Friday, September 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

So we're watching our own "spring" unfold, like the Arabs have, as our own young, angry, poor people are starting to protest nationwide.

But I don't think Occupy Wall Street is going to succeed at changing the world.  Here is their manifesto:

Why do I think they are going to fail?

Historically in the US, movements that gained a lot of traction and went really far (like Temperance) had a single goal, not a laundry list of grievances. I KNOW the Declaration of Independence is a laundry list. And they did succeed in rebelling and changing their entire world. But other movements, since then, have alienated possible members when they start making laundry lists, and they end up with too few people to really get behind them and change things.

Occupy Wall Street's manifesto starts out saying they are protesting the overwhelming corruption in large corporations that is controlling the government, the people, health care, and everything about our lives.  And there are a lot of angry people who can get behind that. This is a pretty strong stand.

But then they actually make a laundry list. A laundry list seems to make sense to angry people--they want to tell you exactly WHY they are angry. But a laundry list also serves to narrow down the people who will side with you because it introduces a lot of places where people can disagree and jump off the bandwagon. They also open the door to losing support as people dispute the facts, especially if the document is hastily written in anger.

Like this line from their manifesto: "They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices."

Okay, first of all, "Nonhuman animals" is a stupid phrase. The average human being understands that when you say "animals," you don't mean "humans and all the members of Kingdom Animalia." Animals generally means, by its very definition, non-human animals. Only the most full-of-themselves people would have to say "Nonhuman animals." So instead of drawing support, the language they chose is alienating people.  

On top of that, they've moved from a general "We're angry and you can't do this to us" to a very definitive political stance. If you're not a Vegan, they're saying, we don't want you in our club. Do I think big corporations mistreat animals? You bet I do. But I don't think that statement, and the dozens of others that surround it, are going to help the movement build the kind of momentum that changes the world. The less the you say in cases like this, the more support you can get (because everyone can imagine they are all on the same page, even if they are only in the same general book, or even section of the library). 

The reason the Tea Party changed the direction the government was going (even against the protests of the news media and the ruling parties) was they got a massive amount of support from a lot of angry people. More than a bunch of angry college kids and 20-30 somethings who lost their jobs and houses and are mad-mad-mad. How did that do that? They kept their message simple, straightforward, and focused on the key point: we want the government to be HUGELY more fiscally conservative, and we're willing to fight for that.  

Simple. Straightforward. Easy to get behind if you believe that. Not a lot of places where people who generally agree can begin to parse the message and disagree and leave you hanging with less people at the rally than you need. 

Occupy has a basic stand that a lot of people agree with--a lot of people from all walks of life, from all political parties, and both conservative and liberal: The people in power (corporations, government, and all others) are corrupt and motivated purely by money and self-interest, and that's not in the best interest of our nation or its people. I'd probably even say that their claims that they represent 99% of the country could be closer to accurate than I'd normally think.  People are angry. People are getting cheated and hurt by big businesses, big banks, big government that are in the corporations' pockets, big government that are in the big political parties' pockets.  It's hard not to be upset that the banks are stealing houses by foreclosing on homes they don't even own. It's hard not to get upset that the drug companies are just stopping making some necessary, but less-profitable, drugs. It's hard not to be angry that our food supply is tainted and processed to the point of causing epidemic health problems.  (And yes, I wish they would treat animals more humanely).

But Occupy has their laundry list, and most of the items they included and the way they talk about those things has planted them firmly in the "extremely liberal" camp, but some, oddly, at the same time in the "tend-to-believe-conspiracy-theories" camp (which is usually associated with conservative Republicans, strangely enough)--they are anti-government and anti-business, all at once, and that alienates a big chunk--maybe even most--of the 99% that might be willing to support them.  

When you pair "They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices" (traditionally a liberal complaint) with "They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media" (traditionally a conservative argument) and "They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil" (liberal complaint) and "They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance" (liberal),  "They have sold our privacy as a commodity" (both, depending on the spin), and "They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses" (Tea Party's usual ire!). Suddenly you're all over the map in terms of liberal/conservative traditional "complaints"--and instead of including everyone, you leave them wondering what stand you're really taking, who you are really siding with, and you end up with fewer supporters.

