The Overton Window Is Awful

The new meme for conservatives who want to score some easy brownie points with the mainstream crowd is, “But I don’t like Glenn Beck!”  This is the new version of those old apologetic tropes, “Some of my best friends are black (or gay)!” or “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” 

I’m not going to disavow Beck, or even comment on his positions here at all.  However, liking him and agreeing with much of what he says does not mean that he has to be a good writer. 

I’ve reviewed two other books of his here (The Christmas Sweater was OK pulp, but with a horrible ending, and Common Sense was also so-so, but random and poorly edited), and even though I gave each of those average reviews, this new book from Beck somehow manages to go from average to awful.  It is far, far worse than anything he’s done before. 

First of all, yes, all the negative reviewers are correct: the writing in The Overton Window is pitiful, amateurish, so excrementally bad that after the first hundred pages I was skimming through the rest as fast as I could to get it over with just because I wanted to write this review.  At one point early on, the protagonist’s love interest is actually described as “very easy on the eyes.”  Good grief. 

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Why Don’t Illegal Alien Sympathizers Love Mexico?

A few weeks ago I was hiking at Mt. Charleston and saw a group of about a dozen Hispanic men clearing fallen trees from the side of the road and feeding them into wood chippers.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them, if any, were in the country illegally.  After all, we’re in a deep recession and Las Vegas is the hardest hit city in the country: I know tons of American citizens who would love to have a BLM job these days.  Why should an illegal alien get to have a job here while an American remains unemployed?

Thinking about this reminded me of the arguments one tends to hear in favor of allowing illegal aliens to continue pouring into our country: they work, they pay a lot of taxes, they don’t commit more crimes, they have good family values, etc.  But as I remembered these arguments, I was struck by a new thought: if all of these things are true, shouldn’t they be back in Mexico helping to make it a better place?  Shouldn’t all of the liberals who claim to love everybody and every culture equally, with all of that empathy in their ideology, be more concerned with helping improve Mexico than with the supposed benefits of illegal labor for America?

After all, Mexico is in a bad way economically.  This is hardly news, but is supporting the permanent exodus of millions of young, vital, innovative people, in the long run, going to help or hurt Mexico?  And doesn’t Mexico need help even more than the U.S.?  Where’s the compassion for Mexico?

One might counter that illegals in the U.S. send billions of dollars back to Mexico every year, which is true, but that is a short-sighted, paternalistic, even (dare I say it?) colonial outlook.  A very large portion of Mexico’s economy is now dependent on the largesse of illegal labor in the United States.  (Why do you think Mexico’s president is so aggressive about illegals being able to stay in America?  Civil rights?  Please.)  In fact, the current American recession has also hurt Mexico financially.  Our continued patronizing (in both senses of the word) of illegal aliens has increasingly turned Mexico into a dependent little ward of our parent-like economy.  Supporting illegal alien labor in the U.S. is closely akin to supporting an onoing indentured servitude that will, ultimately, come at the expense of any possible future success for Mexico. 

If liberals really believe that these millions of illegals are such excellent people, then why are we keeping them for ourselves instead of sending them back to a home country that so desperately needs their help?  Don’t liberals want Mexico to be independent, to be better off in the future than they are now? 

Or do they want Mexico to turn into an even more feeble ghost town while we continue to have our lawns mowed at discount rates? 

Though this post has already gotten a little cheeky, I think the point is valid, and I have to admit that my more sardonic side is now inclined to counter the next statements I hear supporting illegal immigration with, “Why don’t you want them to help build up Mexico instead?  Don’t you care about Mexico?  Why not?  It’s because they’re different from you, isn’t it?  Why is there so much hate in your heart?”  As they say, turnabout is fair play.

Political Perspective

This blog makes no secret that my politics are very conservative.  However, it bothers me that there is so much partisanship today, not so much in party affiliation as in the right/left dichotomy itself.  People on either side in our country are deeply steeped in heaping invective on the other side, treating them like monolithic stereotypes and indulging in harsh personal judgments against them.  I admit, I do some of this too, though I’ve tried to be better. 

