Freedom Is Risky, Essential, and Wonderful

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. 

Benjamin Franklin

Source: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, November 11, 1755.The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, vol. 6, p. 242 .This quotation, slightly altered, is inscribed on a plaque in the stairwell of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

 

Think intrusive airport security.  Think bailouts.  Think unconstitutional gun control laws.  Think about an awful lot of things.

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“Not Every Child Is Secretly a Genius”

There’s a powerful new essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education about my least favorite of the many warm fuzzy trends that currently inform (and infect) American education: multiple intelligences.  I’ve ranted about this plenty of times: in every college class and inservice day, teachers are beaten with this idea and made to repeat it in order to get or keep their jobs; I just finished a series of classes this year where the curriculum was designed just to make teachers regurgitate praise for this bit of inspirational indoctrination.  I can’t overstate how pervasive this is. 

The idea: there is a wide variety of “intelligences” out there that influence our learning strengths and weaknesses, and teachers must approach students and classes at several levels to reach all of them.  That means creating lessons not just with verbal and mechanical components, but also physical, social-conversational, and even–I kid you not–nature appreciation. 

And as every good teacher has known from experience for years, it’s a complete pile of garbage. 

As the Chronicle essay points out, this philosophy serves our desire to cherish egalitarian equality–to assert that everyone has talent and value and has hidden but important things to offer the world.  Over my years of teaching, I’ve learned the opposite.  Continue reading

Michael Jackson Comments

I don’t really want to write about this, but a few things have come to mind over the weekend, and for what it’s worth, here they are.  Behold, the cathartic power of writing:

  • Michael Jackson was not that great of a musician.  Sure, he had some great songs, but most well known artists have some great songs.  His music was innovative and formative of the 80’s era, but let’s remember we’re lionizing someone who hadn’t written anything memorable in nearly 20 years, only released a few albums over a very long career, and never truly realized his potential.  In terms of both musical quality and actual cultural impact (as opposed to perceived cultural impact), tons of acts–from Lionel Richie to Madonna to U2–are far more important, and that’s just from the 80’s.   The best thing we can really say of Jackson’s talent is to remark that he was an amazing dancer–it was often angry and sometimes disturbing, but his skill there is undeniable.
  • I remember when “Black or White” came out, some people accused him of ripping off INXS’s “New Sensation.”  I bought it at the time, but that was dumb.  The resemblance is superficial–certainly not amounting to the kind of sampling that irritates us all.  MJ may not have been perfect, but he sure didn’t need to steal ideas from Australian pop bands.
  • His guest stint as the voice of a Michael Jackson wannabe on The Simpsons–yes, that was really him–was truly cool.  If I remember him well, it’ll be for that.  That and letting Weird Al parody a couple of his songs (Prince famously told him no).
  • I don’t know if he ever molested any children, but it’s likewise undeniable that he put them in positions that did bother and scare them.  He may have loved them, but his clueless self-obsessive behavior hurt others.  It’s hard not to ignore that.  During the recent NBA finals, I couldn’t appreciate Kobe Bryant’s awe-inspiring performances because I couldn’t stop thinking, “You know, that guy who just made that incredible shot is probably a rapist.”  Same thing here. 
  • How much does it suck to be the ghost of Farrah Fawcett right now?  Her untimely death (genuinely untimely, not one brought on by years of voluntary prescription drug abuse) got about five minutes of headline time before MJ took over and the world went into full time worship mode.  Her inspiring, dignified battle with cancer?  Might as well have never happened.  Remember when Mother Teresa and Princess Diana died within a week of each other in 1997?  Remember which one got a hundred times more coverage?  Did we learn nothing?  Even worse, it’s unlikely that the passing of TV pitchman Billy Mays will unseat Jackson any time soon.
  • If MJ hadn’t died, how would we all feel about him today?  I’m not saying that we need to go out of our way to disrespect the dead, but honoring him now is just dishonest.  The world is full of real heroes who have recently died, and many more who still struggle on.  Let’s spend some time on them, and less on trivial pop culture trends, OK?

