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Archive for February, 2011

Recently I talked with someone who would love Ayn Rand’s prophetic dystopian classic, Atlas Shrugged, but she was daunted by its immense size.  That’s unfortunate, and it made me want to do this as a teaser to invite people in.  By no means is this a “condensed” summary of the novel, but it is a collection of my favorite, representative quotes. 

I went through my copy of the book, and I typed up the passages I’d marked which were short and especially relevant.  I had to skip ones that were long (though I did include one whole paragraph below), and items that were simply examples of excellent writing.  My choices focus on the life-affirming aspects of the text, its insistence on patriotism and how Rand’s vision brings joy to life.  Most of the quotes about music, education, and political criticism had to be left out–I wanted my collection to be no more than three pages long, and that’s what it is.  This collection represents about a quarter of what I have marked in my copy. 

The page numbers refer to the mass market paperback edition, which I believe is still the current edition in print. 

Enjoy this introduction to the awesome world of Atlas Shrugged

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“We who hold the love and the secret of joy, to what punishment have we been sentenced for it, and by whom?” (69)

“The reason my family has lasted for such a long time is that none of us has ever been permitted to think he is born a d’Anconia. We are expected to become one.” (89)

“Francisco, what’s the most depraved type of human being?”

“The man without a purpose.” (98)

“One is not supposed to be intellectual at a ball. One is simply supposed to be gay.”

“How? By being stupid?” (102)

“Then why do you want to struggle for years, squeezing out your gains in the form of pennies per ton–rather than accept a fortune for Rearden Metal? Why?”

“Because it’s mine.” (172)

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” (188)

“He’s the looter who thinks that his end justifies his seizure of my means.” (189, first appearance of term “looter” in text)

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I know of a student who’s been enrolled in a high school class since January, but who has never showed up to class.  Perhaps he had moved, but had not officially withdrawn, leaving the school to do so after he’d been gone long enough.  This happens all the time. 

Last week, the office asked his teachers to confirm his absences, a step in the withdrawal procedure.  But, then, a couple of days later, there was a homework request in those teachers’ mailboxes for him.  Apparently, he was out of school due to a medical condition, and the teachers were all being asked to provide “homework” to cover January 24-March 16.  Was this a joke?  Sadly, no. 

It’s beyond impossible to give a bunch of worksheets and textbook questions to a student a teacher has never even met to cover two months–just one week shy of being an entire quarter.  If that were even an option, any attendance would be pointless, and every kid could just do their stuff at home and mail it in.  The request was a pretty disturbing insult to the integrity of all classes. 

What kind of parents would expect a school to able to almost literally phone in enough work to cover a quarter of a school year?  If they did think that way, how could they respect an institution that they think is so easy?  And how could a school go along with the farce of such perceptions?  

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My employer, the Clark County School District, recently set up an online system for accessing certain private financial information electronically.  As a security measure, the system automatically sends you a notice when the account is accessed.  However, I found it disconcerting when I received the following message in my inbox:

This is an automated message to inform you accessed your Employee Self Service (ESS) profile on 02/25/2011 07:35:01 PM.

“To inform you accessed your?!”  What the heck?  It hardly builds confidence in an educational institution when their official messages sound like they were poorly translated from another language.  Yeesh.

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There’s a dangerous floodgate opened when liberals say that throwing money at a problem will solve it.  If liberals say that spending more money on something–like health, education, or the economy–will improve it, then it follows that you should spend as much money on it as possible.

After all, if graduation rates or test scores would go up 10% if a state spends $50 million more on education, then why not spend $100 million and get even better results?  Why not spend a billion dollars—a trillion!—and get a whole nation of guaranteed geniuses? 

If a spending proponent would say that such an exaggeration is silly, I’d ask to see what evidence they have that their claims of money-based progress have noted any limits or diminishing returns.  In the absence of such, if they believe what they say they believe, it would only be reasonable to spend as much as absolutely possible on these priorities. 

