Thursday, May 31, 2007

How We Teach Math and How They Teach Math

I just heard again on the radio about how the United States is falling behind other countries in mathematics. I found an anecdote about a guy from India who thinks he knows why.

In the military, I was a Field Artillery fire direction chief. Over the course of my career, we moved from manual, slide-rule gunnery to various stages of electronic ballistics computing. But through it all, we still understood the manual basics. If you don't understand that, then the computer makes no sense, and when it goes wrong, you don't know why.

I think mathematics is a lot like this. Do we rely too much on our computers in our United States math classes? This guy seems to think so:

It reminded me very much of a conversation that I had a few months ago. The person I was speaking with was a programmer visiting the U.S. from India. This gentleman and I had gotten to know each other fairly well, and he has been programming for quite some time, probably around as long as I have. He and I got onto the topic of education. It is a well-known fact that India, China, and a number of other countries are beating the U.S. in math scores. So I asked him how they teach math in India. He was almost baffled by the question, as if there was more than one way to learn math and this was the first time someone had let him know. “From a book, with examples on the blackboard, how else?” I queried him about the use of calculators and computers, two tools quite common in U.S. math education. He explained to me that calculators are forbidden in their version of high school and that, in colleges, the calculators allowed are basic models (think add, subtract, multiply, divide, exponents, square root, log 10, and natural log), and their usage even then is frowned upon to the point where using a calculator will be the cause of ridicule and humiliation. This sure sounded like a far cry from the educational environment in the U.S., where 7th grade students are now being required to own TI-85’s, a calculator that’s probably more powerful than the guidance system on a cruise missile.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Click it or Stick It

It appears from the current "Click it or Ticket" campaign that there is a federal law requiring people to wear seat belts. There's actually not. Beside the fact that the CIOT commercials sound like a mafia shakedown, it is not the responsibility of government to ensure that we are safe.

"Dad, why does government make so many stupid laws just because they think it will make us safe?" my ten-year-old son asked me yesterday. He was talking about rules not allowing minors to drive ATV's but his point is valid. If he decides to run for Congress, I'll volunteer to be his campaign manager. Sometimes children, who have been untainted by politics, understand the essence of politics better than we as adults do. The essence of politics is liberty.

The campaign to urge states to require seat belts is about as draconian as I have ever seen. If a child sees or hears it, it will scare him out of his wits.

Utah has a primary seat belt law for anyone under the age of 19. This means that if you are driving your children across town and a peace officer notices that one of your kids isn't wearing a seat belt, you get fined. Karen Cooley thinks this is a good thing, because, according to her it would have kept her son alive. The first sentence of the January Deseret News article about Ms. Cooley drips with irony.

Karen Cooley said she always told her son, Nick Good, to wear a seat belt.

Her son was killed when his vehicle wrecked last year. If Ms. Cooley couldn't get her son to wear a seat belt, why would the law have done any better of a job?

Life sometimes sucks. Sometimes you die before you want to. But government's invasion of your privacy will very seldom improve your odds for a longer life. In fact, I'll bet research would show that it reduces your odds overall. But government doesn't get held accountable for that. And if someone is wearing a seat belt but dies in a wreck anyway, does the government care?

I wear a seat belt pretty much everywhere I go. I think it's dumb not to. Interestingly, you want to know how many wrecks it has protected me in? Zero, but I still wear it. I have been know to pull over to the side of the freeway to wait till one of my children puts on his or her seatbelt. I don't need a highway patrol officer to tell me to do that. Nor should the officer be telling someone who choses not to wear a seat belt that he is breaking the law.

There are a lot better campaigns to show the importance of safety belts than to brand people criminals for not wearing them. We have enough problems with relationships with our law enforcement officers already than to require them to enforce such needless laws.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is very excited about the fact that the Click It or Ticket campaign has increased the use of seat belts by 10%! The jury is still out on whether any lives have been saved.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Only Surefire Means of Fair Voting

Having worked in computers for my entire adult life, I am of the opinion that computers are not the means by which we can be confident that our elections are fair.

There's been a lot of discussion in the opinion pages about electronic voting lately. Some think it's the best way to facilitate elections, while others are of the opinion that electronic voting is fraught with peril. I happen to belong to the second camp.

Not only can computer voting be affected by fraud, things can also go wrong that no one even thought of, leaving people without a means of voting or people voting for the wrong candidate because the computer programmer(s) made a mistake. I ought to know; I'm a computer programmer. I've written voting systems, and I know how easy it would be to make a mistake in the program as well as to defraud the voters by manipulating the results.

The only way to ensure confidence in our elections is to have paper balloting. It takes a lot more time to count the votes, but in the long run it is well worth it. The paper balloting that we have used in the past, however, is still somewhat prone to fraud. This process should be enhanced.

As it has happened in our recent past (until we decided to get all fancy while lining Diebold Corporation's pockets by paying for their untrustworthy counting machines) each ballot can be individually numbered.

In addition to providing uniquely numbered ballots, it should be the requirement of all voting precincts to
  • provide a carbon copy of each voter's ballot, including the unique ballot ID, to the voter.
  • post in a conspicuous place, such as on the internet, the voting results of each ballot, so that each voter can verify the accuracy of his or her votes, and so that it is easy to determine that all votes cast add up to the tally results that are reported at the end of the election.

In this way, everyone could know how everyone voted, but there would be no way to relate each unique ballot number to the person who cast that ballot, except that each voter would have a copy of how he or she voted.

