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Archive for January, 2011

“The old conspiracy to make me happy!  Everybody seemed to be in it!”

–Charles Dickens, Bleak House, chapter 35. 

I’m finally finishing this great novel that I’ve only picked at before, and of the many wonderful lines that I’ve loved until this point, this might be my favorite.

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My letter in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal corrects a popular old myth: that the U.S. Constitution is racist.  I even remember this faulty interpretation of the passage in question being used in an episode of The West Wing

To the editor:

In his otherwise excellent Wednesday letter, Robert Gardner does make one mistake. He repeats the old fallacy about the Constitution being racist, suggesting that Article I, Section 2 says, “blacks are … considered three-fifths of a person.”

Not true.

That section is about counting population to determine how many representatives we get in government, which is why we have the census. That count was to enumerate “free persons” and “three-fifths of all other persons,” meaning slaves. Free blacks were counted as a whole.

The language isn’t meant to determine someone’s worth as a human being, but merely to reduce the total count. The strength of a state’s presence in government was determined by this count. Northern states didn’t want slaves counted at all; Southern states wanted them counted as a whole. The point of the three-fifths compromise was to reduce the South’s power.

Ironically, for those who see this part of the Constitution as racist, this rule did what it was supposed to do: It contributed to the eventual end of slavery. With Black History Month right around the corner, it’s important to set the record straight.

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Here’s how I came across this wonderful artist in Scotland: last month, I wrote a post that included a minor reference to the old song, “Angel of the Morning.”  I hadn’t heard it in a long time, so I looked it up on YouTube to give it a listen.  When I did so, I found an acoustic cover version.  I really enjoyed it, so I looked up other songs by this artist. 

Her work is amazing!  I’ve listened to several of these videos, and even the average ones are really good, and the best ones are excellent.  Why the heck doesn’t she have a recording contract? 

Her very best songs are the ones she does via remote collaboration with another musician, who’s also quite talented.  Their cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” is below as an example.  I also highly recommend their version of Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket.” 

Two of her solo covers will suffice to highlight her skills here: “Angel of the Morning” and “Fake Plastic Trees.”  Her musical taste mostly runs to alternative, so her soulful, heartfelt covers should be a treat for anyone looking to hear their favorites from the 90’s again for the first time!

 

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Last summer, the LDS Church sponsored a short story contest; entries were supposed to be about pioneers and had to be under, I think, 500 words.  I had an idea and quickly threw together the draft below.  However, I never revised it properly, and the deadline passed.  I forgot about it entirely until tonight, as I’ve been sorting through old documents on my hard drive. 

This is more of a rough outline than a story.  Obviously, I wanted to draw a parallel between pioneers trekking across the desert and Odysseus struggling back home after war.  I also had to throw in a reference to Joyce’s take on the epic.  I count eight good references to The Odyssey, just in a few short paragraphs–not too shabby. 

Actually, I think the idea has some merit, and the analogy is pretty clever.  Sadly, even if I fleshed it out, the story itself would have huge problems in reconciling the analogy with historical accuracy, as is probably evident from the snippet I drew up.  And the writing’s pretty clunky, even for me.  Still, it’s cute enough to post here.  Enjoy!

I even called the protagonist “Ulysses Mann.”  Geez, John Bunyan’s symbols are more subtle than mine…

**********

16 June 1848

May the most holy Spirit of the Lord our God be with me as I endeavor to chronicle my journeys, both spiritual and temporal, and preserve in the memories of all posterity those choice events that have brought me nearer to my fellow kindred saints, brethren, and our Father.

He set down the pen, not reviewing the opening words of this new journal so much as reflecting on all that they implied. Ulysses Mann had emigrated west with a company of saints after having consecrated ten years to the service of the Church—two missions, constructing the Nauvoo temple, and other assignments from the Apostles that had kept him exhausted and in danger but, worst of all, away from his wife and son.

