Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union Address

A few thoughts on the President's State of the Union Address:

  • My ten month old daughter likes the applause. Everytime there is a break for clapping, she joins along. She's a very patriotic child.
  • Harry Reid didn't look very happy.
  • Judge Alito did. He looked so happy in his robe, and he was looking up and around before the speech began, like he had never been in that room before. It was cute.
  • Hillary Clinton just looked at the podium and closed her eyes and shook her head during an applause moment about the NSA surveillance. Cute, Sen. Clinton.
  • It's hard to listen to a political speech when your two-year-old is cranky and attention-hungry.
  • Hmmmm. Booing. I don't know what the president is talking about. I was answering Ezra's "what's that?" "It's a xylophone, Ezra."
  • John McCain was just cutely clapping the earmarks bill mention. He looked goofy and he knew it, and didn't care. That's fun.
  • Mike Leavitt is looking good.

Wow. That seemed shorter than usual. Time flies when you're wrestling kids.

What's wrong with this story?

The beginning paragraphs in this CNN.com story make absolutely no sense (emphasis added):
Peace activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested Tuesday in the House chambers after she unfurled an anti-war banner just minutes before President Bush gave his State of the Union address. Capitol police arrested Sheehan and questioned her for about an hour in a separate area of the House, a senior House official said.
The time stamp on this story is 9:16pm EST Tuesday, January 31, 2006. The president’s speech began at 9:00 pm EST.

The phrase “just minutes” implies, well, minutes. Usually far less than thirty, I’d imagine, in most people’s understanding. So how could the Capitol police have already questioned her “for about an hour” only sixteen minutes into the speech?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

More Shuttle Challenger

In addition to Keryn's earlier post about the Challenger disaster, she pointed out some old NPR coverage on the subject. NPR has a page up with audio links to reports that aired in the 1980's about the causes of the disaster. The most interesting piece was a report by Daniel Zwerdling. In the report, we hear about the Thiokol engineers in a conference call with NASA telling them about their fears about the O-rings in low temperature. They explain how poorly the rings performed in 50 degree temperatures in the previous launch. The Challenger launch was in 30 degree weather. The engineers pleaded for the launch not to proceed. Their own managers overruled them and gave NASA the green light for the launch. It is quite a tragic study in organizational behavior.

Should We Eliminate the Indian Reservations?

I grew up next to the giant Navajo Indian Reservation. As a kid, I didn't hear a lot of positive things about "the res." I didn't fully understand then, nor do I understand now, the total picture of the legal status of the Reservations. I understand they are able to have their own police and their own laws. But they are able to take full advantage of US citizenship.

I understand that we have longstanding treaties with the various Indian tribes that promise certain benefits and give certain rights, though I don't fully understand what they are.

Here is what I see: the Reservation isn't good for the people that live there. Whatever lifestyle the reservations were supposed to preserve is long gone. It seems that the time for the reservations are past. Getting rid of the reservations is a problem fraught with sticky questions and consequences. How do you assign land owernership? What about the treaties? What happens to all those casinos?

In spite of having held the unresearched opinion for several years that we ought to get rid of the reservations, I didn't share that with many people because I didn't know how firm the logical footing of that position was. I'm still not totally sure, but finally I see someone approaching the question. Here is a piece on Opinion Journal.

The Challenger

Today is the 20th anniversery of the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster, which was, until 9/11, considered the "JFK" moment of our generation. Do you remember where you were when you heard that it happened? Do you remember what you were doing?

I was in Miss Rasband's third grade class. Miss Winamore, the PE teacher, abruptly came into our room, interrupting whatever lesson we were having, and said, breathlessly, "The space shuttle blew up. It's on the TV." Then she left, to tell the next classroom and teacher. Miss Rasband stopped the lesson and turned on the classroom TV, and we watched, again and again, the big fireball in the sky.

I'm sure we didn't spend TOO much time on it, because we were only eight years old, and our attention span was short for national events. I really don't remember anything else about school that day. I do remember that it was my cousin Gabrielle's birthday, and it was raining.

There are a lot of news articles about the Challenger today. I found this one, about seven myths of the Challenger disaster, especially interesting.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Dangerous Idea of Inequality

Kevin Burtt includes a provocative aside in a longer article about the "dangerous idea" that there are innate differences between groups of people. Here is the aside along with the preceding paragraph.
These ideas are 'dangerous' in that it is perceived that any scientific conclusion about inherent differences, no matter how verifiable and unbiased, will lead to dangerous societal attitudes and prejudice. Dr. Sperber above mentions that "even if some natural inequality were established, it would not come near justifying any inequality in rights"--although it is obvious that this is exactly what the PC elements of society most fear (probably correctly...)