Every voter would be able to compare his or her vote(s) with the official ballot postings to determine if they were represented correctly. If they were not, the duplicate copy of the ballot could be furnished as proof that a mistake had occurred.

With a great deal of effort, computers can be made fraud-proof in this way. I suspect that all of the necessary measures have not been taken in this regard. Our experience with them thus far has given us a bad taste in our mouths. Paper-ballot voting instills much more confidence in voters that the process is sound.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

We're Number 2! Well, It Could Have Been Worse

Utahns have, for the past several years, been right up there near the top in an ignominious category--bankruptcies. Now we're nearly tops in another one! Do these shortcomings indict Utah culture, Mormon culture, or both?

I've often wondered whether the breakdown of bankruptcies in Utah into religious statistics would match the Utah religious demographic. In other words, if 60% of Utahns are LDS, do 60% of bankruptcies in Utah involve LDS people? I suspect, but have no evidence for it, that the ratio of Mormons in bankruptcies is higher than the general demographic.

Now, along comes another statistic that has to worry us--mortgage fraud.

For subprime loans, Utah ranked second nationally in fraud levels, up from No. 3 in 2005.

The most common type of fraud is to claim that a purchased home will be the owner's primary residence in order to get a better interest rate from their lender.

Why do I think (again without proof) that LDS people might be disproportionately involved in such fraud? How can LDS people specifically justify committing such fraud? Here's my theory: in many cases it is a perverse misunderstanding of the counsel of church leaders to stay out of debt.

First of all, the Book of Mormon teaches that when people are righteous that they will be prosperous. It's easy (although incorrect) to turn this around and assume that if we are prosperous, we must be righteous. (I suspect that some people go even further by putting up the appearance of prosperity--getting more into debt than they should--in order to have the appearance of righteousness.)

Second of all, investments can help us get out of debt if they go well. However, many people jump on the investment bandwagon when they clearly do not have the means to do so. For most people, investments should be of the safer variety--savings accounts, certificates of deposit, etc. But people's impatience for getting out of debt gets the best of them, and ultimately several of them are mired in debt when a too-risky investment goes sour.

A friend of ours illustrated the Mormon thrift mentality during a white elephant gift party we attended a few years ago. After "stealing" a relatively expensive gift for the second time, against the rules of our white elephant party she declared that it could not be stolen for a third time (three steals was the rule we had established.) It was embarrassing to see her defiance, so we ultimately chose to ignore it, let her keep the gift, and continue the game as though nothing untoward had happened. At that point, her defiance turned to feelings of victory, because she had made the most out of her white elephant investment.

Staying out of debt is important. Getting out of debt by immoral means and giving the appearance of being out of debt are train wrecks waiting to happen.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"The End of [Burning in Hell]"

Once again my paradigm has been challenged, and I suspect it has moved a bit. Actually, there are several things that I agree with in Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith.

It is very easy for any religious adherent (the German word is "anhanger"--on-hanger) to become dogmatic. The moderately innocuous result of this dogmatism is the statement "I hope you burn in hell." The ultimate form of such dogmatism is the suicide bomber and those who encourage and celebrate such wanton destruction of life.

Sam Harris makes several provocative statements in his recent book. The most provocative to me (because I think it is almost infinitely insightful from a Mormon sociological perspective) is this:

Because we are a people of faith, taught to concern ourselves with the sinfulness of our neighbors, we have grown tolerant of irrational uses of state power.

--The End of Faith, page 162

This is to me the quintessence of why a majority of Mormons decried the sexually immoral acts of Bill Clinton, while shortly thereafter looking the other way when it comes to the very likely politically immoral acts of George W. Bush. Most religions imply that faith is more important than knowledge. Those who misunderstand Mormonism--including a plethora of Mormons themselves--attribute such policy or doctrine to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They are wrong. Whereas false faith is blind obedience to the patently unreasonable, true faith is reasonable, and true faith finds its ultimate substance in knowledge, while eventually discarding the dross that was ultimately not true faith.

Here's some more truth for our time from Mr. Harris, as he quotes the words of Nazi henchman Rudolf Hess:

The National Socialism of all of us is anchored in uncritical loyalty, in the surrender to the Führer that does not ask for the why in individual cases, in the silent execution of his orders. We believe that the Führer is obeying a higher call to fashion German history. There can be no criticism of his belief. (p. 100)

It would definitely require more than just the changing of a few words to impute to George W Bush the same motives as Hitler, but how many times has he said that if we're not with him on terrorism that we're somehow unpatriotic?

True faith is not blind. True faith is critical and persuasive. True faith has alacrity. Faith seeks knowledge. A person of true faith seeks reason and improvement. True faith welcomes and respects alternative points of view.

Is it the traditions that have been handed down to us that have persuaded us to believe unfortunately otherwise? To devolve into tribal mentalities?

Rather than find real reasons for human solidarity, faith offers us a solidarity born of tribal and tribalizing fictions. ...religion is one of the great limiters of moral identity, since most believers differentiate themselves, in moral terms, from those who do not share their faith. (p. 176)

I hope that my religion is not so exclusive. I hope that this is not the religion that I am teaching my children. Harris suggests: utter revolution in our thinking could be accomplished in a single generation: if parents and teachers would merely give honest answers to the questions of every child. (p.225)

A world without dogmatism. What a novel idea. What are we waiting for? What are we afraid of?

