What the Left and Right Both Get Right

A pair of recent New York Times features asked political thinkers on both sides of the aisle what the other side gets right.  The columns are each fascinating: I enjoyed the recognition of key conservative principles in “What the Right Gets Right,” and I can easily agree with most of “What the Left Gets Right.”  Highly recommended.

From “What the Right Gets Right:”

It recognizes “the importance of material incentives in shaping behavior, and the difficulty in keeping bureaucracies under control and responsive to citizens.”

It is skeptical of “the application of social science theories to real world problems” and cognizant of “human fallibility/corruptibility.”

It places a high value on “liberty/autonomy.”

It places a similarly high value on “good parenting.”

It acknowledges “the superiority of market systems for encouraging efficient use of resources.”

From “What the Left Gets Right:”

Liberals are sensitive to the unsettling potential of income disparities. They are attentive to the overreaching of the federal government through its national security apparatus. They are less likely to pretend that scientific questions – is the planet getting warmer, for example, and if so, why? – are really ideological questions. They understand that the legacies of two centuries of slavery and another of Jim Crow are still active and still debilitating. And they are more realistic about the limits of American military power than many conservatives.


Just Another Excuse to Talk About Aardvarks

Sometimes, school work will include questions where the correct answer is “none.”  For example, “Identify any subordinate clauses in this sentence: The movie was too long.”

Today, I started telling my classes that workbook assignments that ask them to write “none” as the answer to a question are boring.  Instead, I asked them to start putting “aardvark” as the answer to such questions.  This resulted in some practice questions in class going like this:

Me: So how many commas need to be added to this example to make it correct?

Class:  Aardvark.

Me: Very good.

A Case Study in Lazy Political Complacency

My last post a few minutes ago was about an essay at the wonderful education blog Brainstorm.  However, one author there is so insufferably, pedantically narrow minded, she doesn’t even make me upset, just bored.

In a recent post, she bemoans the fact that the current GOP campaign has not yet produced a critical witticism that compares conservatives to excrement.  She repeats a slew of stale talking points about the Right, and adds what are supposed to be insights, such as:

Which leaves us in need of the perfect aphorism as a response to the crazy ones coming our way from the GOP candidates.

Typical elitist blather parading as substance.  The whole post means little more than this: “If you disagree with me, then you are very dumb.”

Two days earlier, another post of hers stated that many conservatives are white and Christian and, therefore, have policies motivated purely by hatred.  She calls conservatives racists six times herself, and employs similar epithets several more times additionally.  No attempt is made to survey the actual claims of conservatives, assess the effects of their policies, defend her own ideas, or (horror!) take into account the humanity of those who differ from her, who simply get lumped into starkly negative stereotypes.

Her conclusion:

It is time for the news media, even outlets as white as The New York Times, to start calling the GOP what it is–a party that manipulates white resentment and white privilege in order to gain votes.

Again, the translation: “If you disagree with me, then you are very dumb and very, very bad.”

The Value of Term Papers

The brilliant professor Mark Bauerlein scores yet another direct hit in a recent post about the value of those old-fashioned writing assignments:

In my classes I include both types of assignments, short, one-page writings and longer 7-page papers (I rarely go over 10 pages these days, but I try to make the class have 25-30 pages of finished writing overall.)  I also make students bring in their rough drafts so that we may go over them sentence by sentence, word by word.  (I’m lucky to have small classes.)  It is a novel experience for many of them.  To have a reader pause over the placement of a modifier, and to have to think about such things as a writer, is altogether new.  The deliberation simply doesn’t go along with digital communication habits.  Until we see students paying closer attention to diction and syntax, we should keep traditional writing assignments as a good portion of the work.

Actually, this quote is more of a defense of revision than word count, but it’s still the money quote in a great piece.  By far the single biggest factor holding back anyone’s writing is lack of sustained effort–we naturally feel that a simple first draft gets the job done, and that’s that…and we teachers all too often reward such sloppy work by letting it slide by.  Teaching students to care about and focus on every word is the best writing training we can give.

Catholic Scholar at First Things Gives Book of Mormon Backhanded Praise

A new article up at First Things recounts a Catholic professor’s experience reading the Book of Mormon.  Although he does not have a spiritual experience with it, he finds much to praise in its insistent focus on Christ, and some to criticize in its drabness.  I rejoice whenever anyone recognizes the former, and frankly have no argument with the latter.  Though any Mormon would quibble with a few things in the piece, he brings up some terrific points–I especially like the whole “grandfather’s funeral” analogy–and the whole thing is definitely worth reading.  The money quote:

Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait.

