Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When Evidence Doesn't Matter

I have a very dear friend of mine who is a devoutly religious Southern Baptist. She believes what to me are alot of goofy, unsupported things, such as a worldwide flood, an earth just over 6,000 years old, and that the human species, like all species was specially created by God, with man created in God's image and all other organisms put in place by God for God's divine purposes relating to his special creation, mankind. To me this is goofy, but in the real world I live in, I am perhaps the goofy one, asserting foolishly that based upon the best available evidence, the earth is around 4.5 billion years old, all animals and plants evolved through natural processes from a common ancestor, including humans. I base my thinking upon evidence that to me seems convincing. Evidence, catalogued by the best minds, in a systematic way, with an ability to falsify things that don't hold up to scrutiny. Everything I believe is based upon evidence as I see it, recognizing that evidence is fallable as is my interpretation of the evidence. Because of that fallibility, I am willing to entertain other ideas if additional evidence can make me rethink what I had concluded previously.

The other day, this friend of mine approached me with some piece of evidence for what she described as "intelligent design." It was a pretty lame piece of evidence relating to the complexity of the eye, but had a simple explanation. But I asked her, what level of evidence would I have to present to convince her that man evolved from common ancestors of other primates, mammals, etc. My dear friend told me, "that no amount of evidence could sway me from the truth that I know deep in my heart to be true."

I then said, "but you approached me with what you believed was evidence that evolution was false." "I could be convinced that evolution didn't happen." "Cambrian trilobyte fossils partially digested inside a icthyosaur would make me rethink some of what I currently think about the evolution of species. A homo erectus fossil amidst brachiosaur remains would do the same thing." I said in as nice a way as I could, that "why should I even consider any evidence you present to defend your case, when no degree of evidence would convince you to reconsider yours.

Recently, two excellent books were published outlining some of the best arguments for evolution since Douglas Futuyma tackled the issue in the 1980's with his book "Science on Trial, the Case for Evolution." Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution is True" and Richard Dawkin's (arguably my favorite author) "The Greatest Show on Earth" in slightly different manners tackle the issue with great eloquence, passion and insight. I'm currently drafting my book reviews of both of these excellent books. These books aren't written for my dear friend and her associates. Evidence doesn't matter to these individuals because it isn't the basis for which decisions are made in their personal paradigm for evaluating truth. But to those for whom evidence does matter, even in some aspect of your life, I recommend reading both of these books. Not only will you understand how convincing the evidence is for evolution, you come away with a new appreciation for just how awe-inspiring life is on this pale blue dot, in the far corners of an insignificant galaxy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Carrying the Torch

With the passing of Sen. Edward Kennedy, my heart sank, even as I knew his passing was imminent. When his brother John F. Kennedy said that "the torch has passed to a new generation of Americans", who would have thought that his little brother Teddy would have been the one who carried that torch most effectively. Despite character flaws that afflict all of us, Ted made a real and significant contribution to our country. For those of us who see through the pretty packaging to see the callous and disturbed reality of American conservatism, we've lost an eloquent ally.

For those who want to understand that callous and disturbing reality of American conservatism, I invite you to go to and read the comment section regarding the death of Sen. Kennedy. Also look at how those comments are received by the Utahns who frequent that news outlet. I would love to say that I am astonished, but the sad reality is that I've come to expect it. One reason I have stopped posting so much is that I've lost faith and heart in my fellow Utahns. I've seen too much anger, entitlement, and sheer ignorance for me to stomach. Perhaps a lesson I can learn from his experience is maintaining optimism in the face of so much loss.

In 1980, I cast my first vote for President of the United States. It wasn't at a polling place, but at what we now refer to as a "precinct caucus". I voted for Ted Kennedy over Jimmy Carter, whom I felt had showed a lack of leadership and had given into conservatives on too many issues. Ted was unashamed of his liberalism, even more so than I was. Politically, I was more moderate, but I admired Kennedy for his leadership and for his sticking to his guns. The conservative movement, led by Ronald Reagan, and nourished by tax protesters, and other fringe groups threatened the progress that had been made in civil rights, equal opportunity and environmental responsibility. In this environment, a vote for Ted seemed the prudent choice.

