Monday, December 31, 2007

Perpetual Education Fund

I recently wrote about LDS humanitarian services. One of my favorite programs is the Perpetual Education Fund.

Announced in 2001 by LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, the program provides education funds to young men and women around the world. It is patterned after the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, which the Church used to help pioneers cross the country to Salt Lake City in the 1800s. Tens of thousands of Church members received the means to come to Utah, many coming all the way from Europe, and once arriving and establishing a home here paid the money back so that it could be used for others in the same manner.

The new PEF works in much the same way. A fund has been established through the continuing donations of members and friends of the Church. These donations are then used to make loans to young people, generally men and women age 18-30, so that they can get an education in a needed field in their home communities. After graduation, and once employment is secured, the loans are paid back so that they can be used again by others.

When this plan was announced, I rejoiced and along with many others immediately donated to the fund. As a missionary in Uruguay I had often wondered at how fortunate I was to be born in a country that offered so many advantages and possibilities, while many of the people I had come to love did not. The Perpetual Education Fund offered a way for these very people to learn a trade that could enable them to leave their poverty behind and change the course of their family for generations.

The fund has been a great success. None of the donated money is used for administrative costs; all goes towards education. Over 10,000 loans have been made, with the average age of the recipient being 26, 45 percent of whom are women. The program not only offers funds for schooling, but also incorporates training in goal setting, budgeting, and managing finances. Before training, the average income for participants is $135 a month. After training, that increases to $580 per month. Initially, the program has been offered in Latin America, the Caribbean, Philippines, and southeast Africa, but ultimately will only be limited by the number of donations.

As the year ends and we reflect on the past and make plans for the future, might I suggest a worthy cause for our money? By following this link, you can donate to the Perpetual Education Fund and help people in some of the most poverty stricken areas of the world.

Friday, December 21, 2007

O Holy Night

Last year I wrote about the origins of one of my favorite Christmas songs, Silent Night. 1b on my list of favorites is O Holy Night, and it too has an interesting history.

It was written in 1847 in France by a poet named Placide Cappeau, when he was asked by the parish priest to write a poem for Christmas mass. December 3, while on a trip to Paris, Cappeau pondered Luke 2 and pictured himself there on the night of the Savior's birth. Using that imagry as inspiration, he wrote "Cantique de Noel". Though only asked to write a poem, Cappeau felt it should have music, so upon arriving in Paris he asked his friend Adolphe Adam to compose a tune.

The song quickly became a Christmas favorite, though it suffered through some persecution as it was banned by the Church because it's author later became a bit of a rebel with strong anti-slavery views, and it's composer was accused of being a Jew. But the song could not be kept down, and continued to be sung and loved by the masses.

It made it's way to America in 1855 when it was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister and journalist who was drawn to the implied abolitionist tone of the song. It was Dwight that translated Cappeau's words to say,
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
O Holy Night quickly became a favorite in the US.

Of note is that on Christmas Eve 1906 a Canadian (yes, Canadian) inventor in Massachusetts, Reginald Fessenden, played O Holy Night on a violin for the first ever AM radio broadcast. He also read from Luke 2 and played Handel's "Largo" on a phonograph.

O Holy Night is one of my favorite Christmas songs, but one of its weaknesses is its difficulty. It's often sung by those who should have passed on the opportunity, as demonstrated in this hilarious rendition. Granted, that version was done badly on purpose, but I often prefer instrument-only versions to those that are sung. I enjoy listening to the power of the music, and silently supplying the words on my own.

The Amazing Story of O Holy Night

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


In my inbox this morning...

Here's what the youtube user had to say by way of background:

(A Frank Lozano Production) We have had a lot o... (more)
Added: November 09, 2007
(A Frank Lozano Production) We have had a lot of requests to replay the phone call that Pastor Mike shared during our church service on Sunday, Nov. 11th, 2007.

Here you'll find the video clip that was created just for you. We've placed the video on YouTube so that you can watch it and share with family and friends.

Logan is a 13 year-old boy who lives on a ranch in a very small town in Nebraska. Logan listens to Christian Radio station 89.3FM KSBJ which broadcasts from Houston, TX. Logan called the radio station distraught because he had to take down a calf . His words have wisdom beyond his years.

Since airing the audio of the phone call and now the making of the video clip, it has taken on a life of its own. People are forwarding it all over the world. We encourage you to share the love of Christ with anyone you can.

(**Sky Angel is a family safe broadcasting service that is offered on satellite. KSBJ is a local Houston Christian music radio station. Video clip produced with love by Hear the entire message at

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The SAVE Act

I received this letter regarding the SAVE Act from Representative Jim Matheson in my inbox the other day:
Dear Cameron,

Illegal immigration is an issue that has generated a lot of talk, but not enough action. I continue to look for ways for Congress to make progress on this issue. Recently, I signed onto a bill that I believe offers some common sense fixes to the flaws in our current system. The bill is the SAVE Act--Secure America through Verification and Enforcement.

Our current immigration system is broken. I am opposed to amnesty. People who try to play by the rules are often penalized. We don't know the identity or the whereabouts of millions of people who entered illegally. There is no transparency or accountability when people conduct business under the table.

I have long supported strong border enforcement, together with a viable guest worker program. I do not support amnesty. The SAVE Act's approach to combating illegal immigration has been endorsed by border security advocacy groups because of its strict emphasis on border security, employer verification and enforcement. Specifically the bill:

-Increases the number of Border Patrol agents by 8,000

-Creates a pilot program to increase aerial surveillance, satellite and equipment sharing between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense

-Increases cooperation between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICW) and state and local law enforcement

-Provides employers with an inexpensive, quick and accurate way to verify employee eligibility

I recognize that many Utah businesses rely on immigrant workers and that an accountable guest worker program in which everyone plays by the same rules is essential. Currently, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses Web Basic Pilot or E-verify. Here's a description. Employers who participate submit information, including a Social Security number, over a secure connection to the Internet. If it checks out, the employer is notified. The system has strengths and weaknesses and improvements are being evaluated.

I will continue to be an advocate for immigration reform that addresses these important areas.


Jim Matheson
U.S. Representative
2nd District of Utah
Here's the text of the bill, which was introduced to the House by Rep. Heath Shuler. You can follow its progress at this website, which also links to other versions of the bill.

It seems to be very much an enforcement-laden bill, beefing up border security and eliminating much of the lawlessness that currently exists with illegal immigration. It would reduce the ability of illegal immigrants to use stolen or bogus social security numbers, and provide employers with a simple way to verify the work status of potential and current employees.

Enforcement, or the lack thereof, is what caused the last round of immigration reform to fail. Opponents worried that it amounted to nothing more than amnesty without fixing the problems that cause illegal immigration in the first place. "Enforcement First" was a standby of immigration reform advocates. So this bill seems to be in response to that call to action.

