Tuesday, April 16, 2013
mormonhermitmom's review of Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow, by Dennis B. Horne with material prepared in 1890 by Orson F. Whitney
While Dennis Horne has done a bang-up job on running down sources and sorting fact from fiction, I wonder if he should have top billing on authorship. While the cover says, "with material prepared in 1890 by Orson F. Whitney", the reader comes to find that most of the book is taken heavily from Whitney's work, Latter Leaves from the Life of Lorenzo Snow, which covered the years 1884 to 1889. Horne admits this from the get go. Unfortunately, throughout the book, I found myself reading along and suddenly finding the "voice" of the writer had changed. I had hoped that Horne would set off the material Whitney had written from his own. Instead, it seemed he was extensively paraphrasing Whitney's work, inserting his own words here and there without warning. When the older turns of phrase change to more modern syntax and cadence, you know that Horne has been using Whitney's words and trying to sew on his own.
When my mother and I were trying to bring family stories together in a book for our relatives to read, I always made sure that any materials taken from journals, histories written by others, or other sources, that each source was properly quoted and sometimes put in a block quote format so that there was no question as to who was speaking (writing). I'm sure Horne was trying to keep this work from becoming too disjointed with liberal quotes, but it almost felt like there was a thin line between summarizing, paraphrasing, and outright plagiarism. Just the feeling I had. I'm sure it was unintentional on Horne's part.
To be fair, Horne devotes a whole chapter to Orson F. Whitney, outlining a short biography of him and explaining how Whitney ended up with the job as Snow's biographer while Snow was still alive. Horne also states in the Introduction that chapters 1 and 2 of this book draws heavily on the biographical work of Eliza R. Snow, Lorenzo's sister, who catalogued Lorenzo's life up to 1884. That book was generally just distributed to family members and Whitney's book was intended to be a "sequel" if you will.
One other contributor Horne mentions is Lorenzo's son LeRoi C. Snow, whose written articles about his father in such publications as the Improvement Era have been a source for other historians about the later years of Lorenzo's life. Horne states that some of LeRoi's writings about his father are accurate, but others lean towards exaggeration and no corroborating testimony is available to confirm some of the stories that he's told, particularly the story about the prophecy Snow had about tithing and whether a drought in Southern Utah would abate once the people of the church more faithfully paid their tithing. That brought me up short. I remember a BYU film entitled The Windows Of Heaven that reenacted that very story. Apparently, according to a majority of eyewitness accounts of Lorenzo speaking to the Sanits in St. George, Snow did seem to pause in his talk and then very fervently preached that the principle of tithing should be more obediently focused on. However the promise that a severe drought would lift if the Saints would pay their tithing was NOT ever made. It appears only LeRoi remembered such a promise. He was there with his father at the time, but no one else who wrote of the talk that Lorenzo Snow made that day made any note of such a promise. The folks in the BYU film department must have taken LeRoi at face value and not made any effort to confirm if the "faith promoting" story was true. Oops.
Lest you think I am dismissing this book entirely, let me say that despite not knowing which commentary was Whitney's and which was Horne's at times, I did for the most part enjoy it. The notes and appendices were well ordered and many details of Lorenzo's life were well documented by multiple sources. Horne was nothing if not thorough.
Before you ask, yes, polygamy is mentioned in the book. Actually it dominates a few chapters where we see how Lorenzo Snow spent time "underground" avoiding capture due to the U. S. Marshalls looking to prosecute offenders of the "segregation law" forbidding polygamy in Utah territory. Snow was apprehended, convicted and taken to the Utah Penitentiary for a time. The legal battles are well covered. I found this part particularly interesting because I have an ancestor who was also incarcerated for polygamy. I didn't find his name among the others who were pictured in the striped suits, but it was interesting because Whitney wrote quite a bit about the conditions within the prison. That information never made it into the history of my ancestor, just that he spent time there. My ancestor brought home and autograph book, with signatures of some of the prominent leaders of the LDS Church at that time who were also incarcerated there. I don't remember if Lorenzo Snow's signature was in there. (Time for me to go check that source again.)
