Saturday, March 31, 2012

Conference Time

I present tonight, unedited for your enjoyment, notes my 12-year-old son, new to LDS Conference priesthood session, and I took tonight. Okay, I put in line breaks, but the rest is unedited. I'll leave it to you to decide who took notes when.

Priesthood session


Most distinguishing feature of church?


A boy or man may have the priesthood by laying on of hands, but unless he be righteous, and do his priesthood duties, he cannot have the priesthood.

Some random guy told an informative story.

ATY discovered that the Zoramites were worshipping idols and in synagogues recited the same boring prayer towards heaven.

Guy: Blah Blah Blah Blah and so on and so on.
Some other random guy talked a loooooooong time.

Guy: Blah Blah Blah sacred duty Blah Blah Blah and so on.

Priesthood is a holy gift. So is the holy ghost. And Legos.
Me: Why ees thees guy takeeng forever?

Put your potential into action.

 Seek not only the what of our callings but the why. Eternal reasons behind whet er are commended to do

Eyring witness of priesthood keys
Love your wife nurture family with her
Enlist family to love one another
Correct in the lord's way


Go and do - not say this is a hard thing

As we fulfill our duties we will find true joy.
When service replaces inaction. The priesthood can act
Do your duty that is best leave to the lord the rest.
James doers of the word not hearers only.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A 9.0 on the Rowling Scale

Matthew Yglesias at is rightly excited that author J.K. Rowling has bypassed Amazon and Apple by distributing ebook copies of her Harry Potter books via her Pottermore web site, rather than parceling these things out through various formats fit for various ereaders tailored for various companies.

Even better – Rowling’s publishers are allowing her to offer her books for multiple devices for one purchase price. According to the device FAQ, if you purchase, for example, the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ebook, you can download it “for personal use” up to eight times – spreading it out over eight devices if you so choose.

But part of me wonders at his excitement. Certainly J.K. Rowling has the following to do this kind of thing, and the marketing clout behind her name to make it work. For the vast majority of authors? Not so much.

Joshua Gans, writing for Digitopoly on the same subject, nails the toned-down excitement perfectly with his opening words: “JK Rowling blows up the eBookstore Business. Well, at least for her.”

He’s cautiously optimistic, however, as he closes:

The point is that once one author — no matter how powerful — can prove all this possible, there is the potential for floodgates to be opened. It will be interesting to see where this leads.
Gans says there’s no telling right now whether Amazon or Apple are getting any cut of the proceeds from these book sales, though they can be uploaded to these devices via linking, for example, an account to the Pottermore Download Machine of eBookstore Liberation. Apple, in the past, has strictly forbidden such leaping and nose-thumbing of its own profit structure, so it’s not likely that either company are going to sit idly by directing customers to the Pottermore site without diving into the cornucopia of quatloos changing hands.

Therein lies the rub. Rowling can do this – and by this I mean striking some back-door deal with the big boys while making it appear there’s independence out front, or at least exchanging some kind of cut for the independence Rowling is able to offer her audience. Anyone else can try to emulate this, but for the vast majority, success will not come not because the independence isn’t there, but because the clout and name recognition don’t register on the Rowling Scale as much as the author would like. So in that case, the eBookstore universe hasn't changed much at all.

Beware the Author Who Knows


That’s the best word for it. And for my reaction to it.

It is Marua Kelly’s call in The Atlantic for what she calls a slow-book movement, in which she urges everyone to turn off the boob tube and read thirty minutes a day. But not just any reading – she wants us to read the classics.

Fair enough. I’ve read two books – what she probably would call literary – so far this year; Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and HG Wells’ The World Set Free. That’s where my smug comes in.

But reading only the classics – and anything classified as “literary,” whatever that means – is a route to smugness, and not much else. Oh, there’s the satisfaction of completing something, as Kelly writes about:
Best of all, perhaps, serious reading will make you feel good about yourself. Surveys show that TV viewing makes people unhappy and remorseful—but when has anyone ever felt anything but satisfied after finishing a classic? Or anything but intellectually stimulated after tearing through a work of modern lit like, say, Mary Gaitskill's Veronica?
And there is the intellectual stimulation, the navel contemplation and everything else we’re supposed to get out of reading “the classics” and something that smacks of “literary.” Re-reading, for example, Swift’s Gullivers Travels this time around made me appreciate how sterile is the land of the Houhynms, where reason is king and emotion is tossed out the window. Lemuel Gulliver’s interactions with these wonderful, intelligent horses so crippled his relationship with humanity that when he got home it took him years to reconcile himself to the fact that he was married to a filthy Yahoo, had had sexual intercourse with a filthy Yahoo and was forced to interact with filthy Yahoos for the rest of his life, when he couldn’t be out in the barn, brooding over his barely-communicative horses, mere shadows of the Houhynms of yore.

So I like me a few classics. But what Kelly needs to be aware of in her manifesto is that with her broad strokes of pushing what is “classical” and what is “literary,” she’s left a lot of room open for interpretation. Max Hastings’ war chronicles, Patrick O’Brian’s sea stories, Richard Rhodes’ tales of the development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, are all classic and literary in my mind. But are they “non-literary” as Kelly wants? I don’t know.

And you know what, I’m reading a non-literary book right now that’s opening my eyes and helping me to understand people and to gain more empathy towards them. Should I chuck it in favor of something else? I don’t think so.

And frankly, I shouldn’t even be reading Kelly’s manifesto because it’s non-literary, as she points out:
But Slow Books will have standards about what kinds of reading materials count towards your daily quota. Blog posts won't, of course, but neither will newspaper pieces or even magazine articles.
Here’s what she emphasizes in her manifesto:

By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories to recall characters and plot details.
Hell, I can think of a lot of non-literary writings that fit this bill.