Guest Post: Teenage Philosophy

After seeing this amazingly inane drivel about teenagers with trendy, extreme body decorations defending their honor in yesterday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal, I thought I’d try to understand the teenage mindset better by letting one of them take this space and explain their fascinating insights into the egalitarian tradition and their innovative adaptations thereof.  Our anonymous adolescent offers the following:

 

Dont be hatin on me!  It dont matter if I be getting earrings or tattoos or mohawks or implants or wearin bikinis to school or bitin my toenails in class or stuff like that.  Thats just who I am!  You cant judge me!  Stop hatin!

Im just expressin myself!  If I want to cover myself in egg yolk and run screaming through the parking lot, it dont make no difference to you.  I was born that way.  Its a free country.  Dont give me your bad looks.  And quit hatin up on me!

You think smearing pig slop on my feet and dancin in front you wherever you go is like bad or somethin?  You dont know, you just hatin.  You wrong.  Thats just the way we is now.  We likes to go out in public and fill our mouths with raw fish guts and spit em at each other an yell out catch phrases from this weeks popular movie and thats cool.  That dont make us bad. 

Its a fact that some of us who likes digging up graves and dragging bodies behind their cars is all goin to Harvard and stuff now.  Yeah!  Take that!  Tons of folks who go around wearing baggy clothes overflowin with maggots is like doctors and lawyers and stuff now.  So dont be stereotypin!  It dont matter to you–its a free country.  You just dont understand, so dont be hatin!

Everything that everybody does is cool now.  Aint nothin bad no more.  Except the stuff that you old folks like that I dont like.  That stuff sucks. 

 

Etc. Etc.  Ad nauseum.

I Did The Love Dare

After seeing the movie Fireproof with my wife recently, I wanted to do the love dare in it for my wife.  I put the book on my hold list at the library.  I couldn’t publish this until after the whole 40 days, because my wife reads this blog and I wanted it to be a surprise.  Here are some notes on what happened, but since I don’t want to ruin the book (or infringe on copyrights!), I won’t list the dares here.  (Update: the book’s web site actually has the full list.)  You just need to pick up your own copy. 

In the movie, all that stood in the way of their perfect romance was their fading feelings.  Real life is more complicated.  Just in the last forty days, some of the things that made it harder for me to do this included: a kid got sick and threw up seven times in one morning, my wife and I were taken to court (where we did not do well), I got sick (twice–once during the first week of the dare, and again during the last week), our refrigerator broke down and got repaired, work and other responsibilities kept us apart all day and up very late, the lock on my car door broke (and the dealer didn’t even fix it right!), the battery in our van died, and a motley assortment of other irritations, distractions, and adversities made their merry way into the path of my earnest scheduling.  In short, life happened. 

So it was hard at times, but I think my wife appreciated it, so it was absolutely worth it. 

My only frame of reference for ideas was the character in the movie, and at times I felt a little bad that my gestures weren’t as dramatic as his.  I guess that’s to be expected: my life isn’t scripted, nor does it have a movie studio’s budget.  I, alas, do not have twenty grand stashed away for a boat that I can dip into to help make her dream come true. 

Days 1-5 (May 20 -May 24)

Day 1: The day I picked this up from the library was one of the hardest, most discouraging days of work I had all year.  I wanted to complain about it and dump it all on my wife, but I took the injunction to not be negative as literally as I could, and held my tongue.  At least for today!

Day 2: foot rub

Day 3: Star Trek glass from Burger King.  We’re awesome. 

Days 6-10 (May 25 -May 29)

Continue reading

An Open Appeal To the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Dear Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

Will you please make a recording for missionary distribution?  There are only so many Church videos and materials to give to friends before they’ve seen everything, and probably seen it multiple times from all their Mormon friends.  I’d love to give people some of your great albums of hymns, but it’s just not affordable.

Yes, it would cost money, but wouldn’t it be a great missionary opportunity?  It would bless lives and build friendships.  Everyone who receives it would love it. 