I still remember the dirty looks I got with my Kennedy bumper sticker back in 1980. Alot of people told me I was number one on their list with hand gestures. I was heart-broken when Kennedy lost the nomination yet doubly determined after Kennedy gave his great and compelling convention speech. Despite setback after setback here in the hornet's nest, that flame continued in the depths of my soul, to try to make a difference in the public realm. I have continued my involvement in politics, but have felt lately like that flame was beginning to die. The senseless futility of trying to reason with birthers and their lot, is just not worth it.

Ted Kennedy fought the good fight, but he did it with a grace I've never possessed and never will. His advesaries acknowledged his effectiveness and his genuine sincerity. He carried his brother's torch for my entire lifetime. I can only hope that I can regain enough heart to try to carry my part of that torch, that the vision of a more just and rational society, is not not just an illusion, but a real possibility for our Republic.

Rest in peace Ted. You've earned it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Frugality Essay II- Reducing Energy Costs

There are far greater resources than this blog on how to reduce energy consumption, but let's face it, as a society, we have been gluttons for energy use on many levels, including the size of our homes, the size of our cars, the distances we travel to work, our dependence on the automobile, etc. There are other areas of energy consumption than the usual that people talk about that I would like to address in my essay. But here are a few tips I offer for reducing energy consumption. Don't do so to reduce CO2 emissions, do so to save money, and let your savings also help the environment.

1- If you have to drive, don't drive large trucks and SUV's unless your profession requires it or you have large numbers of people to haul. I commute from Tooele to SLC every day. I try to ride the bus as often as practicable, but when I take my car, I am amazed at how many single occupant trucks and SUV's I see commuting everyday. You see them pull up at the Maverik and fill up, and off they go, driving like lunatics with their pedal to the metal. It's always good to either have a truck or know someone who will let you borrow one. But unless it is essential to your business, people who commute in large trucks and SUV's are wasting money, they are supporting the trade deficit, and by sending funds to countries that harbor and teach radical islam, they help fund terrorism.

2- Passive solar saves more money than you think. Passive solar, for those not familiar, is all about landscaping. It is about understanding where the sun shines at different times of the year, and taking advantage of the sun, or protecting us from the heat it produces depending on the time of year. Air conditioning is a major expense, as is heat. If you don't think the sun produces heat in the winter, just look into the hills. North facing slopes will be covered in snow, and south facing slopes will often be free of it, even during some fairly snowy years. What it means, is that you want to plant deciduous trees on the south part of your house, which, shorn of their leaves in the winter, will allow heat to hit your house and windows. Oaks, maples, and other dense trees on your south side of your yard can cool things down remarkably during the hot summer months, but allow enough sunlight in to make a difference during the winter. As for the north side of your house, plant conifers which will block cold north winds during the winter. A little unrelated gardening tip. Plant a large conifer such as a blue spruce in such as way that it provides shade to fruit trees such as apricots or preaches in the spring, which will cause them to bloom later and less subject to be caught in a frost.

3- Watch less television and read. Television uses up alot more electricity than a lamp with a compact fluorescent. If you have more than one television, make a rule that both shouldn't be on at the same time. Limit TV time for everyone, and I think you'll see not only less energy consumption, but less snackfood consumption as well. Ditto for video games. Lazy bodies build lazy minds. Staying physically and mentally active vrs. parking in front of the cerebral dimmer will save money, energy and ultimately, give you a better quality of life.

4- Buy local and buy simple. Wherever you are, there are those who raise food or make goods for sale. Goods that have less transport, use less energy in general. And if you really want to support local agriculture, buy honey locally. It may cost you a little more, but the honey will generally be better than you can buy in the store, and you will be supporting pollinators that just may be pollinating your own garden. I always recommend farmer's markets and roadside stands whenever possible. And if the neighbor lady is selling homecanned raspberry jam, you generally can't go wrong. Also something to consider, foods seem to be the most nutritious when they've been processed the least. And the processing is an energy consumer. Potatoes use less energy than potato chips. Fresh broccoli from a farmer's market uses less energy than frozen broccoli, unless it is winter time and the fresh stuff at the store comes from Argentina. Don't buy strictly on the basis of energy consumption, but it doesn't hurt to add it into the equation.

