Monday, June 30, 2008

Relativity in Words of Four Letters or Less

When I was in college I really struggled with some of the textbooks - the $75 to $100 texts - that we were forced to buy for our classes. They didn't seem to be written to teach us anything. One especially egregious example was a "circuits" text our professor was getting paid to review. Our grade was partly based on finding and reporting errors in this horrible book. It had hundreds of greater and lesser instances of unlabeled graphs, incorrect formulas and calculations, typos, missing information, duplicated information, and just about every other bewildering sort of misinformation you can imagine. Somehow I got an "A" in the class.

In Textbook Publishing Biz Julie Spears writes, "What standards of accountability do textbook publishers have when textbooks have unconventional or just plain wrong information in them? Do we really expect children to learn about physical science when the textbook they are learning from has over eighty-five documented errors in it? [She is talking about a specific textbook.] Is there something wrong with an American history textbook that has just a few lines about George Washington but six and one-half pages about Marilyn Monroe? Is it acceptable for that history book to give the impression that Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain to discover America in 1500 rather that 1492?

The abstract of How Clearly Written are Children's Textbooks?, by Thomas H. Anderson, says "Two representative samples of expository prose from sixth grade textbooks (one in science and one in social studies) were analyzed for clarity of explanation. Four text criteria were applied to the analyses: structure, unity, coherence, and audience appropriateness. The results of the analysis suggested that many children's textbooks are not clearly written. It was proposed that the procedures commonly used by authors to make texts easier to read (shorter sentences, easier vocabulary, less detail, and use of condensed explanations of ideas) may instead cause the text to be even more difficult to comprehend. The effect of poor quality text on how well children learn to read and comprehend text may also be very great. A third suggestion, based on these research results, is that poorly written texts may develop undesirable student attitudes toward reading texts."

Born 2 Rule (possibly not his/her real name) offers some good suggestions for improving engineering texts.

  • The variables used in engineering textbooks should be standardized. It is tremendously confusing to students to see the same equation written three different ways.

  • Every concept should be introduced in a qualitative manner before it is introduced in a quantitative manner. They shouldn't just be a blur of equations.

  • No engineering textbook should be written by engineers alone. They should be a collaboration between an engineer and someone with a strong background in educational psychology and technical writing. Every textbook has an editor. These people should do more than correct grammar. The only reason that an engineering textbook should be written by engineers alone is to protect their fragile egos or to cut costs by not hiring additional writers.

  • Every table, graph, chart, and figure should be labeled in a way that explains what the student should learn from it.

  • The layout should be such that it is clear which equations are the most important. Although derivations are extremely important, perhaps they should be put in sidebars so that the main body of the text flows better and appears less overwhelming. If the text only contains a few equations, it is much easier for the students to read it and get a general understanding, then go back and read the derivations to refine that understanding.

  • Exciting trivia should be included to enhance the enthusiasm of the students. Learning should be a form of entertainment.

  • Digital textbooks would be much better than conventional printed ones.

To this list I'd add a suggestion of my own: texts should be carefully proofread before being foisted on students.

Born 2 Rule then goes on to list the advantages of Digital Textbooks. [Can you say Wikipedia, I ask?]

  • Every technical term can be linked to a definition of that term. This would allow even the laziest of students to quickly eliminate any confusion about what a word or term means.

  • The teacher could easily standardize the symbols that are used to represent variables in all of the equations. This could be done by filling out a key that is then used to update all of the student's textbooks.

  • Such textbooks could contain lots of multimedia enhancements and simulations. A picture really is worth a thousand words. Students could have the benefit of hundreds of hours of lab work at little cost and with little risk of injury.

  • They could include lots of self-tests for the students which provide them with immediate feedback about whether they are right or wrong. Getting immediate feedback is extremely helpful to learning.

  • They can be inexpensively reproduced. This is especially good for schools in developing countries or public schools that are operating on a low budget. While this may be bad news for the publisher, it would be incredibly good for the world in general.

  • They can easily be searched through and translated. Text to speech programs could be used to make them easily accessible to the blind or otherwise handicapped.

  • They can contain the primary sources of information instead of just including references.

  • They could be organized into a modular format so that teachers could quickly create custom textbooks for a course.

  • Multiple explanations of the same concept could be presented.

Another allegation I recall from my college days (but can't seem to document as I'm writing this article) is that textbooks are written by "educated" people to impress their peers, not to teach. Other highly "educated" people have no trouble reading them, and if textbooks were actually tutorial, there would not be so great a need for teachers to interpret them for students.

Penultimately, I've observed that "educated" people are often pedants. Why use big words when diminutive words are just as good?

And that leads us into my final gripe: textbooks are often written in Purple Prose. This term is "used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensuously evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader's response", and "any writing that is undermined by its overstylized and formulaic nature." Here is one example.

But the Quincunx of Heaven runs low, and 'tis time to close the five ports of knowledge. We are unwilling to spin out our awaking thoughts into the phantasms of sleep, which often continueth precogitations; making Cables of Cobwebs and Wildernesses of handsome Groves. Besides Hippocrates hath spoke so little and the Oneirocriticall Masters, have left such frigid Interpretations from plants that there is little encouragement to dream of Paradise it self. Nor will the sweetest delight of Gardens afford much comfort in sleep; wherein the dullness of that sense shakes hands with delectable odours; and though in the Bed of Cleopatra, can hardly with any delight raise up the Ghost of a Rose.

What in the world is Sir Thomas Browne trying to say here?

As a refreshing change from the above, I offer Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity written in words of four letters or less by Brian Raiter (aka Organic Worker Drone BR903) of Muppetlabs. As near as I can figure, this is just about the ONLY sane material from Muppetlabs. Way to go BR903!

[ 0 ]

So, have a seat. Put your feet up. This may take some time. Can I get you some tea? Earl Grey? You got it.

Okay. How do I want to do this? He did so much. It's hard to just dive in. You know? You pick a spot to go from, but soon you have to back up and and go over this or that item, and you get done with that only to see that you have to back up some more. So if you feel like I'm off to the side of the tale half the time, well, this is why. Just bear with me, and we'll get to the end in good time. Okay?

Okay. Let's see....

[ I ]

Say you woke up one day and your bed was gone. Your room, too. Gone. It's all gone. You wake up in an inky void. Not even a star. Okay, yes, it's a dumb idea, but just go with it. Now say you want to know if you move or not. Are you held fast in one spot? Or do you, say, list off to the left some? What I want to ask you is: Can you find out? Hell no. You can see that, sure. You don't need me to tell you. To move, you have to move to or away from ... well, from what? You'd have to say that you don't even get to use a word like "move" when you are the only body in that void. Sure. Okay.

Now, let's add the bed back. Your bed is with you in the void. But not for long -- it goes away from you. You don't have any way to get it back, so you just let it go. But so now we have a body in the void with you. So does the bed move, or do you move? Or both? Well, you can see as well as I that it can go any way you like. Flip a coin. Who's to say? It's best to just say that you move away from the bed, and that the bed goes away from you. No one can say who's held fast and who isn't.

Now, if I took the bed back but gave you the sun -- just you and the sun in the void, now -- I'll bet you'd say that the sun is so big, next to you, that odds are you move and not the sun. It's easy to move a body like ours, and not so easy to kick a sun to and fro. But that isn't the way to see it. Just like with the bed, no one can say who's held fast.

In a word, you can't find any one true "at rest". Izzy was the one who told us that. Izzy said that you can't tell if you move or are at rest at any time. You can say that you go and all else is at rest, or you can say that you are at rest and all else goes. It all adds up the same both ways. So we all knew that much from way back when.

Aha, but now wait! The sun puts off rays! So: why not look at how fast the rays go past you? From that you'd see how fast you move, yes? For you see, rays move just the same if what puts them off is held fast or not. (Make a note of that, now.) Izzy had no way to know that, back then, but it's true. Rays all move the same. We call how fast that is: c. So, you can see how fast the rays go by you, and how far off that is from c will tell you how fast you move! Hell, you don't even need the sun for that. You can just have a lamp with you -- the one by your bed that you use to read by. You can have that lamp in your hand, and see how fast the rays go by you when you turn it on. The lamp will move with you, but the rays will move at c. You will see the rays move a bit more or less than c, and that will be how fast you move. An open-and-shut case, yes?

