“Yes, you do.”

Perhaps the most powerful spiritual experience I’ve ever had–or at least the one which has had the most visibly permanent influence on me–was almost two years ago.

A member of the stake presidency had come over to my house to meet with my wife and I, to extend me a calling.  Now, this was a serious and reverent event, but I, being a goofy little dork by nature, decided to “break the tension” with a dumb remark.  I joked, “Wow, I feel like I need to start being better now or something!”

As my wife and I laughed nervously, President Petersen leaned forward and, with a mixture of Christlike firmness and warmth that I hope someday to achieve, simply looked me in the eyes and said, “Yes, you do.” 

That could certainly be taken as a humorous criticism, and when I tell this story, I usually play that line for another laugh.  However, there’s no denying that it’s true.  It’s true of me and of everybody.  Always.  And while it’s crucial to having any confident joy in life to be merciful in our expectations of ourselves, it’s also necessary to keep striving for improvement.  When he said that to me, I could see it was meant in a spirit of friendly concern and of authoritative counsel, and I can only say that I’ve tried to live up to it. 

Perhaps the first, most important thing to do with inspiring events like this is merely not to forget them.  In remembering, we nourish our souls and keep the hope alive that we’ll draw nearer to our holy goal.


Book Review: Wizard’s First Rule

19315199A preview of the new series Legend of the Seeker on TV last Fall got me to finally pick up Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule, the novel upon which the first season of the show is based. 

Wizard’s First Rule is long and detailed, but not really epic: it concerns a fairly small cast moving in a linear plot line with only a handful of major episodes.  Reading it, one gets whisked away and wonders how the book doesn’t get bogged down when it lovingly explores every nook and cranny of a scene, for chapters at a time.  But, magically, it doesn’t.

Although sometimes the magic wanes and it does get a bit slow.  One long sequence in the middle, about the two main heroes sojourning with an indigenous tribe, goes on too long.  It presents the reader with some excellent daring-do, but we must wade through quite a bit of exposition to be so rewarded. 

Still, despite the occasional speed bump, Wizard’s First Rule engages us and invents far more than enough originality to make the slow patrs worth it.  However, (he said, reversing himself again), on the subject of originality, I must add that some parts of the book are poor copies of the genre classics.  The obvious example here is a creature called Samuel, whose every single characteristic is exactly like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.  Goodkind clearly doesn’t need to crib ideas from anyone; why not write Samuel differently?

But the best part of Wizard’s First Rule is its unabashed politics.  That’s right; this is a very political novel.  Continue reading

Inauguration 1981

 Like most Americans, I was impressed with the splendor and excitement of last week’s presidential inauguration and, like many Americans, I was disappointed by the universally sour attitude towards our outgoing president and the excessively silly pomp surrounding the ceremony. 

Three days later, I was wandering around Las Vegas’s newest library, Centennial Hills, and browsed their used bookstore before leaving.  I noticed a large hardcover with a picture of the White House on the cover.  Picking it up, I saw that it was A Great New Beginning: The 1981 Inaugural Story.  Feeling the mirthful hand of serendipity guiding me, I gave the librarian a dollar for it and left.

The first thing that struck me was the chapter on Vice President Bush’s family; the pictures of son George Bush, Jr. alone more than made my dollar worth it.  I assume that, since this book has presumably been out of print for more than a quarter century, I’m OK reproducing a few pictures.  In this family portrait, he’s on our left:













He’s leaning over in the back of this one, in front of his wife Laura.  His paragraph in the chapter describes him as a 34-year-old business executive (a graduate of Harvard and Yale), who “owns his own company in Texas.” 

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John Updike

I was never a big fan of John Updike (I’ve always felt that his obsession with Baby Boomers and their yuppie navel-gazing with its attendant glorifying of narcissistic vices was terribly provincial), but upon hearing of his passing yesterday, I was reminded of the last thing I’ve read by him, the one thing I really liked.