Why Don't I Watch TV? Oh...That's Right

We don't have either broadcast or cable or satellite television in our home. So we don't watch TV very often. It's interesting to reaffirm, when we are in a place to see tv, why we don't watch it.

I am in Chicago this week for a 5-day training course. My hotel room has a television. Normally, I don't have access to TV, but this week I thought I'd watch it a little bit.

Here's what I found:

Based on frequency of reporting, Rosie O'Donnell is the most important person on earth. I'm not sure how many times I either turned off the TV or changed the channel, because I had already heard a "news story" of her yelling at another woman on some show called "The View".

A guy on a show called "Deal or No Deal" used random intuition (no intellect or skill, mind you) to determine that he would rather see if his briefcase contained $1 million rather than take $305,000. When he failed, and instead was awarded with $25 and a new car, I could see palpable hatred on the faces of his family members. What a family-building exercise, huh?

A vile video mocking a teacher, for which a student was suspended from school, was shown on national television. That was thoughtful!

A man committed sexual battery on a babysitter, but says he was sleepwalking. That's important!!!

This is not to say that some things on television are not educational or important. It's just that most of it is filth and refuse.

So, as a general rule, I am not missing much of anything.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Carbon Indulgences

The mantra of Man-Made Global Warming (MMGW) is not only a religion--it is a medieval one, what with its own selling of indulgences.

Straight out of the Dark Ages. If you pay money, you can still pollute, but you don't have to feel guilty about it! The problem is, in many cases, the money does not go toward cleaning up the environment whatsoever.

For those who support it, it offers the reward of "carbon neutrality" without having to lower one's standard of living. To critics, it allows guilt-free pollution. Either way, the burgeoning carbon offset industry needs more oversight, say two members of Congress.

About 60 different companies sell carbon offsets to U.S. consumers but operate under virtually no standards, the congressmen said. They cited reports alleging that some organizations get money for emissions that don't exist and that others make large profits on cleanups that would have taken place anyway.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Education Vouchers: Should We Implement Them?

Regardless of how one feels about the current Education Voucher law in Utah, it is nonetheless a law. It is not vacated simply because there will be a referendum on the issue in November, or that it might be the subject of a lawsuit. It is bizarre that the Utah State Board of Education thinks that it has the authority not to implement the law, regardless of its reasoning.

Update: May 18, 2007 - The bulk of my post will remain unchanged, although since posting it my opinion has changed based on what I have since learned about what Utah law says about referendums. See Emily's comments at the bottom of the post for more insight into my change of heart.

When a law exists, it is brazen for anyone, let alone a governmental entity, to announce that it will not follow or implement the law. For reasons that the State of Utah might possibly be sued over the law, the Utah State Board of Education has refused to implement what the Legislature required by majority vote in its last session. It has not been found that that vote was obtained fraudulently.

Attorney General Mark Shurtliff recently reminded the State Board members of their duty.

In a response letter mailed [by the State Board of Education] Monday, Shurtleff, as the "constitutionally designated sole legal adviser" to the board," wrote in bold type, "it is incumbent upon the Board to implement the voucher program through HB174 immediately!"

Now let's see whether the State Board still balks, this time from its direct line of authority in the executive branch of government.

It is not the concern of the State Board whether a lawsuit will ensue. (Sometimes I seriously wonder whether State Board members wouldn't actually welcome such a suit, and whether some may even solicit one if the need arises.)

If the referendum passes in November, then further voucher scholarships would have to be discontinued. However, the law currently is that such scholarships should be awarded. In a spirit of integrity, it is time to get on with the program. (By the way, hypothetically, how should the people of Utah feel if it were such that our State Board of education continued to award voucher scholarships following a defeat of the law? We should be equally incensed that a government entity thwarts the law, regardless of what the law is.)

The State Board of Education's actions illustrate that the main motivation behind their and many other Utah state educators' backing of a referendum on the issue (which they hope will overturn the law) is not that they think that a victory for vouchers was underhandedly won. It is that they simply do not want public choice to rear its head in Utah for fear (rightly so) that when parents fully understand the magnificence of the choices placed before them. that genie will never be put back in its lamp.

GOP Debate: Iraq--What Ron Paul Really Said

It is important to listen to what Ron Paul said in the May 15th GOP Presidential debate hosted by Fox News, as well as what he didn't say. It is also critical to ignore what Rudi Giuliani said he said, because he didn't.

In the debate, Rudolph Giuliani claims that Ron Paul says our attacking Iraq "invited" al Qaeda to attack us. This is a very simplistic statement and distorts the context of Rep. Paul's statement. The Iraq anecdote is simply symptomatic of the entire problem created by America's foreign policy in the Middle East for the past several decades.

Here's a nutshell of what Ron Paul actually said:

  • The Republican party has always been the party of non-entangling alliances.
  • Politics in the Middle East is for us very irrational, and to go to war carelessly is a travesty, because it ensures that wars continue nearly endlessly.
  • Our intervention over the past several decades in the Middle East has been a factor in their animosity toward us and their declaration of war against us.
  • Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are glad that our troops are in the Middle East, because it makes us easier targets.
Ron Paul is correct. But the fact of the matter is that we are there, helping the people of Iraq to achieve liberty. I wish I knew more about his specific solution to the quandary that we are currently in.

Click below to hear the interchange between candidates and the debate hosts on this issue.

Update: Just after posting this article, I found the following interaction between Ron Paul and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, in which he states essentially my main point about the context of the Iraq comments. Hat Tip to "WakeUpFromYourSlumber".

