Two Great New Articles About Education Standards

An article just posted in the new City Journal exposes the problem of lowered expectations in No Child Left Behind’s obsession with “proficiency.”  I worry that students now graduate high school thinking that that word denotes some amazing accomplishment, not realizing that it only indicates bare minimum competence.  The law of unintended consequences at work, but no big surprise.

But NCLB’s accountability system led to another distortion, this one harming top students. Because the law emphasized mere “proficiency,” rewarding schools for getting their students to achieve that fairly low standard, teachers and administrators had an incentive to boost the test scores of their lowest-performing students but no incentive to improve instruction for their brightest.

And the Wall Street Journal looks at lowered expectations via legally mandated “accommodations” for a slew of self-perceived “disabilities.”  Great article, but I wish they’d also mentioned ADHD.

Schools are required to extend “reasonable accommodations” for students with documented disabilities—including psychological ones—to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

But there’s hand-wringing among university administrators and faculty about how to support college students with mental health issues while making sure young adults progress academically. One of the goals of college, after all, is to prepare students for the working world. And not every boss may be OK with a blown deadline for a critical client report, no matter the reason. Professors also want to make sure they’re being fair to all students.

I’ve been carping on things like these for years.  Our public schools have been neutered to the point of system-wide impotence largely thanks to policies like the ones analyzed above.  I’m overjoyed that people are talking about them, though.

Two New Quotes For You

From Sol Stern’s “A Solution for Gotham’s Reading Woes,” City Journal, Summer 2011:

Noting that SAT reading scores nose-dived in the 1960s and have remained flat ever since, Hirsch blames the nation’s education schools. “Our teachers and administrators are taught brilliant slogans like ‘rote regurgitation of mere facts’ which make factual knowledge sound objectionable,” Hirsch writes, “and they are told that a deeper, better approach is the ‘how-to’ scheme of education. Don’t give students a fish; teach them how to fish. Don’t tell them what to think, teach them critical thinking skills. Don’t teach them factoids, teach them comprehension strategies.” To the contrary, it is precisely the accumulation of facts—whether in history, science, the arts, or civics—that enables young readers to move from the foundational skill of decoding the written words of the English language (that is, phonics) to a deeper comprehension of complex texts.

From Alan Jacobs’ “We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading,” Chronicle of Higher Education, July 31, 2011:

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Klavan On Immortal Art

I haven’t read much by Andrew Klavan in a while, but today I got blown away by a quick appreciation he wrote of one of my favorite people in the world: the superhumanly brilliant Mark Steyn. 

In the comments, one woman writes that when she told Steyn that his book America Alone made her laugh hysterically and then get very, very scared, Steyn wrote back, “Excellent.  That’s exactly what I wanted.”

But here’s Klavan’s money quote:

The dying of things—of art forms and civilizations as well as people—seems to me the inevitable and steady state of the world: a point of view that leaves me prone more to melancholy than to panic. What I really care about now is the immortal parts of mortal enterprise. I want to get at the spirit of human business: the wisdom and vitality of a culture’s Great Moment preserved in the artifacts it leaves behind. The irrelevant—the stuff that doesn’t matter but is simply beautiful—the music, the poetry, the pictures and storytelling—the arts—that’s where all the joy is, and it’s the joy that seems more urgent to me as the years pass.


You Are Not a Gadget…Or A Passive, Vacuous Techno-Consumer

“It has become appalingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”     –Albert Einstein

Einstein was mostly talking about the bomb, and how we don’t have the maturity to handle such a powerful weapon wisely.  His thought applies equally well to that other insidious invention of the last century, electronic entertainment.

I was thinking of this again this week as I read a brief new essay at City Journal, Adam Thierer’s even-handed, thoughtful review of the new book You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, by Jaron Lanier.  Lanier writes persuasively, Thierer agrees, about the need for caution and analysis in our application of online technology, but he also singles out some of Lanier’s major themes and disagrees with them.  In this, Thierer’s review is faulty: when he tries to rebut Lanier’s points, he falls into a trap of contrarian clichés, asserting blindly that Lanier is wrong:

Indeed, Lanier and other Internet critics—including Neil Postman (Technopoly), Lee Siegel (Against the Machine), and Mark Helprin (Digital Barbarism)—are guilty of a form of hyper-nostalgia about some mythical “good ol’ days” when all was supposedly much better. But despite the hand-wringing and occasional “techno-panics,” we somehow evolve and endure—and our culture grows more diverse, too.

