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?. . .