What do you think?

Z Visas, Illegal Immigration, and Restoration of the Rule of Law

Arlen Specter says "It is not amnesty. This will restore the rule of law." Okay, I'm going to trust you just this once that you can fulfill all the requirements that have been stated in congressional/presidential conferences about the Z Visa Non-Amnesty program. But this must be our line in the sand. Shame on me if you fail and I trust you again.

It would be essentially impossible to round up all the illegal aliens in our country and deport them. It would cause an upheaval greater than the current problem we are trying to solve. But if we don't solve the current problem, America will become a nightmare, and it will become necessary to attempt to do just that.

This is why I like the Z Visa agreement that congress and the president have agreed on in substance. I don't think that it equates to amnesty, but I will not be surprised if our national government's inability to perform ultimately proves me wrong.

The Z Visa agreement requires the following of illegal aliens:

  • They must apply for and obtain a Z Visa.
  • They must pay applicable fines and a $5,000 penalty.
  • Each head of household must return to their home country.
  • They stay on track for gaining permanent residency status.
  • They must be identified under a new worker-identification program.
It is paramount that all Americans pay their way to support our government. This program would encourage the bulk of illegal aliens to become contributors rather than just economic and political parasites.

My grand assumption is that the existing Federal government really wants to solve the immigration problem (are Ramos and Compean released from prison yet?), to make illegal immigration very difficult, and to make legal immigration more straightforward. That's why when Arlen Specter pays homage to "the rule of law" I get all warm and fuzzy for at least a minute.

We already have a law that says we need to build a fence. That needs to be done post haste, or the entire Z Visa thing will be a chimera as regards restoring the rule of law.

If this doesn't work, it's gonna get ugly. Because either we ignore the problem, and everyone's respect for the law dwindles to the point of spitting on it and substituting their own law in its place, or we round up all the illegal people and tell them they are only wanted if they come here through legal channels.

Must be Constitutional if Orrin Says it Is!

Rather than wait for a couple of years, when Utah is a cinch to gain an additional seat in the US House of Representatives, a lot of people are putting themselves in all sorts of contorted positions to claim that it would be constitutional to give Utah a seat right now.

The only way to make it Constitutional is to pass a Constitutional amendment. It's a bit ironic that Orrin Hatch belongs to a church, one of whose prophets said that its priesthood leaders would be part of the group that saves the Constitution from destruction, but he uses a specious argument to unmask his impatience at getting Utah a fourth seat in the House of Representatives and further diluting the meaning of the Constitution.

Hatch noted that Congress has opted to collect federal taxes from D.C. residents and allows the federal court to have jurisdiction over the district, even though the Constitution says these actions are allowed for "states."

"The question is whether the fact that the District is not a state trumps Congress' legislative authority," Hatch said. "Congressional action and judicial precedent throughout American history suggest that the answer is no."

The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution made it so that the District of Columbia could choose electors for President and Vice President. I'm not sure, then, if it took an amendment for that, how it wouldn't require a similar amendment to allow DC to have a representative in Congress.

I heard the other morning that some people think that anyone who disagrees that DC should get a representative is a racist, because most DC residents are black. Hmmm. Constitution be damned. Course I've been accused of being a racist before by people who don't understand that three/fifths thingy in the Constitution.

I've also heard it said that this is a balanced, non-political solution--to give the most republican state in the Union a Republican seat and DC a surely democratic seat. In reality, this is the most political "solution" I can think of. How it can be considered a solution, I'm not sure. The only two non-political solutions are (1) be patient until the next census, and (2) amend the Constitution.

Utah will most assuredly get another seat in the US House as a result of the next census. Orrin Hatch needs to be put out to pasture. If he's leading the vanguard of further ignoring the constitution, he needs to be defeated in his next election.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Warriors! Come Out to Play-i-ay!!

Against the Utah Jazz in game 3 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals, the Golden State Warriors were high as a kite. Suddenly, in game 4, they appeared to be the thugs from the 1979 movie of the same name as their team.

In the 1979 movie The Warriors, one of the characters taunts the members of a rival gang. "Warriors! Come out to play-i-ay!" he says. Last night's Golden State Warriors looked a lot like a New York street gang as game 4 of their playoff series against the Utah Jazz came to a close.

First, Baron Davis decked an unsuspecting Derek Fisher with a forearm shiver to the head.

Shortly thereafter, Jason Richardson nearly killed Mehmet Okur (pictured above) after the game was out of reach.

Richardson was ejected from the game, which only had 37 seconds to go.

It is amazing that a team that has finally jelled could, with two senseless acts, let the end of a hard-fought game cast a pall over their otherwise excellent season.

Imagine, game 5 played without Golden State's two best players. I would like the Jazz to win the game 'fair and square'. But I think under the circumstances, fair and square would be with Davis and Richardson on the bench.

Actions should have consequences.

Failing in Our Ability to Admit Failure

One of the reasons I don't read Hollywood magazines is because the people in them lead some pretty bizarre lives. Maybe that's what causes them to say some pretty bizarre things.

It's not only okay, but it's healthy to admit when we have failed. Admission of failure sets a more likely stage for potential future success. To claim that we have been successful when we really haven't is an affront to those who really have been successful. And it is an affront to ourselves and the expectations of self that we should have.

I suspect Hollywood is the epicenter of faux successes. This week's Parade Magazine illustrates one such failure that was branded a success. Actress Ellen Barkin, while admitting that she made a mistake by marrying her second husband, claimed that even though she divorced her first husband, that marriage was a success.