This volume is definitely for an LDS audience. Anyone hoping for a completely factual work without spiritual assumptions would better look elsewhere. Even though polygamy is not practiced by the LDS people today, the "rightness" of the principle is affirmed by Lorenzo's writings, heavily quoted in this volume. The doctine of "As man now is, God once was; as God is, man may become", which Lorenzo preached about repeatedly is a thread that runs throughout the book. Those who are not of the LDS faith my find the biography a bit "preachy". It makes sense, though, since Lorenzo did preach for much of his adult life. Just be prepared if all you want is the facts. You are going to get a bit of a Sunday School lesson if you read this.
I'm not going to take this book to my local library for donation. Yes, it has flaws, which the author freely admits to, and I can accept that. If you happen to be an LDS Relief Society teacher or Priesthood Quorum teacher, this might be a good secondary reference to fill in where the Church's lesson manual is a little thin. You might want to ignore the polygamy chapters though. No need to beat a dead horse.
Monday, April 8, 2013
mormonhermitmom's review of The Battle of Britain; Five Months That Changed History, May-October 1940
This work by James Holland, fortunately, doesn't go too far that way. I learned a lot about 'the Blitz' from this book I hadn't known before.
For instance: I never knew about Great Britain's network of first generation radar that stretched along it's southern coast. The Germans had something like it for intelligence gathering but they totally dismissed the idea that all the big towers along the English coast were for that purpose. The Germans sent wave after wave of Stukas and ME 109's in what they thought were sneak attacks, only to be met, again and again, by Hurricanes and Spitfires. The Germans had the better planes but the pilots were hindered by tactics and orders that wouldn't let them use their planes to their best advantage. The English pilots were plagued with ammunition capacity that only let them shoot for a few minutes before having to return to their bases to reload, if they managed to get away without being shot down. The English pilots were also dealing with outmoded fighter pilot training that was stuck in methods developed during the First World War. Only gradually did one of their higher-ups realize that a new way of dogfighting would work.
In other books about the World War II, the unbelievable actions of Hitler never failed to amaze me. Here again, more examples of his erratic, emotional, and manipulative style of leadership lead me to wonder how he managed to do so much damage. He took risks that shouldn't have worked but did, he sat on his hands at precisely the wrong moment to ensure a permanent victory for himself and yet gave his enemies the time they needed to shore up their defenses, and instead of working to instill a unified command, actually encouraged his subordinates to try to outdo each other to gain his favor. How does one fight a war this way?
Holland gives us a look at how England's government was dealing with the real threat of invasion at that time. Chamberlain lost his seat as Prime Minister to Winston Churchill - not the smoothest of politicians, but apparently exactly what England needed to prepare for the Germanic plague across the Channel. Direct, blunt, and yet surprisingly realistic in the political nuances that had to occur to keep things moving, Churchill could be compared to an old bulldog; short, unattractive, physically beat up, but watch out if you threaten his territory - you'll find his stout jaws clamped on your leg and heaven help you.
Included in the book are a wealth of photos of the airmen on both sides whose reminiscences make up a good part of the narrative. Holland weaves the point of views of the rank and file with those at the top of the command structure very well. I appreciate a history that brings a personal, real-life perspective to the work. Names, dates, even photos can be musty and seemingly out of touch with today's world, but when you can include the words of those who lived in those times, you actually remember they were real people. They had families, they had dreams, they had frustrations, they had feelings. History no longer becomes something to memorize, it becomes something you want to remember as you witness the events going on around you.
I find this an excellent source of information for those wanting to know more about the European theater of World War II. Teenagers could handle it, however few teenagers would care to read it. With all the technology around, the study of history becomes more and more of a dead academic pursuit for the young. Sad, but that's just how it is. Churchill would probably want to trip a few up with his cane if he were alive today.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
Monsters & Mormons; Thirty Tales of Adventure and Terror, Edited by William Morris & Theric Jepson, review by mormonhermitmom
I waited quite a while to read this one because I had a hard time coming up with the money to buy it. I even looked into maybe getting a Kindle or a Nook just so I could read it, but my cheapness finally won out. This is a collection of short stories written by Mormons, about fictional Mormons in fantastic and bizarre situations. I certainly can't review each and every story. However I will list my favorites.
