Monday, December 19, 2005

P2P Ethics

I can legally watch my television. It picks up broadcast signals from the air. I don't pay for it. If a friend came over, we could watch it together.

I can use my VCR to record a show on television.

I could let my wife watch the show I recorded too. And if a friend came over to visit, and we could all enjoy the show together on our own schedule.

But my friend is busy. I lend him the tape. He watches the program at home later. He brings back the tape.

We both like the program and decide we want to watch the next episode also. We both record the program. We watch on our own schedule.

One week, I forget to record the program. I borrow my friends recording and make a copy. Is this substantially different from both of us recording it off the airwaves ourselves?

Is it okay to use peer to peer filesharing protocols to share television programs? The answer seems murky, but why?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The importance of soda straw chains

"(We'll) feel like we've accomplished something in life that's important," said ninth-grader Melissa Bateman.
Said by a middle school student upon attempting to break the world record for longest straw chain. Breaking world records is cool and all, but important? Probably not.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Pope, John Bolton, North Korea...

James Lileks has a hilarious article reviewing 2005 in The American Enterprise. It's all pretty darn funny, but these are some of my favorite, laugh-out-loud parts:
Pope John Paul II dies. To the horror of many, his successor turns out to be Catholic.
John Bolton is nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N., despite his moustache. The U.N. tower has 38 stories, Bolton once noted, and “if you lost ten stories today it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” To the contrary, insisted Bolton’s critics, the uppermost floors are devoted to tsunami advance-warning detection, non-polluting hydrogen power, and a cheap AIDS vaccine that also doubles as a dessert topping—all almost ready for release...
Iran announces it will no longer allow inspectors into the Khomeini Memorial Peaceful Nuclear Research Facility for Hastening the Destruction of Israel. European diplomats threaten to take the matter to the U.N. Subcommittee of the Task Force for Occasionally Threatening to Issue a Strongly-Worded Report...
North Korea’s envoy approaches a negotiation table in Beijing at an oblique angle. He traces a tic-tac-toe grid in the dust on its surface. He wanders off again. Whistling.
Roberts refuses to profess that he would powder the bottom of the Bill of Rights, tuck it in, leave a light on, and play new-agey music softly while he read a book in the next room, one ear cocked should the Constitution wake up crying because it had a nightmare about an emanation chasing a penumbra. He is confirmed nevertheless.
There is a lot more...definitely a good read.

Barbary Pirates and Al-Queda

Joshua E. London's column on NRO has some interesting comparisons between the Barbary pirates and our current war on terror. One of the more interesting paragraphs:
[Jefferson and Adams] questioned the [Tripoli] ambassador as to why his government was so hostile to the new American republic even though America had done nothing to provoke any such animosity. Ambassador Adja answered them, as they reported to the Continental Congress, “that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
And then the "money" quote:
Note that America’s Barbary experience took place well before colonialism entered the lands of Islam, before there were any oil interests dragging the U.S. into the fray, and long before the founding of the state of Israel.
It's a good point to remember. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but he brings up some ideas worth considering.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thank you Morgan Freeman

The story is all over the news, but it made me so happy to hear that I had to post it. Morgan Freeman wants people to stop identifiying by race. I haven't agreed with Freeman many of the times I've heard him speak about politics, but he nailed it. "I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man."

This is in line with a recent article by Walter Williams. He was writing about the largely baseless charges of discrimination that fly around. Here is a bit of what he said.

One wonders what those blacks, who lived during the era of gross discrimination and are now deceased, would think about so much of today's behavior, rhetoric and excuses.

What would they think about black neighborhoods, once thriving economic centers that have been turned into economic wastelands by a level of criminal activity previously unknown? ... What would they think about predominantly black schools where violence and intimidation are the order of the day, with police cars outside and metal detectors inside? What would they think about black students who seek academic excellence being mocked, intimidated and assaulted by their peers for "acting white"?

We hear often about the disparities that remain between the races in our country. I don't dispute those disparities. But Williams points out, I think correctly, that the cause is probably not discrimination.

For a large segment of the black community, these gains remain elusive. The gains will remain elusive so long as black civil rights and political leadership blame and focus their energies on discrimination. While discrimination exists, the relevant question is how much of what we see can be explained by it. A 70 percent illegitimacy rate, 60 percent of black children raised in female-headed households, high crime and poor school performance have devastating consequences.

This level of pathology cannot be attributed to discrimination, considering that much of it was absent in earlier times when there was far more discrimination, greater poverty and fewer opportunities.

It's time that black people hold fellow blacks accountable for squandering opportunities won at a high cost by our ancestors. Failing to do so makes all blacks complicit in the betrayal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A "Living" Constitution

My ideas about the Supreme Court have been taking shape in the last year or so, courtesy of the increased media attention on vacancies and political events. I (not surprisingly) come down pretty close to an originalist point of view. I am uneasy with the idea that a judge (or panel of judges) gets to decide what is "moral" or "right" under the guise of a "living" Constitution. That is the job of elected representatives, not appointed judges with lifetime terms.

Justice Stephen Breyer has recently published a book titiled "Active Liberty", in which he defends the "living" Constitution philosophy. Rep. Tom Feeney has an excellent review of it on National Review Online. One of the quotes from Justice Breyer's book:
Why should courts try to answer difficult federalism questions on the basis of logical deduction from text or precedent alone? Why not ask about the consequences of decision-making on the active liberty that federalism seeks to further?
Rep. Feeney then adds:

Breyer confirmed this view in this exchange with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week on October 3, 2005:

Stephanopoulos: Let me get you to respond to some of your critics, one of them is Rep. Tom Feeney, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He says nobody but a subjective, biased judge can determine what "active liberty" means. And he calls your approach jurisprudential mysticism.

Breyer: Well, everyone can read this and come to any conclusion they want about it. That's fine. It's his view, not my view.

Stephanopoulos: How do you guard against the idea that it is subjective?

Breyer: That's a very good question. What I try to do in the book is to show that actually a system that refers back in the judge's mind, a framework to basic purposes and then looks at consequences in light of those purposes is more likely to lead to objective decision making, is less likely to lead to subjective decision making.

While the finer points of this argument may be lost on me (what is the difference between active liberty and inactive liberty), I cannot agree with a judge looking beyond law and precedent. That is not the judge's job! If there is a problem socially, morally, etc, than the correct course to fix it is through the legislature. Not the courts.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mortgaged Renters

There is a new class of people in the United States. They are people I will call "Mortgaged Renters" for lack of a better term. These are the people with interest-only home loans or negative amortization loans. A generation ago, I suspect that such lending practices would have been unthinkable or at least very uncommonly available to individuals. But in reading a piece at Slate, I realize how brilliant this system is for lenders. The mortgage lenders are essentially the homeowners and the person who pretends to be the homeowner is really just a renter.

How does this play out? Well, the "mortgaged renter" does get something a conventional renter doesn't: equity. In the current housing market, that can be a considerable upside. I suspect the downside is greater. The mortgaged renter must act like a homeowner. They can't call the landlord when the dishwasher goes on the fritz. They have to pay the property tax and homeowners insurance.

Is it ethical for a mortgage lender to become a landlord without accepting the responsibilities of the landlord? I suppose the answer changes depending how the equity vs. responsibility calculation comes out.

If you've spotted other writing on this topic (which I'm sure is not a unique discovery to me) I'd love to see a link.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Belly Laugh: Are You a Southern Republican?

From Part of the Plan:
Are you a Democrat, Republican or Southern Republican?

Here is a little test that will help you decide. The answer can be found by posing the following

You’re walking down a deserted street with your wife and two small children. Suddenly, an Islamic terrorist with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with you, screams obscenities, praises
Allah, raises the knife, and charges at you. You are carrying a .40 caliber Glock and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he reaches you and your family.

What do you do?

You'll have to click over to his site to read the answers. I had a great time reading it out loud to my wife.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


From the Deseret News:
Winner: Words are inadequate to express the bravery of a 9-year-old Denver boy who was shot in the back while shielding his 4-year-old brother during an attempted home invasion. No one knows why the home was targeted and the family has since moved. Police honored the boy with a trophy presentation at his school. Asked why he did it, the boy answered simply, " 'Cause he's my little brother." No further explanation needed.

Treat Diseases Equally

The Deseret News posted an editorial where they said,
"More than 1 million Americans are believed to be living with HIV/AIDS... These numbers demonstrate a need for Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act, which funds care and support services for people with HIV who do not have health insurance and other resources. The law, previously funded at $2 billion, has expired but Congress is expected to take up reauthorization bills next year."