"A successful marriage doesn't necessarily last until you're dead."

Yes it does. If society is not to eventually devolve into chaos, then Barkin's statement cannot be considered true.

I don't fault Parade Magazine for reporting the story. Nor do I fault Ellen Barkin for claiming that her first marriage was not a failure. But it was. Because she is not married to her first husband anymore. Hollywood is on the vanguard of the changing societal attitude that a failed marriage was somehow a victory.

The vow of marriage is much more serious than most people take it. Hollywood has largely transformed the sacredness of marriage into a game fit to be depicted in a senseless Hollywood movie. Man and woman take their marriage vows in front of family and friends for the reason that the vows should be taken seriously. I am not particularly suggesting that Ellen Barkin's marriage vows weren't taken seriously. But despite that, and despite the possibility that the failure of her first marriage may not have even been her fault, her marriage was still a failure. What I am suggesting is that Hollywood, with its generally decrepit values, is the most likely place in which people would agree that failure is actually a moral victory.

Sometimes marriages don't work out. Sometimes it just happens, even if the couple has done everything they can to make it work. But under any circumstance, a marriage ended in divorce is a failure. A worse--and seemingly more common--failure is not to admit it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Yes, You Are a Role Model!

Public figures, despite how much they wish it weren't so, are role models for everyone who follows their line of entertainment. Of all people, professional athletes should understand this. Some do. Unfortunately, some don't.

Roger Clemens recently unretired from Major League Baseball for the how-manyeth time. Why? He could make a boatload of money, and because he wanted a championship. Here's what he said at his unretirement party:

Make no mistake about it, I've come back to do what they only know how to do here with the Yankees, and that's win a championship. Anything else is a failure, and I know that.

Unfortunately, American society agrees with him. Everything in our "we're number one" society proclaims that number two is scum. Fortunately, this sentiment is wrong, but it's terrible when a professional athlete tells kids that if they're not the best, they are worthless.

If that's all Roger Clemens thinks about baseball, I wish he would just retire again. Mr. Clemens' former pitching teammate for the Boston Red Sox, Bruce Hurst, would never say something as inane as that not taking first place is a failure. Bruce teaches youth that just being able to play is a victory. Bruce Hurst is a much better role model than Roger Clemens. Too bad that Roger Clemens is the one making the professional comeback.

In a 1993 Nike commercial, former NBA basketball player claimed "I am not a role model." He qualified it by saying, "Parents should be role models." He got it half right. Charles Barkley was a role model, and had an effect on the coarsening of professional basketball. Because of Charles Barkley, people became preconditioned for role models Dennis Rodman, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant.

On the other hand, class acts like John Stockton and Dwyane Wade clearly understand that they are role models. They understand that their actions and their words are consumed by thousands of people. They speak of their families and values that should be important for all.

Hopefully we as parents are performing our roles as role models, specifically that we point out to our children which professional athletes do and which don't understand their model role.

Friday, May 11, 2007

How Much Does Your Faith Motivate Your Politics?

Some people think that their religion should have very little effect on their political outlooks. What they don't realize is that it can't help but have an effect.

In the recent Republican presidential debate, Governor Mike Huckabee answered a question about faith and politics in an interesting and, I think, correct way. He said essentially that "If you don't think your politics are motivated by your faith, then your faith doesn't mean very much to you."

Looked at from another vantage point, if our faith does mean a great deal to us, it is disingenuous to say that it does not motivate our political thinking. How do you feel about capital punishment? Abortion? Campaign finance and lobbying gifts? Nuclear power? The war on terrorism? If your religion means anything to you, then it has had a hand in coloring the way you look at all of these issues and more.

In this context, I want to make clear my definition of faith. It is evidence to ourselves of things we think are true, and the motivation for us to act. In this regard, journalists are also motivated by their faith. They have a certain way of looking at life and have a certain evidence that corroborates that view; therefore, they will report the world as they see it.

So much history exists that we cannot possibly consume all of it. As a result, we often follow a thread of 'history' that is only one side of the story.

It is very difficult to notice this in ourselves, but it is there. Being the only animal capable of introspection and self-analysis, the human can examine him- or herself to discover evidence of bias. A great place to start is one's religion (including if one is atheist, for that is a religion, too). For example, certain aspects of my perspective on the war on terror are influenced by my reading of the Book of Mormon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

I recently received a comment on Serving Iraq that a producer of a video was clearly biased in his views, so therefore, his work should not be shown on PBS. This is true that he is biased, because that is essentially true of all of us. But it is hardly a criticism that uniquely qualifies this person's production to be banned from PBS.

Dan Rather is biased. Nina Totenberg of NPR is biased. Wolf Blitzer is biased. Robert MacNeil of PBS Frontline is biased. Brit Hume of Fox News is biased. Rush Limbaugh is biased, and he admits it. Bob Bernick of the Deseret News scarcely hides his bias, even in his front page reporting. Andrea Mitchell of NBC news, in her recent book Talking Back... admits that she is.

We can't help it, except to analyze and note our bias as best we can. To claim that someone else is biased but that we're not is blindness.

Ban Bottled Drinking Water!

One way that we can reduce global warming is to ban all the bottled water that people drink. Do you think Cheryl Crow would go for that?

It turns out that it requires 1 and a half million barrels of oil to make all the plastic bottles that Americans use per year--and that's just for the ones that contain drinking water. That's assuming that some of us don't use some of the water to finish cleaning our hands after we use just one square of toilet paper after our morning bowel movement.

