Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Can Jesus Cavort with Demons?


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 symbolizing Jesus' crown of thorns.

The Lynn Breidenbach show yesterday indicated that the Brewers' first choice would have been not to have him wear a Halloween costume at all, because of their desire not to celebrate Halloween. According to the show, the school required everyone to wear a costume or they would be isolated in another room in the school and would not be able to share in the Halloween festivities with the rest of the children. Neither option to them was palatable, so they chose a third--advertising their religion through a Halloween costume.

It's interesting that devils, demons, witches, and goblins were allowed at the school, but not the One that many think has the power to cast them out. One of the school administrators suggested in essence 'We'll let you stay if you take off the crown of thorns and indicate that you are a Roman emperor.'

Ah, much better. You can't be Jesus, but you can be someone who practiced genocide on His followers.

I'm not sure whether the Brewers ended up making some sort of costume change, but they are definitely not through, although their pending lawsuit asks for no money damages.

Brewer insists that she did not agree to a proposal by the principal of the Willow Hill Elementary School that her son remove his crown and wear only his white robe. The district claims that Brewer and her son agreed to change his costume and have him walk in the parade as a contemporary of Jesus.

Abington's schools, Brewer said, "should not discriminate against anybody because of their religion including Christianity," but they do.

Brewer said she had no regrets over the lawsuit. "I am not moved one bit by what people may say. If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing. I reached out to the school, then to the district and then to an attorney. This was my last resort."


This case needs to be publicized. I actually hope that it goes to court, because that will give the media more time to make what should not even be a controversy known to more people. The Brewers are right. The school is wrong. It's time we all understood our religious rights in America.

Al-pocrite's Inconvenient Truth


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 indicated just how much Mr. Gore doesn't contribute to the alleviation of global warming. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research has determined that Al Gore's house uses 20 times the electricity of the average American house.

It is immensely helpful if those who (claim to) advocate a cause actually do their part to contribute to the cause they advocate. Otherwise they are seen by the populace at large as elite snobs. I think Al Gore fits the 'elite snob' category, and so he is (and always has been) hard for me to take seriously.

Katie Couric makes a good point on her blog
that we shouldn't judge Al Gore on his acceptance by the hollywood community. I'm not. I'm judging him on his own merits, and on the merits of Global Warming in general. Here are the comments I posted to Katie's site:

Katie,

You make a good point. We should not disregard Al Gore simply because of a Hollywood embrace. Although it is hard to not laugh when some people think that Hollywood in general is an authority on anything except lascivious living, we should judge Al Gore on his own merits. He fails as a hypocrite. We should also judge Global Warming on its own merits. There is excellent evidence that global warming runs a natural cycle. So although we should do what we can to clean up the environment--no, there is no concensus that man has caused nearly irreversible global warming that must be stopped now. To shut those of us out of the debate who don't believe Global Warming is man-caused is as bad as Torquemada at the Spanish Inquisition.


Monday, February 26, 2007

The Silent Killer


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 detector, Ogden, Utah is the latest to overreact by passing another law. Its fire chief lists as a good reason to pass such a law the fact that the Jones's back east have such laws, so let's keep up with them!

Fire Chief Mike Mathieu said the ordinance is the first of its kind in the state. Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts require the detectors, but the mandate is new in the West, he said.

I don't mean to make light of a recent death in Ogden due to Carbon Monoxide poisoning, nor of the several near-deaths that occurred as police went to investigate.

But there are better ways to solve this problem, rather than giving government the authority to go into every home and make sure the home has a working CO detector. They're pretty expensive, but portable carbon monoxide detectors would do just the trick. For about $400 a police unit could have an much easier and less invasive way to detect the problem that kills over 500 Americans per year.

Am I in favor of CO detectors? Yes. We have one in our home. I think everyone would be wise to have one, and to have it checked regularly to see that it functions correctly. I just don't think that government, no matter how passionate we are about protecting life, should require that every home have one.

Carbon monoxide has been labeled "the silent killer". But the bigger killer is reckless government. It might take longer, but reckless government is much more difficult to detect
in the air. I think we should pass a law to require everyone to have a Reckless Government (RG) detector in their homes.

I don't really think we should force people to have an RG detector in their homes, either, even though they philosophically exist. But I have one of those in my home, as well.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Now Matter How You Slice It, It Requires Faith


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 logical) for me to trust that God created this earth for us and put us here to learn to become like him.

When my 7-year-old son interrupted our scripture reading the other night with almost verbatim my same boyhood question, I was impressed that nearly every thoughtful child shares this wonderment. I reminded him that you can't imagine nothing as having the color black (I didn't tell him that I used to do the same thing), because black is something. And as our entire family tried to comprehend that one, our heads began to hurt.

There are just some things that our finite minds cannot understand. Like the observation that Richard Dawkins makes in his recent book, entitled The God Delusion. Mr. Dawkins is an atheist in large part because he can't answer the question of how a supposedly perfect being that we call God could have ever come to be.