When he had returned to Nauvoo from a mission to Canada he found that his family had already left for the Salt Lake Valley with one of the first companies, their finances growing smaller in his absence and their best opportunity to safely travel being as soon as they could possibly go. The long-expected reunion was delayed. The sealing of his family in the temple just four years before had kept him strong during the hardships of his work, and it sustained him through the journey across the land to join his people and his family in their new home.

His travels across the dust-dark desert had been arduous, trying him and testing him, but he found that his exodus prepared him to be a better man upon his settling back home. With his company of handcarts and walkers, he had faced numerous temptations: other travelers who invited him to abandon his journey and stay with them in their hedonistic frontier settlements, the loose women there who made it far too clear that they noticed he was without his wife and would welcome his adulterous companionship, and the outright savages who attacked their group in the night, assailing them with violence and terror.

But he had made it back to his wife and son, who was now a young man in his own right, and they were ready to settle in and enjoy the rest of their lives together in this harsh new land, made a pleasant paradise by their blessed coming together.

The Lord had other plans, though. In mortality, it seemed, there would be no permanent respite from trial and trouble. The prophet had called him to take his family and establish a settlement, to aid other travelers and to defend the territory from any who would seek to take the land they’d tilled and wrestled out from under them. No such interlopers would be tolerated.

Ulysses had already staked out an area for the buildings and had designated it Fort New Ithaca. He had presented his plans to his wife and she had heartily assented to support him in their calling together, saying again and again, yes.

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My bingo card did very well.  I got at least 13 of the 24 terms I put down–over half! 

President Obama didn’t refer to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by name, but he did make a clear reference to it.  During the first half of the speech, I regretted putting “tax the rich” on my card, figuring he would never actually say it, and even though he didn’t use those three words together like that, boy did he ever come out and say that he wanted to tax the rich!

Of the ones I didn’t check off, I could probably justify at least four.  The closest he came to his phrase “Let me be clear” was “Let us be clear.”  That’s pretty dang close.  If I’d written down Tuscon instead of Arizona, I could have had bingo within the first ten minutes of the speech.  He talked about new energy sources a lot, but instead of “green,” he called it “clean.”  Close, but no cigar for me, maybe.  He also referred to the vice president, but didn’t call him by his first name.  And while he certainly addressed recovery, environment, and civility, he didn’t use those words, and it didn’t seem right to check those off.  (He discussed “cooperation” between parties, but that’s not really the same thing as civility.) 

So, here’s my final bingo card for the 2011 State of the Union:

 

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Imagine that someone you love very dearly has rejected you. You were close once, and you’ve spent untold time and energy serving them, but now they’ve turned away from you and everything you stand for.

For many, this scenario is all too realistic. But now imagine that millions, even billions, of your loved ones have done this.

Welcome to God’s world.

I think of this a lot.

I think of this when I feel hurt by someone I care about. Knowing that my Father in Heaven has been through this, but literally a billion times more, puts my own pain in perspective and makes me respect and reverence God all the more for the noble way He still loves us.

I think of this when I’m critical of others. It’s so easy to justify thinking less of people, and holding back on anything I might do for them, emotionally or physically. But when Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that “he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” he made a powerful point about the nature of God’s love.

Nobody else would have as much good reason to cut off those who’ve rejected their love, because nobody else has been so fully rejected by so many, or had so much love turned away.

But God doesn’t do that. He still pours out as many blessings as possible on all of us, constantly striving to help us have as much joy as we can, even if we deny its source or even actively fight against Him.

(more…)

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Why I Blog

There are four main things that keep me going here.  In order of their importance to me:

1.  Journaling.  I began this blog primarily as a novel way to juice up my journaling habit.  Though I rarely include here the kind of overtly personal information we associate with journals, I usually do write about things that are related to my life, and events that are important to me at the time.  Looking back over my entries, this has really been a very effective way to chronicle my own history. 