(It is ironic that the logic that says certain 'truths' are too dangerous for mankind because of how people might react to them applies to racial and gender differences, but not to religious differences. What if certain scientific discoveries happened to, say, undercut one's belief in the Bible, leading people to a life of sin and separation from God and salvation. Couldn't that be considered a more 'dangerous' side-effect than mere racism or sexism? And yet--surprise, surprise--science considers that a triumph instead of a tragedy...)

In his article, Kevin argues, "It's doubtful that anyone could actually prove there are significant genetic differences between the races, but the point is no one tries, since racial research is decidedly un-PC." However, Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein argued exactly that in their book The Bell Curve. I quoted several excerpts from an article by Murray in an earlier post. Among those quotes was this one:
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.

I think that the important thing to remember about such studies is that they only study averages and tendencies and say nothing about any one individual. Even if Blacks tend to be better athletes, it doesn't mean that a particular Black will be a better athlete than a particular White. For this reason, it is vital that we not put in place discriminatory policies, such as preventing Whites from trying out for school athletic teams.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Romney on two-parent families

Mitt Romney in his State of the State (shouldn't that be commonwealth?):
Experience shows that kids have a far better chance of succeeding if they have a mother and a father at home. Of course, divorce or death means that there will always be many, many single parents; these single parents often make huge sacrifices and their kids can indeed succeed. But let’s do everything we can to encourage our kids to have their kids after they’ve married, not while they’re single and in school. We have sex education in our schools. Let’s also have abstinence education in our schools. Marriage and two parent families are fundamental to the development of children and to our success as a culture. We cannot afford to shrink from the timeless, priceless principles of human experience.
from NRO

A problem with the anti-death penalty advocates

In Stolen Innocence, Bridget Johnson makes a compelling point regarding anti-death penalty advocates. In many cases, those who are advocating for a stay of execution have been manipulated by the criminals, protesting their innocence, and claiming conspiracy or the like--instead of arguing against the death penalty on moral reasons. It's a convincing, well written article.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Publicly Financed Elections?

Robert Hildebrand has advocated for the 100% public financing of elections. This suggestion is attractive because it promises to erase the corruption or appearance of corruption from elections. It aims to equalize the playing field so that any person would be able to run, without regard for past economic success or the ability to garner 3rd party financial support.

With those seeming upsides, I still have a gut reaction that says it won't work. It has the potential to be too expensive for the state, or each candidate would get too little money to be effective, or the state would have to screen candidates in some way.

I'm going to hold off taking a position right now. I want to do some reading on the website www.publicampaign.org and see if I can find some other useful material on how this is working out in states that are trying it.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Guilt By Association

Jay Ambrose writes:
Kennedy's bugaboo was Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a now-defunct group expressing worries in the early 1970s on such matters as the university's overturning of its all-male tradition, kicking ROTC off campus and admitting minorities with lower academic accomplishments than required of non-minorities. Apparently, at least some of its members wrote some stuff that you would not want to hoist high in a parade down the center of town, but members of a group that Kennedy belongs to have done the same — and worse. You don't have to go back so awfully far to find some Democrats making unbelievably racist remarks.

Excellent illustration of the fallacy of using guilt by association alone.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hugh Nibley, Samuel Alito, and the Historical Record

The congressional hearings on Samuel Alito's nomination to the United States Supreme Court are winding down. A lot of attention has been given to a statement that Alito made on a job application back in the 1980's.

Hugh Nibley, one of the smartest men to ever live by any objective standard, had this to say about some of his past writings.
I refuse to be held accountable for anything I wrote more than three years ago. For heaven's sake, I hope we are moving forward here! After all, the implication [is] that one mistake and it is all over with. How flattering to think that forty years I have not made one slip and I am still in business! I would say about four-fifths of everything I ever put down has changed. Of course! ("Of All Things" p. 229, a Hugh Nibley quote book edited by Gary Gillum, 2nd edition)

One unfortunate side effect of the archive-everything-search-anything internet is that many people feel they can no longer publicly discuss ideas because they might be branded with a particular position for the rest of their life.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Scalia and Breyer Discuss Foreign Law

About a year ago, Justices Scalia and Breyer participated in a forum where they discussed the pros and cons of making use of foreign law in Supreme Court opinions. C-SPAN has video of the one hour, 40 minute event. I really enjoyed watching it and I was reminded about it when I wanted to post a link to it in a comment I made on another blog.