It’s interesting that Thierer uses Neil Postman as one of his references as a promulgator of the “mythical ‘good ol’ days,'” when much of Postman’s most popular book, Amusing Ourselves To Death, establishes quite firmly that general literacy and attention spans used to be significantly greater than they have been since the introduction of mental-labor saving devices during the 20th century.  Thierer commits his greatest fallacy, though, when he asserts that “despite the hand-wringing and occasional ‘techno-panics,’ we somehow evolve and endure—and our culture grows more diverse, too.” 

This is patently false. 

Thierer seems to base his claim in the fact that technology critics predict dire consequences, yet we’re all still here, therefore the prophets of doom are wrong.  But nobody ever said that turning over more and more of our intellectual autonomy to electronic toys would completely destroy us (except, of course, for The Terminator, The Matrix, and pretty much everything Michael Crichton wrote), but that it would result in a world increasingly sterile in its mental acumen.  Is there any way to deny that that’s exactly what’s happened?

This week I watched an episode of PBS’s Frontline, from just last month, called “Digital Nation.”  It’s a stunning documentary about how the minds and lives of young people have been fundamentally changed by their sudden and total immersion in an electronic entertainment technology climate.  Continue reading

Recommended Reading: Mr. Sammler’s Planet

sammlerIt’s been a year since I read this review in City Journal of Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow’s 1970 masterpiece, Mr. Sammler’s Planet.  That’s how long something has to stand in line when it gets onto my to do list. 

This young curmudgeon loved every page.  The City Journal review lauds it largely for its precision in describing the squalid conditions of late-60’s/early 70’s New York City.  The first chapter, especially, is a delicately, surgically rendered reproduction of a previously fine world that’s fraying, splitting, flying to pieces. 

After about fifty pages I regretted reading a library copy and not buying it, because almost every page had these exquisitely quotable axioms about life that seemed like natural landmarks.  I wanted to underline them and keep them.  They belong in a museum.  Here’s just one: “Perhaps when people are so desperately impotent they play that instrument, the personality, louder and wilder.”  Yes. 

This is also the most literate, philosophical book I’ve ever read.  Usages of classic literature appear almost as frequently as the word “the.”  Not just references–usages.  No name dropping, but elements of everything from Norse mythology to Ulysses integrated into the text, gorgeously. 

That actually leads to the book’s only soft spot: Continue reading

Broke Means Nevada To Me

City Journal is in the process of posting articles from its Spring issue.  Most of what’s appeared so far is great…which makes it only average by City Journal‘s standards.  This publication so regularly soars beyond excellence that to be an above-average issue it must transcend the mundane limits of reality…which it has, more than once.

Looking at the table of contents, I’m fascinated by an upcoming article by Alain de Botton (author of one of my very favorite books, How Proust Can Change Your Life) apparently about Roman pessimism, and of course I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming appearance of Theodore Dalrymple’s newest foray into social criticism.  As always, the requisite article about the economic situation taught me plenty.

But the standout so far is this one: “Spendthrift Sunbelt States.”  Nicole Gelinas is one of City Journal‘s best writers (remember, that’s saying a lot), and her talent for synthesizing a diverse universe of facts, and distilling them into a concise and incisive analysis, is on display here in full glory.  Like her colleague Heather MacDonald, Gelinas could find a pattern that offers meaningful commentary in phone books from all the state capitals, and compose a report on it with all the eloquence and precision of Lincoln imitating Montaigne imitating Cicero. 

Seriously, why isn’t the staff office at this magazine messing up the Earth’s magnetic poles because it’s so full of metal from their monopoly of Pulitzer Prizes?