We are a wealthy society and I think we can do much to help the poor and unlucky among us, especially in matters of health care. But I don't understand why we would single out a single disease for special funding. Why is a person with HIV more precious to our society than a person with ALS or Lupus? Isn't that the message we send when we give special funds to one group but not another?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Lava flow, bench collapse

My favorite volcanoes are the scary explosive kind, but I love all volcanoes all the time (even my current nemesis, the Cottonwood Wash Tuff). This week Pele has put quite the display on in Hawai'i. 44 acres of newly formed coastline have fallen into the ocean, and the fire hose (stream of lava shooting off a cliff into the ocean) and lava "water" falls (pretty self-explanatory) are amazingly beautiful.

When I was there in August 2000, I was lucky enough to see a pretty darn amazing fire hose myself. (This pre-dated my slight improvement in picture taking; I have got to get back with a digital camera with optical zoom.)

It is interesting to note that although this eruption began almost 23 years ago (in January 1983), the only deaths directly attributed to the eruption have been caused by coastline collapse (I believe the number is up to four or five, not bad in 23 years). It's pretty easy to avoid death in a Hawai'ian volcanic eruption--as long as you obey the rules (stay off the benches and beaches in the active area), you're pretty much safe.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Education Funding

Thanks to Gary Thornock for pointing out this excellent post and set of comments at Casserole Bar. It was pointed out that we have a ton of federally owned land which cuts down our state tax base. It was also pointed out that it is very expensive to educate students at the U or USU compared to UVSC or the other smaller colleges. We ought not lower the standards to get into the U, but rather raise the standards to encourage people to go to the smaller schools where they are more likely to succeed.

Reading the thread made me doubly sad that Steve U. isn't still running for the Senate. That guy is amazing.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Rosa Parks

John Hatch wrote a nice rememberance of the history surrounding Rosa Parks and her famous bus ride. Included in his post was this detail I didn't know. "We often remember the story that Rosa was just asked to move to the back so a white man could sit in the front since there were no seats. Actually, there were seats, but Montgomery's segregation law made it so whites didn't even need to sit next to blacks; in other words, Rosa was asked to move so a white man didn't have to sit next to her, not just so he could have a seat."

I am so grateful for people throughout the ages who have been willing to sacrifice their own comfort to make the world a better place for everyone else.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Whose pants are on fire?

I read angry letters to the editor railing against the President for "lying" about intelligence. I hear commentators like Robert Scheer (representing the "left" in KCRW's Left Right and Center) arguing that Joseph Wilson is a hero for blowing the whistle on Bush's lies.

I just don't get it. It baffles me. It seems that opponents of the current Republican administration have abandoned honest discourse or have somehow failed to hear about facts that debunk their fallacious argumentation. Read this article by Norman Podhoretz for a thorough, if somewhat exasperated, answer to common misconceptions that "Bush lied."

Isn't there enough to legitimately disagree about on national policy matters without resorting to misinformation? Nobody is right all the time, but when we're proved to be wrong, let's admit it.

Ed Partridge recently had a piece on this topic posted on (cross-posted to his own blog.) At his own posting, he eagerly anticipated the counterarguments from "the wingnuts." While Ed made a few valid points, the main body of the post to which he was responding stands uncontested.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Utah Loan Sharks: Payday Loans

The Deseret News printed an important piece today.

"Utah has more payday loan stores than 7-Elevens, McDonalds, Burger Kings and Subway stores -- combined."

It found the median quote was $20, or 521 percent annual interest. Rates ranged from a low of 312 percent annual interest to a high of 913 percent, or $12 to $35 on a two-week $100 loan.
"Studies on interest rates charged by the Mafia in New York City in the 1960s found an average rate of 250 percent. So, payday lenders in Utah charge more than twice as much as the Mafia loan syndicates. It shows it has gotten out of hand," said Christopher Peterson.

I was super disappointed to hear Frank Pignanelli quoted for the defense in this article. I guess he's acting in his role as lobbyist rather than human.

Lenders disagree with critics. Frank Pignanelli, attorney and lobbyist for the industry's Utah Consumer Lending Association (and also a political columnist for the Deseret Morning News), says, "Payday lenders fill an important niche. Try walking into a bank or credit union and say you have withdrawn all your savings and maxed-out your credit card but want to borrow $300 for two weeks. They will send you to a payday lender."
He added, "People compute and figure it is cheaper to get a payday loan than to pay fees for a bounced check, or have a late utility payment, or fees for a late mortgage payment. That's why they proliferate here."

I can see the niche that such lending could fill. Here are two more paragraphs from the article that should explode that notion, comparing a study by the payday loans and one from an outside organization.

[Pignanelli] says industry studies say a typical borrower in Utah is a woman in her early 30s with a household income of $50,000 to $70,000 and is "using payday loans because she doesn't want to pay overdraft or retail merchant fees." He says lenders "don't prey on the poor and the homeless because the poor and the homeless don't pay back loans."
Of note, a 2003 study by the Center for Responsible Lending said it found that 91 percent of all payday loans are made to borrowers who take out five or more such loans a year. It said only 1 percent of all payday loans are made to one-time emergency borrowers.

I think Utah, in the spirit of human decency and responsible government, ought to put some huge restraints on this industry and stop (or drastically reduce) this leaching off the poorest among us.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Enough of Racist Organizations Already!

The Deseret News had an editorial this morning about race-oriented medicine. Science is recognizing that there are genetic differences between races that will cause them to respond differently to medications. This is, as the News points out, a wonderful advance that shouldn't be an issue of race but of medicine.

One line in the editorial chapped me, however. (Why else do you think I'm writing this post?) "We urge black leaders — especially the Association of Black Cardiologists — to study the proposals carefully and, if they see any benefit, allow the tests to move ahead." Why on earth is there an Association of Black Cardiologists? What does being black have to do with being a cardiologist? It is racist to assume that black cardiologists can't compete and participate just fine in an association with cardiologists of other races. This happens all over the place with special associations for black journalists or black congressmen. Why do they need to be seperate? Why do they seperate themselves on the basis of race?

I will concede that there was justification and probably need for such organizations in past times. But I'm part of a younger generation that has grown up without much of the racial bias that tainted my grandparents generation. Such organizations have served a very useful purpose and the country (if not the world) has moved past the need for race-based organizations. Let's judge all men and women by the content of their character and by the greatness of their achievement rather than by the color of their skin. Let's close down every organzation and program that would treat people specially based on race. Let us now shift our attention to more pressing differentiators.

I see plenty of reason to have "affirmative action" programs for people that have grown up in poverty, especially in terms of education. But what does that have to do with race? Nothing. Really. The old race-based thinking and institutions now seem to only increase racist divisions in our society. Let's get rid of them.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Mother's Conflicted Feelings About a Son at War

It has to be really tough to be the mom of a soldier. Sue Diaz is facing that struggle. She isn't sure she agrees with the war, but mostly just wants her boy to be safe. Her well crafted essay is worth reading. My heart goes out to all the parents of the soldiers. And I thank God for their sacrifices.

Harry Reid and the Iraq Intelligence Conspiracy

In a hilarious (okay, maybe that is a bit strong... amusing?) article for the NY Times, David Brooks highlights silly beliefs relating to the charge that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence about Iraq. He frames his arguments with a scene of Harry Reid sitting alone at his kitchen table at 4:00 AM. A couple of choice lines:

Reid now knows that as far back as 1998, Karl Rove was beaming microwaves into Bill Clinton's fillings to get him to exaggerate the intelligence on Iraq.

Reid now knows that in the late 1990s, Dick Cheney and other Republican officials used fluoridated water in the State Department and other government agencies to brainwash Clinton administration officials into exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
In 1997 Clinton's defense secretary, William Cohen, went on national television and informed the American people that if Saddam has "as much VX in storage as the U.N. suspects" he would "be able to kill every human being on the face of the planet."
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright compared Saddam to Hitler and warned that he could "use his weapons of mass destruction" or "become the salesman for weapons of mass destruction."

Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m. He knows now that seven centuries ago at a secret meeting of the Bilderberg Society-Trilateral Commission-American Enterprise Institute, the six High Lords of the Secret Order of the Neocons decided to implant alien life forms into potential Democratic officials that could be activated in case there was a need to manipulate intelligence on Iraq.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Scalia is smarter than me

Antonin Scalia is a good and interesting writer. I just read a book review he wrote which was essentially an explanation of his legal/constitutional philosophy. He argues (astonishingly) that words have actual meaning, irrespective of the intent of the speaker. We must interpret the meaning of the words in the law rather than trying to judge what some ideal legislator might have wanted the law to say. Like I said, Scalia is smarter than me, so read the piece if you want it straight from the justice's mouth.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Recording Public Meetings

I love C-SPAN. I don't watch it all that often, but I love that I can go back to big recent events in government and watch them for myself. It is interesting to note that C-SPAN is not a government organization. I'm greatful for the resource it has become.

