Harry Is Running Scared

Remember the last time Harry Reid was up for reelection?  He barely campaigned at all, running a few token ads near the election, featuring people from his hometown telling folksy stories about him, and calling him “Pinky.”  He could afford to run those nonsense ads because it was a slam dunk campaign–there was no chance he would lose. 

Fast forward a few years and now he’s one of the most radical, despised politicians in America.  Today, well over a year before the next election, he’s already running a series of serious ads pumping himself up as the savior of Nevada’s economy, pulling out his powerful friends this time (not the hometown buddies) to testify to his miraculous powers. 

It’s a desperate tactic, and it makes it plain to all of us that Reid knows he’s in for an uphill battle this time.  The majority leader’s on the ropes…right where we want him. 

My prediction–he’ll get even more aggressive as the campaign goes on.  Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian, look out.  There’s an angry pit bull after you!


Yes, You Should Judge a Book By Its Cover!

Before I eviscerate this ridiculous bit of old folk wisdom in its metaphorical interpretation, may I please point out how foolish it is in a literal application?  Of course you’re supposed to judge a book by its cover–that’s part of what the cover is for.  It protects the book, helps hold it together…and advertises the contents.  If you pick up a book and the cover pictures a blushing maiden, corset unlacing, in the brawny arms of a topless pirate who leans in towards her for a passionate kiss, it’s a pretty good bet that you’re not holding a physics textbook. 

The same simple method of intuitive observation is true for people.  We might reflexively regurgitate the popular culture’s mantra that you don’t really know anything about anybody until you know them well, and that people are complicated and defy easy classification, but no matter how much Hollywood wants us to see fascinating iconoclasts behind every trendy appearance, the fact is that almost everybody is transparent, predictable, and very cleanly in line with our expectations for how people with certain appearances will act and think.

Take mohawks, for example.  Continue reading

MSP: Second Class Requirements 3, 6c

3.  Participate in a flag ceremony for your school, religious institution, chartered organization, community, or troop activity.

I started our weekly family home evening this week with one of the younger kids helping me unfold the flag, which we then all saluted as I led us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Another little kid helped me fold it back up. 

6c.  Demonstrate first aid for the following:

– Object in the eye
– Bite of a suspected rabid animal
– Puncture wounds from a splinter, nail, and fish hook
– Serious burns (partial thickness, or second degree)
– Heat exhaustion
– Shock
– Heatstroke, dehydration, hypothermia, and hyperventilation

We went through each of these in the handbook as a family, discussing bad advice/outdated methods that we had heard in the past for first aid.  We acted out the handbook’s methods and then had a quick oral quiz.  This is the kind of thing that we think is fun.  My family is awesome. 

Lest you think that October has been fairly unproductive for me, let me assure you that progress is being made.  I have dates set for camping and a service project in November.  I just got a book from the library about local animal life, and a DVD is on hold about drug abuse.  I’ll relate the stories of how each one goes as they come up in the next few weeks.

Nothing New Under the Sun

The bulk of the Declaration of Independence–the entire body section–is devoted to a laundry list of complaints against the failures of British rule, meant to justify to the world why the colonies were revolting.  Among the intolerable items that pushed our Founding Fathers over the edge was this:

“He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” 

Whoa.  Can you imagine that?  Being subject to a powerful, sprawling, bureaucratic federal government with infinite departments staffed by busybody stooges with nothing better to do than persecute law-abiding citizens, robbing them of their property?  Living in a nation like that would truly be a nightmare.  No wonder our forefathers had to rebel against it.  I know if I lived in similar circumstances, I’d want to change the system. 

Luckily, nothing like that exists anymore.

A Pair of Pessimistic Political Predictions

I’m not saying that these things will happen, but the way our society is going, I think it’s likely that they might happen. 

1.  Any straight people who get married will be seen as inherently oppressing gays who can’t marry.  This came to mind as I heard recently about a growing slew of celebrities who refuse to get married, saying they won’t do it until everybody can do it.  The logical end of that train of thought will be stigmatizing anybody who doesn’t get in on this “boycot.”  Cohabitation will explode even further as marriage rates drop drastically.

2.  The concept of nationality will come to be looked down on as narrow-minded, old fashioned, and akin to racism.  Under the guise of embracing all of humanity and “celebrating diversity,” many will decry those who assert that being an American–or any other nationality–has some intrinsic meaning.  Valuing your country over other countries will be the new “racism,” as the more “enlightened” among us will disavow their allegiance to any one nation and declare themselves “citizens of the world.” 

I know, I know–the seeds of both of these are already well sown into our society.  My fear is that they will become far more prevalent, that within a decade they will be the mandatory mantras of the mainstream, the same way that gay marriage, amnesty, and socialism suddenly became orthodox doctrines during the last ten years.