Mr. Dawkins, suggests, therefore, that it makes much more sense (from a probability standpoint) for a one-celled organism to have spontaneously occurred rather than for God to exist.

I'll admit that such an answer requires faith. As I read Dawkins' book, however, it humored me to come to the realization that, without his realizing it, the tenets that he ascribes to require a similar amount of faith. Mr. Dawkins seems to think that what he has for science is confidence that the small amount of evidence he has for evolution will be borne out with more evidence, while what I have for religion is mere superstition without evidence. In reality, we exercise the same passion toward different objects (I toward God, he toward single-celled organisms); each of us only has partial evidence of what we believe, yet we each firmly believe that our minimal evidence will be confirmed with more evidence (and we have evidence to confirm our logic).

Let's take a simple example of the faith of the atheist--the fossil gap. Here's what evolutionists from the University of California Berkley have to say about it:

Misconception: “Gaps in the fossil record disprove evolution.”

Response: The fact that some transitional fossils are not preserved does not disprove evolution. Evolutionary biologists do not expect that all transitional forms will be found and realize that many species leave no fossils at all. Lots of organisms don't fossilize well and the environmental conditions for forming good fossils are not that common. So, science actually predicts that for many evolutionary changes there will be gaps in the record.
Without a complete litany of evidence, evolutionary biologists are nonetheless confident in their assertion that evolution by Natural Selection of a single-celled organism into a plethora of multi-celled, multi-faceted organisms is a fact. This is the essence of faith.

We are (or should be) learning all the time. Whether we are religionists or atheists, if we look, we can discover evidence that confirms the suspicions that we hold dear. Is there something to evolution? Probably. Is there something to religion? I'm pretty convinced of it. I've got an open mind, and I hope atheists do, too. I am interested to find what motivates people whose lives turn around the speculation that there is no God. In like manner, I hope that rather than writing me off as a superstitious nut, they would be interested in my ruminations.

Evolutionists, many of whom are atheists, admit that there is much they don't yet know about their science. I'll be the first to admit that there is much that I don't know about God. The fact that we don't know everything is no good reason for us to abandon that which we do.

I think we'll find out the answers to everything someday. For now, though, I hope we can agree to disagree, but also to be interested in each other's point of view. I claim to have evidence that God exists, and Richard Dawkins claims that God is not logical or probable. Neither of us, however, has conclusive proof. But regardless of whether one believes in God or not, the sum of what one thinks of how the universe works and how we came to exist requires faith.

In an effort to seed the debate, I'll try to meet the evolutionists halfway. What if...

What if on some planet 'eons' ago a single-celled organism did spontaneously generate, and since that 'time', it has evolved into a perfect entity that we now refer to as God?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sexism Hits Home


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 a team. There were enough of us in our ward to have a pick-up game. I invited my 11-year old daughter to play. It didn't take long before the teen-aged young men began taking her skills seriously.

Her PE teacher at school is another story.

It's okay to think that females in general are not as skilled as males in general at some activities. Just like it's okay to think females are better than males in some areas. But to apply the stereotype in every case is less than counterproductive.

I will try to approximate the conversation my daughter had with her PE teacher the other day.

"Teacher, can I play basketball with the boys?"

"What would you want to do that for?"

"Cuz it would be fun."

"But you aren't as good as them, and you might get hurt anyway. It's not a good idea for girls to play sports with boys."

It's (sometimes, and in this case) a good thing my daughter is persistent. The male teacher finally relented with an exclamation of something like "Whatever. Don't get hurt!" Later on when my daughter competed just finely with the boys, her teacher was mum. I think he'll let her play ball with the boys next time, though.

She still has to deal with the frequent "You got hit out by a girl!" during dodge ball, though.

Young men and young women can do anything they set their mind to do. The fact that encouraging them to be sexually promiscuous does not belong in this category is the subject of a completely different post. But if an activity is virtuous, praiseworthy, or of good report, we should encourage everyone, male or female, to seek after such things.

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


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 should be given to pre-teens".

I am not of the opinion that "they're [all] gonna do it". In fact, I know a lot of people who haven't "done it" until they're married, and then they've only "done it" with their spouse. And I suspect that of those who have "done it" many have only "done it" because it has become the socially accepted norm and expectation in some circles.

So far, no one has forced every 11 and 12 year old to carry condoms around in their pockets in order to be "safe" when they live up to societal expectations. Merck and (at one point in time) 20 States want(ed) that dynamic to change.

Requiring the use of Gardasil would mean a big boost for Merck's bottom line. That one's easy to see. So it's not surprising that Merck's lobbying juggernaut has been in overdrive. After the writing appeared on the wall, though, Merck ended its promotional campaign in disgrace.

