Inhuman Swill : History
            

Mardi gras cake with baby Jesus
You may not be aware of it, but today is the day that many Mormons believe to be Jesus Christ's actual birthday. (Happy birthday, Mormon Jesus!)

It also happens to be the 186th birthday of the LDS Church, which was officially founded on April 6, 1830. I'm old enough to remember the church's much-ballyhooed sesquicentennial year (1980), and I certainly hope to live long enough to see it turn 200 in 2030. (Not that I'll be celebrating. I just have no wish to die that soon.)

This got me thinking. Back when I was a lowly 12-year-old deacon, 150 years seemed like a long, long time, especially relative to my age. But now I'm 48, which means that I have lived through a full quarter of the church's history. A mere four 48-year spans will take you back to before Joseph Smith sprang the Book of Mormon on an unsuspecting world. That's a remarkably brief period of time, historically speaking, especially for the lifetime of a church that I was raised to believe was the be-all and end-all of human existence.

My mother, at 70, has lived through well over a third of that history. My grandmother, who passed away a couple of years ago at 95, live through more than half. That's how young the LDS Church really is. All of Mormon scripture, doctrine, history and culture arose during two of my grandmother's lifetimes.

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Wired.com's Geek's Guide to the Galaxy Podcast
Though it doesn't officially come out until tomorrow, my interview with the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast is now live and available through iTunes and elsewhere.

I really enjoyed doing this interview. Host David Barr Kirtley asked great questions, and we chatted not just about the writing of The Accidental Terrorist, but also how charismatic religious leaders manage to get away with so much and why there are so many Mormon science fiction writers.

Dave does a heroic job with this podcast in general, and if you're not listening to it regularly, you should. In fact, you should listen to a few of the many great past episodes and then help support the show.

Listen below now!

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This essay is excerpted from The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary, available everywhere November 10, 2015.

WARNING: This essay contains graphic descriptions of primitive surgery that some readers may find disturbing.


In January 1994, when I was 26 years old, I sat down in my bare, cold room to write my first novel.

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As I was working through the very final set of revisions on The Accidental Terrorist, I had to hunt down the original source of a well-known Joseph Smith quote on the topic of the accuracy of the Bible. I found what I was looking for in his History of the Church, but I also found a nearby paragraph that was equally interesting.

Joseph was obviously frustrated by the persecution he and his people had been suffering, and was perhaps even more frustrated by his inability to get protection or redress from the courts, or even much sympathy from President Martin Van Buren in a face-to-face 1840 meeting. In Volume VI, Chapter 3 of History of the Church, he wrote:

The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you," a governor issue exterminating orders, or judges say, "The men ought to have the protection of law, but it won't please the mob; the men must die, anyhow, to satisfy the clamor of the rabble; they must be hung, or Missouri be damned to all eternity." Executive writs could be issued when they ought to be, and not be made instruments of cruelty to oppress the innocent, and persecute men whose religion is unpopular.

Think about that for a minute. The death penalty for failing to protect everyone's rights under the Constitution. Can you imagine the irony had Joseph's fancy become an actual amendment? Can you imagine the implications for the attorney generals and county clerks who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples? Can you imagine the implications for district attorneys who failed to indict white officers for shooting black civilians?

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Today is the 200th anniversary of the London Beer Flood. I'd tell you all about, but Kyle Thiessen explains it far better than I ever could (and the Boston Molasses Flood too) in his Fake Month at the Museum series:

So wherever you are, raise a glass today to the empire where the suds never set!

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The view from Buddha
I never enjoy writing a blog post for September 11th, but also don't like letting the day pass with saying anything. Happily, our social calendar last night handed me the perfect topic to share today.

Last night Laura and I attended one of the Art Institute of Chicago's occasional "After Dark" nights. This one turned the Modern Wing into an Indian-themed night club of sorts. We arrived early and slipped away from the festivities just in time to catch a preview of a new art installation, Jitish Kallat's "Public Notice 3," about which we knew nothing. We were fortunate enough to be part, I believe, of the first public group to see it, and had unobstructed access that not many viewers will get when it opens today.

"Public Notice 3" is the first work to be installed directly on the Art Institute's Grand Staircase. You get there from the Modern Wing, as we did, by passing through the Alsdorf Galleries. This space used to be crowded with armor and armaments but is now devoted to religious art from India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas. Buddhas from different ends of those regions welcome visitors at each end of the gallery. It's hard not to dawdle with all the gods and demiurges on display. But there, through a portal at the opposite end, you can already see the field of varicolored lights framing one last Buddha.

Past that sculpture, you begin to take in "Public Notice 3." Kallat has gained a reputation for recontextualizing historical texts. In this case, the text is the remarks delivered on September 11, 1893, by Swami Vivekananda to open the first World's Parliament of Religions, which took place in this very building in association with the Columbian Expo. Vivekananda offered a stirring plea for tolerance, which Kallat has set flowing up the staircase in 15,000 tiny electric bulbs reminiscent of a Lite-Brite set. The words are rendered in the five colors of the Homeland Security Threat Advisory System.

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My first professional story, "From Our Point of View We Had Moved to the Left" (F&SF, February 1993), was set on Inauguration Day, 2009. Thank God the real 1/20/09 is an infinitely more hopeful occasion than the one in my story.

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?sf=4

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In these hallowed halls

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I left work a little early yesterday to attend a press screening of a film I'll be reviewing next week. The screening room was located in the Brill Building, I was delighted to discover. I had never been to the Brill Building before, or even noticed before it as I walked along Broadway, but this is the famous building where hordes of ambitious songwriters would crank out tunes for hire day in and day out back in the '60s. Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Gene Pitney, Jim Croce, Kris Kristofferson, Paul Simon ... the list goes on and on, and defines a whole generation of popular song. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker even worked there for a bit.

I didn't see any famous songwriters there yesterday, but I did arrive at the elevators at the same time the movie—two big reels on a handtruck—did.

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Happy Bastille Day! Last year on this day, Laura and I were in Paris watching marching bands on the street and fighter jets overhead trailing tricolor smoke. You know, I could do with a nice Armagnac outside a bistro in the 7ème Arondissement about now.

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Meme via [info]holyoutlaw: Search Wikipedia for your birthday, minus the year. List three neat facts, two births and one death in your journal, including the year each occurs.

Neat Facts:

  • 1040:  King Duncan I of Scotland is killed in battle against his cousin and successor Macbeth.
  • 1994:  Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the terrorist known as "Carlos the Jackal," is captured.
  • 2003:  Widescale power blackout in the northeast United States and Canada.

Two births:
  • 1771:  Sir Walter Scott, Scottish historical novelist and poet (d. 1832)
  • 1851:  Doc Holliday, American gambler and gunfighter (d. 1887)

One death:

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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that even a
missionary
could afford.

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William Shunn

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