Last month I read The Federalist Papers, and while it definitely did strengthen my conviction of conservative principles, one passage stood out as a warning against this cultural civil war between halves of the spectrum. 

In Federalist #50, James Madison refers to a contentious political gathering to examine government workings that had occurred a few years before.  In his analysis of it and its lessons for the new Constitution, he notes that “When men exercise their reason cooly and freely, on a variety of distinct questions, they invariably fall into different opinions, on some of them.”

Perhaps the political spectrum on the 1780’s wasn’t quite as wide or diverse as ours is now, but it’s always worth reminding ourselves that those who disagree with our positions aren’t trying to subvert democracy, destroy America, establish a dictatorship, or any other such thing.  We’re all trying to do the best we can to help America, in the best ways we know how.  Our ideas may conflict, but we don’t have to.

More Beautiful Photography

Last December I shared the web site of an artist who does amazing photography.  Here’s another

I’ve started reading Three Cups of Tea, on the recommendation of a friend, and near the beginning there’s a passing reference to wilderness photographer Galen Rowell, who died in a plane crash while “trying to capture the transcendent beauty” of the mountains of Pakistan, where Three Cups of Tea takes place.  I looked up his web site and found oodles, scads, tons even, of truly magnificent photography. 

Pictured here is one of Gasherbrum, one of the peaks mentioned on the same page of the book as Rowell.  Excellent, isn’t it?  I made it my desktop background at work last week.  You should check out the rest of his work.

A Young Man’s Funeral

This morning I attended the funeral of a 17-year-old.

  • I got there twenty minutes early, and the parking lot was already full; I joined a dozen other cars parked down the street.  By the time the service was over, I noticed that there were more people there than at most stake conferences I’ve ever seen.
  • It was also one of the longer funerals I’ve ever attended.  It was nearly a full hour and a half long, where most are closer to a single hour.  The speakers all just had so many wonderful stories to tell about what kind of young man this was and how he spent his life. 
  • There was certainly grieving and crying, but like many funerals I’ve seen, there was mostly an air of celebrating the boy’s life: the speakers focused much more on their funny and inspiring memories than on lamenting his loss.  One speaker even explicitly quoted another friend as saying that the deceased boy was fine, it was those he left behind who need comfort.  Though many people miss him, everyone there clearly understood that he’s in a better place, and it really changed the atmosphere. 
  • So was it a cheerful funeral?  No, it wasn’t cheerful, but it wasn’t hopeless, either.  He died in a hiking accident, not in a gang shooting, not of a drug overdose, not from reckless driving.  The tragedy here isn’t that he died, or even how he died, but merely that he died so soon, when he clearly had so much rich living left to do, and so many people who enjoyed being blessed by his presence. 
  • In fact, afterwards as I was leaving, I passed a woman who was saying to her friend, “I couldn’t imagine a better way to go.”  Maybe she meant that he died doing something good that he loved, but I also think it applies to how he lived: this was a life largely free of regrets and mistakes–the eulogies testified to that.  I’ve been to other funerals where the real tragedy was that the life of the deceased had been wasted and sterile–mourners were few and had little significant to say about the deceased’s life, other than bland, generic platitudes.  This young man probably did more solid living in 17 years than many people these days do in a full lifetime. 
  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it another million times: the lesson of death is always, always, always this: cherish the living. 

Cheap Bigotry at the Las Vegas Sun

After the Las Vegas Sun ran an especially vile hit piece on Sharron Angle on Sunday, I emailed the following letter to the editor, which they have yet to run.  Perhaps it came a little too close to home:

You should be ashamed of the desperate non-story you ran about Sharron Angle in Sunday’s issue. Author Anjeanette Damon scrutinizes Angle for basing some of her political positions on her religious beliefs. Of course, anyone’s stand on public issues will be informed by their values and opinions, but it’s only worthy of a withering analysis if they’re Christian, apparently.