Well, and so we went to test this idea out. Hey, you don't need to be in a void to do this test. We move all the time, even as we sit here. We spin, in fact. So they shot some rays off and took note of how fast they went east, and how fast they went west, and so on. Well, what do you know? The rays went just as fast both ways. All ways, in fact. They all went at c, just the same. Not an iota more or less.

To say that we were less than glad to find that out is to be kind. It blew the mind, is more like it. "What is up with that?" we said. And here is when old Al came in.

[ II ]

Old Al, he came out the blue and said, "Not only do rays move at c if what puts them out is held fast or not: they move at c even if you are held fast or not." Now that may not look like such a big deal on the face of it, but hold on. What this says is that you can move as fast or as slow as you want, and rays will go by you at c all the time. You can have a pal run past you and when you both look at a ray go by at the same time, you will both see the same ray go by at c! That is a bit wild, no? You, back in that void, you just can not say if you move or not -- with the lamp or no. Not that you can't tell: it can't be said. It's moot!

But for that to be true, then time also has to get in on the act. For you and your pal to see the same ray go by at the same clip, her idea of time must be off from your idea of time!

I can hear you say, "No way. That can't be!" But I tell you it is. Old Al said so. He said, here, I'll show you. Get a load of this. We have Bert and Dana. Take a bus, and put Bert on the bus. The bus goes down the road. Dana, she sits here, on the side of the road. He's in the bus and she's on her ass. And now take a rock off of the moon, and let it fall at them. It hits the air and cuts in two. The two bits burn, and then land just as Bert and Dana are side by side. One hits the dirt up the road a ways, and one hits down the road a ways. Dana sees each rock at the same time, but Bert sees one rock and then sees the next rock. Now: if Bert and Dana both see Dana as the one who is "at rest", they both will say that the two bits came down at the same time. Dana will say, "I am 'at rest', and I saw them both land at the same time, so they both did, in fact, land at the same time." And Bert will say, "I move away from the rock down the road, so when I add that fact in, I can see that if I were 'at rest', I'd have seen both land at the same time. So it must be the case that they did land at the same time." Okay, but what if Bert and Dana now see Bert as the one who is "at rest"? Eh? You get to pick who is "at rest" and who isn't, no? So make Bert be "at rest". Now Bert will say, "I am 'at rest', so the one up the road beat the one down the road, on the way to the dirt, just the way I saw it." And Dana will say, "I saw them land at the same time, but I move away from the rock up the road, so when I add that fact in, I can see that the rock up the road must have beat the one down the road."

So you see, when you give up on the idea of a one true "at rest", then you have to give up on the idea of a one true time as well! And even that is not the end of it. If you lose your one true way to see time, then you also lose your one true way to see size and your one true way to see mass. You can't talk of any of that, if you don't also say what it is you call "at rest". If you don't, then Bert or Dana can pick an "at rest" that isn't the same as what you used, and then what they will get for time and size and mass won't be the same.

What a snag, eh? I hope you can see how that gave some of them the fits, back when old Al told us that one. But even so, that ain't the half of it. I mean, most of us know that if old Al had got hit by a bus at age ten, we'd have got this far on our own in good time. No, it was what came next that was the real slap in the face.

[ III ]

Now, I've said a lot here on how to see (or how not to see) how fast you "move". What I need to tell you now is just what I mean by that word "move". When I say "move", I also mean that you don't slow down or get sped up at any time, and that you don't veer to one side at all. When you move, you just keep all that the same as you go. How we say it is, you don't have any "pull". Why do I make a big deal out of that, you ask? Okay, let me tell you.

Cast your mind back to Ari, from way way back when. He's the one who said that if you are at rest, you tend to stay at rest, and if you move, you tend to come to rest. He was off, you know, as he had no way to know that it was the air that has you come to rest. We had to wait a long time for Izzy to come by and say, "No, Ari: if you move, you tend to just go on and on. To come to rest, you need to have a pull." The air will give you a pull, a pull that has you come to rest. Then we also have the big pull, the one that says what is down and what is up, the one that has all of us in its grip. Izzy saw that this pull was the same pull that has the moon in its grip, too. I said that a pull can be a veer, yes? That is what the pull on the moon does. The moon has to veer all the time for it to stay with us. Were it not for that pull, it'd just go off in a line -- no veer -- and we'd just sit here and wave bye bye. Same with us and the sun. We veer, each hour, or else we'd get real cold real fast.

But then, see, Izzy had to deal with the way that the pull acts. If a body has more mass, then it also has more pull, yes? That is why the sun is the axis we spin upon, and we are not the axis for the sun. But then why can't it go both ways? You take your ball of lead and your ball of wood and drop them, they land at the same time. But the lead ball has more mass, so it must get more pull. Izzy said, "Well, see, a body has one more kind of pull. This pull is such that it will want to stay put all the time. And the more mass it has, the more it will want to stay put. That pull is the 'a body at rest will tend to stay at rest' part of the deal. So you see, that pull and the big pull are in a tug-of-war, and they work out so that any mass will fall just as fast."

I call it a "new kind of pull", but it isn't so new: you feel it all the time. Get in a car and step on the gas -- you feel a pull back into your seat. Let up on the gas a bit, and the pull goes away. Make a left, and you feel a pull to the side. Stop, and you feel a pull out of your seat as you slow down. Or, go to the fair and get on a ride. As you spin, you feel a pull out, away from the ride. You spin: that is to say you veer, and veer and veer and veer, just like the moon. If you had no seat belt, you'd fly off the ride, and you'd fly off in a line. (Well, that is to say, you'd fly off in a line as a bird sees it. To be fair you'd also arc down at the same time. But put that to one side.)

Okay but now, see, old Al's big idea did not work when you look at pull. Go back to when you were lost in the void. You can't say if you move or not, yeah, but you sure can say if you have a pull on you or not. If you did, you'd feel it, no? Sure. So then you have no one true "at rest", no one true way to look at time, or mass, or size, but you do have one true way to look at a pull? Old Al said, "Erm. I don't buy that." We all said, "Aah, why not? Just give it a rest, Al." You can see why Al did not want to give it a rest, I bet. But this one was not such an easy nut.

[ IV ]

Izzy once said, Look here: say you have a disk that can spin, and so you put a pail of milk on it and you make it spin. You will see the milk go up the side of the pail, and fly over and out onto the disk. No big deal, eh? The spin will make a pull. But now what if you said that the pail of milk is your "at rest"? Then you have you and the sky and all that in a big huge spin, and the disk with its pail of milk is the only body that is "at rest", yes? How can you say then why the milk goes up? What can make the at-rest milk fly out of the pail like that?

This is why Izzy came to say: Yes, we have no one true "at rest", and when you move, some may say you do move and some may say you don't, and that is okay -- but not so with a pull! A pull is a pull, damn it.

But old Al's mind was set. And he had a big clue that that was not the full tale. I told you that Izzy put a new kind of pull next to the old kind. Well, even he felt that this new pull was a tad bit odd. Not to put it down, mind you -- just that this new kind of pull was so much like the old kind of pull in a lot of ways. You know? Say I put you in a box, and then put that box out in a void. (But this time I don't need to have you in a true void. I just want you to be well away from any pull. You can have a star or two, or as many as you like, as long as you keep them far off. Okay?) Now, say I tied a rope from the box to a ship, and then I got in that ship and sent it up, so that it went fast, and more fast, and more fast ... I just burn up fuel as long as I have any left. As long as I see to it that you get sped up all the time, and at the same rate, you will feel a pull that will feel just like the pull you'd feel if you were back here, at home. If you have a ball of lead and a ball of wood in that box with you, you can drop them and they will both land at the same time. That is a bit odd, no? Puts a bug in your ear, yes? You can bet it put bugs in our ears. But no one had come up with a good way to say why that was so. Not yet.