But back to “Spendthrift Sunbelt States,” I was drawn to it because I live in Nevada, one of the three nouveau riche states that have squandered their wealth in their desperate attemtps to impress the older kids who get to sit at the cool table: New York and California.  Gelinas breaks down the spending trends and the evidence would be irrefutable, if I hadn’t already been observing the shift toward profligacy with my own eyes over the last twenty years.  (Hey, Nicole, have you heard about Mayor Oscar Goodman’s latest bit of windmill tilting: his obsession with building a new city hall that we don’t need, can’t afford, and which won’t permanently help the economy?) 

After reading it, I sent an email that I hope to see printed in the next issue, sharing anecdotes about home prices and foreclosures in my area, as well as one of my favorite illustrations of our slide from hardy, independent libertarians into big-government dependency: the sign that used to stand at the state line in the 1940’s that said, “No income tax, no sales tax, no inheritance tax, no corporation tax, no gift tax” and “A debt free state welcomes you.”


Two Recent Articles On Effective Teachers

What makes an effective teacher?  What’s the meaning of life?  What do women want?  (Blame Freud for that last one, not me.)  These three questions have excited so much postulating and pontificating that many thinkers have given up on trying to answer them at all, instead resigning themselves to the apparent inevitability of resolving such baffling conundrums.  However, recently, two of America’s best major magazines have run thought-provoking features intended to address the first query above. 


            Malcolm Gladwell (author of the bestsellers Blink, Outliers, and The Tipping Point) reported in December 2008 on the burgeoning field of statistical quantification as it relates to the field of education in The New Yorker.  Gladwell summarizes the findings of one expert in the piece as showing that “the difference between good teachers and poor teachers turns out to be vast,” noting that teacher competence has a far greater impact on student achievement than class size or even (perceived) school quality.  Another expert—Jacob Kounin—emphasizes the importance of what he calls “withitness”—a preternatural awareness of a class’s immediate climate.


            Continue reading

Recent Reactionary Readings

Perhaps I’m so taken with conservative thought not only because it’s the most rational political philosophy, but also because it’s being articulated by some of the most talented sculptors of felicitous prose out there today.  The only things I like more than quality products in an area of my inetrest are quality products that combine multiple areas of interest.  Mark Steyn, for example, is conservative, a talented writer, and funnier than that satirical farce written by Lewis Carroll’s and Dave Barry’s genetically enhanced clone. 

Three things I’ve read in the last couple of days are prime examples of this elementally effective commingling of content and style with which I’m so gleefully taken, like a passive-aggressive, effeminate egomaniac with Twilight

First, screenwriter Burt Prelutsky’s essays in WorldNetDaily have been a staple of my intellectual intake for years.  He keeps within a fairly narrow range of topics, but his anecdotes and quick, witty disarming of liberal bloviating are so refreshing that they function as my morning pick-me-up each midweek morning. 

The money quote from this week’s essay:

Liberals are in favor of open borders because they feel sorry for those people sneaking across. It doesn’t occur to liberals that American citizens suffer from the influx of millions of impoverished illiterates. They are not concerned with the drain on schools, hospitals, jobs and prisons, because what’s important for liberals is that they feel good about themselves. It’s a unique type of selfishness because it’s disguised as an altruistic concern for others. It’s the same reason they oppose capital punishment. They don’t care about the victims or their loved ones. Any schmuck, after all, can sympathize with innocent people. But it takes a very special kind of individual to hold a candlelight vigil for a monster who had raped and murdered a child. A very special kind, indeed.

Next, the inestimable Mr. Steyn himself, who returns from his sabbatical with essays such as this one, typically full of caustic insights somehow so good-natured that they vivisect current events like a surgical laser but leave a fresh, pine-tree scent afterwards. 

Example, on the long-term value implications of last month’s election, namely, that a majority of Americans appear to be enamored of increasingly imitating a European-style socialist state:

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Book Review: Empire of Lies

I first took notice of Andrew Klavan last year when he wrote a jaw-droppingly devastating essay for City Journal called “The Big White Lie,” about the obvious logical failures of liberalism.  After that, I checked out some of his mystery novels from the library, and was suitably entertained.  More recently, his City Journal essay “Story Time,” which illustrates what the loss of fatherhood has done to the young of our country, also had me cheering.