Damon fails to give any examples of unconstitutional legislation that Angle supports based on her beliefs, so she must cite “experts” who contradict the Christians quoted in the article, and imply a relationship between Angle and those who support the “execution of homosexuals and unchaste women.”

Most of the article is devoted not to Angle but to exposing some shadowy threat of a return to biblical law that will establish a medieval theocracy. Damon worries that leaders like Angle will strip America of “safety net benefits” and “environmental protection” because of their scary beliefs.

Good grief. Care for a cup of paranoid fear mongering with that slice of thinly-veiled bigotry you’re having?

The best Damon can do is to note that Angle said it is not unconstitutional for private religious schools to receive a portion of public funding. Oh no, the fundamentalists are taking over!

If someone had written about a secular liberal using the logic and language of this article, you would be offended, and rightfully so. Please elevate discussions rather than debase them.


A Silly Test of Book of Mormon Authorship

This morning, First Thoughts featured a link to a new tool called “I Write Like…” where writers can compare their work to the styles of famous authors.  The site is clearly an ad for a publishing agency, and gives wildly illogical results: for example, though it correctly identified the first chapter of Huck Finn for me as written in the style of Mark Twain and the short story “Araby” as by James Joyce, it also said the first chapter of Genesis (King James Version) was in the style of Kurt Vonnegut and that the first few paragraphs of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” sounded like H.P. Lovecraft.  Those comparisons are plausible, I suppose, but still a bit far-fetched.

The site does not provide any commentary on its analyses, nor does it even explain its program’s methodology.  Such background information would make this much more enjoyable.  As it is, it’s little more than a cute novelty. 

However, as I played with this toy, I thought about the issue of Book of Mormon authorship.  Though this would hardly be a scholarly study, I wondered what this site would say about it: does all of the text seem to come from one author, or many?  Does it sound like Joseph Smith?  (Though, to be fair, “I Write Like…” surely doesn’t have Smith in its program, nor is it consistent: in the space of two pages, Faulkner’s short story goes from sounding like Lovecraft, apparently, to Vladimir Nabokov.  My test here is purely facetious fun.) 

1 Nephi chapter 1 is written in the style of cyberpunk master William Gibson.  (Strange, I don’t remember Nephi spending much time dwelling on malevolent artificial intelligence.  Perhaps the desert wilderness into which his family was exiled was the Matrix?) 

1 Nephi 22 sounds like Daniel Defoe.  Makes sense.  Nephi Robinson and Lehi Crusoe sure could have used Friday. 

Alma chapter 1 could have come from the pen of Jane Austen, it says.  Continue reading

Teachers and the Ninety and Nine

I’m haunted by the Biblical story about leaving the ninety and nine sheep safely in the fold to go rescue the one lost sheep:

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?

And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.  (Matthew 18:12-13)

As a teacher, does this mean that I should ignore the students who are succeeding and more self-sufficient and spend my time trying to “save” struggling students?

Certainly, this is the mainstream philosophy of public education: I had plenty of professors in college who told prospective teachers, “Don’t worry about the smart kids–they can take care of themselves.”  On any campus of which I’ve ever had any substantial knowledge, the number of programs targeting (and the amount of budget invested in) the needs of high achieving students was dwarfed by the gargantuan industry that is remediation, credit retrieval, and discipline, among plenty more.  A case can be made for these priorities; after all, there are (sadly but honestly) far more kids in America today on the left side of the bell curve than on the right. 

However, mere majority shouldn’t dictate our standards.  Might it not better serve the long range interests of our nation by agreeing to raise the bar and fully develop the potential of those with the most of it, rather than focusing almost exclusively on making minimal gains with the very lowest skilled?  How well would any hospital operate (to borrow a metaphor from Walter Williams) if the vast majority of effort was spent on emergency cases nearing terminal status, and letting the stable patients fend for themselves? 