I guess I appreciated it the most because it was fun to see both of the Justices being so personable. These are likeable men that you could imagine sitting down and chatting with. Somehow that is reassuring.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

"Goodnight Moon and Your Entire Accursed Family as Well"

James Lileks makes me laugh. In his 2006 (yes, 2006, not 2005) news round-up ("tomorrow's news today!"), he says:
Saddam was convicted and sentenced to death for crimes against humanity. While awaiting execution he published several children’s books – including “Goodnight Moon and Your Entire Accursed Family as Well” – and this resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and the solemn, creased-brow support of several Hollywood celebrities.

He had me practically choking so not to wake up Brad with my laughter. Read the whole thing--you'll like it.

No "Right" to Privacy

Gena Edvalson has her ladder against the wrong wall. She wants to ensure that the next person appointed to the Supreme Court upholds the right to privacy. If her argument is as strong as she sees it, it should be a simple to convince the American people to amend the Constitution. I don't think most conservatives argue today that privacy isn't important. Rather, they argue that the right isn't in the Constitution.

The fourth amendment in the Bill of Rights is where most people see the "right of privacy" in the Constitution. But if you read it, you will see it isn't there.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

A person cannot, for example, keep slaves in the basement of their homes and argue that this is their right by privacy. The government, upon learning of the infraction, may obtain a warrant and correct the crime.

The provision in the 4th amendment doesn't exempt us from the force of laws that might affect what we do in the privacy of our own homes. It simply ensures the presumption of innocence. This seems like an important distinction.

A lawyer (which I am not) might find my analysis lacking. This is likely. I maintain, however, that law is not just if it cannot be understood by the people who will live under it. I think it is valuable to see how normal citizens view the law so that it can be altered as necessary by normal processes. Thus, I offer my interpretation.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A Bad Month for Sheep

Boy, it's been a bad month for sheep in Spanish Fork Canyon.

In late December, more than 120 sheep (worth about $1300 each) were chased by a dog onto the train tracks in Spanish Fork Canyon and killed by a freight train.

And now, just yesterday, 28 more sheep were killed when a semi truck carrying them was hit by a freight train--in Spanish Fork Canyon.

If you are a sheep, avoid the canyon at all cost.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Gettysburg Meets China

Daniel Ikenson writes about his (unique?) experience in China in a piece for National Review Online. He encounted a group of Chinese university students at an outdoor meeting where they were practicing their English language skills. One way they did this was by reciting the Gettysburg Address.
He ushered me to an area of the courtyard that was drawing the largest crowds and asked me to evaluate his performance before climbing atop a soapbox. He smiled and began:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…"

From memory, the student recited the Gettysburg Address. The audience joined in enthusiastically for the final verse:

". . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

A few students then took turns delivering Lincoln's speech from the soapbox. Each time, the crowd shouted the final lines. Several students spoke about other subjects — whatever was on their minds. The audience smiled, cheered and was so obviously engaged, that it moved me deeply.

Given the large role that China is going to play in the future of the world, this is great to hear!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Food Sales Tax Not Immoral

I disagree with John Campbell in his letter to the editor of the Deseret Morning News. He argues that the food tax is immoral.

Everyone in our community, rich and poor, consumes the resources and services provided by our government. Doesn't it make some sense that all should contribute to that government? How can we argue that it is immoral to pay for what you use?

If the food tax is regressive, then we certainly make up for it with our progressive income tax code.

There may be other good reasons to get rid of the food tax, which I don't necessarily oppose, but immorality isn't one of them.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Getting Nervous About Iran

I don't know a lot about our history with Iran, or about the history of Iran in general. But I'm very concerned about comments coming out of Iran. I just read this AP report today.
[Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali] Larijani also warned of a "crushing" response if its nuclear and military facilities were attacked by the U.S. or Israel.

"If there is any truth in such talks, Israel will suffer greatly. It's a very small country within our range," he said.

As part of an ongoing stream of threats to Israel, this is getting serious. It is all the more strange given the simultaneous acknowledgement from the president of Iran that "Jews [have] lived peacefully among Muslims for centuries." The history of the state of Israel is an interesting one. It is really quite a tiny piece of land for so much contention.