The Deseret News reports that there is pending legislation to force recording of public meetings to avoid possible disputes over the content of the minutes of the meeting which are the currently accepted record of the meeting.

While I think the goal is good, I don't know that it is a good investment in time or resources. There are so many problems to consider. How will you archive the recordings? Where will space be made for thousands of cassette tapes, the inexpensive recording method mentioned in the article? Once this new level of documentation is available, will we open ourselves to lawsuits if these records aren't carefully maintained? Cassette tapes are easily damagable by magnetic fields.

Suppose we instead decide on more recent technologies for recording. We have the possibility of computer glitches damaging records, accidental erasure, etc. Not to mention the extra expense of the recording equipment.

We ought to be able to rely on meeting minutes as we always have. They don't require any extra systems, staff, or storage than we are already using. Let's not put the extra burden on local governments just for the sake of "public perception". If a private citizen or a participant in the meetings chooses to record the meetings for their own purposes, more power to them. It may turn out to be a blessing. But let's not make it an obligation.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

David McCullough and the Spirit of 1776

BYU invited David McCullough to speak at a recent forum assembly. He is a well known historian. He seeks to write history the way you would write a novel. He wants history to be accessible and interesting. BYU hasn't yet posted audio, video, or transcript of his talk, though McCullough said he planned to allow them to do so. It should appear at BYU Broadcasting when it is ready.

I stayed around after the assembly for the question and answer period. I thought I would share a few bits from my notes. His real answers were invariably longer and more thorough than what you'll see here. I've only captured a few sentences or paraphrases of them. I hope they capture the essense of what he said.

Q: What do you see as the most pressing problems we face today, and what from history teaches us how to face it?
A: We lack self confidence. We can’t lose trust in our neighbor and our faith in what we stand for. We are against a foe that believes in enforced ignorance and we don’t. We will not allow circumstance to vitiate our better natures. We face environmental problems. We need to do more in the way of service. If I were to criticize the president, I would say that he has not called upon us to serve sufficiently. We want to help. We want to serve. We want to be useful. McCullough was near the white house on 9/11 and saw it all happen. The looks on the faces on the people leaving the Whitehouse was not panic but concern about how to help. They went to donate blood and couldn’t because so many had already tried to do so. Everybody wants to help!

Q: Do you feel God had a hand in the Revolution?
A: There was a force beyond our understanding. Miracles happened. I won’t get into the theological explanation as that is personal and beyond my capacity.

Q: Were the Founding Fathers just out to protect their economic interests? That is how it is often taught today in schools. What do you think of the current teaching of history?
A: There are many great historians. But they shouldn’t only be writing for other historians. If people don’t want to read the history, it isn’t of much worth. Those who write history should aspire to write literature. If they don’t do that, then history will die because nobody will want to read it. I write narrative history and I love to read narrative history.

Q: Are we losing the “Spirit of 1776”?
A: It is not lost, but eroding. We aren’t teaching history well enough. That is our fault, not the fault of the children. Let’s not overemphasize how dark our own times are. We’ve been through worse times than 9/11 or any other calamity we’ve recently seen. Those who make those claims that these are the worst times are historically ignorant. Think of 1776, Nazi Germany, Great Depression. “We’ve haven’t journeyed this far because we’re made of sugar candy” Winston Churchill.

Q: Would you have followed Adams or Jefferson?
A: I’m an Adams man. He had moral and physical courage. The only founding father who never owned a slave as a matter of principle. He saw through a lot of the smoke and mirrors of some of the other philosophical political opinion of the time. Humble background. Not some rich, Boston, blue-blood. An example of the transforming miracle of education. John Adams did not believe that “all men are created equal”. Some have certain advantages or disadvantages, but they are all equal in the eyes of God and the law, said he. Jefferson was the great spokesperson for the common man. But he removed himself from the common man as far as he could get. Is this the man that said “all men are created equal”? Adams said, “beware of the common man. I know; I’m one of them!” “We are a government of laws and not of men.” “A strong central government is important.” The country was held together across the fault line that was inequality and slavery, by George Washington for 8 years. What a miracle it was that he was the first president.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Solving the 3rd Party Dilemma

It is very difficult for a "3rd party" candidate to succeed in a statewide or nationwide political race. For example, when Ralph Nader ran against Al Gore and George W. Bush, many people that wanted to vote against Bush dared not vote for Nader because they didn't want to rob Gore of votes needed to win. The same thing happened when Ross Perot ran against Clinton and Bush. Perot took votes that might have otherwise gone to Bush, thus giving the race to Clinton.

The solution is "preference choice voting" or "instant runoff voting." Under this voting scheme, a voter can indicate their ordered preference for candidates. They can give their first choice to the 3rd party candidate (for example) and then their second choice to another major party candidate. This allows people to avoid feeling like they are "wasting" their vote on a candidate with little choice of winning.

Under this voting system, we could see how much support a 3rd party candidate really has. Their ideas could gain more traction when people are behind those ideas. When the votes are tallied and your first choice candidate doesn't win (and no other candidate already has the majority of votes needed for victory) your vote will be re-tallied for your second choice candidate. For more information and a live demo of how this voting system works, check out

So what prevents us from trying our preference choice voting? It complicates the voting process. I have to find a way to indicate my first, second, and third choice candidates. During some of the closely contested elections (e.g. Florida 2000) we've seen how difficult it can be for voters to cast a vote on a traditional ballot. Surely we can find a way around that complication!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Bell Curve is Back

The author of the controversial book The Bell Curve is back with an article at He points out that there is a broad ditribution in every group, but that we can expect the overall contributions of groups to be different. Some of the more interesting quotes from the long article:
In the autumn of 1994, I had watched with dismay as "The Bell Curve" 's scientifically unremarkable statements about black IQ were successfully labeled as racist pseudoscience. At the opening of 2005, I watched as some scientifically unremarkable statements about male-female differences were successfully labeled as sexist pseudoscience.

Affirmative action in all its forms assumes there are no innate differences between any of the groups it seeks to help and everyone else. The assumption of no innate differences among groups suffuses American social policy. That assumption is wrong.

Several analyses have confirmed the genetic reality of group identities going under the label of race or ethnicity. In the most recent, published this year, all but five of the 3,636 subjects fell into the cluster of genetic markers corresponding to their self-identified ethnic group. When a statistical procedure, blind to physical characteristics and working exclusively with genetic information, classifies 99.9% of the individuals in a large sample in the same way they classify themselves, it is hard to argue that race is imaginary.

How much damage has the taboo done to the education of children? Christina Hoff Sommers has argued that willed blindness to the different developmental patterns of boys and girls has led many educators to see boys as aberrational and girls as the norm, with pervasive damage to the way our elementary and secondary schools are run. Is she right? Few have been willing to pursue the issue lest they be required to talk about innate group differences. Similar questions can be asked about the damage done to medical care, whose practitioners have only recently begun to acknowledge the ways in which ethnic groups respond differently to certain drugs.

Thus my modest recommendation, requiring no change in laws or regulations, just a little more gumption. Let us start talking about group differences openly--all sorts of group differences, from the visuospatial skills of men and women to the vivaciousness of Italians and Scots. Let us talk about the nature of the manly versus the womanly virtues. About differences between Russians and Chinese that might affect their adoption of capitalism. About differences between Arabs and Europeans that might affect the assimilation of Arab immigrants into European democracies. About differences between the poor and nonpoor that could inform policy for reducing poverty.

Friday, October 07, 2005

ACLU in the Times and Seasons

I left a comment today at T&S which I'd like to reproduce here so I can easily find it. The original post defended the position that members of the Church of Jesus Christ can also be members of the ACLU which sometimes opposes that church.


Your logic on all the sticky issues relied on the true statement that not all sins should be crimes. For example, envy would be hard to prosecute lacking objective mind-reading tools and thus would be a bad candidate for a crime. There is a continuum of sins ranging from those that should clearly be crimes (e.g. murder) to those that should not (e.g. envy). There is room on this continuum for reasonable people to differ. When a person or organization falls all the way to either end of that continuum, we can infer that they are not being “reasonable.” The real estate at the very edge of the continuum (for reasons speculated at by other posters) seems to be occupied by the ACLU. It would seem, then, that supporting that organization would be unreasonable or even illogical.

Elder Oaks has observed: “Similarly, some reach the pro-choice position by saying we should not legislate morality. Those who take this position should realize that the law of crimes legislates nothing but morality. Should we repeal all laws with a moral basis so our government will not punish any choices some persons consider immoral? Such an action would wipe out virtually all of the laws against crimes.”

