Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hometeaching. And how things have changed.

So, I'm officially part of the most liberal hometeaching companionship in Shelley, and possibly all of Eastern Idaho (or at least north of Pocatello).

I suspected as much when I found out my hometeaching companion works for the Idaho Falls Arts Council, and when he continued to show up to church with a non-conformist color of shirt (non-conformist in Idaho, at least).  But he's confirmed it.

Now, if I can only get out of primary so I can attend some of more ridiculous classes that sometimes happen in our ridiculously conservative small town, if only to support him and his wife.  Like today, where the subject in joint PH/RS was "how is today different than 90 years ago."  His wife answered "women can vote."  Apparently many in the class grumbled about that answer (most likely because it was a positive answer and they just wanted to spew negative ones).  Me?  I would have asked, right out of the gate, "Are you asking how are things better or how are things worse?"  Because honestly, there's a lot of both.  My second question would have been "why 90 years instead of 80?"  I'm glad I wasn't a young man during World War I, the Great Depression, or World War II.  Or for any of the other wars with a draft.  And a number like 90 is, quite frankly, cherry-picking.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, for the U.S. the 1920's, 1950's, and 1990's were the three decades with the most economic prosperity in the U.S. in the last 100 years.

Had I responded with actual answers, to combat the wave of negative answers (all except "women can vote" were negative), I would have discussed the plummeting of childhood diseases and death rates.  Or I could have talked about how horrible conditions were in Germany.  My great-grandfather (effectively my fifth grandparent, as I was one of the oldest great-grandchildren and he lived a long life, with a healthy mind until the end) was serving a mission in Germany in 1923, 90 years ago.  Let's just say the end of WWI had not left Germany in a very good state, and things were entirely miserable.  Far worse than the Great Depression here.  Had things been half-decent there, it's unlikely Hitler would've been able to gain the popularity to rise to power.

Or I could have mentioned all kinds of other things.

In any case, it's good to have an ally (with his wife, two). 

Friday, December 14, 2012


So, there's apparently a movement to get LDS women to wear pants (dress pants) to church on Sunday.  This Sunday.  And for men to wear something purple (such as a tie).


I've heard all kinds of reasons for it, from supporters and detractors.  The most extreme being that it shows slack-wearing women want to be just like men, hold the priesthood, etc.

The most mild being that women are tired of being frowned on for showing up in dress slacks, and sometimes even told that nice dress pants are inappropriate.

And the conversation gets lost, as people incorrectly assume one or the other, and incorrectly assume that everyone behind the movement supports the extreme, or everyone against the movement opposes the mild.

It's true.  A few women are apparently doing it because of the extreme.  And plenty of people are doing it because the cultural norm of no pants is just stupid.  (For the record, so is the cultural norm of only white shirts, a norm which I plan on "protesting," like I've done a few times in the past two or three months, on Sunday).

And those many, many men and women who aren't doing it because of the extreme, but believe the pants are just a symbol--they're asking for the right to have a woman give a prayer in General Conference, for women to be in Sunday School Presidencies (unlike just a few years ago, they can't even be the secretary any more) and other entirely non-doctrinal changes in rights and responsibilities.  None of which require that women hold the priesthood.

And of course I'm sure there will be many women wearing pants and many men wearing purple who are doing so for reasons entirely unrelated to this whole drama.

So don't assume you know people's reasons for wearing slacks, purple, or a colored shirt.  Because if you do there's a good chance you're assuming too much.  And we always know what happens when you assume...

Monday, November 19, 2012

One Potential Side Effect of Decrease of European Missions

I served a mission in Germany from 1999-2001.  My mission was one of six German missions; there was another one in Austria and possibly one in the Swiss-speaking part of Switzerland. 

The number of missions there started to drop almost immediately after I returned home.  In 2001, the mission just north of us closed, sending half their missionaries to us and half to Hamburg. 

Now, where there were seven or eight missions, there are just three.  Frankfurt (my mission), Berlin, and a mission encompassing parts of Switzerland, parts of southern Germany, and all of Austria.

I'm not sure of other numbers in Western Europe, but I believe there has been a tremendous drop in the number of missionaries throughout Great Britain and Scandinavia as well as France, Germany, and other smaller neighboring countries.

Part of this probably has to do with the fact that lots of missionaries were getting sent to Europe without a lot of results.  I served in small branches with five other missionaries and very little success; I also served in decent-sized wards with eight missionaries and lots of baptisms.  But success, as far as numbers went, was the exception rather than the rule, and six missionaries in a tiny branch was just overkill.

So I don't disagree with the movement to close down many of these missions.

However, I think the movement will have some unforeseen consequences.

I've noticed that a large percentage of my more liberal LDS friends served missions in Europe.  Germany, France, Scandinavia.  For example, all of my LDS friends who "like" Obama on Facebook have either spent significant time in Western Europe or are married to someone who did.  And thinking of my friends who served in Europe (with the exception of Italy), I believe all of them are either liberal or, in one or two cases, moderate.  (Interestingly enough, the two who served in Italy and have made their political views know to me are severely conservative).