What's more difficult to see is why so many state governments place so little trust in their young women to be sexually mature. Not only that, the proposed legislation would be encouraging the cream of their crop to become sexually immature. Based partly on the Merck scandal, some states have withdrawn legislation. Let's hope they all do, but for a better reason than simple guilt by association.

Those who are gonna do it, for whatever reason, are certainly free do to so. And Gardasil should be made available to anyone who wants it. But people shouldn't be encouraged to be sexually immature (promiscuous) simply because someone got the harebrained idea that none of us can resist the urge. Forcing someone to become inoculated against a disease that is purely electively acquired is one of the greatest misuses of government I can think of.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Y2K Heck! What about DST!


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 all because of the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005, which gives the culprits just long enough to be forgotten. I'm sure FedGov has a reason for screwing up a simple thing like daylight savings, but heaven knows they'll never tell us.

I have discovered one small advantage, though. I won't miss the first hour of the April Sunday Morning session of LDS General Conference anymore because I forgot to set my clock back Saturday night.

It's really not nearly as bad as the fixes we had to do for the Y2K non-scare, but nonetheless it's pretty irritating that at least millions of dollars of technical manpower have been expended to apply operating system patches, apply delivered software patches, apply database patches, update configuration files, and then figure out what else broke besides my COBOL compiles.

Hey, why don't we fix all the anomalies in the English language while we're at it, Congress?

If we have to have Daylight Savings Time, why don't we just do it like Iraq? On the FIRST DAY of April they spring forward, and on the FIRST DAY of October they fall back. I guess our pagano-Christian heritage, which gave us the convoluted process for determining Easter, has infected our ability to determine when to fix our clocks.

And we're all paying for it.

My Representative Loves the Gravy Train


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 Senator before this bill makes it to the Senate.

I guess the way HB178 was carved and gutted is better than nothing at all, but not by much. It puts a whole bunch of legislators in the position of saying "Yup, I voted fer that there lobbyin ruform" when they really didn't.

John Valentine, a man for whom I usually have respect, stated that because the legislative per diem is so low, legislators deserve to be treated to lunch by lobbyists. I disagree, and I supported Rep. Becker's original version of the bill. But wait a second! We're not even talking about that. We're talking about simply letting us know who you went to lunch with.

Dave Clark, who is my brother's representative from Santa Clara also voted for the bill, because it would have caused him a lot of problems. According to the Deseret News, Dave Clark stated, in very non sequiturial fashion that the original bill would not have allowed him to attend a neighborhood Christmas party, because the hostess was a lobbyist. Please.

I am beginning to see the point of the minority party in Utah. Republicans have been ensconced for so long as the majority power in Utah state politics, that many of them scarcely notice how easy it is to rationalize.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Quantifying Hate as a Factor in Crime


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 comments are not considered illegal, but are rather left open for nearly everyone else to recognize as just plain stupid. (And not in the competitive vernacular either--i.e. "Just because he got caught." But rather in the sense that they were uneducated and based on perceptions that are patently at odds with reality.)

Last year after several years of trying to pass hate crimes legislation in Utah, the legislature took a different approach. Rather than trying to assess the quantity of hate in the criminal mind, Utah law now (I think correctly) takes into consideration the reality of how the crime served to limit the victim's ability to exercise his or her Constitutional rights. Action is much (infinitely?) easier to observe and quantify than thought. Utah law now states (in part) that:

A person who commits any primary offense with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe that his action would intimidate or terrorize that person is guilty of a third degree felony.

"Intimidate or terrorize" means an act which causes the person to fear for his physical safety or damages the property of that person or another. The act must be accompanied with the intent to cause or has the effect of causing a person to reasonably fear to freely exercise or enjoy any right secured by the Constitution or laws of the state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

My perception of what this means can be illustrated by the following examples:

1. In response to John Amaechi's announcement that he is homosexual, Mr. Hardaway essentially said " I hate gays." Mr. Amaechi was annoyed by the comment, and clearly has a right to be, although as a side note, I suggest that it's counterproductive to worry about inane comments from uninformed people. This was NOT a hate crime.

2. On the other hand, what if Tim Hardaway had said, "I hate gays. I hate John Amaechi. And I think he better not show his face at NBA All-Star Weekend." Such a case under Utah law IS a hate crime, and I think correctly so. Regardless of whether Mr. Amaechi planned on attending NBA All-Star Weekend, a reasonable person so threatened would feel that his rights were abridged in that he would likely either (a) not attend NBA All-Star Weekend out of fear, or (b) hire a body guard for protection. The first instance illustrates harm to the person, and the second, harm to the person's property.

In summary, though, I still think that people should be allowed to make the 'annoying' type of stupid statements, even if they are hateful. Only when such comments are reasonably considered by the target of the comments to be intimidating or terrorizing should they be considered illegal.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Important (Missed) Debate About Homosexuality


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 Tim Hardaway? He said, in part:

You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people.

