An Old Man Looks Back On The Obama Administration

“Grandpa, tell me again about the Hard Times.”

“Oh, Jimmy, I love telling you stories, but I just told you that one yesterday!”

“I know, Gramps, but that was just the same stuff they tell us at the new school–the constant experimenting, the violence, the confusion and chaos–but you were there.  Tell me what it was really like, please.”

Grandpa sighed and ran a hand through his thinning hair as he sank into his comfortable chair by the window.  “The Hard Times?  You know, nobody thought of calling it that until it had been around for years.  The name first popped up on the underground web sites of traditionalists–‘the haters,’ most people called them at the time; people who ‘hated’ subversion, hedonism, socialism, who wouldn’t ‘tolerate’ the demands of others for radical, unprecedented change in the name of ‘fairness.’  The government took a cue from China and shut down most of those sites just as quickly as they shut down the talk radio shows those rebels started out on, but still, the resistance lingered.

“I was never a part of that resistance.  It wasn’t that I was too young to join in, but that I was too young to know that I should join in.  Especially when so many of my elders sanctioned that radicalism with their zealous endorsements, also all in the name of ‘progress.’  I was taken in by the idea of generations, centuries, of wrongdoing about to be undone by an earth-shattering revolutionary who would finally get everyone what they had been taught by the media their whole lives they deserved.  It was exciting, it felt righteous, it was this mass mob mentality that you just can’t understand unless you were part of it–totally convinced that the more you taunted and censored the ones you labelled the ‘enemy,’ the more just you were.  It was like a contest to see who could be coolest by being the most extreme.”

Grandpa paused for breath and rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, seeming to search for words to give his thoughts form.  His face looked lost.  “Good grief, how did we get so far that the majority of a country could fall for such a childish scheme and think we were saving the world?”

He leaned forward and rested his hands on his knees, and when he didn’t speak for a minute, Jimmy tried to get him to continue with a question: “So President Obama was evil?”

Grandpa’s face instantly looked up.  “Evil?  Heavens, no.  Not ‘evil,’ just very, very wrong.  He genuinely thought he was doing the right things, there’s no doubt that he sincerely wanted to do the most good for the most people, with no ulterior motives for his own aggrandizement…but they say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  No, Obama wasn’t evil…but his policies had that effect.  And some of the people around him…yes, some of them were evil.

“They haven’t taught you in school yet about the law of unintended consequences.  That’s one of the very best reasons to be cautious when people want to change what has obviously worked for hundreds of years.  You never know what all the effects of a new action will be.  But in retrospect, I think we should have seen what would happen.  Yes, the chess pieces were all moved into place by 2008.  When the last of our defenses was removed, endgame was ready.

“As soon as Obama was elected, the marginalized anti-social goons came out of the woodwork.  Up until then, there were restraints on public conduct; the leftist fetishists almost reveled in being underdogs.  But the minute they sensed that, after forty years of seeping into the American consciousness, the reigns of power were theirs, what with the Unholy Trinity of Obama-Reid-Pelosi in power, they sprung the trap.

“By the end of the first year, bills fast tracked through the legislative and executive branches mandating that we would never fight another war for any reason, because all violence is always a tool of corporations to exploit peace lovers, that nobody would ever be able to be excluded from anything–especially marriage or citizenship–for any reason, because setting any criteria for anything is discrimination, and that’s an ugly word and always bad, and that everybody would always be able to call on the government to have the exact same quality of life that the most well off Americans could conceivably enjoy, because, again, anything less was clearly evidence of some kind of discrimination, and if ‘all men are created equal,’ then nobody should have to suffer anything that everybody doesn’t have to suffer.

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Let Us Now Praise H.P. Lovecraft

One more recommendation for Halloween reading.  I first heard of Lovecraft in high school when Stephen King put out a collection of short stories called Nightmares and Dreamscapes.  One story in particular was especially effective, a bone-chilling number called “Crouch End.”  In it, a young couple get lost in a weird suburb of London and encounter some malevolent, mysterious beings that are clearly evil and alien, but never fully revealed, only darkly hinted at.