Not only that, what are they fighting for? The Egyptians were successful in their protest and rebellion--but they had a single, central message: We want Mubarak gone.  The American Revolutionaries, despite their laundry list in the Declaration, had a single message: We want a government on our own soil (whether you give us representatives or we have to do it ourselves).  

The Occupy "General Assembly" (They call themselves the General Assembly) more closely parallels the French Revolution, with its vague "we hate corrupt rich people" and it's laundry lists of grievances, and they caused anarchy and a lot of trouble, but didn't get the same results the American Revolutionaries did, and the  French Revolutionaries don't have nearly the heroic reputation. They also are reaching into the realm of socialism, and that's a bit scary for many Americans still.

If they want to change their world, they need to simplify it all to a message the whole 99% can get behind--not a socialist message, and not a liberal message, but an anti-corruption message.  And it has to start with "We want...." followed by a concrete goal that everyone can get behind. While protesting the existence of problems is appealing--and can help unify people in finding the solution to those problems--suggesting and working toward a concrete solution is even more powerful.

The Temperance movement--one of the most unlikely successful movements ever--succeeded not by saying, "Alcohol causes all these problems ______" but by saying, "We want a constitutional amendment banning alcohol." When you asked them "why?", they had a lot of answers, and a lot of reasons. But the "why" was not the message. 

Our government is set up to respond to people with issues about how things are going. But writing manifestos and camping in public places doesn't get the job done. Not unless you pair it with a concrete goal, and you go out and start working to elect people who support your goal.

No matter how much you may dislike the Tea Party, they got the process right. And they are having an impact. Occupy is having and exciting angry social moment, like the same-age, same-idealism protesters did in the '60s. They'll hit the history books. But they might not change the world--because what are they intending we do about it? And who do they think is going to implement their ideas? Sitting around getting pepper-sprayed by police officers gets your picture in the papers. It doesn't get your agendas into the law books.

And I don't think anyone is brave enough to oust the government in a radical way over this (like the Arab Spring has). And the government is already set to be ousted in the traditional, constitutionally-sanctioned way starting with elections this year (locally) and next (nationally). And while all the Occupiers are out there complaining, the Tea Partiers are out there getting candidates trained and ready, and they're out there voting.

It's a revolution, all right, but if the Occupy people don't get smart, they're going to get the opposite of what they're bargaining for.

Finding the Purpose

One of the most valuable tools in my "thinking woman's toolbox" is "Finding the Purpose."  

If you can find the purpose of something, so much about it becomes clear. And so often, when things are messed up (like in education), it is because someone in charge hasn't properly identified the purpose.

Some examples:

If we want to fix the education system, we first must know the purpose of education. Is the purpose of education to score higher than other countries on international math and science tests? That seems like a pretty shallow purpose, doesn't it? Is the purpose of education to teach people a bunch of facts? To teach them how to think? To give people the tools they need to become informed, active citizens? To help them discover their talents and prepare to use them to support themselves and their families in the future? To help people contribute to society? To keep them from getting tricked/scammed/cheated/taken advantage of? What is the purpose of education? If you can define it, you can fix the problems in the system by creating a system that intentionally fills its purpose. 

But without defining the purpose of education, you really can't fix the system because there is no aim.

Likewise, understanding the purpose of having a job completely changes how you approach work. Do you have a job to get status? To get wealthy? To support yourself and your family so you can do things you love without being a burden on society? To use your talents to contribute to your society?

Understanding WHY you have a job makes it possible to prioritize, to make decisions, to organize your time, to choose what kind of career you want, to choose how you interact with co-workers.

What is the purpose of having dinner? What is the purpose of having FAMILY dinners? 

Finding the purpose of advice helps me implement it. What is the purpose of Family Home Evenings? 

I would not pretend to be able to answer the question, "Why? What is the purpose of this?" for every activity for every person. The answers are different for each person. Sometimes there are no answers.  Often we begin to understand the answers as we go along. Sometimes there are many answers. 

But I find that the pursuit of the answers to this one question end up being a major factor in many of my actions and decisions. Sometimes I make poor decisions based on it--if I don't find a purpose right away, I am sometimes inclined to reject things that shouldn't be rejected (like doctors' advice). I sometimes have to force myself to ask more questions when I can't see a purpose right away.   Often, though, it's liberating and fun. 

Like a small child, I find the intellectual curiosity--the "But WHY?" is endlessly appealing. 