2.  The Joy of Composition.  The popularity of blogging has dropped in general because it’s a lot of work.  For me, it’s never been a chore.  I love trying to form the perfect combination of words to present an idea and get it across clearly and memorably.  Blogging is a stress-relief hobby; the very act of writing is fun for me, whether or not it reaches anybody else’s eyes, though I do enjoy having an appreciative audience.  Which leads to my next reason:

3.  The Great Conversation(more…)

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NOTICE: The following is SATIRE.  Think about it.

**********

Here’s the easiest way to know that Mormons don’t really think their Book of Mormon is true: they hide it as much as they can! 

The next time you talk to some Mormon, ask them why nobody but the “worthy” is allowed to even see a copy, not until after they’ve served the church for years and given it a ton of money.  If the Book of Mormon is supposed to be concrete evidence that their beliefs are true, then why keep it under wraps until after people already have “faith”? 

If Mormons really believed that their book was that capable of building and defending their faith, they’d be trying to get everybody in the world to read it.  But since they keep it hidden like some mysterious secret, they must know that if skeptical non-Mormons ever read it, it would be exposed and embarrass them. 

In fact, there are some theories out there that the Book of Mormon doesn’t even exist.  Some scholars think that Mormons made up the whole story about it as a way to fool the gullible, to tease them into working for their church, and by the time these suckers were in deep enough to be shown the text of this alleged book, it was too late–they were hooked.  The few bits and pieces that are publicly quoted have probably been cooked up and revised over the years just to keep the charade going. 

Can you imagine if the Mormons actually ever published the whole book, and invited–even challenged–the whole world to dig into it as deeply as we can, promising that it would not only stand up to analysis, but spiritually convert those who took it seriously?  Even worse, imagine if their church founder had done that back at the very beginning!  That would take some major guts. 

But luckily we don’t have to worry about that.  As long as they keep covering it up, we can rest easy that it’s surely a scam. 

In fact, let’s call them on their bluff.  Confront the next Mormon you see and demand that they give you a copy of this so-called “Book of Mormon” for you to study.  Bet you anything they’ll refuse.  Mormons hate it when people try to read the Book of Mormon.

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That’s right, boys and girls, it’s that time of year again: time for what comedian Dennis Miller used to call “The Everything’s Going Great” Speech. 

Be sure to get your bingo card ready before President Obama gives his State of the Union speech this Tuesday night.  There are plenty of terms to put on your card and look for in the speech, and plenty of Obama bingo card generators online, but I just put this one together:

 

“Let me be clear”

 

jobs

 

energy

 

Wall Street

 

China

 

Michelle

 

college

 

environment

 

     Sonya Sotomayor

 

banks

 

Arizona

 

progress

 

FREE

 

change

 

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

 

green

 

hope

 

stimulus

 

tax the rich

 

civility

 

Refers to Vice President as “Joe”

 

health care reform

 

benefits

 

recovery

 

don’t ask, don’t tell

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As often as students commit the typical errors of writing—the fragments, the missing punctuation, the misspellings—there is one very specific mistake that I see dozens of times every year that nobody else seems to have mentioned: it’s using the word “defiantly” in the wrong place.

Over the years, I’ve had endless students write down and turn in papers with sentences like these:

“I defiantly think that I will go to college.”

“I would defiantly not ever want to read something like this again.”

“Will I read another book like this one? Defiantly!”

The last example makes it sound as if not only will this young person be reading more books in the future, but will be doing so with a stoic, stubborn rebelliousness, directly in the face of antagonistic opposition. “You dare to chain me down and hold back my reading habits? I will rise up and overthrow your anti-literate regime!” You go, girl!

Obviously, what these students meant to write is “definitely.” But how did the one word become the other? And how the heck are dozens—hundreds—of kids making the same weird mistake?

I mean, it’s not like this is a simple typo; no single slip of a finger could do this. The words differ in multiple places, and the pronunciations are hardly similar at all.

My theory is that there must be some common misspelling of “definitely” that Microsoft Word changes to “defiantly.” I tried typing all the incorrect versions of “definitely” that I could think of, but Microsoft didn’t want me to turn any of them into “defiantly,” so maybe I’m wrong.

