Love and Guts

From Act XVI of the Prometheus Melting Cycle

PROMETHEUS:

Ah, Drucilla.

So you’re dead.

So what!

Do you want to watch me cry?

Do you need to hear me scream?

Dead men tell no tales, fella.

Neither do dead chicks.

And, my fine feathered friend, you are as dead as they come.

(Screaming) DRUCILLA!!

When you died, my heart died with you.

Now I tear out my heart as you tore out my soul!

(He reaches into his chest and pulls out a hamburger smothered in ketchup.)

How my love consumes me.

Now I consume my love!

(He takes a big chaw out of the burger and spits it out. He reaches into his vest pocket and produces a bottle of French’s yellow mustard.)

Now I consume my love with a whole mess of mustard!

(He smothers the burger in mustard and eats– the whole thing. Then he laughs maniacally, food still in his mouth.)

My achy breaky heart now rests in my lower intestine.

All it needs is you, my Drucilla.

You and I – must become one.

Our hearts will digest together.

(He smothers the dead woman in mustard. Before he can eat her, he screams:)

Oh, my leg!

(Grabbing his leg, he keels over and dies.)

Lost Disneyland Rides

The vacation reaches its apex tomorrow, when we descend on the Disneyland resort for a second time, this time beginning at Disney’s California Adventure. I’ve never been there, and I’m a little concerned about it. I’m an old dog, and I’m not sure if you can teach me new Disney tricks. Remember, I’m the one still pining for “Journey Through Inner Space,” which is the ride that “Star Tours” replaced.

What? You don’t remember “Journey Through Inner Space?”

That’s the ride where you get shrunk down to the size of an atom. It wasn’t a trick, because you could see a lot of really little people going through a little tube, which proves that actual shrinking was taking place. How could they fake something like that? Case closed.

Actually, it was a pretty sorry ride, but my sister said it was a great make out ride, because you were riding for so long in those people-mover things in the dark. I was too much of a geek to make use of that particular feature, but I’m sure it was nice.

I also remember “America Sings,” a rotating animatronics show where various and sundry animals performed the history of the country in song, and a weasel popped up at the end of everything. It was way lame, but our family went on it every time. And all those animals are still working – they were just transferred over to Splash Mountain, so no harm done.

Gone but not forgotten is the classic “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” where a creepy Abe Lincoln robot was exhumed every few minutes to recite the Gettysburg Address. Yikes. Definitely not an E-Ticket ride.

Incidentally. Disneyland is much better without E-Tickets, but I remember the E-Ticket days well. All the good rides were E-Tickets, and you would go through your ticket book and use up all the E’s as fast as you can. You would go home with a ticket book still filled with the A, B,C and D’s. The best D ticket ride was the Autopia, which kept breaking down on Friday. The only A ticket ride was the stupid trolley up Main Street.

I even recall the fad attractions that have come and gone over the years. There was Videopolis, a big 80’s style dance place that took up all the area where Toon Town is now. Nobody mourns its exit, but it shall live forever in a cluttered, otherwise useless portion of my brain.

Everything else remains constant. There are minor tweaks, too – the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse is now the Tarzan Treehouse and is still just as much of a waste of time, and Pirates of the Carribbean, despite a few Jack Sparrow tweaks, is 90% the same. Space Mountain was shut down for years for a revamping, but other than it being a little darker, I couldn’t tell the difference. The Haunted Mansion was decked out for the Nightmare Before Christmas, which was a welcome change. They probably ought to update it permanently.

Or not.

Actually, I don’t think anyone really wants to see Disneyland pulled into the 21st Century. It remains surprisingly consistent, a welcome link to days gone by. And as my own children discover it for themselves, they’ll probably be as resistant to change as I am.

Because in the heart of every child is a future geezer ready to yell “Hey, kids! Get off my lawn!”

True Art

The rage has subsided. Disneyland was delightful. It’s amazing how little it’s really changed over the years. (I miss the Journey Through Inner Space, though, but who doesn’t?) We finished the day and then drove three and a half hours north up to my other sister’s house. I don’t intend to do any property damage up here, but the day is young.

We arrived at about two in the morning last night. All the girls are sleeping in one room, and all the boys are sleeping in another. My wife and I have taken over my thirteen-year-old niece’s room, which provides very comfortable but non-manly accommodations. (Pink walls covered with Zac Efron pinups. Yowsa!)

Anyway, we woke up this morning, and my wife was deeply touched by a quote my niece had written on a piece of paper and taped to the wall. It’s so majestic, so profound, so transcendently beautiful, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to share it with you.

