will be selfish "lovers of their own selves" and when "the love of many shall wax cold" will make the giving of wise and loving service to others a particular challenge, like maintaining one's balance on the tilted deck of a sinking ship. (2 Timothy 3:2; Matthew 24:12; D&C 45:27.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Nibley on Rhetoric XVIII

Nibley on modern rhetoricians:
In its vagueness and all-pervasiveness the term rhetoric came very close to our own "business," or better, "public relations." No one could say exactly what it was, yet no one had the slightest doubt about its real nature or its absolutely predominant place in the world. The rhetorician was a general promoter, ingratiating himself with powerful individuals or groups to run off with a handsome cut of the profits from clever deals engineered by himself, handling other people's affairs in the law courts, guiding public opinion, generally flattering and running errands for the great---the god Mercury, the winged messenger and factotum with the money bags. Hermes the thief, with the ready tongue and winning manners shows how established the type really is. The rhetor is "a pushing, driving, money-chasing operator," says Lucian, "who leaves any sense of decency, propriety, moderation, and shame at home when he goes to work." "I do not make money," Dio protests, "I am not interested in crooked deals. . . . I do not promote things in the market place---for I am not a rhetor!" . . .  On the lower level, the cities swarmed with fast-talking operators who could always get it for you wholesale and whose skill at making something super-colossal out of nothing was excelled only by their know-how in the art of smearing. (Hugh Nibley, "Vicotriosa Loquacitas," CWHN 10:255-56.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
For some months, I’ve tried to emphasize repentance, one of the most vital and merciful doctrines of the kingdom. It is too little understood, too little applied by us all, as if it were merely a word on a bumper sticker.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Nibley on Rhetoric XVII

Nibley on the independence of rhetors:
Rhetoric, according to Augustine, is the art which, animated by necessity rather than "purity," scatters to the populace from its overflowing bosom (the Roman equivalent of pockets) an abundance of delights, thus leading them to comply with his interests. You can get what you want our of people if only you give them what they want---without question and without hesitation. The rhetor, say Philo, is the slave of a thousand masters, the public is a whore, and he is her minion and her lap-dog. (Hugh Nibley, "Vicotriosa Loquacitas," CWHN 10:259.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From the 1991 FARMS Annual Recognition Banquet:
I want to say in closing a few words about consecration.

You'll recall the episode in the fifth chapter of the book of Acts about how Ananias and his wife "kept back part" of the monetary proceeds from their possessions (Acts 5:1-11). We tend to think of consecration in terms of property and money. Indeed such was clearly involved in the forgoing episode, but there are various ways of "keeping back part" and these ways are worthy of your and my pondering. There are a lot of things we can hold back besides property. There are a lot of things we can refuse to put on the altar. This refusal may occur even after one has given a great deal, as was the case with Ananias. We may mistakenly think, for instance, having done so much that surely it is alright to hold back the remaining part of something. Obviously there can be no complete submissiveness when this occurs. . . .

Scholars might hold back in ways different from those of a businessman or a politician. There's an almost infinite variety in the number of ways you and I can hold back a portion. One, for instance, might be very giving as to money, or in even serving as to time, and yet hold back a portion of himself or herself. One might share many talents, but hold back, for instance, a pet grievance, keeping himself from surrendering that grievance where resolution might occur. A few may hold back a portion of themselves so as to please a particular gallery of peers. Some might hold back a spiritual insight through which many could profit, simply because they wish to have their ownership established. Some may even hold back by not allowing themselves to appear totally and fully committed to the kingdom, lest they incur the disapproval of a particular group, wherein their consecration might be disdained.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Oregon Imitates the Church

This article (and this) discussing a proposal for funding higher education in Oregon sounds very familiar. I am sure I heard something like this before.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From the 1991 FARMS Annual Recognition Banquet:
By the way, I think your helping another group. I don't know the demographics of this group. They are a most interesting group and it isn't your primary constituency, but George McDonald who was C.S. Lewis' mentor in absentia had a quote I share with you, "It is often the incapacity for defending the faith they love, which turns men into persecutors." Defenders beget defenders and one of the significant side benefits of scholars who are devoted, such as the men and women who are represented here tonight, is that we will at least reduce the number of people who do not have the capacity to defend their faith and who otherwise might "grow weary and faint in their minds" (Hebrews 12:3).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bait and Switch Humanities

An interesting article here outlines the current problem in the humanities. Since my field is part of the humanities I take an interest in the analysis which, though it is rather depressing, I find little to disagree with in the broad picture and much to dispute in my particular instance.