In the English department workroom at UNLV, I often find copies of American Poetry Review on a table.  Taking one last month, I came across Updike’s “My Mother at Her Desk,” an appreciation both of his mother and the devotion to the plastic English language that they both loved.  In a short poem, he also makes it clear that their approaches to the Anglo tongue were different, but that she still helped him grow into the writer he became.  It was realistic, nuanced, sweet, and wonderful. 

Though not yet posted at APR’s website, here’s my favorite part:

Mine was to be the magic gift instead,

propelled to confidence by mother-love…

But hers was the purer ambition, hatched

of country childhood in the silences…

Maybe I should give some more of his stuff a look.

Recommended Reading: Louis L’Amour’s Sackett

13867476The first book I’ve finished in 2009 was not on my to-do list; in fact, it was quite a surprise.  On a recent trip to the library, I was looking for something else on a rack of genre paperbacks and noticed Sackett.  It was short and looked inviting.  As I’d never read a Louis L’Amour novel before, I figured this might make as good a start as any, and I figured I might squeeze it in. 

I glanced at the first page at a red light on my way home, and it was all I read during my bits of spare time over the next couple days.  I wish I’d had the fortitude to stay up later and read it all that first night.

L’Amour’s voice is crystal clear and original.  There are clichés, of course, but L’Amour puts them in a historical context that takes their grounding in reality for granted and reminds us of how they came to be clichés in the first place.  But for every drawling challenge delivered in a saloon we also get private epics of survival in the glorious untamed wilderness.  This must be my penchant for Romantic landscapes bubbling up, but I was captivated by the frequent scenes of gritty worship of the rugged outdoors. 

L’Amour’s little novel has plenty of action, but it’s never padded; no exaggerated Hollywood nonsense here.  If an actual pioneer were writing a diary of these events, it wight well read just like this. 

I returned Sackett and picked up a collection of L’Amour’s stories and his novel The Quick and the Dead.  Both are excellent so far, and I’m surprised to find an honest range of emotion in his short stories (the first one I read was a tragic sketch about sailors in China). 

Sackett isn’t the first in L’Amour’s series of novels tracking the adventures of the Sackett family, so you might want to start with another one.  Myself, I intend to go back and enjoy them all.  I’ve even entertained the notion of setting aside a year and reading nothing but L’Amour’s complete works.  It would undeniably be time well spent. 

But now that I’ve read my first, I have to grapple with the question, how in the world did I make it to my 30’s without ever reading a Louis L’Amour novel?

We’re In Good Company!

Apparently, according to this photo from Age of Hooper, a critic of the LDS Church attended the Obama inauguration and lumped us in with all kinds of unsavory folk:


untitledAnd if you happen to be drunk and a sports nut, really watch out!  I’d think that if any actual Jesus mockers, “homos,” sports nuts, etc. saw that they were being grouped with Mormons on some guy’s sign, they’d be quite indignant.  I mean, baby killers and freaks are one thing, but Mormons?  That’s just a cheap shot!  Well, you know the old saying: “Public doomsday protesters make strange bedfellows.”

P.S. Since “Mormons” was going to be on there anyway, “sports nuts” was probably redundant.

The Use and Abuse of Barack Obama

Which argument is better?

A) The world is round because, you know, it just like totally is and everybody knows it.

B) The world is flat because, if perception is reality, then we must acknowledge that most aspects of our lives are based on an understanding of the world being flat: we don’t see the curvature of the Earth with any regularity, so we are comfortable with two dimensional maps and measure the fastest travel routes over land, not through the ground. 

While the premise of argument A is true, argument B is superior.  Ideally, we want arguments that are both true and intelligently defended, but that is neither here nor there.  My point is that too many people today are comfortable with the first kind of thinking, and such logical sloppiness can only lead to trouble. 

Sadly, this is the case with the election of Barack Obama. 

I don’t have anything against President Obama personally, nor do I wish ill for him or his administration.  I hope he turns out to be the greatest president we’ve ever had, because that would be good for the country.  This is not a criticism of him, but it is absolutely a criticism of many who voted for him.  I don’t fault anyone for voting their conscience, and anyone who voted for him because they considered and prefered his politics has my respect, but just as I cannot respect someone who says the Earth is round because “it just like totally is,” I cannot respect the vote of someone who elected a man for the wrong reason.