However, "Enforcement First" necessarily implies that there is more to do. Which seems to be Albert Ruiz's point in his NY Daily News column. He comments on a letter sent from the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform to Congress and explains,
The SAVE Act, among other measures, imposes mandatory electronic employment eligibility verification. It will screen out the undocumented farm labor force, but as the coalition points out, it does not address the question of who will take their place.

The reason is clear: Contrary to anti-immigration rhetoric, there are no throngs of domestic workers lining up at the farm gates to take over the jobs the undocumented have performed for years.
It's a very good point, and one that emphasizes the importance of remembering that enforcement can only be a first step. Once existing laws are consistently enforced, it is very likely that much of the US labor force will disappear.

If the SAVE Act is successful, the next question for Congress to answer is, what now?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Screwtape Letters

I finished up reading the Screwtape Letters a while back, and thought I'd post a few excerpts. It's written by CS Lewis and is a satirical compilation of letters written by a devil named Screwtape to a field tempter offering advice on how best to tempt humankind. It's a really cool book, and I recommend it to all. Here are the excerpts:

He has balanced the love of change in them with a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.

The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under...Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.

The grand problem is that of "Unselfishness." Note, once again, the admirable work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy's positive Charity.

Don't forget to use the "Heads I win, tails you lose" argument. If the thing he prays for doesn't happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don't work; if it does happen, he will of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and "therefore it would have happened anyway." Thus a granted prayer become just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.

The long, dull, monotonous years of middle aged prosperity or middle aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity...provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition. If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is "finding his place in it," while really it is finding its place in him.

He did not create the humans - He did not become one of them and die among them by torture - in order to produce candidates for Limbo, "failed" humans. He wanted to make Saints; gods; things like Himself.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Larry O'Donnell on Mormons and Mitt Romney

I haven't had a chance to write down any thoughts on Mitt Romney's speech, but here's what one pundit thought:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Tree Facts

Christmas Trees

3 – Number of seedlings planted for every harvested Christmas tree
8 – average number of years it takes a Christmas tree to mature
50 – Number of states in the U.S. that grow Christmas trees (yep, all fifty of them,including Hawaii and Alaska)
98 – Percentage of Christmas trees grown on Christmas tree farms
2,000 – Number of trees planted per acre
12,000 – Approximate number of cut-your-own Christmas tree farms in the U.S.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mitt Romney's Mormon Speech

Titled, "Faith in America", here is presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's speech from this morning.



Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

LDS Humanitarian Services

Hat tip to Adam for linking to this blog post about Mitt Romney showing up at someone's house, press free, to help dig out a huge tree stump after the California fires. Kudos to Governor Romney for doing some good work. Incidentally, I've dug out a tree stump or two in my time, and it's really hard work. Kudos again.

Which brings me to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' humanitarian and welfare programs. The LDS Church strives to fulfill James' declaration of "pure religion":
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world"
The Church donates man hours, money, food, clothing, and medical supplies to countries around the world each year, and the numbers, $900 million in the last 20 years, are staggering. It's amazing to me to think of the far flung locations that the Church's aid can reach. But even more impressive, and inspiring, is the many ways that service can be carried out in my own home, by me and my family. The Church's organization is such that in addition to local community based service opportunities, we can also contribute items for urgent, specific needs locally as well as globally.

For instance, a small group of LDS members got together four years ago and began making wooden toy cars. To date, they've made 14,000 of these cars, and in addition to passing them out on their own, they use the Church's existing humanitarian groups as a means to get them to children all over the world.

It's wonderful to have so many opportunities to serve, and to know that even small efforts can do much good.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Baseball Quote of the Day

"If the Red Sox get Santana," said an executive of one NL team that's grateful to be in the other league, "they might be the best team in the history of the frigging universe."

From's story on the Boston Red Sox sweeping in and possibly trading for multiple Cy Young winner Johan Santana to add to World Series MVPs Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, as well as Japanese superstar import Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The rich get richer, but at least it ain't the Yankees.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Save The Planet, One Baby At A Time

The Telegraph had an interesting analysis of the US economy vs the world economy the other day. It's basically a pep talk, or perhaps a warning to the rest of the world; the gist of which is that while the US economy is showing signs of slowing and the dollar continues to fall in value, the US is still and will continue to be the world's economic leader.

Which is all very well and good, but something else altogether jumped out at me. Read this:
"At the end of the day, the US remains the only major power still producing babies a rate high enough to survive through the 21st century as a dynamic society."
Babies? You mean, we need people? For thirty odd years, and perhaps longer, we have been taught that the world had too many people. I remember sitting in an Environmental Science class in college and having a class discussion on the overpopulation problem. Not surprisingly, much of the problem was blamed on religious people, specifically Mormons. Apparently, big families were dooming the planet. We had an entire section devoted to this crisis, and what must be done about it.

Problem is, they got it wrong. Hard to believe, I know.

According to the UN, the developed world is facing an underpopulation crisis. Seems all those "too many people" lessons in college really hit home and we all stopped having babies. Japan's running out of people, Europe's running out too, and Russia recently had a "Conception Day" designed to remind people to, you know, reproduce when they have sex.

A major part of the Telegraph's reasoning for US economic optimism is based on the underpopulation crisis:
"China's workforce will peak in 2015. The country will then tip over into the steepest demographic decline ever recorded. It will be old before it becomes rich, doomed to second-tier status.

Japan began to shrink in 2005. Russia will shrivel to 104m by 2050, on UN data. Germany, Italy and Spain are all going grey, succumbing to that status quo outlook that comes with age. Their economies may even start to contract. Yes, birth rates can rise, but only by cultural revolution, and with long lags."
It sure would have been nice to have had this data handy in that class discussion a fews years back. As one of the few "Big Family" Mormons in the group, I could have been hailed as a planet saving hero.

Christmas Music Online

I love Christmas music. I've been listening online at work for some time now, mostly via local radio stations. But I recently found a website with worldwide Christmas-music-playing radio stations available online. So I've been listening to stations from all parts of this country, as well as from Europe and I couldn't be happier. While most stations play the classic standbys, it's been interesting to see the slight variations in playlists depending on the station.

Here's the website, for your listening pleasure. Now you can wow your coworkers by blasting your favorite seasonal music




Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dr. Henry Eyring

Geologists search for the meaning to be read into the piled-up strata of the earth much as an historian might turn the pages of an ancient, damaged manuscript. The astronomer seeks the answer to his questions in the depths of space. Still other men concentrate on the scriptures alone. The wise man searches of these and other sources, knowing that all are communications from the same divine source and certain that, if followed far enough, all will guide him back to the divine Presence.

- Dr. Henry Eyring

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Root Of All Evil

Yesterday my wife and I were at a grocery store and found a $50 dollar bill on the floor. As my wife picked it up we both looked at each other with the same thought, "can we keep it?" We looked around to see if anyone was there searching for it but there was no one. As we walked towards the aisle that had the item we needed, we went through all the reasons why we should just keep it. Nobody would come for it. If we turned it in to the store, the clerk would just keep it. All real possibilities, and all very tempting. But we finally looked at each other one more time and knew what we had to do.