So I will read the classics. I will also read the cheap pulp she probably doesn’t want me to read. Because when I read a book – and re-read, and read again – it’s to pick up on the language, the structure, the images, the cognitive challenge, the ability to see the world in a different way and to interpret unusual description, and to push my memories to link what I have read in the long form with current events which I may read about in the short form, thus increasing my depth of understanding of how the then intersects with the now, rather than waiting for the now to become the then, only in longer form.

What good does it do me to read, for example, Ted White’s classic – in my mind – The Making of the President 1968 if I can’t look at current news, read current articles and blog posts, and create those connections from that hurly-burly world of politics when our nation was in turmoil socially and politically? Not much. But creating those connections helps me connect to the world of today, and I can only do that if I’m actively reading all sorts of stuff that comes my way. I’m better off reading current events for fifteen minutes, then refreshing those connections by reading the classics – Wells’ The World Set Free also comes to mind in today’s world – than I am shutting out the world of today completely for the sake of literary reading of the classic form of whatever.

I’ll continue my eclectic reading, thank you very much.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Making FDENG 101 Better?

NOTE: Babblings here for my teaching work group, in which we’re discussing ways to improve the curriculum for the Foundations English course at BYU-Idaho. Potentially. I’m not confident anything will change all that much. But we’ll see.

As I see it, our current FDENG 101 course could benefit from the following changes which would spread the workload out more evenly through the semester and integrate better chances at revision:

Combine Assessments. There are several weeks in which students are required to complete a weekly assessment as well as an assessment on their major assignments. I spend a lot of time chasing down students during and after those weeks, urging them to complete both assessments, with some expressing confusion and frustration, saying, “But I already did that,” when, in fact, they’ve done one or the other, not both. Combining the assessments would eliminate that confusion.

Revision. First thing: Cut the Three Cluttered Pigs. While this is in of itself a good exercise in revision, it is so far removed from their ordinary writing styles that making the application of that assignment move from the assignment itself to their own work just isn’t happening. My students need more practice in reading and re-reading their work, catching errors and considering faults in their research, logic, and assumptions than they need a useless exercise in dewordification.

Second thing: Move the Thinking About Thinking essay to the introductory week, not Week One. Why, you may ask? These are college-age students we’re dealing with. They should have to do more that first week than pop in and introduce themselves. They can do an introduction and that first essay, which is simple enough as it is constructed. That gives them a chance to introduce themselves and to show me as an instructor where they are at as writers.

Third thing: With Week One freed up, insert a week between writing their This I Believe Statement and producing their podcast for a week in which they’re asked to revise their essay. Here’s my logic behind that: My first semester, I jumped into the discussions and offered feedback on every essay before they were supposed to be finalized and submitted. This absolutely killed the classroom discussion, as all I got after that pretty much was an echo chamber – yeah, what Bro. Davidson said. So the next semester I didn’t offer any feedback prior to submission. The discussions went better, but I don’t feel like the students learned as much or considered as much revision as they should have – the vast majority of them simply turned in their essays as written, without taking into consideration the feedback offered by their peers. Inserting a week for revision and requiring the students to make revisions – adding a penalty if they turn in the same essay without changes – would motivate them more into taking revision seriously.

And yes, I did say a finished essay, not a podcast. Of any of the assignments in this course, the podcast causes the most headaches. Contrary to what we believe about these Milennials, about half the class has no idea what a podcast even is. Then, as they move into putting their podcasts together, emphasis on revising and fine-tuning their essay flies out the window as they deal with the myriad technical problems that Jing and other podcast construction software presents. This is a class on writing, not a class on podcast production, so to see them expending more effort in sorting out technical difficulties than on revision is painful. I say we eliminate the podcast in favor of a written essay that has been revised in class.

Fourth Thing: We ought to consider combining Weeks Five and Six in order to insert a week in the Profile Essay block for revision. I know this compresses the time they might have for interviews, but the pattern I see consistently is that the interviews are rushed no matter what time is given to them. I’d like to offer them the suggestion that they interview, write, consider revisions, ask follow-up questions (an inevitable part of the interviewing and profile-writing process, something I know after ten years in journalism) and then re-submit so that as they, their peers, and myself have questions or point out things that need improvement that they actually have the motivation and time to do so – time as they’re actually writing and revising the piece, so they can see the bigger picture of how all of this comes together.

Fifth Thing: Do the same thing with Weeks Eight and Nine, combining the weeks and then offering the students the opportunity to submit a rough draft one week and the final draft the next, after considering feedback from their peers and their instructor. This would have especially been important this semester, as I have had several students who have missed the boat entirely on citing references in their research proposals, as if they didn’t make the connection between the research portion of the assignment and the writing portion of the assignment. Again, I could nip this in the bud during the workshops, but I would rather build an extra week into the course for them to consider revisions, conduct further research (again, the follow-up after the questions and feedback is important) and then resubmit, rather than have this done in a rushed, compressed fashion the week their proposals are due.

Heat that Frogurt

So tomorrow we sign paperwork to have about $17,000 worth of HVAC work done in our new house.

I’m having a fun time wrapping my head around that number. It’s big, but you know, in a way it’s not so big. With a tax refund, some money left from the sale of our house in Sugar City, and some money we have in the bank, we’ll be able to cover the bill without having to get a loan, without having to pay interest at all. That’s good news, like my Frogurt.

But that’s a lot of money. That’s about five years’ worth of saving our pennies in order to put cash away for a rainy day. We’d better not have any rainy days for a few years after tomorrow.

But then there’s this: Our first electric bill – we have electric zone heating in the house – was $128 for three weeks, and that was basically three weeks of everybody wearing sweatshirts and freezing and me sitting on the potty on the main level, watching my breath form clouds in the cold. Why throw money into a pit while being cold the whole time when we can put that same money into replenishing a rainy day account while we’re paying a lot less for heat and staying a lot, lot warmer? I can’t see a reason to go that way any more.