Old Al, he took that ball and ran with it. He went off for a year, and then ten more. Yep. That long. This was no walk in the park, let me tell you. In fact, some of us said that it was more like a walk off the deep end! For you see, when old Al came back, he said, "This 'new' pull that Izzy gave us, it is just the old pull. Not just like it. It is it. The two are one and the same. And from this, you will then see that we have no 'one true pull'."

Do you see what he said, here? When you are in that box with the rope on the ship, the pull you feel won't just act like the pull back home: it is in fact the same kind of pull! So when you say, "Hey! What if I want this box to be my 'at rest', huh? What then? Why does this ball fall down if I'm at rest and all?" -- old Al will say back at you, "Well, you see, you have this big old void that goes by, and gets sped up all the time, and that has a pull on you and your box." You'd say, "Get out of here! The mass in this void is too far away to give me that big of a pull!" But old Al'd say, "Nope. You don't get it. How much mass you have in your void is moot. It's the fact that it's all the mass in the void. All of it but you and your box, that is."

Same with the milk in the pail. If you say that the pail is at rest, then old Al will say that the spin of all else will pull on the milk, and make it jump out over the side.

So here is what we get when we boil it all down. Izzy said that you can't tell if you move or are at rest at any time. You can say that you go and all else is at rest, or you can say that you are at rest and all else goes. It all adds up the same both ways. But old Al then said not only that, but that you can't even tell if you have a pull on you or not. So, at no time, in no way, can you act so that you can't be seen as "at rest". You can go this way or that way or jump up or down or what have you: even so, you can say that you are at rest -- and it will all add up just the same.

This was the big one for old Al. He'd like to jump for joy, it all came out just so. But the rest of us, well, we felt more like it was time to lock Al up, what he said was so wild.

[ V ]

So some of us said, "Al, you are mad. Look here: you want to make this pull, this pull that we need to keep next to the sun -- you want to make this very real pull into some kind of fake pull! I mean, what kind of pull is it that can go away and come back as you pick what to call your 'at rest'? That is no way for a pull to act." And old Al said, "Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. It is a fake pull." And we said, "Okay, that is it. You, Al, have lost it." And old Al said, "Feh. Read this and weep." And we read it, or we gave it a try, more like. It was a real mess. Some of us got it, but most of us just went, "Huh?" And some of us said that even if it was true, we'd just as soon stay with the old lie, Al's idea was so hard to make head or tail of.

But Herb -- what? No, Herb isn't his real name, but I like to call him that -- But so then Herb was one of the ones who got it, and he went in with old Al and his new idea, and what they came up with goes like this.

You know all the ways you can move, here. You have your up-and-down, and you have your east-and-west, and you have your fore-and-back. Well, Herb had said, we want to add one more way here: time. Yeah, time as just one more way to move in. Four ways, all told. And now Herb and old Al said, "Let's take a look at what we can do when we look at here as a four-way here. Like, what if this four-way here can be bent? We don't mean that what is in a four-way spot gets bent: what if the very spot gets bent?" Some of us said, "You two have got bent, is more like it." But they said, "Ha. Get a load of this."

They said, what if mass puts a bend in this four-way here of ours? The more mass you have in one spot, the more bent that spot gets. So now pick out a spot A and a spot B, one on each side of some mass, and each at its own time. What does it look like when a body goes from A to B? You will say: A line. Well, yes and no. It is a line, but it's also bent, as it goes past the bent spot. You see, this line will only look like a line if you can see all four ways! If you can't see one of the ways, if for you the way you can't see is what you call time, then you will see it as a line with a big old veer in it, half way in. Now, take a lot of mass, as much as our sun has, and pick spot A and spot B to be near the mass, and to be the same spot but for the time. Well, when you do that, the line from A to B in the four-way here will be an arc to you and me! An arc that will spin on and on, with that mass as the axis!

"You see?" old Al said. "You say that the sun has a pull, but when we spin with the sun as our axis, in the bent-up four-way here we just move in a line! We don't veer off at all! That is why I say that your pull is a fake pull. You don't need any pull if you just want to stay on a line!"

A few more of us got it, then. But most of us just said, "What are you two on? Put down the bong and get real! This is way too wild to be true." But they just said, "Just try and see if it isn't true."

So we came up with ways to test old Al's idea, and each time Al hit the gold. His idea had the sun's rays a tiny bit more red than what Izzy said. They were. His idea put Mars a tiny bit off from how Izzy had Mars. It was.

The big one, the one that got told over and over, was the one with the dark-at-day time. You know, when the moon gets in the way of the sun. At that time you can get a real good look at a star when it's up next to the sun. (Next to it in the sky, that is. Not next to it for real. You know what I mean.) They went off and got a good look at a star that was very near the sun, and then they used a book to see just what spot that star was in. You see, the rays from the star pass so near the sun that they get bent, on the way to us. Old Al, his idea said just how much the rays get bent. With Izzy, the rays get bent, too, but only by half as much. So they took a look at the star, and they took at look at the big book, and ... well, I'll bet you can tell me as well as I can tell you just how far off that star was.


And then all of us, we all just sat back and said: "Whoa."

And then we all went back to old Al and said to him, "Al, you must have some kind of head on you, to pull an idea like that out of thin air." We said, "Why don't you quit this dumb job you have here and come with us?" We said, "You know what, Al? We like you."

[ end ]

And that is just the way it was. (Well, that is to say, more or less.) Oh dear me, look at the time! Sigh. I do know how to run on, don't I? It must be well past time to turn in. Let me show you out. It was very nice to have you over, and I hope I was of help.

And y'all come back now, hear?

Note: "Herb" actually refers to Hermann Minkowski. (And "Izzy" and "Ari" are, of course, Isaac Newton and Aristotle.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chiasmus VI Revisited: Alma 13 in greater detail

In the article I posted earlier today I included a couple of chiasms from Alma 13 in the Book of Mormon. Sterling D. Allen documented this chapter much more thoroughly. You can find his analysis here. He has an amazing collection of interesting material on his website.

Notice how some of these share material with others: they overlap.

In closing, did you know that there are people who claim to be "chiasm doubters"? One of these is Kaimi Wenger at "Times and Seasons", who declares himself to be a "chiasm doubter". He is also an attorney in New York City, according to his blog, Seeking for Righteousness. Kaimi thinks maybe Joseph Smith studied Hebrew enough "to absorb and adopt various 'scripturese' speech patterns, whether consciously or not. Or maybe we’re all just engaging in cherry-picking interpretations of rorschach blots when we look for chiasm."

I'm serious! This isn't just another Urban Legend. Yes, I know I'm being harsh.

Right off the bat Kaimi states a false premise: "chiasm is an indication of ancient origin". Whoa! Nobody ever said that. Chiasm is an indication of prophetic origin. Try that on for size, Kaimi. In my next, and last, article about chiasmus, I'll demonstrate some modern examples of this kind of poem.

After that false premise, Kaimi goes on to draw some equally false conclusions. Take a look for yourself.

I ask you: after what you've seen in these articles, could you be a "chiasm doubter"? If so, would you like to buy a bridge? Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards have written a paper, Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance". Your brain is probably already saturated with this subject, but if you still aren't convinced, take a look. On page 14 of the article, a computer program used in writing the paper is mentioned. If you check out footnote 33 you'll find out how to get a copy of the program so you can test chiasms yourself. If you are even vaguely interested.

And that’s it for chiasmus in Alma 13 in particular and for chiasmus in the Book of Mormon in general. One more article on this subject to go!

Chiasmus VI: Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, and Mormon

This is the sixth in a series of articles about the Hebrew poetry in the Scriptures. I’ve expended most of my efforts demonstrating the amazing quantity and quality of these poems in the Book of Mormon. If you found these articles interesting, then you will want to see if you can find your own Chiasms.

After the Books of First and Second Nephi, there are four short books; Enos, Jarom, Omni, and the explanatory Words of Mormon. These are then followed by the much longer Book of Mosiah. Here's a short poem I noticed in Mosiah 3:18-19.