For their part, most of the students don’t seem to understand the mistake, much less are they able to explain it, but it sure makes for some funny reading for me!

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Drop The Debt!

While many of us here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. are worried about genuine problems, such as having to deal with the BCS in college football, or what happened to that one really good flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream that hasn’t been at Albertson’s the last three times I’ve been there, our fat cat legislators in Washington want to deal with stupid problems that have no bearing on me such as dealing with the national debt.  With all the talk about raising the debt ceiling, why don’t we just eliminate the national debt instead?

Huston is a bit more politically informed than myself, but I have to tell you, the national debt is probably the easiest thing we can solve.  It’s money, and we have to pay it back.  Simple, right?  Understand this, when our founding  fathers donned their heroic knickers and wigs to sign that Constitution of ours, there was something they wrote into it that even the strict constructionists cannot deny…

The American way, baby!  So let’s get crackin’, American-80’s-action-movie-style!  First, I felt it was important to get a handle on what the national debt was.  A quick google search proved most helpful, and also helped me to not have to read a lot.  So, to check out what we’re working with here, please check out this helpful infographic: http://www.usdebtclock.org/.

Now that we know what we are working with here, let’s get to the nitty gritty…

1)  Get a sponsorship deal for our country – Can you believe this has never been seriously discussed before?  Imagine it, “The United States of America, Presented by Kellogg’s”, or “The Kotex United States of America, providing the confidence YOU need since 1776!”.  The beauty of it is, we could do so much more than just acquire a sponsorship of our country.  One invented word, my friends: Micro-sponsorships!  Can’t you just imagine driving through “The Tostitos Yellowstone National Park Experience” on your way to “Old Faithful, proudly sponsored by Viagra”?
2)  Stage a celebrity benefit – If broadcast television has taught me one thing, it’s that if there’s a problem to be solved, the social vanguard are guys with names like T-Pain, Jay Z, and Brangelina.  Celebrity benefits offer the same money making opportunities as commercials for charities without having to be bummed out by pictures of big eyed kids or animals that have been abused.  Rocking out to a sweet collaboration between Jay Z and Bono and then buying the song on iTunes with 2 percent of the profit going towards the national debt sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me!
3)  Empty the couch cushions – There is untold wealth in our collective couch cushions that we are using to purchase Starbucks and candy bars, and this needs to end!  My fellow Americans, if we just all banded together for a week and used that Snickers money to chip in towards the debt, we’d be able to get it paid off at least a couple of days earlier.
4)  Bring in a consultant – Another no brainer.  People on tv and the internet are really smart.  You can tell they are, because they are on tv, and you aren’t.  Sometimes they get sweaty, raise their voices, and use dramatic inflections.  Fortunately, I happen to know a consultant that will work in the low six figures.  You can find him as a guest blogger at gentlyhewstone.wordpress.com.
5)  Stop spending so !@#$ing much! – Okay, some things are just too crazy to consider.  Moving on…
6)  Sweet talk Chinese president Hu Jintao into letting it slide – gotta admit, this one came straight from Bart Simpson from an episode of The Simpsons where Future Bart had to help Future President Lisa acquire debt forgiveness from the future U.S.’s debtors.  Basically, the U.S. is kind of like that mega hot girl in high school that everyone hates but wants to be friends with at the same time.  Like Bart once did, all we have to do is get our country to bat our collective eyelashes at China and say “China, you’re cool…right China?  You’re not really going to make us pay all that money back, right?”  Now, I’m not condoning the US sleeping with China, but maybe if we just flash them a little leg (Florida) or heck, maybe we could even give them one of the Carolinas.  That would probably be enough to at least get us through another couple of decades of not having to pay them back the quadrillions we owe them.
7) Start a lemonade stand – Your fathers, your fathers’ fathers, and your fathers’ fathers’ fathers picked themselves up by the boot straps (even though I have no idea what a boot strap is and I’m too lazy to google it) and eked out a hardscrabble existence on the mean streets of Gary, Indiana.  You know how they laid the foundation for your future?  You guessed it, armed robbery.  Now, after they did a dime in upstate Indiana and made parole but were unable to acquire gainful employment because of their checkered past, they started a lemonade stand.  It was good enough to put you through a half year at State before you dropped out, but that is where you learned an important lesson…

Stop borrowing money from Hu Jintao.