This is the same problem liberals run into with things like the minimum wage.  If it’s possible to artificially demand that everybody get paid at least a certain amount so their standard of living will be adequate, why stop at just $5 or $10 dollars an hour?  Isn’t that just arbitrarily putting a ceiling on the quality of life that the working class can enjoy?  Why not make it $100 an hour?  Wouldn’t that automatically make everyone rich? 

The next time someone says that we need to spend X millions of dollars to solve a problem, my reply will be, “Only X?  If X will make it better, then we need to spend at least ten times that much—more, if we can!  Anything less would rob our precious friends of their rights!  Why don’t you care about that?  What’s wrong with your cold, evil heart?”

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Once again, for about the umpteenth time this year, I find myself having to deal with students I’ve caught cheating in my class.  It makes me angry, it makes me discouraged, and it makes me feel…cheap.

Yes, cheap.  Like I’ve been used.  Like it wasn’t just my test but me, personally, who was cheated on. 

It’s not that silly of an analogy.  I try to trust students, want to enjoy our time in class, working on something I deeply feel to be important, only to find that I’ve been lied to.  Like anyone who’s been cheated on in a relationship–even a work relationship–I have to wonder how many times it’s happened before, when I haven’t caught them.  How many days have I spent giving them the best of myself that I could, totally blind to the fact that they were consciously deceiving me, making a mockery of everything I thought our working relationship stood for? 

Actually, all these instances of dishonesty in the classroom make me feel worse than cheated on.  If some students are so set on simply getting to that reward at the end of the relationship–the grade, that fun payoff that they feel entitled to indulge in, without all the messy work, discipline, and sacrifice that goes into naturally earning the fruits of relationships–you know what that makes me in the cheater’s eyes?  A prostitute.  “Don’t bore me with all that sappy stuff about commitment and responsibility; just gimme the answers I want.”  Isn’t that nice? 

I don’t know how such dishonest, fraudulent working relationships work in real life, but in my classroom metaphor, I can tell you that once the truth has been exposed to me, I certainly lose all respect for the cheaters who think they can use me and what I work for like some kind of object who exists to serve them. 

It gets difficult sometimes to work with people who clearly have no respect for school.  I’ll take this opportunity to echo what a local newspaper editor wrote two days ago about more children needing to drop out of school.

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Here’s how we could make Atlas Shrugged really happen: if the workers of America get to unionize so they can push around the leaders, why don’t the leaders unionize and (pardon the pun) show the employees who’s boss?

Every executive, manager, business owner, innovator, and inventor in the country could join this national union, and when they are treated unfairly by their employees, who pitch a hissy fit any time their entitlements are questioned, the Executive Union could go on strike and–presto!–Atlas Shrugged.

The Executive Union could even negotiate their own set of entitlements–things that their hourly laborers will have to honor on pain of being penalized. For example, workers might have to exercise and diet outside of work to remain in peak working condition.

How could such requirements be equal to what unions make employers do now? Although most laborers work for an hourly wage, clocking in and punching out, so that their job is just a concern eight hours a day, innovators, managers, and owners are “on the clock” 24/7. For many, their job is their life.

Thus, if employee unions get to picket during their work shifts, shouldn’t employer unions get to make requirements–and picket their employees–during their private lives? Bosses could interrupt games, parties, and bar-b-ques to give their employees a taste of their own medicine.

<irony> Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to coerce someone into making personal sacrifices for the convenience of someone else, would it? </irony>

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I read something recently where someone railed against the idea of any church claiming to be “true,” because it could only lead to pride and persecution.  I’m sure such has been the case at times, where some person or group has let their claims to truth give them license to alienate or oppress those on the outside of their vision, and this is awfully unfortunate.  But that’s hardly evidence that such always leads to violence, or that the claim is always untrue.  Actually, this is one religious claim that the most stridently secular among us should genuinely respect. 

A few years ago, I posted a message on a bulletin board for atheists that, if they were so inclined, they could consider the Book of Mormon as something they’d been missing but should be interested in–a physical artifact whose very nature could substantiate the existence of God.  That started a decent dialogue, but when some readers got the point that I was implying that religious claims were even capable of being literally, empirically accurate, they reacted with mockery.  That claim sounded like a fresh bit of arrogance, I suppose, but, once again, they should have seized upon it.