And there’s work to be done: The money we put into the heating system – natural gas, with a 95% efficient furnace – doesn’t include the drywall repair and placement, which I imagine isn’t going to be fun to accomplish, given the unique plastering jobs done throughout the house.

But that’ll mean I can also run wires for speakers and the subwoofer downstairs, in the ceiling rather than on the ceiling as we did in Sugar City, adding also the possibility I can rejigger the electric layout downstairs to put in a few more switches and isolate some of the lights downstairs, which right now all turn on with only one switch. But am I smart enough to do that? I don’t know. I guess I’ll give it a shot. And I’ll be much warmer while doing it. In theory.

Can I go home now?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Making Research Work for You

NOTE: More babbling for my FDENG 101 students.

In the book of Acts, we hear the tale of some “vagabond Jewish exorcists” who decide, seeing the success of Paul, to try to cast out spirits in the name of Jesus Christ: “We adjure you,” they told the evil spirits, “by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.”

But the evil spirit responded: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?”

Then we read in verse 16 of Acts, Chapter 19: “And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”

We can laugh a little at the story, which sends the message: If we’re declaring something, we’ve got to have the proper authority. The same goes as we write research papers. We have to show that what we’re saying is backed up by recognizable, credible authority, or those who are critical of what we say are going to prevail against us.

The exorcists through citing authority was enough – and the spirits certainly recognized the authority the exorcists mentioned. You have to do that in your papers. It’s good to say, for example, that lowering the US income tax rate on corporations would make the US more attractive to direct investment, resulting in new jobs primarily in the faltering manufacturing sector. But, your critics will ask, who are you? This example is taken from one of your papers, and is offered just like that: With no more authority than the author of the paper offers.

Now, I’m sure the author found research that supports this theory – but there aren’t any names, any titles, there is no evidence offered to suggest that this statement comes from a credible authority.

Here’s how to fix it. Give me a name and a title:
Ben Stein, professor of economics from the University of Chicago, says that lowering the US income tax rate on corporations would make the US more attractive to direct investment, resulting in new jobs primarily in the faltering manufacturing sector.
Now I know from where the statement comes.

Next, take it to the next level. Like the exorcists, we’ve got the authority. But they still got in trouble. Now you get to step in.

In this instance, this is where more direct research is called for. So Ben Stein says that lowering the income tax rate on corporations would be better for the US. Can researcher and author find evidence of this in action? Certainly, at least on some level.

Look what a Google search titled “California businesses flee taxes” finds:
After 15 years in Monterey Country, Calif., Feel Golf relocated its headquarters to Florida earlier this year after it acquired Pro Line Sports, which was based in the Sunshine State.

"The whole state is a bureaucratic Santa Claus," said Lee Miller, chief executive of the golf equipment company, of his former home. "There's a very high cost of doing business."

In Florida, he found a better work pool, lower operating costs and no personal income taxes.
"Overall, it's just a better environment," he said.

PayPal opened a new customer services and operations center in Chandler, Ariz., in February, bringing 2,000 jobs to the area. The San Jose, Calif.-based tech firm, along with its parent eBay, also added 1,000 jobs in Austin, Texas, and expanded operations in Utah.

"They have business-friendly environments," said Kathy Chui, a spokeswoman for eBay.
Ah-ha! This is you flexing your muscle, using your research strengths and your ability to find correlations to show your own authority, while relying on expert opinion. See what this does:
Ben Stein, professor of economics from the University of Chicago, says that lowering the US income tax rate on corporations would make the US more attractive to direct investment, resulting in new jobs primarily in the faltering manufacturing sector.

Tami Luhy, writing for CNNMoney, finds this true on a smaller scale as businesses flee California, citing high income tax rates as one reason they’re either leaving the state entirely or setting up divisions in more “business-friendly” states.

Luhy found, for example, that PayPal opened a new customer service and operations center in Arizona – bringing in 2,000 jobs – because Arizona is more friendly to business.
But we’re not done yet (and neither was Tami Luhy, though she didn’t continue. Shame on her). How friendly is, say, Arizona compared to California? Another Google search, “Arizona versus california income tax rates” finds this gem.

Add this to the proposal:
Arizona, across the board, has lower taxes than California, adding to its business friendliness. The highest individual income tax rate in Arizona, according to, is 4.54 percent, compared to California’s 9.3 percent. Corporate income tax rates are closer together, but still Arizona’s is lower, at 6.97 percent compared to California’s 8.84 percent. For a company like PayPal and eBay, such a small difference is significant. Looking at its net income of $475.9 million in the first quarter of 2011, the companies would have paid $33.1 million in taxes had all that revenue been earned in Arizona, compared to $41.9 million in taxes had all that revenue been earned in California.
If such differences in business-friendly policy works in Arizona’s and PayPal’s favor, imagine what it could do on the scale of a national economy if Prof. Stein’s advice were taken and the nation’s corporate income tax rates were cut.

(So I cheated. I did another Google search on “paypal profits 2011” and found this. I’ve probably figured corporate income taxes wrong – but math is not my long suit. What I’m pushing here isn’t my math ability, but the ability to expand on one thought to show, not tell, how a proposed solution works.)

So now, starting off with Professor Ben Stein’s statement of theory, I, exercising my research skills and cognitive powers, have found concrete evidence to support what Prof. Stein says. And I’ve bolstered by proposed solution in the process.

I’m not focusing on this one economic-centered paper because it’s the worst of the bunch – I’m just offering examples of what can happen when you decide to cite authority, and then use the authority cited to show your research ability and your ability to make connections to bolster your expert’s opinion with fact. This extra work makes for better papers, no matter the topic.