Given that all laws legislate morality and that we as church members believe that our morals lead to a happy life and good society, how could we in good conscience support an organization that opposes our morals? In summation, I see how you can, by sliding to the far edge of the sin/crime continuum, reconcile church membership with ACLU membership. But I just don’t get why any reasonable person would want to go there.

I’d love to read a follow-up post that would prove to me the goodness of the ACLU’s positions rather than just the acceptableness of them. I believe you are an advocate of the good and I just can’t wrap my mind around how you’re getting there. Please write more!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

University Presidents aren't leading the way to excellence

Victor Davis Hanson has a thought provoking essay posted at He writes about four different university presidents. Each one is working hard to ensure “diversity” on their campus. Yet none of them offer a compelling reason for this stance. He concludes his article:

The signs of erosion on our campuses are undeniable, whether we examine declining test scores, spiraling costs, or college graduates' ignorance of basic facts and ideas. In response, our academic leadership is not talking about a more competitive curriculum, higher standards of academic accomplishment, or the critical need freely to debate important issues. Instead, it remains obsessed with a racial, ideological, and sexual spoils system called "diversity." Even as the airline industry was deregulated in the 1970s, and Wall Street now has come under long-overdue scrutiny, it is time for Americans, if we are to ensure our privileged future, to re-examine our era's politicized university.

In pointing out the failures of these four university presidents, he is not trying to play tabloid headline games. He is trying to highlight the decline of the American University and propose one important cure. In reading his remarks, I was reminded of a talk given by Dallin Oaks at BYU, where I work.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bush puts reporter in place (I wish)

Amidst the clean-up and recovery of the nation from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, President George W. Bush held a press briefing about the nation's energy supply. When he opened the briefing for questions, he was asked the following by Nedra Pickler from the Associated Press:
PICKLER: I want to ask you about, um, a different result of these storms and that is the racial divide that's been exposed in the country. Blacks and whites feel very differently about what happened. We all, um, recognize that the response to Rita was much better than the response to Katrina, but there are some strong feelings in the black community that -- that difference had a racial component to it, that the white, you know, rural residents got taken care of better than the black urban residents. How do you respond to that?
President Bush gave an entirely unremarkable political answer about how his administration has done many things for the poor and underprivileged. However, in my little fantasy world, it would have gone something like this:
PICKLER: I want to ask you about, um, a different result of these storms and that is the racial divide that's been exposed in the country. Blacks and whites feel very differently about what happened. We all, um, recognize that the response to Rita was much better than the response to Katrina, but there are some strong feelings in the black community that -- that difference had a racial component to it, that the white, you know, rural residents got taken care of better than the black urban residents. How do you respond to that?

You know, Nedra, that’s a great question. I’ve been asking myself a similar question recently. During the hurricane Katrina coverage, many news outlets—including yours, the AP—reported numerous deaths, rapes, etc, happening in the Superdome and NO Convention Center. And now it’s being reported that those numbers were greatly exaggerated, if not completely false. Why were the media so eager to believe anything terrible about the poor, mostly black people in the Superdome? Is there a racial component to the way wild rumors were being reported as fact? (gives reporter innocent smile)
I actually don't think there was a racial component to the media's reporting of rumors. In fact, I think it is ridiculous and supremely unhelpful--oddly enough, just as unhelpful as suggesting that there was racism involved in the Katrina emergency. We should be talking about what went wrong and what should be fixed, not slinging ad hominem attacks around. And reporters who insist on pushing that angle ought to be politely asked to sit down and shut up. It's too bad the President can't be allowed to do just that.

Rush Limbaugh (press briefing info)/Michelle Malkin (rumor debunking)

Monday, September 19, 2005

Ring around the...

And now the CYA begins. Just a few links for future reference, I'll be updating this throughout the next few weeks.

Mary Landrieu, Queen of the Non-Answer
Update: September 19, from the LATimes, via Captain's Quarters:
Senior officials in Louisiana's emergency planning agency already were awaiting trial over allegations stemming from a federal investigation into waste, mismanagement and missing funds when Hurricane Katrina struck.
And $60 million are unaccounted for.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What Roe Really Means for Abortion

Hadley Arkes has some insightful comments about Roe v. Wade. Writing about the John Roberts confirmation hearings now in progress, he concludes,
The critical turn in the law may come if Justice Roberts helps to flip the decision that struck down the laws on partial-birth abortion in the states. Sandra O'Connor was the swing vote in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), but John Roberts could make the difference in sustaining the federal bill. If that is done, the Court will be saying, in effect, that it is in business now to consider anew this long chain of cases offering restrictions of various kinds on abortion. What would follow then is a long line of cases, moving in small steps, with the Court upholding one restriction after another on abortion, each one modest, each one regarded by the public as plainly reasonable. When that happens, the regime of Roe v. Wade will have come to an end, without even the need to pronounce it over.

The abortion issues Arkes still considers open in a Roberts court are:
  • Must late term abortions be lethal, or might a state require non-lethal late-term abortions?

  • What to do with an abortion that results in a live birth?

  • May legislatures require a woman be given information about the developmental condition of her unborn child prior to an abortion?

  • What will be the fate of parental notification laws?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Poor geology reporting

This has got to be one of the more confusing statements I've ever read in a news report:
...the unnamed bulge was created because of a big cavity, estimated to be about 4.5 miles below the surface, that is filling with fluid.

The fluid is likely magma, but could also be water. It was described in the report as a lake 1 mile across and 65 feet deep.

Eh? A lake one mile across and 65 feet deep? 4.5 miles below the surface? That is a REALLY poor way to describe it, seeing as many people already believe that water is found in giant underground lakes instead of in pore spaces of rocks. Maybe this could be a better way to put it: "The amount of fluid causing the earth to bulge would fill a lake one mile across and 65 feet deep."

If that's what is even meant in the report. It's terribly unclear, and misleading to boot. And I'm probably one of about sixteen people in the world who even care.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Spirals of Fame

The ever circling spirals of fame are swirling around Keryn again. She submitted a headline from the Deseret News to Opinion Journal's Best of the Web. It isn't the first time her name (or her words) have appeared in a national publication! I feel famous just living with her!

Emergency Response Plan

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has a great post up on the some of the emergency response lessons that better be learned from Katrina. All of it is great, but I especially appreciated this part:

7. Be realistic: Here's what the Los Angeles Fire Department tells people about an earthquake aftermath:

To those of us who live and work in the Greater Los Angeles area, earthquakes and other natural emergencies are a reality. In order to deal with this situation, emergency preparedness must become a way of life. In the event of a major earthquake or disaster, freeways and surface streets may be impassable and public services could be interrupted or taxed beyond their limits. Therefore, everyone must know how to provide for their own needs for an extended period of time, whether at work, home, or on the road.

That's just how it is. People need to be encouraged to do this. Whenever I say this, I get responses along the lines of "poor people can't afford to stockpile food." But here's a family survival kit for $50 and it's pretty good. Most poor people in America can afford food (that's why so many poor people are fat). They do have other problems that make preparation less likely, though (if you're the kind of person who thinks ahead and prepares for emergencies, you're much less likely to be poor to begin with) and local authorities have to be ready -- see the stockpile advice above.

There was so much wrong with the Katrina response, but for many (not all) people at least some of their suffering could have been lessened by having a 72-hour emergency kit to grab on the way to the roof. (UPDATED TO ADD: And it's not just the prophet telling us to have an emergency kit. Remember when Dept. of Homeland Security's Tom Ridge told every American family to make one?)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Virginia's evac plan

From the NYT, via the Corner:

Mr. Judkins is one of the officials in charge of evacuating the Hampton Roads region around Newport News, Va. These coastal communities, unlike New Orleans, are not below sea level, but they're much better prepared for a hurricane. Officials have plans to run school buses and borrow other buses to evacuate those without cars, and they keep registries of the people who need special help.

I guess New Orleans has a similar plan, but it wasn't implemented. But here's the kicker in the Virginia plan:
Instead of relying on a "Good Samaritan" policy - the fantasy in New Orleans that everyone would take care of the neighbors - the Virginia rescue workers go door to door. If people resist the plea to leave, Mr. Judkins told The Daily Press in Newport News, rescue workers give them Magic Markers and ask them to write their Social Security numbers on their body parts so they can be identified.

"It's cold, but it's effective," Mr. Judkins explained.

That simple strategy could have persuaded hundreds of people to save their own lives in New Orleans. What the city needed most was coldly effective local leaders, not a president in Washington who could feel their pain.