Actually, we could improve our situation if we recycled more of our plastics. (And this time I'm being serious.)

The kind of plastic most commonly used for water bottles -- polyethylene terephthalate, or PET -- is recyclable. But consumers recycle just one of every five bottles they drink, with the rest ending up in landfills, said Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, a Washington group that promotes recycling.

"It's wasted energy and wasted resources that are being landfilled unnecessarily," Franklin said.

Despite the fact that I think the announcements about man's overweening effect on global warming are a hoax, a swindle, an exaggeration, and a lot of hot air, I still do think it is wise to recycle when possible.

We have become a very disposable society. In most cases, this is simply because it is more convenient and less costly to buy something new rather than to have our old something fixed. In the case of newspapers, plastics, etc., let's do it! We can recycle better than we are doing now.

It will help clean up the environment, increase air cleanliness, and make a dent (although small) in our dependence on foreign oil.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why Won't that Fly Stop Buzzing Around My Head?

Some parts of politics resemble flies buzzing around our heads. We'd probably be better off to ignore them, but it's hard to resist the urge to swat helplessly at them. (I hesitate to post this article, because it proves that I'm not completely taking my own medicine, but it's good for all of us for future reference.)

My wife and I love to speed walk a couple miles up the canyon 2-3 mornings a week in the Spring and Summer, and then run back down. Often, at one point along the return path, I am bombarded by between one and 50 flies which, if I pay attention to them, gets them all energized and me full of hatred, stress, and misdirected energy.

Some flies make a big buzz. They are full of themselves. And you can just see that they love all the attention they're getting as you try to shoo them away.

Mitt Romney was bombarded by such a fly yesterday. Some dude denigrated Mitt Romney and his religion yesterday by saying something about Mormons not believing in God. And there was a lot of news about it. As a Mormon, my response is, "whatever".

Such things can be irritating, but only when we don't practice self-control. But paying attention to such flies just causes the flies to become more emboldened.

Some things are not news. Flies are not news. Let's just ignore them.

As far as I know, Mitt Romney ignored it. But a bunch of other people kept saying, in essence, "Hey Mitt! Isn't that fly bugging you?" Bob Lonsberry here in Salt Lake, and Glenn Beck nationally, made a big deal about it on their radio shows. Kind of like swatting at flies. Unless you have a super-duper flyswatter, it's kind of a waste of time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Al Gore for President?

Rumors are starting to percolate that Al Gore is going to make a bid for the presidency. Will it happen?

I think so, but I would never vote for him. I heard on The Right Balance this morning that a good Democratic source says that he is. Newsmax is saying that he will.

He almost won 7 years ago. He seems to be positioning himself for a run with his "Inconvenient Truth" tour. He is his own greatest fan. So it wouldn't surprise me in the least!

So, if it doesn't happen, forget you read this. But if it does--you heard it here third!

Or, how about this...vice presidential running mate for Hillary...? ...Naw...!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

That's How Not to Treat People

In my political wanderings, I've learned several lessons. They usually have something to do with remembering that the other person in the debate is a person, too.

My wife's best friend has a nephew who served a mission for the LDS church, and, upon returning, announced that he was homosexual. Another uncle promptly announced that his family--particularly his sons--would from henceforth have nothing to do with the nephew. Irrational fear makes us do irrational things. That's how not to treat people.

As told on PBS "The Mormons", a woman who had been excommunicated from the LDS Church was not allowed out of spite by her brother-in-law to be present when her sister (his wife) was clothed (in LDS temple clothing) for burial.
That's how not to treat people.

Several years ago, I was talking on the telephone with my teenage sister. She told me of something she had done that she was not particularly proud of, upon which I piled on the criticism. She already had had enough of that from herself. She said, "If you're going to talk like that, I just won't talk to you anymore." She was right. It was then I learned that that's how not to treat people.

I was a member of a city council in Utah county for a bit over 5 years before I was called to military service in Iraq. Over the course of that time I saw a litany of examples of how not to treat people. It reminded me of when my father had served several years prior on both the city council and as mayor in a small southern Utah town. He was an example of nobility and decorum as he avoided the ad hominem attacks that other council members and the public often engaged in. People later came to him and apologized for their actions and thanked him for his. I can say that in my time as a city council member I made my father proud, because (despite witnessing it frequently in others) I have no instances where I can look back personally and say "I shouldn't have treated him or her like that."

Life is to short to treat other people like dirt. If someone disagrees with you, I suggest you decide that they must have a good reason for it. Then I challenge you to find out what that reason is. In nearly every case, I have found, you will be glad you did, because you'll find out that they did have a good reason.

That's how to treat people.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Putting a Bad Face on Deportation

They thought they were in the United States legally. They had been here 16 years. They had integrated into Utah society. Now they've been forced back to Guatemala. It appears that the Department of Homeland Security would rather use its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm to put out non-existent fires rather than stopping them from occurring in the first place.

If someone wants to become a US citizen, and they're trying to do it legally, why does our government piss on them?

I've had some people tell me that legal immigration to the United States is not difficult to understand. Well, I know of someone who thinks it is. And because it's so easy to understand, they are back in Guatemala after living in Utah for 16 years.

Ana Corado was 6 years old when her parents brought her and her two siblings to Utah on tourist visas in 1991. Her parents later applied for political asylum for the family and were denied, but they appealed it.