First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team. Second of all, you know, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him.

I wonder if Tim Hardaway has ever known any homosexuals. He has a great deal of mis-pre-conceived notions about them. I've known a some homosexual people over the years, and probably more than I've realized, because they generally don't make it an issue. Some of them--female athletes--were good friends. But most homosexuals are like most heterosexuals--their sexuality is essentially a private thing.

So I think Hardaway's statements are inane, but he has a right be be inane if he wants to.

But then National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern did something equally inane. He banned Tim Hardaway from NBA All-Star weekend this weekend.

"It is inappropriate for him to be representing us given the disparity between his views and ours," Stern said in a statement Thursday.

Obviously Hardaway's views don't match those of the NBA. Very probably Hardaway's views don't really match those that Hardaway expressed on the radio recently. But now it's going to be a bit harder to find out.

It's important to let people express their opinions, even when the opinions are stupid. Out of controversy can come understanding, even when it's simply to respectfully disagree. But when speech is banned, as in this case by Commissioner Stern, we don't get the chance to engender the much needed respect for different opinions and people that we need.

Even if John Amaechi thinks Stern made the right choice, I don't
. The process has been short circuited. And an important debate about homosexuality has been missed.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Is it Important that He was a Muslim?


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 newspaper the other morning about the murders, my first thought was, "I wonder if he was a Muslim." (As you read on, it will become evident why.) When I found out that he was from Bosnia, I was pretty sure he must have been Muslim, and my confidence in that fact became greater when I found out his first name. It appeared that in the course of normal reportage it was discovered that he was a Muslim.

There is no proof that the killer was motivated to kill because of his religion, but it is instructive (and safe) to wonder about it. These kinds of murder sprees have been committed by non-Muslims before (consider Columbine High School). Nevertheless, here's why my immediate suspicion was regarding whether he was Muslim, and here's why it's important.

A few months ago, I began thinking about the relative ineffectiveness of suicide bombers. Suicide bombers have one chance. If they blow themselves up in the wrong place, they kill only one person--themselves. In American society it's much more difficult to get explosives into a place where they can be deadly against large groups of people. So I began to suspect that the next wave of Islamic fanatics would begin to use firearms as a much more effective means of mass killing. And then it happened at Trolley Square.

If you've read this far, you probably think that I am an advocate of gun control. You would be wrong. You might also come to the conclusion that I hate Muslims and that I think all Muslims are violent. You would be wrong again.

The fact that such violence has occurred creates an ever greater likelihood that it will occur again. It is critical that we take steps to reduce this likelihood. Here are the critical factors.

  1. Over the next few days as civic leaders extol the heroism of police officers who brought the murderer down and issue words of solace to the victims' families, they must also not be afraid to let the world know that we will not countenance such murder sprees, regardless of whether such violence be based on religious hatred, and that steps will be taken to ensure that such mayhem comes with a high cost.
  2. We no longer have the luxury of the gratuitous entertainment that we have gorged ourselves on ever more gluttonously in the past few decades. If we expect not to have to endure real-life mass murder, then we cannot afford to be entranced by it on the movie and television screens.
  3. We cannot afford to go about our lives in isolation. The more each of us get to know our neighbors, the less chance there is of something like this occurring again, whether because our friendship removes the desire from someone to take such action, or whether we notice individuals in society who might be predisposed to such violence.
  4. In today's over-charged political environment it has become commonplace for us to think of members of other races, religions, or nationalities as somehow less human than we are. Such feelings contribute to a polarized world in which violence is much more likely. It is important to understand each others' religions and cultures so that we don't breed the sense of rage or hopelessness that results in wanton killing.
  5. The next time it happens, there may not be an off-duty policeman to cut short the blood and gore. This attack could have been worse by several degrees. The more people who know how to defend themselves the better off we will be if it happens again. The police cannot possibly be expected to prevent all such attacks in the future. This exigency helps to clarify the original meaning of a well-regulated militia as discussed in the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Murderous violence is NEVER a solution to a problem. Some people, however, think so. We may disagree as to the cause of such violence, but we can all agree that fanatical Muslims are in the predominant majority of those who resort to such mayhem. Regardless of whether the murderer at Trolley Square was religiously motivated, it serves us well to make preparations to prevent the next such mass killing.

Lions and Tigers and Tanning Beds, Oh My!


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 booth I've ever been in warns people galore about the dangers of tanning. So I think people are smart enough to make their own decisions.

It must be more serious than I think, because the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Dermatology, and the Salt Lake Tribune would like to ban tanning salons outright. The Trib even goes so far as to chide those of us who think people can take care of themselves, because we think that "regulation to protect public health is suspected of being some kind of commie plot."

Please. We just think that people are smarter than the 'commie' Trib editorial board (their word, not mine) gives them credit for. There are those who think you can legislate morality (I happen to be one of them.) And then there are those that think that you can't legislate morality, but that you must legislate public health.