Still, this doesn’t help me in the classroom, for surely the Savior’s injunction means something to me; it must apply somehow. 

I think I’m figuring out a way in which it does. 

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I Give Another Morningside At Seminary

As this last school year drew near to a close, I figured I just wouldn’t be invited back to speak at the seminary for the high school where I work, even though I’d spoken there the year before, but with only a few weeks left, a couple of young men I know on the student council came and asked me to give another address at the end of May. 

I’d known since right after my first morningside what I’d speak on if I were brought back: living by gospel standards.  Below are the notes I used for my talk a month and a half ago.

  • Review message from last year about Book of Mormon.
  • Share Alma 30:34 & 36:24 about leaders serving to share their joy–and that’s why I’m here (but don’t tell anyone else I care about your happiness–I’ll deny it!).
  • Living by Church standards must be based on our own faith and testimony–anything else won’t last.  Priority–develop a testimony.
  • A lot of people don’t live standards or go to church because they’ve been offended.  Reference Elder Bednar’s talk on offense–don’t deprive yourself of blessings because of someone else.
  • Even if you are active, you must always keep up with prayer and scripture study, or you’ll burn out, like an athlete who ignores diet and exercise.  You can fake it for a while, but you’ll end up angry, hurt, and failing.
  • Call a volunteer to read the parable of the kite:

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.

  • Show my notebooks of church meeting notes and share my summary of President Monson’s talk from Priesthood Session of General Conference last month (ask if anyone remembers what it was about). 
  • My thoughts about standards: BAD LANGUAGE: addictive, as they can see from their peers–try going without it for one day!  Tell them about “no swear club.”  IMMODEST CLOTHES: like bad language, makes us less godly, more like animals.  WORLDLY MEDIA: “It’s just a song/movie, etc.!” you say.  Then let it go.  PORN: not just “bad kids,” or boys, who need help.  Go see bishop asap or it will hurt life–faith, relationships, will steal from every area of life.  Bishop will think more of you, not less, if you go. 
  • Show them my copy of For the Strength of Youth from my wallet, challenge them to keep one also.
  • Close with the miracle of the sod cutter: Last Saturday I was doing yard work for someone with a sod cutter, a huge machine like a cross between a lawn mower and a rototiller on steroids.  After the yard was half removed, it quit.  I pulled the cord several times and the motor wouldn’t turn over.  I inspected it and tried several more times.  Nothing.  I let it sit for about ten minutes as I cleared away the dirt I’d piled up so far, then pulled the cord several more times.  It was still dead.  I took off my hat and prayed in the driveway, asking for the sod cutter to start because this work would help people in need and, since the sod cutter was a rental, needed to be done right now.  I closed the prayer and pulled the cord again.  It started on the first try, smoothly, and didn’t have any problems for the rest of the morning.
  • Testimony: we’re not sent here to see how much we can get away with, we’re here to enjoy the best blessings prepared for us. 

Film Review: The Dead

I had wanted to see John Huston’s final film, a production of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” for years, but it was almost impossible to find.  It had never been released on DVD in the U.S. (though it had in Europe), the VHS was out of print and expensive to obtain, neither the library district nor any retail outlet had a copy…the only possible place to get my hands on it was the one old VHS tape still in the collection of the Lied Library at UNLV.

So, on my last day on campus at the end of this last semester, I went over to the library and borrowed their copy and spent 90 minutes sitting in their staff media room, watching the film.

