Wednesday, January 30, 2013


  Marged Howley wrote me asking if I would help her find non-believing (which I think is general-speak for atheist) K-12 educators for her research poll.   Marged mentions Aimee Howley who is a Senior Associate Dean for Ohio University so this research has that extra pinch of authority that is indispensable in academic institutions. 

If you are a K-12 educator I'm asking you to consider, and pass on, the following call for participants:

Atheist K-12 Teachers-- Are you a Conservative, Republican, or Libertarian? Do you Live Rural? Are you African American? Are you Out There?

Craig and Aimee Howley at Ohio University are doing research on K-12 educators who are also non-religious. Having collected many interviews already, they are now hoping to expand their dataset for wider representation.

A great deal of research in education focuses on the experiences of marginalized groups. The aim of this study is to investigate the experiences of one such group — teachers who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, or freethinkers. Little is really known about the experience of atheists in any realm of life in the United States, and no study has yet investigated the experiences of nonreligious people who are employed as K-12 educators. The role of teacher is particularly interesting as a site for studying the experience of atheists and other nonbelievers because teachers are considered to be bearers of community standards, and few communities uphold atheism (or other nonbeliever perspectives) as a legitimate point of view, let alone as a principle on which community life is grounded.

If you’re up for sharing your experiences as an African American, rural, or conservative nonbeliever educator, your contribution would be incredibly valuable to the outcome of this project. Email the project ( com-- Marged Howley, M.Ed.) to learn more or schedule a phone interview! All interviews are held to the highest standards of confidentiality, and if you are interested, we can make sure to notify you once we publish the results of the study!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Deep Is Your Love?

I was surprised to learn recently that the Mormon led Boy Scouts of America Boy Scout troops have allowed gay members for some time. There it was in a leading article in the Salt Lake Tribune entitled “Boy Scouts may mirror Mormon policy and let in gays”.

Peggy Fletcher Stack, the author of the article, alludes to the fact that there are openly gay Mormon scout leaders in the following quote:

“The faith allows chaste gays to hold "callings," or positions in its organizations, when chosen by local Mormon leaders, and its written guidelines do not exclude Scouting.” – Peggy Fletcher Stack Salt Lake Tribune 28 January 2013

Peggy is famous on this blog for regularly clearing up tenants of the LDS faith. She made it clear that, despite the previous words of the LDS prophets, caffeine is not implicated in the Mormon “Word of Wisdom”. In August the LDS church even published an article in which it embedded the statement that it was not making statements about caffeine. Unfortunately, instead of following up the statement with direct guidance on Frapacinos and coffee ice cream, they retracted it by deleting the statement form the article on their website.

Leveraging the commandment that “Thou Shalt Have No Mulligans Before Me” the LDS world exploded with their new-found stimulant freedom. By “exploded” in this context I mean such events like some students at BYU began a petition to stock some caffeinated beverages in at least one of the soda machines on the over 34,000 student campus. I don’t know if any of the radicalism from this “caffeine spring” has taken hold.

The idea that the church now allows, or in LDS speak “has always allowed but nobody asked”, caffeine has taken root. The following mention of this radical firestorm of controversy from the annual roundup of top Utah faith stories makes the removal of the caffeine statement of the church completely non-existent.

“Even the oft-debated "caffeine question" bubbled up, to the extent that the Utah-based church released a statement reaffirming that the famous Mormon "Word of Wisdom" — no alcohol, tobacco, coffee or tea — is silent about the stimulant. LDS leaders didn’t say caffeine is healthy, but they left no doubt that there is nothing in the religion’s health code forbidding members from downing a Dew, pounding a Pepsi or chomping on chocolate.” -- David Noyce “Utah’s top 2012 faith stories” Salt Lake Tribune 10 January 2013

Though David is clear about Mountain Dew (a Pepsi product), Pepsi, and Chocolate (already available on BYU), he is not clear on iced espresso sin.

