Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Skalestial Kingdom: Liberalism, Mormonism, and Ska

In the 1990s ska was a thriving counter-culture movement in Utah, was the dominant sound of Utah County local music, and produced such bands as Swim Herschel Swim, Stretch Armstrong, and My Man Friday. There is a recently released documentary about the 90s Utah County ska scene called "The Up Beat" which is really worth taking a look at.

There are a lot of theories as to why ska became so popular among young Mormons, and I think they boil down to two things: message and tone. The message was one of unity, respect, anti-materialism, and self-confidence. The tone was upbeat, optimistic, and really just pure fun. Young Mormons could latch onto this attitude as perfectly compatible with their religion, while also providing a way to rebel against a culture that increasingly stressed individual wealth and conformity. Perhaps the single best introduction is from the legendary Bay Area ska band, The Uptones. Here they demonstrate not only the classic 2 Tone ska style, but the imminently imitable style of ska dancing, skanking:

Friday, February 19, 2010

What is Happening?

I read the news about the psycho pilot and got sick to my stomach. Then I read his "suicide note" and got frustrated. If that wasn't enough, today a significant number of Americans are praising him as a hero. I remember when Timothy McVeigh pulled a similar stunt in Oklahoma. The motive behind both of these attacks were identical. Try and guess who said which:

Taxes are a joke. Regardless of what a political candidate "promises," they will increase. More taxes are always the answer to government mismanagement. They mess up. We suffer. Taxes are reaching cataclysmic levels, with no slowdown in sight... Is a Civil War Imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that. But it might.

Isn't it ironic how far we've come in 60 years in this country that they now know how to fix that little economic problem;they just steal from the middle class (who doesn't have any say in it, elections are a joke) to cover their asses and it's "business as usual."

The actions of these people make me sick. The support that either one of them could ever be considered a hero makes me sick. It's funny how the same rhetoric just keeps popping up. Actually, it really makes me wonder why the same rhetoric keeps popping up, and where it is coming from. Is there truth in it?

I guess the only way I know how to answer that is from the old scriptural adage from Mathew:

16 Ye shall aknow them by their bfruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth agood bfruit; but a ccorrupt tree bringeth forth devil

Protest itself is not inherently evil. Some of the greatest progress comes from protest. For example, watch this video and pay attention to what the man says.

I hear peace and long-suffering. I hear hope and love. Most importantly I hear a trust in God. This from a people that had been lied to and cheated by the government.

Another group makes the same claim.

Here I hear contempt and anger. I hear fear and hatred. There is no godliness in this demonstration. Perhaps the intentions of these people started out as something good. In my opinion, it seems that somewhere along the path they started listening to the wrong voices.

In this life their are a multitude of voices competing for our attention, and competing against the voice of the spirit. From a talk by James E. Faust, "The adversary tries to smother this voice with a multitude of loud, persistent, persuasive, and appealing voices:

• Murmuring voices that conjure up perceived injustices.
• Whining voices that abhor challenge and work.
• Seductive voices that offer sensual enticements.
• Soothing voices that lull us into carnal security.
• Intellectual voices that profess sophistication and superiority.
• Proud voices that rely on the arm of flesh.
• Flattering voices that puff us up with pride.
• Cynical voices that destroy hope.
• Entertaining voices that promote pleasure seeking.
• Commercial voices that tempt us to “spend money for that which is of no worth, [and our] labor for that which cannot satisfy.”"

That's exactly how a feel about Tea Parties. It's how I feel about Glenn Beck, et al. Cynical voices that destroy hope. Murmuring voices that conjure up perceived injustices. Protest and demonstration has its place, and is an extremely powerful tool - one which can be used to prop up, or bring down governments. Heeding radical, godless voices lead us away from hope and peace, and lead us to taking up arms against our brothers. It leads us to blow up federal buildings, to crash planes into IRS buildings and into towers.