Conservative Media’s Ironic Misunderstanding of “School Indoctrination”

A perceptive colleague alerted me to this story out of Chicago, where the mother of a boy investigated in that awful student beating recently told reporters that schools should be responsible for monitoring students outside of school hours. 

This perfectly illustrates something I’ve seen constantly in my years of teaching.  We conservatives worry that schools are brainwashing our kids with government propaganda, just as the mainstream media does, and though there are certainly programs and policies that clearly emanate from the left, this concern is essentially baseless. 

If the government’s effectively indoctrinating our kids, then where are the hordes of glassy-eyed teenage zombies chanting, “I love Big Brother?” 

No, our children are strongly resistant to any attempt to exert authority over them or persuade them to accept ideas in school…to a fault!

The irony here is that while conservative media gets itself into a tizzy about schools usurping too much authority over American children…that’s precisely what too many parents want us to do!

I’ve written plenty of stories on here about clueless parents who expect teachers to raise their kids.  It’s an epidemic.  These lazy, incompetent losers make teachers’ lives miserable.  Teachers spend a large percentage of their parent conferences trying to convince parents to do the work that a lot of conservatives are afraid we’re actively trying to steal away from them!

Schools taking over the job of parents?  Trust me, not a legitimate concern.  Now, the fuzzy teaching methods employed in too many classrooms–that’s a real problem to keep your eye on.

How the NCAA Helped Ruin American High Schools

The NCAA has a rule that remedial high school courses don’t count towards eligibility for college athletics.  I don’t know how other parts of the country have dealt with this, but CCSD’s answer has partly been to reduce / eliminate remedial classes. 

That’s great, right?  All those future college hoops stars are being put into more rigorous classes, just like the NCAA wanted, right? 

No, of course not.  Their rule didn’t suddenly make everyone smarter.  What schools do is simply change the names of classes, removing the “remedial” stigma from the title, while keeping them stocked with the same kids who would have been in remedial classes anyway (thus cheating the rule by “technically” complying with it), or–even worse–those poor kids who need more help get lumped into the regular classes where they push up class sizes, fall behind, cause trouble, irritate and bore the students who are at that level, and still certainly don’t get the experience that the NCAA’s rosy-eyed rule must assume they magically will.

This isn’t to say that all athletes are slow–actually, my experience is quite the opposite–but those who do need slower classes are poorly served by this rule, and the rest of their campus suffers for it, too.  Schools can’t just target the schedules of potential future athletes, so everyone–sports players and not–are equally affected by the policy.  The NCAA could do everyone a huge favor by revising this ineffective, counterproductive rule.

Biblical Allusions In U2’s “Until the End of the World”

Three intense interests of mine have intersected lately–literacy, religion, and U2 (I’ll be seeing them in concert Friday night).  Ah, leave it to the Irish to combine literature and religion!

U2 has always been a great example of that trait of their people, and I fear that much of it is lost on us.  (I just found this great site summarizing some of the many Biblical allusions in their work.) 

Case in point: 1991’s “Until the End of the World,” from the Wim Wenders film of the same name, and U2’s album Achtung Baby.  At first glance, it’s just another conflicted love song (as every true fan knows, even after 30 years, U2 has still never written a purely positive love song).  But if you’re familiar with the Bible, it’s clear that this is Judas Iscariot confessing the betrayal of Jesus Christ.  Even the title takes itself from a famous promise made by Jesus to His followers, which ends the Gospel according to Matthew: “…and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.  Amen.” 

Here are the lyrics, with my explanations and links to relevant Biblical text (mostly from Matthew, since that’s the reference in the title):

  Continue reading

Star Wars Pun

Even in my long, storied career of making bad puns, this may well be the very worst:

Obi-want Kenobi and Lack Skywalker each got a chance to fight Dearth Vader.


My apologies.  This headache-inducer grew out of my attempt to illustrate to a class what “dearth” means.  I don’t think it was especially helpful.

Classrooms in the Movies…

  • …never have more students than desks.
  • …have every student in class, every day.
  • …have mostly the same group of kids at the end of the year as they had on the first day of school.  If someone moves in or out, it’s a big event.
  • …have some loud or obnoxious students, but only because they want  attention.  Inside, they’re all decent people who just need someone to reach out and understand them.  None of them are consciously choosing to act like jerks or thugs, and all of them are secretly very, very bright, once you get to know them.
  • …never have more than one kid having a serious emotional crisis at a time.  Once that issue is resolved, another kid can have a problem.
  • …never have any students who have been mainstreamed into that class due to politically correct special ed policies.  They certainly don’t have ten of them.
  • …never actually seem to do much intensive studying, drilling, or practice.  All those feel-good group discussions of emotional discovery someone produce students who achieve very well academically.
  • …are always full of students who look well groomed, healthy, and alert, despite involvement with broken homes, poverty, gangs, and substance abuse.  No student in a movie looks or acts any differently than, say, your average young Hollywood actor.  For some reason.
  • …are always full of curious young adults who, despite being hard-partying hedonists, speak with the kind of vocabularies that, oddly enough, Hollywood screenwriters would have.  They all know the difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.  They know their times tables.  They can read for more than five minutes without falling asleep. 
  • …rarely have students who come to school high.  If they do, they’re just good, smart goofballs who do it for a laugh.  All ends well.
  • …never have students who refuse to take the medication prescribed by their psychiatrist. 
  • …never have students who bounce back and forth between the classroom and juvenile hall.
  • …are staffed by teachers who can magically command attention with a single request, who enjoy instant raport with their students, and whose off the wall teaching ideas always work like a charm.  They’re certainly more effective than the crusty, strict teachers, who are invariably the villains. 