I have made some of the parallel words bold. These outline the major messages in these verses. But there are other things that you will see as you study the poem.

First of all is the idea that an enemy to God is one who does not yield to the Holy Spirit, and conversely, if you yield to the Holy Spirit, then you are God's friend.

Another idea in these verses is that a saint is someone who has been saved, and that to become a saint is to believe in Christ.

The central idea is that this is always so, and it divides this into "from the fall of Adam" (the past) and "will be forever and ever" (the future), and puts us (now) in the very center of the poem. This message is for me right now, not for some hypothetical person.

Another message is that humility can be defined as yielding to the Holy Spirit.

All those things become more apparent when these verses are arranged as a poem. Here's another poem in Mosiah 5:10-12.

Notice that the first half refers to some hypothetical person, but in the second half King Benjamin relates these principles to each of his listeners. In what way does transgression blot the name of Jesus out of our hearts so that we forget it? Have you felt your testimony weaken when you have sinned?

"These passages are just two small parts of the very complex chiastic structure of King Benjamin's entire speech. The fact that King Benjamin uses chiasmus is completely consistent with the traditional coronation ceremony which was taking place. Benjamin's thoughts had been carefully prepared beforehand and had even been "written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice." This degree of painstaking deliberation in writing was the rule, rather than the exception, among the Book of Mormon prophets." (Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, by John W. Welch, in BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, p. 69.)

Here is a poetic outline of the entire book of Mosiah. It is up to the reader to compare these things with the scriptural references. Keep in mind that within this overall structure there are numerous other sub structures or poems, all intertwined like a tapestry. This example of Chiasmus is also taken from the John W. Welch article mentioned above:

Well, that is amazing, isn't it? When you read the Book of Omni and then the Book of Mosiah, you will notice that the story becomes rather complicated; it is hard to follow who is doing what and to whom, and where the action is taking place. Once you understand that the Book of Mormon prophets used these poetic structures, you’ll understand why the text, if read like prose, seems disorganized. It seems disorganized because it is so thoroughly organized.

The Book of Alma, which contains a wealth of chiastic poetry, comes after the Book of Mosiah. Here is Alma 13:2-9.

The word "rest" in the center of this chiasm has a connection with the priesthood and eternal life. Alma used the word "rest" four times just prior to this (see Alma 12:34-37) and four times in the concluding portions of his discourse (Alma 13:12,13,16, and 29). The "rest" of God is possible only through the Atonement of Christ through faith and repentance (Alma 12:37; see also Alma 40:11-12; 3 Nephi 27:19; Enos 1:27). The chiastic structure of Alma 13:2-9, coupled with Alma's use of the word "rest" before and after this passage adds to the power and meaning of the text in a way that can only be described as poetry. Verses 2-3 in the above also form a secondary chiasm.

Here is Alma 13:20-31. This looks better in color because the parallel elements consist of entire sentences instead of just a few key words!

This is Alma 36. Some authors say this is the greatest chiasm of them all. I think it is probably the one most people are most aware of. From what you’ve seen so far in these articles, I think you’d agree that Alma 36 is impressive, but that it is not necessarily the best tree in the forest.

There are so many great examples of Hebrew poetry in the Book of Mormon that I have a hard time calling any one of them "the best". This is Alma 37. This is one I discovered and diagrammed myself, but it can also be found on the Internet.

In addition to the examples in this article, I’ve found chiasms in Alma 5, 19, 20, 34, and 38 – and there are probably many more.

The Book of Alma is followed by the Book of Helaman. This is a chiasm found in Helaman 6:7-13.

The Book of Helaman is followed by Third Nephi. In my third article about Hebrew poetry I showed you the chiasm I discovered in 3 Nephi 20-22. After Third Nephi is Fourth Nephi, and this is followed by the Book of Mormon. Yes, one of the books in the Book of Mormon is called the Book of Mormon. If you are curious about that, ask one of your LDS friends to explain it. Here is a very small part of the complicated chiastic structure found in Mormon 8 These are verses 12-17.

I’ll leave this to you, dear reader, to analyze and ponder.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Great Cookie Recipe from Nieman-Marcus

No discussion of Urban Legends would be complete without this.

What Snopes has to say about the Neiman-Marcus cookie hoax:

Claim: Neiman-Marcus charged a shopper $250 for its cookie recipe, not the $2.50 the woman had been expecting to pay. As revenge on the store for refusing to reverse the charge, she now provides the recipe for free and exhorts others to pass it along.

Status: False.

Origins: What we have here is a golden oldie of an urban legend, one second in tenacity only to Craig Shergold's request for business cards. It's the ultimate "strike a blow for the little guy," and in that lies its appeal. That by forwarding it on, we can be armchair heroes.

Though its present incarnation casts Neiman-Marcus as the bad guy, this legend has been around for at least 50 years, and it's been told of various companies (and various confections) during its long history. Here's a fine example from a 1948 cookbook, Massachusetts Cooking Rules, Old and New, which lists not only the recipe for "$25 Fudge Cake" but also gives the following explanation for the name:

This friend had to pay $25 upon the receipt of the recipe from the chef of one of the railroads. She had asked for the recipe while eating on a train. The chef gladly sent it to her, together with a bill for $25, which her attorney said she had to pay. She then gave the recipe to all her friends, hoping they would get some pleasure from it.

Sound disturbingly familiar?

The 1960s saw this tale mutate into a villainization of New York's famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel over a dessert known as "Red Velvet Cake." A woman who'd dined at the hotel later wrote to ask for the recipe. The recipe arrived . . . along with a bill for $350, a bill her lawyer assured her she had to pay. Her way of getting even was -- you guessed it -- to distribute the recipe far and wide.

($350 is a shocking figure for those times. Just to give an idea of the relative worth of things back then, the grocery budget at my house was $50 a week for a family of four. Faced with a $35 dentist bill, my mother would for the next two weeks stand over me as I brushed my teeth at bedtime, making sure I wasn't half doing the job and thus sentencing the family to the poor house.)

By the late 1970s, this legend had shifted to Mrs. Fields and chocolate chip cookies. Indeed, this version proved so fiendishly popular that in 1987 the following notice signed by Debbi Fields was displayed in her stores:

Mrs. Fields recipe has never been sold. There is a rumor circulating that the Mrs. Fields Cookie recipe was sold to a woman at a cost of $250. A chocolate-chip cookie recipe was attached to the story. I would like to tell all my customers that this story is not true, this is not my recipe and I have not sold the recipe to anyone. Mrs. Fields recipe is a delicious trade secret.

You rarely hear this tale told of Mrs. Fields these days -- the 1990s saw it shift yet again, this time to point a finger at Neiman-Marcus. One possible reason for this shift could have been a double misremembering of names as the legend was briefly told of the department store Marshall Fields: Mrs. Fields to Marshall Fields (similar name) and Marshall Fields to Neiman-Marcus (similar-sounding name plus both are department stores).

As the latest in a long line of victims, Neiman-Marcus has fielded numerous inquiries about the following tale (which I've excerpted from the rather lengthy canonical version):

My daughter & I had just finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas & decided to have a small dessert. Because our family are such cookie lovers, we decided to try the "Neiman-Marcus Cookie". It was so excellent that I asked if they would give me the recipe and they said with a small frown, "I'm afraid not." Well, I said, would you let me buy the recipe? With a cute smile, she said, "Yes." I asked how much, and she responded, "Two fifty." I said with approval, just add it to my tab.

Thirty days later, I received my VISA statement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285.00. I looked again and I remembered I had only spent $9.95 for two salads and about $20.00 for a scarf. As I glanced at the bottom of the statement, it said, "Cookie Recipe - $250.00." Boy, was I upset!! I called Neiman's Accounting Dept. and told them the waitress said it was "two fifty," and I did not realize she meant $250.00 for a cookie recipe.

(Neiman-Marcus refuses to strike down the bill; then comes the usual exhortation from the writer to pass this along to as many as possible.)