That’s the difference of making a proposal go from this:

To this:

Close to Home

I have walked in this neighborhood. It is mere blocks from the LDS meetinghouse in the city of Toulouse, a city I remember with some fondness. I worked hard there, and found among the difficulty a lot of good people doing good things.

So to see something like this happening in a city I love kills me. Of course, seeing this kind of thing happen in a city I have no connection with whatsoever is also nasty above all that is nasty. Here’s to catching the slimeball that’s doing this. And here’s to the French justice system and the French sense of justice which, despite the stereotypes, is nothing to be sneezed at.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Grammar Nazi Returns (Briefly)

I had retired the Grammar Nazi, having hoisted myself by my own petard a few too many times as I corrected others’ mistakes.

But this, folks, this is just bad.

Here’s the flub:

Queue: A noun meaning a line, or a verb meaning to form a line.

Cue: A noun meaning a signal, or a verb meaning to signal.

Both are pretty much pronounced the same if you’re a phonics-loving honyoch. But they do not mean the same nor should they be used interchangeably.

I think a lot of people are proud they can spell queue correctly, so that’s the default word they use. But nine times out of ten, it seems, they mean to use cue when they’re too anxious to show off their spelling skills, such as from this comment at

queue the masses flowing to small claims court(who also get their service cut off by At&t for doing so). Did anyone else read about At&t threatening to cancel this guy's service for suing them?

(Head to 3:38 for the pertinent section. Notice Neal uses “queueing” correctly.)

Fukushima Daiichi was no Chernobyl

Don Higson, a fellow of the Australasian Radiation Protection Society, pens an enlightening article in Sunday’s edition of Slate (a reprint from New Scientist) that everyone concerned about radiation exposure and the nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukishima Daiichi power plant should read.

Higson sums up in one paragraph the telling difference between what happened in Japan in 2011 and Ukraine in 1986:

Chernobyl was the worst that could happen. Safety and protection systems failed and there was a full core meltdown in a reactor that had no containment. In the "defense in depth" of nuclear power plants outside the former USSR, containment is an essential engineered safety feature.

His discussion of casualty figures of both the general public and plant workers from each accident is equally enlightening.

It’s an unfortunate quirk of human behavior that the equation of Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl, however, will never be erased in the public’s mind, no matter how many helpful articles like this are published. Higson himself laments that the disaster scale used by the International Atomic Energy Agency (which pegs both accidents at the same level of severity) does not fully tell the tale of the vast difference in scale of the accidents:

The INES was intended to aid public understanding of nuclear safety. In fact, it has caused more confusion. It has also probably added to the mental anguish of the Japanese people.

The accident at Fukushima Daiichi was moved to the top of the scale a month after the tsunami for technical reasons, when the estimate of radioactive material released exceeded the International Atomic Energy Agency's criterion for level 7. However, the amount of iodine-131 escaping from all the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi was less than 10 percent of the amount released at Chernobyl, and the release of caesium [sic]-137, the next most important fission product, was less than 15 percent of the Chernobyl total.

Neither accident was a negligible occurrence, and neither accident – given the lack of future planning in each scenario – should have happened. But comparing one to the other in quantifiable health impacts and to use either as a club to stop the development of nuclear power is as short-sighted as the lack of planning that led to each accident.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Memes, not the Meaning

Controversy in the comic strips takes two forms (and I'm not talking Doonesbury here):
  • Upon the death of an artist, the syndicate (said here in an evil voice meant to conotate money-grubbing, for the lack of a better word, bastards) hires a scab to continue making money, er, drawing the strip.
  • Your local newspaper decides to drop Alley Oop or Beetle Bailey in favor of some other strip.
Here's a third. It's not quite a controversy, but it is worth talking about: Having guest artists take on your work while you deal with something else but are in any other respect quite alive.

That's what Richard Thompson is doing right now with his comic strip Cul de Sac. Thompson himself is grappling with the early onset of Parkinsons Disease, which shouldn't be wished upon anyone. For the past few weeks, he's had guest artists -- today's example is from "Big Nate's" Lincoln Pierce -- doing his strip as he deals with what life has handed him.

While I'm grateful to see the art coming, I've got to say that only Thompson has the flair for Thompson's work. And this isn't just because I don't much care for Big Nate.

I've said before that Thompson, like Charles Schulz, has a unique window into the lives of his subject matter: children. He can make Alice and Petey and their parents do and say things that make me think, yeah, this is real. This isn't made up, this is life coming at me through the comics pages. The little annoyances: Petey lamenting that his assorted jellies caddy is sticky before he gets to it, that he has to sit under a Tiki head at the restaurant, that Ernesto is the only guide he can find to get through the maze of portable classrooms to find his own.

The guest artists, try as they might to mimic the form and memes of Thompson's Otterloops, just don't have that same window into their world, and it shows. This doesn't mean their art or story is bad, but it does mean it's all different enough that I know it's not Thompson's work without having to look at the name scribbled in one of the panels.

It's like Johnny Hart's grandson taking over BC. He's grown into to the strip, I'll give him that, but reading Johnny's strips and reading his grandsons, you can tell the one from the other, and that's even after the grandson's art has grown to nearly mirror his prececessor's. Each has a different narrative take on the story and characters, and though the successor/replacement echoes the memes, the same feeling isn't there.

Fare thee well, Mr. Thompson. Come back when you can.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

If You Please, Sir or Madam, Read This Post

I do it, too.

When someone says thank you to me, more often than not I respond with a “no worries” or a “you bet.” Occasionally, it’s a “you’re welcome,” but those are rare.

Am I scum?