Dilbert Comes Through Again


The Laconians Strike Again

For the connoisseur of laconic communications it is hard to beat the Laconians themselves. The abstract of this scientific paper, however, does a more than respectable job.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From the 1991 FARMS Annual Recognition Banquet:
I mention also to you, in the spirit of appreciation, that I believe much of the vindication that will come to the Prophet and to this work of the Restoration, will come by scholars who are committed to the kingdom, who are unequivocally devoted to it. His vindication will often occur through your articulation, you and others like you.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Someone Agrees with Nibley

Over half a century ago, Hugh Nibley wrote:
What, then, should you and I do? Return, I say, to the program of the School of the Prophets and the University of Nauvoo, which was the acquisition of basic knowledge (especially languages) for the avowed purpose of aiding the spreading of the gospel. (CWHN 17:138).
That was Nibley's recommendation for a university education. Fast forward half a century to Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford, reviewing the recent report on the state of humanities at Harvard:
It is also necessary to study other civilizations, but to do this seriously would require universities, instead of scuttling requirements, to institute substantial foreign language requirements. Nothing is so revealing of multiculturalism’s status as a political program rather than a research paradigm than the indifference of its proponents to language study. The humanities should proudly tout the benefits​—​in commercial life, diplomacy, and national security​—​that come from mastering foreign languages.
I am not certain that Nibley and Berkowitz would agree on much if anything politically, but they both agree on this point.

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 82-83:

Many once church-related institutions, however, have long since become indistinguishable from other universities and colleges, keeping the ceremonial robes without the theology, the pomp without the purpose.

As the contest intensifies in this final summer, education is in the center of the fray as to what are and are not the basic beliefs at the center of it all. Secularists appear to be carrying the day, often because they go unchallenged as they break with tradition. We are all "free to choose," including educators, but the consequences of our choices will be felt, and this is the case in education, for there are no immunities from the consequences of our choices.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Nibley on Rhetoric XVI

Nibley on why we should pay attention to rhetoric:
Pointing out the dangers and defects of rhetoric does not change the habits of rhetoricians. The young Hippocrates, in the beginning of the Protagoras, blushes when he admits to Socrates that he is taking up rhetoric --- but that does not change his plans. Like the passions and appetites it feeds on, rhetoric is one of the great constants in human history. Because it is a constant, nothing can tell us better the direction in which a civilization is moving or how far it is along the way. Like the residue of certain radioactive substances, rhetoric, leaving an unmistakable mark on all that it touches, may yet prove to be the surest guide to the history of our own times. (Hugh Nibley, "Victoriosa Loquacitas," CWHN 10:274.)
What does it say about us that one of the top entertainment shows is about rhetors?

Today's Maxwell Quote

From this talk:
So vital is this framework [the plan of salvation] that if one stays or strays outside it, he risks provinciality and misery. In fact, most human misery represents ignorance of or noncompliance with the plan. A cessation of such mortal suffering will not come without compliance to it.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Nibley on Rhetoric XV

Nibley on rhetoric and the fate of the Roman Empire:
The effect of this sort of thing [rhetoric] on serious thought and learning can be imagined, but it does not need to be: the whole history of the Empire is there to illustrate it and to confirm in every detail all the charges that Plato had with unerring insight brought against rhetoric in the beginning. Hippias, Gorgias, Polus, Prodicus, and the other great Sophists "achieved wonderful reputations," Dio Chrysostom recalls, "and acquired great wealth in public activities from cities, dynasts, kings, and private individuals. . . . They spoke a great deal, but were sadly lacking in intelligence," and they confounded issues and destroyed philosophy. It was in their interest to do so, for they confessed that public ignorance was their greatest ally. (Hugh Nibley, "Victoriosa Loquacitas," CWHN 10:265.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 57-58:
In the sobering events that are impending in the playing-out of human history, we can better understand why this must be so. Even the martyrdom of certain saints has been permitted so that the record can be clear. (D&C 88:94.) If the judgments of God were to come upon mankind in advance of wickedness, then God would not be a just God.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Nibley on Rhetoric XIV