It's a mentality difference of prohibiting people from harming others versus prohibiting them from harming themselves.

Why don't we ban candy and soda pop? And buttered popcorn? And smoking? Excessive amounts of those not only lead to cancer, but to tooth decay as well! That might actually be why some areas of Utah force fluoridation into the water supply, because they really want to ban candy, but doing so might be perceived to be a commie plot.

Hopefully no one in the legislature voted for Senate Bill 52 on the grounds that it promotes family togetherness.

Do we not expect teenagers to find out and understand the dangers of such things as tanning? This potential law is another indication that apparently we don't expect teenagers to be mature. To me such a low expectation is a far worse societal problem than skin cancer.

Monday, February 12, 2007

President Giuliani "Understands" The Second Amendment


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 control as mayor," [Giuliani] said at a news conference Saturday during a swing through California. But "I understand the Second Amendment. I understand the right to bear arms."

He said what he did as mayor would have no effect on hunting.

But according to economist and social scientist Steven D. Levitt, crime dropped significantly everywhere in the 1990s. New York's crime rate fell further than nearly any other metropolitan area, but the additional decrease was in direct proportion to the number of additional policemen that New York City added to its payroll.

So first of all, it troubles me that Mr. Giuliani believes that gun control works. According to Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner, gun control isn't much more than a metal-collection drive. In a gun buyback, they say:

The number of of surrendered guns in no match for even the number of new guns simultaneously coming to market.


Their research also indicates that the Brady Law, passed in 1993, has done nothing to curb crime.

But what troubles me further is what I'm not sure Giuliani said, because the AP report does not put the statement in quotes. But the implication is that Rudolph Giuliani thinks that the second amendment to the Constitution was created to protect people's ability to use their guns for hunting.

Debates in colonial and post-colonial America make it clear that the reason for the second amendment is for a populace to be able to defend itself against a government run amok. Think of this--if a government knows that its citizenry does not have an efficient means to defend itself (read firearms), would it be more likely to invade people's homes an ransack their possessions?

This was one of the problems the second amendment was designed to remedy. Citizens of the USSR, who did not enjoy the right of self-protection, were subjected rather frequently to such invasive measures. Several countries throughout history have subscribed to the premise that government should do all the protecting--but in every such case, the protector has become the destroyer. Also, there are unfortunately and embarrassingly occasional such invasive violations by American service personnel of the Iraqi people's right to be so protected.

Hunting is an important right. But it is not mentioned in the Constitution, to include the Bill of Rights. So in a way, Mr. Giuliani is correct; the second amendment doesn't have anything to do with hunting.

But if he said what the AP said he said, then I don't want him to be President of the United States. Because if he said it, he does not understand the Second Amendment.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Agent "Curveball" and the US Border Patrol


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 reliable source, the United States based much of its rationale for an Iraq attack on this one person.

In a story with very similar irony and a very similar Curveball, the United States recently based its entire case against two US Border patrol agents on the testimony of one man. The man is a known drug smuggler, yet he was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony agents the border agents. In the first case, the Bush Administration would not be dissuaded from attacking Iraq, and in the case of border agents Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos, the United States government seems hell-bent on something else of which Ramos and Compean were in the way.

The trial lasted two weeks.

Three of the jurors who voted a guilty verdict later admitted their votes were coerced.

In the altercation that resulted in their arrests, one of the agents had been injured by the assailant and was lying on the ground when the second agent arrived on the scene and began engaging the assailant with small arms fire.

The agents fired at a man who was trying to flee back across the border to Mexico, and who appeared to have a weapon in his hand.

After it later was discovered that the fleeing man, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, a known drug smuggler whose van was carrying 800 mariujana plants that evening, was injured in the shootout, the agents were inexplicably arrested.

It was on the testimony of this "Agent Curveball" that two men are now in prison for terms far longer, even if it were a crime, than what their actions warrant.

Ramos and Compean were prosecuted under a law that did not apply to the situation. The law was designed as punishment for drug dealers and rapists. This particular law requires minimum sentences of ten years.

Free Ramos and Compean Now

House Concurrent Resolution 37 now in the United States Congress seeks the presidential pardon of Ramos and Compean from a clearly faulty arrest, trial, and imprisonment. The resolution states:

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that the President should swiftly and unconditionally pardon Agents Ramos and Compean.


If you would like to participate in the campaign to free these unjustly incarcerated men, please click here.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Report from the Utah House Soccer Committee


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 to show there is a level of collaboration between public and private here," he said. "There isn't a single facility in the country that is of this size that has been done without this kind of public-private partnership.

Governor..."in the country"? How about in the state? How about in the city that you were standing in when you made the statement? Larry H. Miller received NO public funding for his $80 million motor sports park in Tooele, and five years remains to pay off the $20 million in Redevelopment Agency funds he received to finance the Delta Center. Dave Checketts, on the other hand, is not on the hook for even a dime of his $35 million. I think, though, that I heard him also 'pledge' to pay $10 million if Real left Salt Lake before 30 years from now.