I find it extremely satisfying, too, that God is okay with that. The gospel instructions, unlike things produced by committees, governments, organizations, etc., always have a purpose--or many purposes. And I find it amazingly vital in our ability to have faith in and believe in a religion to have God's purpose laid bare for us. He says it, so clearly, even, that his work and glory are "to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man". And he also says that "Men are that they might have joy."  Without the Plan of Salvation made very very clear, I don't think I could grasp hold of any religion--I need to know why, and Gospel makes the why abundantly clear.

And I find it immensely helpful to know that our purpose, as people, is, in part, to have joy. From that knowledge, the purpose of so many things becomes clear. Suddenly God isn't imposing archaic and arbitrary restrictions on us--He is giving us a hint about what will make us happy (or unhappy, or fail to make us happy, as the case may be). Suddenly the answer to question like "What is the purpose of education" or "Why have a job?" are answerable. 

So what is the purpose of all this I'm writing?

I guess you'll have to tease it out  yourself. I don't have answers. I just enjoy asking the questions.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Did I just read that?

from's home page today (the headline is different on the article): "Man bitten by shark despite warning"

"Don't you dare touch me, shark! If you touch me, I swear I will sue your fins off. I'm warning you!"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lies we like to believe

I keep seeing sweet little quotes popping up in the social media that always get lots of re-shares and lots of positive comments, and some of them are starting to really bug me.

"Once you convince yourself of something you will go out of your way to prove that you're right. So why not convince yourself that you can do anything you put your mind to?"


‎"Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.” — Jim Rohn


"Our circumstances don't determine our freedom, our choices do."

There was another about success that basically said if you aren't successful it's because you didn't want it badly enough.

Nice sentiments--but they're all lies.

No matter how much I convince myself that I can fly unassisted, when I jump off that cliff in full faith, I will still fall. No matter how much I convince myself that I really can play in the NBA, it's not going to happen. No matter how much I tell myself that I WILL get this job I'm applying for, I really cannot control that. No matter how hard a diabetic believes, they still can't go without insulin (at least, not for very long). No matter how sure I am that I can sing bass, it's not going to happen. I call it the "Blues Clues Fallacy"--you really can't do anything you want to do, so we should stop telling people they can. Empowering them to set themselves up for wasted time and heartbreak is not a favor.

Sometimes people are successful who were just in the right place at the right time. Seriously. And sometimes people apply all the basic fundamentals consistently and NOTHING HAPPENS. We always have to leave space for the two variables we tend to ignore: innate ability (talent) and God. Ignore those two, and you're in for more heartbreak.

And I'm sure that those two men who were just freed from prison in Iran would disagree that only our choices determine our freedom. So would all the adults who are imprisoned by the creatures in the back of their minds that were planted there by abusive parents, teachers, or spouses. Our choices are quite powerless to free us from those things, if you take Christ out of the equation. Try telling the Chinese or the children suffering from famine in Africa--or the parents who are watching their children starve to death because of the corrupt government they can't escape--that they are only not free because of their choices and see how far that takes you.

And if desire is the primary cause of success, then every person who ever dreamed of fame would be famous. I know people who wanted it so bad it hurt, but they didn't have the talent.

And then there's this gem: "The only time you should use the word "NEVER" is when it's followed by the words "Give Up.""

Well, I can name dozens of times it's a good idea to give up. Sometimes, it's the best thing you can do for yourself. If we never give up, we waste a LOT of time on things that are never going to benefit us, succeed, or make us happy. For cryin' out loud, do yourself a favor and give up already! Or at least find an easier way to do it.

It's not a favor to spread nice little platitudes that lead us away from truth. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What elementary AND middle school teachers don't want you to know

They're superfluous, educationally speaking.

Yes, I just said that.

Every Single Thing your child learns in elementary school they will learn again in High School, when they have the ability to abstract, so they can get the big picture much more easily, and then again in College. That includes all of the social stuff, all the academic stuff, all the cultural stuff. Everything.  They will make new friends both of those places, too, on the whole (very few people stay really close to their elementary school buddies for their whole lives. It happens, but not often).

The only thing they won't get again unless they want it is arts and crafts.