According to Lisa Gache, co-founder of “Beverly Hills Manners” in Los Angeles which – surprise, surprise – offers 1 ½ hour classes on topics such as “Dine With Decorum for Kids” at $135 a pop – I am scum. Pure, unadulterated scum, if I’m reading this NPR report right.

Says Gache:

The responses ‘have a good one,’ ‘I’m good’ or ‘you bet,’ do not carry the same sentiment or convey the same conviction as when we are sincerely expressing our gratitude or thanks. They feel less invested, almost as if they are painful to utter under our breath.

I ask: says who, lady?

If you ask me – and you’re not, since I’m not the manners expert offering dining decorum classes for kids for $135 per 1 ½-hour session – it’s the sincerity of the expressed gratitude or thanks, not the words uttered, that show the investment in our feelings.

If I can invest a “no worries” – a traditional Australian response – with as much sincerity as a “thank you,” the message gets across, correct? And, pardon me for pointing it out, but I’ve heard many a thank you and a you’re welcome uttered as if it were the most painful thing a person has ever been forced to say.

I appreciate this, further down in the article:

For example, [Cindy Post] Senning says, it is important to show respect for other people by greeting them when you first see them — in the hallway, at a meeting, on the street. The form of greeting, though, has morphed over time.

“How do you do?” became “Hello, how are you?” which eventually changed into “Hello, how are things?” Or “How’s it going?”

As a result of the metamorphosis, Senning says, “today it would sound a little stilted and perhaps even disrespectful if a sarcastic tone is used to say ‘How do you do?’”‘

And what about other popular substitutions, such as “no problem” for “you’re welcome”?
Senning says she prefers the latter, “but if the appreciation is expressed in a genuine manner, I do not see its use as a loss of courtesy.”
Language evolves. The feeling we put into language doesn't. As long as the feeling is there, does it really matter what words are used, as long as they're used with meaning and sincerity? No worries, right?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Broken Echo

As I discovered a few weeks ago, some of the political views I hold are unorthodox compared to others in my social circle on Facebook. But that my views attracted both praise and scorn is anecdotal evidence that supports findings released this week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project that says participants in social networks aren’t necessarily participating in echo chambers in which they’re friends only with those who share the same political views.

The study, which sampled roughly 2,200 adults earlier this year, shows that for those on the extreme ends of the spectrum – both liberal and conservative – the echo chamber may be stronger than for others, but for the vast majority of people who lie on the center or more toward the center than to the fringe, their chances of encountering people with opposing viewpoints isn’t unheard of and is, in fact, quite common.

This leads Pew to come up with this not-so-startling observation: Most people form social networks based on factors other than political ideology. Yeah. Like families (where we have political thought of all stripes) and school mates and friends and acquaintances and such. Social networks, then, mirror real life, not some imagined reality. No surprise there.

What’s more surprising is this:

Some 37% of [social networking site] users who exchange material about politics on the sites have gotten strong negative reactions when they posted political material and 63% have never experienced such reactions. Interestingly enough, there is no notable variance across the political spectrum on this question. Republicans, Democrats, liberals, and conservatives among SNS users have experienced the same level of challenge from their SNS friends.

So what’s going on? According to Pew, most respondents say that if they read something from their friends that they don’t agree with, they simply ignore the comment. Only a small fringe of again those on the extremes of the spectrum got to the point that they hid content or de-friended someone because of their opposing political beliefs.

Does this mean that those who responded to my post are in the extremes of the political spectrum? Probably not. It’s too small of a sample to even hazard a guess. What I suspect is going on here is something that Pew also noted: Many SNS participants are surprised to learn that a friend’s position on the political spectrum is different than what he or she suspected.

Another interesting bit: Comments made by family and close friends that were in opposition to one’s political belief were most often ignored, while those made by only casual acquaintances were most often commented on and most often accompanied by consequences such as hiding posts and de-friending. Interesting, but not really surprising. We’re much more willing to put up with lumps and defects in those close to us than we are in those we know only distantly. That’s an echo chamber of sorts, but not as echoey as some have worried about.

The report is available online from Pew here. Of course, some of the more unhinged are ranting about this too.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Week Three: Less Boxy

We’re now in Week Three of living in our new home, and things couldn’t be better.

Well, of course they could be better, but to say things are going poorly would be exaggerating. Things are going well, though not at the speed we’d once hoped.

The basement is still very boxy, as is the front room upstairs. The bedrooms, for the most part, are box-free, especially since I helped the kids (Isaac excepted) empty some of their boxes Friday while they were home from school. Liam just needed some gentle prodding and the hauling of his LEGO desk to his room to get a few more things unboxed. Lexie needed more help, including cleaning up her floor before any boxes could be opened. I did cheat a little and empty the contents of a few boxes into piles when she wasn’t looking, because she was in “clean up piles” mode. She’s still got a hefty portion of boxes in her room, but fewer than before.

The basement, of course, is filled with stuff. I did get some bookshelves put up, and that’s helped some, though the quantity of book boxes in the basement has only decreased marginally. Michelle has also done quite a bit of work in her craft room, but both of us are now being hindered by a general lack of shelves. I’m going to put up some more shelving in her craft room and in the study this weekend, which should help the situation improve a bit. Then we’re on to shelving in the living room, but that’s on hold for a bit as we try to figure out if we can afford to have a gas furnace put in this year.

Speaking of gas, we have had one bid come in – at just under $12,000 – from one contractor. Had another contractor in last Friday, and he’s supposed to give us a bid this week. Hopefully, it’s good news. I think Michelle is over the sticker shock a bit, and that’s helpful. I had an inkling it would be expensive, and frankly, if this second bid is in the neighborhood, they’re actually coming in about $8,000 less than I’d expected. Still expensive, but not massively so, seeing as we have about $8,000 on hand we can put into a system right away. So crossing my fingers for Friday – though the costs we’re seeing don’t include replacing drywall, plaster, and paint, work which I’d do myself, if I can match the unique plastering jobs in this house. Hoping that’s to a minimum, at least on the complicated walls. We’ll see.