Christmas music would be perfect.  It wouldn’t even have to be a full album–a few songs would be enough to make a valuable gift.  Thanksgiving, Easter, or Independence Day would also make great opportunities.  Or all of the above!  Friends, relatives, and home teachers could share these gifts at appropriate times when interest is highest.  A small CD package could also include a more direct message about the Church, or maybe just a quote about that holiday.  Or just a picture and the Church web site’s address. 

They could be included in copies of that month’s Ensign.  Or, if that’s too costly, make them available as cheaply as possible from the distribution center. 

If that’s all still impossible, perhaps you could provide a few free mp3 downloads on the Church web site and we could advertise them to our friends with pass along cards.

I know that such a production would yield great results, in the lives of everyone such a recording would touch.  As a teacher, I read samples of great works to children and thus enlarge that author’s exposure and appreciation.  This project would do the same for the Tabernacle Choir. 

And it would undoubtedly help spread the gospel.  Who can hear your music and not feel the Spirit? 

Sincerely,

Jamie Huston

The Ultimate Summer Movie…Unfortunately

I’ve been wondering which of this summer’s moronic, eye-candy popcorn flicks will be crowned the big dumb event of the season.  Will it be X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, or G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra?  (And when did colons and subtitles become standard fare for these special effects extravaganzas?  What, are they too mature and artsy for X-Men 4, Terminator 4, Transformers 2, or just plain old G.I. Joe?) 

But voting will not be necessary.  We have declared a winner.  Not that I have, will, or even have any desire to see any of these movies, there is no doubt in my mind that the worst movie of the summer is this direct-to-video abomination.  How could it not be, when it features the ever so slightly less than stellar acting chops of Lorenzo Lamas and 80’s teen sensation Debbie “Electric Youth” Gibson? 

*sigh*  Maybe they’ll be so bad they’ll be watchable for the laughs.  But is it really a good thing that our big summer event movies revolve around empty computer graphics and the hope that they might be so bad that we’ll remember them like Plan 9 From Outer Space?

Random Early Morning Idea

There’s no such thing as “flat.”  We call things flat because they appear to have no depth, but everything has depth, otherwise it couldn’t physically exist.  Everything, no matter how seemingly “flat,” has three dimensions.

Consider a sheet of paper.  Flat, right?  Nope.  It’s depth might be microscopic, but it’s there.  How can we tell that something has depth?  Easy: something has to be separating the front side from the back side.  If there are two sides, there must be something between them, some point at which one ends and the other begins.  Therefore, a piece of paper does have some tangible thickness in its edge.

So if anything that has two sides must be three dimensional, conceivably, any truly flat object–any truly two dimensional object–would have to be transparent from behind.  No depth means no back side allowed.

Book of Moses Commentary Part III: The Mahan Principle Extended

When I taught a lesson to the youth in our church last year about the Word of Wisdom, I asked them why we don’t drink or smoke.  “Because it’s unhealthy,” they droned, parroting the expected answer by rote. 

“Nope,” I said.  “That has nothing to do with it.  Let me ask you this: is drinking alcohol, for example, a terrible thing that immediately brings misery?”  “Yes,” they replied, this time sounding pleased to be giving back the obviously righteous response. 

“Not likely,” I answered.  “I don’t know know for myself, but I imagine that getting drunk must be a lot of fun, since millions of people volunteer to do it in their spare time.  So why don’t we drink alcohol, then?”

At this point, perceptive people will chime in with something like, “Because the Lord said not to.” 

“Exactly,” I say.  “That’s the difference between whether or not something is a sin.” 

I approach subjects this way because I worry that when we demonize everything that we want people to avoid, we give those things a power that they don’t deserve; we glamorize them and set them up as the standard objects of indulgence when rebellion will rear its ugly head.  A little more honesty strips them of that power. 

