Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays

Americans love war analogies.  It probably stems from our love of actual war, which I think is an actual collective sin we are committing.  So analogies between war and other non-war things are pretty unsettling and off-putting for me.  In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, there are over 100,000 dead civilians, tens of thousands of dead combat troops, and millions of wounded.  So when we use frequent war allusions in sports and politics and the like I think we're being rather callous and glib.  If we paid more attention to our language and how we use it we might end up making different and better political choices in America.

That was all a slight tangent I started pondering as I considered this most special time of year when we can come together and debate whether or not there is a War on Christmas.  The weapons in this war are not missiles, bombs, drone attacks, and machine guns, but phrases like "Happy Holidays," the removal of nativity scenes from government-owned public places, and "X-mas."  The casualties are not human lives lost or permanent physical or psychological injuries and disfigurement, but . . . what?  I'm not sure.  Hurt pride, I guess.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Awkward Introduction Time

So it's high time that I make my first post here. It's been a while since I was added to be a contributor, yet I have been silent. At least I have a good reason, I'm about 70% done with a Masters degree in Computer Engineering, and seeing as how it will have taken me about 15 years since my high school graduation when I complete this thing I don't let too many distractions get in the way of my progress.

As you can probably derive from my above paragraph, I generally view things in terms of science or math, basically I try to over simplify any problem into some sort of equation that I can manipulate to confirm my preconceptions. The fact that I use math makes me feel both elitist and confident in my correctness, so it's a win-win. Doesn't qualify for the Michael Scott conflict resolution status of win-win-win, but two out of three ain't bad.

Here's the problem I've run into when I've attempted to write this first post in the past: I don't know what I should write about. With the title of the blog being Mormon Left, I find myself only half qualified. I've got the Mormon part down, but the left? Not so much. So let me introduce myself in the form of attempting to pigeon hole my political leanings. I don't really lean right or left, it's more down than anything. In fact, I once took a political test online and since it was on the Internet it was very accurate, that divided people's political leanings into a standard Cartesian Plane. I guess blogging etiquette would be for me to link that to Wikipedia, but sorry, not happening right now because I'm currently in a race against my laptop battery. So, for those that don't remember high school math and are too lazy to Google the Cartesian Plane is the standard four quadrant graphing system. Back to the quiz, my quiz results left me in quadrant four, the lower right as you look at it, with esteemed company as people like Milton Friedman. If you don't recognize the name, once again, Google it.

Now that you've Google'd his name, you probably think that I think economics is pretty important politically. You're right. In fact, in terms of the Federal Government, I don't believe they should be serving much purpose apart from national defense and economic development. I'm a Jeffersonian. I believe strongly in a limited Federal government, and strong, centralized local governments. I believe the closer you can keep the money to the people, the more honest the politicians will remain. Ironically, I don't live too far from D.C., which is a local government rife with corruption, embezzlement and outright fraud. Don't judge me.

Politically I'm old school. When I think in terms of conservative and progressive, I think about it in terms of government size and reach, not in social terms. I realize that I'm in the minority, but it's one of my biggest pet peeves on the planet that the term "conservative" has become synonymous with "social conservative". Pedantic? Yes. Irrational? Maybe. Impactful? Most definitely. Turns out when you make social conservative and conservative synonymous terms, people start to lose all grip on reality and believe things like "Mitt Romney is too liberal to be President." and "Sarah Palin would be a great leader for our country." I apologize to all the potential readers that may have pre-ordered their Palin 2012 bumper stickers, but I think she's one of the least relevant people in our country in terms of Presidential abilities and I find it amazing that there's anyone with an IQ north of the average temperature of Hawaii that believes she would be a solid executive. She does have her own reality show though, and I suppose she's probably more qualified than Snookie or that lady that got a show because she and her husband don't understand how to use a prophylactic and had 30 kids.

Okay, end of rant.

I thought of something left I can post about!

I'm in full support of Dennis Kucinich's NEED_ACT. Apart from ending the largest theft, embezzlement and fraud scheme of the last century (fractional reserve banking), it implements some really smart changes to our banking system.

That's the largest thing that our country has gotten wrong in the last 2-5 years. They believed the swindlers that told us we need specific banks in the form of bailouts. We don't need banks. We need a strong banking system. What makes a stronger banking system than forcing those banks to stop using depositor's savings accounts for financial speculation? Thus forcing any high-risk investments out in the open where the depositor knows that if they put their money into a certain investment vehicle that there's a chance they could lose their shirt?

If you haven't checked it out, don't worry about doing that. Just take my word for it, it's good legislation for our country's long term economic health. Call your congressman before it's too late and get them supporting it. After all, with the gerrymandering that's sure to happen after the census data, Kucinich may not be around much longer.

Let's make this his swan song. Thanks for the time, next time there will be more links, less rant, and more political stuff.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bomb Repeat Bomb

I had a post all ready to go about the procrastination around ratifying the New Start Treaty between the US and Russia. I've been blown away (pun intended) by the wavering Republicans that wanted to amend the treaty. The New Start Treaty is based on a previous treaty with Russia that is set to expire this month. As such, any amendment would require both countries to go back to negotiations.

I was going to write about Russia's response to the proposed amendments, "I can only underscore that the strategic nuclear arms treaty, worked out on the strict basis of parity, in our view fully answers to the national interests of Russia and the United States,” (Sergey V. Lavrov - Russian foreign minister) “It cannot be opened up and become the subject of new negotiations.”

I had a bunch written about how Senator McCain was pushing for a clause to be inserted that would maintain the US's ability to stockpile missiles in Germany and other European countries. As I wrote, I kept thinking about how completely asinine the GOP's arguments were, and how ridiculous the comment from Mr McConnell was accusing Obama of trying to force the treaty forward for political gain, "Our top concern should be the safety and security of our nation, not some politician’s desire to declare a political victory and host a press conference before the end of the year."

Then, just before clicking on the "Publish Post" button, this news was released. I can't express how delighted (and surprised) I am that congress has managed to approve a little bit of common sense. I'm glad that an the publishing of an explosive post was averted. Oh, and I'm pretty happy that congress came to their senses before we had to face the possibility of heating up a Cold War.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Judicial Activism at Work

Another example of an activist conservative judge legislating from the bench:

Virginia judge rules health care mandate unconstitutional

I fully expect Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Orrin Hatch and the gang to rebuke this affront to our Constitutional system of checks and balances.