Charity Never Faileth by Jaleta Clegg: I read this one aloud to my children - hilarious! The nightmare that is green Jell-O salad comes to life and nearly subdues three stalwart Relief Society sisters. The book is worth buying just for this story alone.
Allow Me To Introduce Myself by Moriah Jovan: This can be a mind-bender. Single members are called upon to slay demons, evil spirits, and other dark forces. They have secret identities and kick-butt weapons. They write notes to each other in Reformed Egyptian. If this is what it would be like to be a Mormon nun, sign me up.
Traitors and Tyrants by John Nakamura Remy and Galen Dara: This is a comic book! And what's better, it's an alternate history/zombie slaying mashup. Who gets to do the zombie slaying? The wives of Erastus Walsh, all four of them.
Pirate Gold for Brother Brigham by Lee Allred: Some old college buddies go out to the Great Salt Lake to record a ghost ship that one of them had seen on a prior dark, foggy night. The mini-treatise on fry sauce is a treat.
Fangs of the Dragon by David J. West: There's a monster in Bear Lake and Porter Rockwell has to investigate. Better than Pecos Bill tales in my humble opinion.
Some of the stories are definitely PG with the occasional swear word and adult situation. I think most teens could handle it. Junior high students would benefit from parental involvement/discussion. There was only one story that had enough of an "occult" feeling that it truly creeped me out. I'm not generally a fan of the horror genre. If it makes me start thinking scary things when it's time to go to bed, it's too much for me. On the whole, I was very glad to have purchased the book. The only truly disappointing thing was that the cover had an illustration of a pair of sister missionaries battling what looked to be giant squid or octopus, and there wasn't a story to go with it! If the editors do another connection, I want my sister missionary story!
You can trace the beginnings of this collection at A Motley Vision.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Several years ago, there were books and movies about Freemasonry and Christ’s supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene. They made for very intriguing entertainment. As households began to discuss the implications of these works, usually after a movie or following a documentary program on television, the topics tended to mention the similarities between Masonic rites and LDS temple ordinances. At least that was how conversations went in LDS households that I participated in.
Such chats never bothered me. The only thing that would bother me was the idea of being invited to join a lodge. As much as I believed in brotherly love and communal fellowship, I could not see myself joining a mysterious fraternity that commanded large amounts of time from its members. Why would I want to join one when I was already belonging to an organization that offered the same benefits, like an LDS ward? If anything, I wanted to learn more about certain symbols and rituals for literary edification.
Two days ago, I noticed a thin book on a shelf beside my bed. The title included the words “Mormons” and “Masons” on the cover. I became curious and thought about the information I could gather from it. I took it off the shelf and began to read it.
Setting the Record Straight: Mormons & Masons briefly states the differences between the LDS Church and the Freemasons. Dr. Gilbert W. Scharffs, Ph.D., publishes this short book in 2006 through Millennial Press, Inc., a publishing company in Orem, Utah. The blurb on the back cover suggests that “many attacks on the LDS Church” and “false notions” within the LDS membership are perpetuating some kind of crisis in faith relating to these two organizations. If such ignorance exists, then this book should contain incontrovertible evidence to dispel it. Unfortunately, the book does not.
A few observations by the author do provide information about the relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism, especially as it pertains to Joseph Smith’s time. Other than those few observations, I cannot understand why there has to be a book to give out that information. The most pertinent information can fit on one sheet of paper for a class. The rest of the book just fills up space.
I have serious gripes about this book. For one, the introduction, the chronology, the conclusion, the appendices, etc., outnumber the pages contained in the body of the book—I count fifty pages for the first group, forty for the second. Typos and incorrect punctuation dot the work. Some assertions the author makes show a serious lack of research and thought. The bibliography displays a lack of authoritative primary sources. The author makes many ideas that need citations and sources, but information is suspiciously lacking. The treatment of the topic feels rushed. The author also makes some scriptural interpretations that are unfounded, if not downright wrong.