Here’s what it says:

“Sometimes, you don’t know what you are drawing… until you’ve finished. And sometimes, even then you still don’t know what you drew. That is true art.”

She’s right. She couldn’t be more right. If she were any more right, the galaxy would fold in on itself and ignite the universe in a bonfire of ethereal splednor. (I meant to write “splendor,” but sometimes, you don’t know what you’re writing until you’re finished. And sometimes, even then…)

See? After I started drawing, I thought this was going to be a washing machine. Now I don’t know what the hell it is.

LA Traffic Makes Me Violent

After about fifteen minutes on a Los Angeles freeway, I’m about ready to pound a paperweight into the side of my skull.

I grew up in this stinking city, for the love of Imelda Marcos. Every time I come back, I expect to be awash in nostalgia, reflecting on the renewed promise of the City of theAngels by the sea.

And then I sit on the 101 for about six months to go three miles.

I just don’t understand how anyone can live like that. I don’t understand how I used to live like that. And I did. I loved this city. I thought I would never leave. Then I left, and every time I come back, I want to club a baby seal over the head with a baseball bat.

I have traffic anger issues.

We went to the California Science Center this afternoon, and the kids had fun, except my two year old decided he wanted to take the elevator by himself. Then we went to The Grove, so my girls could go to the American Girl store, aND THEN WE DROVE FOR ABOUT AN HOUR AND A HALF TO GO 15 MILES TO MY SISTER’S HOUSE, AFTER WHICH I SCRAPED UP MY MINIVAN ON THE SIDE OF HER GARAGE.

My nephew is watching me write this, and he thinks I’m disturbed. He’s damn right. He’s also offended that I just typed the word “damn.” Now he’s reading this out loud over my shoulder. I think I will type dirty words and see if he will say them. Except now he’s stopped reading this and is just laughing.

I’m going to go enjoy my vacation now. I think there’s a paperweight in the bathroom.

How I Killed Howard Hughes

My blogging may be a bit more inconsistent over the next few days, as we’re traveling as a family. The young’uns have no school next Monday and Tuesday, so we’re yanking ‘em out early to get in a mini-vacation. If you haven’t spent twelve hours in a car with five young children, then you haven’t lived!

Right now, we’re mid-journey. I’m writing this from the belly of the beast – the fifth floor of the Annie Oakley tower in the Buffalo Bill Hotel – Primm, Nevada. Classy joint. It’s only $37 a night, and, believe me, it’s worth every penny, almost.

We’re driving down to Los Angeles to visit family and spend a couple of days at Disneyland. (I also have some secret meetings at the Black Tower – don’t tell Languatron!) We’d promised our children we’d do this long before the wildfires broke out – so far, no one in our family is at risk, and the blaze may actually keep the Disney crowds small. (That’s probably too heartless to mention, but I’d by lying if I said we hadn’t thought of that.)

I don’t know that there’s much to say about the wildfires that hasn’t been said, except that those who blame these on global warming or whatnot ought to go soak their heads. I grew up with Santa Ana wind-fueled wildfires every year, and some were pretty nasty. Nature has been burning that spot of earth for millennia, regardless of property values. To think this is some kind of new or remarkable phenomenon is to be willfully ignorant.

Anyway, I’ve made the journey from SLC to LA more times than I can count. The summer of ’87, Foodleking and I made the 700+ mile drive about every other weekend. As a kid, the family used to trek up to the Wasatch Front to visit both sets of grandparents. We’d always stop over either in Vegas or St. George. I was passing this info along to my kids as we ate dinner at the Cedar City IHop.

I told them how their grandfather, like many Mormons of his era, used to work for Howard Hughes, and that meant he’d spent some time seeing the casino business up close and personal. I reminisced about how, as a teenager, he walked me through the Desert Inn and pointed out all the one-way mirrors above the Blackjack tables where thugs spied on all the players to catch card counters. He demonstrated in exquisite detail why the house always wins, and that all the bright lights of Vegas weren’t paid for by casinos that lose money.

Then my wife reminded me of another Howard Hughes story, which made the kids laugh out loud. It’s one of my earliest memories. It’s certainly the earliest of my memories that involves poop.

The year was 1972. I was about three and a half years old. My father, for reasons I couldn’t possibly fathom, brought the whole family to Florida and, since he was working for Howard Hughes at the time, he was able to finagle the use of Howard Hughes’ private Florida residence for the duration of our stay.