Friday, December 3, 2010

You Are the Government: Wikileaks and Transparency

So Julian Assange of Wikileaks recently released about 250,000 secret documents from the State Department.  The very best thing you could possibly read about Wikileaks is Glenn Greenwald.  Here is a smattering, the tip o' the iceberg, of new information that we learned about our government's illegal and immoral activity from these documents that Greenwald  put together:

(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA's kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA's torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me");

(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation";

(5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;

(6) "American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world" about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post's own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(7) the U.S.'s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal -- a coup -- but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(9) Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The "White Horse" meets Eric Cantor

A quickie: all those folks worried about the Constitution "hanging by a thread" have a new enemy -- Eric Cantor:

Eric Cantor supports destroying the Constitution

This is Tea Party delusion at its greatest -- destroy the Constitution in order to save it. Since I'm a self-declared Millennial Positivist, my belief is antics like this will doom these guys to irrelevancy. They might try and succeed in one or two states (maybe. And that's if everything goes exactly the way they planned), but it won't take long for people to realize how ideas like this run strongly counter to their interests.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Baseball and Politics: Expansion

I desperately want a major league baseball team in Salt Lake.  I could see myself going to a few dozen games every season.  As a lifelong Red Sox fan I would have no problem switching allegiances to a new, local team (especially after the Sox have won a couple World Series recently).  The only way I see this happening is through expansion.

There are currently 30 major league teams.  There are 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American League.  The reason they are unbalanced is because in baseball every team plays just about every day, and teams play in (typically) three game sets, so you need an even number of teams in each league to avoid scheduling problems.  This means that the NL Central has six teams while the AL West only has four.  It would be ideal to add a couple of western teams to even out the leagues and enfranchise some disenfranchised parts of the country (I think Portland would be perfect for a second team).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rant Time: Pres. Obama is No Liberal

And he's certainly no socialist, despite the popular conservative argument otherwise.  Here's what we have seen so far:
  1. He gave away the public option before the debate even began.  Health care reform ended up being a huge win for the health care industry which will soon be flooded with new customers thanks to the mandate.
  2. The stimulus was too small and included too many tax cuts for corporations at the Republicans' behest.
  3. He has failed to follow up on, pursue, and prosecute Bush Administration illegal activities such as torture and illegal wiretapping.
  4. The war in Afghanistan, which pretty much everyone agrees we can't "win" militarily, has been escalated instead of ended.
  5. The financial reform bill was watered down in the face of the powerful financial lobby to the point of likely being completely ineffectual to prevent the sort of the economic meltdown we are currently working our way out of, over two years later and with no end in sight.
  6. He is now backing down from his stance of letting the tax cuts for the super-wealthy expire and extending the tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans permanently.
  7. And now, reports are that the administration is stepping up covert attacks in Yemen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Skalestial Music Station

With liberals being betrayed by our elected Democrats on a daily basis now (more on this soon), I need to cleanse my palate, and that is often accomplished by the soothing and rolling sounds of ska music.  I've decided to share my Pandora ska station with all of you, for you listening pleasure:  Skalestial Music.

It's not perfect, by any means.  I still get a little too much pure reggae on the one side and punk on the other (I have a separate punk station I'm working on, but I'm rarely in a mood where I want the two to mix), but it's nonetheless pretty awesome.  I've put a lot of time into it, more than I'd care to admit, so please enjoy.  If anyone out there wants to share their favorite Pandora station with the rest of us, please feel free.  And if you want to learn too much about my affection for ska music, click here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Millenial Positivism: Jacob Chapter 5 -- Breeding Out the Bad Fruit

As promised, here is the first installment of my series on "Millennial Positivism", or a version of pre-Millennial events that doesn't sound like something out of Mad Max.

The fifth chapter of Jacob offers a unique take on pre-Millennial events. Most other revelations on the subject tend to jump around and talk about various "signs" without presenting a coherent narrative. The fifth chapter of Jacob, on the other hand, runs straight through starting from some time after the exodus and ending with the burning of the earth following the Millennium and the great final battle between good and evil. It sticks to a single allegorical model -- olive trees in a vineyard -- throughout. It skips over many of the usual touchstones found in similar revelations; no talk of great tribulation, cataclysmic natural and man-made disasters, armageddon, or any of the other hallmarks of apocalyptic writing. Instead it focuses on the overall process of ridding the world of evil, and how that is to be accomplished in the "last days". The resulting tone is much more upbeat than one usually encounters in these sorts of revelations.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Utah's Republican Hegemony

Utah again elected a Republican as governor and a Republican as United States Senator.  Both Gov. Herbert and Sen.-elect Lee won by wide 2-1 margins against moderate-to-conservative Democrats.  These are perhaps the least surprising election results since racist Democrats owned the South from Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Era.  In Utah, Republicans win and they win big, particularly for governor and United States Senate, which are the big, important statewide elections.

It got me wondering when the last time was that Utahns elected a Democrat to statewide office.  It turns out that Utah has not had a Democrat in statewide office since Scott Matheson (father of current Rep. Matheson) left the governor's office in January of 1985.  That's about 26 years.  Utah has not had a Democrat in the United State Senate since Frank Moss was defeated by Sen. Hatch and left office in January of 1977.  Sen. Hatch, ironically, made a big deal that Sen. Moss' 16 years in office were too many and that he had lost touch with Utahns.  Sen. Hatch has now been a senator for about 34 years.

I then began to wonder how this Republican hegemony stacked up against other states that are perceived to be dominated by one political party.  The results were not good for Utah.  No other state has gone as long as Utah voting for a single party in the major statewide elections of governor and senator.  The results follow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Economy, Mitigated by the Tea Party

. . . unfortunately.
This was certainly a drubbing for Democrats, no doubt about it.  After making six years of gains they have lost the House in resounding fashion, lost a bunch of governorships, and lost a handful of Senate seats.  I have no problem with fluidity in political power, but when you take a look at the underlying factors in the Republican landslide last night, the picture isn't so neat and clear as it might seem.

Take a look at the polling that asks Americans which issues are most important to them.  The economy is always the most important by a wide margin.  In the most recent CNN poll 52% of respondents said it was the most important issue while only eight percent thought issues such as the deficit, health care, our lame wars, etc., respectively were the most important.  In a recent Pew poll 39% thought the economy was the most pressing issue, 25% said health care was, and 17% said the deficit was.  In a recent Bloomberg poll 49% listed the economy as problem number one, compared to 27% for the deficit and ten percent for health care.  In a recent CBS poll it was 57% for the economy, seven percent for health care, three percent for things like immigration and the deficit.  Exit polls from last night show the same thing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Divided we Stand, United we Fall

Election Day 2010. 19 Seats are in play for the Senate with the Democrats currently holding 46 and the Republicans holding 35. 111 Seats are in play for the House with the Democrats currently holding 150 and the Republicans holding 174.

I have a feeling that no matter what the final roll call is at the end of the day, there will be no satisfaction and there will be no progress. Why? Because the willingness to accept differences, concede changes, or invoke cooperation in the our delightful partisan government is as rare as rocking horse poo.

