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Archive for February, 2009

So the passage of President Obama’s stimulus package–the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009–has passed, to the tune of $789 billion, and fiscal conservatives around the country are howling mad.  “Tea Party” protests are sweeping the nation.  One blog post I happened across this week featured a graphic of a tombstone for the United States, giving the “death” date as November 4, 2008, the day of Obama’s election.  (You’re late, by the way–I had the same idea months ago.) 

But is that really the day that history will remember as the tipping point towards financial ruin for our republic?  Did Obama suddenly come in and drastically change course for the government, or is he just continuing business as usual? 

Or better yet…where were all those tea party protests before now? 

Where were the protests on October 3, 2008, when the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 ($700 billion) was signed into law?  Shouldn’t that be the date on the tombstone? 

Where were the protests on September 30, 2008, when the “Big Three” automakers got a $25 billion loan? 

Where was the coordinated network of national protests on September 16, 2008, when the Federal Reserve gave insurance giant AIG a $75 billion bailout?

Where were the fiscal conservatives rising up and demanding results on July 30, 2008, when the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 ($300 billion) became law? 

So if we’re going to become especially indignant about Obama’s “porkulus” package, we’re very much a conservative pot calling a liberal kettle black.

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This quarter, my American Literature Honors class had to do their independent reading from the list of Pulitzer Prize winners.  For some reason, about a third of the kids in each class all picked the same book: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Today, one guy clued me in to this pitch perfect parody of McCarthy’s gloomy, meandering tragedy.  I briefly perused the rest of the Unshelved site, especially their book club, and found it very entertaining.  Enthusiasts of humor and reading, check it out!

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200px-william_f_buckley2c_jr_1985Today marks one year since William F. Buckley passed away.  As a conservative and, especially, as a proponent of elegant English, Buckley was an idol of mine.  I remember getting his little book, The Lexicon, when I was in college.  I found joy on every page. 

Since then, I’ve delighted in his many books and articles, though I’ve yet to read one of his spy novels.  In tribute, might I recommend an article of his on a subject near and dear to my heart: follow this link and enter these key words to search: defense use unusual words.  The article with those words in the title will come up for your languorous perusal.  (I couldn’t find a direct link to it.  Sorry.) 

A terrific memorial is up today at National Review, the vanguard political establishment that Buckley founded, and which remains the best print voice for the movement.  Even the New York Times ran a respectful obit when he died, which gave a solid overview of Buckley’s career in commentary and composition.

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I’m reading Richard E. Nisbett’s new book, Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count.  Its chapter on effective teaching mentions the Department of Education’s web site, What Works Clearinghouse, and its sister site, Doing What Works.  

 

I checked them both out, and they look promising.  Like most education research, they’re clearly geared primarily towards elementary education, but there is some good stuff for math and science teachers, as well as for staff development, which I find myself caring more and more about. 

 

Regarding Nisbett’s book, I’ll simplify the chapter about effective teaching thusly:

 

Based on correlating extant research, do the following things make schools better?

 

Spending: no

Charter & private schools: no

Class size: yes, for younger children

Teacher education and certification: no

Inexperienced, rookie teachers: no (negative effect)

“Emotionally supportive classrooms”: yes

Computerized instruction (for math): yes

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I’m a big fan of Glenn Beck.  His show has the most cutting, spot-on satire in news commentary today.  I only catch the show when I happen to be driving when it’s on, and I’ve only seen the TV shows in the form of YouTube clips.  Beck speaks to me, and my students have even said that I remind them of him.  However, what I’ve heard in recent weeks makes me worry.

This came most forcefully to mind just within the last several days, as my wife and I were driving home and caught the last few minutes of one show.  Beck was ranting about the coming political apocalypse and doing so with phraseology deeply steeped in LDS doctrine.  Now, I don’t mind that his commentary is infused with language based on beliefs that he and I share, and by no means was he explicitly promoting his sectarian beliefs, but I still found his references to a plan for us to prove ourselves in a life of enduring good and evil to be, in this context…over the top.  Frankly, he was getting a little hysterical.  Suggesting that people, for instance, save some food is perfectly rational (even the Wall Street Journal has done so), but I don’t know that it does our political or our religious beliefs any good to frame them together in breathless doomsday scenarios. 

And make no mistake about it: Beck has become a Malthusian through and through.  (more…)

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What makes an effective teacher?  What’s the meaning of life?  What do women want?  (Blame Freud for that last one, not me.)  These three questions have excited so much postulating and pontificating that many thinkers have given up on trying to answer them at all, instead resigning themselves to the apparent inevitability of resolving such baffling conundrums.  However, recently, two of America’s best major magazines have run thought-provoking features intended to address the first query above. 