I don’t remember much about the house except that I wasn’t allowed to touch anything. (Hughes had never touched anything in it, either – word was, he’d never even been there. And after my visit, I made sure he never would be.) The one thing I do remember, however, was the large, elegant indoor swimming pool.

I wasn’t yet able to swim, so my brother and I just waded into the water from the shallow end. We played quite cheerfully, and my brother, three years my senior, was a treasure trove of information. He told me of many things that day, but the lesson that made the biggest difference was his explanation of the wonders of chlorine, and how you could pee in a pool all day long if you wanted to, because the chlorine in pool water made the pee magically disappear.

Well, I was only three, but I was a prodigy when it came to the rules of logic. And in my mind, everything that happened in a bathroom was all part of the same miracle of life. And if chlorine could work wonders on #1, just imagine what it could do on #2?

That’s why I took a dump in Howard Hughes’ pool.

The log I dropped floated aimlessly out into the water, and I seem to recall wondering why I could still see it. Shouldn’t the chlorine have vaporized it by now? I asked myself. Oh, well. I can’t be bothered. Who wants to play Marco Polo?

It wasn’t until a few hours later that the turd was discovered, and the whole world turned upside down. I remember seeing a man with a net fishing the thing out of the water. I remember hushed voices and a general sense of panic. Nobody was wearing a nuclear fallout suit a la Bill Murray in Caddyshack, but the pool was drained and the whole place scrubbed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the house was summarily burned to the ground the day after we left.

And that is how my life began.

Is it a coincidence that Howard Hughes died just a few years later, pathologically obsessed with microscopic germs? Could it have been my bowels that brought down the billionaire?

Make of it what you will. As for me, I don’t believe in coincidences.

I believe in poop.

A VERY MANLY POST


All right, wusses. Nothing sissified today. Behold! Today is
a celebration of all things MANLY.

And I am a MANLY MAN.

How manly? Let me count the ways. (Although this is, by no means, a comprehensive list.)

I WENT BUNGEE JUMPING ONCE.

Actually, I jumped three times in succession, and the third time was the hardest. Because unlike, say, a roller coaster or some other run-of-the-mill thrill, the anticipatory fear of bungee jumping pales in comparison to the actual experience. You spend an interminable amount of time at the top of the platform trying to talk yourself into it and then, against all better judgment, you jump. And then you’re sure you’re going to die.

Then you reach the bottom and you’re yanked all the way back up again, which gives you another chance to wet yourself.

But I’m manly. So my britches stayed dry.

I MADE OUT WITH SOME RANDOM CHICK I DIDN’T KNOW.

It was ten minutes after I met her – and before I knew her name. How manly is that?

We were at this weird, artsy poetry reading. I got up and did some bizarre Stallion Cornell rant, and she was laughing her head off. So I took the occasion to make my move, and before you knew it, we were smooching like there’s no tomorrow.

Unfortunately, there was a tomorrow, in which I took her out on a real date, where I learned her name – which I’ve forgotten – and we discovered we didn’t like each other much. She was turned off by the fact that I was a Republican, and I was turned off by the fact that she was kind of a skank.

I FATHERED TWINS.

You don’t get much more manly than that. My wife and I went in for the first ultrasound, and the nurse running the thing said “Are you in here for any special reason?”

We both panicked, thinking something was wrong. “No,” we said. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I’m seeing two heads,” the nurse replied.

My wife says her first thought was “Aaaargh! My baby has two heads!”

I WAS A SOCCER COACH.

I didn’t mean to be. But when I went to the orientation meeting, there was no one else there from my daughter’s team to take the equipment, so they made me “responsible” for it. Which meant I was the de facto coach, despite the fact that soccer makes me itch.

We lost every game we played. But in a totally manly way!

I KAYAKED FOR 17 MILES.

There are 17 miles of coastline along northern Kauai that are completely inaccessible by land. The only way to see it is to take a motorboat (good plan) or a sea kayak (less good plan.) My wife and I kayaked together in a two-person kayak for six hours straight. It ate up two days of our vacation: one day because of the hard-slog kayaking, and one day of her not speaking to me because of all my belligerent swearing, which I thought she couldn’t hear. Apparently, she could, and she was displeased.

I’m a very manly swearer.

I FINISHED A 10K RACE.

I’d like to say I ran a 10K race, but that’s not entirely accurate. It was the official state race on Pioneer Day through Downtown Salt Lake City, and I participated in it with my more athletically-inclined wife. I started off running with the big boys, and for about three miles, I kept pace. Then I started to cramp up. Pretty soon I was walking. I walked for about ten minutes before my wife caught up with me, which shamed me back into running. I would start walking again when I put enough distance between us, but I had to make sure I stayed ahead of my wife. I beat her by about thirty seconds.