This book fails in its aim to “set the record straight.” This book should not have gone to the printing presses. The book is only written for two audiences: one that is familiar with the practices of the LDS Church and another that criticizes it. The first group already accepts the author’s observations as trustworthy while the second group remains unconvinced. A general audience will miss the necessary background entirely. As a member of the LDS Church, what I find most aggravating about this book is the dismissive and patronizing tone the author uses in the appendices. Most likely, the author has written this book for students in LDS Institute classes suffering from “weak testimonies” about the origins of the LDS temple ceremonies. If such students suffer from such a condition, I think there are better books to use than the one in question.
I recommend not wasting your time reading this book. If you must know something about Freemasonry and Mormonism, your own efforts in research will yield better fruit.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
mormonhermitmom's review of Finish Forty And Home; The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific
This is the kind of military book I can get into. It's not a historian's stuffy recitation of facts, troop movements, regimental politics and service rivalries. These are recollections of a young man, Herman Scearce, who lied about his age to get into the army, possibly to escape an unsatisfactory home life in a small southern town. Phil Scearce fleshes out some of the "bigger picture" of the war in the Pacific to help with context, but not so much as to bore the reader too badly.
There are plenty of nail-biting crashes described and a couple of "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" missions related here. The fickleness of fate, which men will go home and which men won't, reminds us of the preciousness of life.
To all veterans out there, thank you for your service.
A note to parents: there is some profanity, prostitution, theft, and the collection of photos has one picture of a female islander with less clothing than is considered acceptable in the west and shots of airplane nose art that often blurs the boundary between mascot symbolism and pornography - a discussion of different cultures and how soldiers may choose to handle immense stress may be necessary.
I would hope more veterans are willing to share their experiences. I only have more respect when I know what they went through.
Friday, August 24, 2012
mormonhermitmom's review of Seal Target Geronimo; The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama Bin Laden
Anyway, this work by a former SEAL doesn't just give you a brief play-by-play of the night Osama was captured. There is a history of how the SEALS, and the Green Berets by the way, got started and the objectives of each. (I thought Green Berets did what SEALS did, only on land instead of in the water. Not really. Green Berets train indigenous people to rise up and fight against oppressive regimes. SEALS are the U.S. answer to the Ninja - they don't deal with politics, they take out enemies quickly and quietly.)
Pfarrer relates past SEAL missions in Vietnam and other places to give the reader a look at how they work before the Geronimo mission. Pfarrer has the uneviable job of telling a compelling story without revealing too many secrets about SEAL methods, equipment, and structure. To be truly effective, SEALs can't allow enemies to know just how dangerous they are. It certainly didn't help when VP Biden let slip that it was a SEAL team that got Osama. Before he blabbed, all the President said was that "a group of Americans" got him.
As bad as unintentional leaks are from elected officials, what is even more heinous is what they DON'T say. Remember when after 9/11 the Bush administration kept saying that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that could get into the hands of Al Qaeda? And then no nuclear weapons were found before or after the U.S. invaded? What the Bush administration wouldn't say later and what the Obama administration hasn't said, according to Pfarrer, is that chemical weapons of mass destruction were there and that Al Qaeda got hold of some and tried to use them in improvised explosive devices against U.S. troops and native civilians. Only the apparent ineptness of their bomb "experts" prevented them from detonating properly. None of the chemical weapons were mentioned in the U.S. media until the Wikileaks scandal.
Now why shouldn't we know about these chemical weapons? It makes dismantling Al Qaeda and recovering such weapons even more important, doesn't it? Do we really want to have these things show up in American cities? Disturbing.
There are only a few swear words in this book, no nudity or sexual situations. Teenagers would be able to handle the content but may not be interested. Discussion on the proper role of government, use of the military and such topics would prove beneficial.
Monday, July 9, 2012
It came as a surprise while reading Antony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain that George Orwell, the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, participated in the Spanish Civil War. Since high school, I was under the impression that Orwell was a spectator on the sidelines or a journalist that composed commentaries behind the comfort of a typewriter; however, I learned that he actually volunteered to fight for a cause (and actually put his money where his mouth was, so to say). My respect for the activist/novelist grew. On top of that, he spent most of his time in Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain where I spent a better part of my LDS mission. The citation piqued my interest and I purchased a copy so I could peruse it.