Sure, I had a lot of missionary companions who were quite conservative.  I'm not arguing that everyone that serves in Europe comes back liberal.  But I do notice a pattern, especially among my friends.

Is this a coincidence?  Or are they chosen to go to Europe because they are already a bit more liberal and so would fit in better there?

Or, more likely, did their experience in seeing how another technologically advanced society successfully addressed poverty, and then seeing poverty here in the U.S., lead them to believe that there is, indeed, a better way?

I returned from my mission a conservative.  Sure, I was pro-science and pro-environment, but I also didn't do a whole lot of thinking about politics.  When the Iraq war was starting up I was uneasy about it but after Colin Powell told us there were weapons of mass destruction there, I told myself that it was okay if we fought there because they'd broken their treaty with us.  I was a hesitant supporter, but a supporter anyway, at least until the truth came out.

But a Bioethics course at BYU, where I discussed ethical issues with other students, many of them pre-meds and pre-dentals, ultimately changed my way of thinking.  I went into that class already thinking differently than most of those conservative students, and I came out realizing that my different views on ethics probably meant I had different views on politics as well.  My life experiences--including my time in Germany--gave me different perspectives, even if I didn't realize until several years later how that impacted my politics.

I'm afraid with the closing down of European missions that fewer and fewer members of the church will get to experience Europe, and having not experienced Europe, will continue to mistakenly believe that the U.S. does everything better than everyone else.  I don't know what the demographics will look like in the future--if the number of liberal church members will decrease or increase--but I'm fairly certain that the decrease in the number of LDS missions and missionaries in Western Europe will have a negative effect on the number of liberals in the church.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

10 Days

Elections are in ten days.

I've already voted.  Some of my votes may matter (local issues, etc.)  Some don't (any vote where the candidate has an "R" next to his name--heck, even if it's a future General Authority like Larry EchoHawk, voters in the Eastern Idaho section of the Mormon Corridor won't vote for a Democrat).

I like getting involved in politics, but the radical stance people take on issues--and how uninformed they are about the issues they're fighting for--has always bothered me.  This goes for ultra-liberals as well as ultra-conservatives.  The other guy running for president isn't ever as bad as he's made out to be.

But the thing that bothers me the most this year is how convinced many members of the church are that God wants Mitt Romney to win.

Email petitions go around asking people to fast and pray for Romney, with the unsaid assumption that fasting and prayer will help him win, because that's what God wants.

I hear people make comments like "You're not voting for Romney?  You better pray about that," with the assumption that, of course, God will tell them to vote for Romney.

We're told, repeatedly, by the leadership of the church, that the church takes no stance on which candidate should win, and that good can be found in both major political parties.  If only the members would listen...

There have been some attacks made on Mormonism--initially, in the primaries, by conservatives who didn't want Romney to win the primaries, and now, primarily, by liberals who don't want him to win.  Most of these attacks are silly and misinformed.

But there is one attack that would be both valid and potent.  "Look at how many Mormons "know" that God wants Mitt Romney to win the presidency.  See, they really are fanatical crazies."

Time to humble ourselves (as a people) and stop putting words in God's mouth. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Teaching Primary

I have lived in four different wards in Idaho.

The first was our first year of marriage.  We were called to teach the Sunbeams.

Second was right after law school.  I was called to teach 10 and 11 year olds (mostly boys).

Third was after that stake was reorganized and we were assigned to a different ward.  I had three different callings in this ward (all at the same time), including one where April and I taught 9 and 10 year olds, although we only did that calling for our last month or two.

Fourth is now.  We've been in our house for almost two months, and we finally get callings.  5 year olds.

I accepted the calling, but it's frustrating.  I don't know anyone in this ward.  We don't have hometeachers assigned to us (as far as I know), and I don't have a hometeaching assignment.  And now that I'm being placed into primary, I won't get much chance to interact with other men in the ward.

What is it that makes Idaho bishops throw the new guy into primary, where he'll be isolated from other men, and as a result will have difficulty making friends?  You can tell me that every calling is inspired of God, but I've spent enough time in leadership positions to know that's not the case (unless things operate differently in Idaho).  Sometimes you have a need and a potential person to fill that need, and inspiration plays no part.  And sometimes the calling is just wrong.  (I spent six months of my mission in a ward where most of the leadership--Bishop, RS Pres, EQ Pres, etc--had, ten years before I got there, been excommunicated or disfellowshipped--do we really want to say that their callings were inspired?) 

But smart bishops should realize that isolating men by placing them in the primary is a good idea only if the man already has friends in the ward.

For the record, the only ward in Idaho where I've truly made friends is the last ward, where I had two other callings.  Being an EQ teacher, even if it was just once a month, allowed me to get to know other guys in the ward.  And having time to wander the halls due to a very active pre-nursery kid didn't hurt either, as it gave me a chance to talk to other hall wanderers.