So when I heard he had a new novel out, and that it was a scathing indictment of pop-America’s shallow political understanding to boot, I immediately got a copy.  Like Robert Ferrigno’s Sins of the Assassin, it’s about Islamic terrorism and has a basically conservative agenda (a subcategory of the mystery genre at which I’ve also tried my hand).  Also like Sins, it has some pretty consistent foul language, though not nearly to the extent that Ferrigno’s novel had.  Still, it’s probably a bit over the top (Klavan is most likely trying to impress us with how “gritty and gripping” his vision is), and the reader should be warned.

Klavan no doubt had his City Journal essays in mind as he wrote the novel, which makes a big deal out of both the left’s poor grasp of reality and the consequences of fatherlessness.  The plot is nothing earth-shattering, and handled predictably.  One gets the idea that the story here is secondary, a mere vehicle for Klavan’s pontificating. 

Not that that’s always a bad thing.  It’s refreshing to read an unabashedly conservative work of fiction (I suppose mean-spirited critics could contend that all conservative works might as well be fiction, but I digress). 

Klavan wants us to see the many conflicting sides of his narrator, who comes across realistically and originally enough.  Still, as much as Klavan wants to play a hard-boiled psychologist, I couldn’t help comparing him to the mystery master under whom he seems to have apprenticed, John D. MacDonald, and MacDonald’s running protagonist, Travis McGee.  When Klavan’s hero, everyman Jason Harrow, is being tough, he’s still not as tough as McGee, and when he shows us his vulnerable side, he’s not nearly as sensitive as McGee.  By the way, if you’ve never read MacDonald, stop wasting your time perusing my blog and read The Lonely Silver Rain.  Seriously. 

Klavan’s title, Empire of Lies, refers to a minor character’s summary of the decrepit state of the American media’s information gathering and use, especially as it pertains to politics.  Interestingly, the same thing happens in Michael Crichton’s 2005 State of Fear: a minor character uses the title in a tirade that conveys the author’s primary theme, perhaps too bluntly, and that is meant to illuminate the protagonist who listens.  You’ll notice that the two titles are even virtually synonymous. 

Also like State of Fear, there’s another supporting character who is clearly based on a real celebrity.  In Crichton’s novel, it was a pompous leftist actor who was then “playing the president of the United States on television,” a la Martin Sheen, and who meets a viciously unsavory fate due to his own skewed perception of the world.  Klavan’s caricature isn’t nearly as hostile, and is far more humorous.  Klavan’s character, Patrick Piersall, used to play the leader of a spaceship on a 60’s TV show, then became a fat drunk with a bad hairpiece, then hosted a cheesy real-crime show, and finally stars as an attorney on a “cutting-edge” TV drama.  Yes, folks, Klavan’s novel mocks a mirror image of good old William Shatner.

The parallel goes further than that, though.  Any good nerd knows that Captain Kirk’s middle name was Tiberius.  Klavan’s character, Piersall, played a starship leader named Augustus Kane.  Nothing makes a good joke like an allusion to another Caesar, right, Mr. Klavan?  (Incidentally, nobody else seems to have written about this.  Before drafting this post, I googled “Andrew Klavan Empire of Lies William Shatner,” and only got results for bookstores that carried books by both Klavan and Shatner.  It doesn’t speak well of America’s geeks if this book has been out for two months and I spotted this first.  Please, please tell me that somebody else has pointed this out.)

So is it any good?  Yes, it’s worth reading, if you’re looking to have your conservative worldview reinforced without too much depth, or if you want to kill a weekend with a friendly workhorse of a thriller that won’t surprise you too much.  Don’t take that too harshly, though: Klavan is very skilled at introducing a twist at the end of a chapter so that you just have to start the next one.  It does make it easier to swallow. And I have to admit, it’s fun seeing all those anti-PC ideas I read about in op-eds put into action in a fictional setting that makes them exciting and crucial to beating the bad guy.  Yeah!

But, since I’m thinking about them now, I might do you a better favor if I recommended any of MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels or Crichton’s State of Fear (Crichton gets pegged as a science-fiction writer–he is, after all, the guy who wrote Jurassic Park–but I think his real love lies with mystery; remember Rising Sun?  Man, that book just burned white hot from cover to cover).  Yes, I’d recommend any of those…or Klavan’s excellent City Journal essays.

