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Showing posts from February, 2007

Can Jesus Cavort with Demons?

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A recent scandal in the Pennsylvania school system has brought to light just how very misunderstood the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution is. I think that when the school district loses its court case, it will have been a net positive for American religious debate and for society in general.

The city of Abington, Pennsylvania is rallying around a 10-year old boy who was not allowed to dress up as Jesus for Halloween. Apparently the average American citizen is less cowed by cowing institutions such as the ACLU than are school districts. Good!

Donna Brewer says that her son was allowed to wear a costume depicting himself as Jesus, even under the district's very own policy. This story is very illustrative of how much people misinterpret not only what the Constitution of the United States says, but also the Supreme Court's interpretation of it. It is clearly within the 10-year-old Brewer's right to wear the costume, complete with a paper-wreath symboliz…

Al-pocrite's Inconvenient Truth

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Behind all the glitz, glamor, and posturing is a very inconvenient truth for environmental evangelist Al Gore. He is not making a contribution to the control of global warming--at all.

At least some of the stars and starlets were smart enough to show up in energy-conscious vehicles to the Academy Awards the other night. But not Al Gore. He showed up in a limo.

Standing under the klieg lights to accept his award for best documentarian, Mr. Gore was all smiles. He probably didn't notice that the electricity used to power all the lights in the convention hall could have powered a small city.

But I don't think that is his quest. It appears to me that his quest is to make all the rest of us conform to his idea of environmental consciousness.

I know I'm putting a lot of undue pressure on him, but he's putting a lot of undue pressure on me, too.

What about the time he got a speeding ticket in his rental boat (car)? Wasting gas and wasting gas.

Interestingly, a recent study in…

The Silent Killer

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You can't smell it. It builds up in your home and in the surrounding environment over a period of time, and you scarcely know its there until it's devastating effects are manifest. I think everyone should be required to have an RG detector in their homes. Much more deadly than carbon monoxide, Reckless Government gets into every facet of our lives until it's nearly impossible to get rid of.

Certain laws certainly make a lot of people feel good. But think about what it takes to enforce them?

Legislators go to Salt Lake or Washington with the premise that the more legislation they pass, they better they are as legislators. We have so many laws that it is impossible to know whether we are breaking most of them, and nearly as impossible to enforce them. I think we would be better off hiring legislators who tried to take more laws off they books than they passed.

Even city government gets into the law-enactment frenzy. By requiring every home to have a carbon monoxide detec…

Now Matter How You Slice It, It Requires Faith

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No matter what world view we possess, no matter what we think is true, it requires faith to fill in the gaps. Religious people don't know everything about God, but neither do atheists know everything about science. I think we'd all be better off, if we accepted that faith is required, and stop trying to force one side or the other out of the public debate. Religious people will be better off to learn science, and atheists will be benefited from studying religion.

When I was a young child, I would sit on my living room couch and look at the coat closet in our entryway, sometimes for almost an hour. My recurring thought was to try to imagine what it would be like if there were nothing (for me 'nothing' had the color of 'black', for some reason) and it would freak me out to no end to try to comprehend it. Alternatively, I would try to imagine how it all got here, and that would freak me out, too. Because of my mental limitations, it became comfortable (and logi…

Sexism Hits Home

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It's easy to ignore cries of sexism when it doesn't happen to someone you know. But when it does, the reality of it takes on a whole new perspective.

When I was a kid, I noticed that most moms brought the babies to church and most dads brought their scriptures. Men usually spoke up in Sunday School, and women seemed pretty quiet. I'm not sure why the women didn't bring their scriptures very often, but I thought it was weird. Everybody should understand the gospel, I thought.

I'm glad to see that that dynamic is changing. I thought the stereotype of women not needing to learn anything was slaughtered fairly expertly in the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast, where Belle's penchant for reading was frowned upon by the townsfolk, male and female alike, but where it ultimately became obvious that Belle was the one who had the right worldview.

A couple weeks back, the LDS ward that we were supposed to be competing against in Young Men's basketball did not field …

"They're Gonna Do It Anyway, So"...Version 2.0

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I should have seen this one coming. I can at least say I'm not surprised. When someone says, "they're gonna do it anyway, so we better educate them and offer them condoms", it's only a matter of time before they say "they're gonna do it anyway, so lets inoculate them."

About two years ago, two pharmaceutical companies began competing to create a vaccine for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Gardasil, created by Merck Corporation, has now been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

In a clever campaign, if clever is the right word, Merck is essentially saying "They're gonna do it, so we need to give them the opportunity to be inoculated against HPV." Merck has recently had to buy a new bandwagon, because at one point 20 States proposed legislation that would require 11 and 12 year old girls to receive the vaccine, because "in order to be effective, it must be taken before girls become sexually active, and so shoul…

Y2K Heck! What about DST!