Ask Huston

Once or twice a year I’ll spend part of a class day just letting the students ask me questions about anything, and we have conversations about whatever topics they come up with.  I wonder how that would work here.

Here’s your chance, anonymous denizens of the Internet, to ask me whatever you can imagine.  Impress me.  Challenge me on issues, ask about my real life, quiz me, ask for advice, whatever.  I promise not to lie in any response, but I do reserve the right to be evasive or sarcastic, of course.  I’ll let questions collect on this thread for a while, then answer them all.  As I warn my students, whether or not this is entertaining depends mostly on the quality of what you ask, so take advantage of this open forum. 

Now here’s hoping I just get more than one or two questions…

A Scriptural Warning Against Navel Gazing and Hand Wringing

In our Sunday School class today, the parable of the nobleman and the olive trees in Doctrine and Covenants 101:43-62 was brought to our attention to help teach about following the prophets.  I hadn’t paid much attention to this story before, but it strongly underscores some things on my mind lately. 

This parable is meant, in the strictest context, to illustrate to the early Latter-day Saints the importance of helping to gather and establish Zion, as opposed to their general reluctance to do so previously.  The story has a nobleman with a field of olive trees, which he gives to the care of a staff of servants who are charged with building hedges and towers around it for security.  The servants promptly overanalyze their orders, debating its merits; after all, they say, this is a time of peace, and couldn’t the money be better spent on humanitarian projects (D&C 101:47-49)?  While they discoursed with each other, an enemy did come in and destroy the trees. 

Like all parables, this one would seem to have a broader application, as well.  If the Lord’s intention in telling this story was to impress upon us his “will concerning the redemption of Zion,” we could extend this to mean Zion in general, as in each of our families, wards, stakes, and the church’s spiritual condition overall.

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Girls and Self Destruction

Every year after I teach Lord of the Flies–the classic novel about a bunch of young boys who crash on a tropical island and have to survive on their own–I point out to classes that the novel was inspired by the brutality of World War II, in which the author saw the worst aspects of humanity run amok.  In the novel, the boys form a mildly successful society for a while, with authority and chores, but it eventually degrades into savage anarchy and chaos–the author’s grim commentary on his lack of faith in human nature. 

Among other things, since the book is based on unchecked masculinity, I ask students to then consider how they think the book might have been different if a plane full of girls had crashed there, instead of boys.  Their answers always fall into two clearly demarcated camps.  The vast majority of boys, every year, say that stranded girls would just “have tea parties and paint each other’s toenails and stuff.”  Far more disturbing than this simple stereotyping, though, is what an even larger majority of girls almost always says: “No, they’d all kill each other by the end of the first day.” 

A pessimistic confession of their own burgeoning awareness of the social flaws inculcated into their gender?  Hardly.  That wouldn’t explain why most of the girls who say this tend to say it while laughing and smiling, almost proud of their prediction of massive failure.  They practically high five each other while saying it. 

How exactly have we apparently taught our young women to expect so little of themselves, in stark imitation of their masculine counterparts, to the point of competing with the boys for who can be the least successful?  I wonder if this is the dark side of social progress, a worrisome elephant in the room: As we have tried to encourage girls to be more assertive and involved in the public realm over the last few generations, have we inadvertently also magnified within them or brought to the front of their personalities those negative characteristics that we traditionally associate with young men–the violence, thoughtlessness, and nihilism that we’re warned about in Lord of the Flies?

Balloon Boy’s Airhead Parents

I can’t add much to the country’s comments and complaints about the poor 6-year-old Colorado boy who may or may not have “accidentally” spurred an emergency.  I just want to add one important thing that I haven’t heard anybody else say yet.

Why the heck are these parents pimping out all of their kids on every news show they can get on?  Their scared little boy was on Larry King last night and on the Today show this morning, where he threw up.  This kid is clearly terrified.  Nevermind what kind of parents would have put this kid in the situation where he might have floated off in an experimental balloon in the first place–what kind of parents celebrate their joy at finding him safe and sound by immediately shuttling him around to every TV camera they can find?  Where’s their concern about his emotional welfare? 

In fact, doesn’t that make it seem more likely it was a hoax?