Even if they miss reading and math facts, the two really important things they learn in elementary school, provided they don't have a learning disability, they can catch up on really fast when they're older (although they might curse you for the joys they missed because they couldn't read well when they were young--being able to read and do basic math is a blessing to children that gives them a great deal of confidence, independence, and a means to satisfy their curiosity and feed their brains, and, when paired with writing, gives them a way to express themselves).

And here's the other secret nobody's telling you: Their grades don't count for ANYTHING until high school, and then they only count toward college acceptance. And even then, if they do a year or two at a community college and get good grades, the high school grades are forgivable. And those standardized tests don't count for anything, either, even in high school. The only test that matters is the SAT/ACT, and even those are becoming less weighted in the overall admissions scoring.

The most important thing kids need to learn is how to learn, followed closely by creativity in solving problems, how to express themselves effectively, and how to interact with society in a responsible, meaningful way. They also need to discover and develop their own talents and gain some confidence.  And here's the really big secret: all of these are best developed OUT of the classroom! In fact, they can all be developed very effectively by sending your kids outside for some unstructured play time, and research is starting to emphasize this.

So I'm very open about not being an unschooler, but I do think homeschooling moms (and all moms) should stop worrying so much about those "educational gaps" the schools are telling us we are condemning our children to, and whether or not their 5 year old is learning everything he needs.

At least, until the kid hits high school. And then you have to decide what you care about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Did I just read that?

On a post from a cousin about finding black widows at her house, Facebook tried to be all clever and show me related posts and related ads:

Trying to figure out how AC/DC, Jesus, Teachers, makeup, and Lady Gaga are related to each other and to black widow spiders......

Found another job search engine

I know dozens of people who have looked for jobs for a long time, just like we have. I usually use for my job search engine because it is a meta-search engine. Recently, someone from Jooble contacted me and suggested I might like their site, so I had a peek.

It's a lot like, searching other job search sites for you. Seems pretty solid. Easy to search by location. I would definitely add it to my job-search-sites list.

What Jooble has that I haven't seen a lot of elsewhere is the ability to search for jobs internationally. Here:

Since I know a lot of you are fluent in many languages, and a lot are interested in working all over the map, you might have fun playing on Jooble.

Monday, September 19, 2011

More favorite toys....

Tonight I heard whispering way past bedtime, so I went to check on the kids. I found Benji fast asleep, tucked up with a toilet plunger on his pillow next to him, lovingly tucked in.

And I thought the fly swatter was a strange choice of "lovey"!

Benji calls it his "Kluncher".

(Don't worry, it's a perfectly clean, new toilet plunger that has only served as a stage prop.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

International Talk Like a Pirate Day!!!

Sept 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. To celebrate, Tim recorded a parody of a Ke$ha song.

Enjoy "We Arrr Who We Arrr!"

(And, as I write this, free download! Who knows how long that will last, though). Spread the word!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Elijah's favorite toy:

Elijah is now 9 months old. He can crawl. He loves cruising around the house holding on to whatever he can reach. He's trying really hard to learn how to walk--he can walk across the room holding just one hand, even.

He's a fun-loving, strong willed boy.

And he has a favorite toy.

The Fly Swatter.

Yeah--who would have guessed that one?!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Choir or not?

(Note: there are a lot of videos embedded in this blog post, and you really need to watch them to "get" it. If you're on an e-reader or you got this via email and it didn't have the videos, click here:

One of the most surprising things Tim discovered during his study of Choral Conducting was that academic choral music is still tangled in the knots of "What IS this discipline, anyway?"

You wouldn't think the study of choral music would be in any kind of identity crisis. I mean, a choir is a group of people who sing together. Pretty much everyone agrees on that definition.

But it turns out that it's a huge issue. Part of it is the discipline trying to distance itself from the sacred tradition. They don't want to define "choir" as "a group of people who sing together, usually in church" (which is how most dictionaries define it) because there is a LOT of fantastic secular music out there, and, let's face it, academia is pretty anti-religion right now. No problem, though, because choral music has always had two faces: a secular (Rennaissance Madrigals, songs of love and death) and a sacred (religious, church music like masses).

That's not the big issue actually. The big issue is what counts as a choir!

Nobody disputes that this is choral music:

That one is clear-cut.

But what about this? It's obviously still a choir, but the music is...comedy.

Actually, it's still pretty clear-cut. That's accepted as choral music.

But the lines can start getting really muddy.

Choir performance. Not a choir song, traditionally. But it still sounds pretty choral.