Oh, and those of you who really haven’t ever read MacDonald and who are still reading this…dude, what gives?  What did you not understand at the end of paragraph five?  Listen: The Lonely Silver Rain.  Do it.  Now. 

Final Grade: B-

Quotes, Pics, And Clips II

ARTS:  One of my favorite songs is Peter Gabriel’s “Book of Love.”  The singer here grumbles about the confusing various faces of love, alternating between praise for the bracingly ennobling nature of romantic love (“some of it’s just transcendental”) and the heartbreak of disappointment and disillusionment (“some of it’s just really dumb”).  The chorus, however, proclaims the singer’s ultimate devotion to the mature relationship that produces this weird magic.

I’ve read some purist critics say they prefer the original by indie band The Magnetic Fields, but two things make Gabriel’s cover superior.  First is the addition of some understated strings, which can add to a song that’s already reflective a profoundly nostalgic dimension (case in point: R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming”).  Second, Gabriel’s voice.  It sounds weary throughout, perhaps from being burdened by intense emotional experience, but in the choruses it climbs into a realm of subdued power that sounds like sandpaper soaked in whiskey. 

Surprisingly, there aren’t very many good videos for this song on YouTube.  One decent version is set to scenes from 2005’s Pride and Prejudice.  Most every melancholy love song has a YouTube video made of scenes from this movie.  Also available are a few amateur covers, most of which are actually quite good.  Below is one set to some well chosen companion images. 

EDUCATION:  “Everyone ought to have the opportunity to transcend the limitations of his linguistic environment, if it is a restricted one–which means he ought to meet a few schoolmarms in his childhood…It is fatuous to expect that the most complex of human faculties, language, requires no special training to develop it to its highest possible power.”  -Theodore Dalrymple, “The Gift of Language,” City Journal, Autumn 2006

HUMOR:  excerpted from “Anticlimactic Twilight Zone Episodes,” by Jim Stallard, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 8/5/05:

Eye of the Beholder

In a hospital, her head completely wrapped in bandages, a young woman waits for the result of a last-ditch operation to alter her disfigured face so she will not have to be sent to live at a reservation of outcasts. Throughout the episode, the viewer hears the voices of the doctors and bedside family members but never sees their faces. When the bandages are finally removed, they reveal a plain-faced woman with several visible scars. The woman’s father says the surgeon probably did the best he could under the circumstances and sends his daughter to Sarah Lawrence.

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE:  “No man can write well who thinks there is any choice of words for him.  The laws of composition are as strict as those of sculpture & architecture.  There is always one line that ought to be drawn or one proportion that should be kept & every other line or proportion is wrong, & so far as it deviates from this.  So in writing, there is always a right word, & every other than that is wrong.  There is no beauty in words except in their collocation.  The effect of a fanciful word misplaced, is like that of a horn of exquisite polish growing on a human head.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, July 8, 1831


LIFE has loveliness to sell,
     All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
     Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup. 
Life has loveliness to sell,
     Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
     Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night. 
Spend all you have for loveliness,
     Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
     Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

               -Sara Teasdale, “Barter,” 1917

POLITICS AND SOCIETY:  “Human beings love freedom much less than equality.  And they love it much less because, flowing into collectivism, equality relieves the individual from the burden of responsibility.  Because equality does not demand the sacrifice that freedom demands, does not require the courage that freedom requires.”  -Oriana Fallaci, The Force of Reason

RELIGION:  “To be redeemed is to be atoned. From this it should be clear what kind of onenessis meant by the Atonement—it is being received by the Lord in a close embrace of the returning prodigal son, expressing not only forgiveness but oneness of heart and mind that amounts to identity, like a literal family identity as John sets it forth so vividly in chapters 14 through 17 of his Gospel.”  -Hugh Nibley, “The Meaning of the Atonement,” Approaching Zion (see also here)

Fathers’ Day

Several years ago I had just begun to realize in my career as a teacher that fathers either make or break the destinies of their children.  It was a dour epiphany, because most of the men that I knew of were dropping the ball.  We may be inclined to interject with inspiring exceptions, but such a vast majority falls into this simple scheme that it’s practically a rule.  At that point, I had learned a truism that every teacher learns: absent (or ineffective) fathers create damaged offspring.