Barack Obama became president of the United States not because of his experience, policies, or vision, nor even his character.  Barack Obama won the election because he’s black.  Besides the fact that fully 96% of black voters opted for Obama, the race factor is baldly advertised with such blatantly racist posturing as Tom Brokaw trumpeting Obama’s election as a slap in the face to “bigots and rednecks,” Joseph Lowery’s scathing indictment of white people during a prayer at the inauguration when he yearned for a time “when white will embrace the right,” and even hinted at when Obama himself pronounced in his inauguration speech that his election was a victory of “hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”  (Does this mean that a vote for McCain was a vote for fear?  How so?  And how tactless is that to say?)

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Inspiring Obituaries

A well known and much beloved man in my area died last week.  I never met him, but I heard three unrelated people in my acquaintance mention him with emotion since then; the one that made the deepest impression on me was when my stake president said that if any of us wanted to lead a Christlike life, we should look at the life of Deon Sanders. 

The next day, I made sure to look at Brother Sanders’s obituary.  Here it is.  Notice that, as of today, there are 15 wonderful comments posted. 

It reminds me of another, similar obituary.  While flipping through the local paper on November 12, 2005, I noticed an especially long obituary with an entire article about it on the facing page.  The obituary (here) was for Samuel Davis, and the article went into more detail about his life of service to church, family, and community.  I clipped both out of the paper and stuck them in my journal.  They’re refreshing when I need to clear my head and keep my priorities straight.

Now I won’t say that a longer obituary necessarily means a better person or a better life, but it sure doesn’t mean the opposite.  As I scan those pages, I see tiny obituaries for people who have died at all ages, that simply say things like “survived by an ex wife and one daughter” and “no services to be held.”  The two that I’m saving, however, speak of large families and significant service to others, of ambition in happiness and impact in making the world a better place. 

It helps me to think about living my life in such a way that, when I’m gone, lots of great people will have plenty of good to say about my rich life.  That’s the plan, anyway.

Bailout Metaphor From The Simpsons

bios_townspeople_wiggumSo the latest in the snowballing bailout boondoggle is Uncle Sam’s new stake in Bank of America, to the tune of $20 billion. 

A great recent essay in the Wall Street Journal suggested that the long overdue movie version of Atlas Shrugged is now moot because it’s actually playing out before our eyes, but I have another comparison.

So the government thinks it can spend its way out of reckless debt?  There was a season five episode of The Simpsons called “Homer the Vigilante,” at the end of which a group of Springfield residents find themselves stuck at the bottom of a deep hole they’ve dug in the ground.  Desperate to get out, Homer comes to the rescue with this brilliant idea: “We’ll dig our way out!”  So they start shovelling with renewed vigor. 

But the real punchline comes a minute later when, irritated by the lack of progress around him, police chief Wiggum tells everybody, “No, you have to dig up, stupid!” 

And isn’t that what the government’s really trying to do here?  Dig up? 

Good luck with that.

Notes on Gordon B. Hinckley’s Standing For Something

In a little over a week, it will be a year since the passing of Gordon B. Hinkcley, 15th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  At that time, considering the growth of Church membership, he had been the only prophet that about a fourth of all living Mormons had ever known.  As I joined the Church in 1993 but wasn’t very active until 1996, that includes me. 

When he died, I finally pulled my copy of Standing For Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts And Homes off the shelf.  After I’d read the first twenty pages or so, I found myself wanting to keep track of all his many offhand references.  Even as I just kept a brief mental tally of his sources, I was impressed that he had such a broad store of resources available.  It’s not like he was writing a scholarly tract, but if he had been, this wouldn’t have been a bad start.  The book reads very comfortably, and is very friendly to the reader, some of it coming across as spontaneous, and some parts clearly taken from his own library of sermons.  I don’t think he must have done much research, then, but actually had most of this material in his mind (including, this English teacher hastens to add, references to four of Shakespeare’s plays).  Putting all of this in such a simple little book might make it harder to detect his achievement. 