UPDATE: Or maybe just an "addition": Apparently the New Orleans police were told not to come in to work on the day the hurricane hit, to save money on the budget. Is that crazy? It seems backwards to me--you have this huge potential emergency, and you tell your police not to come in. I've never been in a hurricane, so maybe this is just standard operating procedure. But it seems...stupid.

Breaking News?

This is the red banner on the top of's website at 11:38am Tuesday Sept 6.

"Breaking News: New Orleans flood waters contaminated with e. coli, official in office of Mayor Ray Nagin tells CNN. Details soon."

Gee, you think? With fecal matter from the sewers backed up into the flood? I'm shocked and surprised.

Or not.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Re: The case for well-armed citizens

I'm not ready to go out an buy a gun (as Keryn was when she wrote the post below), but I am far more convinced of the need for citizens to own firearms than I've ever been in the past. The constitution speaks of the need for a militia. I thought that our professional armies and National Guard had supplanted that need. But in the case of a disaster, more help is needed in the crisis moment. If I were to purchase a gun, it would be to add it to my emergency supply kit--under lock and key. Then I would be willing to use it to defend the public good should the need arise.

The case for well-armed citizens

Although I am a stauch supporter of the Second Amendment, I have never wanted to own a gun. I didn't grow up around guns, and so they still intimidate me a little. Add to that a lack of interest in shooting and hunting sports, and a lack of money to own a gun and a safe place for it (I have small children), and I never expected to change my mind. My husband has been of the same opinion, and so we have been a NRA-supporting, but gun-lacking, family.

Until now. The situation in New Orleans frightens me badly. Like many of the members of my church (we are LDS, aka Mormons), we are counseled to have reserves (food, money, etc) in case of emergency. We hope we would be willing to share our supplies with others in a disaster. But the anarchy and violence in New Orleans...we are not willing to allow looters to take what our family needs to survive. And we ARE willing to defend it.

In the middle of the chaos that accompanies disaster, it would be too late to go get a gun, be trained on how to use it safely, etc. And, honestly, I never considered it an emergency necessity. The events in New Orleans--and the actions of the small number of lawless and immoral people--have convinced me otherwise.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina links

The disaster of Hurricane Katrina is still unfolding, but already there are amazing satellite pictures, provocative posts, and interesting retrospectives. Here are just a few I found interesting:

Sat pix animated
Before and afters
More sat pix (not animated)
The Big One
Should we rebuild?
"Nature's revenge"

Updated (Sept 1, 10:30pm)
CNN before and after sat pix

Defining Income Still Makes a Flat Tax Tough

One CPA I spoke to about the concept of a flat tax mentioned that the hardest thing in the tax code isn't figuring out the percentage that should be paid or the amount that should be deducted. It is figuring out what "income" is. While I'm not even close to an expert, that makes sense to me.

If I'm a fat-cat CEO it may be a lot easier to get the company to provide "benefits" that don't get counted as income. Do you count the value of your health coverage as income? What about a company car that you get to use? What about a company jet? Would a flat tax eliminate the difference between pre-tax and post-tax money that currently exists?

If we're trying to figure out what defines corporate income, I think it is probably even more difficult. Is income defined the same as revenue? profit? I suppose that is it probably somewhere in between those two. That means that income is really hard to define. So hard that there will always be thick books for accountants to peruse to figure it out.

How hard is it really for me as an individual to figure out my income tax right now? Pretty easy. I just punch my information into the software and it spits out the right answers. I can read the income figures right off my W-2. No problem. The difficulty in the tax code has always been and will probably continue to be with the people or entities that can't define their income with a simple W-2 or 1099.

This post was inspired by a post at Dynamic Range.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Utah and Iraq deaths

There's a lot of buzz around the blogosphere today about Daily Kos' suggestion that areas that voted for Kerry have more military deaths than areas that voted for Bush. There are a myriad of things wrong with his maps and his conclusion that are explained here and here, but one thing in particular caught my attention: Utah has suffered the least amount of Iraq deaths per 100,000 residents.

Statistically, I don't quite know what that means. Does Utah have fewer people in Iraq or in the armed forces? I didn't think so, but maybe.

Friday, August 19, 2005

DDT: Good or bad?

I read an article similar to this one awhile back that claimed that DDT was unfairly maligned and could save millions of lives by killing mosquitoes. Then I read this article refuting many of the more convincing points--saying basically that DDT isn't the magic bullet some claim it is. Which to believe? I don't know.

UPDATE 22 May 2007: I'm still no expert on DDT, but the topic seems to be growing in popularity again as we approach the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. Opinion Journal has a piece that looks disapprovingly on the unintended consequences of banning DDT. We now use more, less-potent pesticides with less effect.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Nuclear North Korea

Orson Scott Card has written a wonderfully brief and provocative piece about nuclear proliferation. What happens when North Korea has the bomb? Thanks to Provo Pulse for the link.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Bashing Hillary Shows Poor Taste

I'm not a big fan of Hillary Clinton, but I am really not a fan of a book by Ed Klein called "The Truth About Hillary." I read the first 30 pages or so and was totally turned off. This is not a fact filled, hard hitting book. It is a gossip column and doesn't deserve to be read by people serious about politics and government. I actually find myself agreeing with Al Franken. He did an interview (along with a few friends in gang up fashion) with Ed Klein which is available if you subscribe (for free) to his podcast with iTunes (4.9 or better). I can't find a way to link to it directly.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Dick Durbin vs. Trent Lott

Remember some time ago, when Senator Trent Lott (R) said something complimentary about Strom Thurmond’s run for the presidency as a segregationalist? It was during a celebration for Sen. Thurmond (who had significantly changed his politics in the intervening 30+ years), and Sen. Lott was merely trying to honor his achievements. His remark was unintentionally offensive to some, but it was at worst a gaffe. However, he was drummed out of party leadership by the uproar from the Democrats (among other groups), who demanded his resignation on the basis that, even if it was unintentional, it was proof that he really had racist tendencies at heart.

Now we turn to a much more recent comment made by someone in party leadership. This time it is Senator Dick Durbin, the Democrat senator from Illinois. His statements comparing Guantanamo Bay to the concentration camps, the gulag, or to Pol Pot’s regime have caused an uproar in many circles. What does this say about his closely-held beliefs? That he believes our servicemen and women are comparable to some of the worst regimes in recent history? Although he has issued a statement regretting—not the comparison, he firmly stands by that—but any misunderstanding that has resulted from his comments, many believe that is not enough. There are calls for a better apology, his resignation from the party leadership, and even (apparently) Senate censure.

How is this situation different from Sen. Lott’s? Well, for one, Sen. Lott was speaking at a party honoring his colleague, and his remarks were (if I remember correctly) unscripted. He also apologized repeatedly and disavowed any racist meaning. Compare that to Sen. Durbin, whose prepared remarks were made on the Senate floor, and have not been retracted.

It seems to me if you believed that Sen. Lott should have been punished for his remarks (as many, many Democrats did), then you should also believe that Sen. Durbin should be punished for his. But, as of today, he is still the Senate’s assistant minority leader—the second-ranked Democrat. Excuse me if I don’t think that is a little hypocritical.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A few bad apples...

Amnesty Irrational by Ned Rice

Amnesty International is at it again...I refer here to their recent pronouncement that the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons have become "the gulag of our time," which is the sort of hyperbole that only the historically illiterate are capable of.

There has been a lot in the news lately about the abuse at the United States prison at Guantanamo, Cuba. There has also been a lot of hype about how horrible it is, how this proves that we are as bad as the ones we are fighting (some of whom happily blow themselves and senior citizens or police officers or army recuits up). Without getting too wrapped up in accusations that I find absurd to the point of ridiculousness, Ned Rice in this article makes a good point:
They would have you believe that it was morally wrong-impeachable, even — to liberate Afghanistan and Iraq and perhaps trigger the democratization of an entire subcontinent because some terrorist prisoners may have been improperly (and unjustly — don't get me wrong) treated during the chaos of a shooting war. Which is a bit like saying the United States was on the wrong side of World War II simply because Allied soldiers sometimes roughed up German POWs during questioning, or shot Japanese troops deep behind enemy lines because they had no means of securely detaining them (both of which happened). As anyone familiar with history and warfare knows, Amnesty International's characterization of the U.S. prisons as being a "the gulag of our time" are more than just obscene. They are, as President Bush recently noted, absurd.


