Ironic Factories and Parks

What does this say about our modern age?  Las Vegas, like most big cities, is home to:

  • an Old Spaghetti Factory
  • a Cheesecake Factory
  • a Sushi Factory
  • a Tan Factory
  • an Ethel M. Chocolate Factory
  • a “BratWorks” (a kind of mechanized sausage assembly line, it seems)
  • and even an Arts Factory

Alongside all of these, we also have dozens of office-oriented mini-malls called “business parks.”

So, contemporary urban cityscapes are places where one can find art and junk food at factories, but financial transactions take place in ugly concrete-and-stucco parks.  Weird.


Quotes, Pics, and Clips VI

I’m resurrecting an installment I used to do, a bite-sized anthology of things I had recently seen or been thinking about in the various areas that interest me.  Here are the first five parts of this series: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V.


Like him or not, it’s fun watching Jackson Pollock work:


“The more computers we have, the more we need shared fairy tales, Greek myths, historical images, and so on….The more specialized and technical our civilization becomes, the harder it is for nonspecialists to participate in the decisions that deeply affect our lives.”  –E.D. Hirsch, Cultural Literacy, 1987.  (I highly recommend this great article about Hirsch’s new book.)


I’ve used this clip in Forensics and English 102 classes to make a point about the nature of debate and persuasion:


Something I’ve been impressed by as I pick my way through this masterpiece is how Tolstoy dwells at intervals on both the honor and heroics of conflict as well as the strain and loss.  His vision is truly majestic.

“What’s this? Am I falling? My legs are giving way,” thought he, and

fell on his back. He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the struggle of

the Frenchmen with the gunners ended, whether the red-haired gunner had

been killed or not and whether the cannon had been captured or saved.

But he saw nothing. Above him there was now nothing but the sky–the

lofty sky, not clear yet still immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds

gliding slowly across it. “How quiet, peaceful, and solemn; not at all

as I ran,” thought Prince Andrew–“not as we ran, shouting and fighting,

not at all as the gunner and the Frenchman with frightened and angry

faces struggled for the mop: how differently do those clouds glide

across that lofty infinite sky! How was it I did not see that lofty sky

before? And how happy I am to have found it at last! Yes! All is vanity,

all falsehood, except that infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing, but

that. But even it does not exist, there is nothing but quiet and peace.

Thank God!…”

–Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, Part III, chapter XVI


The older I get, the more I enjoy sports.  I’ve watched a lot of clips like this:


 “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If `Thou shalt not covet’ and `Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.”

–John Adams, “A Defense of the American Constitutions,” 1787


I love this story, which I call “the parable of the kite.”  I’ve used it in teaching struggling disciples and my own children:

The second thing that has helped me receive these blessings is the principle of courageous obedience. I am so grateful for God’s gift of laws and commandments. Peace, hope, and direction are outcomes of striving to live the teachings of Jesus and obeying His laws and commandments. The scriptures teach, “Great peace have they which love thy law” (Ps. 119:165). They also teach that “he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23).

While Brother Pinegar served as president of the Provo Missionary Training Center, as you can imagine, we often talked to the missionaries about the feelings of happiness and peace that accompany courageous obedience to true principles. We talked of the influence of the Holy Ghost that comes to those who are obedient. We encouraged the missionaries to make obedience their quest. I enjoyed telling them the story of the little boy who went to the park with his father to fly a kite.

The boy was very young. It was his first experience with kite flying. His father helped him, and after several attempts the kite was in the air. The boy ran and let out more string, and soon the kite was flying high. The little boy was so excited; the kite was beautiful. Eventually there was no more string left to allow the kite to go higher. The boy said to his father, “Daddy, let’s cut the string and let the kite go; I want to see it go higher and higher.”

His father said, “Son, the kite won’t go higher if we cut the string.”

“Yes, it will,” responded the little boy. “The string is holding the kite down; I can feel it.” The father handed a pocketknife to his son. The boy cut the string. In a matter of seconds the kite was out of control. It darted here and there and finally landed in a broken heap. That was difficult for the boy to understand. He felt certain the string was holding the kite down.

The commandments and laws of God are like the kite string. They lead us and guide us upward. Obedience to these laws gives us peace, hope, and direction.

–Patricia P. Pinegar, “Peace, Hope, and Direction,” October 1999 General Conference

“He’s such a good kid”

A police officer was shot by a group of young men as he came home from work two nights ago.  One of the young men is an 18-year-old junior and basketball player at Mojave High School, according to the newspaper.  Reading the comments section below the article, some people say that they know him and that he’s “a good kid,” including someone called “Mojave Parent” commenting at 10:10. 