Corado's dad, a Baptist minister, applied for a religious worker visa in 2003, and the family thought it was covered by the visa. But after Corado's arrest and discussions with immigration attorneys, family members found out they were wrong.

"A lot of people tell you a lot of misinformation, and you don't know what to go by," said Corado's brother, Jose.

Corado's parents bought their own plane tickets and left Utah on Monday to join their daughter.

Jose Corado, 24, stayed behind and is praying for a miracle. He hopes he can get to stay here legally because he has terminal colon cancer. He has been dealing with the disease since he was diagnosed in January 2000.

It is Keystone-cop comical when law-abiding immigrants, who think they are here legally, are torn apart as a family (a daughter married a US citizen recently, and a son tries to stay here to continue cancer treatment), while border agents who are simply doing their duty trying to keep crime out of the US are now languishing in prison. Come to think of it--their families have been torn apart as well.

Maybe the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should change its name to the Bureau of Family Destruction (BFD)!

Proposed Pilot "Tax the Rich" Project

I've changed my mind. I think it is time to increase taxes on the rich. They aren't paying their fair share. My proposal will be a phased approach.

I have come to agree with liberals that some people have too much money. They're getting to big of piece of the American pie (yes, probably that pie, too ;-) ). So I have a proposal to increase taxes on the rich.

Phase I would begin the new tax scheme by introducing it in select regions of the country. The regions that I randomly propose are Washington D.C. and Hollywood. I propose a tax rate of 95%.

Phase II is to leave it that way until they scream "Uncle!"

Phase III is to send them to an economics class, so they can see that "the pie" actually grows!

P.S. Presidential Candidate-soon-to-be Fred Thompson, in a recent "campaign" speech said that, because the Democrats are targeting the rich for tax increases, he suggests that middle-classers steer well clear of the target. I agree.

Glenn Beck Disses Ron Paul...Why Am I Surprised?

I knew the media would either slam on Ron Paul or just ignore him, because he's not establishment. Well, color me naive--but I didn't think Glenn Beck would do it.

Other, more recent Ron Paul articles on Simple Utah Mormon Politics
I just decided that I was going to give Glenn Beck a try, so I purchased 6 months of his archives, etc. for $30. (I saved two bucks a month by doing it in six-month increments.) I tried Rush, and got sick fast. I tried Michael Medved, and liked him a lot. So now let's give Glenn a try. But I'm wondering if I made a mistake. I'll still listen, but...

The very first thing that he talked about on the very first show that I streamed after buying access to it was to make fun of Ron Paul. Okay, so he made fun of John McCain, too.

Glenn Beck was surprised that Ron Paul netted 18% of the votes regarding who won last week's Republican debate. Must be that he just has a bunch of hard core supporters, Glenn's sidekick said. Maybe so, but dammit! 18% is pretty good! Based on his performance in the debate, Ron Paul deserves to be considered.

Several people seem to think that Ron Paul has no chance, but don't vote based on who has a chance. That's how we keep getting a member of the Joker Brothers every four years.

Ron Paul is the best candidate for President of the United States. So, Mr. Beck: I like you, and I'll keep listening to your show, but I'm disappointed in you.

Ironically, halfway through the first hour of last Friday's show, Beck asked "Who's not gonna be a Democrat?" The best answer to the question is the guy he's already written off.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The "Rockity I" Awards

If you ask me, the debate was much more civil between Mayor Rocky Anderson and talk show host Sean Hannity last night than I thought it would be. It was entertaining, it was educational, and it was healthy. It wasn't perfect though. In remembrance of the Rockity I Debate, I present a handful of awards.

KSL Nightside implied that it was just short of a barroom brawl at Kingsbury Hall last night. I guess it didn't come across that way on TV. Although at one point I seriously wondered, "What happens if Hannity takes one more step into no-man's land toward Rocky? Will somebody punch somebody?"

Mr. Integrity: Rocky Anderson. Not once did he stoop to ad hominem name calling as did his interlocutor.

Vladimir Putin Budding KGB Agent Award: Did anyone else think it was a bit strange that Hannity admitted he had a picture of Rocky driving a car that had a "Kerry for President" bumper sticker?

It's Really About Me Award: First place--Hannity. If it's not about you, then don't say that it's not--especially don't say it five times. That sounds suspicious. Second place--Rocky. I heard him mention once "it's not about me or Sean" on KSL radio following the debates.

12th Man Award: Were you as surprised as I was that a handful of supporters of Mayor Anderson were by far the most discourteous members of the audience, often hardly letting Hannity speak half a sentence before they resorted to heckling him? Admittedly, Rocky was none to thrilled by this behavior either, as he told KSL after the debate.

Mr. Ad Hominem: Why at one point did Hannity repeatedly refer to Rocky as Ross when Rocky is his familiar name? What good did it do to call him a "part-time mayor, and full-time protestor?"

Best Supporting Foot in Mouth: Hannity was positive that Rocky had voted for John Kerry in the presidential election vs George Bush. His jaw dropped just a bit when Rocky stated for the record that he had voted for Ralph Nader.

The "This is a Question" Award: Rocky. Round two of the debate didn't suit Rocky very well, as he clearly wanted to pontificate much longer than the one minute which was alloted to ask his interlocutor a question.

I was impressed with both sides of the debate, but there was very little middle ground, as the Salt Lake Tribune said. There could have been much more middle ground.

Here's what I think Rocky could have said to contribute to a better debate.

And here's the contribution that I think Hannity could have made in that regard.