Legal drug imports = drug price controls

The Drug-Importation Hoax

Elizabeth M. Whelan at National Review Online writes about the likely result if Congress endorses the importation of drugs from countries with price controls (like Canada).
The reason that Rx drugs cost less in countries like Canada is that international laws on commerce treat prescription drugs differently from other consumer products. U.S. pharmaceutical companies are required under a 1994 treaty to sell their drugs at drastically cut prices to countries with drug price controls. Any pharmaceutical company that fails to comply can be punished by having its patent protection taken away. It is as if you were selling books in the United States for $10 and when you offered them to Canada, officials there told you that they would either give you $4 or violate your intellectual property rights and make copies of the book without your permission, in the name of educating Canadians.

The United States, which does not currently have price controls, produces nearly 90 percent of the world's supply of new pharmaceuticals. Countries with price controls do not produce any significant supplies of new drugs — instead, the innovators have fled to the U.S., where they have the protection of the free-market system and protection for intellectual property they create.

If companies can sell their drugs only at cost — and cannot recoup more than the approximate $800 million it costs to bring a drug to market — companies will stop making new drugs, just as they have in other countries with price controls.

Americans’ pharmaceutical companies are launching drugs that dramatically reduce cholesterol and blood pressure...drugs that not only significantly reduce the recurrence of breast cancer but show promise for preventing such malignancies in the first place.

An example of heroic measures I agree with

Woman is kept alive to save unborn baby
A 26-year-old pregnant woman with cancer whose brain function ceased last month is being kept alive with a respirator in hopes she can have a very premature baby who has a chance to survive.

It's just interesting that I would find this article the very next morning after writing about end-of-life decisions. The entire article is heart-wrenching and beautiful. This is a time when I think heroic measures are worthwhile. I hope I don't ever have to face anything like that, but it is what I would want for myself. I know that when I was pregnant, I would have done anything to save the baby.
Update: Here is a column from her brother-in-law. He has some wonderful insights.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Alternative

The View From the ICU - The alternative to doing everything for a dying patient. By David Friedman

Although the main thrust of the Terri Schiavo story ended with her (merciful) death on March 31, I was a little too busy having a baby to post my opinion on end-of-life treatments, or prolonging biological life when the soul, to all intents and purposes, is no longer present. This article by Dr. David Friedman explains (quite bluntly) what takes place when "everything" is done to prolong a life. It is fairly horrifying. He then states:
When a patient has a chance of meaningful recovery we rush to do all this and more. Sometimes it is doctors and sometimes it is families who push too hard when the prognosis is grim...a wildly disproportionate amount [of health care spending] is spent during the final few tenths of a percent of a life, prolonging the inevitable, agonizing end for both patients and their families.

My husband and I have discussed this at length, and we decided that we are not interested in draining the financial and emotional coffers of the surviving spouse in order to add a few days or weeks to a life already spent, or keeping our spouse "alive" in body but not mind.
(Now, I have to say I don't especially agree with Dr. Friedman's last paragraph. Having the government give everyone a one-time payment in return for waiving our rights to end-of-life aggressive treatment seems really, really wrong to me. But then, I'm strongly in favor of smaller government. How about you just cut my taxes, please?)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Fascinating Statistics (amazing, I know)

The Search for 100 Million Missing Women - An economics detective story. By Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

I often claim to hate statistics, which is not entirely true. I hate DOING statistics, I hate statistics classes, and statistics textbooks. But some of the things that can be learned by combining statistics with other information--economics, demographics, even medical information--can be truly fascinating.

The article linked above is a good example. I have often heard of the "missing women" of Asia--a result of cultural ideals and prejudices that favor boy babies above girl babies. But what if it wasn't all cultural? What if it had--at least in part--a medical cause? By looking at the relationship between hepatitis B and birth gender ratios, an economics grad student named Emily Oster believes that perhaps as much as HALF of the overabundance of males in Asia is a result of hepatitis B infection. Isn't that fascinating?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Oh, wow

The Corner on National Review Online

Officials expressed outrage over the weekend that the City of Barcelona would publish a teachers' training manual comparing "the wall of shame Israel is building in Palestine" to concentration camps.

The manual was published last week and serves as a guide for high school teachers talking about the Holocaust. The specific comparison is found in the chapter dealing the imprisonment of Spanish Republicans.

"The concentration camps can be compared to two other historical events: The wall of shame Israel is building in Palestine and the (American) detention camp in Guantanamo," the manual goes.

According to Israeli diplomatic officials in Spain, the murder of six million Jews is only mentioned in passing.

I'm not sure I can believe this--but the Corner isn't really known for lying, so I guess I have to. But the idea that the concentration camps of the Holocaust can be compared to the WALL Israel is building and the detention camp in Guantanamo (filled with people taken from the field of BATTLE) is...crazy. What about Stalin? What about Rwandan genocide, the killing fields of Cambodia, etc? Couldn't they come up with a more apt comparison?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Law Bans Open Containers in Vehicles - Irresistible Headlines - Law Bans Open Food, Drinks In Vehicles

Officials have discovered that the ordinance bans all open containers in vehicles -- not just containers of alcohol.

That means an open can of soda, or even an open bag of chips in the car, is technically against the law, and could be subject to a $50 fine.

What about an open box of baby wipes? An open CD case? An open container of tissues? What a great law.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

City Government

This past week I attended my first city council meeting. We live in Spanish Fork, Utah. Both my wife and I wish that our city offered an option for curbside recycling like we had when we lived in Orem. We heard that the issue would be an agenda item at the city council meeting so we decided to attend.

We arrived a couple of minutes late, with our infant and 1.5 year old in tow. We found the council chamber was pretty full. The back of the room had windows where you could look in from the hallway. In the hallway was the equipment used to show the proceedings on the city cable network. The sound was also piped into the hallway. Grateful for that, we camped out on some couches where we'd have a bit more freedom of movement than we would by going into the meeting room.

The meeting was an interesting learning experience. I found myself both pleased and annoyed with the level of citizen involvement. There were issues where public comment was welcomed and the comment was seriously considered and discussed. Yet on the issue I cared about, solid waste disposal, there was no opportunity to express my support for the recycling option. I think I will be following up the meeting with emails to the council members. I am grateful that I have some avenue for feedback to them, even if it isn't in the public meeting. In the future, I think that only Keryn or I will attend the meeting. Keeping both kids quiet for the duration of the meeting was just too much of a challenge.

Friday, April 01, 2005


Guns and gun issues don't usually get me very riled up. I've never been much of a shooter beyond boy scout camp. With the recent mass-shootings (largely overshadowed by the Terri Schiavo affair), the issue of gun control raises its head again. John Lott at National Review wrote a piece containing some startling statistics about gun issues. I would be very interested to read a counter-point to this piece. I know that selection of statistics can affect the telling of the tale and a cross check is always wise--I'll watch for it.

Before he cites any statistics, he makes a very compelling point about the futility of designating a school, church, or government building as a "gun-free zone":
Suppose you or your family are being stalked by a criminal who intends on harming you. Would you feel safer putting a sign in front of your home saying "This Home is a Gun-Free Zone"?

Lott then cites some of his own research in saying:
Bill Landes and I have examined all the multiple-victim public shootings with two or more victims in the United States from 1977 to 1999 and found that when states passed right-to-carry laws, these attacks fell by 60 percent. Deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell on average by 78 percent.

No other gun-control law had any beneficial effect. Indeed, right-to-carry laws were the only policy that consistently reduced these attacks.

Everyone should have guns!

Then on radio I hear tape of a 9-1-1 call by a five year old girl telling the dispatcher that her parents have been shot by an angry neighbor. My body recoils and I immediately turn off the radio. Who wants to live in a society where everyone is armed to the teeth, able to turn a fist-fight into a massacre. Not me! I wish that nobody carried weapons. My heart breaks when a friend tells me about her dead brother because of an accident in a home with a hand-gun.

Let's just banish the things and be done with it!

I wish this were an easier issue. Did the founders give us a right to bear arms for the purpose of overthrowing our government? Did they intend for people to carry them around? Does it matter what they intended? Does it matter if we still have militias? Are the law-enforcement benefits of right-to-carry laws outweighing the devestation caused by gun accidents and misuse? Tough issue.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

SLC Library Recommendations

The Salt Lake City Public Library has several sets of recommended books on their website. Their nonfiction favorites for 2004 consist of 11 books. Having known many librarians and how voraciously they usually read, I curiously dug for more information on the second link in their list, "Worse than Watergate" by John Dean. My research certainly led me to some confusion. I haven't read the book. My comments here are reaction to the reaction. At, one of their "Top 10" reviewers wrote:
"For a convicted felon, John Dean is an exceptional author. I remember reading his own recollections of the Watergate affair and his own association with the subsequent events that led both to his own denouement and the resignation of Richard Nixon in disgrace in "Blind Ambition" in the mid 1970s. Once again he weighs in impressively by building a very strong circumstantial case for the investigation and possible prosecution of President George W. Bush for criminal actions that Dean terms to be indeed, "worst than those of Watergate". Culling from public records and the recollections of other eye-witnesses, Dean shows how Mr. Bush has systematically exaggerated, embellished, and engineered a series of preverifications and outright lies to the American public in an effort to convince us of the need for military intervention in Iraq."