This is all for now. Live long, and live responsibly.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Frugality Essay I- What We Eat and Public Health

You want to save money? Then take care of yourself. There is a relationship between private health, and private wealth. Given this reality, there is a relationship between public health and wealth as well. We as a country spend an enormous amount of money on medical care. Can we as a country reduce this cost? What is our role as individuals? This is an enormously broad subject, but the implications are significant enough where I think we should at least begin the conversation. There are a few ideas that I would like to explore and discuss regarding frugality and health, but this essay will focus on frugal eating and personal health.

Some people erroneously believe that eating healthy means eating expensive. I would like to challenge that notion and give some examples of frugal and healthy eating choices.

1- On Obi’s frugal list of healthy foods are whole grains. As a recovering Mormon, I remember well people with cans of wheat in their basement (two years supply). You want to save money and improve your health, open the cans and use them as a surprisingly inexpensive and filling food. But don’t think wheat is all there is. I’ve come to really appreciate rye, barley, oats, triticale, spelt and other grains. And you would be surprised how adaptable whole grains are for inclusion in your diet.

Everyone knows that oatmeal is a healthy breakfast alternative. There are a wide range of choices that are relatively inexpensive. This morning, I had rolled rye that I purchased at Whole Foods. I estimate the cost of a good sized serving, including soymilk and berries, at $.1.05. Compare this to something from the drive-thru at McDonalds. Another favorite of mine is 7-grain mix either from Whole Food’s bulk bin or Bob’s Red mill. You save money if you can find it at Whole Foods.

I boil whole grains and use it in yogurt, as a substitute for hamburger, and as a filling addition to canned soups. I also make whole grain bread. For a Democrat in Utah, pounding whole wheat bread dough can be very therapeutic. And the smell you get from home made whole grain bread is well worth the effort.

2- Anyone who has read my blogs know I’m full of beans. And that, is a good thing. Yeah, I’ve been known to rattle the neighbor’s windows a time or two, but in so doing, I’ve got sound nutrition in an inexpensive package. Beans are extremely adaptable and you can add all kinds of home grown veggies into them, such as tomatoes, spinach, corn, peppers, onion, etc. Also, add some boiled rye or barley (see item 1) and you’ll get a very complete protein without the addition of expensive and fatty meat products.

As a Mormon missionary, I had $250/month to live off of. That included rent. A favorite we came up with was “slumgraten”, which was beans mixed with anything else you had left in the kitchen. It was filling, nutritious, and cheap. You want to save money, stay full, and eat healthy, open a can of beans, whether black, pinto, garbanzo, etc.

3- Don’t read the leaves, drink them, and tea-leave me, you won’t be sorry (pretty weak, I know). I admit, this is an uncomfortable subject to bring up with the Mormon crowd, but if D & C 89 were to be re-written today, it would probably say, drink tea, and ban the soda. Tea is loaded with anti-oxidants and both black and green tea are rightly viewed as healthy drinks. Add a little fresh citrus, and it is even better for you. But let’s do some comparison shopping.

Obi wan loves his diet coke. However, when times are tough, an area I can save a lot of money is by shunning the cola for tea. Here is how it plays out. I can get a 44 oz. refill at Maverik for $.95 or get a 12 oz. bottle for $1.25. Let’s compare to tea. I recently bought 100 Lipton tea bags on sale for $2.50. So a cup of tea costs a whopping $.025. Well, since I like my tea strong, I steep two bags for a whopping $.05. Now admittedly, I got a good price, and you might prefer one of the premium teas. Let’s say you found a really expensive tea with 20 bags for $4. That is still only $.20/cup. That is still over six cups for the price of one bottle of soda. Now admittedly, you may want to sweeten your tea, but even so, the cost of the sweetener is insignificant compared to what you would pay for soda.

Green tea, arguably the most healthy tea, is a bit more. I paid $3.45 for a box of 40 tea bags. That is still much more inexpensive than soda. Just remember, that steeping your own tea is the only way to save money here. Bottled teas will cost you as much or more than soda. But making tea is not rocket science. A cup of water and a microwave is all you need.