Along with my major frustration with political campaigning are the empty promises. Take Sharron Angle from Nevada for example. Set aside the fact that Mrs. Angle is as dirty and manipulative as they come, and focus only on her promise that her first act as senator would be to submit legislation to repeal "Obamacare". Fair enough, she's not alone in wanting to draft such legislation (Minority leader Jim DeMint and Colorado candidate Ken Buck, among many others). What bothers me is that there is almost no chance that they can repeal the healthcare bill. Let's assume that the predicted becomes reality and Republicans gain control of the House. This doesn't help any of the senators cause, because their legislation has to first be approved in the Senate. Let's assume that all craziness is realized and Republicans gain power in both the House and the Senate. Maybe under these conditions they could get legislation pushed through - right onto President Obama's desk, and next to his Veto pen.

So, we are going to have a new congress, with the same old problems. Despite what all the candidates are promising, and until enough of those that (ostensibly) represent us mature to the point that they can cooperate, there will be no revolutions. Maybe we should turn to the punks for advice:

"I'm tired politicians, of patriots and nots. I'm tired of deeper knowledge...It's hard to know the right choice to be made, and harder still to keep....Be not afraid to hold out your hand. Be not ashamed, to not understand." - Crazy Arm, Still to Keep

"Unity, as one we stand together. Unity, revolution's gonna come." - Operation Ivy, Unity

"Constant entertainment for our restless minds. Constant stimulation for epic appetites. Is there something wrong with these songs? Maybe there's something wrong with the audience." Against Me!, Don't Lose Touch

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Context is Everything

Like Jacob S. I'm not a huge fan of politics during election time. Most of all I don't like the misrepresentation of candidates and policies through "news" and paid advertisements. Although some of them kind be pretty funny, like this one from our friends to the north.

I've never heard of this guy before. I don't really know if he goes around kicking the random 14 year old in the face, but my gut says that the video of him in full soccer drag, swinging at a ball, is a bit out of context in terms of representing his political ideology. Sure, his attempt at trapping the ball looked more like something from MMA, but it would be nice to see the before and after to know this politicians intention and response.

Likewise, the media is adept at spinning benign comments into dangerous political fodder. In a recent interview with RollingStone magazine, President Obama was asked about his current taste in music. Fox picked up his response in full, but spun the headlines just so to make it, em, intriguing.

"President of the United States Loves Gangsta Rap"

Fox has since taken down the heading, and brushed it away as editorial privilege under the claim that Fox Nation is not the same as Fox News, and is therefore not responsible to the same level of truth in reporting. Obama's full answer:

My iPod now has about 2,000 songs, and it is a source of great pleasure to me. I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. There's still a lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Those are the old standards.

A lot of classical music. I'm not a big opera buff in terms of going to opera, but there are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need.
Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.
So, while we can indeed see that Obama admits to having some Rap in his collection (Lil Wayne and Nas), I don't know that I would go so far as to say that he LOVES rap. It would be like saying that likes a California roll every now and then LOVES sushi. The point is, a half truth can be as misleading and detrimental as a full lie.
I haven't visited Utah for a while now. I wasn't present at the recent protests regarding President Boyd K Packer's remarks on homosexuality. I did hear the remarks, in context, and definitely didn't take them as anti-gay. The LDS Church's stance on homosexuality is clear, and we have hashed through it many times before. I feel that one of the fundamental reasons that so many people were so distraught by the speech is because of the way the statements were taken out of context. Read the entire speech for yourself and make your own decision. More of that talk is on the importance of strengthening families than anything else.

Score another one for the misrepresentation of taking things out of context. Check the primary source, especially when it comes to important issues, be it political or otherwise.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I Hate Election Season

It's been a little slow around here and I can blame life being busy and tumultuous and, ironically, election season.  A political blog should be hoppin' during election season but I find that elections make me disillusioned and sad for America.  While we don't practice the most honorable politics in non-election seasons, during elections the level of political discourse on all sides plummets and candidates compete in a race to the bottom.  Perhaps the worst aspect of democracy is the elections.

The candidates believe, correctly, that Americans care more about wedge issues and digestible soundbites than substantive discussions of the issues.  They know by now that Americans like to be reaffirmed in what they believe as opposed to being challenged by new and novel ideas.  They know that Americans are tribalistic and like to think in terms of "us v. them" as opposed to finding ways to come together for the common good.  They are more interested in not making a gaffe than in saying or doing something truly memorable and inspiring and taking chances, because any little gaffe in this era of 24-hour cable news and the internet will be magnified beyond all reasonable limits of logic and decency.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Donald Duck and Glenn Beck

Andrew posted this on facebook and I thought it was awesome enough to post here, as well.  It starts a little slow but picks up steam after about two minutes.

The best part, though, is Beck's reaction on his radio show.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Between a Cult and a Hard Place

Here's a fun little question:  Which major American political party is friendlier to Mormons?  Just like the question I asked before about which party is more likely to nominate a presidential candidate, this one isn't as simple as it seems.

Now, we at the Mormon Left have spent a couple years showing that Mormonism and liberalism are just as compatible (more compatible, in my opinion, but that's just an opinion) as Mormonism and conservatism.  This post is not about which major ideology is most compatible with Mormonism.  It is about which party is more friendly to Mormons.  The simple answer is that the bases of parties both think we are a cult, but with their own twists.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Restrained and Intelligent Foreign Policy

In keeping with a recent tradition of writing an entire post just to announce I'm adding another link to the sidebar on a blog that very few people actually read (ahh! self-deprecation is nice!), I'm announcing that I'm adding a new link to the sidebar and I strongly suggest you click on this one.  The link is to a blog on the website Foreign Policy by Stephen M. Walt.  If you're interests range outside of domestic politics at all, and they really should, then Walt's blog is a must read, in my opinion.

In response to the odious Bill Kristol's recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal which uses fear-mongering to lobby for continuing the current insane level of funding for our bloated military-industrial complex, Walt gives several reasons why cutting "defense" spending is necessary but unlikely.  He concludes with this:
Which brings me to my main point. Although it is mind-boggling to realize that five percent of the world's population (the United States) now spends more on defense than the other 95 percent put together, this situation is hard to avoid when you see threats emerging virtually everywhere and when you think all of them are best met by an ambitious and highly interventionst foreign policy. If Americans want to be able to go anywhere and do anything, then they are going to have keep spending lots of money, even if all that activity merely reinforces anti-American extremism and makes more people want to come after us. (And for more on that latter point, read this book).

If you want to cut defense spending significantly, in short, you have to make some non-trivial adjustments in U.S. grand strategy. As some of you know, I think the United States would be both more prosperous and safer if we had a more restrained grand strategy and a more intelligent foreign policy. Until that happens, however, reducing defense spending itself is going to be an uphill fight, and our defense expenditures will be closer to the views of Kristol et al than to mine. Unfortunately.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mormons Rock

U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

I find this bit particularly interesting:

"This survey and previous Pew Forum studies have shown that Jews and atheists/agnostics have high levels of educational attainment on average, which partially explains their performance on the religious knowledge survey. However, even after controlling for levels of education and other key demographic traits (race, age, gender and region), significant differences in religious knowledge persist among adherents of various faith traditions. Atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons still have the highest levels of religious knowledge, followed by evangelical Protestants, then those whose religion is nothing in particular, mainline Protestants and Catholics. Atheists/agnostics and Jews stand out for high levels of knowledge about world religions other than Christianity, though they also score at or above the national average on questions about the Bible and Christianity. Holding demographic factors constant, evangelical Protestants outperform most groups (with the exceptions of Mormons and atheists/agnostics) on questions about the Bible and Christianity, but evangelicals fare less well compared with other groups on questions about world religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Mormons are the highest-scoring group on questions about the Bible."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Early Mormon Cooperatives

I've been reading Building the City of God by church historians Leonard Arrington, Dean May, and (kind of) Feramorz Fox.  I wrote a post about the Law of Consecration and Stewardship here.