We took the money to the customer service desk and told the lady what happened. She took down our names and number and told us she'd let us know if someone came for it. We left feeling a little better knowing we had done the right thing, but not expecting to hear anything more about it. Instead, a little while later when we were back home my wife got a phone call. It was the lady who had lost the money. It dropped out of her pocket while she took her keys out. She thanked my wife over and over again for turning in the money, crying as she did so. It was a great warm fuzzy moment for us. We almost didn't do the right thing, but I'm glad we did.

Friday, November 23, 2007

He-Man and She-Ra Christmas

It's the day after Thanksgiving, and therefore the Christmas season has begun. To kick off the season, I present everyone's favorite holiday show, the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm Thankful For...

I'm thankful for my wife, Holly. There is nobody better.

Last year I wrote a Thanksgiving post. Go read it.

Today, KBYU replayed the BYU-Utah football game. We taped it, and I watched from about midway through the third quarter all the way to the all-time amazing ending. You can watch it in my previous post.

The Deseret News has a few articles with videos about the game today too. There's this one which has a video taken by a BYU fan in the stands using a camera phone and has the audio of a married couple talking and screaming through the final play. Then there's this one with the final call and in the background you can hear the stats guy screaming like a little girl. It was truly an amazing game, which makes the anticipation for this Saturday's rematch even bigger. That is what makes college football so great. The fans have something invested in the game, and the players are often fans themselves. Rivalries mean something.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Rivalry Week

It's rivalry week in Utah, as BYU and Utah play this weekend. Today's sports radio talkshow had fans call in with their favorite jokes. Here's a sampling:

What do you get when you cross an Arkansas Razerback and a BYU Cougar?
Nothing. There are some things even a pig won't do.

What does a BYU co-ed do after she fills up the tub?
Turns on the water.

How is a BYU co-ed like a blow up doll?
Put a ring on her finger and she inflates.

Why isn't there any ice in the BYU cafeteria?
The only one on campus that knew the recipe graduated last year.

How do you know if you're a Cougar?
You eat ice cream and get a buzz.

What's the difference between a Ute and a dollar bill?
You can still get 4 quarters out of a dollar bill.

What does a Ute get on the SAT?

What do you get when you cross a Ute and a groundhog?
6 more weeks of bad football.

How do you keep the Utes out of your backyard?
Put up goalposts.

How do you get a Ute grad off your doorstep?
Pay for the pizza.

When OJ was running from the cops in the white bronco, why was he headed for the Utah campus?
Because nobody would look for a Heisman trophy winner at Utah.

Why has Utah never been able to have a nativity display?
After an extensive campus-wide search, they couldn't find 3 wise men or a virgin.

It's Official: Iraq Showing Signs of Progress

If NPR is reporting it, it must be true. The surge created a much greater sense of security which is allowing life to resume. People are moving back in, shops are opening, and Iraqi citizens and security forces are now invested in success.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day *Updated*


Bubblehead has another post up about veterans and statistics that I thought deserved a link. So here it is.

It was Veterans Day yesterday, and as always I wonder if it's really properly recognized. I mean, I realize banks are closed today, and some people might have the day off from work, but it still feels like something's missing (Yes, that's sarcasm). But at least now we know, just in time for Veterans Day, that 25% of veterans are homeless.

It's an interesting statistic. I understand the purpose of publishing it now, and certainly more can and should be done to welcome veterans home, and to sustain that support through the years. As the NY Times notes, today's veterans aren't met with the same kind of venom that they received during the Vietnam War, though I would argue that the toned down anti-war movement of today has the same objective and same consequences of those in the past. The Times does make a good point that little to no sacrifice has been required of the general public in the current war, though by that they mean raising taxes.

The Stupid Shall be Punished is an Idaho blog on my blogroll that is run by a retired submariner calling himself Bubblehead. He has a post up for Veterans Day that also tackles the homeless vet stats a bit, and the comment section has some really interesting commentary - more so due to the fact that he and his readers are vets themselves.

FYI Department:

Two links concerning veteran homelessness,

NY Times article on a few of the non-profit resources for homeless vets.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs website concerned strictly with homeless vets:

"VA is the only Federal agency that provides substantial hands-on assistance directly to homeless persons. Although limited to veterans and their dependents, VA's major homeless-specific programs constitute the largest integrated network of homeless treatment and assistance services in the country."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Biofuels: Environmental Kneejerk Disaster

A common argument for human caused global warming is "even if we're wrong and it's not mankind's fault, shouldn't we do something anyway, just in case?"

Biofuels is the perfect example of why not. Here's the chain of events: Fossil fuels, oil, is blamed for causing global warming. Since everything uses oil, government is petitioned to find alternative sources of energy. As government is wont to do, they identify a solution that is really expensive, provides massive benefits to big business, has been proven to fail in the past and has little prospects for success in the future, and will wind up hurting the poor in the end.

Ethanol and its cousins are the biofuels of choice for most of the world, including the US government. It is made from corn and other plant products. Although it was tried and failed in the past, the recent excitement over global warming has convinced our Congress to shovel money into a failed product. The current farm bill would allocate billions of dollars to biofuels, the majority of which uses corn. Coincidentally, the Senate committee head overseeing the bill is from Iowa, where 12.5 million acres of land is used to grow corn. In addition, the Department of Energy recently gave a Spanish corporation half the cost of building a $35 million biofuels plant in Nebraska.

All of this public money flowing to private coffers, and for what? A highly suspect fuel source that, according to the UN, will be catastrophic for hungry people around the world as it diverts food and land from human consumption. The riches of business and politics come at a heavy price, as the number of starving people, which now takes the life of a child every 5 seconds, stands to increase exponentially.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


I'm on my way to vote in a few minutes. The only thing on my ballot this year is Referendum 1, the school voucher issue. As I've noted below, I'll be voting in favor of vouchers. Incidentally, Representative Urquhart gave this humble little blog a nice plug at his place, so thank you. All you new visitors, please come again.

Oh, and go vote.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Voucher Debates

There have been some really good voucher debates around the state. Through the wonder of the internet, I don't have to actually be there to hear them, or be in a position to listen on the radio. I've listened to all of these debates, and it's been great. So without further ado, here they are:

Paul Mero and Rob Miller at Utah State University on KVNU

Rep. Greg Hughes and Richard Eyre against Pat Rusk and Rep. Sheryl Allen on KCPW

Carmen Snow against Rep. Steve Urquhart at Dixie College

These are the debates I have listened to so far, if there are others out there, please let me know and lend a link.