I got my copy of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia through a company called Indo-European Publishing, headquartered in Los Angeles, California. The company released its edition last year (2011). They stated on the copyright page that they based their publication on a 1955 edition, although other sources say the work’s first year of publication was 1938. The publishers also stated that they formatted the text in a “completely new, easy” way. I am not sure what they mean by this assertion. If the publishers mean “font” or “typeset,” it is not anything new or different. I still see typos and stylistic aberrations like hyphenated words with spaces in between. If they mean organization or faithfulness to the original, albeit flawed, I cannot say for sure without finding an original edition to compare it with the current edition. Whatever the case, the storyline flowed smoothly and I never felt flummoxed or patronized. I suspect that they have copyedited the text exactly as it shows in Orwell’s manuscript.
Orwell begins his book by writing about his enlistment upon arriving in Barcelona, Spain. He joins the P.O.U.M. with other associates of the Independent Labour Party and observes men of other nationalities doing the same. He goes to the front near Zaragoza and observes the conditions that the Reds have to suffer through during the long, winter days and nights. His wife also comes along, staying at a residential hotel in Barcelona while he serves on the front. Later, he transfers to the front outside Huesca, stays there until spring, and returns to Barcelona for some R&R. He participates in the fighting during the Barcelona May Days. After the harrowing days in Barcelona when things calm down, he returns to Huesca to resume his duties, but becomes wounded by a bullet to the throat. His convalescence is a tale in itself. He stays in hospitals in Barbastro, Lérida, and Tarragona before settling back in Barcelona. Matters get worse when a rival political group takes charge of the autonomous leadership in Barcelona. He witnesses the suppression of the P.O.U.M. by other political organizations. Once the P.O.U.M. is branded as illegal, Orwell sees gifted and valiant military volunteers get locked away, dying “pointless” deaths in unsanitary prisons and makeshift jail cells (160). At last, the threat becomes imminent enough that Orwell and his wife have to leave the country quickly, thus cutting their time short in a war that ultimately succumbs to Franco’s armies.
Besides chronicling the conditions of the fronts, the soldiers, and the cities, Orwell is an astute observer of politics. Orwell discusses his experiences as a militiaman and jots down his political theories throughout the book. As a well-educated soldier, he cuts through the rumors and the propaganda to examine the hidden reality of the war. From the information available to him, he fashions a theory that impressively states the current attitudes among the populace and the leadership. “It was above all things a political war,” he summarizes (33). In one of the very few chapters in which he delves into the muddy political waters, he concludes that the motivation for the war is quite different from what foreigners suppose it to be at the time: “The thing that had happened in Spain was, in fact, not merely a civil war, but the beginning of a revolution” (36). This revolution, one that comes to a head after Franco begins the coup, intends to protect a foundation for a new communist or socialist state in Western Europe. It is an ideology that Franco and the Nationalists resist and try to prevent in the first place. One the reasons the revolution stalls is because “it was the Communists above all others who prevented revolution in Spain” (41). It seems ironic that the Communists would frown upon an uprising of the proletarians against the bourgeoisie, but this brand of Communists, backed by the U.S.S.R., had by this time set up a bureaucratic system to oversee their agenda. Any spark of revolution would undermine the push they desired to span across areas outside the Soviet Union.
On the other hand, Orwell observes that Franco is not a fascist in the strictest sense of the word. “To begin with,” Orwell figures, “Franco was not strictly comparable with Hitler or Mussolini. His rising was a military mutiny backed up by the aristocracy and the Church, and in the main, especially at the beginning, it was an attempt not so much to impose Fascism as to restore feudalism” (34-35). Franco, unlike Hitler, seeks to stop the disintegration of a decadent empire. In the end, nobody denies that Franco’s intention is to rule Spain with a heavy hand. Orwell’s prescient reason and clear foresight, in consideration of all possible outcomes, lead Orwell to write the following:
“It would have to be a dictatorship, and it was clear that the chance of a working-class dictatorship had passed. That meant that the general movement would be in the direction of some kind of Fascism. Fascism called, no doubt, by some politer name, and – because this was Spain – more human and less efficient than the German or Italian varieties. The only alternatives were an infinitely worse dictatorship by Franco, or (always a possibility) that the war would end with Spain divided up, either by actual frontiers or into economic zones” (133).