Not long after the saints arrived in the Great Basin, "gentile" traders and merchants arrived and started making huge money off the saints.  Brigham Young was against trading of any sort, but especially among the members.  His thought was that a man should be making something, or producing something, and that work in shops was okay for women, but not for men.  What's more, he was against the idea of a man gaining wealth at the expense of the producers.

Because members of the church were strongly discouraged from getting involved in trading, the gentile merchants had the market to themselves and became very rich at the expense of the saints.  This became very alarming to many members, who petitioned Pres. Young to allow the members to get involved in trading at a cooperative level.  At first he balked, but eventually relented.  Here is how the authors of the book describe the evolution of his thought process:
Finally, it is important that Brigham Young believed strongly in social equality.  Ideologically opposed to gradation of wealth and status among his people, he sought instinctively for a scheme that would prevent aggrandizement of a few at the expense of the many.  His opposition to the first association of Mormon traders proposed to him in 1860 was based partly upon these grounds.  He consistently encouraged the widest possible ownership of the new cooperatives, to prevent the establishment of a wealthy privileged class.  The cooperative movement was, thus, wholly consistent with his own social philosophy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Millennial Positivism: An Introduction

People's ideas about of the "last days" and all the various events leading up to the Millenium inform their political views, both inside and outside of the Church. Up until now, I feel that the conversation about those events has been dominated by what I'll call the "doom and gloom" school of thought. This particular viewpoint is based on the idea that the majority of the world is wicked, a small minority is righteous, and even the righteous people will barely survive the spiritual and temporal onslaught until Christ appears to rescue them and usher in the Millennium.

My aim is to present a more "positive" version of the "last days" narrative to counter the "doom and gloom" viewpoint over a series of five posts. Since this is the introduction, here's an outline of what I plan on discussing:

1.) Jacob Chapter 5 -- Breeding Out the Bad Fruit.

2.) The Day Dawn is Breaking.

3.) A Positive Reading of the Book of Revelation.

4.) Circling the Wagons vs Lengthening the Cords.

5.) The Church, a Rough Stone Rolling.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Primary Sources

I'll show my hand – I'm a scientist. That doesn't really mean anything special except that I play with chemicals and cells on a daily basis, pretending that I'm doing something worthwhile. It also means that I was trained to keep digging through exorbitant amounts of information out there, past the anecdotal evidence, and past the citations of citations, until the primary source is uncovered. Let me put it this way: although Wikipedia is a great initial source of information, if I was ever to cite that website as my primary reference in a scientific report I would be hung for heresy.

This training and my religion explain much of my aversion to rumors and hearsay, and likely underpins my suspicion of the media. Apparently, Mike Wise of the Washington Post shares these qualms enough that he tried to illustrate the lowered standards of the social media in checking the accuracy of information. After intentionally pumping false information into cyberspace, several reputable media outlets picked up, and published the "scoop". The irony in Mike's experiment is that he was criticizing people for not using reliable sources when he WAS their source. When it comes to news and current events, I admit that I am guilty of trusting my trusted (i.e. favorite) sources. However, I try to exercise due dilegence and check multiple outlets. There is so much peril in turning to a single source for the details of a story because the media is not objective. Jacob S. has posted several times on the monstrosity that is the Daily Herald, and demonstrated how creative biased journalists can be. Obviously the opposite end of the spectrum is just as guilty.

Beyond op-ed opinions sneaking into all aspects of reporting is the, arguably much more dangerous, selection of what is reported. Media is big business, and in our overtly capitalistic society, they are legally obligated to make the largest profit possible. As such, current events can be sifted and sorted until the most lucrative can be selected. Take Pastor Terry Jones of Gainsville Florida as a prime example. Here you have a backwater nobody, with a congregation of 50 nobodies that gains international recognition for wanting to burn a book he has ostensibly never read. Why do we care? Religious fanatics say and do crazy things all the time, so why was this one different? The only reason I can find is that the media picked up on the story and fed the flames. We care because all our sources told us to care. For the record, I think the right to burn books should be defended, but what's the impetus for all the commotion? How does some starved-for-attention small town pastor rise to the level of importance that requires correspondance from the nation's Seceratery of Defense Robert Gates?! Again, the only reason I can think of is that the media wanted to cash in (pun intended) on the hype around the two-blocks-away-from-ground-zero—ground-zero community-center/mosque.

The recent mobilization of the masses is interesting, noteworthy, and even exciting. My concern lies in their primary source for information and guidance. I overtly support public demonstrations, especially when enlisting the masses to question traditions of the parties, interests of the powerful, and failure to deal with discontent of the populace. We must be more diligent in verifying the information we are fed from primary sources. Too many lips talk-the-talk, but few feet walk-the-walk.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Law of Consecration and Stewardship

I am currently reading the excellent book Building the City of God, which is a study of early communitarian efforts by the saints.  Though I'm obviously no historian, I thought it might be interesting to write a few posts about what I'm reading as I go along.  I just finished the section on the Law of Consecration and Stewardship, which was Joseph's early attempts in Kirtland and Missouri to get the saints to live a more perfect economic system.

The basic gist of the plan went something like this:  First, all members deeded their real and personal property to Edward Partridge, the presiding bishop.  In the earliest iterations of the Law the person would completely forfeit all property if they left the church, i.e. the church had full rights to the property.  Later, when civil courts eroded that away, the person could get real property back, but not personal property and not any of the yearly consecrations.  Second, Partridge would lease and loan back those respective properties to the individual, depending on their needs.  Third, the individual, though a steward over the land, would have the control to do with the property whatever he or she desired.  Finally, at the end of the year the individual would consecrate to Partridge any excess gains above what they needed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why I Can Kind of Sort of Support the Tea Party

I don't like the Tea Party, which should come as no surprise.  I don't like the fear-mongering and implicit racism that it invites in some (not all), I don't like the complete breakdown of civility, and I just don't like the politics of taking caring for the poor and elderly out of the government's hands.  I think the government has a valuable role to play in helping the underprivileged and underrepresented and in kick starting the economy when it tanks.  But they are doing pretty well this primary season (here is a list of their major victories).  Despite all of that, I find myself rooting for them, in some small way, for two reasons.