The Senate Site has a really good link page of op-eds, tv commercials, voter guide info, and newspaper articles. Check it out.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Heroes, And Yes, Desperate Housewives

Over the last couple of months we've discovered old seasons of two TV shows: Heroes and Desperate Housewives. Heroes is kind of a no brainer for me. But Desperate Housewives? Well, my wife dragged me into it after she was dragged into it, and I watched pretty much all of season 1. I admit it, I liked it. Now, I've seen a few episodes of later seasons and it looks like it went downhill from there. But that season 1, man, had me rolling. Here's a sample dialogue that pretty much sums up the humor for me. It's the Terri Hatcher character talking to her on again off again love interest about a murderous neighbor:
"There he is, a murderer, living right there on our street, and there's nothing we can do about it, because you're a convicted felon and I burned down that stupid house. It's not fair"
It's just a bizarre mix of characters and plot twists where everything is shocking, and yet at the same time nothing is. And I say shocking not in the stupid way, but a really really funny way. Unfortunately, it seems that they couldn't keep it going with the following seasons. So for me, the fun's over with Desperate Housewives.

Now Heroes is just really cool. Cool concept, great characters, fun show to watch. We really devoured the DVD's with this one. As an added bonus, now I feel a little more in tune with pop culture since I know what "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" is all about.

My favorite character is Hiro Nakamura, the Japanese idealist and all around good guy. The man just always has a smile on his face. This was actually my biggest complaint with the show was that all these people with super powers seemed so bummed out about it. I realize the cheerleader is a teenager and all, but come on, what person in their right mind would realize they were indestructible and not think that was the coolest thing ever? Hiro can manipulate time, and he loves it. My favorite is when something good happens and he thrusts his arms in the air and grins.

So go see it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Last spring, Utah's legislature passed a private school voucher program. While vouchers have been used on a limited basis in other parts of the country, Utah's law is quite a bit different, and a lot more extensive than anything tried elsewhere. In Utah's system a student leaving the public school system would receive a voucher for the cost of a private school. The amount the student receives is based on family size and income. The average voucher amount is estimated to be $2,000. One of the things that sets Utah's law apart from others is that the public school will still receive the funding they were getting before the student left, but now they have 1 fewer student, resulting in an increase in per-pupil spending.

Of course, the voucher law was not without its opponents, and actually passed by a very slim margin in the House before the Senate and Governor approved it. However, even after its passage, voucher opponents did not rest. Instead, they gathered the thousands of signatures needed to get a proposition on the November ballot to take the issue to the general public.

The voucher debate has been raging in Utah for months now, especially in the blogosphere. Most Utah bloggers are against vouchers, which reflects the mostly Democratic nature of bloggers in general. In Utah, the Democratic party is pretty much unanimous in its opposition to vouchers, while the Republican party is mostly for them, although it is much more of a split vote than one might think.

I have been reading and watching from afar throughout the voucher debate, without much commenting on my part. There are literally dozens of posts on vouchers by just about every Utah blogger I read. Now, the television commercials and glossy mailings are in full force. I even picked up a pile of anti-voucher literature during parent-teacher conference this week. With the election coming soon, I decided it was time to write a voucher post of my own. I've gone over a few of the contention points that I have seen discussed, and that are on much of the pro and anti voucher literature, and have added my thoughts on each:

Certified teachers:

Many opponents complain that private schools don't have to have "real" teachers. That seemed outrageous, until I remembered that my University of Utah degree was heavy on what they called "adjunct professors". Basically, these professors are just professionals from the community who are hired to teach a few classes at the college. I had a great number of upper division, senior level and higher classes taught by adjunct professors. Incidentally, most of them were great. They actually had real life experiences to share, and insight into what was going on now in the accounting profession.

So now it doesn't seem like such a negative.

"Crazy" religious schools:

Seems a bit far fetched. How many are in the state right now? What's the demand in the state for it?

Honestly, this line of argument reminds me of those that complain to me about the War on Terror just being about using fear to control people. Well, that's exactly what's happening here.


I had an old friend who had an autistic child and they were on a waiting list for a really expensive school and scholarship program. I know that there are many people just like them. Vouchers would help families and children just like my friend's. In fact, vouchers could become the avenue to create more schools designed specifically for individual needs.

Will it Save or Cost Money?

This is one point that has gone back and forth a little. So far, I think final word goes to a pair of posts over at Jesse's blog, here and here.

Basically, the initial fear concerning vouchers was that it would take money away from public schools, so Utah's law provided that the public school will still get the money from the state that they would have gotten had the student remained enrolled. So the voucher proponents now argue that public schools will in effect receive more money per student than they were before. Pretty much a win-win scenario.

Of course, voucher opponents countered back with some math of their own, (see the comments) but overall, and considering Jesse's new calculations, it appears vouchers will result in a net savings for Utah and Utah's public schools.

Representative Steve Urquhart is a sponsor of the voucher bill, as well as being a fellow blogger. He has a lot of good information on his blog, plus this link to a debate he participated in recently. Many of these same questions are brought up in that forum.

After reading the arguments for and against vouchers, and weighing the pros and cons, I will be voting for Referendum 1 next month.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I'd Like To Thank The Academy...

So my last letter to the editor in the Deseret News was selected as the Letter of the Month for September, and will be spotlighted this Sunday. I had my picture taken today at the newspaper's office building downtown, and was given a tour of the paper.

It was really neat, as I saw the place in action (it was actually strangely quiet and bussle-free) and met a number of people at the paper, including columnist and editor Jay Evanson as well as Shaun Stahle, the editor of the Church News. I was taken to Joseph Cannon's office, but The Editor was not in at the time. I met a designer/artist/cartoonist who showed me some of his drawings on the computer, and as he told me how he first draws them with pen and then transfers them to the computer for coloring, he handed me the signed, pen version of the one we had just looked at. Sweet!

The guy that showed me around was very gracious. He told me that my letter was a unanimous pick, and to continue writing letters, saying that many of the monthly winners in the past stopped writing. In fact, many of the people I met remembered my letter and chatted with me about it. Next February there will be a banquet for all 12 monthly winners of the past year, with many of the editors and staffers in attendance.

In all, a pretty cool day. I guess I'd better get started on my next submission...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Holy Ghost: Testify of Truth

In my church I teach 10 and 11 year olds each Sunday. We are studying the New Testament this year and a couple of weeks ago I taught a lesson about the Day of Pentecost. As we discussed the Holy Ghost and what happened that day, I gained a few insights of my own.

I had prepared a few things to teach, and I had a manual to follow with stories and suggestions on how to conduct the class discussion. In the hour before class began, I revisited the lesson and spent some time pondering on the things I had prepared. I had a couple more things make their way into my mind, and I felt impressed to use them in the lesson, though it seemed to deviate a bit from my earlier preparations. One of those things was the "fruit of the spirit" scripture found in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Through this scripture I taught the class how to recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost. Then it was my turn. As we discussed the Holy Ghost, another scripture was brought to mind. In Moroni 10:4-5 it says of the Holy Ghost:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
We then were able to discuss how the Holy Ghost will assist us in discerning truth. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost we can all know what is right and true.