It was magnificent.  Filmed in a quiet, slow, mutely somber way by film great John Huston, and starring his daughter, the inimitable Angelica Huston, the film is not only scrupulously faithful to its source, but reproduces its sumptuously austere, refined, turn-of-the-century Irish setting with an exultant reverence that invites the viewer to settle into the world of Joyce’s love.  An early scene takes us from a mild party in the parlor, where an old song is being played and sung for the entertainment of the company, to another room where the camera pans and lingers on photographs that provide both back story and further pull us into the emotional landscape.  Most directors would have wasted such a scene as a throwaway over which they’d run the opening credits, perhaps, but in the hands of Huston, as the muted music from below brushes us with its feathers, it becomes an incomparably sublime paean to Ireland. 

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More Summer School Fun!

First of all, I told you so.  I.  Told.  You.  So. 

In my post on Tuesday, I predicted that I would have kids who were absent on that first day of the new session and who would expect to be easily caught up on what they missed.  I had two of them on Wednesday–one girl who simply enrolled a day after class started (representing a week’s worth of missed work), but she strangely got called out of class today and never came back–I guess she and/or her parents changed their mind about taking the class after all.  But then there was this other guy. 

I first noticed him when I took roll and he said that I hadn’t called his name, which I hadn’t done because he hadn’t been there the first day for me to put him on my list.  A few minutes later, when I gave the class their seating chart, he said he wanted a different seat, one by a wall outlet, because he “had to plug in my ankle bracelet and charge it.”  Yes, he had a tracking device from the police on him. 

Later in the day, as people were working, I heard some stifled laughter and looked up.  This kid had moved his desk over to an empty corner of the room and had taken out a charging kit from his backpack, which he’d connected to his ankle bracelet and plugged into the wall.  This was clearly going to be a big distraction for the class, and it was made even worse when he saw me looking and drew everyone else’s attention to the situation by announcing that he had to do this now or he’d be arrested. 

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Very Highly Recommended: Watch Murder On the Orient Express This Sunday

Three days from now, PBS will air the first new episode of their long-running series based on Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries about Detective Hercule Poirot.  Murder On the Orient Express, perhaps Christie’s best and most famous work, has been filmed multiple times, including as a star-studded extravaganza from the 70’s.  Check your local listings, but here in Las Vegas the new version will air on channel 10 from 9:00-10:30 PM this Sunday night, July 11. 

I just found out about it this morning when I was reviewing the history of the book online this morning, in preparation for a challenge I just gave my daughter.  A few months ago, I promised her a hot fudge sundae if she could figure out who the killer was in Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, before his identity was revealed.  She read it, solved it, and got her treat.  I just offered her another test: catch the killer in the ultimate mystery classic, Murder On the Orient Express, before Poirot, this time with a banana split at stake. 

When I read this in college, I couldn’t put it down until I’d burned through the whole thing, thrilled by an outrageous twist ending that did occur to me while reading, but which I never considered seriously until Christie actually did it.  The ending was even more clever than the twist at the end of Roger Ackroyd

I’ve loved the Poirot series on PBS for years, though I’ve only ever mentioned it once on here (it’s #47 on this list).  If you enjoy quality film and acting, British murder mysteries, classics, or anything new and worthy, definitely check it out.

What are the odds that this new show would air just days after I’d brought it up with my own children?  Whatever the circumstances of this serendipitous situation, one thing’s for sure: my daughter definitely doesn’t get to see this movie until after she reads the book and tries to solve the murder herself.  No cheating!

The Right Thing, At the Right Time, For the Right Reason

This phrase came to mind as a title for this post as I thought about its practical application.  Two weeks ago our Gospel Doctrine class in church covered the fall of King David.  As much as this dramatic tragedy is studied throughout the world, the part of this story that resonates most meaningfully to me is a tiny detail near the beginning that is rarely mentioned.  I haven’t seen it in any manual, and I’ve only ever heard it in one lesson, but it’s stuck with me for many years. 

David was a special, powerful, favored man of God, yet he ended up an adulterer and a murderer.  How did this happen?  Where did his slide begin?  The first verse of the story, 2 Samuel 11:1, tells us. 