So I'm dreading this calling.  Not the part about teaching the class, because I'm sure that will be fine.  But the part about not getting to know any other guys in the ward.  I've been there before, and it sucks.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Happy Conference Weekend!

I've always wondered if President Uchtdorf had the same politics as just about every other German member of the church I've ever met--in other words, if he could vote in the U.S., if he'd regularly vote Democrat.  (And yes, having served a mission in Germany, I've met a ton of German members of the church).

Elder Jensen, who was church historian and is now being released as an active member of the 70 (having aged out), is well known as being a Democrat.  He's received pressure from several people to run for political office in Utah.  A Salt Lake Tribune article on Elder Jensen (an excellent article, by the way), originally stated that even President Uchtdorf had encouraged him to run, according to Elder Jensen's wife.

If that's true, that makes it even more likely Elder Jensen and President Uchtdorf share political views.

Interestingly, I just returned to the article in order to link to it, and the language has been changed from "President Uchtdorf encouraged" to "First Presidency greenlighted."

Elder Jensen isn't planning on a life of politics.  But it's nice there's political diversity at the top.  (And the political diversity hasn't decreased with the retirement of Elder Jensen--Elder EchoHawk, who recently became a Seventy, served in a prominent position under President Obama, and ran for governor of Idaho as a Democrat.  Of course the Mormons in Eastern Idaho chose to vote for a non-Mormon Republican than a future General Authority, but that's a topic for another day).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Has TV really gotten worse?

Quantum Leap: A TV series about a man who travels in time.  The first season was in 1989.

Journeyman: A TV series about a man who travels in time.  First (and only) season was in 2007, and it's based in San Francisco.

Which is more family friendly?

I watched a couple of episodes of Quantum Leap because I liked Journeyman and I'd heard that Quantum Leap was similar.  I wasn't terribly impressed by the quality of the show.  But what surprised me the most was how un-family-friendly the show was.  Journeyman was something you could actually watch as a family.  The supporting actor in Quantum Leap has a sex addiction, and various episodes (I only watch a couple) feature a stripper, a female streaker, a professor who has sex with students, get the idea.

Don't be under the false illusion that older TV is family friendly and newer TV isn't.  It's not true.

By the way, you can check out Journeyman on Hulu for free.  I'd say it's probably a PG.

Fair and Balanced

I had a client come in last week.  Our discussion got sidetracked a little bit and he told me he didn't like the newspaper in Idaho Falls.  I asked him why, and he told me it was because the paper wasn't at all balanced.

This is NOT a liberal paper.  This is Idaho Falls, after all.  And the city's biggest newspaper, operating in a town where almost everyone is a Republican, can't afford to be liberal.

And yet it was too liberal for his taste.  That's fine.  I accept that.  I realize people like reading stuff they agree with, even if it distorts one's view of reality to only read stuff one agrees with.  But how is "moderately conservative" not balanced enough because it's too liberal?

People here are so convinced that Romney will win the election by a landslide because they know very few people not voting for him.  Lack of political diversity has contributed to the creation of an environment where anyone who believes differently is heavily stigmatized. 

A non-LDS friend, now serving the military abroad, was recently invited to an LDS picnic.  He asked on Facebook if he should wear an Obama t-shirt.  In Cincinnati, friends of ours showed up to the annual trunk-or-treat in the church parking lot with a Hillary Clinton bumper sticker.  We had a tiny ward, but a handful of members there (including some in leadership positions) were openly Democrat.  Like in Cincinnati, I don't think my friend would've had any problems showing up to the picnic in the t-shirt (his wife ultimately talked him out of it).  Unfortunately, in my Idaho county, about 90% of registered voters are Republicans.  Showing up--anywhere--with an Obama t-shirt or bumper sticker is not advisable unless you want your car keyed or public shunning.  And so "balanced" now means "far-right," and "liberal" means evil, at least here.

I'm sure conservatives living in San Francisco have the same problem.

No good comes out of demonizing the other side.  Your political foe should not be your mortal enemy.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The best current British detective story

The best current British detective story...

is not Sherlock Holmes.

I don't mean to say that the modern reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes is poor quality TV.  But it's much harder to like a TV show when the main character is so unsympathetic.

However, those who know the wonders of PBS/BBC Masterpiece Theater should know about another series, available for free (for a couple of weeks, at least) on the PBS website.  It's called "Endeavour."  Excellent detective story, sympathetic main characters.  One of the better Masterpiece shows out there (and Masterpiece shows are usually pretty high quality, so that's saying something).  Of course, I'm judging it entirely off the first episode.  We'll see what next week brings.

Check it out.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Health Care and Supreme Court

So, the Supreme Court upheld what some refer to as "Obamacare."  It certainly will be Obama's biggest legacy in his first term.  Many people thought it went way too far, and many thought it didn't go far enough.  It takes the U.S. one step closer to being more like the rest of the first world.