Other items of note:

• I have thusfar replaced one deadbolt and three exterior doorknobs, owing to wear and the fact that we got only one key to the front door and don’t know who might have the others.
• One of the glass panels on our fireplace shattered a week ago. Will have to get that replaced.
• We have a lot of worn outlets in the house that just won’t hold a cord in any more. Step on the cord and it pops right out of the wall. Replaced four last night – by the light of a setting sun and flashlights held by young children who were as interested in making hand puppets with the light as they were helping daddy.
• Noticed that the stuff – folders, mostly – that wandered home from work were taking up too much space, so I brought them all back to work where they can take up space but not in my personal study so I’m not as stressed out about it.
• Convinced the kids to pillage the art supplies box (paper, crayons, etc) that had been in the study to take to their individual rooms. Threw a LOT of stuff away. Felt great. Also started a box of stuff that none of the kids want to have in their own rooms, for potential delivery to the nieces and nephews or the thrift store.
• Broke down another massive pile of cardboard boxes and hauled them out to the garage. Hoping to make another trip to the recyclers Saturday, after we’ve had another day of emptying boxes.
• Thought I’d done a great job of alphabetizing my books until I found another full box of books for the Cs. Charles Dickens, who had been on the top shelf, has now worked his way to the second shelf, closer to the end rather than the beginning.
• We’ve identified the Taylor of Matchpoint Drive, a little three-year-old boy named Dyer, who came to our house three times in three days looking for someone to play with. No sign of the parents. We don’t even really know where he lives. Cute kid, though.
• Michelle and I took a walk through our neighborhood on Friday. An interesting mix of single-family houses to duplexes to apartment complexes, the further south we go. We can get to two big box stores on foot in about fifteen minutes. Kinda weird, that.

DeaconMover 2000

So Liam passed the Sacrament for the first time this Sunday, with his typical flair and finesse.

I was proud of him. Let me say that up front, no matter the hilarity (mild) I may report further. When we got to church his Deacon’s quorum advisor came up to him and asked if he wanted to pass that day, or wait until next week. Typically, when you give Liam an out, he takes it. Not Sunday. He opted to take on the job then and there, without any prompting.

Round one: He’s in line getting a tray for bread, then darts back to the bench where he’d been sitting with the other boys. Gets back in line quickly with a little laminated card in his hand: Directions on the route he was to follow through the chapel. Score for him.

Second round: As he walks by our pew, he gives us a little wave. Not quite the breach of etiquette of the double-dog dare, but he did stand out.

Round three; IN priesthood opening exercises, they asked for volunteers from the Deacons quorum to go to a rest home to help pass the Sacrament there. Much hemming and hawing among the priesthood. I didn’t want to push Liam, but then he leans over and whispers, “Dad, should I do it?” If you want to, son. So he did. We ended up going together – that was the price of his volunteerism – and he did just fine, in a new environment, with a new task.

Again, very proud of the boy. I remember those awkward years. He’ll do just fine.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Forever [not] Alone

Just another reminder, as the Earth spins through the void and orbits around the Sun that we are not alone in this little corner of the universe. There's lots of "stuff" out there, just waiting to be discovered. Wouldn't this be a cool place to leave some kind of time capsule, a la Michigan J. Frog? I feel a short story coming on. Or at least a re-read of "The Little Prince."

Eerie Prescience

Tell me if this sounds familiar:
The sober Englishman at the close of the [redacted] century could sit at his breakfast-table, decide between tea from Ceylon or coffee from Brazil, devour an egg from France with some Danish ham, or eat a New Zealand chop, wind up his breakfast with a West Indian banana, glance at the latest [redacted] from all the world, scrutinize the prices current of his geographically distributed investments in South Africa, Japan, and Egypt, and tell the two children he had begotten (in the place of his father’s eight) that he thought the world changed very little.
That’s our global village today: Food and news and complacency from all over the world, correct?

But you, smart reader, know it’s not our world today. Why, you say, there are two [redacteds] in the text. You are so very astute. And there is one Americanized spelling as well, “scrutinized,” rather than “scrutinised.” From whence does this passage come, you may well ask. Well, by all means it comes from HG Wells’ “The World Set Free,” published in 1921. He speaks of the nineteenth century, and his news comes in the form of telegrams, not tweets or the Internet or whatever.

But the sentiment, the sentiment, ladies and gentlemen, is what I want to talk about. That global village. News and products in your own kitchen from around the world. That feeling that the world is getting closer, and yet not different, for as Wells continues writing, “[The children] must play cricket, keep their hair cut, go to the old school he had gone to, shirk the lessons he had shirked, learn a few scraps of Horace and Virgil and Homer for the confusion of cads, and all would be well with them . . .”

In the first portion of this fantasy of a world to be, Wells writes of technological upheaval in a manner that would not be unfamiliar with those who are fond of hearing Clay Shirky and other such gurus speak of the Internet. Wells wrote in a period of time when the Industrial Age was approaching its wracking maturity, at the end of the first Great War in which the manufactures of men poured out new horrors on the earth. The technology of which he writes upsetting the landscape literally, socially, and figuratively, is atomic power, which produced cheap energy, abundant wealth for the few and mass unemployment for those who used to work on machines or mine coal or work in other hundreds of sundry industries now rendered obsolete by the splitting of the atom.