But what about this. Same choir.

Or this. Same song. Now we're pushing the limits....

And now this one (same song) crossed the line, even though it sounds better than the previous example.

Interesting that contemporary a cappella is not included in choral music even though it is produced by a group of people singing together (fits the definition of "choir"), and even though contemporary a cappella can be traced in a direct, straight line all the way back to Rennaissance Madrigals, which are totally acceptable as choral music now (even though when they were being performed originally, they functioned, culturally, exactly how contemporary a cappella functions today).

Choral programs everywhere (except BYU) are constantly bemoaning the fact that the programs are shrinking and they can't get kids to sing--because those cursed a cappella groups are taking all the singers.  So they try to ban a cappella groups, when the more reasonable approach would be to incorporate them into the program. But that completely shakes up the definition of choral music that they've set up for themselves. And, even though they won't admit it, it puts their fine, elite art into the hands of amateurs who doggedly insist that they can do it themselves--and, if you judge by the number of singers involved, do a better job at furthering "harmony singing" than any choir program (except BYU, where they have actually incorporated the a cappella groups into the program...funny thing.)

The problem is, while there aren't a lot of casual street-bassoon groups out there, anyone can sing, and there are thousands of street choirs (we call them a cappella groups, barbershop singers, gospel choirs, boy bands, folk ensembles, but they're all choirs by the dictionary definition). So while it's clear who the experts are with woodwinds, the people who want to be elite, to be the experts, with vocal music are having a really hard time holding on to their status. If anyone can sing, and anyone can sing in a group, and anyone can put together a group, and the "anyones" are getting more singers into the groups, and more people out to the concerts...well, where do the elites stand? In quicksand.

But they're fighting for their status.

Because, darn it, this CAN'T count as choral music:

Even though this probably does:

And this totally does:

And even this does:

I KNOW--now we're on shaky ground. But it's a show choir. So it's obviously choral music. Even though this isn't:

And no, it's not that there's a soloist. This is choral music:

and so is this:

It's as though choral music's traditions ended in two places, stylistically: the "choral" music that we all recognize as choral, which descended from religious music, and all this other stuff, which descended from the secular music. And the academic discipline of choral music is trying to straddle the fence, without exclusively embracing the origins of one or the end-point of the other. It's not that they are rejecting the religious music--they still embrace that. It's just that they also want to include secular choral music, and even pop, jazz, and folk music--but only on their terms. If someone else--like some kid who wants a bunch of guys to sing Lady Gaga songs--is in charge, somehow, they can't embrace it all as choral music. It's an identity crisis.

Really, though, I think they're asking antiquated questions.

Instead of wondering if groups of people singing pop music really are choirs or not, they should be wondering if a single person using technology to create multiple voices singing in harmony counts as choral music or not.

Does this count?
(Sorry, there's no video of these songs yet, so you'll just have to listen to the link)



Stone on Stone (excerpt).

Those were written for choirs. They sound choral. But the performances are actually all Tim's voice, multi-tracked in the studio and layered together electronically. But it still seems like choral music.

So what about this:

It's all voices....There are no instruments in there. Tim  used the same techniques he did in the previous example, both in the songwriting and in the recording, layering many voices in the studio--like a choir, except all the voices were his.

So then what about this? What if he does the exact same thing live, layering voices to create music with many voices, all singing in harmony? Does it matter that there's only one person on the stage? If he functions as a choir, can he, by himself, be a choir? Or is that going too far?

So what if we put more than one guy on stage, but they're still singing multiple parts themselves:

No? You're pretty sure that's not choral music, aren't you.

Well this counts, unequivocally, as choral music:

Not so different....

(And if that counts, then what about this:


Now THERE is a space for scholarly inquiry.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Did I just read that?

Also from FoxNews home page today, again different from the article's headline:"First View of Invisible Tank"


Did I just read that?

from Fox New's home page (different from the article's headline): "Flying Horse Jailed for Stabbing Man at Birthday "

Must have been a pegasus-unicorn who hates cake.

Which has more sugar?

You know I love stuff like this--I'm always comparing.

This one was really good:

Which has more sugar--Doughnut or bran muffin?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Did I just read that?

First line of the article: "An Illinois woman has died after injecting hot beef fat into her face, WLS Radio reported."

