Napoleon’s Dynamite!

My son’s first major film (he was first asst director) is a surprise hit! It’s now been in the theaters for three months and grossed $40 million. “Napoleon Dynamite” is taking the high schools by storm. Here is a report from my friend Cris Lewis in Portland:

“Thought you’d enjoy knowing that Napoleon Dynamite is taking over the high school. Everyone’s mimicking the movie’s star. Tell Tim thanks a lot for creating teenage America’s latest ‘cult’ following! (And to think they did it without profanity, vulgarity, sex…nice job!)

Vivienne and I saw it and thought it was the dumbest movie we’d ever seen. We turned to each other in the middle of it and said, ‘Why are we watching this’?

But we come home and now have laughed for hours as our children (who have seen it many times) have mimicked and laughed about every character. I think our generation knew too many Napoleons in our school and felt sorry for them that we can’t laugh at this character. But, for some reason, our children can’t get enough of the movie and talk about it constantly. And kids are mimicking it everywhere. My 6th grade daughter said a candidate for student body officer even sang a song in his political speech mimicking the closing song by Napoleon’s brother…to get a laugh. Go figure!

I’m just glad a clean movie has become a hit! (I hope Tim is getting some royalties on it.)”

Here are a few quotes from reviewers from around the country:

“One of the most winning movie creations in years.” — Stephen Hunter, WASHINGTON POST

“…a wonderfully skewed story that weaves together tater tot fetishism, a voracious llama, tether ball, Internet dating, and the high school presidential race…” — Spence D., IGN FILMFORCE

“Too low-wattage to be a true nerd anthem, but it’s charming in retrospect, when you’re freed from the narcoleptic pace to think back on the … beautiful tableaux and well-timed gags.” — David Edelstein, SLATE

All the best, AEIOU, M. Skousen

Tribute to my uncle, W. Cleon Skousen

“There were giants in the earth in those days….might men which were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4)

My uncle, W. Cleon Skousen, turned 90 years old on January 20. Over 200 relatives came to Salt Lake City to honor him.

I speak and travel all around the country, and wherever I go, one of the most frequent questions asked is, “Are you related to W. Cleon Skousen?” He is known far and wide as a powerful spokesman for liberty, indomitable defender of the Constitution, and indefatigable critic of Communism. He is the author of several dozen books, including The Naked Communist, The Naked Capitalist, and The Miracle of America. He founded the Center for Constitutional Studies, famous for its constitutional seminars around the country. He is also known among Christians as the author of the “Thousand Year” series of lively histories and commentaries on the Bible from a Mormon perspective. Anyone who has read The First 2,000 Years is hooked and can’t wait to read the other volumes. I wished I had his felicity of expression.

W. Cleon Skousen was born in Canada in 1913, a terrible year in the history of freedom. 1913 is the year the federal income tax and the Federal Reserve were created. I can’t think of two events more destructive to our daily lives. I firmly believe our standard of living could be double or triple what it is today if it weren’t for the havoc the progressive income tax and central banking have done in this country and around the world. (War would be the third great destroyer.)

God sent us W. Cleon Skousen to counter the influence of these two evils. Maybe God will let him live until we see the end of these two relics of modern barbarism.

Uncle Cleon became a dad to me when my own father, Leroy B. Skousen, passed away at the young age of 46. My father loved Cleon. Leroy followed in his older brother’s footsteps in many ways, becoming an FBI agent and an attorney. Leroy also fathered a large family–11 children. We grew up in Portland, Oregon, until my father suddenly came down with lung cancer (though he never smoked) and died in 1964. My mother moved to Utah, ten surviving children in tow, so that we children could attend Brigham Young University without having to pay dormitory fees. It was a tough time, and my uncle, who lived in Salt Lake, helped us and gave us a lot of guidance. Ever since then, I’ve always been close to my Uncle Cleon, and sought his counsel throughout my career.

Let me tell you one recent example of his influence in my life. In 1995, I decided to write a history of the great economic thinkers, from Adam Smith to the present. All previous histories of economics had been written by socialists, Keynesians, and Marxists. A free-market perspective was long overdue. I had commissioned the libertarian economist Murray Rothbard to write an alternative to Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers, but he only finished half the book before he died in 1995. So I decided to write it myself. In researching my book, I was heavily influenced by Murray Rothbard’s negative assessment of Adam Smith. Almost all conservatives and libertarians admire Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, but not Murray. He chastised Smith for his defective value theory, which he said gave much ammunition to the socialists and Marxists. Murray was one of my personal heroes, and I was influenced by his view. My book was skeptical of Smith, and the whole tenor of my book was negative. My initial title was “The Propensity to Confuse” (a play on Keynes’s phrase, “propensity to consume”).

On a trip to Utah a year later, I took the first chapter with me when I visited Uncle Cleon in Salt Lake City, and told him about my project. He looked at me and made a statement, “You know, Adam Smith’s doctrine of the invisible hand is inspired of God.”