Some of you may think that the caffeine thing is trivial. It is, and trivial problems require trivial solutions. Unfortunately it appears as if the only church authorities who will talk about this are Salt Lake Tribune journalists. Some people will recognize the divine authority of the Salt Lake Tribune where other may not. Some of the people in both camps will be bishops who will approve or disapprove temple recommends based on their interpretation of the “Word of Wisdom”. Adherence to the WoW is question 11 on the temple recommend quiz.

This means that some people will be denied access to the rituals needed to assure the comfort of their eternal souls for conduct that has no affect on others.

Of course it is a bit fraudulent for me to deride the LDS church for treating this threat to the eternal soul as non-existent when I think that eternal souls themselves are non-existent.

Peggy does quote authorities other than herself in her analysis of the BSA following the LDS church lead on inclusion of gays. She extensively quotes Gay-Mormon filmmaker Kendal Wilcox who states:

"If this goes through, local wards will be free to continue to include LGBT Scout leaders and youth in the program.” – Kendal Wilcox January 2013

This suggests to me that Mormons can include any LGBT person in any scout group whenever they want to; in fact it does a tad more than “suggest” this.

If the Mormons allow lesbians into their Boy Scout troops does this mean they will someday allow heterosexual girls into them as well?

Kendal Wilcox was the executive producer of BYUtv who was most famous for getting fired shortly after beginning work on a documentary about Mormons and Gays called “Far Between”. He has been described as an “Emmy Award Winning” or “Emmy Award Nominated” filmmaker, but the biggest award I could actually track down was a possible bronze Telly award for the documentary “Road to Zion: Travels in Church History ‘Hawaii’”…. I’ve never seen it either.

Kendal was fired from the church controlled, owned, and operated BYUtv in November of 2011 after (according to Kendal) he faced: "an increasingly hostile work environment over the last several months with which I refused to continue to engage."

Kendal also states that homophobia at BYU was not a problem. He relates that BYU personnel treated his coming out with: “love and respect and open-heartedness." And then they apparently made his life miserable and fired him.

You cannot wade too far out into the waters of LDS misdirection and obfuscation because the shore drops away rapidly. Still, every once in a while, while floating over it in the sparse published snippets, I wonder how deep the bottom really is.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lance Armstrong

Why should you be interested in Lance Armstrong’s confession?

There are several reasons. First he is an atheist, and if you are reading my blog you have at least a passing interest in atheists. Second, he hints at a moral relativism in his confession; a relativism that mimics the tenuous moral grounding that many religious people accuse all atheists of. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, this event has at least a passing relationship to bicycling, and anything related to bicycling is worthy of interest.

Lance may not strike many folks as displaying the pure image of a committed atheist. Most atheists do not wear a crucifix around their neck on a thin gold chain. He often courted a agnostic tone when he answered questions about spirituality, and he continues to drop the occasional “thank God” as an offhand exclamation.

"Everyone should believe in something, and I believed in surgery, chemotherapy and my doctors." – Lance Armstrong

Yet he is as much an atheist as anyone who has discarded the mystical bronze age religions, but has not taken the next step towards naming that action atheism. Many modern atheists might be agnostic when they are forced to talk about religion, and cap that off by avoiding ever talking about it. It is only the likes of two-bit bloggers and other blowhards that need a name for something that is just not being something else.

So Lance was an atheist. He made it onto lists of celebrity atheists.

His celebrity was built of lovingly crafted obsession. He weighed each ounce of food; he calculated the number of steps of wasted effort each minute off the bike would cost him. He has now confirmed that he measured out calculated doses of performance-enhancing drugs, and bullied teammates into taking them as well. All this he did so he could pedal a bicycle past the point of simple pain, past the point where the mind screams to stop pedaling, past the point of human physical ability.

A bicycle race has a simple measure of success. One must simply cross the finish line before one’s opponents. The prize is relative, and the podium celebrates the fist, second, and third-place finishers, not some objective time or speed. So the faster one’s opponents go then just that much faster the winner must go.

This is a natural medium for propagating moral relativism.