Initially, the law was assumed to be constitutional.  The experts agreed on that point.  But over time, conservatives started attacking the individual mandate--the portion of the law that penalized people for not having health insurance.  A conservative Supreme Court, and recent decisions by that Supreme Court that seem overly partisan in nature (as well as recent political attacks coming from Justices like Scalia, who usually have the good sense to stay out of partisan politics) have cast doubt on the "constitutionality" of the law.  (For the record, the Supreme Court determines whether something is constitutional or not, regardless of what the Founders may or may not have intended).

As I expected, the four liberal Justices all favored the law, and Thomas and Scalia, the far-right-wing Justices, opposed it.  Kennedy is the moderate conservative, and is usually the deciding vote in cases like this (making him a contender for the most powerful man in the U.S.).  Alito (another conservative) and Kennedy both opposed the law.  I actually expected Kennedy to support it, but I wouldn't have been surprised either way.

What is surprising is that Roberts--who is firmly in the conservative camp--voted to uphold the law, including the individual mandate.  His rationale for upholding the law had to do with classifying the penalty as a tax--a rationale I agree with (even if it may not be popular to call it a tax).  Because Roberts saw it as a tax, he saw the law as being constitutional.

The Supreme Court has started to lose credibility in the past twelve years or so.  Many have started to see them as being purely political--ruling based on their political preferences rather on the constitution and previous case law.  Roberts' move here brings the court a bit more credibility, as it was clearly not politically partisan.

So what can we expect now?  As of January 1, 2014, all Americans will be required to have health insurance, or they will have to pay a (rather small) penalty.  The upside is that a family of four making under $88,000 a year will be able to receive some help on insurance payments (and on an intelligent sliding scale, meaning families making $40,000 will receive a lot more help than families making $80,000). 

It also means that families of four who make less than $30,000 will be placed on Medicaid (right now, many children in these families have Medicaid, but, at least in Idaho, their parents can't get it unless the parents are making basically nothing--I think the cutoff is $200/month, or something ridiculous like that, and there is no sliding pay scale).

Next step--how to reduce costs to match the rest of the first world (in other words, cut them in half).  End-of-life care equals 1/3 of all healthcare costs in the U.S., and often the people receiving the care didn't actually want it, but aren't in a mental position to say no when the time comes.  Hopefully Congress can now get started on fixing that without people like Palin crying out "DEATH PANELS" every chance they get.  We need to start cutting the costs, now.

Monday, June 04, 2012

My view of Government

My view of government:

1. Government should allow more freedoms.  Our prisons are overrun and enormously expensive when compared to other first-world countries, largely because we imprison people, sometimes for long periods of time, for things like possession of marijuana.  I'm not necessarily saying that marijuana should be made legal, but perhaps we should make the consequences involve community service and/or fines, instead of serious jail time.

2. The Constitution supports religious freedoms, but our current Supreme Court doesn't quite buy into it.  Religious practices, and not just religious beliefs, that don't harm 3rd parties need to be protected.  And the government needs to continue to keep its hands out of religion, and not provide special privileges or even subtle endorsements to its favorite religions.  All religions, no matter how small, should have an equal playing field with regards to the government.

3. People should continue to have plenty of freedoms of speech.  I don't believe corporations deserve quite so much protection, and I don't believe speech that functions merely to sell something deserves quite that high level of freedom of speech.

4. I believe in an adequate safety net.  The U.S. pays twice as much per person as other first-world countries for healthcare, and yet many in the U.S. are without health insurance.  Both those facts need to change, and they can with a single-payer system.  Employer-based health insurance may have worked when it was cheap and people stuck with the same job their whole lives.  It doesn't work any more.  If everyone had access to free or cheap healthcare, people would be more willing to take the risk of starting their own businesses, thus fueling creativity and innovation.  Major health issues could be resolved before a trip to the expensive E.R.  I also believe in an adequate safety net with concern to food and basic housing.

5. I believe that in times of low unemployment, the government should cut costs, raise taxes, and save up money, and that in times of high unemployment, the government should create low-income job opportunities.  My grandfather was forever grateful that FDR did this during the Great Depression.  Many of the projects that my grandfather and others like him worked on still stand today.  The U.S. decided to pay for a cheap labor force instead of letting that potential go to waste.  If only they had done the same this time around.

6. I believe it's ridiculous for the U.S. to have a military far, far, far greater than any other military currently existing.  Based on my father's brief time working as a civilian for an air force base, I also believe there is a tremendous amount of waste in the military.

7. I believe every child has a right to a good education.  Teachers should be well-compensated based on skill and field, and not just experience, and they should be easy to fire.  Classroom sizes should be small. 

8. Most tax loopholes and breaks should be eliminated, including the mortgage interest and health insurance loopholes.  Loopholes distort the market and, although they may help the middle class in some cases, the ones who profit the most from these are those who don't need them--the rich.

9. Health care for old people on the verge of death (Medicare) should not be significantly better than health care for children (Medicaid).

10. Everyone should pay the same percentage of their income to social security--rich people should not get major breaks on this like they do now.