First, in the ulterior motive category, they give Democrats a better shot at holding on to seats that the Democrats otherwise would have certainly lost.  As a caveat let me just say that Democrats, as a party, are no great shakes.  But they are closer to what I espouse in politics than Republicans, so that's where my tentative loyalty lies.  So when I see races that should be Republican blowouts actually close and winnable for Democrats, I'm glad the Tea Party is doing well.  Some examples of this are the Nevada senatorial race, the Kentucky senatorial race, the Delaware senatorial race, the Colorado gubernatorial race, and a slew of house races around the country.  The primary voters are electing ultra-conservative candidates that moderate voters want no part of, and it's hurting their party.  If the Republicans fail to win back the House and Senate, you can point to the Tea Party as the reason why.

Second, *deep breath* I actually think they are good for democracy.  Most or all of those Tea Party primary wins came against the party-backed, system-approved incumbent or insider.  These are the type of candidates that expect to win because they are supported by the institution.  Reelection rates in America are somewhere north of 90%.  Politicians get comfy and complacent and power-hungry.  As a result we get a political class whose main goal is to continue to get reelected, as opposed to doing the work of the People.

So when a movement comes along which starts booting some of them out and putting the fear of the People in their hearts, I'm kind of on board.  I wish it was a movement of moderates or something more benign, and I hope they win as few general election contests as possible, but I see their intrinsic value nonetheless.  So, rock on, anti-establishmentists, vote out the stupids, but remember that I have a very different idea of what is stupid than you.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ending the Bush Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the beginning of the year and the bombs are starting to fall in the political war over this issue.  Democrats want to let them expire for those making over $250,000 while extending them for everyone else.  Republicans want to extend them for everyone.  So, essentially, the argument is whether or not to extend the tax cuts for the very wealthy.  The two top marginal tax rates would go from 33% and 35% to 36% and 39.6%, respectively.

A second area of disagreement also has to do with taxing the wealthy, this time in the form of capital gains, which are disproportionally slanted towards the rich.  Those rates would go from 15% to 20%, and eventually to 23.8%.

Read up on the issues from both sides here, here, here, and here.  Another excellent resource is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which lays out the argument for how letting the tax cuts expire for the wealthy and extending them for everyone else will reduce the deficit ($300 billion per year), almost universally benefit small businesses, and spur the economy and job growth.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Liberaltarianism: Might Mormons Embrace a Liberal-Libertarian Alliance?

I once foolishly asked if the liberal dominance of the immediate post-Bush era would have the effect of liberalizing Mormon voters.  The answer came resoundingly recently with a Gallup poll that showed that Mormons give President Obama the lowest favorability marks of any group, 24%.  Sigh.

So I started wondering if there is anything that could be done about this.  In my mind Mormons should feel very comfortable leaning politically left on issues such as immigration (love thy neighbors, the special place of "Lamanites" in Book of Mormon prophecies), the environment (the sanctity of all God's creations), war (Gospel of peace), and poverty (BOM: no poor among you, all things in common, 4 Nephi), among others.  But I am continually disappointed.

In my meanderings trying to figure all this out I came across my solution du jour: liberaltarianism.  That's right, the fusing of libertarianism and liberalism.  This newish brand of Western politics could be just the thing to shake Mormons out of our political heterodoxy.  Or not, but let's take look.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sen. Hatch Supports the "Ground Zero Mosque"

Senator Hatch went on Fox 13 and defended the right of Muslims to build their mosque/cultural center in lower Manhattan.  Here's the video:

Here is part of what he said:
HATCH: Let’s be honest about it, in the First Amendment, religious freedom, religious expression, that really express matters to the Constitution. So, if the Muslims own that property, that private property, and they want to build a mosque there, they should have the right to do so. The only question is are they being insensitive to those who suffered the loss of loved ones?  We know there are Muslims killed on 9/11 too and we know it's a great religion. . .  But as far as their right to build that mosque, they have that right.

I just think what's made this county great is we have religion freedom.  That’s not the only thing, but it’s one of the most important things in the Constitution. [...]

There’s a question of whether it’s too close to the 9/11 area, but it's a few blocks away, it isn't right there. . .  And there’s a huge, I think, lack of support throughout the country for Islam to build that mosque there, but that should not make a difference if they decide to do it.  I'd be the first to stand up for their rights.
It's about time a prominent Mormon politician does the right thing on this issue, and amazingly it was Sen. Hatch.  Mitt Romney and Harry Reid both gave spineless answers giving in to the fearmongering of anti-Islamists trying to destroy true religious freedom in America.  So, though it horrifies me to say it, thank you Sen. Hatch for doing the right thing.  For a few moments I'm going to be proud you are my Senator.  Let's just sit quietly and enjoy it for a while.

Update:  For anyone who wishes to add their voice in defense of the proposed mosque in Manhattan, consider joining the Facebook group "Mormons Who Support a Mosque Near Ground Zero."

Friday, August 27, 2010

How To Write A Rough Draft

I've written lots in my life.  Between majoring in English and going to law school and being a lawyer and inexplicably keeping up this blog, I've written thousands of documents in my life.  So I've developed a few strategies I find useful to help the process along.  One of these strategies is the Rough Draft.  In the Rough Draft I'll outline an argument, throw in a few sentences that hit on major ideas I need to flesh out, and generally set the course for what I want to say.  From there I will polish and shine.  But a good Rough Draft is indispensable.

Which bring us, of course, to the Daily Herald, which believes so fully in this writing strategy that they use it exclusively in their publishing activities.  The Rough Draft, in their capable hands, becomes the Final Draft.  Case in point, this little gem called Utah ponders fed handout (lack of capitalization in the title after first word: theirs).

I often make unsupported claims in a Rough Draft with little notes to myself to verify this or find examples or add citation.  This way I can plot out the argument I want to make up front but fill in the detail after some more research and thought.  If I find my unsupported claim remains unsupported after research, I drop it and work around it.  But when the Rough Draft is your Final Draft, as in this "article," no such follow up work is required, which is convenient.  I've recreated this article in proper Rough Draft form:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Culture of War

Glenn Greenwald has documented the increased desire of America to bomb Yemen.  Jeffrey Goldberg has documented the increased American desire to bomb Iran.  President Obama has committed to escalating the unwinnable war in Afghanistan.  Even though we are told that the combat mission in Iraq is coming to a close, there are still 50,000 troops there and combat will likely continue for a long time.  Meanwhile, experts are warning America that our reaction against the inaccurately-named "ground zero mosque" is fueling extremists.

We are caught in a self-defeating cycle.  Some Islamic extremists hate America and want to hurt us.  So America takes military action against Muslims.  So more Muslims hate America and want to harm us.  So America does something else against Muslims.  So they are more enraged and hate us more.  So we react again.  And so on.  If one didn't know any better one might be inclined to think that we are purposefully created conditions that would justify our ongoing military presence in the Middle East.  But that would be silly.