By the time I’d finished the book, my notes were twleve pages long.  At the end, I summarized what I thought I could surmise about President Hinckley’s life just based on those notes, sort of as a guide for emulating him.  The best part is that I’m pretty sure I missed some things: some of his references must have escaped me.  Feel free to point out any I missed:


Standing for Something—Quotes, references, statistics, etc.


1.Henry Van Dyke, “America For Me”—introduction xii

2.Edwin Markham on love, “Outwitted”–ch 1, pg. 9

3.Longfellow on honesty, “The Ladder of St. Augustine”–ch 2, pg. 26

4.James Russell Lowell, “The Vision of Sir Launfal”–ch 4, pg 58

5.Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”–ch 8, pg 94

6.Joaquin Miller, “Columbus”–ch 10, pg 111

7.Elizabeth Barrett Browning—Marriage, pg. 142

8.Emerson, “Voluntaries III”–Epilogue, pg 177


Historical References

9.Mayflower Compact (quote)—introduction xiv

10.Declaration of Independence (quote)—introduction xv

11.Preamble to the Constitution (quote)—introduction xvi

12.War hero statue in Trafalgar Square–ch. 1, pg. 8

13.Athenian oath of citizenship—ch 2, pg. 19

14.Anecdote about Lincoln’s honesty—ch 2, pg 26

15.“Heroes” list: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Lindbergh, Byrd, Hopkins—ch 3, pg 38-39

16.George Washington’s 110 “rules for civility”–ch 4, pg 53

17.1979 centennial of electric light—ch 5, pg 67

18.Lee’s surrender at Appomattox—ch 6, pg 76

19.Vikings—ch 7, pg 81

20.American West—ch 7, pg 81

21.Israel—ch 7, pg 81

22.American WWI cemetery in France—ch 8, pg 92

23.Korean War—ch 8, pg 92

24.Vietnam War—ch 8, pg 92

25.United Kingdom in WWII—ch 9, pg 102

26.Mikhail Gorbachev’s speeches—ch 9, pg 103

27.Letter of an 1872 Colonel who visited Utah—ch 10, pg 118

28.Story of the Roman Gracchi—Family, pg 152


Quotes and Allusions

29.William Gladstone on U.S. Constitution—introduction xvi

30.Margaret Thatcher on declining religiosity—introduction xvii

31.George Washington on public religiosity—introduction xix

32.Shakespeare on honesty (Othello)–ch 2, pg. 17

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NV Governor Suggests Teacher Pay Cut

Last week, Nevada governor Jim Gibbons suggested that public employees, including teachers, take a 6% pay cut next year. 

In light of Governor Gibbons’ idea to cut teacher salaries, I wondered if perhaps he might be willing to take such a pay cut himself.  However, he probably wants to stock up on as much cash as he can, to help with his upcoming expenses: alimony, printing copies of his resumé to submit at gas stations after the next election, and moving to a studio apartment in Tijuana after the gas stations turn him down.


I Go To A Taping Of Jeopardy!

250px-mainheader_reskinA friend at work told me earlier this week that she had won four tickets to see a taping of Jeopardy!, and asked if I’d like two.  As the special night approached and I looked forward to seeing the trivia show that I’ve watched since I was a little kid, it was all I could think about.  (A longtime fan of such trivia shows, I was on The Weakest Link in 2002 and was the last one voted off.  I passed the test for Who Wants To Be  A Millionaire? once, but never got called.  I’ve taken the online test for Jeopardy! twice…and bombed badly both times.)

The show was held at the Convention Center, in conjunction with the Consumer Electronics Show.  I thought we’d be seeing the Tournament of Champions, but that’s tomorrow: tonight was Celebrity Jeopardy!

I was surprised that we were never asked to sign any kind of nondisclosure agreement.  Nothing seems to be keeping me from saying who was on the show, or even giving away who won.  However, such spoilers are tacky, and I’ll stop myself at telling you that this episode will air on March 10, and that all three celebrities played very well.  And Dancing With the Starshost Tom Bergeron was very funny.  (So much for no spoilers!)