To this point I had not followed much of what I had prepared. Now, as time was running out, I was prompted to make one final point. Acts chapter 2 is where the scriptural account of the day of Pentecost is found. You will remember that it was on this day, 50 days after Passover and the Last Supper, that the Holy Ghost was given to the disciples and they began speaking in tongues. Since this was a festival time in Jerusalem, there were people there from all over Israel, and all over the world, with many languages and dialects represented. Yet all these people "heard them speak in his own language". We talked about how amazing this experience was. What an incredible thing to have been there, to have witnessed this remarkable event and to know through the power of the Holy Ghost that what Peter was preaching was the truth. As a result, thousands of people were baptized. Nevertheless, many were not. And why not? How could someone be present for something so wonderful and not have the Spirit "manifest the truth of it unto you"? Again, the scriptures gave us the answer:
And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.
Our own state of mind can prevent the Holy Ghost from testifying of the truth. If we mock, or insist on flippancy, we might keep ourselves from learning truth.

As I closed the lesson, I was able to testify of the power of the Holy Ghost to guide us and teach us truth. Through teaching, and following the Spirit, I had learned the selfsame lesson.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Be All End All Solution to Illegal Immigration

In my neck of the woods, illegal immigration from points south of the border can be a much discussed topic. Congress tried to tackle immigration recently, and failed miserably. So here's my plan to solve it once and for all.

Learn Spanish.

Now don't freak out. I'm not saying "Mexifornia" is going to take over the rest of the country, nor am I arguing that you give up English or Americanism or any other such thing.

The "problem", as I see it, with illegal, southern immigration is that a second culture, a second country really, has and is being formed. When I go to the grocery store, I watch people. I watch as English speakers and Spanish speakers self-segregate. They don't speak to each other, they hardly look at each other. There may be a furtive smile, or a nod of the head as they pass in the aisle, but no more open communication than that occurs. And that's stupid.

I speak Spanish. When a native Spanish speaker finds out that I speak, their entire countenance changes. They smile. They move a little closer and ask me how I learned. I can sense as they gauge how fast they can speak and still have me understand. I love seeing the question in their face as they realize I am speaking a form of Spanish called Castellano, where the "y" and the "ll" make a "sh" sound. Generally they will compliment me on how I speak, but mostly just that I speak. An instant bond is formed.

That bond comes about because of our common language. This is the bond that lessens the impact of that "second country". It does away with the furtive smiles and nods of the head. It is the bond that creates a community.

Friday, September 28, 2007

On Cue, It Changed Again

Remember "What's Right Keeps Changing"?

Well, it happened again.

This time it's alcohol. It used to have "a number of health benefits", but new research shows that alcohol is linked to cancer.

Hopefully, in our rush to trust science, we didn't all just kill ourselves.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Marion for Kirilenko? Um, Yeah

Andrei Kirilenko wants out of Utah. He thinks his style of play doesn't mesh well with Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's offense. He might be right. Really, though, he just wants to shoot more, and the Jazz already have a few more reliable scorers than he is, so all they want from Andrei is the slashing, defense, and blocked shots. Andrei is amazing at those things. That's how he became my favorite Jazz player. But last year he took a look around him at guys like Memo, Deron Williams, and Boozer, and he got jealous. He wanted to be the 20 point scorer. Note to Andrei: That's not why Jazz fans loved you.

Now Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns wants a trade too. He feels disrespected because he doesn't get the same pub that the other two stars of the team get, and because the Suns dared talk about trading him over the summer for Kevin Garnett. As in Kevin "One Of The Greatest Players of All Time" Garnett.

There had been rumors a few weeks ago of a Marion for Kirilenko trade, and now they are back in full force. Should the Jazz do it? Kirilenko was the bridge from the Stockton to Malone era, an All-Star in 2004, and a really exciting player. Like I said, he was my favorite Jazz player. Would I really trade him?

In a heartbeat.

Marion is a better scorer, rebounder, and on the ball defender. He blocks shots, gets steals, and can make a 3 pointer when called upon. He is every bit the athletic, slashing, exciting player that Andrei is, plus he's better.

This is a no-brainer. Do it Utah. Seriously, do it now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's Right Keeps Changing

I sent in a modified version of one of my posts as a letter to the editor in the Deseret News. They printed it last week, and it can be found here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Listen Up!

I often sense that my children are here to enlighten me with respect to my relationship with God. I love my children completely. I want them to be happy, safe, and a benefit to those around them. Because of my experience, and their lack thereof, I can guide them through the various dangers the world presents them that would harm their chances at that safety and happiness, and that they would not otherwise recognize and avoid.

But sometimes they just won't listen.

My kids are often stubborn. They think they know better. They want to do what they want to do. I try to warn them, to teach them the wiser course, but there are times when my voice gets drowned out amongst the various distractions. They listen to their own desires, or to friends, or to how they think everyone else does things. Inevitably, this leads to consequences they most assuredly would rather do without.

That, unfortunately, is exactly what I do to my Father in Heaven. I will sometimes listen to everyone and everything but the very person that matters most; the very person that knows the most. I'm sure he feels just as frustrated and saddened by my disobedience as I am by my children's. And I'm quite certain that I would rather do without the consequences of my own stubbornness.

Friday, September 21, 2007

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Thanks to Bubblehead for writing about and linking to this.

Which reminded me of this cartoon and the discussion it sparked on this blog, as well as over at Geoffrey's place.

Faithfully Guarded

Sept. 21, 1966: The U.S. Senate votes to prohibit voluntary prayers in U.S. Public schools.

“Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors; and capacity, if wisely improved, and faithfully guarded, of transmitting to their latest posterity all the substantial blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of liberty, property, religion, and independence.”

-- Joseph Story, 1833, Commentaries on the Constitution

Monday, September 17, 2007

We the People

Sept. 17, 1787: The Constitution of the United States is signed by 39 men after a summer of debate. It is then sent to the states for ratification.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Some cool Constitution-related websites:

National Constitution Center

Library of Congress

From the "coincidence or not?" department:

Sept. 17, 1796: President George Washington delivers his "Farewell Address" to the press before concluding his second term in office.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

September 11, 2001

I was on a bus. I was standing in a crowded bus from downtown Salt Lake City heading to the University of Utah campus, and I overheard other students talking about a bomb in Washington. When I arrived at the campus I went to the library to study a bit before class started, and they had a tv set up just outside the computer lab with a pretty big crowd around it. As I walked through the library towards my usual study table I stopped off at a bank of computers to check email. A library worker came by and told us that "because of what happened" there was a lot of traffic that morning and so the internet wouldn't work very well.

The rest of the morning is kind of a blur. I slowly began to get more information as word trickled through about what had happened. I skipped my first class. I later went to my behavioral management class where the professor told us not to be afraid because that's what the terrorists want.

At that time I worked as an intern in the federal building downtown. I got there around 12 or 1 and it was a very somber place. I wasn't there very long before they sent us home. I found out later that shortly after I left someone called in a bomb threat.

I rode the train home and watched the news with my family the rest of the day. I was stunned. It was as if the earth itself had paused in disbelief.