Rockity I: What I Wish Rocky Had Said

From my perspective, Rocky Anderson was the clear winner of the debate against Sean Hannity in Salt Lake City last night. The debate was very healthy. However, it could have been even healthier if Rocky had conceded a couple of points.

Here's what I wish Mayor Anderson had said:

Sean, I have done a great deal of research into this, and I am very firm in my conviction that what I have presented is truthful. However, you are correct in a couple of regards. Many Democrats in congress were as culpable for getting us into the Iraq war as was the Bush administration, and some of them should perhaps be removed from office as well. It comes across often that because we despise the Iraq war that we despise the American troops. I apologize for contributing to this perspective, because I think our men and women make up the greatest military in the world, and they should not receive the brunt of our negativity in this political controversy.

Your suggestion that our vehement disagreements give energy to the enemy is well taken, and we should from now on hold more respectable conversations about how to remove ourselves from this unjust war while at the same time focusing our energies on a common enemy--radical Islam. You also raise an important point that because we are already in the midst of an Iraq war that a solution to the problem is not as simple as bringing our troops home. We should be concerned for the Iraqi people as we make this transition, and work together and with the Iraqi government to ensure that the best solution is chosen in such a delicate situation.

That is what I wish Rocky had said. What's your opinion?

Rockity I: What I Wish Hannity Had Said

There are a lot of things I wish Sean Hannity hadn't said in the first debate with Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson last night. But here I will constrain my thoughts to some very simple but ameliorating things I wish he would have said.

Both Hannity and Anderson could have proven that they were serious about solving the Iraq problem except for the things that they left unsaid. Here's what Hannity could have said.

Mayor Anderson, you are correct to a certain extent with many of the allegations that you make. It has become evident that we knew that the aluminum tubes alleged to have been used for Saddam's nuclear ambitions were likely nothing more than tubes for building conventional rockets. You are correct that there was very little, if anything, to the supposed relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Most importantly, it does appear that we have been derelict in our responsibility to be an example to the world, in that there have been more than just a handful of examples of torture under the watch of American military and civilian officials, and they have occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. There is no excuse for this, including the excuses President George W Bush has given. For this, America should be mortified, and we should work to ensure that this egregious problem is fixed immediately.

That's what I think. What do you wish Hannity should have said?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, President Ron Paul!

I know the post-debate MSNBC poll is a non-scientific poll, but it's good to see that Ron Paul left such a favorable impression with presidential debate devotees last night. I'd suspect he's got the establishment a little nervous.

Ron Paul did very well in the debate last night.

I was listening to the Jerry Hughes show for a bit this afternoon on Accent Radio Network, and he suspected that if Mr. Paul starts doing well in the polls, things will get a bit dicey with him as juxtaposed with the establishmentarians. I agree with Mr. Hughes that Candidate Paul is the least palatable candidate for them. (Interestingly, (of this writing) he is one of the few who does not have a "candidate page" on MSNBC).

Awesome! All the better for him to win!

I've always had a great deal of respect for him, even though we see slightly differently on issues of morality as they relate to politics. But he's my choice at this point. Sorry Mitt.

I don't know how an unscientific poll will relate to statistical polls, but it would do my heart good to see Ron Paul move up in the standings as it were. I am so tired of establishment panderers. Mitt is one. Hillary is one. Rudy is one. Barrack is one. McCain is one.

Very few aren't. Ron Paul is not. More than anything in the world right now, this is the kind of person we need for President of the United States.

Here are some of the unscientific poll numbers that have me excited.

First: More than anyone else, Ron Paul stood out from the pack. He is the most unique, and therefore I think uniquely qualfied candidate.

Secondly, more people thought he had the most leadership qualities than did people of any other candidate.

Thirdly, he was far and away the most convincing candidate. This is the man we need. There's too much filthy falsehood masquerading as truth in Hollyw--I mean Washington D.C., and we need a man who can tell it to us straight. No one has done that since Ronald Reagan left the White House.

A man who knows what he stands for doesn't have to rehearse his answers. Ron Paul rated very well in this category. Notice the three who rated very high--the ones who pander most to the American puppeteers.

Ron Paul was seldom seen to have avoided a question. The big three rated pretty poorly in that regard as well.

Ron Paul has always had a way with words. So I am not surprised that he won in the "best one-liner" category. Sounds a bit "Reaganesque" to me-- doesn't it you? Following the Presidential era of a man who continually steps on his dangling modifier and has a penchant for rehearsed answers, Ron Paul would be a breath of fresh air.

I hope soon to hear the words, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States--Mr. Ron Paul!"

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Digg"ing a Hole for Democracy

What happens when Democracy goes wild? Here's a story that ought to make you think.

Recently a web site posted the instructions for how to decrypt content on HD DVDs. Quickly it received thousands of approval "Digg"s on The "intellectual property rights owners" asked digg to remove the story, as it was an infringement on their property--which, by the way, it is. The result? A plethora of other unique source stories began to pop up around the internet, which got Digg'ed, and which included the same decryption secrets.

Representative democracy (or a 'democratic republic') works rather well. Democracies often do, too. But sometimes the herd mentality of a democracy causes society to go haywire.

I think is cool. Digg is not to be blamed in the least. But this story clearly illustrates that if we were to allow everything to be decided in a pure democracy, life would turn into rule by the whims of the mob.

As much as I despise the ineptitude of my current Senators and Congressman, I prefer representative democracy to mobocracy democracy any day.