11. The U.S. should work towards paying off its debt--but perhaps it should wait to do so until it's no longer in the greatest Recession since the Great Depression.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Another great TV show canceled prematurely

Anyone else seen "Awake"?  It's an intelligent, well-written and well-acted show about a cop that survives a car accident only to arrive in two different realities--one where his son died in the accident, and one where his wife died in the accident.  Every time he goes to sleep he wakes up in the other reality.

It's great TV.  I highly recommend it.  Unfortunately, it was recently canceled.  13 episodes.

I'm not trying to say this is as good as Firefly, or anything like that.  Still, though, it's a great show, canceled prematurely.  The best network TV currently has to offer.

Any other shows worth watching?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Church, Immigration, Baptism, and Child Murder

I heard about a recent mass murder in Arizona and assumed it was just some crazy random anti-immigrant psycho.  Four people murdered (including a young child), and one suicide.

I was partly right.

What I didn't realize was that the murderer, a guy named J.T. Ready, was someone I'd already heard about.

I closely followed Arizona's extreme anti-immigration laws.  The creator of the laws, Russell Pearce, was fortunately voted out last election.  He's LDS, but his stance on immigration is the exact opposite of the LDS church.

A few newspaper articles have pointed out in the past that Pearce was politically and religiously affiliated with J.T. Ready.  Ready had been affiliated with neo-Nazis, so anti-immigration stuff was right up his ally.  Pearce, of course, distanced himself from Ready due to the neo-Nazi stuff once the media found out about it, despite the fact that the two had almost identical stances on immigration.

But it seems that Ready and Pearce had been fairly close--both politically, and religiously.  Ready was baptized a member of the church and was eventually ordained an Elder by Pearce.

Now Ready went and murdered four people before killing himself.

My point isn't that Pearce needs to be careful in who he associates with--Pearce is already a scumbag, and I could care less who he associates with.  (I apologize if my language here is a bit strong, but I really don't like this guy.  He gives Republicans, and, more importantly, the LDS Church a bad name, and there is no politician I like less).

My point is that perhaps the Church should be a little more selective in who it baptizes and ordains to Elder.

Of course no one could foresee the path Ready would take.  No one knew he would gun down innocents.  But they did know he was an extremist when it came to politics--that he was fervently anti-immigrant.  That should have at least set off warning signals, and someone should've looked into his history a bit before his baptism and ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood.  His views of white supremacy should have been discovered beforehand, and they should have prevented him from becoming a member of the church.

It wouldn't have prevented this tragedy, this senseless killing, but it would have kept the church's name away from this monster.

Perhaps it's time for baptism requirements that keep out the monsters like J.T. Ready.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Facebook Ads--The Downside

So I've been advertising on Facebook, targeting my advertising to just my town. Facebook lets you target ads to specific zip codes, so limiting it to just one zip code is an effective way to reach the best customers.

Except it's not.

Currently people in town are seeing my ads (I know because a couple people mentioned it at church) but they're not becoming customers.

On Wednesday I found out from two different sources that my ads are not restricted to just my zip code--meaning that I'm paying for advertising as far away as Twin Falls (2.5 hours away). People on the north side of Idaho Falls are also seeing (and clicking on) the ad (about 30 minutes away). That's not even close to my zip code.

So either Facebook is intentionally spreading my ad further than I've ordered, or their zip code targeting sucks.

Since I pay for advertising based on clicks, I'm changing it so that it promotes the fact that I'm a local attorney, and not that I give out free consultations. My ads might get fewer views, but at least I won't be paying for advertising in Twin Falls.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Utah Senator Votes No Against Utah Judge

This is crazy. Utah senator Mike Lee is one of just two senators to vote "No" against the approval of a Utah judge. Way to support your state...

The court system is severely understaffed right now. More judges are needed.

I guess this is what happens when ideology trumps reality.

Here's hoping this clown's a one-term senator.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Google Adwords v. Facebook Ads

So, I've been doing some online advertising.

I've started advertising with two of the biggest online advertisers--Facebook and Google.

A warning first--anytime you click on an ad, regardless of whether it's Facebook or Google, the advertiser is charged for the click.

Despite the cost, however, the advertiser does want customers to go to their website, and if it has to be charged for it, so be it. Also, I get the distinct feeling (based on personal experience) that Facebook and Google stop putting up ads that aren't bringing in money, so some clicks are necessary.

Facebook's advertising options are actually pretty good. My Facebook ads are limited to just two zip codes, including a potential reach of just 5,900. They've appeared on the page of 4,700 individuals, meaning that the vast majority of Facebook users in the surrounding area have had my ad on their Facebook page. I get charged around $1 for each click. Not only does that bring increased traffic to my website, but it means most of the 18-40 crowd in the area get regular exposure to my ads. I got 10 clicks just yesterday, and I probably would've gotten more if my daily budget had been greater. We'll still have to wait and see how effective the ads are in getting business, but they've certainly helped my website's prominence on search pages.