I remember wanting to vent about this discovery and commiserate with my colleagues.  At my school at the time, our email system had a “teachers’ lounge” bulletin board feature that we used to post jokes, items for sale, and announcements.  I wrote up a post lamenting my loss of rose-colored glasses on the fatherhood front.  I included a link to a favorite news article of mine: a herd of elephants in Africa had lost its adult males to poaching, and the younger males went crazy and started attacking other animals.  The problem wasn’t solved until the local wildlife authorities imported some adult males from another herd.  After that, the “delinquency” stopped.  I commented that this story could serve as a useful parable for our society’s woes.

After it went up, a female administrator in the building privately replied that she was confused and bothered by my post, and asked me to explain it further.  I said that I now understood clearly that the single greatest factor determining the success or failure of our students–academically and in life–was their fathers.  She quickly sent a curt reply that I was only to post professional messages from that point on, or face disciplinary action.

Other teachers responded with more sympathy.

My old supervisor’s politically correct management by planting her head firmly in the sand came back to mind as I read this wonderful essay this week about mainstream America’s war on fatherhood.  Even more sobering was this amazing essayby Andrew Klavan, which included the following anecdote:

The teacher told me that she once had to explain to the class why her last name was the same as her father’s. She dusted off the whole ancient ritual of legitimacy for them—marriages, maiden names, and so on. When she was done, there was a short silence. Then one child piped up softly: “Yeah . . . I’ve heard of that.”

I’ve heard of that. It would break a heart of stone.

And thus it is.  In the panorama of demographic decline, the effective, involved father may well be the most endangered species. 


To end on a slightly more positive note, last year my bishop assigned me to put together a packet of recent General Conference addresses on priesthood leadership in the home, for a training we wanted to do with the men in our ward.  As I looked through the archives, I was struck by how often the clearest talks on this subject came from Elder L. Tom Perry.  He must have a special love for this issue.  Here are a few of his that I have benefited from, and which would be of value to us all:

“Fatherhood, An Eternal Calling”

“Father–Your Role, Your Responsibility”

“Called Of God”

One of the great “forgotten” talks of General Conference is Richard G. Scott’s “First Things First,” where he emphasizes the importance of striving for an “ideal” family.  I’ve been divorced before, myself, so I know that such counsel can be difficult to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Elder Scott said:

Throughout your life on earth, seek diligently to fulfill the fundamental purposes of this life through the ideal family. While you may not have yet reached that ideal, do all you can through obedience and faith in the Lord to consistently draw as close to it as you are able. Let nothing dissuade you from that objective. If it requires fundamental changes in your personal life, make them. When you have the required age and maturity, obtain all of the ordinances of the temple you can receive. If for the present, that does not include sealing in the temple to a righteous companion, live for it. Pray for it. Exercise faith that you will obtain it. Never do anything that would make you unworthy of it. If you have lost the vision of eternal marriage, rekindle it. If your dream requires patience, give it. As brothers, we prayed and worked for 30 years before our mother and our nonmember father were sealed in the temple. Don’t become overanxious. Do the best you can. We cannot say whether that blessing will be obtained on this side of the veil or beyond it, but the Lord will keep His promises. In His infinite wisdom, He will make possible all you qualify in worthiness to receive. Do not be discouraged. Living a pattern of life as close as possible to the ideal will provide much happiness, great satisfaction, and impressive growth while here on earth regardless of your current life circumstances.

Perhaps the strongest, clearest counsel I know on the subject is what Jeffrey R. Holland said in a talk called, “A Child’s Prayer,” where he boldly declared:

Parents simply cannot flirt with skepticism or cynicism, then be surprised when their children expand that flirtation into full-blown romance…. We can be reasonably active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints, but if we do not live lives of gospel integrity and convey to our children powerful heartfelt convictions regarding the truthfulness of the Restoration and the divine guidance of the Church from the First Vision to this very hour, then those children may, to our regret but not surprise, turn out not to be visibly active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints or sometimes anything close to it….