I did OK, though! I came in 85th!

(Out of the 95 people in my age group.)

There’s more I could tell you. I eat like crap. I fart with impunity. I fear laundry. I kick things. I wear my sunglasses at night. I use duct tape. I’ve tiled my own bathrooms. I could go on and on and on. But I won’t, because it’s not the manly thing to do.

And I’m so freaking manly, it’s not even funny.

I got married in a kilt.

Lonely at the Top

So nobody wants to read a blog post about the intricacies of Utah voucher legislation.

Fine.

Instead, here is a blog post with a vampire in it. He is not a mega gay vampire like the kind that live in Forks, Washington and make moony eyes at teenage girls when they should be sucking their blood. I’m talking about a real, hard-core vampire, a kick-butt, take no prisoners kind of vampire who really knows how to rock.

Keith Richards.

Now I have no proof that Keith is an actual vampire. But I do know that he’s undead. He no longer has an ounce of his own blood. I don’t what that stuff is that runs through his collapsed veins nowadays – some combination of smack and prune juice, most likely – but he’s definitely not alive in the same sense that, say Oprah Winfrey or Jeff Goldblum is alive. He’s not even alive in the way that Elvis is alive, because people still believe Elvis is alive, but nobody who looks at Keef can possibly think he is alive, even though Elvis is buried and Keith isn’t, although he probably should be.

Keith is really my favorite Rolling Stone; indeed, the only Stone that matters. When I was doing the show Fame with the Kids of the Century, who I have mentioned previously, everyone’s parents bought ad space to say “Good luck!” to their children in the program. My parents didn’t. Instead, I took out a full page ad with a picture of Keith Richards that said “Good luck, Keith,” because I figured if anyone needed good luck, it was Keith Richards.

I mean, look at him. He needed it then, and he definitely needs it now.

The ad cost eighty dollars, which was pretty much my annual salary back then. It was still worth it.

I really didn’t discover the Stones until late into my teens. Initially, it wasn’t Keith who interested me – it was Mick. I first saw Mick Jagger perform at Live Aid on July 13, 1985.

This is exactly what it looked like:

I was mesmerized. He was a huge hit, despite being the ugliest, strangest thing I had ever seen. (Keith, incidentally, performed at Live Aid, too. He dropped his acoustic guitar on the ground right in the middle of “Blowing in the Wind.” Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I’d have said he was drunk.)

Anyway, when I saw Mick prancing about, I was exceedingly heartened, because I knew, instantly, that I had finally found a worthy role model for my own boogie skills. See, I’ve never been much of a dancer.

Actually, that’s being kind. I’m a wretched, horrific dancer.

In all my singing-and-dancing stuff growing up, they always used me as scenery, like a tree or something. As one choreographer put it, when it comes to my dancing, there just aren’t enough back rows.

But on July 13, 1985, in front of the whole world, there was Mick Jagger, flailing like some kind of epileptic eel, and everyone was eating it up. Why couldn’t I do that?

Well, I could. And I did. And I do.

It makes my mother cry.

Back in the 80s, Calabasas High School had a lip-synching contest every year. People dressed up as their favorite rock bands, moved their lips along with the records, and then got their friends to applaud wildly. The top three applause getters got to do an encore, and then a final round of applause determined the winner after that.

Well, I entered the contest as Mick Jagger. Just me. Solo.

This is exactly what I looked like.


Everyone else had a fake band behind them, which means they had enough friends to pack the house and get enough applause to win, or at least to get an encore. Heck, the whole CHS Football Team sang some kind of Dream Team rap that sucked out loud, but they got way more applause than anyone else just by sheer numbers of football groupies.

So I didn’t win. But, miraculously, I got an encore.

I started out with a song from Mick’s then-recently released solo album, She’s the Boss. My first number was a hardcore, straight ahead rock-and-roller called “Lonely at the Top,” the tune Mick opened with at Live Aid. I was dressed just as he was back then, and, like him, I flung my shirt here, there, and everywhere. I flailed and ran and boogied and strutted and rooster-tailed, gesticulated, reticulated and granulated my way to just enough applause to get the number three encore slot.

And it was in the encore where I had my true brush with infamy.

