Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Mormon in the White House?

I just finished reading A Mormon in the White House? by Hugh Hewitt. I'm glad I read the book and I do feel like I understand a little more about Mitt Romney's positions on certain issues. I simply felt that the book really offered no strong reasons for me to change my opinions on the issues.
The better part of the book was a biography of Mitt and his family and said little about his politics. The first third of the book is entirely about his life at Bain and then later as chairman of the Salt Lake Olympic committee. Clearly Romney is a successful businessman and very good at building strong teams in business and as the Olympic organizer. I offer little criticism of these traits. I would have liked to have heard more about how Romney had to work with the Massachusetts political machine as Governor.
The chapters that did detail his political stances were sufficient to persuade conservatives that he is one of them, but didn't address his inconsistencies thoroughly enough to convince me that he was truly dedicated to he current stances. Personally these chapters only confirmed that on social issues Romney is very big government. Ironically, he is from the party that typically touts states right. Yet on issue after issue he thinks that those rights should be federalized and taken from the states. Without stating what constitutional authority the federal government should use to usurp this power from the states Hewitt justifies all of Romney's social agenda, from his healthcare plan to opposing abortion and gay marriage.
Much of the book was very disjointed. Hewitt would go out of the way to tell stories that he felt were important but failed to tie them in to his theme. In his introduction he goes out of the way to tell about a dinner he had with Arnold Schwarzenegger. When asked Arnold refused to give an opinion on whether he thought Romney's religion would be an issue. Why would Hewitt go out of the way to quote somebody who didn't have an opinion? Since the Governator (Hewitt's joke not mine p.12) had nothing to add to the conversation, personally it just seemed like he was name dropping.
There is a whole chapter detailing George Romney's (Mitt's Father's) presidential campaign. Nothing in this chapter says anything directly about Mitt more than just the fact that he supported and worked on his father's campaign. In the last pages the insinuation is made that Mitt received the report of his father's failed campaign and he will learn from it. I accept this as valuable information that could help his current campaign. My only hesitation in accepting it fully is that if Hewitt would have us accept Mitt having been involved in the failed presidential campaign of a family member as an asset then would he also accept that being involved in two "successful" presidential campaigns of a family as an asset for Hillary? I seriously doubt it. His logic fails for me on that point. If I accept this logic for Romney I must also accept it for Hillary.
If non-Mormons read Chapter 10, the best of the book, with an open mind I believe that many of the conservatives who would vote against Romney just because he is Mormon would have their concerns answered. Hewitt basically asked potential voters to ignore the theological differences and do what I always refer to as the "fruits test". Romney challenges his audience to look at how he lives his life and then make the decision as to whether or not he is a "Christian". I applaud this strategy and I use it frequently in my own life. Let’s not argue about the semantics. Let’s discuss behavior. Romney still has the best one-liner of the debates. When his religion was questioned he simply pointed out that he was the only one on the stage who had only had one wife.
Although there were parts of the book that I enjoyed I did not find anything in it to convince me that he deserves my vote. I share his faith and I share a few of his economic political stances. However, I do not share any of his big government social agendas.
I recently took a quiz on ontheissues.org. Based on 20 issue questions and a ranking on how important each was to me it ranked the currently announced 19 candidates in both major parties. Romney was tied for last place with 3 other Republicans. We agreed on 10% of economic issues and 0% on social issues. Nothing in this book was able to convince me that I should change my stance on any of the 20 issues questioned.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