So far so good. I read a little further. Another reviewer, one of Amazon's "Top 500", wrote:
"The most amazing revelation I found in Dean's book (though it had apparently been reported somewhere) is that the COG was activated after 9/11. COG (Continuity of Government) was a secret plan for reconstituting the U.S. government in event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Hundreds of federal employees were relocated to secret bunkers after 9/11, as part of the secret COG plan! What else is the Bush Administration doing that the public knows nothing about?"

So, if I'm understanding correctly, the book (and this reviewer) are critical because proper procedures were followed when it was believed that our country was under military attack? I don't see the problem, or how this makes it "worse than Watergate." Intrigued, I decide to dig a little further. I find a positive interview with the book's author at NPR. The blurb on the linked web page is mostly the opening narration to the interview. In the introduction, Liane Hansen says, "In 1973, Dean revealed the deepest secrets of the Nixon White House." Well, that is mostly what she says. In the actual audio, she actually doubles the length of the sentence by saying, "In 1973, Dean revealed the deepest secrets of the Nixon White House, sending the president into a spiral toward his resignation." Was the latter part of this sentence removed from the web page because it isn't true? I don't know the facts of Watergate well enough to know what role Dean played in the uncovering. If the first reviewer quoted above is correct, Dean was convicted of a felony, presumably in the Watergate affair.

The existence of the book, and the coverage of it beg the question, "Is being secretive a crime worthy of impeachment?" The author, according to quotes from reviewers, conflates the issue of secrecy with the issue of conspiracy. Being secretive doesn't necessarily imply conspiracy.

I kept reading and found another review of the book that was mostly positive but contained this bizarre quote that is purportedly from the book.

"The other two branches have long had their own continuity plans (in case of a nuclear catastrophe), but they rely on the executive branch to tell them when to duck and cover...Or did Bush and Cheney want only the executive branch and the presidency to survive? Or maybe they wanted succession to jump over Hastert and Byrd (both Democrats) to Powell, who is next in line -- or merely get around Byrd, since Denny Hastert’s son works for Cheney and may have been told about the COG (continuity of government plans) efforts?"

Could an author that wrote these words really be taken so seriously by someone at the SLC Public Library? Presumably the recommender actually read the book. I hope Dean will let Dennis Hastert know that he is now a Democrat. The Republicans in congress that elected him Speaker will surely be very disappointed to find out! Somebody should also let Dean in on the conventional leftist wisdom that Powell and Bush are actually enemies. This paragraph is apparently the "amazing revelation" that reviewer #2 above was talking about. You really have to be a fringe thinker to believe that Bush and company want to abolish the constitution and leave only the executive branch of government behind. Entertaining and passing along ideas like these earn the book a preemptive thumbs down from me and a second thumbs-down to the SLC Public Library for recommending it. There's nothing wrong with recommending a partisan book so long as we can accept the credibility of the author.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Minority Rules No More

John Barnes provides the most awesome summary of breaking the minority rule in the House of Representatives over 100 years ago. It was interesting to read about Representative Reed who refused to be a Speaker of the House who couldn't pass legislation. He destroyed the process of the "silent filibuster". Essentially the trick of the minority was to avoid answering when a roll call was taken to deprive the body of the quorum needed to do business. Reed started answering for them and caused quite and uproar. The whole article is worth a read. Perhaps the US Senate will follow suit in this session.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Are indefensible opinions even worth airing on public radio?

NPR : Does Bush Deserve Credit for Latest Moves Toward Democracy?

No. And here's an example.

I enjoy National Public Radio, even though I am used to disagreeing with most of their commentary and many of their experts. The slant they put on their stories is usually to the left of my personal beliefs. But usually I can give the experts their due—they are, after all, experts. Not so with this story, about the amount of credit the Bush administration deserves in the recent events in the Middle East. The first expert interviewed, Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University, expounds the most unrealistic opinion: (note: this is a rough transcript from the audio file on NPR’s website—I tried to make it as accurate as possible)

Robert Siegel: “Has a Bush Doctrine put wind in the sails of Middle Eastern democracy advocates, or are we witnessing events in Lebanon, and Egypt, and elsewhere that would have been just as likely absent the war in Iraq and the election that followed?...Is there a Bush Doctrine that’s really animating the spirit of democracy in the Middle East today?”

Professor Rashid Khalidi: “I think there is some effect of the Bush admin pushing this, in some cases positive, in other cases really only in the nature of window dressing. I think that what we are seeing so far in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example, are cases where very gentle Bush admin nudging has led to purely cosmetic changes, and it will be interesting to see whether there’ll be major changes. I would suggest that, as everywhere, democracy is an indigenous internal process. It can be encouraged, but it will be up to the Egyptians and Saudis and others”
[He then speaks about Lebanon briefly, commenting on their long history of parliamentary government.]

[Robert Siegel then asks about Iraq and Palestine, with their recent elections and “real parliamentary politics”]

Professor Rashid Khalidi: “In the case of Iraq, the Bush administration can take some small credit. I think Ayatollah al-Sistani is the one who really deserves the credit. He is the one who forced the Bush administration, after a year of pigheaded stubbornness, into doing the right thing. So if anyone really deserves the credit, it is the Iraqi people, and in particular those who forced the Bush administration to do this. In the Palestinian case, the Bush administration hasn’t done the slightest thing in its four and a half years in office to foster Palestinian democracy. That’s to the credit of the Palestinians themselves.”

Now, I’m not really in a position to debate the intricacies of this situation with him—I’m sure he is vastly more educated in this subject than am I. But his main point is indefensible: he claims that the Bush administration deserves little to no credit in the successful Iraqi elections, and the emergence of Iraqi democracy, and that the Ayatollah al-Sistani deserves the credit. I have no disagreement with the point that the Ayatollah deserves much credit, and the Iraqi people even more, but to say that the Bush administration deserves none is ignoring history. If the Bush administration had nothing to do with the emergence of democracy, then why didn’t it happen before the Iraqi war? Why didn’t the Iraqi people, led by the Ayatollah, overthrow Saddam Hussein during the last “election” he held? Surely Professor Khalidi cannot honestly believe that it is a coincidence that these things happened after the Bush administration overthrew Saddam? It’s a lot like believing that Kennedy and his administration, and Johnson and his administration, deserve no credit in putting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Sure, Kennedy and Johnson weren’t there, on the moon, with those men; they weren’t in mission control or at the laboratories making the spacecraft, but they certainly deserve some credit for this remarkable feat. And history isn’t shy about giving it to them.

As for the Palestinian elections and remarkable progress, it is ridiculous to say that the Bush administration “hasn’t done the slightest thing” in 4.5 years. By refusing to work through Arafat (who proved during the Clinton years unable or unwilling to deliver on his promises), the Bush administration left the Palestinian people to deal with the mess their leaders had made. By the time Arafat died, the Palestinian people were ripe for real change, and it seems they are demanding it. From the moment the new Palestinian government was elected, the Bush administration has been right there, offering help and encouragement, and trying to get the “roadmap” to peace back on track. I don’t believe that the influence the Bush administration has had on this particular process rises to the level it does in the Iraq situation, but, again, to claim they have done nothing is pure blindness.

The second expert interviewed (Professor Fouad Ajami from Johns Hopkins) took a much more moderate view on the situation. While he discusses the (huge) contribution the countries and people themselves are making (“this is an Arab drama”), he acknowledges that much credit must be given to the Bush administration for their actions in Iraq and encouraging Lebanon (“Every single Arab I speak to insists on the seminal role that the Bush administration has played.”). And, as is often the case, because I agreed with much of what he said, I don’t have much to say about it. I definitely encourage you to listen to the entire interview yourself.

But I can't say that I am impressed by NPR's broadcasting of Professor Khalidi's opinions. In this matter, he is so far to the left as to be out of the realm of the believable.