This reminded me of a similar tragedy here in Las Vegas three years ago: another basketball player at Mojave High School was part of a group that went around assaulting strangers on a spree one night.  After he was arrested, people came out of the woodwork to call him “a good kid.” 

When Gerald Davidson shot and killed Chris Privett after school at Palo Verde High School a year and a half ago, I don’t remember anyone calling him a good kid, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if someone did. 

I have no further commentary than this: get a clue, everybody.

Parents of the Week: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


A boy in an honors class mocked an assignment on Tuesday with his partner, then decided to declare to everyone that “this class is pointless.”  I called him on it, and he wasn’t the least bit ashamed or penitent. 

I called his mother and she was mortified.  She apologized profusely and asked to come in to see me and have him apologize, even asking if she could sit in class with him next time.  We met before school Thursday and she read him the riot act.  I showed her his work from that day, which was by far the shortest, sloppiest paper from the class.  I said I’d like him to do it over, and she assured me it would be done over the weekend, adding that any future work that was of substandard quality would also be revised to my liking. 

After this had all been explained, I asked him if he understood.  He sat silently until his mother told him to answer with, “Yes, sir.”  He sullenly said, “Yes.”  She told him again to be more respectful, threatening to smack him if he didn’t.  He again responded with attitude, so she reached around and slapped him on the back of the head.  This time he said, “Yes, sir.” 

She thanked me for my effort and assured me again that he would perform better, in academics and behavior.  I have no doubt that he will. 



Continue reading

The Raft of the Medusa

A black stain on the otherwise spotless history of French courage

Last night I learned about what might well be the most amazing historical story I’ve ever heard.  I’ve been reading Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces which, among other things, has been teaching me a lot about the great stories of history that inspired many artists (such as the fascinating story of Judith and Holofernes, which I’d also never heard before, but which was the basis for several of the paintings I’ve seen so far). 

By far the best story I’ve come across in this book is the one behind Theodore Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa (pictured at left).  After seeing this brilliant but disturbing work and reading Sister Wendy’s background text, I looked up some more of the facts behind it.  It’s…shocking.  Breathtaking.  Scary.  Unbelievable.  Straight from the pages of history, it’s a better story than Titanic and Apollo 13 combined.  It reminds me a little of the tragedy of the Russian submarine Kursk, but this one is far worse. 

I’ve blogged before about my favorite historical stories (here and here); ladies and gentlmen, we have a new champion. 

Here’s the basic story, cut down from Wikipedia.  Wow.  Just…wow. 

On 17 June 1816, a convoy under the command of De Chaumareys on Méduse departed Rochefort…. The Méduse, armed en flûte, carried passengers, including the appointed French governor of Senegal, Colonel Julien-Désire Schmaltz, and his wife Reine Schmaltz. The Méduse’s complement totaled 400, including 160 crew. She reached Madeira on 27 June.


Chaumareys had decided to involve one of the passengers, Richefort, in the navigation of the frigate. Richefort was a philosopher and a member of the Philanthropic Society of Cape Verde, but had no qualification to guide ships….

Continue reading

I Predict KSM Will Become The Left’s Media Darling

A few days ago on Instapundit I saw a joke about the upcoming trial in New York of terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, namely that “KSM sounds like an early 90s techno band name.” 

The reference is to the one hit wonder band KLF, but I was instantly reminded of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has inspired a slew of thoughtless, baseless, anti-authoritarian protests in his favor, for no better reason than because it’s politically correct and the media has decided that he’s cool. 

Here’s the worst case scenario for the farce of a trial for KSM that this administration has now foisted upon us: Bush Derangement Syndrome is still so strong that Hollywood and their media will campaign for his exoneration, without directly addressing the substance of his actual acts of terrorism, of course, but will plead that he is a “patriotic insurgent” whose rights have been denied him, that he’s been tortured (he’s one of the few people who was ever waterboarded), and that releasing him will be a gesture of goodwill to the middle east, etc.  Or something like that. 

And it may well be feasible that somewhere in the middle of this mess we will hear an updated version of an early 90s techno hit on the radio: “KSM!  Uh huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.  KSM is gonna rock ya!”

A Grateful Perspective About When We Live

The lesson for priesthood in church today was chapter 44 from the manual, about the dispensation of the fulness of times.  Much of the lesson was directed towards helping us understand exactly what that phrase means, and why it’s so important.

I remember when I first realized that importance myself.  When I first really started studying the scriptures, about ten years ago, I had only been active for a few years, and still had some skepticism and rough edges to my faith.  One aspect of that was wondering if maybe the church’s interpretation of some Biblical verses to refer to the establishment of the church in these last days was, perhaps, wishful thinking, a kind of forced interpretation done out of narcissism.  “How convenient,” I thought, “that all these ancient prophets were so obsessed with us.” 