 

            Malcolm Gladwell (author of the bestsellers Blink, Outliers, and The Tipping Point) reported in December 2008 on the burgeoning field of statistical quantification as it relates to the field of education in The New Yorker.  Gladwell summarizes the findings of one expert in the piece as showing that “the difference between good teachers and poor teachers turns out to be vast,” noting that teacher competence has a far greater impact on student achievement than class size or even (perceived) school quality.  Another expert—Jacob Kounin—emphasizes the importance of what he calls “withitness”—a preternatural awareness of a class’s immediate climate.

 

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For years I’ve secretly harbored a desire to speak to a group of seminary students.  I’ve subbed for a couple of classes, but that was several years ago.  Last month, though, my dream was realized: the student council at our school’s seminary asked me to give a morningside (a devotional speech). 

I’ve wanted to do this because there are things I’d love to say to the LDS kids at my school that I just can’t in the classroom.  After working with me for a year or two, most kids figure out that I’m Mormon and conservative, but neither is something that I advertise: they have no place in my teaching.  I’ve always said that my job is to teach people how to think, not what to think.  I’ve heard other teachers talk about slipping references to their political or religious beliefs into their classes, and I find it grossly unethical.  Proselyting authority figures are unacceptable. 

But at seminary, I could advertise a little in a perfectly appropriate environment.  And today was the day.  I was very excited as I got to the church at 5:45 this morning, and met the teachers there.  As I started my remarks to a chapel full of about 120 kids, I talked about Elder Perry’s “apostolic endorsement” of my American Lit. class in General Conference last Fall (which I also joked about with Elder Perry when I met him at a missionary training for local leaders last month), and joked that this doesn’t mean that English is more spiritual than their other classes…but when was the last time their electives got the seal of approval from an Apostle? 

I then reviewed my conversion story, which ties into seminary, and my testimony of the Atonement and the Book of Mormon (which also testifies of the Atonement).  I told them that the Book of Mormon, this little blue book that we give away for free by the truckload, is a miracle, more wise than every other book I’ve ever read put together, and more important than every artifact in every museum in the world.  I reminded them that an English teacher was saying this!

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The International

Finally, finally Hollywood made a movie where an attractive young rebel risks everything to expose the corruption of an evil corporation!  It’s about time!

Revolutionary Road

Finally, finally Hollywood made a movie about a suburban family that’s emotionally unfulfilled!  It’s about time!

Milk

Finally, finally Hollywood made a movie where the gay character is the heroic role model!  It’s about time!

Doubt

Finally, finally Hollywood made a movie that questions the integrity of organized religion!  It’s about time!

Etc.

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Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily, I just read this fascinating interviewwith a young African woman named Dambisa Moyo, who’s publishing a scathing new book indicting the liberal elitist “benefactor” mentality that drives the Anglo world’s policy towards Africa.  She makes several quick but devastatingly sharp insights about the free market system and our narcissistic nannying of Africa.  And the New York Times ran this? 

Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.

 

Care to comment on America’s stimulus package, Ms. Moyo?

 

Read the interview here.

 

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UNLV Beats BYU 75-74

unlv_rebels_200I got to see Saturday night’s sold out game at the Thomas and Mack, courtesy of my father-in-law.  The Rebels have had only a so-so season, often playing, as R-J columnist Ed Graney said, like “a koala on Quaaludes.”  Saturday night’s game started out in a familiar fashion, with BYUoutplaying on offense and UNLV looking less like a team than five random guys all playing on their own, actually seeming confused when they tried to work together. 

But things clicked soon enough.  By the end of the first half, the momentum was strong and the second half saw a real treat for UNLV fans: Wink Adams had a great night, at the line and all around.  Mo Rutledge got more indomitable the closer he got to the net, growing practically unstoppable inside the key.  Tre’Von Willis also stood out, scoring solidly and sinking his fair share of UNLV’s many three pointers.  Though BYU brought it up to only a one point loss, UNLV was ahead by as much as 12 at one point in the second half. 

This bodes well for the next stage. 

And so as not to write a post without any dreary social commentary, on my way home I saw a police officer texting on his cell phone.  While driving.  Arrrgh!