The next days were powerful and emotional. Thousands of people had died at the hands of Middle Eastern terrorists. My boss at the federal building was called to active duty. Before he left, he told us of being on the train with a middle eastern man and noticing everyone was quiet and staring at him uncomfortably. My boss spoke up and told everyone they were being stupid. Others later succumbed to the same stupidity and started a Pakistani restaurant on fire.

The next day, or the day after, the LDS Church held a memorial in the Tabernacle. Most of my office mates and I walked to Temple Square to attend. The First Presidency spoke, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang. We all joined in with the choir to sing "America the Beautiful", and few eyes were dry at the end.

The next days and weeks were unsure ones. Body counts were updated from the Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the passengers' actions on Flight 93 made news. I arrived on campus one morning to find the sidewalks covered in messages from anti-war activists urging no retaliation for the attacks. Radio stations began playing songs with audio clips from that day and the days that followed.

Nine days after the attacks, President Bush addressed the country. He confirmed that the attacks were planned and carried out by a terrorist group called al Queda, with a leader named Osama bin Laden- the same organization responsible for numerous attacks on American, and foreign, targets around the world. He praised the American spirit and resilience shown in the face of the attacks, but also pointed out that the attacks killed hundreds of citizens of other nations. He thanked foreign governments that had shown support, and criticized those that harbored terrorist groups like al Queda's. He singled out Afghanistan, and demanded they turn over all terrorist leadership in their country, but he also spoke out against any and all nations that supported terrorism, saying, "Our war on terror begins with al Queda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated."

In October, the LDS church held its General Conference. As church prophet Gordon B. Hinckley began to speak, he was handed a note saying the US had begun its attack on Afghanistan. President Hinckley then gave his prepared talk about the times in which we live. He concluded by saying,

"Now, brothers and sisters, we must do our duty, whatever that duty might be. Peace may be denied for a season. Some of our liberties may be curtailed. We may be inconvenienced. We may even be called on to suffer in one way or another. But God our Eternal Father will watch over this nation and all of the civilized world who look to Him. He has declared, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 33:12). Our safety lies in repentance. Our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God.

Let us be prayerful. Let us pray for righteousness. Let us pray for the forces of good. Let us reach out to help men and women of goodwill, whatever their religious persuasion and wherever they live. Let us stand firm against evil, both at home and abroad. Let us live worthy of the blessings of heaven, reforming our lives where necessary and looking to Him, the Father of us all. He has said, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).

Are these perilous times? They are. But there is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes. We can be an influence for good in this world, every one of us."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

"I trust these wonderful promises...God our Heavenly Father knows us by name. Jesus Christ lives; He is the Messiah; He loves us. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real; it brings immortality to all and opens the door to eternal life.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is again on the earth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and living."

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf
"The Opportunity to Testify," Ensign, November 2004

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde Environmentalism

It's so hard to care for Mother Earth these days. What's in is out, what's out is in. Good is now evil, and evil good. There seems to be no solid ground to stand on for those trying to save the planet.

For years we were told the right answer to "paper or plastic" was plastic. Now San Fransisco has banned plastic grocery bags. For years we were told that having too many kids would be our ruin. Now the UN says, whoops, never mind, and ohbytheway the developed world's economy just might crumble because there's too few people. Walk instead of drive? Apparently, because of the replacement cost of the calories you burn, walking is far more harmful to the planet than driving is. Even diesel fueled buses can be more earth-killing than driving a Hummer. You health conscious organic food eaters? According to global warming scientist Chris Goodall, it's your fault the world will soon be on fire.

Flatly stated, it's just too hard to do what's right, because what's right keeps changing. It's to the point where even Al Gore can't escape criticism.

Of course, that might be the point. Environmentalism has long had the rap of being anti-people. Extremist, even. Why do their pronouncements and predictions seem to be wrong so often? It might be explained by ethics like these:

"Now, in a widening sphere of decisions, the costs of error are so exorbitant that we need to act on theory alone, which is to say on prediction alone. It follows that the reputation of scientific prediction needs to be enhanced. But that can happen, paradoxically, only if scientists disavow the certainty and precision that they normally insist on."

or, put more directly:

"We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

But these scientists are well intentioned. Right? I mean, they've found a possible catastrophic problem, so what's the harm in trying to prevent or fix it?

The harm is that science once thought overpopulation was a grave problem. A finding which led to theories like, "To feed a starving child is to exacerbate the world population problem." Science once convinced the world to stop using DDT, despite its proven prevention of malaria. A policy which led to millions of deaths in Africa, to which the lead scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund said, "This is as good a way to get rid of them as any."

Science is the answer you say? Well, which answer? The one that said we're all gonna die from global cooling, or the one that says we're all gonna die from global warming? The one that says DDT kills humans, or the one that says DDT saves humans? There's a lot of money, and a lot of lives, riding on the answer. Choose, as they say, but choose wisely.

BYU Cougars

A few vids of BYU over the years to get ready for the new season:

1980 Holiday Bowl w/ Jim McMahon:

1990, Ty Detmer, BYU beats #1 Miami:

2000, Lavell Edwards's final game, 4th and 13...

2001 vs. Utah. I watched this game at Joe's Crab Shack. BYU was undefeated going in, and it looked like they were going to lose for most of the game. But in the end, Doman and Staley pulled it out:

BYU vs Utah 2006, perhaps the greatest game in the rivalry, would have been the best finish to a game all year if not for that little team from up north:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Esteban Batista - My New Favorite NBA Player

Esteban Batista is my new favorite NBA player.

He played the last two years for the Atlanta Hawks, playing sparingly with averages of just 1.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. He's now a restricted free agent and is not a sure bet to play in the NBA next season.

So why the love from Magic Valley Mormon? Turns out Esteban is from Uruguay, my second home. As a missionary I played my fair share of basketball on our days off, and it was growing pretty fast there. The kids were playing it a lot, and they had club teams in just about every city. But I had no idea they'd have NBA caliber players already. Well, player anyway.

Esteban also plays for the Uruguay national basketball team, which is currently in the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament. They just played the US, with the expected results. USA beat Uruguay 118-79, but my man Esteban scored 20, and had a few nice dunks in the process. Hopefully he'll get signed to play in the NBA again.

Boise St Broncos

Boise St starts their season tonight too.

Did you know they have the best record in college football since 2000? That their running back led the country in touchdowns last year? As a sophomore. That only a little over ten years ago they were still playing I-AA?

Did you know they played, and won, the greatest college football game ever?

Utah Utes

First game of the season is tonight, so here's a few vids to get ready:

Eric Clapton Concert

For your viewing and listening pleasure...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Senator Larry Craig

I met Senator Larry Craig when I was in high school. We had some sort of question and answer session with him my junior or senior year. He did not make a good first impression with me. He seemed creepy. Like a slimy politician. You know, like the ones in the movies that are slick talkers and up to their eyeballs in corruption. But that's pretty much been my entire experience with the Senator, outside of reading news releases and voting records.

Well, Idaho media is insane with activity right now because Senator Craig recently pled guilty to lewd conduct in an airport bathroom.