My wife is reading a book that I find very interesting and also extremely sad. The book is The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo. Dr Zimbardo was actually called as an expert witness during the Abu Ghraib trials. Here is a link to what she has to say about the book so far.
Early on in the book he explains that all you need to make somebody become evil is to convince them that their victim is an animal. As soon as we can look at the enemy and describe them as something less than human we strip them of any dignity and privileges they previously had just because they were human. Early in my life my father explained this to me. In wars, one of the first tasks is to dehumanize the opponent. Frequently this dehumanization takes place in the form of nicknames. Each war seemed to have a newly created name. I’ll spare you the repetition of these profanities on this blog. Once they are no longer people then it becomes easier to kill these “animals”. Almost always these terms are inseparable with the race or ethnicity of the other side. And sadly the names and the bigotry behind them last much longer than the initial conflict.
In church when I was a little kid I learned the song, “I am a Child of God”. I could never understand how somebody who truly believed that we were all children of God could take such conscious and deliberate steps to reduce another person to anything less than that. Unfortunately, far too many people are able to suspend their theological beliefs when it does not support their getting an upper hand on their current opponent.
In the current political book I’m reading the author has already fallen into this pattern of dehumanizing the opponent. Twice so far he has used animal specific terms to dehumanize his Democratic opponents.
I find it deeply troubling that all too often we, as a species, continue in this behavior. I am aware that I have much room for improvement and I am always looking for steps that I can take to change my behavior.
A few years ago, when asked what he thought was the biggest problem facing the world today former President Clinton responded, "The illusion that our differences matter more than our common humanity."
I could not agree more.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Practical Applications

Occasionally, my fixation on debate, logic and reason has tangable practical applications. Below is a copy of a letter that I sent to my county commisioners.

Dear Commissioners,

The purpose of this email is to request that you reject the request to rezone the 900 block of Cole Rd to allow a 200’ tall cell tower. It is item 2007-1064 TSP-2007-009 on tomorrow’s agenda.

Earlier this year the board denied a similar request less than a quarter of a mile away on property owned by Gwinnett Soccer Association. At that time several concerns were brought up about the location. Many if not all of those concerns still exist at the new proposed location.

This area was given special use permit to be used as a soccer field under several conditions, many of which have not been followed by GSA. A few of those concerns are as follows:
They were to have no games before 9:00am on Sundays. GSA frequently has games as early as 7:00am on Sundays.
They were to build a buffer zone between the fields and the neighborhood on Chartley Dr. To date, no such buffer zone exists.
They were to build a fence that ensures no trespassing into Chartley Dr yards. The fence they built is inadequate; my neighbor routinely has players climbing into his yard to retrieve balls.

Please do not even consider any changes to the zoning until GSA is in full compliance with the conditions of the current permit.

At the previous hearing GSA and T-Mobile attempted to show that the proposed cell tower answers a safety concern because there is no cell coverage at the soccer fields for emergencies. I live on property that borders the soccer fields on the southwest. I serve as a Scoutmaster at a church that borders the fields on the southeast, and my children attend a school, Camp Creek, that borders the fields on the northeast. I have personal experience making and receiving calls from T-Mobile, Cingular and Verizon and have never had a problem getting a signal at any of these locations. Chairman Bannister’s son also has property that borders these fields. You might also check with him to get another opinion of the cell coverage in the area. Please, do not allow GSA and T-Mobile’s appeal to fear to influence your decision. It is simply not true.

Mr. Beaudreau, I thank you for your vote against this tower earlier this year. I urge you both to deny the current request for the same reasons.

Thank you in advance for you cooperation on this matter,

Michael Taylor

Consider the Source

I recently picked up two very different political books from the library, A Mormon in the White House by Hugh Hewitt and Storm World by Chris Mooney. So far I have yet to do more than scan both books but I have found a few differences that are very striking.
One book is written by a talk show host. It has 292 pages of text, no footnotes, no end notes, no bibliography and no works cited pages.
The other is written by a journalist who covers science and politics. It has 276 pages of text, 13 pages of appendixes, 78 pages of end notes and sources, 3 pages with over 50 books of recommended readings, and 5 pages describing the various personal interviews cited.
I accept that just because something is sourced doesn't necessarily make it true and that just because something isn't sourced doesn't necessarily make it false. I just find it more than a little ironic considering the criticism that conservative radio hosts heap on liberals for making unsubstantiated claims.
I will read both books with an open-mind. I just wanted to share my first impressions.