Google's approach is different--the focus is on searches. Unfortunately, I can't really target specific zip codes like I can with Facebook--I have to target all of Eastern Idaho. And that gets expensive.

Of course I can advertise for "Shelley Attorney" or "Shelley Lawyer" within all of Eastern Idaho, and since those search words aren't too common the advertising's not too pricey. But Google needs to allow for advertising aimed at specific zip codes. They'd make a lot more money off me if they did.

Meanwhile, my website is doing pretty well. Since searches for "Shelley Attorney" put me at the top of a Google search, my "Shelley Attorney" ad has become redundant, and it's time to take it down already.

Any other recommendations for online advertising? What search engines do you use?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Correlation is not Causation

Sigh. BYU Economics professors do a "study" that shows that kids that get 7 hours of sleep are smarter than kids that get 9, and then try to say that perhaps kids don't need any more than 7 hours of sleep a night.

Correlation is not causation, and asking kids to self-report hours slept is not exactly good science. This is why Economics professors shouldn't do science.

I know quite a few people who know a lot more about science and sleep than I do (I did, after all, work as an underling at what is probably the top sleep lab and the top sleep research lab in the world), but even I could come up with a vastly superior way to figure out how the amount of sleep a kid gets affects performance.

First: Take 100 teenagers of similar age. Pick 50 at random for each group (getting a good mix of gender, race, etc. in each group). Test them for response times, performance on tests, etc., and for sleeping disorders. Eliminate any with sleeping disorders. Then place them in a controlled environment for a month. Have 50 of them spend 9 hours a night in bed, and have 50 of them spend just 7 hours in bed. Evaluate their sleeping patterns to see how long they actually sleep. During the day time, run various performance tests. How do individuals do, over time, in each group? Do they improve or get worse? By how much?

The difference between the above experiment and the "study" done by the BYU Economics professors? The above experiment is an actual study, and its results would actually mean something. We don't expect science professors to do study on Economics. Economics professors certainly have no place trying to run a scientific study (although it's rather hilarious how poorly they do).

To be fair, one of the economists, Showalter, at least recognizes some of the weaknesses in the study. The other economist, however, seems to be entirely clueless.

Please, next time leave the science to the actual experts...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Political Contradictions

A couple political contradictions I've noticed this last week:

Calling for lower gas prices and a war with Iran. Ummm--the reason gas prices are higher right now is largely because of the threat of war with Iran. If we actually go to war, watch those prices go up much, much more. You can have lower gas prices, or you can have a war with Iran. You can't have both.

Independent, anti-government-benefit types worrying about the government taking their house after they and their spouse die because of Medicaid costs. (Basically, Medicaid pays for them to be in a nursing home, but once both spouses are dead, Medicaid will want to be paid back, and instead of their kids getting the house, the government will). A lot of people really don't get it--Medicaid and Medicare are just as much government benefits as food stamps. The paltry amount you paid into it doesn't begin to pay for it. If you use government benefits and you have the means to pay for, the government will take its payment.

That is all.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Professor Bott and Racism

The Washington Post recently quoted one of my BYU professors, Department of Religion professor Randy Bott.

First, some background. I first took a class from Bott when I was 18. It was a mission prep class, and my friend Aaron was also in the class. I remember a couple of things--the class was large, fun, and easy. Bott told some great missionary stories and gave us some tips on missionary work. I don't remember anything controversial, but I was only 18, and I doubt my critical thinking skills were up to noticing that kind of thing anyway.

Several years later, I needed an easy class to break up an otherwise difficult schedule, so I signed up for another Bott religion class. At some point, Bott when on a rant about environmentalists who support population control. Another student wisely pointed out that the earth would be in trouble if everyone used as many resources as Americans use. I knew the student was right, and was disappointed when Bott dismissed the comment as being untrue.

Years later, a newspaper article praised Bott for being a popular teacher--and I stated my opinion that great students challenge students, something Bott never did. He told fun stories, he counseled some students (especially athletes), and he gave out A's like candy. He never truly challenged his students.

Now, Bott has stated some ideas about reasons for the priesthood ban in a widely read, national newspaper. His ideas are outdated. Numerous general authorities, including Elder McConkie and Elder Holland, have stated that such ideas are wrong. But Elder Bott still holds on to them. The old excuses for banning blacks from the priesthood still live on.

The church, of course, has responded, and quickly.

"The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

So Bott is wrong. We already knew that.

"BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said."

But wait a minute. Bott isn't just a BYU faculty member--he's a member of the BYU Religion Professor. Sounds like a pretty reliable source. He teaches thousands of soon-to-be missionaries about the gospel! He's the most popular professor at BYU!

Point is--if the church doesn't want people like Bott to speak for the church, they shouldn't hire him for BYU's religion department in the first place. His thoughts on the priesthood ban are not secret or new--cached pages from his suddenly-disappeared blog make that clear.