In any case, we can either let this go on indefinitely until we have an all-out world war on our hands or we can step back and try to regain our sanity and perspective by trying out the role of peacemaker for a while.  We can either be a country that is more and more reliant on a massive military-industrial complex or we can choose to disentangle ourselves from foreign intrigue as George Washington presciently advised.

Frankly, though, I find it slightly terrifying how many people in America support escalating our military presence in the Muslim world.  They are positively gleeful at the thought of bombing Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Iran, and Yemen, oh and Pakistan.  I don't want to live in a world where war is the preferred way to solve our difficult international problems, but that's where we're headed if we don't start actively opposing it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

President Obama as a Muslim and Religious Tests

How one in five Americans view the President
A recent Pew poll showed that 18% of Americans think Pres. Obama is a Muslim, 34% correctly think he is a Christian, and a whopping 43% say they don't know.  There are various interpretations of where this misinformation is coming from, ranging from a right-wing effort to cast doubt on the president's Christianity to the president's failure to tackle the issue head-on to the fact that some (many?) Americans are just stupid.  Of course it is a combination of all of these.

The poll gets to an issue Americans have struggled with for a long time: whether the religion of our president and elected leaders should even matter at all.  George W. Bush famously claimed that God told him to invade Iraq (I'm thinking I worship a different God than him), Ronald Reagan was distinctly irreligious, Bill Clinton was actively religious but of course that was muddied by his personal, shall we say, indiscretions.  We know all of this, and much more, because we tend to care a great deal about the religions of our presidents and elected leaders.

Another recent poll, this one from Gallup, showed that one-fourth of Americans wouldn't vote for a Mormon, and over half wouldn't vote for an atheist.  A Fox poll showed about the same numbers and also showed that Americans would be even a little less likely to vote for a Muslim than a Mormon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When Minority Trumps Majority

2nd Grade. Mrs. Jensen says "Raise your hand if you want to play dodgeball." Okay, I raise my hand, along with a few other kids. She continues "Now raise your hand if you want to play basketball." In 2nd grade I was a pretty wiry, spastic kid. Perfect for playing dodgeball, but not basketball.

More hands were raised for basketball than for dodgeball. Despite our valid arguments that basketball had been played in both of the previous PE sessions, Mrs. Jensen's simple response was: "Sorry, majority rules." Lesson learned. If you want to play your game, get the majority to agree with you. Such a concept is the cornerstone of democratic government. The system is designed to have the supreme power bestowed in the people, and exercised through their voice, or through the voice of officials which the people have elected. Whether electing officials, passing law, or ratifying The Constitution, a majority is required at some level. Sometimes "majority" means the highest percantage of the votes. Sometimes it means that at least 2/3 of the voters agree. Regardless, majority rules.

In a recent poll from CNN, 68% of responders are opposed to the building of an Islamic mosque near ground zero. In addition, some democrats (according to some sources a majority of 54%) oppose the construction, among them is Majority Leader Harry Reid. So there it is, plain and simple. Majority rules and so the mosque should not be built.

The problem is, it's just not that simple. Naturally, the first argument for a mosque being built is likely going to be the First Amendment to The Constitution, which states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Of course, at this point, congress has not come out and tried to pass a law that will prevent the construction of the mosque/cultural center. Harry Reid's statement is that "The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley in a statement. “Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.” This sentiment seems to be shared with most of those that oppose the construction of the mosque, i.e. They have the right to build it, just build it somewhere else. As Sarah Palin puts it in a recent Tweet "We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they?"

Apparently, building a place of worship and a center that is designed to improve cultural and religious interaction and understanding is not acceptable because the general public is still under the delusion that Muslims are the enemy and the culprits in the 9/11 attacks. It wouldn't be fair to the victims of the attacks; it defiles the "hallowed" ground where they died.

In contrast, there are many supporters of the proposed Islamic center. President Obama made the statement " a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country." Likewise, the political and social activitist, Fareed Zakaria, was so adamant about supporting construction that he returned a prestigious award to the ADL after they came out against its construction. These people, however powerful or well-known, still constitute a minority of the population.

So who is right? Does the majority always rule, or are there some cases when the minority trumps? As a member of a religious group, this one hits close to home. I think of the 11th Article of Faith:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

Not only are we required to allow all people to worship what and how they want, but also where they want. I personally feel that some of the impetus for this Article came from the discrimination experienced by the early (1800s) church in Independence, Far West, Nauvoo, etc. Opposition for the early church stemmed in the economic influence and ideological differences. The culmination of the intolerance came in the "extermination order" issued by the Governor of the state of Illinois at the behest of the majority. "[For their]
open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State ... the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description." Majority rules, and the Mormons were expelled to another location. Apparently the citizens of Illinois and Missouri that opposed the establishment of Mormonisms cared about the "how" "where" and the "what", and therefore used the power of the majority to remove them. Perhaps there is evidence somewhere that demonstrates that a few radical members of the LDS church were responsible for certain crimes; however, the Church has never supported illegal activity or hostel treatment of others.

Should the rights of the minority trumped the desires of the majority in the case of early Mormon history? Was it acceptable to prevent a religious group from building places of worship in "your backyard" because the majority of citizens were ignorant or biased?

Should the rights of the minority trump the desires of the majority in the case of Muslims present-day? Is it acceptable to prevent a religious group from building a place of worship in "your backyard" because the majority of citizens are ignorant or biased?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Don't Be Afraid of Different Political Ideas

I don't consider myself a socialist, though many of the modern far right might disagree with this self-assessment.  But I also don't consider socialism to be evil and parallel to the plan of Satan.  In my first substantive post on this blog I made the point, and I stick by it, that good  members of the church can be found in hundreds of nations around the world supporting many different types of governments, including many that consider themselves socialists.  I can understand some of the pull socialism exerts on people and I can understand some of the critiques.  I can't understand demonizing members and non-members alike that espouse it.

All of this brings me to the site called The Mormon Worker.  I became aware of this socialist Mormon blog during law school and I have read it off and on since.  I agree with a lot of what they have to say, and disagree a fair amount as well.  For quite a while I have wanted to put a link up to it on this blog because it offers a unique perspective that some members of the church may appreciate, but I am ashamed to say that for too long I have resisted providing a link because of the loud and intimidating cries from politically conservative members of the church about how evil socialism is.  I didn't agree with them, but I also didn't want to have to ever face them directly.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Glenn Beck v. The Mormon Ethic of Civility

Can you guess which is which?

The political world is astir. Economies are faltering. Public trust is waning. Individuals feel vulnerable. And social cohesion wears thin. Meanwhile, stories of rage and agitation fill our airwaves, streets and town halls. Where are the voices of balance and moderation in these extreme times?

So here you have Barack Obama going in and spending money on embryonic stem cell research. . .  Eugenics.  In case you don't know what eugencis led to; the Final Solution.  A master race!  A perfect person. . .  the stuff we are facing is absolutely frightening.
During a recent address given in an interfaith setting, Church President Thomas S. Monson declared: "When a spirit of goodwill prompts our thinking and when united effort goes to work on a common problem, the results can be most gratifying."