Second to last line: "According to an autopsy performed Friday at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, Hardt died of peritonitis, a severe abdominal inflammation caused by a bacterial infection, which was not related to the injections."

So....bad reporting? 

Did I just read that?

An article about some seriously funny typos in books.

You MUST click on the link to the three-armed woman.  I laughed until I cried.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tango, by Tim

Tim has been working on this video for a month now (maybe more). It's a departure from his comedy bent.

And I LOVE it. Visually, emotionally, aurally it's poetry. The symbolism is fantastic. The editing is amazing.

Some fun little tidbit about this:

In January, Tim decided he needed a movie studio at the house, so he could work whenever he wanted. As soon as it was warm enough, he converted the garage. Emptied it, rearranged the storage area, painted the whole thing black, even the floor. He got a pull-down white "screen" for seamless white backgrounds (it's a huge sheet of paper, like photographers use. HUGE roll of paper).

So he filmed this in our garage, grabbing a few pieces from inside the house that would be visually interesting in silhouette. He made his budget goal of $0. The plastic was a painter's drop cloth I got maybe 5 years ago that we didn't use all of and that has been carted up and taken all over with us for no apparent reason. The lights are the car's headlights.

He filmed all night a couple of nights, and one night the neighbors across the street were out for a long time, and finally one teenage girl came over and introduced herself and told him the car headlights were on, just in case he didn't know. I think they were a little baffled (rightly--who makes movies in their garage all night using only the car as lighting?). The light blue background was an accident--the sun started coming up and he didn't realize it, but the effect was fantastico. The lights shooting into and out of his head in the light blue screen sections are actually the start of the morning commute! Fortuitous for others to create the special effects for us.

My favorite footage, which was shot before he cleared the space in the garage, so there was piles of stuff in silhouette around his silhouette, was deleted, so it didn't make it into the film.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Did I just read that?

"Woman hospitalized after car hits her while horseback riding" (

Imagining a car riding a horse.....

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Pet Peeves in MG/YA fiction

I've been reading to the kids every night, and we grabbed "The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable" by Daniel Gutman because the jacket copy was fabulous.


Well, some day I hope I have his PR team.

The first three chapters were fabulous. Probably because he outright ripped them off from Brandon Sanderson's "Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians." He changed enough that he can't get charged with plagiarism, I'm sure, but not enough that it's not recognizable. He even breaks the fourth wall in  "asides" in roughly the same narrative spaces. One line was a quote from Sanderson's book.

So that's a pet peeve of mine with writers--if you can't come up with your own stuff, what business have you writing?

The book kind of goes downhill after the first three chapters, too. Presumably that's when he stopped copying from Sanderson's book, but I don't know because my copy of Alcatraz had to go back to the library after I'd ready only 3 chapters, so I never finished it.  There is a real danger in starting a book the way both of these start, though. They start on a high--they basically start at the climax and then backtrack, hoping you'll keep reading to find out how that scene ends. The danger of this is that no matter where you start a book, you have to make it build somehow. If you start too boring, you don't hook your reader. If you start too exciting, however, you risk losing them after the initial sequence is over because you have to be able to keep up the tempo you've set for yourself. Sanderson succeeds at this by pulling back on plot but pushing WAY up on character--he gets you off the outlandish climax sequence into a character that is likeable but extremely unique, and the characters that jump in almost immediately are even more unique, so the instant he lets you off one hook, he catches you with another. And he never actually releases the first hook--he doesn't resolve that first scene right up front. He makes you wait for it.

Daniel Gutman doesn't do this.

In fact, as soon as the characters pass the climax point (which they reach at the beginning of the novel still, not later in the book), the start acting in ways that are completely uncharacteristic of junior high kids. And I happen to know junior high kids fairly well--I taught junior high for six years.  So he hooks you with action, then lets you off the hook (completely--resolves the teaser right there), and then creates characters that are only marginally likeable and completely unbelievable--in a bad way.

So that's two pet peeves. Near miss on plotting. Far miss on characters.

I mean, the guy is supposedly writing about genius 13 year old twins, and it's apparent he has no idea what 13 year olds actually think and feel like, and even more apparent that he has neither been nor met any child geniuses. (It particularly irks me to read about child prodigies that aren't. Card nailed it in Ender's Game. Gutman misses. Painfully. So did the guy who wrote "Artemis Fowl." These are people who are imagining what a child genius might be like. And they create caricatures instead of characters, but the authors don't seem to realize that.)