As I read the Bible, though, I saw that my assumption was ironically mistaken.  It was I, not the church, that was interpreting the Bible based on a viewpoint too focused on the present.  As I studied entire books whole, I saw the contexts that those prophets wrote from, the needs of their times and places, and it became very clear why they so often wrote about the “dispensation of the fulness of times.”

Because it gave them hope.  They taught their people about our age so that they might know that their work wouldn’t be in vain, that they were part of an ongoing work that would culminate in the triumphant spread of the gospel in this generation.  We today, our families and stakes and communities, we are the reward that saints and prophets of all ages have sacrificed and struggled for.  Knowing that our time would come helped give them the strength to go on. 

Finding that idea throughout the Bible and other scriptures showed me that there’s nothing proud in seeing our day predicted in ancient writings.  To the contrary, it makes me profoundly humble, and grateful. 

“The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory, ‘the dispensation of the fullness of times, when God will gather together all things that are in heaven, and all things that are upon the earth, even in one’ [see Ephesians 1:10].”  –Joseph Smith


MSP: Second Class Requirement 4

  4. Participate in an approved (minimum of one hour) service project.

Last Saturday morning I went and did some yard work for a woman and her mother in my area who need help with physical chores around the house.  For those of you who don’t live around here, weeds can take root in this hard ground like an oak tree would!

Some Sad School Stories

There are forty students enrolled in my third hour class.  Thirty showed up today: one had been suspended, nine others were truant. 

For the previous two classes, their homework—as explained at the beginning and end of each class and posted on the board—was to get a copy of a novel from a list I’d given them, and merely to bring it in to class today.  The list included authors such as Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury (and, for that matter, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer) among two dozen others, the only other requirement being that the book they choose be at least 250 pages long.  I told them that our school librarian had a copy of the list and could help them find a book.  Obviously, they had a few hundred books to choose from.

Out of the thirty students in class today, only ten had a book.  A few others probably had a book but left it at home.  However, the vast majority of the unprepared twenty clearly hadn’t put forth any effort at all, hadn’t bothered to write down or remember the assignment, and had lost or thrown away my handout list.  They didn’t even care enough to try to do it.  Keep in mind that the assignment was merely to have a copy of the book with them.  That was it. 

And only one-fourth of the kids in that class will get credit for it. 

Is this a remedial class?  Far from it.  Continue reading

Idea For Public Service Announcement

Camera opens on a bus interior from the front; passengers settle in as the bus prepares to start moving.  A subtitle shows, “1955.” 

A new shot gives a close up of a black woman sitting near the front, looking seriously but distractedly out the window.  A voice with a Southern accent off camera says, “You need to give up your seat and move to the back of the bus.”  She looks over and up at the man off camera and, after a brief pause, says, “No.”  Camera cuts to a side view of bus driver standing over her, grimacing menacingly.  Camera cuts back to the woman, who turns her head slowly now and looks resolutely ahead of her.  The bus driver’s voice is heard saying, “If you don’t move, I’ll call the police and have you arrested.”  The woman calmly says, “You do that.”  Camera cuts once again to the back of the bus, where several rows of black passengers look on; camera then shows a few quick close-ups of black passengers nodding in approval.

Fade out and back in: camera now shows the same scene as at the beginning, but this time the subtitle says, “Today.”  Several black boys are shown from behind walking down the aisle of the bus.  They have sagging pants, bandanas, etc.  The bus is mostly empty, but they swagger past every seat to the very last row, where they rough house and yell.  Camera pans to the side, showing an elderly black woman sitting near the front.  Her head sags a bit and she sadly, slowly shakes her head in disapproval. 

Scene moves to the outside of the bus, behind it, showing it pull out and drive away.  As it moves, a narrator reads a slogan that appears on the screen: “Don’t move back.  Keep moving forward.” 

[Note: I realize this is a drastic simplification of Rosa Parks’ protest, but it’s necessary for brevity.]

Idea For “V”

The massacre at Fort Hood only two days after the premiere of the new science fiction series V, about hostile plotters hiding in our midst, has me thinking about how current events might further factor into the show’s plot.  Specifically, I’m inspired by the leftists in our society who misdirect our attention from the real problems here–violent anti-Americans operating in the open because we’re too politically correct to combat them–to their weird pet projects of multiculturalism and diversity.

The strangest and most revolting example of this must be General George Casey’s assertion that a loss of diversity in the military as a result of this shooting would a greater tragedy than the shooting itself.  This kind of self-flagellating defeatism, of course, plays right into the hands of terrorists.

So here’s my idea for the show: as rebels try to expose the alien invaders for the hungry reptiles they are, the “Visitors” should respond by smearing their critics, slamming them for their lack of open-minded compassion.  Bloggers or talk radio hosts who ask tough questions about the Visitors’ motives should be met with press conferences by aggrieved, indignant aliens who look sternly into the camera and ask, “Why are you so afraid of things that are different or that you don’t understand?  Why are your hearts so full of hate?”