I’m reminded of some people I’ve known who might fit this cautionary pattern: the high school-age boy who suddenly stopped being a role model of righteousness because he tried and suddenly realized the pleasure of popular sins (“Hey guys,” a typical discussion around that period might go, “our leaders were totally wrong about how awful sin is; it rocks!”), or the girl described as the “sweet spirit” of the singles ward who got tired of being passed over and changed her wardrobe and standards; as soon as she started sleeping with guys–surprise!–she had a serious boyfriend within a month. 

The phrase “Mahan principle” was coined by Hugh Nibley to denote the discovery made by Cain in Moses 5:31 (“I may murder and get gain.”).  Continue reading

Whither the Classics In Mass Market Paperback?

51M7DGGWF0L._SL160_AA115_I own a mass market paperback copy of The Grapes of Wrath, but only because a teacher who was retiring a few years ago left it on a table in our work room with a note saying that his books were free for us to take. 

I own a mass market paperback copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, but only because I found it left on the floor after a meeting once, and nobody responded to my email asking the rightful owner to come pick it up. 

I own a mass market paperback copy of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, but only because I bought it a year before Oprah picked it for her book club, after which it has only been available as a more costly trade paperback. 

That last one, I think, is the key to understanding why so many great classics are no longer 41AJfNSRUQL._SL500_AA240_available in mass market paperback and, indeed, haven’t been for some years.  The cheap, durable, accessible mass market paperback started going the way of the dodo, as I recall, in the mid nineties, just as things like $5 cappuccinos at Starbucks were becoming trendy.  See where I’m going with this?  As our society’s appetite for overpriced luxuries reached its fever pitch, we also acquired a tolerance–even a demand–for fancy, expensive versions of things that had previously been more common and affordable. 

Try this: go to Amazon.com and search for “Sound and the Fury mass market paperback.”  Look at the years next to the entries that come up.  Sad.  Continue reading

The Left Needs To Make Up Its Mind About Marriage

It’s ironic that America is now embroiled in an all out cultural war over whether or not gay couples should be able to get married.  It’s ironic because for the last several decades the cultural left has been waging a war against marriage itself.  The mantra with which we’ve all been bombarded is that marriage is “just a piece of paper.” 

So on one hand, a huge segment of the cultural left in America clings to its established dogma that marriage is outdated, oppressive, or irrelevant, while a growing faction of the same population battles to convince us that marriage is a crucial necessity worth fighting over.  Thousands of flexible, hip, cohabitating straight couples all blithely ignore the foundational covenant of civilization, while at the same time thousands of aggrieved, angry, entitled gay couples take to the streets to campaign for what seems to be a life-or-death need.

Perhaps it’s just traditional marriage that’s bad.  Alternative marriages–surprise!–are great.

This contradiction makes the convenient, experimental wishes of the left ever more difficult to take seriously.  Will America’s counter culture please make up its mind?  Either marriage is important or it isn’t.  Either it’s a vital ceremony with real value, or it’s just an optional piece of paper.  It can’t be both.

When you come to a consensus, let us know.  Then we can talk.

Recommended Reading: The Deluxe Transitive Vampire

14298980When I teach grammar, I try to come up with attention-grabbing example sentences.  The ones that come in textbooks are notoriously dull (“The person went to the place to get the thing.”), so I want to juice it up a bit and inject a bit of my trademarked brand of life into what most folks see as a dreadfully lame subject. 

Here are two examples of standard favorites in my classes:

I kicked the freshman. 

“Freshman” receives the action of the verb “kicked,” so it is the direct object.

I threw Paris Hilton a live grenade. 

What did I actually throw?  Paris Hilton?  Good gravy, no.  That would require touching her.  No, I threw a grenade.  That makes “grenade” the direct object.  Paris Hilton received the direct object, making her the indirect object.  And, hopefully, soon to be an irritating, repressed memory. 

This demonstration shares a bit of the twisted humor of Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s classic grammar “textbook,” The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed.  Gordon’s approach is to present clear, sprightly explications of general grammatical matters with examples that tend to be about supernatural, nocturnal creatures interacting in the prosaic lives of hapless mortals of a dizzying variety of idiosyncratic bents.  (The book never makes this explicit, but I suppose the title character is meant to represent the fact that a transitive verb, like a vampire, only functions when it has an object upon which to act.  Cute, yes?)