We are constantly told that moral relativism is that slipperiest of slopes: “If that can be justified by taking advantage of a morally ambiguous situation, then why not murder or worse? “ I know of no self-identified atheist who has not been told that no god means no objective morality, and that that slide down the slippery slope of moral relativism would leave them committing horrible acts of criminal depravity.

Lance suggests that everyone was doing it, but just what does that mean? Everyone on his team? Everyone he knew?

Shortly after Lance left the Oprah interview taping the international Olympic committee stripped him of the bronze medal he won in Sydney’s 2000 Olympic individual men’s time trial. In 2000 he stood on the lowest step of the Olympic podium clutching his bronze and smiling at his accomplishment. Jan Ulrich stood slightly higher than lance with the silver medal around his neck; just three days before he had won the gold in the Men’s road race. In February of 2012 the Court of Arbitration for Sport found Jan guilty of systematic doping as a result of a 2006 investigation. Jan has publicly stated he will not confess to millions the way Lance did.

Atop the 2000 Men’s time trial podium was Viatcheslav “Eki” Ekimov. Eki was a member of the US Postal team whose members Lance famously bullied into doping, and Lance surely knew if Eki was doping in 2000.

Abraham Olano came in fourth at the 2000 Men’s Olympic time trial, and may be given the bronze now that lance has been stripped of it. Olano was racing for the ONCE team in 2000, as was Laurent Jalabert who came in fifth. ONCE was a team run by Manolo Saiz. Saiz pulled his ONCE team, and Jalabert cajoled other Spanish teams to pull out, of the 1998 Tour de France. The pull out was a protest against an investigation into doping allegations that had caught several members of the Festina team.

When ONCE left as a sponsor Saiz kept his team together under the name of their new sponsor: “Liberty Seguros”. That sponsor would leave the team after Saiz was arrested in 2006 in connection to an investigation into systematic blood doping.

The “Liberty Seguros” team became “Astana” after their star rider - Alexander “Vino” Vinokourov – convinced Kazacstan to sponsor the team. Astana is the name of Kazacstan’s capital city. However, so many of Astana’s riders were under investigation for blood doping that there was not enough of a team for Vino to race in the 2006 tour de france, and what was left of the team was forced to pull out. In 2007 Vino himself would be caught blood doping, and in 2009 Lance would return to cycling riding for the Astana team.

I have seen charts detailing how deep into the Tour de France finishers one must dig to find a rider not intimately associated with doping. Often one is pulling up 10th-place finishers who appear clean because no-body really thought about them much at the time.

One can easily dismiss the intricate web of doping deception that is professional bike racing as pathetic. The entire sport of cycling is worth about as much as one team in the NFL. Most cyclists make less than an apprentice tradesman.  The waterboys of American football probably make more than the bicycle racers who will push themselves inhumanly for the chance to limp across the finish line close to last place.

Not that the NFL has used their tremendous earnings to keep themselves clean. We demand performances that are superhuman, and we’ve got to make superhumans to get it. The NFL refuses to provide blood samples for its players so many of the good drugs cannot be detected. What would happen to the 2013 Super Bowl if fans successfully demanded a full and complete investigation into the potential pharmaceutical augmentation of the players?

So lance played the game he was competing in, and got caught. Would he have gotten caught if he had not played it so well, or would anyone have cared if he got caught? I don’t think so.

Cycling is steeped in religious tradition. One of the greatest stage races –the Giro d’Italia- often starts with a blessing from the Pope himself. There may be other atheists in the peleton, but not many.

If Lance's atheism informed his doping it might have only been to clarify his obsession with dialing in dosages and regiments to just the right level. It may have helped him use this illegal tool to successfully win races, and not get caught, at least till now.

The biggest problem with Lance’s doping is the obnoxious way in which he protected his lie by attacking people. Here is a guy who sued people who he knew were telling the truth about him just to shut them up. He called people all sorts of names hoping that the words of a celebrity athlete would hurt them enough to blunt their stories. In short he was an a***le.