So there you have it, common sense solutions to reduce and eventually eradicate the national debt.  Of course, for more details, you’ll have to catch my upcoming show on CNN, “The HENDReport”, where I tackle tough issues in a no nonsense, take no prisoners, confrontational style.  Oh, and I’ll have a six figure salary.
Steve Hendricks blogs at  “Mormonocalypse”.  Don’t judge him if there’s not a single post there, this tagline was only inserted to make him feel more important than he is.  And he loves to write in the third person.

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1.       Amazing musical numbers can be staged with virtually no effort or rehearsal time.

2.       Despite complaining of a limited budget, expensive items like perfect costumes, props, sound equipment, and lighting are always available.

3.       High school band members can play a variety of fast, popular songs perfectly, with no advance notice. 

4.       A Spanish teacher can devote all of his energy to an extracurricular club and never have to plan for classes, much less grade papers. 

5.       All teenage singers are fluent in every kind of popular music from the last fifty years. 

6.       High schools have exactly one to three very talented singers in each and every stereotypical group. 

7.       Teachers and students have boundless free time during the school day to chat in empty hallways, empty classrooms, empty offices, empty bathrooms, or busy but clean courtyards where nobody ever wears visible brand names on their clothes. 

8.   Audiences at all performances are quiet, focused, and appreciative.

9.   Regardless of bad attitudes, heartbreak, family distractions, or any other problems, all students will pull through when it counts and perform remarkably well. 

10.   Every complex problem in life can be solved by singing a catchy tune that a young audience would recognize.

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When I was in college in the 90’s, Seinfeld was still dominating our catch phrase vocabulary.  As you may recall, one of the most popular lines from the show concerned an extremely anal retentive soup counter owner who demanded brevity, silence, and meekness from his customers.  Infringing upon these rules resulted in the sudden loss of your soup-purchasing opportunity, as he would yank the cardboard cup away from you and shout, “No soup for you!” 

Jerry called him the Soup Nazi.

One of my literature classes in college was run by a man who demanded respect and precision at all times.  His formality was excruciating.  If a student spoke out of turn, she would be singled out for a condescending lecture about decorum.  One young woman in our class said she walked by his desk and saw a hand-written letter that he’d opened that began with, “Dearest Father…”

We called him the English Nazi.

Maybe his greatest offense against our barely post-adolescent sensibilities was when he told us to draw poetry.  Keep in mind that this was a class mostly populated by future English teachers; it wasn’t some 100-level freshman requirement.  We all loved reading.  But, when he told us to read Keats and Shelley and Browning and draw pictures of the scenes they described, and our earnest scribblings were met by curt, withering dismissals of our perception, we were astounded. 

“No.  That’s not what it looked like,” he would say of most of our work.  (more…)

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Post #750: Welcome, Steve!

This is my 750th post.  As this milestone has approached, I’ve been thinking of how I can re-energize this little hobby of mine, and one of the things on my mind has been inviting in a new writer to share the space. 

My first choice said yes.  Steve and I have a lot in common: we’re both born and raised in Las Vegas, both Latter-day Saints, and both high school teachers.  However, though his interests are just as wide-ranging as I hope mine are, Steve offers some perspectives and ideas that are quite different from mine, which is one reason why I wanted to see his work here.  The other reason is because I know he’s a great writer. 

He has free reign around here, so I’m excited to see what he does with it.  When he starts putting up material, I hope everyone engages it as vigorously as you have mine, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I know I will.

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