I was taken aback. If my uncle was right, Murray Rothbard was wrong–and my book’s entire approach was a mistake. But Cleon was not a professional economist. Perhaps Murray was right. I was in a quandry. I decided there was only one way to find out who was right. So I returned home determined to make up my own mind by reading page by page, cover to cover, the entire thousand page copy of The Wealth of Nations. A month later, I had come to a very firm conclusion: Murray Rothbard was wrong, and my Uncle Cleon was right. Despite committing some serious errors of analysis, Adam Smith’s development of his “system of natural liberty” was a brilliant vision of a free and prosperous society under limited government.

My change of heart caused a complete revision of my work, allowing me to write a history of high drama, with a plot, an heroic figure (Adam Smith and his system of natural liberty), and even a good ending (the triumph of free-market capitalism, at least temporarily).

I even changed the title of the book to The Making of Modern Economics. Published by M. E. Sharpe in 2001, it is now in its third printing and being translated into several languages.

Knowing the story above, you won’t be surprised to learn that the book is dedicated to my uncle, W. Cleon Skousen.

Entreprenuerialship is Alive and Well in the Soviet Union

by Jo Ann Skousen

It was the final day of our trip to Russia, and our worst fears were being realized: as the children and I rushed toward the Moscow airport and home, my husband, Mark Skousen, was being taken to the police station at Red Square. And time was running out.

Two days before our departure had started innocently enough, with typical plans for a day of sightseeing — Red Square, Lenin’s tomb, and St. Basil’s Cathedral in the morning, followed by shopping at the massive state-run GUM department store in the afternoon before attending the Moscow circus that evening. But the morning had barely begun when we found ourselves hurried through twisting alleys in the drizzling rain by two unknown Russians toward every conservative American’s nightmare: the Soviet police station at Red Square. Instinctively I pulled the children closer, keeping them between my husband and myself. Then we stopped, and the head inspector looked up, eyeing each of us in turn. “How can I help you?” he asked through our interpreter. Our video camera had been left in the taxi, and the two young Russians we had met the night before, Igor and Sergei, horrified at the thought of a loss so dear, had insisted that we report it to the police.

To our surprise, the police station was not the somber fortress we had expected it to be. I looked around at the peeling yellow paint, the dilapidated veneer-topped desks, the fist-sized hole punched through a door. The inspector, who appeared to be about 30 years old, was not even wearing a uniform, but was dressed instead in a striped knit sports shirt, the kind you might buy at J.C. Penney.

We gave our report, and our Russian friend assured us privately that, if we brought the inspector a couple of cartons of American cigarettes, our camera would very likely be recovered and restored to us. The black market, we were discovering, was the only system keeping this crumbling ship afloat.

Igor and Sergei spent the next two days as our personal guides, driving us all over the city and even inviting us to their tiny but clean apartment. Igor had been to the United States on a visit and now his life’s goal was to get out of Russian permanently. To leave would require money–dollars, not rubles — and lots of it. He had smuggled a personal computer back with him, and sold it for an amount equal to three years’ salary — no wonder he felt the loss of our expensive video camera so keenly! With his profits he was able to quit his government job and become an entrepreneur, mostly exchanging currency for tourists at ten times the official rate, and providing other services. The penalty for changing money was a minimum of five years in jail, so we were amazed at how freely the two moved among the tourists, entering hotels and restaurants where local Muscovites were clearly forbidden. There was a buoyant brightness about them, in stark contrast to the vast majority of beaten down Russians standing in lines wherever we went. Imagine having to get your drivers license renewed every day of your life, and you get some idea of what it is like to be a Soviet citizen.

Even more amazing was the immediate trust our two friends put in us. After exchanging our money and selling us several hundred dollars worth of art objects, they gave all the dollars back to us, asking us to deposit the money in an account Igor had set up in the States during his visit. Even now my heart swells as I think of their courage and friendship.

We were saying our farewells at the hotel when the call came from the police station. They had found our taxi driver and insisted that Mark come down to the station to identify him, even though our plane was scheduled to leave in less than two hours. It seemed innocent enough, but as the car took him away, a lifetime of fearing “the Reds” overtook me. Did they know about Mark’s CIA background? Had this whole experience been an elaborate hoax to keep him there? Finally, with only minutes to spare, he came running through the airport, Igor and Sergei clearing the way. The police had indeed found our taxi driver, but when Mark learned what they planned to do to him — accuse him of money exchanging so they could sentence him to five years in prison — Mark’s memory faltered and he just wasn’t able to identify the fellow.

(It is now a year since our visit to Moscow. Igor is living with his wife in Norfolk Virginia, and Sergei is living in Paris, hoping for a visa to the States. They are all working hard at whatever jobs they can find, grateful to be in the West where they know that someday they will be extremely successful.)