First of all, every religion’s depiction of reality can’t be accurate, because so many of them are contradictory.  So either none of them are, or one of them is.  Some combination of aspects of various faiths could conceivably be true, but unless multiple religions are exactly the same, only one could be purely, fully true.  The fact that any church makes such a claim–and there are few today which do–shouldn’t be an invitation to ridicule, but a recognition that even in religion, reason rules. 

If the popular conception of religion is that it’s merely a cultural tradition, or a product of wishful thinking, etc., I’d think that those who don’t find it valid (and who hold those critical assumptions about the origin of belief) would welcome a claim that not only is such not so, but that the seemingly supernatural claims of religion can be investigated, tested, and either authenticated or disproved. 

Finally! an atheist might shout.  A chance to definitively debunk this nonsense.  Which is exactly the opportunity the Book of Mormon offers the would-be skeptic.  At the same time, it provides the hard-headed devotee of reason an approach to religion that is as far from mystical as possible: a long, dense, sober text that begs to be scrutinized, studied, compared, researched, and analyzed until a verdict can be reached.  The text itself explains a method of experimenting on its truth claims that will yield consistent, reproducible results. 

The intellectually honest atheist should respect the exclusive truth claims of the LDS church because they are logically consistent, and because this is one religion that is ready to put up or shut up.

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I finished writing my profile for Mormon.org in December, but it took forever for it to get reviewed, I guess.  After a couple of weeks, I emailed the Church and asked about it, and a couple of weeks later, they replied that the review process was lengthy, and they were backlogged.  At any rate, they must have gotten around to it, because it’s online now.  To see it, click the “I’m a Mormon” button in the middle of the right sidebar.  I’ll be adding to it in the future, but I really like what’s there so far.  Hopefully it does some good for someone.

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Last month there was a fascinating exchange of ideas over at Millennial Star about the hype surrounding a resurgence of interest in feminism among some Latter-day Saints.  Eventually, the comments were closed, as they were becoming acrimonious.  My only contribution to that thread was a sarcastic jab, so here are some of the more substantial thoughts that have stuck in my mind since then.

The Mormon feminists (if I may lump them into a monolithic group for argument’s sake) don’t respond well to a major issue raised in the original post: the undeniable fact that most Mormon women are happy with the status quo…without being oppressed Stepford wives.  The first thing I’d like to hear them address is this: how do you know that your crusade to alter doctrinal emphases and the priesthood won’t result in unwanted burdens for the majority of LDS women?  Most importantly, can anyone address this need without resorting to insulting their sisters (“They just don’t know what they want / They need to have their eyes opened.”)? 

Or, to put it another way, have the feminists tried to account for the law of unintended consequences?  For example, would a universal priesthood result in an expectation for young women to all serve missions, as young men do?  Wouldn’t that naturally follow?  If so, how might this impact the college graduation rates of young women, or the increasingly precarious nature of dating and marriage for Mormons in their twenties?  (more…)

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It’s not unusual for Bibles produced for general Christian audiences, and especially evangelical Bibles, to have the words spoken by Jesus Christ printed in red ink, to highlight them.  While this is a clever and reverent way of drawing attention to the most important aspects of a very long text, there’s a good reason why Bibles printed by the LDS Church could probably never do that.

A lot more than just some of the dialogue in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John would have to be in red.  First, consider that Latter-day Saints know that Jesus was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, who spoke with Moses on Sinai.  This means that all the “thus saith the Lord” passages of the Old Testament would have to be written in red.  For example, everything in Leviticus chapter 1, after the first verse, would be red. 

That would be a pretty red-heavy text already, but then consider Doctrine and Covenants 1:38, which says, in part, that the Lord speaks to mankind, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”  Taking this literally, as we Mormons typically do, suggests that every word in all the scriptures, as inspired writings by authorized prophets and their disciples, could be in red! 