4- My last suggestion for now, is to rethink your landscape. Many edible plants are also quite attractive and can be used in your yard. Herbs such as basil, oregano, chives, and many others both add flavors to dishes while looking good mixed with flowers. Fruit trees are a great idea (excepts out on your curb or near paved areas) and often look very attractive in the spring. Apricot, peach, cherry, as well as less common trees and shrubs like serviceberry, look good while also providing fruit. In the right location, grapes also provide an adaptable and edible vine.

Teach your kids early and often which plants are edible and which ones are not. Some flower’s leaves actually taste good and are edible like agastache foeniculum and other members of the mint family. Asparagus is an attractive plant when it isn’t producing succulent spears. Experiment with different edible plants and give your children space and opportunity to grow their own food.

I hope this is a good start on our journey towards practical frugality. Eating healthy won’t eliminate trips to the doctor’s office, but will reduce the risks associated with chronic ailments. Medical costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy in our economy. Let’s take care of ourselves and teach our children good principles in nutrition as well as frugal living.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Frugality: A New Paradigm for Life

There are certain parallels in history that provide lessons for us. One of those lessons is the need for frugality, no matter what your circumstances. As this decade winds down, I’ve been thinking what defines the last decade. I recognize the risks involved in defining a period, because there are exceptions and inconsistencies that need to be given their due weight. But when I think of this decade, I think of entitlement and excess.

We saw this at both the personal level, as well as the government, a sense of over-reaching that was careless and costly to our long-term future as a people and Republic. To some extent, I don’t know whether to attribute this to excessive optimism, or pathological delusion. One of the books which so categorized the period, and influenced to a great extent, neocon economic and social policy was “Dow 36,000.” In this book, the notion exists that the markets are on an upward trend and it is best to get on board. There is no underlying growth in productive capacity or production behind these phenomena, just an increase in the value of existing assets as bid up by a public with greater access to markets and with a demographic population bubble desperately saving for a retirement (baby boomers) that is looming in the near future.

This in retrospect was faith-based economics. Ultimately what creates wealth is productivity and production, not the bidding up of existing assets well above what their return on investment suggests. Economic faith, without a foundation in works, creates a soufflé, ready to collapse under the weight of any shock or crisis in the kitchen. So was it with this paradigm during 2008. Both at the government level, as well as the personal level, Americans lived beyond their means. Cuts in taxes were made without any plan to lower spending. Americans racked up credit card debt in order to keep up with the ever increasing variety of electronic toys available. Much of it was financed on the basis of rising home prices, unrealized gain on existing assets (people's home values). People sought to catch the wave of outer rim of the bubble, Using equity gained from their old home, to buy a bigger new home, with the intention of using ever increasing equity to build their future. POP!! You know how that went.

So where do we go from here? Conventional wisdom suggests that we “stimulate” the economy in a most Keynesian of fashion. It is true, that demand will stimulate production, but we must be cautious where the benefits of that production go. Is it to retail employees at Walmart, or to manufacturers in China or the Philippines? Is it to provide second or third homes for the wealthy, or is it to update sewage systems, water systems, and roads?

Ultimately, what I’ve concluded is that Americans have become somewhat spoiled and entitled. The time has come for the resetting of priorities in our personal lives and as a government. This doesn’t mean we have an inactive government. Our strength as a country comes both from the public and private sectors. But we need to think strategically as a people, and prioritize wisely where we deploy our finite resources.

To some, this may sounds like retrenchment. I rather like to think of it as realignment. It is a realignment of our objectives and our culture. Whether it will work or not, I have my doubts, but I am going to explore this paradigm and discuss ways that we can as individuals, and as a nation, restore our foundation in the areas of economics, health and quality of life. It may be an interesting voyage, but I’m willing to see where the trade-winds take us.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some Thoughts On Torture

Let's face it, our nation under the previous administration had a systematic program that encouraged the use of torture for intelligence purposes against individuals deemed to be our enemy. What amazes me is the silence of so many Americans regarding this practice. And even among those who are appalled, it amazes me how easily they turn into apologists for those who committed these acts, giving credence to their motives, as a way of justifying a desire to let them off the hook for crimes committed against humanity.

How often have we heard criminals justify their actions with best of intentions? Some were trying to feed their family or their habit. How many murders were "misunderstandings" gone awry. How many went along with a friend who committed atrocious acts and rather than having the courage to intervene, allowed friendship or devotion to supercede any sound moral code?