"Said Isaiah, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.”"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Threat From The Extreme Right

I received the following letter from my good friend, Tony, not long ago. He gave me permission to post it here:

I have become increasingly concerned with the growing political polarization of the United States and the dramatic shift to the extreme-right. When I was in Boston in October, the political divisions in the country were amazingly palpable. I am concerned with the growing extremist and fascist groups in the United States that are becoming accepted by the mainstream population and condoned by political pundits, governmental leaders, political candidates and media outlets. In many ways the politically empowered are pandering to these new groups in order to retain their positions of power, control and influence. I do not know what the future holds, but I am worried that the extreme-right has the capacity of causing serious damage to the political infrastructure of the United States in a misguided effort of renewing the “Republic”.

The Doctrine and Covenants section 134 states, “We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such government; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected.” The inherent and inalienable rights are defined in section 134 to include “the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” I challenge any individual to provide a legitimate illustration of infringements of these inalienable and inherent freedoms under President Obama’s administration. Thus, in the absence of any reasonable violation, LDS people should sustain and uphold the government of the United States.

We, as LDS people, have a responsibility to sustain and uphold our government. Thus, it is imperative that we resist the urge to affiliate with, espouse the beliefs of, or provide support to any extreme-right group that suggests subversive behavior. I recognize the key distinction between opposing a particular political position and sedition. I take no issue with a person’s opposition to the Healthcare Reform Bill. However, when that person’s opposition engenders statements or acts of government overthrow (generally cloaked in the word “renewal”) then he crosses the line between rigorous political debate and sedition.

I am including a few articles that validate my anxiety about the United States political landscape. I hope my concern proves to be unfounded.



All the best,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lets Take the Government Spending Rhetoric Down a Notch

In the wake of the recent Tea Party Convention, I infiltrated the Tea Party Nation website by obtaining a username and password. My life may or may not be in danger if I am found. You have to be a member to poke around and see what they are up to. I've made my feelings known before, and I renew those sentiments now, that I will not sully the good name of the original Boston Tea Party with this movement. I fully support the current government protesters' right to organize and protest, but don't equate it with the original Boston Tea Party, they are not similar.

One of the things that I don't understand about the government protesters is how they were overwhelmingly likely to support huge government expenditures to rebuild a foreign, non-threatening nation, but protest like mad against government expenditures to rebuilt our own nation in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The Iraq War has now cost over $700 billion, with much of the cost deferred to where the total cost will end up in the trillions. And yet when a similar amount is spent by our government to shore up the financial system, assist the millions that have lost their jobs, and spur new growth, Sarah Palin has to show up and read off her hand that government is destroying our liberties.

It may surprise you to learn, though, that I am concerned about the spending and debt of the federal government. I don't think this is an ideological concern, I think most Americans are at least uncomfortable with our national debt. Some Americans are downright angry about it, which I don't understand, but I think it is important to understand the problem and react appropriately. Unfortunately, the government protesters, with all the vitriol and hyperbole, have made it difficult to discuss the issue intelligently.

And as far as I'm concerned, here is the problem: Americans don't want to pay for what we demand. As a result, politicians from both parties promise the benefits of government without requiring the requisite sacrifices from the public. This is no shocking revelation, of course, but consider the following facts, taken from a Washington Post article from last year:
  • The average family pays only nine percent of its income to taxes (down significantly from previous decades).
  • The middle fifth of taxpayers pay only three percent of their income to taxes (again, down significantly).
  • A majority of Americans considers their tax burden either too low or about right.
  • About a third of all taxpayers pay no taxes at all (excluding Social Security and Medicare).
Here is a nifty image from wikipedia which shows the marginal income tax rate over the years, demonstrating that it is about at its lowest since the years leading up to the Great Depression.

Also note that, contrary to popular belief, corporations in America actually pay less taxes than in the average developed country (average 16.1%, US 13.4%), largely due a graduated tax rate and generous business deductions.

I am among the many Americans that want health care insurance for all Americans, programs to help low and middle income Americans pay for college, Social Security for low income retirees, a safety net for the poor that cannot find any work or cannot find work that pays for the basic necessities of life, etc. I'm a liberal, therefore I want programs that help level the playing field. That is not to say that everyone should make the same amount of money or that we should pay for people to be lazy, but that everyone should have equal opportunity to get ahead if they so desire.