7-24-2007 update
As I read Hewitt's book I see that he does give a form of sourcing. He includes it all inside the text rather than endnotes or footnotes. It's much harder to follow up on this type of sourcing since he just says things like, "in Mitt's book Turnaround.." and doesn't give a page number, but to be fair he does have them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I passed!

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

Massive Parallel Processing

Astronomy has always been a love of mine. I just enjoy being able to look up in the sky and understand what I see. Then in college I took several astronomy courses and really enjoyed them. I never had any inclination to be a professional astronomer. I’m not good enough at math to even consider it. However, I love to help out in the little ways that I can.
Several years ago I got involved with the SETI@home project. The gist of this project is that there are radio telescopes all over the world gathering terabytes of information everyday but they don’t have nearly enough computer resources to analyze the data. Somebody came up with the idea of massive parallel processing in order to solve this issue. The idea was that thousands of people leave their computers on constantly and the processor is busy drawing pretty lines and other things while the screen saver runs. Why not have the screen saver actual process data? So they started the program and thousands of people downloaded a packet of data to analyze and in return the got a cool screen saver that actual accomplished something more than just drawing pictures. SETI@home was used in the search for extra-solar planets and was very successful. I have no way of knowing if any of the data that went through my computer was directly involved but that’s not the point. I was actually assisting real astronomers with cutting edge research.
Thanks to a blog that I frequent daily I found out about another similar site. www.galaxyzoo.org is soliciting assistance to analyze the thousands of new galaxies that are being discovered with Hubble and ground based telescopes. The difference here is that they need human assistance and not just computer time. There are many programs that can assist in classifying galaxies but there with the current technology there is still no substitute for the human eye. Go to the site and they will give you a quick training course to see how well you can identify the different types of galaxies. After the training they give you a short quiz. If you test high enough on the quiz you are qualified to start evaluating slides of actual galaxies that have only recently been discovered. I got a 14/15 on the test and Victoria scored a 12/15 so we both are now being astronomy geeks during the time that we would normally blow on Sudoku or Solitaire. I found that it was quite addicting and had to force myself to stop before it got too late last night.
I think what appeals to me most about this is the spirit of cooperation that permeates the process. Rather than having one, all powerful, super computer doing this work we have thousands of real people investing their own time and energy. I think that in the long run this is how most, if not all, of the worlds problems will be solved. It’s the small steps taken by individual people that add up to make large differences in the world.
If you’re interested please give it a shot. And hats of to Phil Plaite, the Bad Astronomer, for bringing this to my attention.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Categorical Imperative

During the last two weeks I’ve been on vacation with my family. Although most of my posts have been the details of the vacation I did find several things that caused me to wax philosophical.
We spent a lot of time waiting in line for one thing or another. Most of the time this wasn’t a problem for everybody. But occasionally there were people who felt that a line was only a suggestion and that they were too special to have to wait in any line. At one time I was waiting to turn left and I was passed on the left and the right at the same time by people who felt I was just being to polite to the oncoming traffic who, incidentally, had the right of way. This similar thing happened several time when for one reason or another a lane was closed and we were forced to merge left or right. Typically most of the people would merge and then the selfish one would seize the open lane and zip up to the front of the line and push their way in front of everybody who had patiently and obediently merged.
In sharp contrast to these events we had exactly the opposite happen in West Virginia. Appearantly the truckers on their CBs were able to tell that the lane was going to be forced to merge left about a mile before we actually saw the signs. The truckers merged left and most everybody else followed. Once we saw the signs everybody, without exception merged left and the traffic kept on moving at a very reasonable pace considering the lane closures. After the many other experiences I had during the last weks this renewed my faith in humanity.
Immanuel Kant came up with what he called the Categorical Imperative. In full philosopher-speak it states ,"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." In plain English this simply means that you should act the way we’d like everybody else to act. Unless you think it would be acceptable for everybody to act a certain way then that behavior is unethical and immoral. For instance, cutting in line: If everybody cut in line the whole concept of a line would disappear and there would be chaos. Even people who cut in line still would like most of the people to not cut in line. We witnessed this first hand many times while in traffic. If everybody lied then the whole concept of communication would break down. If everybody thought it was okay to steal the concept of property would disappear. According to Kant these behaviors are unethical since they would not want everybody else to behave that way.
I’ve had a little bit of success with my children in changing their behavior by referring to Kant’s imperative. When I would catch my kids misbehaving I would simply ask them something to the effect of, “What kind of a world do you think this would be if everybody did what you just did?”
I’d like to thank those drivers on I-77 in West Virginia who demonstrated that in spite of the behavior that most of the world accepts it still possible to treat other people with the respect that they expect of others.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Home Again Home Again