Nibley on why rhetoric is bad for society:
The landslide of vulgarization once started could not be stopped. Good men were intimidated and banished from the cities by mobs who could always count on finding orators that would never contradict them, society reserving its richest rewards for those who could justify, condone, and confirm its vices. (Hugh Nibley, "Vicotoriosa Loquacitas," CWHN 10:260.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 32:
With some exceptions, the things that need most to be said and most to be heard occur in one-to-one or small group settings. It is difficult to be profound in a reception line, and time so spent needs to be balanced with time spent in genuine gospel conversation.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Nibley on Rhetoric XIII

Nibley on rhetoric and corruption:
It was always remembered that there was a bad as well as a good side to rhetoric; but what was not recognized was a fatal Gresham's Law by which bad rhetoric, art, and education, like bad money, will always force the better product out of circulation. There can be no truce between the two, since each is a standing rebuke to the other. (Hugh Nibley, "Victoriosa Loquacitas," CWHN 10:257-58.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From We Will Prove Them Herewith (1982), 31:
Time does not heal all wounds; some wounds widen and worsen.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Nibley on Rhetoric XII

Nibley notes that rhetors refuse to accept responsibility:
This refusal to accept responsibility, which reaches its perfection in the great Christian orators of the fourth century, went hand in hand with a cynical admiration for the clever ruse, the lie that was not a lie. (Hugh Nibley, "Victoriosa Loquacitas," CWHN 10:257.)

Today's Maxwell Quote

From A More Excellent Way (1967), 68:
The American founding fathers who wrote our Constitution, as one historian observed, fortunately used well the lessons which the tides of history washed to their feet. Each of us has an accretion of information at our feet—more than we make use of as leaders—and since leaders seldom rise above the quality of the information available to them, this leadership task is vital. The quantity of information is very important, but so, too is the ability to see relationships beyond the facts

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Resignation as Repentance

This week Rabbi Norman Lamm resigned as the chancellor of Yeshiva University. The evil deed that caused his resignation was his failure to see that justice was done for evil acts committed by one of his subordinates thirty or more years ago. This is a very sad case. What intrigues me most about it is the reasoning cited in the article for his resignation:
At the time that inappropriate actions by individuals at Yeshiva were brought to my attention, I acted in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived. I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up. You think you are helping, but you are not. You submit to momentary compassion in according individuals the benefit of the doubt by not fully recognizing what is before you, and in the process you lose the Promised Land. . . . And when that happens -- one must do teshuvah. So, I too must do teshuvah. True character requires of me the courage to admit that, despite my best intentions then, I now recognize that I was wrong.
Teshuvah is the Hebrew word for repentance. It comes from a Hebrew root meaning to turn or to return. It means, thus, a turning away from one's wicked ways and a turning towards or return to God.

Over thirty years ago, Rabbi Lamm tried to cover up some terrible accusations, which ended up being true, of evil at the school that he had oversight for. They would have had, and eventually did have, terrible repercussions for the reputation of the school. Rabbi Lamm decided to bury the accusations of wrong-doing and stonewall for the sake of his school's reputation. He thought that was the correct thing to do at the time but now recognizes it as a mistake.

I salute Rabbi Lamm, not for what he did then, but having the courage to invoke repentance as he resigns. The relevant scriptures are as follows:
When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty; Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, . . . and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 4:22–26)
And if a soul sin, . . . and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these. And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned, . . . and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin which he hath sinned, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 5:1–11)
Administrators often do not have to live with the consequences of their bad choices, even if others must. So it is nice to see a university administrator who takes some responsibility for the evil he has wrought.

Nibley on Rhetoric XI

Nibley discusses why rhetors tend from mediocre to terrible:
The orator must stoop to conquer, and a quick and frightening rebuke awaits him is he does not stoop low enough. For all his toadying, Dio was banished for being unsociable, Libanius had to clear himself of the same terrible charge, and Apuleius was investigated time and again because he was suspected of being an introvert. Go easy on philosophy, Cicero advises, don't talk over people's heads---they don't like orators who make them feel stupid; best to keep your books at home for private leisure. He might have cited the case of Hermodorus, who was banished from the illustrious city of Ephesus because he was guilty of excelling in something: "If he must excel," they said, "let him go and excel over somebody else!"