I picked, as my encore, a ballad from She’s the Boss called “Hard Woman.” In rehearsal, the teacher in charge of the event told me I was making a big mistake, because nobody singing a ballad had ever won the Lip Synch Contest. I told him to stuff it. I knew what I was doing.

Here’s how it went down.

I started out on stage in the fetal position, curled into a ball like a flower ready to bloom.

And the music began to play.

“She’s a… HARD WOMAN to puhlease… And I thawt uhbout lettin’ her knu-ow…”

I reached, ever so gracefully, upward, upward, like a dying swan wilting in the noonday sun…

“She’s a… TUFF LADAH tah LEAVE… And I thawt uhbout lettin’ her gu-o…”

I was billowing now, all atwitter, fluttering in the imaginary breeze, yearning, soaring, or perhaps suffering some sort of seizure…

“She’s a HARD LADAH…TUFF COOKAH… AH GOT TA SAY GOODBAH…”

On my feet now. Reaching. Pleading. Flarging. Mincing with all my might.

And peeling off my purple unitard.

Did I mention I was wearing a purple unitard? Well, I was. I had thrown off all my other clothes in my first number. The unitard was all that was left.

But not for long.

I peeled it down to my shoulders.

The crowd went wild.

“I’m uhLOWN at LAYAYAST… But SOMETHIN’ INSIDE UH ME KNOWOWS… I coulda LOVED IN VEYN FOR A THOWSIN’ YEAUHS… I HAD TO LET HERRRR GU-OWWW!”

The air was electric. I was no dummy; I knew what they wanted.

So I peeled it down to my chest.

Pandemonium.

The girls all shrieked! (I like to think it was out of delight, not horror.)

Then I peeled it down to my stomach.

Then to my waist.

And then… and then…

It was pure bedlam. How low could I go? They were putty in my hands. And I was taunting. Always taunting. Do you want to see more? Will I pull it down lower? Will I? WILL I?

WILL I?

No.

I had probably gone too far as it was. They told me afterward that if I’d peeled it down another inch, they’d have turned the lights out on me.

Still, the crowd went nuts. But they went more nuts for the stupid football team, so, sadly, I didn’t win the actual contest. But I think I won a moral victory.

I’ve imitated Mick countless times since then, including at several church functions. Most recently, my Stake President – a bigtime church leader, for those of you non-Mormons out there – watched me sing “Start Me Up” at our stake’s annual Family Fun Day. Don’t worry – I changed the last line about what the girl can make a dead man do in order to accommodate Mormon community standards. My stake president seemed to be having a good time until he stormed out in disgust when I made a little rooster tail behind my bum with my fingers. I wasn’t quite sure why that was so offensive.

So I performed it for my family, and my mother told me that the whole thing was offensive, and that it had always been offensive. (Surprisingly, she didn’t cry. But she probably wanted to.)

I’m very versatile – I can imitate Keith Richards, too. (That doesn’t seem to be as popular.) I also don’t strip very much in public anymore. I’ve been blessed with a body that no one will pay to see naked. But so has Mick Jagger, and he still does it, so I don’t know what I’m so worried about.

If Keith starts stripping, though, we should all be worried.

Explaining Vouchers to an Eight-Year-Old

So I’m driving my daughters to school, and my eight-year-old notices our next-door neighbor’s lawn sign urging a “no” vote on the upcoming voucher initiative. (It’s a bit silly for our neighbors to put up lawn signs, because we live on a cul-de-sac. But I digress.)

My daughter then announces she’s opposed to vouchers, too. So I ask her why.

She says, “Because the money they spend on a voucher should be spent in a public school instead.”

I then say that vouchers will actually mean more money for public schools, not less. She looks at me like I’m brain damaged. So I proceed to explain the economics, which, granted, are a little confusing, especially to the elementary school set. And at the end of the exchange, she remains entirely convinced she’s taken the right position, whereas I’m suddenly filled with doubt.

Here’s a general approximation of the discussion.

“Your school gets about $7,000 from the state of Utah because you go there,” I explain.

“$7,000?” she repeats. “That’s a lot!”

It’s actually the lowest per-pupil spending in the nation, but I don’t tell her that.

I go on. “Under a voucher law, if you want to go to a private school, then the state would give the private school some of that $7,000 to help pay for it.”

“I don’t want to go to a private school,” she says. “I like my school.”

“Yes, I know,” I say, “but public schools aren’t always the best school for everyone.”

“Then we should make the public schools better,” she says.

“That’s what vouchers will do,” I tell her.

She crinkles up her nose in disbelief. So I continue to explain myself.