The back story here is that rumors of homosexuality have dogged Sen. Craig for years, culminating in last year's allegations by a gay activist intent on "outing" the senator. The activist made his claims via blogs, and from there his story was picked up by radio commentators and cable news shows. Through it all, the senator denied everything. Denied it so vehemently, in fact, that a pretty thorough investigation by the Idaho Statesman was shelved, much to the Idaho blogdom's anger, because they couldn't turn up any true evidence that the senator was lying. Now the Statesman apparently feels the bathroom incident is proof enough and they have run their story, much to the glee of Idaho bloggers. Idaho liberal blogs have been salivating over the possibility of Sen. Craig's outing for almost a year, and now all that pent up, repressed anxiety is being released on the internets.

But this is more than just an Idaho story, or even just an Idaho blogging story. The Daily Kos reported on it, as well as many other large national blogs, and a quick googling shows an enormous amount of national news spotlight on the senator.

Senator Craig, of course, denies wrongdoing, saying it was all a misunderstanding and that he only pled guilty in order to deal with it quickly and move on. Unfortunately for him and his family, nobody I have seen is buying that story. In fact, there is a strong movement to ask him to resign his senate seat.

So what now? What's my editorial on the subject? I always cringe at the feeding frenzy these things create. I think it's unseemly, petty, and too often partisan. Everyone suddenly thinks themselves a psychologist, and analyzes the whys and what for's of the story. Republicans will call for his resignation, touting it as proof that they clean house when lawbreaking happens in their party, while Democrats do not. Democrats will say that this is just another name in the long list of evil Republicans. Read the comments on the liberal blogs and you'll see them delight in writing things like, "are there any straight Republicans in Washington?"

It's like it's a big game. Funny stuff.

It's sad that a US Senator was in all likelihood soliciting sex in an airport bathroom. It's sad that anyone is soliciting sex in airport bathrooms. It's sad that it's so much of a problem that the US has undercover police in airport bathrooms.

It's sad that this bit of gossip is passed around the world and commented on by millions of people; not for understanding, or out of any idea of mercy or justice, but because it's juicy gossip- salacious news we can use to drive ratings and score political points.

Because of this, there will be no resolution. There will simply be accusations and denials. Any way you slice it, it's a huge mess. Senator Craig's life and legacy are pretty much shot, regardless of who's telling the truth, and that's a shame.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Twin Falls Temple

The above picture is a rendition of the temple being built in my hometown of Twin Falls Idaho. There are currently 124 temples operating in the world. On there are links to pictures and video of all the temples being built around the world. The link to the Twin Falls temple construction page is found here. There's also a webcam in place, found here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Parable of Scary Mary or Religious Wackos Eat Children

I admit it. Mary Poppins is one of my favorite movies. So when I heard about the youtube clip called Scary Mary, I had to watch it. It's classic:

That clip is, of course, harmless fun. In fact, I had been meaning to post it here for some time. What finally made me do it was Geoffrey's post here. He's had a few run-ins with "fundamentalist" Christians lately, so when he saw the following clip, he deemed "these people" scary:

I admit I have no idea who the leader guy on stage is, or if his intentions are evil or not. But this video report does not do anything to solve my ignorance of the matter. It comes across the same way that "Scary Mary" does, full of quick shots of the stage and screaming people, with ominous background music to set the tone. Taken alone, it's quite ridiculous.

Which, of course, is the problem with watching TV. Most of the "news" is ridiculous pandering of this nature. It gets everyone riled up; the people they're portraying get offended and protest, and everyone else thinks those guys are insane child-eaters. Either way, people watch. Which I suppose is the point.

Monday, August 20, 2007

We Are Not Going To Baby-Sit A Civil War

What's the difference?

What's the difference between a civil war fought over old colonial disputes that caused the brutal deaths of 800,000 people in 100 days- just over 11% of the country's population?

What's the difference between an ongoing civil war fought over religious differences that has so far caused the deaths of 420,000 people?

What's the difference between those two civil wars and another war fought for basically the same reasons?

The US has been and continues to be vilified for doing nothing as genocide brutally took the lives of over a million people in Rwanda and Sudan. How could the freest and richest nation in the world stand idly by while such atrocities were occuring? What happened to the "city on a hill", the beacon of virtue that America proposes to be?

Well, now America could be faced with the same situation. As Congress continues to rush towards a pre-emptive withdrawal from Iraq, the elephant in the room is the very likely scenario of Iraq descending into Rwanda-like genocide. Surely America won't stand idly by and allow this to happen again?

Well, there are at least two presidential candidates that will. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have staked their campaign wagon to a "leave Iraq no matter what" policy- even if that results in the death of countless Iraqis. As Senator Clinton stated, "I'm sorry, it's over. We are not going to baby sit a civil war."

What's the difference between Rwanda, Sudan and Iraq?


Friday, August 17, 2007

Mariela & The Book of Mormon

I'd met Mariela over a month before. We had made numerous attempts to contact her since, but were always met with an excuse as to why she couldn't meet with us. This is a problem common with being a missionary in Uruguay- the people are so nice they'll often concoct an array of excuses to meet "in a few days" instead of today. Niceness is generally a good problem to have, but eventually a missionary has to discern if there is true interest or not. Such was the case with Mariela. I had finally determined to give it one last try, but if it didn't work out then we wouldn't go back.

These were the circumstances when we arrived at Mariela's door that afternoon. Then something awesome happened. She invited us in. We sat on the couch across from her and her 9 year old son and introduced the Book of Mormon. We told her it contained answers to important questions that many people have. She then looked us squarely in the eyes and said she wanted to know about life after death. Then she told us why.

She had driven past a cemetery that day, and in Uruguay the dead aren't always treated very well. Bodies are rarely buried; instead they are stored for a time and then taken out and put into a smaller box. This process can be rather gruesome. Worse yet is that the remains are commonly left lying around, and rumor had it that these often become pig food.

Mariela passed by the local cemetery and saw the bones and rags lying around- destined, surely, to become "comida para chanchos": pig food. In that moment it dawned on her that we are all destined to become pig food. Rich or poor, good or bad, everyone will eventually end up in the cemetery.

She told this story with much earnestness, and it was obvious that these thoughts troubled her. She asked, "are we all just comida para chanchos?"

This is where the power of the Book of Mormon came in. The power to teach, the power to feel the Spirit, the power to convert. I turned to Alma chapter 11 verses 42-45 and asked her to read, telling her that here was her answer.

Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death.

The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.

Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.

Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.

When she finished verse 45 I fully expected her to have questions. Instead, she just kept reading. And reading. And reading. She didn't stop reading for another 45 minutes. Finally, we had another appointment to go to so we told her to keep reading, marked a few passages that would interest her, and set up an appointment to come back. When we saw her again, she had read all that we had marked and then some.

What happened next in Mariela's life is truly remarkable. She overcame numerous obstacles and was eventually baptised and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. That story deserves a post of its own.