Especially in their particular case, the legend is even more improbable than usual in that:

  • Until quite recently there was no such thing as a "Neiman-Marcus" cookie. They developed a chocolate chip cookie in response to the rumor.

  • There is no "Neiman Marcus Cafe" at any of the chain's three Dallas-area stores. Instead, the restaurants are named Zodiac, Zodiac at North Park, and The Woods.

  • Neiman Marcus does not sell recipes from its restaurants. The department store gives them away for free to anyone who asks.

(Check out the Neiman Marcus web page for a bit about this piece of lore and their newly-developed chocolate chip cookie recipe.)


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 1 egg

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1-3/4 cups flour

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, slightly crushed

  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips


  • Cream the butter with the sugars until fluffy.

  • Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract.

  • Combine the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture.

  • Stir in the chocolate chips.

  • Drop by large spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet.

  • Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, or 10 to 12 minutes for a crispier cookie.

  • Makes 12 to 15 large cookies.

As to why this legend has taken on a life of its own despite persistent and detailed debunkings, it's a classic David and Goliath story. It is, after all, the little guy smacking the big, heartless corporation a swift one right across the nose, something both you and I have often longed to do. This bit of faxlore invites -- nay, demands -- participation. Painless participation too. One tap of the "Forward" key and someone who always saw herself as part of The Forces For Good (but who could never find the time to change the world) gets to enjoy that wonderfully warming self-righteous feeling that comes from Striking A Blow. All it takes is either a couple of pins and a bulletin board or e-mail capability and an alias list and your good deed of the day is done and finished before the morning's first coffee has cooled.

What's the possible slandering of an innocent company when there's a cheap 'n' easy "warm fuzzy feeling" to be had? Like, would an anonymous, forwarded-a-million-times e-mail lie to you?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Urban Legends and The Thermodynamics of Hell

A thermodynamics professor wrote a take home exam for his graduate students. It had one question:

Is hell exothermic or endothermic?
Support your answer with a proof.

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law or some variant. Here's the answer that got an "A" on the test.

First, we postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass.

Second, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

Third, lets look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not usually belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls go to hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially.

Fourth, let's consider the rate of change of volume in hell. Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant.

One conclusion is that if hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.

The other conclusion is that if hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose.

Before you get all testy about the many doctrinal flaws in this little piece, remember that it is intended to be funny. But humor isn't the only reason I've put this "joke" in my blog. I also want to discuss Urban Legends.

Some websites say a student named Tim Graham wrote the winning answer. Snopes, your first recourse when faced with a possible Urban Legend, doesn't mention Graham, but has this to say.

  • Commonly, the piece begins with a statement meant to authenticate the story. "An actual question given on University of Washington chemistry midterm," "from a Yale professor," and "Dr. Schambaugh, of the University of Oklahoma School of Chemical Engineering, Final Exam question for May of 1997" have been spotted so far.

  • Sometimes the student's comments culminate in the assertion that hell must be exothermic because a girl he'd been chasing had sworn it'd be a cold day in hell before she'd sleep with him, and he'd so far been unable to get to first base with her.

  • Often the story concludes with "The student received the only 'A' given on the exam."

There IS a Dr. Robert Shambaugh at the University of Oklahoma College of Engineering, but according to one web page he says he never used this question on any of his exams.

By now, if you've read some of my posts, you know how interested I am in religion. So you'll forgive me for reporting that Snopes goes on to say that

... the purported student's opening gambit, "We postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass," stands in opposition to the position taken centuries ago by the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy See had given its official approval to a particular line of scientific thought, the vacuum, to specificially allow for immaterial forms such as weightless souls and armies of angels in what would otherwise be a filled universe. Without vacuums, places where measurable matter does not exist, both Heaven and Hell and all their denizens would have no place in the cosmic order of things. The time-honored Aristotelian assertion "Nature abhors a vacuum" had to be (and was) elbowed out of the way because the vacuum was a theological necessity.

Talk about doctrinal errors!! Oy, vey!

As I was researching this article I found an interesting paper by Mark Goodacre, The Tale of Theresa Banyan, one of several names of the unobtainable girl mentioned in some versions of the story. Using "The Thermodynamics of Hell" as an example, Goodacre's paper compares the differences in Urban Legends with differences in stories from the New Testament. You should read this paper before you read before my post, in about a week, on the Inerrancy of the Bible. Of course NOBODY is reading any of the things I post, so all this is irrelevant. But I digress.

While "The Thermodynamics of Hell" is amusing, a lot of Urban Legends are not. Many of them are attacks on someone or something.

  • This is an election year, and the mudslingers are out in farce (sic). Snopes has a page with a list of slurs aimed at Barack Obama. There is also a page for John McCain, but it is all positive. Are the Snopes people Republicans? The kind of hatred directed at Obama should NEVER be forwarded to anyone. If you receive emails with this kind of BS, just delete them. Please! (And I'm probably more conservative, politically, than McCain. But fair is fair.)

  • Since we are all concerned about our health, Urban Legends about Medicine or about Toxins might cause anxiety and mass hysteria in some folks.

  • Religion and Race are two more areas where Urban Legends can be vicious.

You'll notice, if you look at the links above, that many of the Urban Legends are true, or at least partially so. Obama and McCain, for example, are politicians, so they are, by definition, weasels. You'd have to expect some dirt to cling to them. Here are some other websites you can go to when trying to find out the origin and reality of a suspicious article one of your coworkers just emailed you:

So what is the bottom line?

Don't take life as seriously as I do!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Chiasmus V: Nephi’s Outline Two

The information in this article (unless otherwise noted) was adapted from Nephi’s Outline, by Noel B. Reynolds, in BYU Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, p. 131-149.

Further analysis reveals a secondary chiastic structure underlying 1 Nephi 1-9:

It is remarkable that Nephi was able to write each of these stories so that he could use them in parallel with two other stories which themselves do not occur in parallel!

There is also a secondary chiastic structure underlying 1 Nephi 10-22.

Many of the parallels of this chiasm are self-explanatory. The structural requirements of this chiasm explain why Lehi’s exposition of his own vision of the tree of life and the prophecies of the Jews and gentiles were left out in the first report, but included at this later point. We can also see why Nephi’s discussion of how one can come to know the mysteries of God is in a slightly different order in the second half of 1 Nephi as compared to its occurrence in the first half. Its position in the chiasm of the second half apparently has priority.

The sheer complexity of the Book of Mormon account, the quantity and quality of its poetic devices, and the beautiful tapestry they weave are absolutely amazing!!!

A system of parallels similar to the ones in Chiasmus IV and Chiasmus V is found in the four lesser stories of 1 Nephi.

Here is a comparison of the story of Lehi and his family traveling from the valley of Lemuel to the land Bountiful in the wilderness and the story of their journey by ship to the promised land.

      1. Each story begins as the voice of the Lord 
commands Lehi to depart on a journey.

2. In both instances the group gathers all
their provisions and their seeds. (It is
noteworthy that the only three references
to these seeds occur exactly in the
parallels that have been mentioned.)

3. In the first they depart across the river.
In the second they put forth into the sea.

4. The journey has barely begun before Nephi’s
brothers begin murmuring in the first case
because of the difficulties resulting from
the loss of Nephi’s bow, and in the second
because they have forgotten the divine
power that has brought them there.

5. In the first story Nephi successfully
rebukes the murmurers. In the second story
he has no such success. As we’ve seen in
examples of parallelism given in earlier
articles, parallel items are frequently

6. Because of his success in the first story,
the families receive instructions from the
Liahona. In the second story, at the
corresponding point, the Liahona ceases to
function. Another opposite. In the first
story Nephi explains that the Liahona works
only by faith, which is the explanation for
its failure to work in the second story.

7. The death of Ishmael, the afflictions of
his daughters, and the attempts of Laman
and Lemuel to kill Lehi and Nephi are
paralleled in the second story by the
report of Lehi and Sariah’s grief
(almost unto death) and suffering due to
the sins of Laman and Lemuel.