You self-centered, self-righteous, socialist, out-of-control, dangerous, man-hating bitch. Shut your mouth. We might have bought into this crap in the 1960s because too many people were doing LSD. We’re not on LSD anymore. You need to start making sense.

Further, former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley once said that living “together in communities with respect and concern one for another” is “the hallmark of civilization.” That hallmark is under increasing threat.

Speaking to a Muslim Congressman:  "I have been nervous about this interview with you because what I feel like saying is, "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies". . .  And I know you're not.  I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans feel that way.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Immigration List, Continued

An investigation into the now infamous immigration list has revealed that two state workers compiled the information illegally from state databases.  I wrote a little about it a few days ago here.  This entire episode has ratcheted up the level of intensity surrounding the immigration issue here in Utah and also nationwide.  Amidst all of this the Church's position is to approach immigration with a spirit of compassion, "careful reflection and civil discourse," and "the strongest desire to do what is best for all of God's children."

After skimming the Deseret News comment sections to some relevant articles and doing a little "web surfing" I'm finding that a lot of politically conservative members of the church aren't so thrilled with the vibe they are getting from the church on this issue.  They find themselves in a somewhat unfamiliar position of not being exactly on-board with a political issue into which the church has inserted itself.  The word you are looking for is: schadenfreude.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lessons to Learn from The World Cup

Beginning in 1930 and played (almost) every 4 years since then, the World Cup is the Beautiful Game’s ultimate tournament. Having spent the vast majority of my life participating in this sport, it goes without saying that I find this a magical time.

I love the athleticism of 22 players on the pitch. In enjoy the passing, the shots, the saves, the traps, the runs. All of it. For anyone that has spent a significant amount of time involved in a sport, this level of fascination and appreciation is totally understandable. But my captivation with soccer (or football for the purist) goes deeper than just awe of the physical talents demonstrated. I think there is some interesting social commentary in and around The Game.

I believe that you can start to tell how dedicated a person is to something based on their response to success and failure. While enthusiasm and jubilee are evident after success, discouragement and despair are just as apparent after failure. Obviously there is a healthy level of despair (see below), but if someone doesn’t feel a noticeable amount of frustration or sadness when a shot goes wide; if you don’t feel a little depressed when you are down by a goal or two and the whistle blows at the end of 90 minutes; then I would argue that the game didn’t really mean all that much to you.

A poignant example of this dichotomy was seen in the Round of 16 match between the US and Ghana. The United States made it through the first stage ranked number 1 in their group – more a result of fleeting moments of brilliance than solid, consistent play. Ghana come through ranked number 2 in their group, and while their team didn’t boast huge superstars, they had been playing hard-nose, over-achieving ball. Both of these teams are trying to shake different stigmas: the US that our nation doesn’t really care that much about soccer; Ghana that an African team could master the Beautiful Game and truly compete on an international level. It’s also important to note that Ghana was the last of the African teams, and as such, had the backing of an entire continent.
An entertaining game that went to overtime, and effectively ended when the Ghanian star Gyan scored on great left-footed shot. Perhaps I am overly cliché, but both teams “gave it all they could” and their effort was obvious when the final whistle polarized each team’s emotions. Ghana won and was ecstatic. The US lost and was devastated.

Vince Lambardi’s famous misquote indeed summarizes the drive to succeed; “Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is everything.” I believe that the desire to succeed should permeate our existence. That doesn’t mean “win at all costs”, that means that we put everything we’ve got into the tasks we undertake. Be it family, or work, or callings. When something in one of these charges fails, we should feel a significant level of dismay and disappointment. Likewise, when something succeeds, we should feel celebratory.

Naturally one question to arise is what to do when we fail. Do we succumb to the dismay and depression that result from failure?

Turning back to the World Cup. Germany and Uruguay both lost semi-final matches to their respective opponents. If you watch the games, or look at images of the players of these losing teams, it is obvious how crushing the losses were.

Both teams had come exceptionally close to the cup, only to miss the chance to participate in the final. The “consolation” match for third place between Germany and Uruguay started as one might expect – two teams that felt frustrated and depressed. The beginning of the game didn’t swell with the normal excitement or anticipation of other matches. In fact, it almost seemed to me that the teams would rather be on a plane headed home, than playing another match. However, not long into the game, everything changed. I can’t put my finger on the exact moment, but sometime in that first half both teams seem to forget about their recent pain, and started paying attention to the task at hand. In my opinion, the match turned out to be one of the most entertaining of the entire tournament. The skills of individual players and composite teams were astounding. The desire to win was rekindled, and the result was a courageous attempt to excel. Only when the players dismissed the agony of recent defeats were they able to meet their potential.

Likewise in life. Anything worth doing is worth our unbridled effort (D&C 4). Success and failure are transient. Failure should not consume us, but only be the motivation to improve.

I could go on about a number of other things, like the traditional exchanging of jerseys at the end of a game, or the professionalism of stopping play when a player is (really) injured. But I’ll stop here.

There is so much joy in the journey. The highs and lows of a game are what make it interesting. Without missed shots, saves, goals, and all the rest, it would just be a bunch of people aimlessly jogging around with their socks pulled high.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Condemnation of Hunting for Sport

Utah allows the hunting of black bears, and is currently updating its bear management guidelines.  There is strong support for bear baiting, which is the practice of placing enticing food in a spot and waiting in hiding for the bear to wander up and then killing it.  How brave and heroic.  There are also multiple bear hunts during the year, including spring hunts where many mothers are killed, leaving newborn bear cubs orphaned and, essentially, dead as well.  Utah also allows the hunting of cougars, elk, deer, pronghorns, moose, Rocky Mountain goats, rabbits, bighorn sheep, bison, sandhill cranes, and a whole flock of different kinds of birds.  Have a thirst for killing?  Please come to Utah (although Utah certainly isn't alone in this regard).

Now, I don't have a problem with all kinds of hunting.  The Word of Wisdom gives us some helpful direction in this matter:
12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
Hunting for food is so ingrained in our culture, and essentially every culture on Earth, that I don't have any meaningful objections.  I also admit to eating my fair share of meat, meaning I can't point to hunters as violating the tenet that meat is really only to be used sparingly and in times of winter or famine without also indicting myself.  I am, however, trying to make a conscious effort to reduce my meat intake.

