Friday, August 08, 2008

Opening Ceremonies Friday

(Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES)

Today the Summer Olympics begin in Beijing. If the air there wasn't bad enough, they added to the horrible air pollution using TONS of fireworks. Hey, its their right, the Chinese invented them about 800 years ago. And to be polite guests, everyone has to pretend that the air is just super!

(Photo Credit: Yeves Herman/Reuters)

And that they have no impact on Darfur, and don't violate people's rights even when they are denying visa for Dafur critics like 2006 Speed Skating Gold Medalist Joey Cheek (Hat's off to Romney for asking the Chinese to let him in) And good for America's Olympians who made a statement by choosing former Sudanese "Lost Boy" Lopez Lomong to bear the U.S. flag.

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is fluent in Mandarin, points out the phrase "human rights" is often (mis)translated as "personal empowerment" in Mandarin and perhaps this is why the Chinese government doesn't get why the world community is so irate about Tibet, Darfur, etc. If so, this is a pretty poor excuse, but maybe he has a point: that before we can change minds, we must understand the culture and understand the language. The intellectual basis of human rights is that of individualism and not collectivism. Guess which culture is more collectivist and which is more individualistic?


But I should not be such a serious policy nerd. I should just chillax and enjoy the pageantry and sport. For some reason, I can't ever seem to enjoy NBC's tape-delayed-corporate-sponsored-touching-mini-bio-dramas they do every 2 years. But hey, your mileage may vary. Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

good thing we test/burn chemical weapons in Dugway

Whether or not you believe that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the lone gunman anthrax mailer...we now have a local connection.
Utah's Dugway Proving Ground produced one of two strains of anthrax that FBI investigators say was used in the deadly September 2001 poison-letter campaign that killed five and injured 17.
The federal investigation once again focuses attention on Utah's chemical and biological testing facility in Tooele County's west desert. It made headlines in March 1968 when a deadly cloud of nerve gas drifted off the base and killed 6,000 sheep grazing on the west slopes of the Stansbury Mountains.
Poison-letter campaign? So how did he get anthrax from Dugway? How does it move from Dugway, Utah to Fort Detrich, Maryland? Someone please explain this to me.

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In high school, I played basketball games against Dugway, at least one in Dugway (and I played other games in nearby Grantsville). And the air out there was terrible...I don't care what the government says, it isn't healthy.

Is LaVar breaking the law?

(Images from LaVar for

Do you remember the LaVar Christensen? Last cycle, Jim Matheson crushed him to the tune of 59% to 37%, despite LaVar's "America Needs Utah" slogan. Currently, he is trying to regain his seat in the Utah House of Representatives.

A source informed me that LaVar is currently an LDS singles ward Bishop somewhere in Sandy and has been conscripting his parishioners into doing things like stuffing envelopes for his state house campaign at his aforementioned singles ward. (Apparently, he tried to pull a similar stunt by using taxpayer money to produce pro-LaVar propaganda for school children) For someone who wishes to be a lawmaker again, he sure seems ignorant of the law.

The LDS Church, like other religious organizations in the U.S., are organized as tax exempt non-profits under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. To gain its tax exempt status, the Church was "required to make certain representations, including a representation that it will not participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or against, any candidate for political office." Branch Ministries, Inc. v. Rossotti, 40 F. Supp.2d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 1999), aff'd, 211 F.3d 137 (D.C. Cir. 2000). If a church engages in political activities, the IRS can revoke that church's tax exempt status (not withstanding the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause). Id., 40 F. Supp. 2d at 20, 24-27.

Naturally, the Church leadership repeatedly admonishes its members and lay ministers not to use Church facilities or supplies for political activity. Remember when some Mormon thought using a BYU alumni list to raise money for Mitt Romney was a good idea? The Church came down hard on that one. Currently, they are attempting to thread the needle on the issue of gay marriage in California.

They may be willing to test the bounds of the definition of "political activity" over the issue of gay marriage and the Church's official level of participation in this fall's ballot inititive to overturn the Califorinia Supreme Court's decision. But I highly doubt that they are willing to risk their non-profit status for someone like LaVar "Tolerance is the religion of people who no longer believe in anything" Christensen.

Oh, and LaVar, if God really wanted you to be in the state legislature (as you claim), he wouldn't have told you to drop out of the House so that you would get beaten like a mule by Jim Matheson in 2006.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

captive audience

Have you ever filled up your tank and been forced to watch an ad? I did once while driving in another state, and I thought it was incredibly annoying. But I guess it is all the range in lots of states, since you know, those oil companies are only making $12 billion a quarter (or $1,500 a second).

Anyway, Barack Obama is trying really hard to keep Florida in play. Even though he has spent millions more than John McCain (who has spent zero in FL since the primaries) in the state already, John McCain has a significant lead in the Sunshine State. So Obama's new tactic? Do an ad attacking John McCain on energy (and touting Obama's energy plan) on those gas pump TVs.

Here's the ad:

Interesting strategy. In 2004, George Bush advertised on cable channels that fit is supposed voter demographics, like the Golf Channel. He even managed to get himself on some bass fishin' show. Liberal bloggers believe that such microtargeting is a smart tactic that helped Bush win, and that Democrats should mimic this technique. Are Americans sorting themselves by what they watch to such an extent that it is better for Obama to get his mug on those cardboard coffee sleeves than place an ad during American Idol? Not yet, and I don't think it would be a good idea to place political ads in the theaters either, even if it is during another Michael Moore "documentary" or the Passion of the Christ 2: the resurection.