8. In the first story the voice of the Lord
chastens Laman and Lemuel, thus sparing
the lives of Lehi and Nephi. In the second
story only the Lord’s power in the storm
can soften Laman and Lemuel’s hearts.

9. In each case, the chastening is followed
by a period of travel. In the first story,
the Lord nourishes the group for eight
years in the wilderness. In the second,
Nephi guides the ship for many days by
following the Liahona, which now functions

10. The first story concludes as the families
arrive in Bountiful, pitch their tents,
and find much fruit and honey. The second
story ends as they arrive in the promised
land, pitch their tents, and find beasts
in the forest and a variety of ores.

One reason for the use of this parallelism is that significant ideas can be emphasized by their placement in a chiasm. I will give two examples (of my own) from 2 Nephi chapter 9. The first example is in verses 24-26. As you can see, the central theme is that the power of God will deliver us. The word "atonement" brackets this central statement on either side. And above and below "atonement," we see "mercy" paired with "justice" and "have claim" paired with "satisfieth the demands" We see in the surrounding text that mercy applies to those who have not a law given, but that those who have the law must repent, be baptized, and "have perfect faith in" God, which is compared to "and endure to the end" in such a way that we may come to the conclusion that they are the same thing.

The second example is in the first three verses of the same chapter. Notice that the central message is that the covenants of the lord are for every generation, from the beginning of the earth down to its end; that the true church is like the promised land; that Jacob’s purpose in speaking to his people, and in reading the words of Isaiah to them, is that they might know concerning the covenants, and that as a result of knowing them they may rejoice and lift up their heads forever. Notice that before and after the central theme are two small chiasms that emphasize in parallel the covenants that have been covenanted (to use the Hebrew way of saying things), and the resulting blessings that will be bestowed; that both these are centered on the Lord; and notice the way brethren, house of Israel, and children are placed as the makers of the covenants and the recipients of the resulting blessings.

You will have to study this for a while before you can begin to appreciate it. Even though I discovered it and diagrammed it I need to look at it for a while before all the different things that are going on here become clear. You'll also note that I've stopped highlighting the key words. I'll leave that to the reader as sn exercise.

When I was outlining 2 Nephi chapter 9 for this article, I noticed that I kept rearranging the parallelisms I discovered. They seemed to fit together in many different ways. Brother Reynolds says,

We do not have access to Nephi’s ideas about the rules governing the use of literary structures. .. The rules for chiasmus were obviously very broad, and they varied considerably from one culture and period to another. .. Without direct access to their rules it is difficult to analyze fully the structure of their writings. In reconstructing hypothetical outlines we are not certain how to handle sections of text that do not fall neatly into a pattern or that fit a pattern in an obviously unbalanced way.

You may recall my theory that the word order may have been changed in some instances when Joseph Smith translated the unsealed third of the golden plates from ancient Hebrew into English. I've translated a lot of my material into Spanish, and the word order in that language messes up some of the Chiasms and makes others better. Brother Reynolds continues,

There are undoubtedly other aspects of my hypotheses which may raise doubts in the minds of readers. .. In this article I have attempted to identify only a few such elements. As others are identified, the patterns suggested here will undoubtedly be revised or even replaced. The more creative response there is to the hypotheses of this article, the more my objectives in writing it will be fulfilled.

Brother Reynolds, like the writer of this "unread blog", liked feedback. Recall that the story of how Nephi obtained the plates of brass and the story of the building of the ship, which were shown in a previous article in this series to be parallel, are also chiastic. None of the other stories is chiastic.

Obtaining the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 3-5):

Building the ship (1 Nephi 17-18):

There are other examples of Hebrew poetry in the Book of Mormon that I'll show you later. I hope these things make you more excited about studying the Book of Mormon.

I am looking forward to the day when the Lord lets us have the sealed two-thirds of the Book of Mormon, the writings of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, the visions of John that Nephi was commanded not to write, and the writings of the prophets of the lost Ten Tribes. I’m pretty sure we’ll have to read the Scriptures we’ve already been given before any of that can happen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My 64th Birthday - An Autobiographical Sketch

Come, Come Ye Saints   my favorite hymn!

I was born on June 23, 1944 in Reno, Nevada. During the first few years we lived in Berkeley, California, in Portland, Oregon, and in St. George, Utah. But I started school back in Reno and graduated from Reno High School in 1962. This is a picture of me with my dad in the snow.

Probably Idlewild Park - about 1947

Here I am in my Cub Scout uniform. I was never athletic, and the other boys in my den, who were just naturally more agressive, seemed like bullies to me. I remember Cub Scouts as more of an ordeal than anything else.

Probably the back yard at 845 Bates Ave in about 1953

In a future post I'll tell the story of my great-great grandfather Thomas Cottam. Here are photos of Floyd Mac Spencer and Mae Listman, my mother's parents.

I suppose this was his WWI uniform - I still have his pistol

I think my grandma was a babe!

My parents, Grant and Virginia, both grew up during the Great Depression, and were very poor during most of that time. Here's a picture of my mother when she was just a little girl.

This must have been about 1923-25 - How could you say no to so dramatic a petition?

And here's another picture of her mother that I treasure.

Mae Listman as a young girl

My mom was getting a degree in chemistry and my dad was a carpenter when they met during WWII. My mom was very popular and was a sorority girl and involved in a lot of "extra-curricular" activities. Here she is dancing with a friend named Kathryn.

Virginia Shirley Spencer in about 1942-44

My mother and father only had eleven days together after they were married. Then my dad went off to war, wound up in Pakistan building a railroad, and they were separated for twenty-seven months. Here are photos of my dad in his uniform and my mom at Gabbs, Nevada. She worked there at the magnesium mine until shortly before I was born. I was eighteen months old when my dad came home.

Grant Evan Cottam - Northern India or Pakistan during WWII

Virginia Shirley Spencer overlooking the mine at Gabbs, Nevada - She worked as a secretary instead of as a chemist so none of the men there would risk losing his deferment

Later on my mom taught sixth grade science. After the war my father worked as a carpenter for many years. He eventually got a degree and was a college professor until he retired. My dad's mother, Sarah Ellen Manwaring, died when he was only ten years old. He was raised by his sister Verda, who was only two years older, and wild as a march hare - at least for Utah in the 1930s. Here is a picture of "Sadie" on her wedding day.

Sarah Ellen Manwaring - 'Sadie' - on her wedding day - September 14, 1910 - She died February 10, 1932

Here are my dad and his two younger brothers, Alvin and Donald, taken around the time their mother died. They look like a handful.

My father had 8 brothers and sisters - Ellen died before she was a year old - Rulon, Mildred, LaVell, Raymond and Verda were older, and Alvin and Donald were younger

My father's father, Charles Walter Cottam, remarried and had a second family. His second wife, Ruth Shepherd, had also died when this picture was taken.

The children are Emily, Mary Alice, Catherine and William, from left to right - I'm in between Emily and William in age

I think not having a mother during his teenage years made it difficult for my dad to be a husband and father. But he was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I'm certain the Church helped fill in some of the gaps left by the death of his mother. My mom was a Methodist. She was later baptised into the LDS Church. The year I graduated from high school my parents were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. We always attended church as I was growing up. My parents worked at many different callings in the Church. My brother and sister and I are all "active" in the Church today as a result. "Train up a child in the way he should go ..." That word "active" may not mean the same thing to someone who isn't LDS, and who only attends church for weddings, funerals and holidays.

Family traditions - childhood.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of our road trips. I especially remember one trip up the Oregon and Washington coasts, on a boat up into Canada, across Canada to some of the beautiful parks, and down through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We drove to San Francisco or to Los Angeles to see relatives. In those days it took seven hours to drive from Reno to San Francisco. I loved going to Golden Gate Park, Fleishacker Zoo, the beaches, Fisherman's Wharf, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, Griffith Park and especially the Planetarium and many other great places in sunny California.