Remember, as we've pointed out here many times in the past, only a very small, minuscule fraction of Americans are intentionally lazy and living off the government for years on end. Most Americans are hard-working and have self-respect and pride, and try their best to survive on their own. But the system (i.e. market) is set up for poor people to become more poor, no matter how hard-working or talented they are, and for the rich to become more rich, no matter how lazy and incompetent they are. The rags to riches story is a heart-warming exception to the rule. So we turn to the government to make some new rules which are more equitable.

But we stopped paying for it. We give corporations huge tax breaks and promise the middle and upper classes lower and lower taxes until they are hardly paying any at all. And then we borrow money to pay for the things we want. So we have two choices to lower the debt: we eliminate those playing-field-leveling programs or we require more taxes from Americans.

Liberals and conservatives alike can agree that we should require more accountability and efficiency from the federal government. Pres. Obama has said that he is going through the government now and looking for ineffective programs to eliminate, and I hope that this is true. There should absolutely be pressure on him, once the economy is righted, to balance the budget and eliminate waste, like Pres. Clinton did. But Pres. Obama is right that we first have to stabilize the economy, and that requires spending. Then, in prosperous economic times we should have every expectation that government will scale back its spending, again, like what Pres. Clinton did.

We shouldn't let the government protesters hijack a meaningful and important conversation about government spending and deficits by injecting vitriol and absurd arguments about how government spending equals a lack of personal liberties. Everyone can agree that fiscal responsibility is best in the long term, but right now is the time for the government to build our country up again after a terrible economic disaster. If we are committed to doing it in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should be committed to doing it in America.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Status of Wolves in Utah

There is a fight intensifying in Utah over wolves. This is a sensitive subject in the West because two powerful groups hate wolves and don't want them in Utah: ranchers and hunters. Ranchers hate wolves because they are viewed as a threat to their livestock. Hunters hate wolves because they makes hunting more difficult.

It has gone so far that state senator Allen Christensen introduced a bill that would have allowed state officials to kills or trap any wolf found in Utah. Sen. Christensen has made the following claims about wolves:

"They serve no real useful purpose."

"Despite what Disney portrays them as, being little fluff balls, they make their living by killing other animals and sometimes they do it just for the sport of the kill."

Both claims are demonstrably false. Wolves never kill for sport. They also serve an incredibly useful purpose ecologically. In Yellowstone, where wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s, the benefit of wolves has been profound. Wolves have kept herds of elk on the move, preventing overgrazing, particularly along streams and rivers. This has increased the stability of the banks and made the water clearer. It has also allowed cottonwood and aspen to grow to maturity which has increased bird and beaver populations. With more beavers damming streams and rivers there is more slow-moving water, which has increased bug populations and further helped birds. Wolves also hunt year-round which means more carrion in the winter to help scavenger populations like eagles and coyotes.

You can only claim that wolves serve no useful purpose if you don't understand science and respect the natural beauty and balance of the Earth.

As for the ranchers, the threat of wolves is overblown. Studies have shown that livestock losses caused by wolves are only a tiny fraction of overall livestock deaths. This simply isn't a big enough problem to justify decimating entire wolf populations.

As for hunters, I just don't have any sympathy. I don't really have a beef with hunters (excluding trophy hunters, i.e. hunting predators, I have a beef with them), but what is best for our ecosystem is exponentially more important to me than what is best for hunters. Wolves and other predators pick off the weakest of the herd, thus strengthening the herd and the ecosystem. Hunters pick off the strongest and biggest, weakening the herd. Plus, it's not a bad thing to give the hunters a little competition, they've had it too easy for too many years. Our early ancestors had to compete with all the other predators to hunt, and thus had to hone their skills and prove their worth. If modern hunters have to try a little harder to kill elk, I say all the better.

Anyway, luckily the bill has been watered down to merely petition the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist wolves as endangered species and allow Utah to come up with its own management plan. The original bill would have been unconstitutional as the federal government has jurisdiction over wolves as an endangered species and a state government cannot supersede that authority. But the fight is not over in Utah. As wolves slowly start to make their way back in Utah after being exterminated in the 1930s, the anti-wolf voices will only get louder.

I hope Utahns will understand that what is best for our state is a healthy wolf population. It will certainly take some adjustment, but if we are truly interested in being good stewards over the Earth we will let the wolves live.