UPDATE: Many gas stations refused Obama's ads because they attacked oil companies' contribtions to John McCain.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Washington Oil Party

(a play on the idea that this is the GOP's version of the Boston Tea Party)

(Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior)

Rep. Rob Bishop (1st-District) prides himself on being a former history teacher in Box Elder County, a man of "family values." I used to think that family values was code for pro-life anti-gay-rights, and in Utah, a hint that you went on an LDS mission while your opponent has strayed from the faith (or never was a member in the first place). Now I am really confused.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has one son getting married next Tuesday and another leaving on an LDS mission the day after. So he had planned to take advantage of Congress' August recess to spend the week weeding and preparing his home for expected guests.
Instead, he now is flying back to Washington to join a GOP protest about taking that five-week vacation without first voting on GOP legislation designed to help lower the cost of oil.
"We will go on the House floor, and talk to whoever is there. We do not think it is right to go on vacation until we have dealt with this issue," he said Monday.
That's right, the same guy who voted 18 times during the past 90 days to adjourn the House, now wants a special session to vote on drilling offshore so we can save 1% when we fill up our tank in 2030. So was it a political stunt the first 18 times, or just the last two times when you held a slumber party on the House floor? Even the President, who wants offshore drilling badly, even Bush won't ask for a special session on off-shore drilling. But it is more important to be in Washington right now if you are a non-partisan get-things-done kind of's not like one of your sons is getting married or another son is going on a two-year mission. Sounds like some one is paying their dues to get in the good graces of their fellow party members.

Lee Davidson calls the stunts "spontaneous" protests, when anyone paying attention (especially somehow who getting paid to pay attention for his readers) would know that this was a coordinated effort between the White House, the McCain campaign, and the Republican leadership in Congress to harp on off-shore drilling, since the polling arguably shows the public might favor it.
"I was truly amazed at what I saw there. There was a unique feeling or spirit. You usually don't see that kind of energy on the floor. Usually, you are talking to a lot of empty chairs. But the floor was full, and the galleries were three-quarters full. All the tourists were responding plausibly for what we were doing," he said.
"Since even pre-Civil War times, I don't think anything this spontaneous and dramatic has happened before," he said.
Now maybe that bolded word is just a typo or mistranscription and Bishop actually said "positively"--Lord knows I have a pretty big glass house on the typo front--or maybe this was a Freudian slip.

In any event, as a history teacher, Bishop doesn't have to look that far back to see examples of political stunts, in fact, he can just look back to the past 18 votes he cast over the last 90 days.

Monday, August 04, 2008

the crazies: a preview

Friends of mine inexplicably get the Deseret News every day, despite only asking to get Sunday only. One of their favorite things to read in the paper is what they call "the crazies" --the letters to the editor. There is even talk by my friends of starting a blog dedicated exclusively to deconstructing the insanity. To encourage such an effort, I hereby give my readers a taste. Here's one, in full.
Energy beliefs are naive
Published: July 31, 2008
It's disheartening to read the naive beliefs expressed in many of the letters regarding energy. The sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow; therefore they are not reliable energy sources. Electricity doesn't spring magically from the ground.
It's created by generators. Without a waterfall, fire is the energy source that powers generators. Fire comes in two practical forms: fossil fuels and nuclear power. The Green Gestapo blocks any effort to utilize these potential fire sources. Still, they insist we must switch to electricity. The ambiguity, contradiction and plain silliness of this reasoning is maddening to anyone with half a brain.

Ron Russell

Salt Lake City
Let's see here, belittling group you disagree with by calling them naive, check. Next, using alliteration to belittle, check. Comparing them to Nazis' Gestapo (short for Geheime Staatspolizei: "Secret State Police"), who murdered millions of Jews, Homosexuals, and disabled, check. Oh and I forgot, projection, check.

You see, electricity that is generated via renewables like solar and wind energy are not all used as they are being produced. Rather, there is this thing called a "battery" where electrical energy can be stored, maybe you have heard of those new gizmos? When you search for solar energy storage, you get nearly 3.5 million hits, including news stories of the latest storage technique discovered by scientists at MIT (wind energy storage generates a measly 1.06 million hits). And if anyone can explain what Mr. Russell was talking about with regards to "fire," I am all ears.

Our friend Mr. Russell also uses the straw man technique to suggest that environmentalists demand that we exclusively use solar and wind to supply 100% of our electricity needs immediately. Nobel Laureate Al Gore (So named to peeve Mr. Russell) has proposed a path to achieve the goal of switching to renewables exclusively within 10 years. Former Swift Vote Vet for Truth funder T. Boone Pickens has invested serious cash in building wind farms in Texas and promoting the idea of moving towards wind power generation. Currently, Germany generates something like 20% of its electritiy from solar, thanks to some serious incentives. The U.S. hundreds, if not thousands of acres of uninhabited land where the wind is fairly constant and the sun does shine alot--certainly a lot more than in Germany, whose whether is more like Seattle than San Diego.

If we can improve battery technology, improve transmission lines so that less energy is lost when moved, lower the costs of producing solar and wind energy, and reduce our consuption via increased efficiencies, Al Gore's plan is possible...and preferable to listening to idiots like Mr. Russell.

You know what really grinds my gears? Giving people a soapbox who don't know what they are talking about.