Also familiar to Shirky and Wells is the skepticism that the new technology brings:
And there was an extraordinary mental resistance to discovery and invention for at least a hundred years after the scientific revolution had begun. Each new thing made its way into practice against a scepticism that amounted at times to hostility.
Again, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We see skepticism and hostility in the news business, in the movie business, the music business, growing deeply in the publishing business, as people who write manifestos like this continue to urge technology and as companies aim to fill that desire for us all, at the expense, yes the expense, of those who have gone on before and who do not have an inkling of how to react to their world crumbling around their ears.
Between these high lights accumulated disaster, social catastrophe. The coal mines were manifestly doomed to closure at no very distant date, the vast amount of capital invested in oil was becoming unsaleable, millions of coal miners, steel workers upon the old lines, vast swarms of unskilled or under-skilled labourers in innumerable occupations, were being flung out of employment by the superior efficiency of the new machinery, the rapid fall in the cost of transit was destroying high land values at every centre of population, the value of existing house property had become problematical, gold was undergoing headlong depreciation, all the securities upon which the credit of the world rested were slipping and sliding, banks were tottering, the stock exchanges were scenes of feverish panic;—this was the reverse of the spectacle, these were the black and monstrous under-consequences of the Leap into the Air.
Unintended consequences, of course – but there’s so much good to come of it! Cheap transportation! Smoke-free skies! Fuel that cost pennies to produce and that could power a city for a year from a lump of matter no bigger than a bottle of gin! Oh yeah, had to know I’d bring gin into it. Shirky did, and to great effect.

Nobody was read, Wells said, for the onslaught of prosperity:
The thing had come upon an unprepared humanity; it seemed as though human society was to be smashed by its own magnificent gains.

For there had been no foresight of these things. There had been no attempt anywhere even to compute the probable dislocations this flood of inexpensive energy would produce in human affairs.
Not even government, of which one of Wells’ characters speaks with much scorn:
An entry in Holsten’s diary-autobiography, dated five days later, runs: ‘Still amazed. The law is the most dangerous thing in this country. It is hundreds of years old. It hasn’t an idea. The oldest of old bottles and this new wine, the most explosive wine. Something will overtake them.’
Thing is, Wells tells us, is that those in power and position to do something, to discover that thing that will overtake them before it does so, are not willing to do so:
It flashed suddenly into his mind just what the multitudinous shambling enigma below meant. It was an appeal against the unexpected, an appeal to those others who, more fortunate, seemed wiser and more powerful, for something—for intelligence. This mute mass, weary footed, rank following rank, protested its persuasion that some of these others must have foreseen these dislocations—that anyhow they ought to have foreseen—and arranged.

That was what this crowd of wreckage was feeling and seeking so dumbly to assert.

‘Things came to me like the turning on of a light in a darkened room,’ he says. ‘These men were praying to their fellow creatures as once they prayed to God! The last thing that men will realise about anything is that it is inanimate.

They had transferred their animation to mankind. They still believed there was intelligence somewhere, even if it was care less or malignant…. It had only to be aroused to be conscience-stricken, to be moved to exertion…. And I saw, too, that as yet there was no such intelligence. The world waits for intelligence. That intelligence has still to be made, that will for good and order has still to be gathered together, out of scraps of impulse and wandering seeds of benevolence and whatever is fine and creative in our souls, into a common purpose. It’s something still to come….’
The world waits for intelligence, Wells writes. But, he reminds us, intelligence has to be made. Waiting for industry, for government, for institutions to be that intelligence is ill-advised. We have to be that intelligence. We are the people we’ve been waiting for, and it’s only dumb of us to be cross for keeping us waiting so long.

Wells urges us not to wait, through one of his characters:
‘I saw life plain,’ he wrote. ‘I saw the gigantic task before us, and the very splendour of its intricate and immeasurable difficulty filled me with exaltation. I saw that we have still to discover government, that we have still to discover education, which is the necessary reciprocal of government, and that all this—in which my own little speck of a life was so manifestly overwhelmed— this and its yesterday in Greece and Rome and Egypt were nothing, the mere first dust swirls of the beginning, the movements and dim murmurings of a sleeper who will presently be awake….’
Can governments and institutions do this kind of thing? Yes, but they have to be filled with people willing to put in the effort, and not for pay nor glory nor praise, but because it simply has to be done. This doesn't mean burning and pillaging and setting aside the old guard for something new -- they tried that in the French Revolution, and we see how well that worked out for everyone. But it does mean listening, listening, thinking, and listening some more. And not automatically braying against what is old and hidebound -- some things that are hidebound are so for excelelnt, timeless reasons -- ant not for automatically dismissing every new thought that comes along. This is a thinking, evolving process that demands careful consideration, not political or media sound bites.

This is an eye-opening book, folks. Highly-recommended reading. It could be the manifesto of the Tea Party or the Occupy movement, or of anything from the Cato Institute to Lulzsec (however that is freely capitalized).

Now, I'm not blind to Wells' faults -- one of my mottoes is Beware the Writer Who Thinks He Knows. The brutality shown in this book, as well as that in The Shape of Things to Come, is ugly. But for thinking purposes, this book of his has some interest.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Remember 2008, Folks, Before You Get Smug

SPLIT DECISION! Screams the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, per David Weigel at Slate. And everywhere else you looked, there were messages of gloom and doom for co-front runners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, battling it out for the Republican nomination. And, of course, lots of gloating, both covert and not so covert, that the advantages were all going to the incumbent Democratic president (Disclosure: for whom I voted in 2008, for whom I likely will not vote for in 2012.)

How quickly we forget.

Look at this interesting Wikipedia chart here, showing the results of Super Tuesday

Looks like a split decision to me back then, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled for supremacy as they fought for the Democratic nomination. Wee those totals? Clinton won 13 contests to Obama’s 10, 847 delegates to Obama’s 834. She was also ahead in the popular vote.

Then consider Super Tuesday 2.0, outlined here.

Again, Clinton for the win, winning three out of four contests.