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No entity is better than government at avoiding the understanding of how its actions cause way bigger problems than they were intended to fix. The federal requirement to change when Daylight Savings Time begins is causing untold millions of dollars of computer fixes to be applied just to be in compliance, and that's not even taking into consideration what the program patches might break in the process. (Updated: 2/23/2007)

If you have a SmartPhone, you might want to check here to see how you might be affected.

How come my COBOL programs won't compile today? They did about a week ago. The only thing that's changed is that our system techs applied Daylight Savings Time program patches to a whole bunch of our servers over the weekend.

I sure wish I lived in Arizona about now, because they don't do the DST shuffle.

Do you have Windows Vista or XP with service pack 2? If not, on March 11th, the new beginning date for daylight savings time, will catch you by surprise. And a…

My Representative Loves the Gravy Train

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The Utah House of Representatives voted to nearly gut Representative Ralph Becker's HB178 which would have banned gifts over $5. An interim version of the bill simply asked that all meals provided by lobbyists should be fully reportable. Not a hard thing. But nearly every Republican in the House, plus one Democrat voted against it.

If a legislator doesn't make enough money, he or she has two choices--don't run for the legislature or sponsor a bill that gives legislators a larger per diem. But DON'T hide behind the skirts of lobbyists.

Patrick Painter, R-Nephi, my representative in the house, was in large company when he voted for the watered-down version of the bill. Actually, the bill was pretty much only water, as it barely made a dent in the amount of money lobbyists report that can't be tied to which legislators they were schmoozing. I admit, I haven't contacted Mr. Painter about the issue, but I will now. And I will hopefully communicate with my State…

Quantifying Hate as a Factor in Crime

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It is rather difficult in many instances to determine whether something said or done is hateful, or whether it is just stupid. It is difficult to get into the mind of the potential criminal, but it is much easier to understand how his or her actions affected its victims.

My recent post regarding Tim Hardaway's silly comments about homosexuality, as cross-posted on OneUtah.org, elicited a response suggesting that hate is the line over which we must not allow such statements to cross. It got me thinking, could Mr. Hardaway's comments be construed to be a hate crime under traditional hate crime laws? I'm not sure.

Traditional hate crime laws consider as hate crimes "criminal acts or attempted criminal acts that are motivated because of a person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender, or disability. " Utah law forges a better solution, under which Hardaway's comment…

The Important (Missed) Debate About Homosexuality

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Some pretty high-profile individuals can say some pretty uneducated and insensitive things about other people. But when it happens, it's not a time to effectively ban such speech. Rather, it's time to talk about what misconceptions would cause that sort of speech to occur. It's also important to remember that everyone has his or her right to an opinion.

I think homosexual activity is wrong. I think it is a perversion of normal sexual behavior as much as is promiscuous heterosexual activity. But I don't think that we should treat as a pariah anyone who either has such inclinations (homo- or hetero-), or even anyone who acts on them.

When I first heard that former Utah Jazz basketball player John Amaechi is a homosexual, I thought, "So what?" I was actually kind of angry that the Deseret News made such a big deal out of what I thought was not much of a news story.

Then I heard Tim Hardaway's radio comments the other night, and I thought, was that really …

Is it Important that He was a Muslim?

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It is claimed that Utah media withheld information about the religion of the murderer who rampaged recently at Trolley Square. I don't think they knew at the beginning that he was Muslim, but I do think that it is important that we know that information. The more we know about the motivations of killers, the more likely we are to be able to prevent the next mass killing attempt. Excluding religion as a possible attack factor is weak minded, and is an invitation to more such killers and killings. But attacking individuals who share certain demographics with killers is also wrong.

Some weblogs are claiming that Utah media deliberately suppressed the fact that the young man was a Muslim who murdered several people at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. I don't think they even knew this at first. It would be irresponsible to withhold that information when it became known, but it would be also irresponsible for a news provider to speculate on such information.

When I read the ne…

Lions and Tigers and Tanning Beds, Oh My!

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I surprised me when I found out that a bill requiring parents to visit the tanning salon with their children was actually being proposed in this year's Utah legislature. Imagine my wonderment that Senate Bill 52 has now actually passed the legislature and is waiting for the governor's signature.

If there is anyone who has any inside information on why parents should have to give consent for their children to visit a tanning salon, please let me know. It's almost like it's common knowledge that such should be the case, because I didn't hear much of a ruckus about it in the newspapers. Actually I heard mostly support.