After 900 miles of non-stop driving, most of it by Victoria, I actually got to sleep in my own bed last night.
Niagara Falls lived upto all of the hype. I hesitate to use this word becuase it has become a cliche', but the word fits better than any other I can imagine. The place is "awesome".
We got up early and took the Maid of the Mist tour right up to the edge of both the American and the Canadian falls. If anybody else is considering this be prepared to get absolutely soaked. The kids had a blast.
After that we went and did the Cave of the Winds tour. Not sure how it got that name, since there isn't a cave involved, but the series of decks and staircases leads you right up to the base of Bridal Veil Falls. I was really tickled at how brave the kids were when they walked right up into the water and let it dowse them pretty good.
We drove over to Canada to see the other side of the falls. The first thing I noticed about the country was how much cleaner it was than the New York side. It's not that the U.S. side was dirty, It wasn't that bad, but in comparison the Canadian side looked freshly manicured and vacumed. I tried for about twenty minutes to get some pictures of the rainbow in the mist of the falls but didn't manage to get one that did the place justice.We spent a few hours "Up north, eh" and bought a couple Canadian soveniers and then came back to our hotel on the New York side.
We swam for an hour at the pool and then went to watch the fireworks from observation point.
I think the kids are ready for a return trip to Canada in a few years. After what I've seen they have my support too.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

New York City

I woke up in yet another city this morning. Currently I'm having breakfast in Niagara Falls NY. We just finished 3 days in New York City and our plans for today are to see the falls and then drive into Canada for a few hours.
New York City was one of those experiences that I could have lived without. It was nice to see several of the landmarks. We took the ferry to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. We visited the central park zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and rode the elevators to the top of the Empire State Building. I really enjoyed all of those sites. I was just very claustrophobic the whole time we were there. You need a PhD to figure out how the subways work in that town, and just when you figure it out he start changing thing due to construction or weekend schedules. The streets were surprisingly dirty considering how much the last to mayors have been stumping about cleaning up the streets. Directly across from the entrance to the Empire State Building was a strip joint. I don't think it's possible to go more than 5 seconds in this town without hearing a car horn.
Yesterday was confusing getting out of town but once we did we found that 95% of this state bears absolutely no resemblance to New York City. Upstate New York is not crowded, it's green and quite a bit slower paced.
Victoria says that I'm getting rather cranky at the kids. I really am having a good time but the kids don't seem to be respecting what we're doing for them. They'll cry because I didn't buy them a $4 ice cream cone and completely forget to thank me or Victoria for the thousands of dollars that we've spent on them already.
We've had a good time so far but I'm ready to get back home and on a somewhat normal schedule.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Vaction update