“The most a voucher will be is $3,000,” I say. “That leaves $4,000 extra, which will go to the local public school for every kid that goes to a private school. So then a public school will get $4,000 of money they wouldn’t have gotten without vouchers.”

“But that school would have gotten $7,000 without vouchers,” she says.

“No,” I explain patiently, “They wouldn’t. Because now, if you go to a private school, the public school gets nothing. With vouchers, they get $4,000.”

“So people shouldn’t go to private schools,” she says. “Then the school gets the $7,000, and everybody’s happy.”

Yeah, swell, I thought. You win.

I didn’t press the issue beyond that, but I did pass on what I learned when I spoke to my wife later in the evening. As we talked it over, I came away doubting a lot of my initial assumptions.

In the end, it all comes down to an issue of fixed vs. marginal costs.

Economics 101: Fixed costs are those up-front outlays of capital that don’t change based on the amount of business you do. If I run a donut shop, for instance, the rent or mortgage I pay for the actual building in which I sell my donuts is a fixed cost. My mortgage doesn’t go up if I sell more donuts or down if I sell less. However, the amount of money I spend on donut batter is a marginal cost. If I only sell two donuts, I only have to buy two donuts’ worth of donut batter. If I sell a million donuts, I’m going to have to cough up a lot more dough – i.e. money – to buy dough – i.e. dough.

Are you with me?

Anyway, in my analysis with my daughter, I was treating each student as an additional marginal cost, not a fixed cost. If that’s the case, then vouchers make perfect sense. When each student is only a marginal cost, a school of 100 students that loses half of its student body to private schools funded by a $3,000 voucher would see its total income decline, yet the per-pupil marginal spending would increase dramatically. In this scenario, instead of $7,000 per pupil, the state would be spending $11,000 on each pupil left in the public system.

That’s a slam dunk, right?

It is if the scenario is accurate and students are a wholly marginal cost. But are they?

Not really.

In a typical classroom of thirty students, if you lose, say, three of them to private schools, it’s not likely that you’re going to reduce marginal costs by much of anything. You won’t have to pay as much for paper, textbooks, and raw school supplies, but those costs are essentially trivial when compared to salaries and such, which are fixed costs that make up the bulk of a public school budget. Teachers don’t usually get more or less money if their class size fluctuates by a handful of students. So losing a few students in the margins won’t drive down costs unless you lose enough to eliminate an entire classroom and you can fire a teacher.

Then there’s the fixed cost of the public school facility, which is even harder to downsize. If vouchers mean you have fewer students and you don’t need a classroom, you can’t just sell the history building on eBay. True, you can slow the demand for newer school buildings, but in all these considerations, the number of students becomes an unpredictable, aggregate marginal cost, and it’s very likely that the long-term benefit will only come after a series of painful, short-term adjustments.

But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

Consider two facts that voucher opponents are constantly citing:

  1. Utah has the lowest per-pupil public school spending in the nation.
  2. Utah’s public school class sizes are among the largest in the nation.

Because of these facts, opponents say, we need to reject vouchers, because they will mean less total income into Utah schools.

That argument is extraordinarily disingenuous.

If those two facts are really the fundamental reasons driving the opposition, then voucher opponents are being willfully stupid. Because while the impact of vouchers will be unpredictable in many ways, there are two areas in which their effect will be immediately and measurably recognizable.

  1. Vouchers will increase per-pupil public school spending
  2. Vouchers will decrease public school class sizes.

Opponents know that, but they hope you haven’t thought it through. They’re betting on voters having no higher level of economic understanding than my eight-year-old.

If recent polls are any indication, the bet is about to pay off.

The whole per-pupil spending argument is a red herring, anyway. Despite the low raw dollar amounts, Utah has some of the best test scores and highest graduation rates in the country. You want your kids attending a school with the highest per pupil spending? Then enroll your kids in a Washington DC inner city school, and pray every day that they don’t get shot.

In the end, I’m probably going to vote for the voucher initiative, even though I think it’s a tepid, lukewarm proposal that won’t make much difference one way or another. But if it weren’t a step in the right direction, its opponents wouldn’t be working so hard into misleading the public to maintain the status quo.

That’s a hard thing to explain to an eight-year-old on the way to school.

Of Bach and Beavis

You might say my mother has a thing for classical music.

All the time growing up, she taught private flute lessons out of our home. All her kids are gone now, but she still teaches. In fact, she has more students now than she’s ever had. Of both my parents, neither of whom is retired despite collecting Social Security, she is easily the busier of the two.