Okey dokey.

At least one of the members of the Utah house has it right:

Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, said using hotel room taxes paid by visitors sends the wrong message about the state's tourism industry.

"What are we telling those travelers? Thank you for visiting us, thank you for letting us gouge you and now we're going to build a soccer stadium with your money," he said. "If this is such a great idea, why aren't the banks involved in this? Why do they have to come to the taxpayers to help this out?"

I guess it's probably a bad thing to hope that it fails, because it's Utah's economy and it's my tax money. But let's just say I'm very frustrated. Because this is not the way government is supposed to act.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Flat Taxes and Charitable Contributions

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 best served by providing tax incentives for the support of charitable activities," said Jon Butler, a lawyer who read the church statement. "Charitable contributions help provide for society's poor and needy, fund education and the arts, and meet other important social needs beyond the reach of government resources."

At the time (and probably currently) the average tax rate for Utahns was 7%. People have interpreted that statement, apparently, to mean that the LDS church does not prefer a flat tax. I don't hold that interpretation. I think the LDS church would prefer not to have a flat tax rate that is so high that it would bite into the average family's ability to provide charitable contributions. I agree with the statement that "charitable contributions help provide for...important social needs...". The incentives that government should provide for charitable giving are, in my opinion, those where government doesn't take all our money for us and try to provide governmental remedies in the place of those that should be charitable.

In that light, I support the current tax proposal found in Senate Bill 223. It will make the tax burden on most Utah families much less complex and confusing. It will also leave room for charitable giving. I trust that most Utahns' current reason for charitable giving is NOT that they are trying to find a tax break. I therefore trust that charitable giving in Utah will still be robust (and likely even more than now) under a flat tax.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Economic Incentives, and Moral Ones, Too


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 occurred in extenuating circumstances. After the advent of the fine, parents no longer felt guilty at having violated their 'contract' with the daycare center.

Later, the daycare center rescinded the $3 fine. The number of late parents went down, right? Actually, no; it stayed about the same. The Parents had become conditioned by the fine not to feel guilty if they were late, and they still didn't feel guilty when the fine was gone.

Incentives are causes of effects that we must carefully weigh before we implement them. Economic incentives can destroy moral incentives very easily.

There are all kinds of incentives in society that we don't think about. Government provides all sorts of economic and moral incentives to society.

Welfare

This is the easiest incentive to visualize. If a government entity offers a welfare check to the unemployed that equated to a wage of $10 per hour, nearly every unemployed person would not work at a productive job that paid $10 per hour or less (the ones with the highest morals probably would). Actually, due to what I call the "money value of time" they probably wouldn't work for a job that paid less than $12 or $15 per hour.

Minimum Wage

I have a theory here that needs to be developed, but it seems to me that government establishment of a minimum wage requirement has a perverse economic incentive. It gives some businesses a baseline for how little they can pay their employees. It is my (unsubstantiated?) belief that in the absence of minimum wage laws, people on the lower end of the earning scale would make more money.

Drug Legalization

Because drugs are illegal, they fetch a much higher price on the street than they otherwise would. The high price draws those into the drug-selling trade whose moral incentive not to sell is significantly below their economic incentive to do so. If drugs were legalized, these drug sellers would have to find new careers. But because there are corrupt and designing men in the world who would continue to supply people's drug addictions, let's look at another incentive...

Do you know anyone who would be more apt to try drugs if government suddenly legalized them? I do. And the result would be more addiction. The moral incentive to quit would be substantially erased by the addiction, but the removal by government of the previous moral stigma (illegality), coupled with the economic incentive of now low-cost drugs would make it highly improbable that anyone would ever escape their filthy habit.

Abortion

In 1972, prior to the Supreme Court's decision known as Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973, approximately 100,000 abortions were performed in the United States. In 1973, the number of abortions in the US skyrocketed. The trend continued upward, because a moral incentive not to abort was removed. More recently, however, a new moral incentive has appeared--technology. Because doctors can more clearly study the personality traits of each little person in the womb, and because they can use technology to correct even microscopic defects in the little guy or girl, more doctors are refusing to perform abortions.

Rules and Laws that Do Not Appeal to Our Ethical Nature

What did you do when your mom said, "If you don't stop doing that, I'll ground you for a month!!!" You kept doing it, because you knew it would be a gigantic pain for her to administer a one-month grounding sentence. In the same way, the more government establishes penalties and laws that are not commensurate with the crime or with common sense, our likelihood of violating those laws increases. If the United States congress passed a maximum speed limit on our freeways of 25 miles per hour, how many people would break the speed limit? Everyone except a few really old grandmas. And more perversely, the accident rate would increase dramatically.