The best part was a scene where one of the heroes, who knew astronomy reasonably well, tried to get oriented by looking at the sky, only to get nauseatingly dizzy(along with the reader) at seeing a totally foreign arrangement of stars.  What a classy, elegant, and supremely unnerving method of showing the reader that we’re not in Kansas anymore.  

This great detail wasn’t of King’s own making, though.  He borrowed it–as well as the atmosphere, theme, and even names in the story–from H.P. Lovecraft, whom King has often said was one of his major influences.

Lovecraft is popular, just not enough so.  He deserves a far wider reading than he gets.  He writes with the same breathless straining for evocative, psychological superlatives that we identify with Poe, but updates Poe’s interest in realistic fantasy to his early 20th century Progressive era: stories usually involve dispassionate researchers scrutinizing documents and offering detached observations to the reader. 

A sample of Lovecraft, from his novella “The Shadow Out Of Time“:

There was a hideous fall through incalculable leagues of viscous, sentient darkness, and a babel of noises utterly alien to all that we know of the Earth and its organic life.  Dormant, rudimentary senses seemed to start into vitality within me, telling of pits and voids peopled by floating horrors and leading to sunless crags and oceans and teeming cities of windowless, basalt towers upon which no light ever shone.

Dude.  Sweet.  Continue reading

Cognitive Dissonance In Bumper Stickers

On the rear bumper of a car parked at the Rainbow Library this afternoon, a sticker on the left side said, “Don’t steal.  The IRS hates competition.”  On the right side, this sticker: “Obama/Biden.” 

Are you kidding me?

Perhaps the resolution to this apparent incongruity lies in a third sticker, this one posted dead center in the rear window: the red logo for the band Insane Clown Posse.  Now it all makes sense…

Spontaneous Election Metaphor

Yesterday one of my classes was brainstorming ideas for cartoon captions as a brief warm up.  One student came up with an especially funny line, and everybody else started copying it down on their own papers. 

“Oh, look at that!” I said.  “Your good work got recognized and envied, so it just became community property.”  I sighed, making a connection.  “Just like all our money after the election.” 

A handful of kids in the front row heard that muttered remark and, I’m glad to say, gave a knowing laugh.  Good to know there’s some sense out there.

Ringing Endorsements

Seen on the cover of a student’s binder today: “¡Me gusta Obama!”  It was written over a photo of her and two friends in bikinis flashing gang signs at the camera and a flier advertising a street racing party. 

Overheard defensive comment a student made after I made a disparaging remark about Paris Hilton: “She’s pretty, she’s just a little slutty.”

It’s Not The Money, Stupid…

The Clark County School District is facing a budget crisis; after having cut $130 million from its budget for this year, we now find ourselves having to cut even more for next year.  Some details are here

Schools are having emergency meetings with parents in the community to discuss ideas for cuts, and my school had such a meeting among its staff last week, as I’m sure many other schools have.  Everybody’s worried about salaries, perks, and even job security itself.

Let’s set a few things straight:

First, there is plenty of money out there for what we need.  There always has been and always will be.  It’s not a matter of needing more money, it’s a matter of better investing what we have.  It does not cost hundreds of millions of dollars to provide textbooks and necessary supplies.  Besides (the curmudgeon hastened to add), there is absolutely no relationship between education spending and academic achievement

But what about technology?  Doesn’t that cost a lot?  Yes, but that might as well be where we make some cuts, too, since…wait for it…students with greater access to computers statistically do worse academically than others

All this brouhaha reminds me of a letter that I had in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on July 11, 2007:

 

Here’s a shocking thought from a teacher: Raising our salaries won’t improve anything.

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Highly Recommended: Dr. Heideman As Your Dentist

I like going to the dentist in general, probably for the same nerdy reasons Ken Jennings talked about regarding a love of taking standardized tests: there’s a cleanliness and an order, a military maturity, a paternalistic calmness, and a feeling that you’re doing something worthy and almost ritualistic, in both.  But Dr. Heideman takes this pleasure to a whole new level.

First, his office is unbelievably posh.  You walk in and think you’re about to meet with the president of the bank to negotiate the closing of some million dollar property.  And I’ve seen plenty of wonderful people working in offices before, but Dr. Heideman’s staff is almost dizzyingly kind; you can’t escape the impression that they genuinely enjoy working here and being with you.  Wow.