I came to this conclusion when I read through the Book of Mormon for the first time. I already knew the basic outline: that it recounts the journey of a people God led from Jerusalem to the Americas six hundred years before the birth of Christ. In America, they split into two groups, the good guys (the Nephites) and the bad guys (the Lamanites), who battled each other until there were no good guys left—except for Moroni (Mormon’s son), who buried the chronicles of their wars and then, in 1823, told a farm boy from upstate New York where to find them.

When I actually read this book, however, I was utterly surprised. I was not moved, mind you. The Book of Mormon has to be one of the most lackluster of all the great works of literature that have inspired enduring religious movements. Yet it is dull precisely because it is all about Jesus. Continue reading

NPR’s Fresh Air Praises Mitt Romney’s Faith

The NPR program Fresh Air interviewed the authors of a new book about Mitt Romney a few days ago.  The authors, two reporters for the Boston Globe, did a lot of homework in digging into Romney’s life.  The surprising thing about what they concluded–and how the NPR show presented it–was that it was mostly very positive.

Occasionally, news outlets will follow two young missionaries around for a day and write a story about it.  I’ve seen such stories locally a few times.  As interesting as that might be to non-Mormons, though, I’ve always wished someone would shadow and report on things like Ward Council meetings or family home evening or home teaching.  That’s where the real meat of regular Mormon life is.  A day in the life of a bishop is far more fascinating than a day in the life of a missionary.

While the NPR story did spend several minutes on Romney’s mission, it also described his service as a stake president.  It recounted some controversy–objectively–but mostly it dwelled on the Christlike ministration such a calling entails.  One excerpt:

So you’re absolutely right that you will find divergent views of Mitt Romney from the people he led. One of the things I was most surprised in doing the research in this book was to learn how incredibly charitable and generous he has been – he and his family have been – in often very quiet ways, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways. But it’s not something he ever, or that he rarely, I would say, talked about. And I found that sort of fascinating, especially in light of sort of how he’s sort of viewed today.

The whole thing is worth listening to, or you could browse the transcript.

Missionary Reality Check

My family read Alma 21 in the Book of Mormon this week ; a zealous young missionary teaches in a hostile city, encountering intensely reflexive skepticism, then:

 10 And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake.

 11 Therefore, when he saw that they would not hear his words, he departed out of their synagogue, and came over to a village which was called Ani-Anti, and there he found Muloki preaching the word unto them; and also Ammah and his brethren. And they contended with many about the word.

 12 And it came to pass that they saw that the people would harden their hearts, therefore they departed and came over into the land of Middoni. And they did preach the word unto many, and few believed on the words which they taught.

Wow.  That’s three whole cities that almost totally reject the message in the same number of verses.  This compact little narrative surely illustrates not only the nature of reality, but the Book of Mormon’s accuracy in depicting it.

Continue reading

10 Things I Love About Las Vegas

I’m a rarity–a native Las Vegan who was born before 1990.  However, I’ve always been pretty crusty about my hometown–few bandwagons are as easy to climb on around here than the one for grousing about Sin City’s failings.  One of my lifelong goals is even to go live somewhere else–anywhere quite the opposite of Las Vegas.  Still, here are ten things I love about Las Vegas:

1.  Sunrise and sunset.  The beginnings and end of almost every day here are a majestic work of art.  Couldn’t tell you why; all I know is that I tried to find some pictures that would do it justice, and simply nothing out there captures the beauty of our skyscape.  I’ve often pulled over while driving just to watch one for a minute, or thought about making a book that chronicles our sunrises and sunsets every day for a year.

2.  Wide streets.  Anytime I’ve visited the Eastern half of the country, I’ve always been amazed by the tiny streets.  Some state capitals I’ve been to have tiny, four- or even two-lane roads, and these are their major travelways.  It’s amazing that anybody ever gets anywhere.  Las Vegas must have some of the widest roads in the country–it’s not unusual for even a side street leading into a neighborhood to have six lanes.  Most major roads have eight total lanes, and some of our biggest streets could easily accommodate ten cars from side to side.  Our city planning is often slipshod, but someone hit a home run with the huge streets.

3.  Winter.  While it feels dangerous to even go outside for more than a few minutes for most of July and August, we’re in our best time of year now, in my opinion–our mild winters.  Yes, it does get cold here–the temperature will often dip well below freezing–but that’s nothing compared to the onslaught of snow, ice, sleet, and hail that most of the country will endure with grim determination for the next few months.  Meanwhile, Las Vegans will just have to put on a sweater and enjoy the peace.

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The Global Genocide of Baby Girls

All abortions are not created equal.  The numbers are chilling: around the world, babies prenatally identified as female are far, far more likely to be aborted than male babies.  This has resulted in many major societies now having a huge imbalance in genders: there are way too many young men and not nearly enough young women.

This summary of the situation in The New Atlantis adds up the birth dearth: “The unnatural ‘girl deficit’ for females 0-19 years of age as of 2010 would have totaled roughly 32-33 million by both UNPD and IPC figures.”  That’s more than 30 million young men around the world who have absolutely no chance of ever starting a family of their own and, oh yeah, more than 30 million women who never even got to be born.