Now that Bott's gone and made a bad name for the church, he needs to be fired. He's past retirement age anyway. But his firing would make clear a few things:

First, the church doesn't employ racists to teach its religion classes.
Second, the church doesn't tolerate religion professors who teach apostasies, regardless of how popular the religion professors are.
Third, the church wishes to separate itself as far as possible from the statements Randy Bott made in the Washington Post.

Fire him. Now. (Or at least get him to resign, now--everyone understands that that's just another word for "fire" anyway). Get someone else to teach his classes for the rest of the semester. Someone who's racist and stupid enough to make those kind of statements to a Washington Post reporter does not belong on the BYU faculty.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Obama, Socialism, Snopes, and a lie-within-a-lie

Several conservative friends have recently posted a story on Facebook about an economics professor who decides to try an experiment with a class and tells them that since they're friends of Obama's socialist plans, he'll use socialism in class: all the students will receive the exact same grade. Of course all the students stop trying and all of them fail the class (even though, in at least one rendition of this story, the professor specifically told them that no one would fail).

This story is so problematic that it's hard to know where to start, but here goes:

1. The story's false. (Thanks, Snopes). In fact, it pre-dates Obama's presidency. The point can still be valid even if the story is false, but it certainly doesn't help the cause when the story is told as if it is true when it isn't.

2. President Obama's "socialism" is nothing like what the professor tried in his class. Not everyone will be equal. It's not even as extreme as we see in 4th Nephi, where, in one of the most righteous societies to ever exist, there were no rich and no poor. Obama wants to increase the middle class--which makes total sense when one realizes that the disparity between the rich and the rest of us is greater than it's been since the Great Depression. Obama seems to want something like Germany and Scandinavia have--basically no poverty, a huge middle class, and some moderately wealthy people. I'm quite familiar with what that means in Germany--plenty of opportunity, a real safety net, and plenty of chances to strike it rich. You might not get that sixteenth mansion, but let's face it--most of the extremely wealthy in the U.S. didn't strike it rich, they were born that way. And it's absolutely wrong when the ultra-rich "make" (or, more likely, watch their investments increase) more in a day than ordinary working families earn all year.

I'm fine with smart, hardworking people making more money than other people. But plenty of hardworking people aren't making enough to get by, or are barely surviving. Most of the lower class and most of the lower-middle class (a group that continues to grow in size) is composed of people with good work ethics. They might not have the same opportunities as the rich have had, but they work hard, and they don't deserve to live in poverty.

The current message from many Republicans seems to be that the current wage gap we have right now--where the rich are ridiculously rich, and the middle class is struggling in the toughest economy since the Great Depression--is perfectly fine. It's not fine. It's disgusting. And it's sad that otherwise intelligent friends have been taken in by this story, this lie-within-a-lie.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Why we should raise taxes on gas

Opponents of public transportation often complain about the subsidies buses, streetcars, and trains receive from the government. Many of these opponents don't realize that roads receive massive subsidies too.

The federal gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993. Given the reality of inflation, that means it's effectively gone down in the last 19 years. These taxes pay for about half of all road construction and upkeep. The other 50% comes from other sources--your pocket. Even if you never use public roads, you still pay for 50% of their costs.

To make this worse, some aspects of tax law encourages companies to drive. A small business owner who drives from Idaho Falls to Boise and back again for business purposes drives about 560 miles. As of the last few months of 2011, she could reduce her income by $311 for making the drive. If she made the trip twice a week, that's $32,344. Say her gross profits in one year are $60,000, she has other business costs of $10,000, and she does all that driving. Her income for federal tax purposes is less than $18,000--but, unless she's driving a major gas guzzler (think Hummer 1) or a sports car, she is in reality holding on to a lot more than $18,000.

If a business owner flies or takes public transportation instead, roads will get used less, less toxic fumes will be spewed into the atmosphere, and yet the business owner can only reduce her income by the actual cost of the transportation.

In addition, employers can get tax breaks for paying for their employees' parking costs, but not for paying for their employees' public transportation costs.

So there's certainly an incentive to drive--the massive subsidy roads receive outside of the gas tax, and a massive reduction of income for tax purposes for small businesses.

No doubt most people drive on roads, and almost everyone profits from goods and services that arrive from roads. So why raise taxes on gasoline instead of continuing to charge everyone for road use?

To put the cost of using roads where it actually belongs. People who use roads more--and people who drive larger vehicles that cause more wear and tear on roads--should be the ones paying for it. This would increase incentives to shorten or eliminate commutes, shift the economy to be more local-driven, decrease the number of gas-guzzlers on the road, and basically create a fairness in the system.

Public transportation would be a much more attractive option.

Our use of gasoline would plummet, and we would be less reliant on unstable gasoline from the Middle East. (By the way, oil reserves in more stable countries are much, much smaller than in the Middle East--no amount of Drill, Baby, Drill within the borders of the U.S. will get us enough oil for our current needs. Why do you think we went into Iraq in the first place?) The less reliant the rest of the world is on gasoline, the less powerful--and less dangerous--the Middle East becomes.