There are quite a few regulations already regarding tanning: you can tan a maximum of 20 minutes per session (25 in what are known as RUVA beds) and you can tan only once in any 24-hour period. I've seen it enforced in the tanning salon I used to attend, when people were told to come back in two hours, because it hadn't been 24 yet. Every boo…

President Giuliani "Understands" The Second Amendment

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During the mayoral tenure of Rudi Giuliani in New York City, crime went down significantly. He claims that it was as a result of his efforts at gun control. Because of this he claims that he understands the second amendment and its importance. If he said something else that was reported as him having said it, I'm not sure he does. And therefore I'm not sure I would want him to become president of the United States.

It is historical fact that crime rates dropped dramatically in the 1990's in New York City when Rudi Giuliani was mayor. Some credit goes to Mayor Giuliani. But mainly because he followed the actions of his predecessor, David Dinkins, who in the early 1990's initiated what turned out to be a 45% increase in the manpower in the NYPD.

Recently, implying that his efforts at gun-control had reduced the New York crime rate, candidate-for-US-president Giuliani, according to the Associated Press, had this to say about his efforts as mayor:

"I used gun contr…

Agent "Curveball" and the US Border Patrol

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Much of the 'intelligence' on which the United States based its 2003 invasion of Iraq came from one source, which turned out to be very unreliable. In an apparent attempt to 'go one worse' on that dismal failure, the United States has based the incarcerations of US Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean on the testimony of one man--a drug smuggler whom they caught in the act, and who has since been given immunity from prosecution.

In the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, it became known by the United States that German intelligence had in their custody an Iraqi defector whom they had code-named "Curveball". According to Curveball, he had been present during the construction of several mobile biological/chemical weapons labs. He claimed that the Hussein regime had the ability to wreak havoc on the United States with its resulting weapons of mass destruction. Having never interviewed Curveball, and despite warnings by German intelligence that Curveball was not …

A Report from the Utah House Soccer Committee

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Salt Lake County thought it was a bad idea. Maybe the Utah State Legislature has a new-and-improved crystal ball. But any way you look at it, the way the Real soccer stadium is being approached is a huge mistake. Well, maybe not--a whole bunch of pretty boys got a new soccer jersey and a way cool photo op.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and the county council could see that it was not a good idea. He says "that the State may have a higher risk tolerance than Salt Lake County." Apparently.

Sometimes when I get really ticked off about something, it's because I'm wrong. So maybe this time I'm just wrong, but it really irritates me that the Utah Legislature is throwing $35 million at a soccer stadium that will not be able to service its debt payments. I guess it's okay, though, because Dave Checketts has 'pledged' $7.5 million toward a youth sports complex in Salt Lake.

Governor Huntsman said of this less-than-momentous occasion:

I think we need …

Flat Taxes and Charitable Contributions

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Do you think a 5% flat tax in Utah will result in fewer charitable contributions? Should we oppose a flat tax, so that our church still gets its charitable receipts? I think we should trust that people will still be charitable. I support the currently proposed 5% flat tax.

The Utah Legislature is currently considering a bill which if passed, it is estimated, will incent 80% of Utah taxpayers to choose a 5% flat tax rate. Some legislators, particularly those of the LDS faith, are worried that a flat tax might discourage charitable giving. I hope not. But I could see how a poorly crafted flat tax would have just that effect.

The Deseret News says of the LDS church's position on a flat tax:

LDS Church leaders have said that whatever personal income tax changes are made, there should still be incentives for charitable giving.
In September of 2005, a legal representative for the LDS church read a statement in front of a legislative committee. It said in part:

"Our community is b…

Economic Incentives, and Moral Ones, Too

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The world is full of incentives, but we often fail to realize how incentives entice us to act. Some incentives are economic, but others are moral. Both are important, but as incentives become more perverse or unintelligible, so sometimes do our actions. Economic incentives can complete destroy moral ones.

Let's assume a scenario for a moment. Assume you take your kids to a daycare center each weekday. For these services you pay $360 per month. Suddenly the daycare providers enact a new policy--if you are more than ten minutes late to pick up your children, you will have to pay a penalty of $3. Would your behavior change? How?

According to the book Freakonomics, this exact scenario was tried at one daycare center, and the results were completely unexpected. The number of late parents went up dramatically. It's all because of incentives. Prior to the enactment of the $3 fine, parents were generally very embarrassed to be late to pick up their children, and it only occur…

Killing the Golden Goose, Government Style

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In seeking to solve one economic plight or the other, government often makes the problem worse. It is a fine line between forcing people to give up part of their innovation and creativity, versus disincentivizing them to create anything at all. When government steps over that line, productivity stops, but it becomes very difficult to correctly deduce that the problem was indeed caused by government.