Epilogue. I've discovered another thought as I've been writing. In the absence of moral incentives, economic incentives can take very vulgar forms. Like cutting off someone's head if they won't join your religion. This is why true religion, which can be measured by its morality, is critical to efficiently running economies. What is moral (or truly religious) can be measured by The Golden Rule, spoken by the Master who walked the earth two thousand years ago.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Killing the Golden Goose, Government Style


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 deathly sick. You have recently learned of a new medicine that, if affordable, would cure your family member's disease. But the price of the medicine is far beyond your ability to pay. What would you do under such circumstances? Should the government force the medicine provider to make his product available to all?

It's easy to say under such emotional circumstances, "Of course he should make his product available!" But here's another scenario.

Suppose a member of your family is deathly sick. You have recently learned of a new medicine that, if affordable, would cure your family member's disease. But the price of the medicine is far beyond your ability to pay. Government forces the medicine provider to make his product available to all, but then it becomes no longer possible for the medicine provider to recoup the costs required to make the medicine, so the medicine can no longer be produced.


There are far more effective and productive ways to solve problems such as the one described, but a major hurdle for of a lot of government-oriented individuals is that these solutions require interaction with real people rather than simply relying on the cold, calculated impersonality of government. For some, charity is a foul word, because it competes with the supposed benevolence of government.

Let's look at how a required minimum wage kills the golden goose. Business owners have in most cases have their businesses from nothing into something substantial. In most of these cases, the substantial businesses they now have are in large part due to the fact that they express their appreciation to their employees in the form of satisfactory wages.

I have a friend who works for a local metal foundry. He understands this economic principle well. He's noticed, however, that the substandard wages paid by his employer in nearly every case attract those with substandard skills. It has resulted in two predictable trends--low loyalty to the company, and a high defect rate. My friend correctly fears that his company's reputation will suffer and that the business will fail unless significant mid-course corrections are made.

Companies usually adapt or perish when it comes to wages. If they don't adapt by paying a wage that does attract loyalty and the necessary skill, they will kill their own golden goose.

Therefore, a correctly functioning economy does not need government to tell companies what wages they should pay. In fact, economies usually function incorrectly precisely due to the misinformed self-interjections of government into the process.

An easier way to kill the goose (than company stupidity) is when government tells a company that it has to pay higher wages. There are thresholds below which the marginal decline of business is very small if business is forced to raise its wages, but that threshold is smaller with smaller businesses and neglible with others. But government is not the best judge of where this threshold is. At any rate, the principle generally holds true. If a business is compelled by government to pay higher costs than it can afford in conjunction with the service it provides, the business will fail. In the case of innovators, such as those who create new medicines, machines, or high technology, if government lays down a wage ultimatum, the innovators often simply decide to create their product somewhere else.

Because the innovator craves success at producing a product that people will want, he will abandon an overweening government far sooner than letting his business reach the point of failure.

Minimum wages are important. But they can be achieved by people in their demand for them. If someone doesn't get the wage they're worth, they can usually find a higher-paying job.

Has there ever been a study of how many more businesses than usual close their doors after a minimum wage increase? I think the results of such a study would be interesting. But most individuals only look at the fraction of workers who survived the minimum wage increase.

If government intervenes, chances are that everyone's goose is cooked.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Becker is Right: Ban Legislative Gifts

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, whether they are a current legislator or a legislator-turned-lobbyist. Gifts given to legislators from lobbyists are not given because the lobbyist is simply being nice. Lobbying is a very lucrative business to many--far more lucrative than that of a legislator. There must be a 'good reason' lobbyists make so much money.

Lobbyists have profused political society to the exclusion of the people who really count--the people. You know, the ones who elected the legislators in the first place? It began at the federal level, and now is seeping like an ooze into Utah politics. Those who have played the game long enough consider it to be a worthy and honest pasttime. Those of us on the outside don't think so. It ain't.

Democrat Ralph Becker for the last several sessions of the Legislature has submitted a bill that would ban lobbying gifts greater than $5. It's never gotten very far. I suppose it's because too many legislators think they are worthy of being treated to free Jazz games, dinners, and Great Salt Lake tours. They are not. They are people just like you and I--who happen to have the privilege of representing you and I.

Current Utah law allows legislators who are given gifts that cost less than $50 not to be identified. Gifts are regularly given for amounts such as $49.90 to avoid the $50 declaration cap. Gifts are often split among multiple persons to avoid the cap, such as a $247 sporting event whose cost could be split among a legislator, their spouse, and three of their children. Such tactics have resulted in 86% of gifts to legislators not being detailed as to which legislators they were given to. Such an invitation to disingenuousness should be abhorred by any legislator, yet it is treated as a mere game of wits.

Becker's bill properly does not consider a few items as gifts such as those from employers, those given as awards for recognition of public service, educational materials and conferences, gifts from other government entities, and gifts from those related by blood line or household who are not acting as an intermediary for someone else. Items received not in accordance with the new law would be given to the state to be used for official purposes, or to be sold at auction. It is a very well-thought bill, and I hope that it becomes law.