Besides losing the novelty of highlighting special text, an all-red Bible would just be creepy…

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This week’s gospel doctrine lesson for Sunday School is about the Sermon on the Mount.  Discussing this magnificent discourse always reminds me of one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had in studying the scriptures. 

I once came across a video on the FARMS web site where John W. Welch discussed his research into the Sermon on the Mount as compared to the Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon’s 3 Nephi.  What Welch’s work showed clearly and in a way that shed light on everything involved was simply this: this sermon is the endowment.  In fact, despite the many obvious parallels throughout the standard works, this is by far the most complete and detailed reference to the endowment to be found in the scriptures. 

That video doesn’t seem to be up anymore, but the text of the book it was based on is available here

I read this at a time when I hadn’t seen anything that really opened up the scriptures to me in a while, and I actually worried that I had already come across all the really major scripture studies I’d ever see.  The discovery of Welch’s temple sermon study was a huge relief, and I’ve tried never to make such a foolish assumption about the exhaustibility of scripture since.

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"14 Democrats frozen in carbonite, coming up!"

When it came time for the vote on the controversial bill that Wisconsin’s teachers are ditching work to protest, it was stalled because the Democrats in the state senate–all of them–got on a bus and ran away, out of state.  The governor has dispatched the state troopers to find them, but I don’t think that’s good enough for these gutless cowards, subverting the will of the people as made manifest in elections, by pandering to their special interests. 

When something similar happened in Texas a few years ago, Governor Rick Perry sent out the Texas Rangers (the law enforcement officers, not the athletes) after them.  Sadly, Wisconsin doesn’t have access to the Chuck Norris squad, so perhaps we could offer him some other options.  Tell me which one you like best.

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Teachers’ Cars

It’s a cliché that teachers don’t get paid enough and that everybody should commiserate with us about it, but I’ve never bought that.  First of all, we chose this job, knowing full well what we were getting into. 

Second, how many teachers do you know who are living off of food stamps or sleeping in a homeless shelter?

Several years ago, I was at a school where the student newspaper got into a lot of trouble because they took pictures of some of the teachers’ cars in the parking lot and ran them in the paper, suggesting that this was proof that they were paid pretty well.  The staff went nuclear.  I thought that was sad–it was brilliant thinking on the students’ part, but instead of using the opportunity to engage in a discussion, the school just shut the students up and taught them that angry authorities are always right. 

The worst part is, those students had a point.  Take a look around your neighborhood school’s staff parking lot.  See too many ’79 Pintos?  Not exactly. 

How many of those desperate, angry, truant teachers in Wisconsin–the ones screaming about how any cuts to their standard of living will put them in a Dickensian debtor’s prison–are driving anything more than ten years old?

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From a Wisconsin columnist who thinks the spoiled teacher protests there could be a good moment to indoctrinate young people about social justice:

For some families, when your child’s teacher takes off for a protest in Madison, it can seem like a wasted day….

Students who wondered where their teachers were last week should be assigned to do a paper on what happened in Madison and describe why such events are part of the American experience. Most of all, students should try to figure out exactly why their teachers were gone and whether or not they can agree with their reasons.

Yes, that’s much more important than math or reading.  American students are dangerously lacking in basic knowledge and skills, but it will do them so much good if their teachers skip an indefinite number of school days, and then return to run a self-righteous instructional unit about it.

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I’m talking to you, Wisconsin.

I bet the union thugs shutting down learning in Wisconsin, taking students out of school for political reasons the kids don’t even understand and sabotaging the process of education, are the same teachers who usually claim to “love” their students, being extra kind to them and making sure that class is fun. 

I’ve known tons of teachers like this. They look at their work as a “calling.”  They likely embrace all the latest watered-down edu-fads sponsored by the experts, and look down their noses at the cynical conservative teachers who are just here to do an important job and do it right. 

The thing is, teachers who revel in the warm, fuzzy side of the profession are rarely the selfless shepherds of youth they want you to think they are.  They’re in love with an image of themselves as the cherished, inspiring heroes of society. 

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