Because of her musical pedigree, she spent an awful lot of time inflicting high culture on her children with varying degrees of success. With me, it didn’t really take, at least as far as classical music was concerned. Given a choice between Beethoven and Mozart, I would hole up in my room and crank up the Rolling Stones, which wasn’t really my mother’s métier. I think she’s forgiven me for that, but I can’t be sure.

However, one vestige of the classical music exposure I received in my youth has survived into my middle age.

I adore PDQ Bach.

For those of you who don’t know him, I quote from his official biography, which can be found in its entirety by clicking here.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the name Bach was synonymous with fine musicmaking: Johann Sebastian, certainly the biggest twig on the family tree, was both preceded and followed by many accomplished and well known musicians, some of whom were in the service of royalty. It is easy to understand, therefore, why the Bach clan was loath to admit the existence of a member who was called a “pimple on the face of music,” “the worst musician ever to have trod organ pedals,” “the most dangerous musician since Nero,” and other things not quite so complimentary. They even started a rumor that P.D.Q. Bach, without a doubt Johann Sebastian’s last and least offspring, was not really a member of the Bach family—the implication being that he was illegitimate, or, even better, an imposter. Although P.D.Q. Bach was born on April 1, 1742 and died on May 5, 1807, the dates on his first tombstone (before he was moved to an unmarked pauper’s grave) were inscribed “1807-1742” in a transparent attempt to make it appear that he could not have been the son of J.S., who died in 1750. Nice try, Bach family—close, but no cigar: some of us, or at least one of us, are not fooled, or at least, is not fooled.

PDQ Bach is actually the alter ego of Peter Schickele, who represents himself as a Professor of Musicology from the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople. In reality, Schickele is what you might call the “Weird Al” of classical music, except that Schickele came first and is far more talented.

Mom dragged us to a couple of Schickele’s concerts, which involved the good professor swinging onto the stage from a large rope and conducting such PDQ Bach masterpieces as Concerto for Two Pianos vs. Orchestra, where musicians who commit fouls are put into the penalty box.

Over the years, I’ve picked up most of his recorded stuff. My is Oedipus Tex and Other Choral Calamaties, in which one oratario freatures a Pepsi ad in the middle of it, and another consists entirely of bad jokes put to music. You can listen to a piece of it here.

PDQ Bach is a semi-highbrow guilty pleasure. But I can go way, way lowbrow, too.

I love Beavis and Butthead.

During a very trying time in my life, I took refuge in the antics of these two Icons of Stupidity.

Watching Cornholio still makes me spew milk out of my nose.

My wife, a decent human being, loathes Beavis and Butthead, as all right thinking people should. My children would probably be beaten if they were discovered watching any of this. I probably would be, too. But there it is.

This one isn’t mo mother’s fault. I can’t imagine her sitting through a Beavis and Butthead episode without having an aneurism.

Defining Christianity

Are Mormons Christians?

With Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy gaining steam, that’s a question that more and more people are asking. To many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the question seems absurd on its face. Look at the name of the church, for crying out loud! Read the Book of Mormon, which proclaims that it is written “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” Many point to this and other evidences that our faith is centered in Christ and then say to the detractors, “What more do you want?” or, “How can you even ask me that?”

The first time I was asked if I was a Christian was back in Chaparral Elementary School in first or second grade. The irony was that, at my tender young age, I didn’t realize that non-Mormons believed in Jesus, too. I had a lot of Jewish friends, and I knew that they weren’t big fans of Jesus, so it was thrilling to discover that there were other believers in Christ out there. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians didn’t include me in their number, and it took me until I got on my mission in Scotland to really understand why.

Now, when people ask me that question, I’m a bit more circumspect in my answer.

That’s not to say that I’m in any way reluctant to admit that I believe that Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the only way back to the Father. I believe He was born of a virgin, that He lived a perfect life, that He suffered for my sins, that He died for me on the cross at Calvary, and that He was resurrected and ascended into heaven on the third day. Indeed, I stand with Paul, who proclaimed, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” (Romans 1:16)

Surprisingly, that doesn’t necessarily make me a Christian in the eyes of the world.

There’s an excellent book by an LDS scholar by the name of Stephen E. Robinson titled, appropriately, Are Mormons Christians? I thought it made an airtight, indisputable case for the “yes” answer, so I lent it to a friend of mine who was an evangelical Christian to see if he would find it persuasive. He read it thoroughly and made plenty of insightful notes in the margins, and, in doing so, provided a window into how orthodox Christians see my faith. The result was most illuminating.