Orwell’s observation does not stray from the truth. In fact, after the war, Franco and his dictatorship last for four decades before any changes occur. After the death of Franco, the possibility of Spain dividing into separate frontiers becomes a real possibility. Were it not for the current monarch’s efforts to keep Spain together, another conflagration would have started and separate countries would have been created. Today, Spain is still unified, but the various regions have more autonomy. For now, the possibility of Spain dividing into separate frontiers appears distant, but if the economy continues to worsen in the long term, the country could see another struggle that tears the peninsula apart. For Orwell, even if his political predictions come true, he takes comfort in a common trait that the majority of Spaniards share despite their contentious propensities: “They have, there is no doubt, a generosity, a species of nobility, that do not really belong to the twentieth century. It is this that makes one hope that in Spain even Fascism may take a comparatively loose and bearable form” (165).
Besides recording his political opinions and military observations on the front lines, Orwell also takes time to note his impressions of Spanish customs and culture. It is on this topic that I relate with Orwell the most. I nod in agreement when Orwell observes something like this: “Spaniards seem not to recognize such a thing as a light diet. They give the same food to sick people as to well ones – always the same rich, greasy cookery, with everything sodden in olive oil” (141). (My time in Spain has taught me to take a great liking to olive oil, although not to the extent that Spaniards take it.)
Orwell recounts another quality most Spanish people share: “I record this, trivial though it may sound, because it is somehow typical of Spain – of the flashes of magnanimity that you get from Spaniards in the worst of circumstances. I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards” (165). Again, I can corroborate that statement. I noticed the same attributes during my stay in Spain, including the ability to give generously to friends and even to strangers. Socially, I find Spaniards to be the most affectionate and caring people, even surpassing most Americans, and this despite having the most skeptical attitudes about religion and ideology. “Curiously enough,” Orwell writes, “the whole experience has left me with not less but more belief in the decency of human beings” (170).
My favorite part in the book retells a benign moment that parallels the one I had while taking a train to Barcelona from Lérida, minus the weaponry and soldiers. I know exactly the place Orwell is talking about when his train arrives at a station in Tarragona. I still remember the very first time I came in contact with the Mediterranean, or any ocean for that matter, when I passed by the same place. The memory of the view still mesmerizes me. Surprisingly, Orwell’s descriptions of the scene indicate to me that he arrives at the spot at roughly the same time I do in my memory. It is as if we were in the same train. While my point of view happens during a time of peace and prosperity, Orwell’s recollection happens during a turbulent and violent war. He tells his version eloquently in this way:
“We got into Tarragona as the sun was getting low. The line runs along the shore a stone’s throw from the sea. As our train drew into the station a troop-train full of men from the International Column was drawing out, and a knot of people on the bridge were waving to them. It was a very long train, packed to bursting-point with men, with field-guns lashed on the open trucks and more men clustering round the guns. I remember with peculiar vividness the spectacle of that train passing in the yellow evening light; window after window full of dark, smiling faces, the long tilted barrels of the guns, the scarlet scarves fluttering – all this gliding slowly past us against a turquoise-coloured sea” (141).
Orwell and I visit Spain for very different purposes, but I concur with his conclusions despite never having taken up arms to defend an ideal, confront an enemy, or risk personal life and limb. The more I learn about the Spanish Civil War and its effects I realize how much damage the war has caused in the Spanish psyche. It is very frustrating and aggravating to think about the specific freedoms each side will keep at the cost of other freedoms. Then, the losers must inflict a type of willful amnesia or false recollection in order to survive in a system that keeps subjects quiet. Conditions have greatly improved since the end of the dictatorship, but I secretly worry that resentment could get out of hand again, if not checked. If Spain has to divide itself up, I hope the citizens can do so peacefully and not have to come to blows with cudgels.