Luckily (?!) jerkiness is a universal component of the human condition. Only the immensely narcissistic would suggest that they themselves did not have the capability for jerkiness, and anyone over the age of 20 can look back and identify events in their personal history where they played the role of jerk. Not everyone has the resources to magnify this shortcoming into a force that can injure other people’s lives like Lance did, but the potential can be seen.

Most of us also lack the resources needed to act the part of superhuman motivator to people whose lives have been injured by cancer. Lance did real measurable good. Most cycling team buses at the Tour de France might attract a spattering of fans intent on grabbing an autograph. The Discovery team bus was often caught in a swarm of Lance Armstrong fans; people suffering or loving someone suffering with cancer. They would travel hundreds of miles just to be near to the air Lance was breathing, like pilgrims seeking a cure from some magic fountain or relic.

At a time when people refusing cancer treatment is a significant cause for poor treatment outcome the presence of a motivator demonstrating the effectiveness of treatment is very important.

So Lance was doping, and you should find it interesting in some compellingly ambiguous way.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bragging Rights

I picked up the book because of the large red letters proclaiming “THE SHOCKING TRUTH” on a watery blue background. I then noticed the authors; one of them was the famous Paul C. Bragg, a fitness guru who died in 1976. The book was not new, but it was not 36 years old. What “SHOCKING TRUTH” did the long dead author have to reveal?

The used book price tag read $0.75. Now I own it.

I wanted to know how long Paul had been dead when he wrote the book, but the book was strangely devoid of dates. It also lacked any mention of the fact that Paul was dead.

The book insinuated that Paul was alive by referring to his activities in the present tense: “Paul C. Bragg and Patricia Lift Weights 3 Times Weekly”.

I searched the IBSN number to find when the book was published. It looks like the book was first published in 1998, and then an updated version was published in 2008. I apparently have the updated version so Paul was only 32 years dead when it came out.

It is not SHOCKING that Paul’s death is clouded in mystery as his birth also is.

The third chapter of the book is entitled “Bragg Speaks About His Childhood” or “Paul C. Bragg’s Childhood” depending on whether you get the chapter’s title from the table of contents or the beginning of the chapter. In it, as one might expect, Paul’s childhood is described. His birth and growing up on a Virginia farm situated on the bank of the Potomac river is described. His grandfather was “a loving Christian family man, an expert horseman and a hard working farmer”. The book continues Paul’s description of his early childhood by describing his treatment for TB at the age of 16 in one of Auguste Rollier’s Swiss sanatoriums.

Rollier was a true-believing disciple of Niels Ryberg Finsen, Finsen won the Nobel prize in 1903 for his work treating Lupus with UV radiation. Rollier expanded Finsen’s ideas into a branch of medicine called heliotherapy. High in the Aigle district of the Swiss Alps Rollier would lay out his nearly naked TB patients for therapeutic sunbaths. Ludicrous as it sounds the therapy did have a measurable therapeutic effect. The advent of much more effective, and less damaging, antibiotic therapies would see most centers for heliotherapy close.

Just to the west of Rollier’s Leysin sanitariums one can take a cable car from the picturesque town of Mürren (1,650 meters) to the 2,970 meter-high summit of the Schilthorn. Perched on that summit is a rotating restaurant called the Piz Gloria. The Piz Gloria got its name from the James bond Movie (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) filmed there. In the Movie the evil Dr. Blofeld (Telly Savalas) ran a sanatorium for women as a cover for his nefarious plans for world domination. Luckily George Lazenby (in his one-and-only appearance as agent 007) was able to infiltrate Savalas’s bevy of libidinous beauties in order to save civilization. In the movie there was also lots of skiing and Diana Rigg.

Interestingly the plotline of the Bond movie is about as close to the truth as is the story of Paul’s childhood. A convincing search of public records reveals that Paul was born in Indiana in 1895, not Virginia in 1881. There is no record of him ever getting TB or being whisked off to Switzerland as a teenager to be treated.