Oh, and also, he’s a great dentist.  This guy uses the most incredible, state of the art equipment and methods of cleaning and caring for your teeth I’ve ever seen; this must be what George Jetson dreamed of seeing at the dentist’s office.  I always look forward to that clean, fresh feeling in my mouth after leaving the dentist, but even the best, most hygenically pure cleaning I’d ever gotten before today now feels like gargling with muddy medical waste by comparison.  Muddy medical waste from Mexico.  Can it be that this is a doctor who is actually committed to the health and satisfaction of each individual customer?  If this isn’t the real deal, I can’t imagine what the real thing could possibly do to look better.

Here’s the website for his practice.  Please, check it out, then check the provider list for your insurance and go see him.  And tell him I sent you–I’ll get a credit to my account if you do. 

But I don’t live in Las Vegas, you say.  Quit whining, I say.  Move here.  Move here and go see Dr. Heideman.  Totally worth it.

Sympathy For The Home Teacher

Yesterday, on a local talk radio station, a host I admire posed this conundrum to the audience: a relative of his inactive wife had given his contact information to his neighborhood congregation of the LDS church and two men (their new home teachers) came over to talk to them, but they don’t want to be contacted by church members; how should he proceed?

He politely hastened to add that the pair of visitors who had most recently come to his door were perfectly polite (though, apparently, some had been not quite so courteous in the past, unfortunately); nonetheless, they prefer not to have church members come visit them in their home. I heard a couple of callers give some decent advice on the subject (I wish I’d had time to hear the whole conversation), but it’s really a no-brainer: you politely but firmly ask not to be contacted, then take up the issue with the well-meaning relative.

 

I want to address another angle to this situation. A lot of people out there have had experiences similar to that of our talk show host friend, but fewer have been on the other side of these encounters. I’ve been on both sides, and I want people to understand where we’re coming from.

 

First of all, I hope everybody considers just how hard it is to approach the home of someone you don’t know, someone who may very well be hostile to you, and try to talk about religion. It can be terrifying. It takes courage and can only be motivated by a genuine gratitude to God and concern for the welfare of others. Remembering that might make more of these encounters more hospitable. That’s why my wife and I don’t close the door on Jehovah’s Witnesses: we may not agree with their doctrine, but at least they’re putting themselves out there doing hard, thankless work, trying to make the world a better place. It deserves respect.

 

Most people don’t like to be bothered by strangers when they’re at home, but don’t forget that those guys from the nearby church knocking on your door have lives, too. They have families waiting for them, they have jobs they’re tired from working at all day, and they have plenty of other, more comfortable things that they could be doing. But they’re giving up that time and comfort and risking instigating the occasional confrontation because someone out there could need them.

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Teen Tech Truth

As I’ve watched more and more people, especially young people, over the last several years have an increasing array of gadgets and devices on their persons in public, an image has been itching at the back of my mind, but I’ve been unable to clarify it.  It just hit me. 

That constant dependence on being plugged into electronic accessories, often with wires and cables functioning as high-tech veins, almost like they’ve become life-sustaining organs (if you think that’s exaggerating, you’ve never tried to separate a teenager from his iPod), proves that the nightmares of science fiction have turned into reality. 

No, it’s not The Matrix, though that’s an excellent analogy.  (When I tell kids in class to turn off their iPod or cell phone and “take the red pill,” they rarely get what the figure of speech implies…even after I explain it.) 

Consider these pictures of typical American children:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, compare those to this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you see a substantial difference?  Neither can I.

Pun Day At A Time…

  1. Mildly humorous country in Eastern Europe: Chuckleslovakia
  2. Inspires people to appreciate motor vehicles: automotivational
  3. Sensibly applied care for the spine: chiropractical
  4. Very impressive technical innovation: scienterrific
  5. If U2 and Shakespeare collaborated: “Now is the winter of our discotheque.”
  6. Nepalese monster with strong stomach muscles: Abdominal Snowman
  7. Excellent Spanish speaking man: Juanderful
  8. Excellent Spanish desert: flantastic
  9. Bones of professional academics: scholartons
  10. A leisurely-perambulating homeless artist from a swanky part of New York: A slo-mo boho hobo from Soho
  11. A Celtic person lamenting a dearth of fortunate females: “Alas!  A lack o’ lucky lasses!”
  12. When I say something pretentious or tacky: Hustontatious

Stolen Election Signs

Number of times John McCain for President signs have been stolen from my yard in the last month: two.  “McCain/Palin” and “Another Family For McCain” were the victims.  The third and current sign (simply “McCain”) is as yet unmolested.