But it all started with the Book of Mormon, and an answer to an important question.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


August 14, 1846: Henry David Thoreau is jailed for tax resistance.

August 14, 1935: Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law, creating Aid to Dependent Children, unemployment insurance, and pension plans for the elderly.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Western Wildfires

Every year wildfires erupt throughout the western United States. This year, Utah and Idaho both had enormous fires. The size and nature of this year's wildfires has spawned numerous discussions on what is causing them.

In Idaho, the Murphy Complex Fire engulfed over 600,000 acres and is one of the biggest in the state's history. Senator Larry Craig gave a speech on the floor of the Senate, in which he basically blamed the intensity of the fire on land use policy during the 90's. Senator Craig argues that we are no longer allowed to log nearly as much as we used to, which has resulted in an abundance of fuel for these wildfires. According to the Senator, much of this fuel is dead and dry trees that could easily be removed by loggers, which would have prevented the scope of the current fire season.

The Times-News ran an interview with state representative Bert Brackett, who lost cattle and rangeland to the fire. Representative Brackett blamed the fire on the reduction in grazing imposed on ranchers like him over the last 15 years. His argument is similar to Senator Criag's, in that fewer grazing means more dead, dry grass to burn.

Idaho blogger Mountain Goat disagrees. She blames drought conditions of the last 7 years for the preponderance of dead, dry fuel for the massive wildfires. A commenter also seems to argue that grazing is the problem, and that what we need is less, not more, of it.

Steve Urquhart is a state representative in Utah. He also runs a pretty great blog. He has a number of posts concerning wildfires, including one titled, "Western Fires and Extreme Environmentalism." In it he argues that cheat grass is the main culprit for the huge fires in Utah, and that the policies of environmental activist groups actually hinder the government's efforts to eradicate it. He has written fairly extensively about this issue and provides links to his previous posts. One of those posts highlights the actions of environmentalist groups that prevented reseeding efforts; efforts that more than likely would have reduced the scope of this year's fires.

Therein lies the rub. Land users and land managers seem pitted against the various environmental groups. Representative Urquhart makes a strong case that these groups have a deep financial interest not in maintaining healthy lands, but in opposing any management at all.

The last fifteen years has seen a reduction in land use by loggers and ranchers. Yet the land burns hotter than ever before. Mountain Goat argues that the heat is caused by, well, the heat. But it's more than that. Indeed, one of Rep. Urquhart's posts shows how wildfires put a ton of carbon in the atmosphere, thereby perpetuating the very heat that Mountain Goat blames.

Simply removing man from the picture, leaving Mother Nature in charge, will not stop wildfires. We need aggressive measures to eradicate the fuel that makes these fires so uncontrollable.

Friday, August 03, 2007

This Day In History

August 3, 1492: Columbus sets sail from Spain on the first voyage of discovery. Arrives in the West Indies Oct. 12, 1492.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

Come Come Ye Saints

For those of the LDS faith, July 24th is an important day. On this date in 1847 the first group of Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake valley. From that day forward thousands of Saints crossed the plains in wagons and handcarts to come to Salt Lake City, many coming from all over the world. All of them sacrificed and suffered hardships on the journey; many died. This pioneer heritage is important to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Their stories are remembered and shared often.

But why this preoccupation with the past? Why do we seem to tell the same stories over and over again? Because there is something powerful in remembering.

One part of my Mormon family tree begins with Carl and Karen. They were baptized in Denmark in 1867, and began their journey to Utah that same year. By that time, steam ships had begun to take over the seas, and Carl and Karen were on the maiden voyage of the Manhattan; a trip that took only 17 days rather than the usual 3 months. They arrived in New York on July 4th and saw fireworks for the first time. They then headed west, and arrived in Salt Lake via wagon train on October 5. Carl started work on the Transcontinental railroad. Newlyweds, their first home was a wagon box, and their first child was born there some months later. The family later moved to southern Utah, where Carl got the contract to build the railroad from Richfield to Maysvale, and became a founding member of the town of Elsinore.

Going further back along another branch of the same family tree, there is the story of Freeman's Tavern, owned by Captain Jacob Arnold. Also known as Arnold's Tavern, it served as General George Washington's headquarters in 1777.

Also found in the Arnold family tree is the story of Elizabeth. Her son was in the navy during WWII, and went missing in the Philippines in 1945. In her old age, poor and alone, Elizabeth would walk from her apartment in Oakland to the harbor to watch the ships come in, hoping to see her son finally come home. She watched from the same spot each day, and was finally discovered there, a victim of a heart attack that took her life.

And then there was Grace. Her mother died when she was young and her and her siblings were put in an orphanage in St Louis. She escaped her difficult childhood to go to college and become a nurse. She was an adventurous sort and traveled to Hawaii and on to the Philippines during the Spanish American war. She married at the old age (for the time) of 28, only moving back to the US once her oldest daughter was of school age.

There are countless stories of pioneers, though not all involve wagons and handcarts. In Cameroon, members of the Church set off on a journey of their own. The stories of their trip to the new temple are inspiring. Which I think is the purpose of all these Mormon pioneer stories and celebrations. Inspiration through remembrance. From the Book of Mormon:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall

Last July 24th, I spent the day reading about my forebears. They sacrificed much, and for that I am grateful. A part of each step they took on the journey of their lives is found in me. As their faith grew by obedience and by sacrifice, my own faith is increased. When the time comes to meet them again, it will be a joyful reunion as I thank them for the foundation of faith they left for me.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This Day In History

July 26, 1947: President Harry Truman signs the National Securities Act, creating the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Samuel Adams

“If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour of the Supreme Being and the welfare of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation.”

-- Samuel Adams, letter to Elbridge Gerry

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Did Last Season Even Count?

An NBA referee is accused of fixing games. As a fan of the NBA, I had always thought that at best the refs were just crummy, at worst they were biased towards bigger market teams. But this is pretty incredible. Is this ref the only one? Who else was involved?

ESPN columnist Bill Simmons wrote a great piece about the issue, with all of its implications. He brings up the San Antonio - Phoenix series from this year's playoffs. Guess who was reffing? In a sidebar he points out that shortly after his column was posted a video was put on youtube that shows clips from that series. A series fraught with bad calls and questionable officiating. Here's the clip:

There are now quite a few videos on youtube regarding games this guy officiated. Which is pretty much the whole point of Simmons's column. Now every single game can be called into question. Are the refs bad or are they dirty?

I went to game three of the Western Conference finals between Utah and San Antonio this year. Utah won going away, and it was a bit of a coming out party for Deron Williams. He was unstoppable, and seemed to score and dish at will. In the closing minutes of the game San Antonio emptied their bench before we did. On the very next sequence, one of the new players clobbered Williams and sent him out of the game. Deron was injured on the play, an injury that affected him for the rest of the series, which the Spurs ended up winning handily. Was this ref there that night? Were all of the bad calls and tide turning events caused by someone that needed San Antonio to win?

These are questions that every NBA fan is asking right now.