Alex Trebek chatted with the audience during the brief breaks where the commercials will be inserted during the airing of the show, and during a couple of pauses to deal with technical difficulties.  Though clearly a masterful emcee in total control of how he was working the audience, he was genuinely personable.  As he took questions, I wanted to ask if he still talked to Ken Jennings, but another guy beat me to it.  (Trebek said they see each other at “functions” sometimes, and that they’re “cordial.”  Sounds like bosom buddies to me!)  Only then did I think that I should have brought my copy of Jennings’ book and tried to get Trebek to sign it.  Oh well.

Among other clever comments from Alex: when asked if his current gig as a game show host is better than an early job hauling garbage, he hesitated and said, “It pays better.”  When Alex couldn’t think of a funny story to answer another guy’s question, and that guy followed up by asking for an autograph because he had stumped him, Trebek said no and, in the way of explanation, “My ex wife stumped me.”  (He had said earlier that he would only sign one autograph, but later made an exception for a kid who also asked.)  In regards to a query about the popular Saturday Night Live parody of Jeopardy!, Alex launched into a faux tirade against the skit’s version of Sean Connery.  And, he wants the Chargers to win the Superbowl. 

Being Celebrity Jeopardy!, the questions were pretty easy, but it was still enjoyable to watch the show.  After the show, we were told that we could take the cushions on our seats that had the Jeopardy! logo on them as souvenirs, which is good because I was tempted to swipe mine anyway.  Announcer Johnny Gilbert had instructed us to cheer and applaud enthusiastically for the cameras, and I tried to live up to the expectation.  When you watch the show on March 10, be sure to look for me.  I’m the guy with hair and I’m wearing a shirt.  Go ahead and wave.  I’ll try to wave back.

Foreclosures and Satellite Dishes

Last year, the house across the street from me went into foreclosure.  They were decent people, and I don’t know what exactly put them in that position, but I can’t help but notice that their house has two satellite dishes on it.  There’s probably a lesson in that about fiscal responsibility…

Former Student On 20/20

Tonight, 20/20 will feature the story of Brittney Bergeron Himel.  While that story will doubtlessly focus on her inspiring tale of survival and perseverance, she’s also a very nice, normal kid.

Brittney was in one of my classes last year.  At first, I was a little worried that having someone so well known in class would be a distraction to other students (Brittney’s tale has been widely told in Las Vegas for years), but it actually never came up at all.  I’m not sure whether to attribute this to her peers being familiar enough with her to have gotten used to her dramatic story, or (as I fear) that they’re so ignorant of the world around them that they don’t recognize a regular face from the news even in the same room.

Brittney is a hard working student who took her grades and work seriously.  She has great compassion for animals: any time the class got to choose their own books to read for class, she’d come in with something like James Herriot’s All Creatures Great And Small. One day, we were having a class discussion about whatever topics students wanted to bring up. The subject Brittney was concerned about: the then-recent reports of cruelty towards dogs by pro football player Michael Vick.

When she won a major wheelchair marathon, I congratulated her as she came into class the next day.  She responded warmly, but in that slightly monotone way that most teenagers seem to have of interacting with adults; not disrespectful at all, but hardly passionate about carrying on a conversation.

However, soon afterwards when I saw on the news that her long legal battle to be adopted by her foster parents had finally been won, and I mentioned that to her the next day, she immediately got the biggest smile on her face.  She really just lit up and, getting chirpy and bubbly, went on a bit about how great it was.  That was by far the most excited I ever saw her. 

And those parents are truly special people.  Her foster mom (just regular “Mom,” now!) emailed me a few times last year to ask about classwork and tests.  She wasn’t demanding any special treatment with grades or anything, just wanting to know how she could help and how Brittney could do her best.  (Brittney passed the class with a grade well above average.)  It was wonderful: she’s an involved mother who wants her daughter to achieve her potential. 

Please do watch the show tonight, or at least read the story linked above.  It’ll touch your heart.  I wish this terrific family all the best in the years ahead!