The story goes that a man once found a goose that laid a golden egg once per day. He considered himself to have enjoyed the greatest of good fortunes, but one day he began to become impatient and greedy. Why can't the goose do more? he thought. Finally, in a fit of rage, the man killed the goose thinking that he would find a plethora of golden eggs inside. But there were none, and the dead goose produced no more.

When I was in college, I had an Organizational Behavior class. In one of our lab sessions, the teacher assistant posed a scenario.

Suppose a member of your family is death…

Becker is Right: Ban Legislative Gifts

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The current law governing gifts from lobbyists to Utah State Legislators is convoluted and silly. I support Representative Ralph Becker's attempt to limit lobbying gifts to $5. A legislator's constituents are the people who elected them, not the ones who want to wine and dine and improperly influence them.

A few years back my wife and I made the mistake of allowing a shyster to come into our home to give us a product demonstration. Before beginning the presentation, he gave us a substantial gift. Following the presentation, because of the initial gift, we felt obligated to purchase the product he was hawking. It is the only financial transaction we have ever made for which my wife and I are embarrassed. And it all started because of a gift that he dangled in front of our noses.

Color me naive, but I have no idea how a legislator can consider him or herself honest when he or she takes a gift from a lobbyist. But they do it all the time, and they know how to milk the system…

School Prayer: What Did the Supreme Court Say?

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There is a lot of controversy surrounding religion in the public schools, particularly when it comes to prayer. Many have just stopped allowing prayer in school at all. But Supreme Court decisions, while limiting prayer and religious expression in public schools, have NOT prohibited prayer in public schools.

I was walking through the halls of one of the local elementary schools this morning after my son's Junior Jazz basketball game, and I noticed a quote on the wall which I appreciated. I talked about how important it is to work hard and have a good attitude, and then it concluded:

It doesn't hurt to pray a little, too.
I was pleased that someone in a public school setting would feel comfortable posting that comment, but I wondered whether some people would find it offensive and against the law.

But what is the law? Interestingly, Americans for Separation of Church and State says:

Has prayer been expelled from our schools, as some people claim? Has Bible reading been banned? M…

A Statue for the Gipper

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Ronald Reagan is still a rather controversial figure in the United States, even after his death. It doesn't appear that the same controversy exists in Czechoslovakia, however. Enjoying a much better life now than they did 20 years ago, Czechs revere the Gipper as the major figure in the fall of Communism.

I remember the first time I voted. I didn't really know in detail why I did, but I voted for Ronald Reagan for President. Time has made me wiser, and now I understand why. A man of remarkably disarming grace and aplomb, Reagan was not afraid to call the world as he saw it. He developed a friendly relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, yet he was not afraid to ask him in no uncertain terms, "Mr. Gorbachev...Tear Down This Wall!" Millions in former Warsaw Pact countries are better off because Reagan stuck to his principles.

Other factors came into play in the orchestration of the fall of Communism, but Reagan played a prominent role. And the Czech people want thei…

What Did Elder Ballard Say?

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I've heard a few people buzzing lately about what Elder M. Russell Ballard said recently about illegal immigration in Utah. It sounds like they're ALMOST wondering if the LDS Church is advocating breaking existing law...

On a winter day in 2004, the Utah legislature was considering restricting illegal immigrants altogether from receiving in-state college tuition. That same evening, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints spoke about a program "specifically to work with and serve the Hispanic community."

Elder Ballard is a member of Utah's "Alliance for Unity", which recently issued a statement opposing House Bill 224, which would, again 3 years later, remove the in-state tuition benefit for illegals. The LDS Church itself has officially not taken a position on the pending bill.

I agreed with Alliance for Unity that we should

I see it as fortunate that the bill has recently failed.

So what did Elder Ballard say? Did he …

Good Economy? Why is No One Saving?

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If the United States economy is so good, why is our rate of savings the worst it's been in 75 years?

The current rate of unemployment in the United States is 4.5%. That doesn't sound too bad!

Utah's unemployment rate, currently at 2.6%, is projected to scare some businesses away from the Beehive State. But that's because nearly everyone who wants a job has one. There are help wanted signs everywhere.

So I am perplexed why Americans aren't saving. Incomes appear to be going up, but spending seems to be outpacing the rising incomes. Is it because the average American wants more toys and gadgets than he used to? An Associated Press article discusses possible reasons:

The savings rate has been negative for an entire year only four times in history - in 2005 and 2006 and in 1933 and 1932. However, the reasons for the decline in the savings rate were vastly different during the two periods.

During the Great Depression, when one-fourth of the labor force was without a jo…