We've been seeing so much stuff the last few days that by the time we get back to the hotel I just want to crash rather than update my blog.
The forth of July was even busier than we expected at Williamsburg. The first day we were here it seemed like we pretty much had the place to ourselves. But Wednesday there were people everywhere. We did out best to re-visit some of the same places we went Tuesday in hopes of recreating some of the photos I lost. Didn't get many of them replaced but we did manage to create several new ones.
We went back to the hotel earlier than we would have otherwise so the kids could get some more swimming in. Rachel and Victoria stayed back for some period dancing lessons. After the swimming and a nice dinner at Red Lobster we went back for the fireworks. The kids thought this was the coolest part of the trip so far. Eve gets the quote of the day, "Daddy it is like the sky is screaming." The fireworks were going off right over our heads and we were even getting little pieces of paper and ash in our hair.
Thursday we checked out and drove through Pennsylvania dutch country. After a little bit of searching we found the Amish buggy rides that we'd looked up. It was about a 30 minute ride with a really nice driver. The scenery was beautiful. at one point he stopped on a little dairy farm and we bought some chocolate chip cookies from two littel danish girls. We just missed the the thunderstorm which hit us during our dinner. Then we continued on to Phildelphia.
Our hotel in Philly was about a mile from Independence Hall, We took a shuttle and waited in line at the visitors center for our tour of the histroic area. We saw the congress building while we were waiting and then we went over to the hall I'm not sure how much of this the kids understood but they were pretty well behaved for it. It wasn't perfect but they did pretty good.
After that we saw the Liberty Bell and then took a buggy ride of some of the older houses and buildings in the area.
It was a little bit out of the way but we then found a great place to get a "cheese wit" and some "wuda ice". For those of you who don't speak Pilly, that is a Philly cheese steak with onions and Italian ices. The kids loved them. Noah grabbed a free sample of pizza from another store trying to drum up business and sucked it right down.
After lunch it was ferry ride to New Jersey to see the aquarium and the Battleship. once we got over there we found out that they both were going to close at 5:00 so we opted to just get the aquarium. I think Aaron and Victoria would have loved it but we just didn't have enough time. The ferry driver made up for us missing it by driving back right next to the Battleship to give us an up close view. Victoria said, "This thing is massive!"
All in all it was a good day in Philly. We're all having a good time and spending money like there's no tomorrow.
Tomorrow we head out to New York City. We'll be staying in Hobokken but on the rail line so we can take the subway everywhere we need to go.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Day Four

We started the morning off by going and renting period costumes for the kids. Rachel and Eve had long white cotton dresses and bonnets. Aaron and Noah had large over shirts and tri-corner hats. With the costumes came a set of instructions. There were certain people that they were supposed to find and ask to do special tasks around the town. Rachel and Eve went to a house to learn etiquette and then they had to deliver a message to the printer. Noah and Aaron were drafted into the militia and had to go learn hos to march.
We took a carriage ride before the day got too hot. The drive Dan was very friendly and basically just answered any questions that we had. Most of the questions seemed to be about his horses. It was a very enjoyable way to see the entire historic district with some good company.
I was most impressed that my kids can actually work. They went to two different gardens and hauled water from the wells and stocked the water barrels, smiling all the way.
It was a very good day and for the most part the kids were very well behaved with only one notable exception. There is this really awful sound that a cat makes when its cornered. It's kind of a cross between a growl and a hiss. Well about 5 times today when the re-enactors have asked if we had any questions Noah responded by asking, "Hey can you do this, 'Hkhkhkhkaaaakkkxxx!!'?" The irony is that he's one of the smarted 7-year-olds I've ever met but he just comes across like some sort of psycho.
We ended the day by watching a military muster. It was complete with musket fire and canon fire. Really impressive.
After we got back to the hotel I proceeded to load the pictures to my laptop. I loaded all 250 of the pictures of the day into my picture folders. I viewed every single one and just envisioned the creations that Victoria would make from them with her scrap-booking expertise. We had a little bit of a problem loading the videos we made onto the computer. I erased the pictures from the camera and them loaded all the video separately. To absolute horror we later found out that, for some reason I don't quite understand, since I still had the camera attached to the computer when I deleted them from the camera I also deleted them from my computer. They are all gone. I was literally sick to my stomach. Yes I realize that the memories will live on. Memories are just a little harder share than pictures. It was a beautiful day in every respect and I look forward to sharing those memories with my friends and family back home.
Unfortunately, due to my mistake, there will be no pictures to accompany the memories.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Day Three