Unfortunately, a substantial amount of hunting that goes on here in Utah has nothing to do with procuring food and raiment, and thus must be condemned.  Do bear hunters eat the bear meat?  How about cougar hunters?  Do you think Sarah Palin is landing the helicopter to gather the succulent wolf meat after her aerial hunts?  How important to our society is the availability of moose and bison burgers?  What wine goes best with sandhill crane, do you suppose?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Right Kind of Justice For Illegal Immigration

We've entered a new era of creepy in the Utah immigration debates.  A group of "Concerned Citizens," who cowardly chose to remain anonymous, quietly spied on Hispanics and compiled a list of 1,300 names of people they claim are illegal immigrants.  They listed names, birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, workplaces, Social Security Numbers, and due dates of women who are pregnant.  There is good evidence that the group had illegal access to private information through government databases.  Besides being creepy and despicable, and this should come as no surprise, the list is also inaccurate.

The most common trope about illegal immigration is that it is just that, illegal, and that we shouldn't allow any illegal activity in America to go unpunished.  Turning a blind eye to illegal immigration undermines the rule of law, cheapens our legal system, and threatens our security.  These conservatives want the illegals rounded up and shipped off.  Their rhetoric, unfortunately, usually goes beyond simply wanting the immigration laws enforced, it usually contains a level of vindictiveness and anger that is easily associated with racism and xenophobia.  It is unChristlike and unbecoming of members of our faith.  They want justice through punishment.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Global Warming House Cleaning

Two quick global warming related issues:

First, two reports were recently released exonerating the Climategate scientists.  One was released by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency* and another by a special British investigation.  The scientists "didn't skew science to inflate evidence of man-made global warming," but were a little too secretive and acted like doofuses in some cases.  But the science is sound.  Should we expect apologies from all the people (I'm looking your way, Beck, Hannity, DeMint, et al) that smeared them in a political ploy to debunk the idea that humans are causing global warming thereby avoiding regulations on greenhouse gases?  Probably not.

Second, a large chunk of America is now suffering under a massive heat wave.  Can we assume that the skeptics will take this as evidence of global warming just as they take news of cold weather as evidence of its falsehood?  Again, probably not.

*On a side note, as a person of Dutch heritage with the most outrageous Dutch name you will ever encounter, let me just express my extreme pleasure with how the World Cup is unfolding.  Once David Villa gets a mouthful of Van Bommel's elbow and a thighful of his cleats, I expect Spain to fold and become as irrelevant in world soccer as they are in world politics.  Am I taking this too seriously?  Probably.  Hup!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

George Washington's Foreign Policy and the Middle East

Glenn Greenwald highlights, once again, the fundamental problem with America's current foreign policy towards the Middle East.  In an effort to combat extremism we have attacked and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, committed torture, held supposed extremists in prison indefinitely without charges or hearings, and failed to push back against Israeli aggressions.  As a result, no surprise, we have likely created far more extremism than we have destroyed, we are likely less safe now than we were before 9/11, and we are certainly a bigger target.

After reading Greenwald I stumbled across the following (kind of long) passage from George Washington's farewell address regarding foreign policy:
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it -- It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it?. . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cancer, Healing, and the Meaning (Or Lack Thereof) of This Life

"Cancer" is one of the five worst words in the English language.  It sounds ugly.  It has ugly, death-ish connotations.  It evokes images of some alien life taking over one's body.  It has two c's that make different sounds, which is lame and annoying.  And when you learn that a young, healthy loved one has cancer it is so devastating.  You find yourself doing verbal somersaults to avoid saying the word out loud, as if by saying it you will make it worse.

So I recently had the occasion to give a loved one a priesthood blessing related to a cancer diagnosis, and as I've contemplated mortality and healing I've started having a lot of questions which I've never thought about before.  After that blessing I went and read Elder Oaks' talk from the most recent conference called "Healing the Sick".  The takeaway point, I think, is the following:
From all of this we learn that even the servants of the Lord, exercising His divine power in a circumstance where there is sufficient faith to be healed, cannot give a priesthood blessing that will cause a person to be healed if that healing is not the will of the Lord.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Religious Freedom and the Ground Zero Mosque

The Eleventh Article of Faith states: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

I stated in my last post that my evolving three pillars of Things I Care About The Most In Politics are peace, a healthy sustainable environment, and moral/religious agency.  I think if we safeguard these three things we can live in a pretty great world for a long time.  Of course the three are intimately intertwined.  War is usually based on scarcity of resources (the environmental aspect) or religious conflict.  If we could focus on cleaning up our religious conflicts and our environment, sustainable peace would surely follow.

Unfortunately, there are many right here in America who want to restrict the religious freedom of anyone that worships different than they do, thus creating more conflict and less peace.  The latest and most public incarnation of this bigotry is the uproar over the plans to build a mosque and Muslim information center a few blocks from ground zero.

The opponents of this mosque truly believe that those who died on 9/11 would be dishonored by the mere fact that Muslims would have a place of worship so near ground zero.  The only way this thinking makes sense is if you believe that all Muslims are responsible for the actions of al Qaeda and the extremist factions that want to harm the United States.  This is, of course, absurd and bigoted.

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's Probably Time For A Little More Optimism Around Here

In the latest iteration of how we treat our planet, we have now released probably between 50 to 100 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and we're probably only about halfway through the the release.

It is the sort of disaster that just makes you sick.  Birds and dolphins and fish are dying and people are losing their livelihoods.  We care so much about cheap energy that we are willing to downplay or ignore even the most heinous risks to get it.  Doing the hard things and making the hard decisions for our long-term good is not a particularly strong attribute for us, and the gulf oil spill is the perfect reminder of that fact.

And this applies to more than just the environment.  Israel and Palestine won't make the hard decisions in order to come to peace.  The same goes for many other nations, including America, which value short-term benefits and military force over long-term solutions and true and lasting peace. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's Time to Condemn Israel and Require More Concessions for Peace

What came first, the Palestinian terrorism, targeting of civilians, and suicide attacks on Israel chicken or the Israeli targeting of civilians and brutal oppression of Palestinians egg?

The latest escalation of the problem occurred over the weekend when Israeli commandos stormed a humanitarian aid ship headed for Palestine and killed at least ten civilians.  The ship was attempting to violate an Israeli embargo of Gaza.  This horrendous act is just Israel following the script, though.  The next few scenes will inevitably go something like this:  Palestinians will react to the killings at sea with protests and violence; Israel will react to Palestinian protests and violence by entrenching further, demolishing a few buildings, tightening their grip on Palestine and the decades-long embargo leading to even more soul-crushing poverty and desperation; Palestinians will resort to suicide bombings and terror; Israel will crush a Palestinian uprising.  The rest of the world will have some harsh critiques for the script but allow the play to go on.

* For some reason I'm having difficulties embedding the video, so go watch it on Youtube here.

Glenn Greenwald, of course, does a masterful job outlined just why this latest attack is so repulsive, and the inept handling of the situation by the Obama administration, which refuses to join countries like Russia, Turkey, Brazil, France, Spain, and China in condemning the attack.  This was a boat in international waters delivering badly needed food, medicine, and building materials to Palestinian civilians who live in abject poverty and under dictatorial oppression.  The United States must send a strong message that human rights and basic human decency are of paramount importance, more important than Israel's right to oppress the Palestinians, and condemn this act.