We often went camping. I learned to love the outdoors. I grew up when Westerns were popular and loved the history of the wild wild West with its cowboys and Indians and History. We went to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and Dog Valley to camp. I got to see Firefall in Yosemite many times. We went out to eat together when we could afford it. I remember a fast food drive-in that sold barbecued beef sandwiches - something like Arby's. I loved to go to A&W Rootbeer drive-ins. There was a Chinese restaurant in Sparks that had a big bronze Buddha in the entry. Thanksgiving and Christmas both bring back many wonderful memories.

Family Traditions - adulthood.

I tried to do these same things when I got married. Unfortunately, traveling by car is impossible for my wife, so there have been very few camping trips with her along. I've taken a few trips by myself when the call of the road becomes too strong to resist. Eating out is something we enjoy. I like to try ethnic food more then the others, but I've tried to broaden their appreciation for things culinary. Since the kids have grown up the holidays aren't quite the same - Susan does most of the work for these things and probably resents it.

I think we've neglected some of the things that would have helped us to grow spiritually. If I were to regret anything about my life it would be this. Our church urges us to have regular family prayer, to read the scriptures together often and to set aside one evening a week to get together to make plans, solve problems, play games, sing together, share a lesson about Jesus and have a little fun as a family. We certainly could have done these things more regularly over the years. I think we've all suffered because of our rebelliousness.

If I could start married life over, I think I'd spend more time working in the home. I think I'd try to control my kids less and to love them more. I think I'd try to reason things out less and to laugh more. Someone said if we could live our lives over we'd probably not make the same mistakes. We'd just make different ones. So maybe I should be content with the way things are.

How faith has affected my life.

I grew up in my church. My parents participated in the organizations as teachers, youth leaders, and in the work of fellowshipping. I resisted. I ran around with a bunch of kids who smoked and drank. There was some "midnight auto". Years later I learned that some of them had done "hard" time for armed robberies. There was even a murder in there. The summer I graduated from High School we moved to Walnut Creek, California. That got me into a different group of friends. They weren't as vicious as my Reno buddies, but they were still interested in trying everything on for size. That winter several of us planned to go to a cabin in the mountains with a veterinarian from Lafayette to try LSD. Right before we were about to leave for the mountains a doctor crashed his car on the Bay Bridge after taking LSD. Suddenly LSD was front page news and a controlled substance. Luckily for me, our veterinarian friend got cold feet. We, of course, had even hotter feet!

In Walnut Creek I realized that I wasn't very happy. I saw some of my peers in the church youth group who seemed to have their act together and who seemed to be self-confident and to have purpose in their lives. I decided I wanted that. I was paired with a man, Armand Mauss, to visit some of the families in our church. This program is called Home Teaching. Brother Mauss was a faithful home teacher and took me with him every month. I was also blessed with a gifted youth leader, Stanley Gold. He got me to start attending church and to participate in the youth activities.One of the smartest things I ever did was to put in my papers to go on a mission for the church. Here's our family about the time I went on my mission.

My brother's name is Spencer and my sister is Lynda

I went into the missionary training center in Provo in March, 1964. In June I flew to Uruguay, where I was a missionary for two years. After I came home I went to Brigham Young University. My grandmother Mae left me an inheritance and I blew it going to school, driving a Corvette and taking flying lessons. The first summer after I returned I took out more than one hundred different girls. It is a little unsettling to realize that if I had invested that money in some real estate I might be a wealthy man today. But I sure wouldn't have had as much fun...

Well, that's a little sample of the first twenty-two years of my life. Maybe in a future post I'll tell you about the forty-two years that followed.

This is a good place to explain what it means to be "active" in the Church. It means you go to church every Sunday. It means you accept "callings" to serve in the organizations. It means you actively seek to "magnify" your callings by learning what is required and then doing it - and by trying to go the extra mile. It means you try to keep God's commandments and pray to know what He wants you to do with your life. I've had many different church callings. I've been Sunday school president, Elders quorum president, Scoutmaster, Ward Clerk, Executive Secretary to the bishop, Membership Clerk, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Seminary teacher, Ward Mission leader, Primary teacher, High Priest Group leader and had other jobs. For six years my wife and I were on a stake service mission in the Richmond III Spanish branch. We are now serving another stake service mission in the Addiction Recovery Program and I'm the ward financial secretary.

I believe you have to live a balanced life. You have to put your career, your family, your hobbies and your religion into perspective. You need to take care of all the aspects of your life and not let one of them push out the others. I think I've probably neglected my career and my family to pursue things that seemed more satisfying at the time. As I look back over my life now, I can see a lot I'd do different if I could start over again. When I'm tempted to ask, "Why me?", I'm reminded of those wonderful words of color sergeant Bourne from the movie Zulu. "Because we're here, lad. Nobody else. Just us."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chiasmus IV: Nephi’s Outline One

In my last post about Hebrew Poetry (Chiasmus III), I presented some information about Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: Nephi's interest in Isaiah around 600 BC, and what Jesus Christ had to say about the prophecies of Isaiah when he visited the Nephites after his resurrection in 34 AD. In this article I'll further explore Nephi's use of Hebrew poetic imagery.

Nephi’s Outline, by Noel B. Reynolds, BYU Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, furnished some of the information for this article.

Besides the fact that Nephi did not receive the commandment to make the small plates until some thirty years after his departure from Jerusalem, it also appears that it took him approximately ten years to write the first twenty-five chapters. This ten-year writing period, based on a perspective of thirty years, gave Nephi both the distance and the time he needed to devise a highly complex account with a carefully fashioned rhetorical structure.

Analysis reveals that 1 Nephi is part of an extended argument based on a thesis which the author announces near the beginning of his narrative and repeats in many forms throughout the book: "Behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance" (1 Nephi 1:20). With this thesis as a guide, we discover that the entire book of 1 Nephi is a compilation of approximately thirty proofs of the idea that the Lord will deliver those who obey him and endure in faith. Nephi supports his thesis with a wide variety of evidence designed to appeal especially to the "stiff-necked" and "hardhearted," such as his own brothers, as well as to the righteous. Nephi’s faith is consistently poised against the murmurings and doubtfulness of his faithless brothers. His primary purpose is to persuade those whose faith might be weak, but who may be receptive.

At the end of 1 Nephi 9, we find the words, "And thus it is. Amen." Again at the end of 1 Nephi 22, we find the same words. The first use of these words seems to suggest that there are two records: an abridgment of Lehi’s record followed by an account of Nephi’s proceedings. If those few verses were removed, we would never suspect two records: Nephi is the narrator of the entire book from beginning to end. So why does Nephi divide the book in this manner? The answer is not that there are two distinct records in 1 Nephi, but rather that the book is divided into two parallel structures. 1 Nephi 9:6 serves to call our attention to that structural division. A comparison of these two structural halves reveals that the major elements of each portion are directly parallel to each other:

Lehi’s account - 1 Nephi 1-9

Nephi’s account - 1 Nephi 10-22

So 1 Nephi in its entirety starts and ends with Nephi’s thesis and is centered around it.

Notice that there are two sets of chiastic elements ABC CBA and XYZ ZYX, and that these are centered in each half of the two most important stories in each half: the expedition to obtain the brass plates, the expedition to get Ishmael and his family, the construction of the ship, and the journey on the ship to America.