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Facebook recently passed MySpace as the most popular social networking site.  Last year, at the urging of a close friend, I got a Facebook account, but I never used it.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t care about it.  I recently read of a guy who connected with tons of acquaintances from high school that way, and formed some pretty strong online friendships with them, stronger than he’d had back in school. 

But, frankly, I’m not interested in shallow connections with tons of old acquaintances and strangers.  I didn’t bother to go to my own high school reunion because I figure if there’s anyone I really care to see, I’d have looked them up sometime in the intervening decade.  Somehow, life has gone on just fine.  I’m perfectly content with my very small circle of close associates, and I have a hard time keeping up with them as it is.  Any desire I have to interact with people beyond my immediate sphere of real world influence is more than adequately served by blogging.

And Facebook would just eat up more time that could be better spent having a real life, enjoying my family, serving my church, and working on non-electronic goals.  There’s at least one Luddite left in this cyber world of ours!

Accordingly, I deleted my Facebook account last week.  I hate clutter, and it was just collecting dust (I take Walden way too seriously).  If anyone wants to contact me without posting a comment on a specific blog entry, you can email gentlyhewstone@yahoo.com

I’m not saying Facebook is bad, but it’s probably an extraneous indulgence for most of us, another distraction that only gives the illusion of significance.  At least it would be for me.

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0183031_productFor years, my wife and I have had regular Book of Mormon study with our older children, but as our younger children have grown, we’ve tried different ways to do scripture study just with them.  Last year, we finally struck upon a method that works very well.  Though they’re each a year older now, they were two and three when we started.

We base our study on the Church’s Old Testament Stories picture book (which can be ordered on the Distribution Center site here).  For the “chapter” we’ll do on a certain day, one of us starts by reading a couple of verses from the KJV that are related to the story, then the other parent “fleshes out” that introduction by reading the whole picture story with the kids.  We trade roles each day: I’ll read the actual scripture verses and she’ll read the story one day, the next day we switch.  During the reading and/or after, we try to point out the spiritual lesson in the story.

We close with a Primary song and prayer.  The whole process takes only about five minutes a day, and we’re finding that it’s a productive way to begin family scripture study with the very young.  After we finish Old Testament Stories, we’ll move on to New Testament Stories, then Book of Mormon Stories, etc.

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Priorities

There are three locations in Las Vegas for Deseret Book, the LDS Church’s bookstore: one on the far east side of town, and two on the far west side.  Well, just the two on the west side now, apparently. 

The one on the east side is gone.  The space that it occupied for many years is now vacant.  It was located in a Mormon-themed strip mall just down the road from Southern Nevada’s only temple, so location couldn’t have been a problem.  If anyone finds it disconcerting that an outlet for things like scriptures, oil for priesthood ordinances, and the works of current Apostles is no longer economically viable, don’t worry: that strip mall’s credit union, fancy bread store, and hair salon are all still open for business.

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I’m negative.  I excuse it as pragmatism, as refusing to stick my head in the sand, but when you’re trying not to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, there’s such a thing as putting on sunglasses so dark that things just get distorted the other way.

In accordance with a goal I have of being more positive, here are some things that make me glad and give me hope for the future:

1. High school blood drives.  The fact that they come back each year means that the blood they collect is mostly useful, which means most teens donating blood (and there are a lot) are living healthy enough lives to give good blood.

2. Americans are spending less.  Apparently, in hard times, we have some financial maturity after all.  Some are reporting this as bad for the retail sector, but the overall effect here will be greater fiscal stability all around.  Just as we drove less last year when gas prices peaked, we are now holding back some of our profligate ways.  Good for us.

3. Christianity is growing at an amazing rate in the developing parts of the world.  Scholar Philip Jenkins has written about this (for example, page 120 here), and it’s a heartening trend.  More Christians in the world will inevitably lead to greater dissemination of education, greater social justice and stability, and even improved governmental and economic engines, as they always have. 

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The Jesus/Burrito Paradox

Over at By Common Consent, they run a regular feature where controversial questions are thrown out there and the community is asked to chime in.  Because nothing establishes sound doctrine like an online free-for-all. 

I figured if we’re going to indulge in some irreverent navel gazing, we might as well do it right.  In a 13th season episode of The Simpsons called “Weekend at Burnsies,” Homer puts the following theological query to Ned Flanders: “Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that even he couldn’t eat it?”

This question has been used in polls elsewhere, and most people tend to say no, as they claim that God has no corporeal body (alas, in sharp contradiction of Luke 24:39-43).  So, any LDS readers won’t have that convenient cop out. 

What say you?

 

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