First of all, let me say, that the decision of whom to prosecute and whether to prosecute is not the President's. That should fall to the Attorney General. However, the complicated thing here, is that the A.G.'s office, though under a different administration, was a party to the criminal violations for which the evidence is ample and overwhelming. Because of the past role of his office, the legally ethical thing to do is to call a special prosecutor, someone beyond rapproach, to investigate who did what and what criminal culpability they have.

This is not a political or a partisan issue. It is a legal matter of the utmost importance in a nation that other nations look to as a role model for fair and impartial administration of the law. Politics of all kind need to be separated from this issue. The evidence of wrong-doing is public, and there are plenty of witnesses who have publicly said what happened. If our nation does not come clean on this, we'll have no moral authority in the world to combat other nations who engage in the torture of those they decide to detain.

There are maybe 6 or 7 (depending on your point of view) defining moments in our nation's history when people made the right decisions for the right reasons which defines our greatness as a nation. Failure to separate political realities on the torture issue and the war crimes that have been committed, from the legal necessities of enforcing the statutes, treaties and constitutional provisions that have been violated will either help us cement our greatness, or set a precedent that will haunt us for generations.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

RIP Bill Orton

I just heard the news that former Congressman Bill Orton had lost his life in an ATV accident at Little Sahara. Bill Orton came to the Congress via one of the worst political mistakes in recent memory, when Karl Snow's campaign to replace Howard Nielson produced an add showing Karl Snow and his family, and a single Bill Orton and his. Even in conservative Republican land, that add was offensive enough to land Bill Orton a job as a Democratic Congressman in one of the most conservative districts in the country.

And Bill Orton took advantage of the situation. He worked hard and did his homework. I remember watching him at meetings discuss in detail issues that were complex. He took his job seriously, and served his constituents well. He was a bit conservative for my taste, but given his district, I was willing to cut him some slack.

After losing his Congressional seat to Chris Cannon, he remained active in the Democratic party and ran a very respectable race for Governor, I believe, in 2000. Bill continued to speak out on issues important to him and remain involved. And all Utahns owe him a debt of gratitude for his service to our state.

I very much appreciated the times I was able to work with Bill over the years. I didn't always agree with him, but always respected him and I wish the most sincere condolensces to his wonderful family.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ode to the Tea Party

I have been inspired to come out of retirement. I owe it all to the "grass-roots" tea parties that dotted out nation yesterday. I may have to limit my scope in what I post, but I think I've worked it out so I can atleast post periodically.

Here is my Ode to the Tea Parties

Obi’s Ode to the Tea Parties

Black tea, grean tea, tea, tea, tea,
I heard it from Sean Hannity,
Damn those taxes damn Obama,
Damn his wife, his dad and mama,
Just like patriots boarding ships,
Let’s chuck the bags and shun the sips,
And fight our cause for God and nation,
This thing called taxes from representation,

Our cause is just our brain cells few,
We’re mad at those who voted blue,
We’ll yell “let’s take our nation back”,
“Let’s storm the dam, let’s make it crack,”
Eight years of Bush just ain’t enough,
Of runaway spending and talking tough,
There’s so much more that we can trash,
In our economy that we helped to crash,

And never mind the Constitution,
Let’s overthrow the institution,
Let’s protest loud, they’ll hear our plea,
With help from Beck and Hannity,
We’ll party on with bags and strings,
We’ll see if Glenn Beck cries or sings,
Let’s protest this Obamanation,
Taxes left from the Bush Administration,

We’re born again we’ve seen the light,
Deficit spending is our fight,
Ok for Bush but shame on Obama,
Let’s foam at the mouth as we ramp up the drama,
Our grass-roots movement pimped by Fox,
Buy some Lipton by the box,
As we who’ve always voted red,
A movement given up for dead,

We’re still around our cause is proud,
With Rush and Plumber guy leading our crowd,
As Glenn Beck’s gets all misty-eyed,
Waving the flag and filling his pride,
With angry words from Atlantic to Pacific,
Rhetorically lame no proposals specific,
Our tea party may not make much sense,
But at least we’ve got anti-oxidants.