Here were some of his comments, lifted verbatim from the margins of my book.

When Christianity came into being, there was already an established religion, Judaism. The Christians couldn’t just go around calling themselves Jews. They had 2 options: change the Jews’ minds on the issues, so the Jews would accept them, or find another name. Otherwise the name “Jew” would have been meaningless.

He’s right, but the early members of the New Testament church probably didn’t realize this at first. Those early Christians probably did “just go around calling themselves Jews,” since they saw Jesus as the fulfillment of their religion, not the usurper of it. They also balked at attempts by Paul and others to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. It’s important to note that the members of the New Testament Church were “called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) It’s not a name they chose.

Similarly, nowhere in scripture, ancient or modern, are members of my Church designated as “Mormons.” That name, like the title “Christian,” was initially a derisive term coined by others. When Mormons say “we’re just Christians, like everybody else,” they forget that “everybody else” views much of our theology as extraneous nonsense, like living prophets, restored priesthood authority, and modern revelation.

I wish I’d understood this better back in Scotland. I wasted a bunch of time as a missionary trying to appear acceptable to members of Christian churches with a message that effectively said, “Hey! We’re just like you!”

To which the following answer came back: “Great! Then I’ll stay where I am, thank you very much!”

Look at all the trouble Ann Coulter has recently gotten into for referring to Christians as “perfected Jews.” To a Jew, it seems a bit presumptuous that she gets to define the term “Jew” in a way Jews don’t accept, even though, from a theological perspective, she’s probably right.

Another great quote from the margins:

Most Christians try to build the universal church, not their own sect.

This hasn’t always been so, but it seems to be true today. Protestants and Catholics alike may disagree doctrinally, but most of them view each other as part of the same theological family.

In contrast, we Mormons, who are neither Catholic nor Protestant, are even more exclusive than the churches who refuse to recognize us as part of their ranks. We claim to have “the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Doctrine & Covenants 20:9) and say that all other churches are in various degrees of error and apostasy. Indeed, one Mormon apostle went so far as to say the following:

“Mormonism is Christianity; Christianity is Mormonism; they are one and the same, and they are not to be distinguished from each other in the minutest detail.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 513)

In other words, if you’re not a Mormon, you’re not a Christian. So take that, James Dobson!

With that kind of position, why are we surprised when Dobson and Co. don’t welcome us into the Christian fold with open arms?

More from the margins:

In arguing that Mormonism isn’t a cult, particularly by citing the early church, you are strengthening the argument that, if not a cult, Mormonism is, at least, a new religion – and not a sect of Christianity.

Again, the logic is perfect here, although Mormons would say we’re the same religion as the people in the early Church, and that all you Christians in the intervening years are the ones who have gotten it wrong.

Another good marginal point:

If Mormons had rejected the Council of Nicea when it happened, okay, but 15 centuries later? That’s a little weird.

It certainly is if you define a Christian as someone who accepts the Council fo Nicea. Under that definition, Mormons clearly don’t qualify.

More:

When you claim to be speaking for God to an established religion, if they don’t accept you, have the honesty to say you are of another religion – even if it’s the only true one.

Point taken.

I think he sums it up perfectly with this one:

You forget one thing: we came first. We get to make the rules, buddy.

There it is.

So am I saying Mormons aren’t Christians? Well, it depends on how you define the word. We’re not part of the historical Christian tradition, and we reject almost all of the extra-Biblical creeds and practices that have evolved over the centuries. (We’re big suckers for Christmas, though.)

So if you define Christian with these historical and doctrinal caveats, then Mormons don’t fit the definition.

However, that’s not the definition most people have in mind when they use the word “Christian.” Webster’s Dictionary primary definition of Christian is “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” Certainly Mormons – and Catholics and Protestants – qualify under that criteria, no matter who came first or what Bruce R. McConkie says.

And that’s the heart of the matter.

Very few people who hear the statement “Mormons aren’t Christians” are thinking historically or theologically. They just presume Mormons don’t believe in Jesus, and we worship Joseph Smith, or we’ve all got polygamous harems up on Mt. Timpanogos. I’m sadly convinced that some people who make the “Mormons aren’t Christians” accusation understand the theology behind it, but they still accuse while knowing – and hoping – they will be misunderstood.

As for me, I really don’t care whether James Dobson or Billy Graham or the Pope or any other Christian leader thinks I’m a Christian or not. I’m far more concerned with what Jesus Christ thinks of me.

When the time comes, He’ll call me by whatever name He thinks will suit me, and that will be enough.