One of these things is not like the others

From EU Commissioner Margot Wallstrom's blog about International Women's Day (March 8):

Indeed, what is there to celebrate? The TV is showing a weeping Indian girl who would have liked to go to university instead of getting married to someone she has never met before. Or Lilya from Lithuania, victim of so called trafficking (sounding like innocent transportation, but meaning prostitution) having to “serve” 10 – 12 men per day. Why not call it by it‘s right name – sex slavery! Turkish women attacked by police all over with teargas and stopped from demonstrating – No, Turkey, this won‘t do if you want to come closer to the EU! So many women all over Europe feel overworked, underpaid and tired, tied up in their many roles between job and family and – some time for themselves! Every year thousands of women are beaten to death by their husbands. The issue of violence against women and children in the home is a huge hidden problem. Domestic violence is, according to Amnesty International figures, the major cause of death and disability for European women aged 16 to 44. It accounts for more death and ill-health than cancer or traffic accidents.

I REALLY don't think that you can/should compare forced marriages, prostitution, repression, murder, and violence with feeling overworked, underpaid, and torn between job and family.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Lessig gives a lecture

Lawrence Lessig gives a wonderful speech here that is absolutely worth viewing if you don't already believe that our copyright laws need a serious overhaul. The speech is sprinkled with video clips which makes it more fun to watch.

Essentially, I think (and Lessig wisely follows my lead) that copyright law is a good thing. It encourages the creation of art because the creator knows they have an opportunity to make money. For example, without copyright law, Wal-mart could find good (or popular) books, have them printed in China and them sell them without paying the author a cent. They have a powerful distribution channel and could easily sell more copies of the book than the author could on his own. They would be stealing the fruits of his labor. Copyright stops this from happening, and rightly so.

On the other hand, copyrights that last too long or prevent the reuse of material are bad. They mandate an artificial scarcity of a resource. There is no monetary harm to an author if I make a copy of her work; I will have borne the costs of reproduction. The only harm would be the disincentive to create. I'm told that the original copyright laws gave an author 14 years. That seems entirely reasonable and would preserve a good balance between incentives to create and the natural growth of the public domain.

Lessig gives an example in his speech of a movie that cost a boy a few hundred dollars to create. It sounds like he ran around with a camcorder for a few years and then mixed the clips into a movie worthy of winning an award at Cannes. Further research showed that it would cost this young man over $400,000 to secure the rights to reproduce the songs that were playing in the background in different scenes in the movie. This is a tough case and I'm not sure how I'd come down on it. I lean toward agreeing that the boy should pay the artists for using their music if it goes into a commercial creation. But only music created recently. Trying to track back rights to a song created 70 years ago, for instance, is a barrier to creativity rather than an enhancement.

Let common sense prevail. Let's bring copyright law under control.

Bad joke or bad blood?

The Boston Herald's Thomas Keane doesn't have a very keen sense of humor. Here is a quote from an article he wrote March 2nd:
Take the bashing of Massachusetts. A typical comment was Romney's line to South Carolinians that in Massachusetts "being a conservative Republican is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."

In high dudgeon, the state's political establishment pronounced itself offended. He's "making fun of the state," Treasurer Tim Cahill griped.

No he wasn't, Tim. He was making fun of Democrats.

Huh? I thought it would be obvious to anyone that Romney was just joking about being a minority. I watched the whole speech and I think he was no more rancorous than any other partisan speaking to a partisan crowd. (The comment is about 13:00 into the video clip.) I don't remember him saying anything mean at all. With 85% of the seats in the MA legislature (according to Romney's speech), you'd think they'd be a bit less sensitive.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

An awesome traffic jam

KSL News: 116th Troops Return Home

Ezra and I were on our way to get Brad from work when we ran into the most amazing traffic jam I have ever been in. It was just off Center on Main in Spanish Fork, and northbound traffic was pretty much at a standstill. I could see police lights ahead, and it took a minute or two to put that together with the crowds standing on the sidewalks, waving flags and signs. The 116th unit of the Utah Air National Guard returned home today, and apparently some twenty odd are from the Spanish Fork/Salem area.

Since I wasn't getting anywhere sitting in traffic, I pulled to the side, parked the car, and got Ezra out of his carseat. Then we waited until the fire trucks filled with soliders came past. We waved and cheered and pointed (Ezra liked the helicopter overhead especially), and the soliders waved back. Within a few minutes, the parade was past, we got back in the car, and were on our way.

But what a neat thing to have happened! I have so much respect and admiration for those men and women, and I feel like there's not a lot I can do for them. So it was amazing to have been able to welcome some of them home.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On the lighter (definitely random) side

The U.S. Dept. of Defense will commission its newest attack submarine on February 19--the name of the sub is the USS Jimmy Carter. There are excellent reasons for naming a sub after our 39th president--for example, he is the only US President to have qualified in submarines (not sure what that means, but it sounds impressive).

However, among the more conservative folk on the blogosphere, there is a great deal of amusement over this announcement. Some of the best remarks can be found on NRO's group blog The Corner. A cartoon about the announcement can be found here.

By far the most amusing, however, are the snide remarks about Killer Rabbits. Having been born in the late 1970s, I was not previously aware of the event. Imagine how educated I feel having read this article! (Warning: Maybe I'm just hard up for a laugh, but this had me laughing aloud.) If you want pictures, look here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

One More Reason to Support Griffith

I thought Thomas Griffith, a BYU General Counsel that has been nominated by President Bush to the DC Court of Appeals, was awfully dumb to let his law license expire. It caused a hold up on his confirmation in the Senate. But I read about some comments he made (blogged elsewhere) that really made me reconsider him. Now I read this tidbit at the end of a Tribune article and I think he may have something going for him: common sense. Here is what the article said.

"Griffith has also been criticized for opposing a portion of a federal law that would give women opportunities in school athletics roughly proportionate to their population."

It sounds like Griffith was talking about Title IX. This is a piece of legislation with good intentions that just didn't make sense in practice. As you probably know, Title IX was supposed to make sure that if 60% of your college or university student body was female, then 60% of your student athletes would be female. No problem, right? Well, it turned out that football was a problem. Football squads had a zillion people with no counterbalancing female team. Thus, a lot of other men's sports got the axe to preserve the ratios. Men's gymnastics programs are harder to find these days. Gone are many wrestling teams. New womens sports were added.

So we built ratios that helped many women get into athletic programs (and be eligible for scholarships) than otherwise would have been--that is great. But it had to come at the expense of the men. It turns out that there is a higher percentage of men that want to participate in sports and receive sports scholarships than women. Instead of using the ratios based on interest and desire to participate, we based the ratios on raw gender percentages. This has resulted in an over-representation of women in college athletics compared to their gender's desire to participate.

At BYU, where federal money is less of an issue, some men's sports dried up anyway in part due to the lack of nearby schools against which to compete. We had a male and female club soccer team. Both wanted to become an "official" sport at the university. The men's team was winning national competitions against other club and college teams. But there could be no scholarships for the men. The women were able to become an official team and have done well in their own right.

I suppose the point is that decision about funding would wisely take into account more than the simple male/female ratio at a school. If this is the sort of thing Griffith advocates, then it is hard to see where the "critici[sm]" comes from.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Home birth and midwifes | Midwife legislation passes in close vote
A bill that requires training and certification of "direct entry" midwives passed the House Tuesday in a close vote, 41-30...The debate was at times emotional, technical and direct, with a number of House members saying the bill would actually make home deliveries of babies more dangerous rather than safer as advocates claim...Biskupski [D-Salt Lake, sponsor of the bill] said just the opposite is true: that by knowing the midwife is certified, and by signing a consent form before the birth, the mother will know the person helping her deliver her baby has been properly trained.

I'm seven and a half months pregnant with our second child, and Brad and I have discussed the motivations behind a home birth. (Please don't get me wrong, there is NO WAY in heaven that I want to deliever this baby anywhere but in the hospital, thank you very much.) But we are curious about it, as one of Brad's co-workers is training to be a midwife and is expecting to deliever her sixth child at home any day now. It's an interesting decision, and not one that I am going to condemn.
However, I do have some serious concerns and doubts about the process. We talked to one of my OBs (I was going to a clinic before we moved to Spanish Fork), and he gave us his opinion. He figured home birth is perfectly safe up to 90% of the time, especially if the mother has no risk factors leading up to the birth. But, unforeseen complications do arise in maybe 10% of births, which can put the mother or the baby or both at risk. Not always at risk of death, but of some kind of harm. The mother and baby must be rushed to the hospital in those cases, and precious minutes are lost in the transport. These same complications certainly can arise in the hospital, too, but there the mother is surrounded by trained medical staff and the correct monitors and equipment. Her chances (and that of the baby's) of recovering from the complication are much greater. In my doctor's opinion, a 10% chance is just too large, given there are other, safer alternatives available. I have to agree. Ezra's birth was relatively easy--no foreceps, no trouble, just a straight "catch", apparently; likely this next baby will be just as "easy" (ha, ha, ha). But I would prefer not to take chances.