Environmental reasons. Even if you disagree with 98% of the scientists in the field who state that climate change is occurring, clean air is still important. Dirty air causes a multitude of health problems and is just plain nasty. Raising gas taxes would decrease the amount of pollutants and would result in cleaner air.

What about downsides?

Prices will go up, especially on products that have to be transported long distances. But why is it a bad thing if the price of the product reflects its actual price, and not its subsidized-by-taxes price?

Public transportation costs would go up (at least for modes of public transportation that use gasoline). Sure, but it would still be a more cost-effective mode of transportation than driving.

The gas tax wouldn't be 100% effective--vehicles that don't use gasoline wouldn't be taxed for using roads, and gasoline that's used in other places--like lawn mowers--would be charged. Part of this might be a positive result--an incentive for electric cars, for example. And lawn mowers and such make up a very small percentage of gasoline use--and a higher tax on gasoline would be a great incentive for lawn mower makers to create more gas-effective machines. Still, this is the biggest downside I can see--but it's much better than the alternative, which is to let the general public subsidize roads.

Raising taxes is very rarely a popular move. But in this case it makes sense. Will it happen? No. But it should.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Law Office

So, I'm almost up and running.

I've got an office next to Shelley City Hall, a business phone number, a website , an email address, and almost everything else I need to get started.

I'm still waiting on my desk (it's in the mail), internet access (useless to set up before I have a desk, and I'm hoping to find a better deal in the next few days), and, most importantly, clients.

So far, my office is the only one occupied in my building. The office is tiny, but it has a walk-in closet (where I'll put my filing cabinet, which I plan to pick up today, and that already has a built-in bookshelf). It's the first office you see as you come in the front door. Right across from my office is a nice conference room, which I'll share with others in the building. The going price for the office was $200/month, but I talked the landlord down to $150.

Advertising costs are going to be pretty high--there's a weekly newspaper here in Shelley that I'll need to advertise in. I've bought banners to place outside the building, at least for a couple of months, to let people know that I'm there. I'm also joining the local Kiwanis club, offering to give free classes on Wills, etc.

Starting up a business is a lot of work, but it's a lot more fun than looking for a job.

If you know anyone in or near Shelley, send them my way.

Friday, January 06, 2012

What Religions are Friendly Towards Mormons?

In a recent sacrament meeting talk, the speaker told us about a church that some of her friends and acquaintances attended. "They play guitar at church, and it's only an hour, and you go whatever day of the week you want to..." Now, some of you may think that that sounds like a fantastic idea--guitar music, services on other days for those who can't attend on Sunday, and just for one hour--but she meant it as criticism. She then continued, "and they speak out against the Mormon church during their church meetings!"

I love my ward, but it was sad to see the intense irony in her remarks. I'm not sure if anyone else caught it.

I don't think church is the appropriate place to criticize other religions, and I think other religions should, for the most part, be respected. Recent political events have forced the LDS religion into the spotlight. At least this time around there's no anti-Mormon running (no Huckabee), but plenty of people, due to misunderstandings and bigotry, are concerned about voting for a member of the LDS church.

Most liberals seem to be mainly concerned about the LDS church's involvement with stopping gay marriage--but almost any Republican candidate for president is going to take the same stance, so, in regards to a Republican presidential nominee, that point is moot.

Many conservatives, on the other hand, fear the LDS church. Maybe they pay attention to Huckabee and his ilk when he said "Don't Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?" Maybe they think Mormons don't celebrate Christmas, or have multiple wives, or....

And so they search for someone, anyone, other than a Mormon for their GOP candidate. As one of my least favorite people, Bill Maher, states, "If you were a Republican in 2011, and you liked Donald Trump, and then you liked Michele Bachmann, and then you liked Rick Perry, and then you liked Herman Cain, and then you liked Newt Gingrich ... you can still hate Mitt Romney, but you can't say it's because he's always changing his mind." And now I can add, "and then you liked Rick Santorum" to that long list. Notice that Huntsman's missing from that list...

So obviously many evangelicals have problems with Mormons. But what groups do Mormons get along with?

In my experience:

1. Muslims (if the individual Mormons aren't themselves biased).
Why: Dedicated, modest, prayerful minority religion. Lots of similarities, and both have a history of being persecuted in the U.S.
Unfortunately, any problems in the relationship between Mormons and Muslims is usually the fault of those Mormons who pay more attention to Fox News and talk radio than to the scriptures and the prophet...

2. Catholic
Why: Religious Catholics tend to marry and have higher than average number of children--like Mormons. They're not really mainstream Christian (although they're close) and they still remember their history of persecution in the U.S. They're also a bit of a minority religion in the U.S. (only one president has been Catholic, and he was murdered), but they've got pretty good representation on the Supreme Court. They seem to be better informed about Mormonism than most evangelical Christians. (And if "better informed about Mormonism" implies "more intelligent in general," so be it). My best friend at law school was a faithful Catholic, and several other friends were Catholic (some less faithful than others). The religious ones avoided the Christian Legal Society club as much as the Mormons did.

What other groups seem to get along with Mormons?