Even though the story about the trip to bring back Ishmael and his family doesn’t seem to parallel the journey on the ship, analysis of the two stories reveals the following eight elements which occur in the same order in both stories:

     1. Both accounts are prefaced by a command 
given to Lehi.
2. In both accounts Nephi’s brothers first
become rebellious because of their
afflictions and lack of faith.
3. After Nephi’s exhortations, they rebel
against him and bind him with cords.
4. In the first story Nephi is given power
from God to
burst his bonds, but in the second he
specifies that the Lord permitted him to
be bound for a purpose.
5. In both instances one of Ishmael’s
daughters and others plead with Laman and
Lemuel to reconcile themselves with Nephi.
6. In the first story they are successful,
but in the second these pleas fail and the
older brothers are persuaded to relent only
when the power of God threatens them with
destruction by a storm.
7. In each case relief comes as Nephi prays.
8. Both times Laman and Lemuel repent of their

If we compare the story of Lehi taking his family into the wilderness with the story of Ishmael taking his family into the wilderness, we again find eight parallel elements:

     1. Both open with a family going into the 
wilderness because of the Lord’s command
to Lehi.
2. The departure is followed both times by the
murmuring and rebellion of Laman and
Lemuel, who desire to return to Jerusalem.
3. In each case, Laman and Lemuel are then
admonished - in the first episode by Lehi,
and in the second by Nephi.
4. Lehi testifies in the first story that
Jerusalem will be destroyed. In the second
story Nephi testifies the same thing.
5. In the first episode Laman and Lemuel seek
to kill their father, and at the same point
in the second story they seek to kill Nephi.
6. In the first story Lehi is spared as he
confounds Laman and Lemuel by the power of
the Spirit, and in thesecond story Nephi is
spared as he bursts his bonds through the
power of God.
7. Both stories then report the submission of
the rebellious brothers: in the first case
as they obey their father, and in the
second as they seek their brother’s
8. Each story ends at Lehi’s tent.

By now it should be apparent that what is hidden in the Book of Mormon surpasses our wildest imaginations. We’ve been reading the Book of Mormon over and over all our lives and never appreciated that it is an absolute work of art. We’ve never dreamed of the richness of poetic imagery hidden in its pages.

I have to suppose the Book of Mormon is written this way because it "is the most correct of any book on the earth," and that God uses this kind of imagery in his revelations to the prophets.

Chiasmus IV: Six Book of Mormon Stories from 1 Nephi

In the articles I'm posting about Hebrew Poetry in the Book of mormon, several stories are mentioned. Here is a brief synopsis of each story with a reference to where you can read it in the Book of Mormon.

Lehi takes his family into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:1-7)

The Lord was pleased with Lehi and one night spoke to him in a dream. He told Lehi to take his family and leave Jerusalem. Lehi obeyed the Lord.

Lehi’s family packed food and tents. They left their house and their gold and silver and traveled into the wilderness.

Lehi and his wife, Sariah, had four sons. Their names were Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi.

After traveling for three days, Lehi’s family camped in a valley near a river. Lehi built an altar from stones and made an offering to God. He thanked God for saving his family from being destroyed.

The trip to get the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 3:1-5:22)

Lehi told Nephi that the Lord wanted him and his brothers to go back to Jerusalem. They were to get the brass plates from a man named Laban. The brass plates were important records. They told about Lehi’s forefathers and contained the words of God revealed through the prophets. Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi traveled back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates.

Laman went to Laban and asked him for the plates. Laban was angry and would not give Laman the brass plates. Laban wanted to kill Laman, but Laman escaped. Laman told his brothers what had happened. He was afraid and wanted to give up and go back to their father in the wilderness. Nephi said they could not return without the brass plates. He told his brothers to have more faith in the Lord and they would be able to get the brass plates. Nephi and his brothers went to their old home in Jerusalem and gathered their gold and silver to exchange for the plates. They showed Laban their riches and offered to trade them for the plates. When Laban saw their gold and silver, he wanted it for himself and threw them out.

Laban told his men to kill Lehi’s sons. Nephi and his brothers ran and hid in a cave. Laban kept their gold and silver. Laman and Lemuel were angry with Nephi. They beat Nephi and Sam with a stick. An angel appeared and told Laman and Lemuel to stop. He said the Lord would help them get the plates. He also said Nephi would become a leader over his brothers. Nephi told his brothers to have faith in the Lord and not be afraid of Laban and his men. Nephi encouraged his brothers to go back to Jerusalem.

That night Nephi’s brothers hid outside the city wall while Nephi sneaked inside. He walked toward Laban’s house. As Nephi got close to Laban’s house, he saw a drunk man lying on the ground. It was Laban. Nephi saw Laban’s sword and picked it up. The Holy Ghost told Nephi to kill Laban, but Nephi did not want to kill him. The Holy Ghost again told Nephi to kill Laban so Nephi could get the brass plates. Lehi’s family needed the plates so they could learn the gospel. Nephi obeyed the Holy Ghost and killed Laban. Nephi then put on Laban’s clothes and armor.

Nephi went into Laban’s house and was met by Zoram, Laban’s servant. Nephi looked and sounded just like Laban. He told Zoram to get the brass plates. Zoram thought Nephi was Laban, so he gave him the plates. Nephi told Zoram to follow him. Laman, Lemuel, and Sam saw Nephi coming and were scared; they thought he was Laban. They started to run away but stopped when Nephi called to them. Then Zoram realized that Nephi was not Laban, and he tried to run. Nephi caught Zoram and promised not to harm him if he would go with Nephi into the wilderness. Zoram agreed. Nephi and his brothers took Zoram and the brass plates and returned to Lehi and Sariah. They gave the brass plates to Lehi. He and Sariah were happy their sons were safe. They all rejoiced and thanked God. Lehi read the brass plates. They told about Adam and Eve and the Creation of the world. They contained the words of many prophets. Lehi and Nephi were happy because they had obeyed the Lord and had been able to get the brass plates. Lehi’s family packed the brass plates to take with them on their journey so they could teach their children the commandments recorded on the plates.

The trip to bring back Ishmael and his family (1 Nephi 7:1-5)

The Lord wanted Lehi’s sons to have wives who would teach their children the gospel. He told Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem to get Ishmael’s family. Nephi and his brothers returned to Jerusalem. They told Ishmael what the Lord wanted him to do. Ishmael believed them, and he and his family went with Lehi’s sons.

Ishmael takes his family into the wilderness(1 Nephi 7:6-22)

While they were traveling in the wilderness, Laman and Lemuel and some of Ishmael’s family became angry. They wanted to go back to Jerusalem. Nephi reminded Laman and Lemuel of all the Lord had done for them. He told them to have greater faith. They were angry at Nephi but did not go back to Jerusalem. Nephi, his brothers, and Zoram later married Ishmael’s daughters.

Building the ship (1 Nephi 17:6-18:4)

After Lehi’s family had camped by the sea for many days, the Lord spoke to Nephi. He told him to build a ship to carry his family to the promised land. Nephi did not know how to make a ship, but the Lord said he would show him. He told Nephi where to find metal to make the tools he would need.

Laman and Lemuel made fun of Nephi for wanting to build a ship. They did not believe that the Lord had shown Nephi how to do it. They refused to help. Nephi told Laman and Lemuel to repent and not be rebellious. He reminded them that they had seen an angel. He also told them that God has the power to do all things. Nephi told Laman and Lemuel to obey their parents and obey God. Nephi said if they would do this, they would be blessed. Laman and Lemuel repented and helped Nephi build the ship. Nephi went to the mountain many times to pray for help. The Lord taught him how to build the ship.

When Nephi and his brothers had finished building the ship, they knew it was a good ship. They thanked God for helping them.

The journey on the ship (1 Nephi 18:5-23)

The Lord told Lehi to take his family onto the ship they had built. They loaded it with fruit, meat, and honey and with seeds to plant in the promised land.

Strong winds blew the ship toward the promised land. Laman, Lemuel, and some of the others began being wicked. When Nephi told them to stop, they got angry and tied him up with ropes. Because of their wickedness, the Liahona stopped working. They did not know which way to steer the ship. A terrible storm blew the ship backward for three days. Lehi told Laman and Lemuel to untie Nephi, but they would not listen. Lehi and Sariah were so upset that they became ill. Nephi’s wife and children cried. They begged Laman and Lemuel to untie Nephi, but they refused. On the fourth day the storm got worse. The ship was about to sink. Laman and Lemuel knew that God had sent the storm. They were afraid they would drown. Finally Laman and Lemuel repented and untied Nephi. Even though his wrists and ankles had become swollen and sore from the ropes, Nephi had not complained. Nephi then picked up the Liahona, and it worked again. Nephi prayed, and the wind stopped. The sea became calm.

Nephi steered the ship, and it sailed again toward the promised land.