The Las Vegas Children’s Book Festival


The Las Vegas Children's Book Festival, November 7, 2009

Yesterday, for the second year in a row, my wife and I took the kids to the annual Children’s Book Festival, sponsored by Target and part of the city’s larger Vegas Valley Book Festival. 

We agreed that out of all the local events we go to, this is our favorite. 

It’s held in the beautiful Centennial Plaza, which is hidden away downtown across the street from the federal courthouse, somehow all but invisible from the surrounding areas.  Parking was close, easy, free, and convenient.  Dozens of booths offered kids free books from charitable contributors, as well as private authors hawking their own excellent work, and crafts, gifts, and other activities thrown in for more fun.  Kids can get some free books, get their faces painted, and dance to the music piped in for the performers on a nearby stage. 

We got our gift bags and made the rounds, starting with a couple of free snow cones, and meeting some characters in costumes as we went.  My wife quickly found copies of the two volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia that we’re missing being given away.  There was an area off in one courtyard for the “grown up” authors and readers, where authors were doing readings and autographs.  The kids made bookmarks and coloring books at an arts and crafts booth.  A booth sponsored by UNLV gave away posters for their sports teams.  (I got three basketball posters–one for the boys’ room, one for my classroom, and one for my garage.) 

At the end of our tour was a stand giving out Hebrew National hot dogs.  We passed a great reproduction of the liberty bell on our way over.  As we sat by a water fountain in the shade for our lunch, a local children’s orchestra started playing.  The toppings available for our dogs even included jalapenos, and these were the sweetest ones I’d ever tasted.  


Two random children (possibly crazy people). Also, a big red dog.

I told my wife, “This is the kind of world I want my kids to grow up in,” then it got better: I noticed that the woman sitting next to us was wearing a T-shirt that said “Rearden Steel.”  I told her that I’m also a fan of Atlas Shrugged, and asked where she got the shirt.  She gave me a web site.  Here it is:

There were people there of many different races and ages, but clearly we all shared a love of reading.  There were plenty of people with multiple tattoos and piercings, but you know what?  I didn’t hear a single person swear.  Not once, the entire time.  Clearly, this cross-section of our diversity was the cream of the crop, the exceptions to my “judge a book by its cover” rule, and it made me happy that so much variety could exist when literacy and civility are the norm. 

Total cost of three hours of perfect family fun: zero dollars.

The weather was pleasant, the plaza was never crowded, and everything was spotless.  I hope this festival remains a secret.

Except for you.  I hope to see you there next year.  I’d like to enjoy this oasis of joy with my friends’ families. 



Two Thoughts About “V”

Yesterday afternoon I told my oldest son about the rebooted series V, and how much I enjoyed the original version as a kid.  When I explained the plot to him–aliens show up and solve all our problems, pretending to be our friends, so they can win our trust and then eat us–he said, “Hmm.  Sounds like that Twilight Zone episode, ‘To Serve Man.'”  He’s only ten.  I was so proud I could have cried. 


After watching the show last night (truly excellent, by the way), I was struck by just how silly, impossible, and outrageous the story was, though.  I mean, c’mon, an attractive leader shows up out of nowhere, promising to magically solve our problems with little more than broad bromides about hope and peace, and everybody just goes gaga and falls into line?  Why, this leader even has a simpering media quickly trained to jump through hoops!  And I refuse to accept that this leader’s minions could be actively recruiting young people to subversively carry on their work.   

Seriously, who could ever buy into a story that crazy?  Clearly, clearly, this is some pretty far out science fiction.  Luckily, nothing like that could ever actually happen in real life.


UNLV Sponsors Youth Sexuality Activism Conference For CCSD Educators

A disturbing email went out to my school’s electronic bulletin board today.  Presumably it went out to every school in the district.  The message included two attachments giving details about an alternative sexuality conference on the UNLV campus on November 14 which will feature a series of workshops.  Are these workshops meant to help educators with their personal lives?  No, nothing like that.  Is it to assist them in avoiding the creation of a classroom environment where teasing and bullying of homosexual students might occur?  Partly. 

But the most unnerving thing about this conference is the inclusion of sessions meant to instruct teachers in training students “to get involved with the LGTBQ community in order to effect positive change. We will look at already established youth LGBTQ community groups, recent movements and types of youth activism.”  Is this serious?  Is UNLV actually promoting, and CCSD tacitly allowing, public teachers preparing to indoctrinate young people in alternative sexual lifestyles, to the point where these children will be encouraged to go out into the community and advocate for them? 

This is beyond political.  Continue reading