I labor intensively, ripping asunder the very dendrites of my brain in Herculean attempts to come up with more than few clever example sentences in class; Gordon has filled an entire book where every page presents at least a few laugh-out-loud such sentences.

Examples:

  • The robot designated the dentist his partner.
  • There are five more cupcakes than we have frosting for; I’ll leave them for that loner by the river.
  • Sophie, abandoning her rented canoe, exchanges pleasantries in the shade with a newt.
  • Continue reading

Should I Get a Motorcycle?

CON:

  • Church.  I use my car to give people rides to church and to other activities or meetings; not often, but sometimes.  I also take a young man in my ward around to collect fast offerings each month, and give rides to groups when we’re going to the temple or having an activity not at church for Mutual.  Not having those extra seats might make all that a lot harder.
  • Also church.  Will it compromise my ecclesiastical authority to show up at someone’s house for a ministry visit or to extend a calling if I’m on a Harley?
  • Family.  I don’t have the kids with me in the car too often, but it does happen.  If our family grows any more, or if we have friends along, we’ll need two vehicles to carry us all.  I don’t have occasion to use these extra seats very often, but it’s like living in Las Vegas in general: I rarely utilize 24 hour taco shop drive thrus, but it’s nice to know that the option is always there.  Also, would my wife want me to take her out on dates if she was riding on the back of a motorcycle, or would this mean that we’d always have to take her van? 
  • Transporting items.  I carry stuff around a lot more often than I carry people.  Going between work, church, and a ton of other places (especially the library!), my stash of cargo can get quite bulky.  On a motorcycle, I’d be forced to drastically reduce my load. 
  • Audio.  I like to listen to soft music or foreign language CDs in the car.  On a bike, that option is gone.
  • License Plate.  I suppose I’d have to give up my beloved “BKFMRMN” license plate.  I’m not sure it’s done any good, anyway.  *sigh*

PRO:

  • Passengers pliable.  I can work around transportation issues.  People can help with rides, sometimes a single person could ride on the back, or we could use two vehicles.  It might be slightly inconvenient at times, but it would work out. 
  • Audio overrated.  Honestly, I spend most of my driving time listening to talk radio, anyway.  I can do without it.
  • Money.  This would save a TON on insurance and gas.  If I’m smart, I could probably make a profit on trading my car in for a bike (it doesn’t have to be a Harley). 
  • I’m a guy.  It’s a motorcycle.  Dude.

Feedback?

Book of Moses Commentary Part II: The First Two Laws

As soon as Adam and Eve had been cast out of the Garden of Eden, Moses 5:1-4 tells us, they set about the work of providing for their temporal needs according to the order given by God, started raising a family, and called on God. 

Verse 5 says that God responded to their prayers by giving them commandments, to which the text explicitly goes out of its way to inform us that Adam was obedient

Immediately after stressing Adam’s obedience to the commandments (presumably, yes, all of them), verse 6 begins the well known story of Adam being visited by an angel who teaches Adam the meaning of his ritual sacrifices.

I find it intriguing that the Book of Moses mentions that very early after the Fall, Adam is described as learning obedience, quickly followed by learning sacrifice.  Note that the footnotes to verse 5 direct us to the Topical Guide entry for “obedience,” and the footnotes for verse 6 lead to the entry for “sacrifice.”

Twilight Zone Anniversary

There doesn’t seem to be much fuss out there yet about the upcoming 50th anniversary of The Twilight Zone, which premiered on October 2, 1959.  Amazon lists an anniversary book, but that’s it.  I know the Definitive Collection is already available on DVD (and which would make a great Christmas present for me, hint, hint), but doesn’t this landmark deserve more fanfare?  Are there TV specials planned?  Another movie?  Nostalgic segments on news shows?  Massive, emotional vigils at Rod Serling’s grave?