Other legislators claim that "legislators would still go to events or meals with lobbyists but would just pay for it out of their own campaign accounts." That presents an entirely different problem, but it does nothing to counteract the fact that Becker's bill fosters much-needed honesty among legislators and accountability of those legislators to their real constituents.

I do admit that I wish Becker's bill would go one step further. In all cases where legislators accompany a lobbyist to an event where a gift would have been given under the current law, but the legislator pays for the cost of the item in accordance with the new law, it should be required that the legislator itemize the lobbyist they accompanied, the event they attended, the cost of the event, and the source of payment for the event.

Legislators are people just like us, and they were elected by us. They were not elected by the Utah Soft Drink Association, Pfizer, Questar or the University of Utah. Legislators should support Rep. Becker's bill as an indication that they are beholden to their real constituents and not those faux constituents who are glad to inebriate legislators to their whims with the gifts they come bearing. They ought to be embarrassed.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

School Prayer: What Did the Supreme Court Say?


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? Must teachers avoid all mention of religion? The answer to these questions is "no." Public schools are not permitted to sponsor worship, but that does not mean that they must be "religion-free zones."

The Supreme Court decision Engel v. Vitale in 1962 prohibited public school officials from writing prayers that students were to give, but it did not prohibit individuals from exercising their freedom of religion, even in public schools.

The next, year in Abington Township School District v. Schempp,the Supreme Court prohibited schools from sponsoring Bible study, but it did not prevent students from reading the Bible in school, although some schools have forbidden students from doing so.

'Americans United' also makes it clear that:

The high court has also made it clear, time and again, that objective study about religion in public schools is legal and appropriate. Many public schools offer courses in comparative religion, the Bible as literature or the role of religion in world and U.S. history. As long as the approach is objective, balanced and non-devotional, these classes present no constitutional problem.


The US Supreme Court decided in Santa Fe Independent School District v.Jane Doe, not that it was unconstitutional for students to pray at public events, but that the way it occurred (by majority vote) in the particular case effectively allowed the school district to determine which prayers would and would not be allowed.

So does that mean that a student could ask to say a prayer before a school function, and be allowed to? Yes. Does it mean that a student can include scriptural quotes in a research paper? Yes. Does it mean that parents or their child could ask permission and be allowed to pray at the beginning of a school day? Yes.

Does that mean that a teacher can place on the wall in the school hallway a motivational quote that includes encouragement to pray? Absolutely.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Statue for the Gipper


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 their appreciation for him to be made known.

Reagan was "the most important personality that enabled the fall of communism" and is thus a key figure in Czech history, Prague Mayor Thomasz Chalupa said.

Reagan was in office from 1981-89. He gained a reputation as a staunch opponent of communism and socialism, and is often credited for helping end the Cold War peacefully by forging a close relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"[Reagan's] policies helped the fall of communism. He can be considered the originator of the defeat of communism," Prague 6 spokesman Martin Šálek said.


Ironically in light of recent dictatorial events, the other prominent statue of a foreign statesman in Prague is that of Simon Bolivar, the man from Venezuela who rallied the masses of South Americans to demand liberty.

Politics clouds a lot of issues in America, but apparently not so much in Czechoslovakia. They recognize Reagan for the great man and statesman that he was.

Reagan laid a wreath at Bolivar's grave in 1982. Somehow I don't think he would afford the same courtesy to Hugo Chavez. Nor would Chavez deserve it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What Did Elder Ballard Say?



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 advocate illegal immigration? No. I think he just signed a document.

But here's what he said in 2004:

Elder Ballard laid out "the praise and vision of how these (Latinos) are our brethren and we must love them." Diaz remembers someone saying it "is no accident that they are here, but (it's) by the hand of the Lord that they are."


Holly Mullen had a couple of nice quips about Elder Ballard and the Utah Legislature:

I’ve always thought LDS leaders do their finest work when they rally members to act with love, kindness, charity and gratitude. It’s an even stronger message when the leadership can apply that sermon to specifics in the real world — relationships with spouses, neighbors, and anyone else who looks, acts, believes differently than the rest of “us.”

...

Donnelson and his supporters stand on a platform that all laws must be obeyed and upheld. The 2002 law was drafted specifically to permit the exception for undocumented students with their high school diploma. It IS the law. And this miniscule group — kids who deserve a resident-tuition funded education — has been following it exactly as written.


I agree. Don't arrest me!

Good Economy? Why is No One Saving?


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 job, people dipped into savings in an effort to meet the basic necessities of shelter and clothing.

This time around, the reasons don't seem so clear cut. The fact that we're not saving can't bode well for our economic future. Maybe the economy isn't as good as we thought?

What gives? I wonder if a "rainy day" is coming...