Live the gospel as conspicuously as you can. Keep the covenants your children know you have made. Give priesthood blessings. And bear your testimony!  Don’t just assume your children will somehow get the drift of your beliefs on their own.

This is part of the gospel that we preach and live.  In our efforts to draw near to God by worship, discipleship, and service, let’s make constantly improving our fatherhood an integral part of that sacred work.


Five Spurts of Composition, Only Tenuously Related By Each Having Vaguely Political Content

1     Here’s a fun experiment: drive around a bad part of your town–you know, where the government-subsidized projects are, as well as the highest crime rates–and count how many of the run-down old houses have satellite dishes on them.  As you try to keep track of the spiralling digits, do be polite enough not to smile at memories of all the blowhards who have ever whined about how the “disenfranchised” poor need to be “given their fair share” with which they would wisely enter the middle class. 

A few weekends ago, my wife and I did this and our estimate of satellite dishes came to about one out of every three, a number which might need to be adjusted since we saw several neglected dumps that had more than one dish on the roof!

    On the subject of grossly bloated government bureaucracy, here’s an argument for it: like an inner city high school, it’s a good holding pen.  After all, if we didn’t have a needlessly huge government, what would we do with all the people who work for it?  Do you really want to see any of these clueless clods in the private sector? 

Frankly, they’re doing less harm at the DMV than they would be managing a business or negotiating the waters of retail.  I suppose most of them would end up on welfare, creating a need for vast government support…and we’d be right back where we started.  : )

3     Reading about the ongoing travesty that is Texas’s assault on parental rights (also known as the polygamist compound raid), I’ve been reminded more than once of the Waco siege.  I recently spent an evening folding laundry and watching the excellent documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement, which I hadn’t seen in years. 

The parallels were telling.  I felt myself getting agitated again that a government agency could so undeniably rip up the Bill of Rights and get away with it.  There is a lot of great material about Waco out there, but if you haven’t seen this (it was even nominated for an Oscar), you’ll be amazed by what you learn.  Here’s the first few minutes:

4     The new issue of New York’s City Journal is in the process of posting articles on their web site.  I can’t say enough just how much I love reading this.  Their research, their understanding of the causes and relationships between key issues, and (most especially of all) the clear and vivid writing from each and every one of its authors make it by far the most valuable political periodical in the world.  (Even among the dazzling echelon of its gifted wordsmiths, the contributions of Brit doctor Theodore Dalrymple stand out as some of the best prose currently being produced anywhere in Shakespeare’s mother tongue.)

I’ve read it for years and I’m sure browsing its archives for a few hours would produce a better political science education than any university in the country could provide in a few years.

    Two popular Internet jokes are dead-on-target and make their points about political policies and trends far better than any raving diatribe ever could. 

First, the revised and updated fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper:


The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he’s a fool, laughs, and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed. Grasshopper has no food or shelter so he dies out in the cold.


The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he’s a fool, laughs, and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

CBS, NBC and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.

America is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper, and everybody cries when they sing “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

Jesse Jackson stages a demonstration in front of the ant’s house where the news stations film the group singing “We Shall Overcome.” Jesse then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grass- hopper’s sake.

Al Gore exclaims in an interview with Peter Jennings that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and calls for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his “fair share”.

Finally, the EOC drafts the “Economic Equity and Anti-Grasshopper Act,” retroactive to the beginning of the summer.

The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the government.

Hillary gets her old law firm to represent the grasshopper in a defamation suit against the ant, and the case is tried before a panel of federal judges that Bill appointed from a list of multi-generation welfare recipients. The ant loses the case.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing the last bits of the ant’s food while the government house he is in, which just happens to be the ant’s old house, crumbles around him because he doesn’t maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.


Vote Republican

Second, a simple economics lesson, with shades of Ayn Rand at the end:

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.
So, that’s what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. “Since you are all such good customers,” he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.” Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men – the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his ‘fair share?’ They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay. And so:

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

“I only got a dollar out of the $20,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,” but he got $10!”




“That’s true!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!”

“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison. “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.