These abortions have nothing to do with “choice,” “rights,” “lifestyle,” or any of the other usual Western tropes.  These 30 million babies were aborted simply because they were girls.  If they had been male, most if not all of them would have been carried to term and delivered.  Ironically, making abortion one of the vanguards of American feminism has resulted in a global trend that has purposely decimated the Earth’s female population.

My wife and I are expecting another baby in May.  I couldn’t be happier.  It’s a girl.

Managing Time When You Don’t Have Much Left

To start a unit on time management with my Leadership class this week, I showed them Randy Pausch’s lecture on the subject.  First, I had to show them his Wikipedia page to explain why he was famous, then I told them about The Last Lecture, and then I showed them a clip of his cameo in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.  I pointed out to them that most lectures on time management don’t get 1.3 million hits on YouTube–this guy was someone special.

I know it’s over an hour long, but it’s worth your time.  It’s a “greatest hits” condensation of every useful strategy you’ve ever heard, and it’s delivered with more wit and grace than it’s fair for any one man to have.


Why I Never Bothered Finishing Eragon

I’ve started many books which I’ve stopped reading before they were finished–some after only a few chapters, others when I was halfway through–but there has only been one where I read far more than half and then decided that I had wasted enough time on it.  That was Eragon; I only had 50 pages left when I stopped and never looked back.  I quit because at that point, the rest of the book was clear and my hope that it would get better was fully crushed.

I thought I’d bring this up now since the last book in the series has just started dominating the best seller lists, like the fantasy equivalent of another Adam Sandler movie: dishearteningly popular despite total stupidity.

Speaking of movies, in a footnote (see #71)  to his scathing review of the Eragon film, which somehow managed to be even more bland and lifeless than the novel, Eric D. Snider pinpoints the imaginative failure of this story:

Here’s what happens in the movie version of “Eragon.” A petulant young man without parents lives with his uncle on a remote farm. The boy finds an object belonging to the imperial ruler, and the ruler sends soldiers to the farm to retrieve it, killing the uncle in the process. The boy then meets with an old man whom the locals consider crazy, and he explains the boy’s destiny, training him in the ways of an ancient art that is no longer practiced but which was once a powerful means of keeping peace in the world. The old man himself was once a practitioner, and in fact so was the imperial ruler; they were friends, even. But the ruler suffered a great personal loss and turned to the dark side, becoming evil and standing by as nearly everyone who practiced the art was killed. It is now up to the young man to be trained in these ways so he can do battle with the imperial ruler and defeat his evil empire.

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Sunset Regret

Two mornings ago, I saw one of the most beautiful sights of my life.  As I walked out to my car at six a.m. to leave for work, just as the sky was barely starting to turn from black to blue in the east, I saw the full moon, radiant, hovering just over the western horizon, its glow illuminating the highest ridges of the mountains in a haunting echo of light.

But I just got in my car and left.  Yesterday it didn’t look quite as good, and today, when I actually took a camera outside with me, I found that the moon had already waned enough that it was just an oblong blob, and far too high in the sky for its light to connect with anything.

So I wasted a chance to preserve–and share with you–one of the best things my eyes have ever been blessed with seeing.  But I’ve seen the moon like this on other mornings over the years, and I’ll remember this and try to find the scene again next month.

Santorum and Obama Make the Same Awful Claim

On Monday, Rick Santorum and President Barack Obama said essentially the same thing in campaign speeches they each gave: that if the other party wins in November, the America that their supporters love will disappear forever.

Santorum said, “If Barack Obama is re-elected, then America as we know it…as we know it…will be gone. We will be a statist country.”

Obama said, “The very core of what this country stands for is on the line — the basic promise that no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, this is a place where you could make it if you try. The notion that we’re all in this together, that we look out for one another — that’s at stake in this election.”

The fear-mongering here is identical: “my opponents will destroy our way of life.”  Neither man has the respect for his supporters to be any more subtle than that.  There are no shades of gray, no agreeing to disagree, no benefit of the doubt and credit given for the values and motives of others.  The message is that those who don’t fall in line are simply evil.

This isn’t much different from what the actress Cameron Diaz said on Oprah in 2004, that if George Bush were reelected, rape could become legal: “We have a voice now, and we’re not using it, and women have so much to lose. I mean, we could lose the right to our bodies. We could lo–if you think that rape should be legal, then don’t vote. But if you think that you have a right to your body, and you have a right to say what happens to you and fight off that danger of losing that, then you should vote…”

People vying to be the leader of the free world now use language not far removed from that of hysterical starlets.  Shame on both Santorum and Obama for such cheap, shallow demagoguery.