And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah.  But David tarried still at Jerusalem.  (emphasis added)

It’s hard not to read that editorial note of disapproval in the last part.  Until this point, nothing negative is shown of David; afterwards, it’s all downhill.  This is where the tragedy started.  David was supposed to attend a meeting of kings, but instead sent servants.  He took a day off and hung around in Jerusalem.  While he was indulging in playing hooky from work, he saw Bathsheba, and I think we all know where things from there. 

The lesson for us is pretty clear: sins of omission, such as skipping meetings or other mundane routines of the disciple’s life, are the beginning of a downhill spiral into destruction.  David didn’t go from being a prophet to a pervert overnight; it started with a refusal to carry out a simple obligation of regular duty. 

May we be warned. 

NOTE: I stand corrected.  I just looked this verse up at the wonderful scripture study site at BYU, and found that this verse was used to teach this principle by Neal A. Maxwell in 2001:

There are so many ways to keep the shielding seventh commandment firmly in place. Instructively, for instance, David’s fall, at least in part, was facilitated because he was not where duty lay: “It came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, … David tarried still at Jerusalem” ( 2 Sam. 11:1). Then, as you know, came the lustful view from the roof and all the sadness that followed. Implicit, therefore, in the instruction “Stand ye in holy places” is to avoid indulgent tarrying ( D&C 87:8; see also Matt. 24:15).

Et Tu, Sue Lowden?

I previously criticized Republican Senate candidate Sue Lowden for a sleazy, mud-slinging TV ad which insinuated that fellow candidate Sharron Angle was in bed with the Church of Scientology and conspired with them to promote a cushy rehabilitative program for prisoners. 

Now that Angle has won the primary and is up against Harry Reid in November, the Reid machine has pulled out all the stops to incriminate her.  Sadly, the first major TV spot Reid launched against Angle last month featured footage  lifted straight from the Lowden ad! 

Please, correct me if I’m wrong–and I really do want to be wrong on this one–but I can only think of one way the Reid campaign could have legally used that footage: with the permission of the Lowden campaign that created it.  Is this right?  Did Sue Lowden help Harry Reid make a commercial to defeat the woman who defeated her?  Would she get Reid reelected just for a chance to keep smearing Angle?  I want to be wrong about this because that just seems too low for anyone to stoop. 

Here’s a screen shot of the older anti-Angle footage from the Lowden campaign, complete with the Tom Cruise picture in the corner, recycled in the Reid ad:

Here’s the whole Reid ad itself:

And, just to jog your memory, here’s the original Lowden ad with the same footage given to Reid:

Twelve Notes About Summer School

Today was the first day of the second session of summer school.  Twelve notes about this summer so far:

  • On the first day, I asked kids to write down a few hobbies and interesting things about themselves so I could learn their names better.  One boy put down for his first hobby, “smoking.”  A girl wrote one word: “lesbian.”
  • One boy put down “tattooing” as a hobby.  I can’t help but notice just how many kids have tattoos now.  They’re not small, either.  Maybe a quarter of the boys in summer school have large tattoos on their arms, and it’s long since become very common for teenage girls to have lumbar tattoos.  These aren’t amateur tats done by friends in their bedrooms, these are professional store-bought works.  Clearly, they’re getting these either with parental approval or money, or at least without opposition.  What are these parents thinking?  Permanently scarring the body of a teenager?  How do they think this will affect them in life, already setting the bar of acceptable behavior that low?  If they’re getting tattoos at 15, what do they think their children will they be doing at 25?  Volunteering to read to blind orphans at the hospital? 
  • On the first day of class, I noticed two kids who spent their down time between assignments doodling in their notebooks.  They drew mushrooms and one girl decorated a graffiti-styled “420,” a popular reference to marijuana smoking.  She also had a 504, which isn’t surprising–I’ve come to believe that much of America’s special education, therapy, and remediation for teens is just treating their drug use. 
  • When I asked students to write interesting things about themselves for first day introductions, several put down their ethnicity. Continue reading