But look who is in the White House now, folks.

Super Tuesday 2012 – and the results up until then – are just as split now as then.

Contrary to what the pundits are saying, the 2012 contest isn’t a slugfest that’s going to batter the eventual victor any more or any less than that 2008 slugfest – It’s just evidence of a party enjoying the thought that more than one candidate up for the nomination could be their guy to win in the election.

Remember your history. Consider it well.

Anything can still happen.


I probably shouldn't jump to conclusions. First of all, I didn't miss the little "visuals do not represent actual gameplay" disclaimer at the bottom of the screen. Also, I'm certain whatever system requirements this beast wants, I don't got them. But one can hope . . .

Specualtion (and incessant whining) has already begun on the game boards, however.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Play It . . ."

With the passing of Robert Sherman, yet another door closes to Disney’s golden era. Not that the songwriters working for Disney today are slackers, but the Sherman Brothers – Robert with his brother Richard – were Disney music, as much as Carl Stalling was Warner Brothers/Bugs Bunny music.

These guys put a lot into their work – and “work” was whatever was at hand. Robert Sherman joined the US Army at age 17 and was among the first to enter the concentration camp at Dachau. He won a passel of decorations from the army and then went on with his brother to win two Academy awards for Best Original Song (Chim Chim Cher-ee)and Best Substantially Original Score.

And then there’s Feed the Birds, which was Walt Disney’s favorite. Often, years after Mary Poppins, all Disney had to do was ask the Sherman Brothers to “play it,” and they knew which song he spoke of.

These songs are as much a part of my childhood as going to school, playing around in the dirt, riding bicycles and whatever else I did as a kid.

Thanks, boys.

The Things You Find . . .

My in-laws out in Iona have a Greg Olsen original artwork on a wall in one of their bedrooms -- one from his pre-religious, comic book superheroes phase.

While this art, found in the garage of our new house, isn't of the same caliber, I like to think it makes up for originality what it lacks in technique.

I'll certainly never look a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner at face value ever again, especially if I'm facing a window. I do love the stunned look of the spoon-guy on the right side of the drawing.


Regular blogging hopefully will resume here later this week, after our new computer equipment arrives. We're going from a wired network to an entirely wireless network because, in a bigger house, we don't want networking cables strewn up and down the staircase and through the kitchen to our various computer locations.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Willingly Outside the Process

Fact: Idaho is holding presidential caucuses this year on an unprecedented scale, and frenzied pitches ranging from local Republican operatives to the highest of higher-ups at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are urging us to participate, no matter our political affiliation.

Fact: This country is not ruled by the majority, but by the majority that shows up.

Fact: Republicans are allowing only registered Republicans to participate in the caucus, and the Democrats are being smug about the fact that they don’t have such a requirement.

Conundrum: What is a politically-unaffiliated individual such as myself to do?

Conclusion: Chances are about 99.9% as of now that I will not attend.

The smugness of the Democrats is unappealing:
The likelihood of R’s participating in ours is slim and if they do I don’t think they would change any outcomes. The caucuses are party run events I personally think the R’s are hurting themselves as far as limiting participation to only “registered” Republicans.
The legalese of the Republicans is also unappealing.

The partisanship of both is, well, unappealing.

Does this make me cynical and an icky person if I elect not to declare a party affiliation and not participate in the caucuses? I understand the reasoning behind wanting to close primaries – the dirty tricks popularized in the Michigan primaries show what happens when members of the “other” party try to game the other party’s election – but why does the misbehavior of a few have to make our political process more difficult to become involved in, rather than simpler? Oh yeah. Honesty goes out the window when politics is involved.

Yes, I am a cynical crumb. The facts point to me breaking my pointing stick.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Interesting little brouhaha going on at – one of my favorite Internet reads – though you won’t get a sense of much interest out of Slate.

A little Googling tells me that on Feb. 17, Slate published an article written by Carl Elliott, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, calling into question the ethicality of a stem-cell researcher and businessman also serving as editor of a journal on bioethics. Slate retracted the article – which I had not read until today – offering as its only explanation a terse editorial statement stating the article didn’t meet its standards for verification and fairness. Slate stripped the article from its website and apparently did a pretty good job of scrubbing the web, as I can’t find a link to the article on anywhere.

The article’s author, and several other experts in the bioethics and stem cell community, seem to think Slate caved in to the threat of a lawsuit over an article that contained only minor factual inaccuracies. Ed Silverman, writing at, has a good rundown of the situation.

Sez Elliott, per Silverman:
I disagreed strongly with Slate’s decision to withdraw the article. McGee had threatened them with a lawsuit, and their editorial decision seemed driven entirely by fear. For a journalistic organization to allow itself to be bullied in this way is shameful.
As is probable, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, though Slate’s terse statement and complete scrubbing of the article does lend itself to some odd questions, as up until now, Slate’s corrective efforts have been much more open and traceable than this.

So being the curious little fellow that I am, I did some more Googling and, thanks to the Center for Genetics and Society, I got to read the full article (still tagged as being published by Slate). Read it here.

One has to wonder by Slate didn’t come to bat for Elliott, who seems to raise legitimate conflict of interest claims and relies – as do most journalists – on careful research into the subject. And given the ease in which I was able to find the full article, still credited to Slate, on the web, you have to wonder why they thought they could make this article go away. Elliott himself tells Silverman that the subject of the article seemed most upset about Elliott’s repeating of already-reported facts – found in articles and at sources that are in the public record and aren’t going to go away, no matter who he calls.

Having made terriffically bad mistakes myself in newspaper articles, I know the pain this causes. I also know that editors owe it to the public to explain up front what happened and what the consequences are and, frankly, what the mistakes were, in order to clear the air and move forward. hasn’t done this at all.