I'll give you an example: the kids jump off a cliff wearing wing suits because some guys are trying to kill them. They've never used wing suits before, but they manage to figure them out, including guessing that there are parachutes and how to deploy them (that's a stretch, especially since he describes in detail how it happened, and nobody would have done that or thought of that). He spends almost a whole chapter describing how cool but terrifying but cool it is to jump off a cliff, fall, and then fly.  Then the beginning of the next chapter happens, and the kids strip off the wing suits and THROW THEM AWAY! And the authors says they hoped never to see them again. What?! No kid would do that. They would do like my kids did the first time they rode a roller coaster. Wow--scary!--can I do it again?! At the very least the wing suits would end up under the bed.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the bad guys up the top of the cliff watch the kids fall, can see where they're coming down, and don't bother to get there.  Huh?

And then, to top it off, the kids get home, eat dinner, and are washing the dishes and one looks at the other and says, "You remember this afternoon when those guys were chasing us and that lady saved us?" LIKE YOU COULD FORGET! Sheesh. A real live kid would have said, "You think she died?" And the other would have known exactly what she was talking about. They would have been reliving that moment--she gets hit by a blow dart and falls, and they jump off a cliff--over and over with a mixture of disbelief and horror.

A couple of chapters later, the author tries to make me believe that the excitement of the last day of school--which he portrays as boring to the protagonists--completely drove that whole adventure out of their minds. Right.

Another example of the author not "getting" brilliant kids? He has the protagonist annoying the health teacher by questioning her lesson (which gifted kids do), but he thinks the kid is doing it just to push the lady's buttons and waste time. While he nailed the dialogue this time, he totally missed the motivations. Most of the really truly genius kids I know do correct people, but motivated entirely by a desire to point out the intellectual errors, or the right way. Not just to be annoying. There are kids who like to just be annoying, but they are usually the bright kids, not the truly gifted ones. Not the ones I've met, anyway.

The other pet peeve that's making the book almost unreadable to me is the parents. In trying to buddy up with and "understand" and "connect" and "speak to" 13 year olds, he spends a LOT of time both openly denigrating parents and making the parents look stupid and worthless. And he goes extra far and makes the dad selfish and rude to the mom, and the mom flaky and rude to the dad. The parents bicker on the page. I'm so SO opposed to teaching kids that parents are dumb and marriage stinks. Especially since in this story, it serves no discernible purpose--it doesn't further the story at all. It's just a device, poorly applied, that is actually damaging. We want to build up families, not tear them down. I don't think you have to reinforce destructive ideas in order to connect to kids. (But, then again, this guy apparently has never really known a kid, so maybe he thinks kids actually think that way on purpose, and I guess he has a terrible marriage and thinks it's okay to belittle women--in fact, the women in the book are disappointingly wimpy and embarrassingly stereotyped).

He also misses the mom's character. He SAYS she runs a website called "Amazing but True" and spends all her time collecting strange true facts to publish. But the mom doesn't respond to amazing  but true kinds of things the way a real fan of those things does. Another flat character that could be round and interesting.

'Nother one: He writes the story mostly from the kids' point of view, but calls their parents Dr. McDonald and Mrs. McDonald. That's just hard to read. Plus, what kids call their parents that?!

Oh, wait, there's more? Yup. It just goes on and on--he calls the parents "Second generation Hippies" but then paints them as worriers, uptight people, hyper-organized sequentials, inflexible (they're ready to call the cops when their kids are half an hour late coming home from school--they're actually camped on the driveway on chairs waiting for the kids to walk in). He says the dad is a 2nd generation hippie, but the guy is the most stereotypical academic historian ever--the kind of guy who writes the histories the second-gen hippies are constantly pushing to rewrite. Apparently has never met a second generation hippie, either.

Oh, wait, more?  Yeah...I'll stop, though. I could go on and on and on with specific examples (he uses cute little breaking-the-fourth-wall asides. It was funny the first time. The third, not so much. The seventh? Oh, spare me!)

Yeah. So don't bother with the Genius Files. 

But do read the jacket copy. Best part of the book by far!

(And do me a favor--if I ever write those kinds of flaws into my books, please tell me so I can write them back out again! I don't want to be embarrassed.)