 

UPDATE 10/24:  My third sign was stolen today.  I came home from work to find it missing.  I have one more I can put out…better keep it further away from the sidewalk this time!

Funny Phone Foolishness

As I walked through the school’s office one day last week, checking my mailbox, I saw a student from last year sitting at the principal’s secretary’s desk.  I popped my head in and asked why she was there.  She told me that the secretary was in a meeting and had asked her to “hold down the fort” for a few minutes.  She sounded a little nervous about maybe having to answer the phone.

So I went back to my room, got on the phone, and called the office.  She answered with a rehearsed but anxious professional greeting, after which I proceeded to order a pizza.  I asked for thick crust, extra cheese, with bacon and sausage. 

There was a long pause and then, stammering a little, she said, “Uh, I think you have the wrong number, sir.”  I let another pause go by, then said, “Hey, don’t worry.  It’s me, Mr. Huston.”

A third pause, then, “Oh, you are NOT funny.”

On The Virtue Of A Soft Heart, Despite Discouragement

Pessimism is tempting.  In a world where we constantly face rejection, scorn, and, for the most part, the failure of our work to do much lasting good, it’s easy to give in to the reflex to put up walls around our emotions, to practice not caring about those who we might care for but who will end up letting us down and breaking our heart.  Sometimes it feels like the only way to handle the overwhelming sadness of the world’s willful self-destruction is to shake our heads and say, “Oh well.  Good riddance.”

The Book of Mormon strongly encourages the opposite.  In the midst of risking the most bracingly discouraging setbacks, we are still shown example after example of prophets who wear their hearts on their sleeves, and invest every ounce of their own deepest feelings in their work, despite the ongoing pain.  It’s hard, it’s noble, and it’s necessary.

[all italics added for emphasis]

LEHI

1 Nephi 1:5 “…my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.”

1 Nephi 8:36 “…he exceedingly feared for Laman and Lemuel; yea, he feared lest they should be cast off from the presence of the Lord.”

NEPHI

1 Nephi 2:18 “and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts, I cried unto God for them.”

1 Nephi 10:4 “…I, Nephi, was grieved because of the hardness of their hearts…”

1 Nephi 12:25 “…I did exhort them with all the energies of my soul, and with all the faculty which I possessed…”

1 Nephi 17:9 “…I, Nephi, was exceedingly sorrowful because of the hardness of their hearts…”

1 Nephi 17:47 “Behold, my soul is rent with anguish because of you, and my heart is pained; I fear lest ye shall be cast off forever…”

2 Nephi 26:7 “O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people!  For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me…”

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Dear President George W. Bush

Even with election day two weeks away, you remain the most prominent figure in American discourse (as Oliver Stone’s hit biopic W. shows) and the largest target of uninspired venom (Stone, again).  As your memorable administration winds down, I want to say something to you that far too few of us have yet said, and something that I’m sure that future generations will.

You are, without even a close second, the most despised American in history, more so than Paris Hilton and OJ Simpson combined.  Breezily dismissing you as Satan incarnate–a sterile one-dimensional stereotype–has been a casual password of mainstream identity in our country for years.  Though I, like many conservatives, differ with you on some key issues, this marathon of spleen-venting has little basis in reality; most of the time all people have against you is their own folklore, bias, misconceptions, and assumptions courtesy of the popular media.

Yet (and here’s something of which very few people have taken note), you never stoop to the level of your critics.  As much as your lifestyle, mannerisms, and even appearance have been mercilessly skewered in the media for nearly eight years, you have unflinchingly conducted yourself in a manner which can only be described as dignified.  You do your best to bear yourself up as a statesman.  In a nation too often populated by inglorious adolescents, you are an adult. 

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