Today was our first day at Colonial Williamsburg. We had a couple hour drive from our campsite in Shenandoah to Williamsburg.
The historical site is really nice. I wasn't quite sure how the kids were going to take to it. I knew that I would think it was cool but I'm a history geek. Well it turns out that the kids are just as weird as I am. I think we spent an hour at the blacksmith watching them make a rolling pin for cocoa beans. Noah wanted to know if the fire was real. I guess since out last vacation was Disney World and everything was animatronic it was a fair question.
Rachel really wanted to tour the old jailhouse. She really loved it. Not exactly what I expected from her. But then again, this is the girl that watches forensic files with her mom.
Aaron enjoyed the armory. Nothing like putting a twelve-year-old who loves history in an authentic 18th century armory loaded with muskets, swords and rifles to make his eyes light up.
At 5:00pm we watched a fife and drum corp parade from the Governor's mansion down to the Capitol. We met them about half was and marched behind them to the Capitol. I think the average age of these guys was around 14.
As I walked in time behind these young men I thought about what types of issues would have actually brought their counterparts 200+ years ago to march to the Capitol. I had no problem at all joining my pace to theirs. I then allowed myself to come back to 2007. I saddened me that in today's political climate there really was no one who I felt strongly enough about their cause to offer a similar tribute.
We'll be here a few more days. Tomorrow our plan is to rent costumes and then take a couple of the walking tours of the site. Wednesday there is a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Then we'll celebrate the anniversary of the signing with fireworks.

I'll edit this post and add some pictures when I get back to the hotel tonight.

Day Two

First thing this morning, after a quick brekfast of chicken noodle soup over a whisperlite we loaded in the truck and headed down to tour Monticello.
The gardens were absolutely gourgeous and the house was quite different that what I expected. For this first thing, the main house was much smaller that I thought it would be. The section of county that he picked had amazing views.
Here's a picture of Rachel's hand as she compaires the house to the back of the nickel.

Note: We're actually at Colonial Williamsburg today. I'm a little bit late on our vaction reports since we haven't had internet access. I'll try to get caught up tonight when we get back tot he hotel

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Vacation, day one

Every couple of years Victoria and I gather up the kids and run away for a two week road trip. The kids all travel pretty well so we don't have any problem with driving.
This year the plan is to head up to Niagara Falls and see a bunch of stuff along the way.
First thing this morning Victoria and I finished packing up the truck and headed over to Granny and Granpa's to pick up the kids. After a good breakfast and a good bye kiss for the grandparents and the ferret we were off.
The first leg of the adventure is a drive to Loft Mountain campground in Shenandoah National Park. Victoria took on the driving for the first 300+ miles. We held the speed limit for most of the way with no problem whatsoever.
I took over the driving shortly after we entered Virginia. Within a mile we had slowed down to 15 miles per hour for the next hour. From the plethora of Ohio plates and college aged kids in the cars I presume that we had timed our passing on this sectioon of interstate exactly with the mass exodus from some college sporting event. The traffic eventually broke up and we resumed our speed limit drive. The only real issue is that the right front tire is wearing funny so I may have to buy a tire and an alignment at some point before we head back home.
The last 25 miles to the campsite were along the skyline drive. This is a beautiful drive. There wasn't much traffic at all here. And we had two more wheels than most of the other visitors.
After a very pleasant conversation with the campground ranger we made our way to the site. The whole campground is at about 3000' on the very top of the ridge. Our site is plush. It's in a natural meadow with ferns and short foliage for the most part. There are just enough short tree to give us a little privacy from the other guests but not enough to detract from the view. And since we have the kids we picked a site that's not too far from the potty, but not too close either.
After we set the tent up we went up to the amphitheater for a ranger program. We got there early and frankly I thought the 30 minutes we spent talking with the ranger before her official schpeel was even better than the presentation.
I made several failed attempts to try to capture an awesome sunset on my camera. The pictures came out pretty good but not nearly as the real thing.
Tomorrow we'll head down to see Monticello.