Paul’s story in this book leaves out some important items. A People Magazine article from August 11th 1975 adds this bit:
“Bragg opened a health food store in New York City, the first in the U.S. By then, he had acquired a Ph.D. in science and a doctorate in nutrition, and had wrestled for the U.S. in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics.”

This is impressive. I cannot verify the Ph.D’s of either Paul or his daughter as they do not get very specific about where or what the Ph.Ds are from. However, it is fairly clear that Bragg did not wrestle in the Olympics (any of them, let alone two) or open the first health food store in New York.

It is also interesting to note that Patricia is apparently not really Paul’s daughter. She is his Daughter-in-Law, having married into the Bragg name through Paul’s Son Robert. This distinction is never made clear in the book, or on the website.

Unfortunately there are no SHOCKING zombie truths laid out in the book. I did not read it in great detail. There is at least one picture of a brain though.

The book lays out many “facts” that are supposed to validate the authors' shifting claims. There are way too many facts to check out. I did check out a couple.

On page 8 the idea that water flushes toxins out of the body is proposed. This sounds nice, but there is no proposed mechanism. Instead the authors point out that Japanese eat lots of salt and that: “This heavy salt intake hastens premature death”. This is interesting information because most data-based measures of life expectancy at birth show that Japan’s (82.73 years) is the highest in the world (USA is 77.97).

I also found this drawing. I’m not sure if it is supposed to be a hospital from the 1300’s or an alpine sanatorium, but the looming cloud with the words “BLACK DEATH” caught my attention.

I suppose you could get plague from water; especially if the water had fleas that had just gorged themselves on a rat infected with Yersinia pestis drowning in it

The Bragg’s link their material to Christianity. Patricia calls her book tours and speaking engagements “Crusades”. Paul was apparently a loud and public bible-thumper while he lived. On the back cover of this book is the tiny Christian fish insignia with “3 John 2” written in it.

3 John 2 is a strange bible reference. It points to the greeting part of a letter from Paul the Presbytr to a man named Gaius. The passage is almost devoid of contextual worth or theological meaning.

Is there some sort of intended irony in its selection?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Club

I often shop at second-hand stores. I’ve convinced myself that the practice of re-using items is ecologically blessed; less landfill, less manufacturing, fewer stripmines, and all sorts of good green. Some second-hand stores even donate their measly profits to agreeably-named charities, like The MS Society. Besides, how many places can you get a good pair of burgundy corduroy bellbottoms these days?

Many “thrift stores” are run by religious organizations. In Utah the most common second hand store is the Deseret Industries (DI). Some people can even buy stuff at the DI with “Bishop Bucks”. Actually, I’m not sure what they call the charity system. I only know what little I’ve picked up while waiting behind people at the check-stand going through some sort of paperwork with the manager double-checking signatures on it;  they then used the paperwork instead of money to pay for their shopping.

I do prefer the secular thrift stores, but the DI is a much more reliable source of ancient wisdom than their competitors. The person who gave me the magic blender I dissected a while back confessed that they got it at a DI. However, the most reliable source of ancient knowledge in the DI is their book section.

Most books on magic theories will mention the author’s reliance on ancient, or forgotten, or ancient forgotten knowledge before the introductory chapter(s) end.

I assume the ancient knowledge they are referring to was lost much the same way their writings were: they were discovered to be total crap and then were discarded.

Unfortunately there is a bit of a culling process that prevents all books donated to the DI from making it onto their shelves. Once, while picking up a larger item at the loading dock of a DI, I spied a load of Y2K survival books in a dumpster. Do you know how hard it is to get books on Y2K survival these days? They are almost all out of print for one thing.

Some gems, along with an incredible assortment of amazing diet plan books, make it through the back-room censors. These books and artifacts contain some ancient wisdom we are at risk of losing again. I think I might be amiss if I did not take a few moments to examine some of this knowledge for the edification of you; my readers.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guns -N- Bibles

Sometime in the next few days we will be treated to some activity by the federal government on gun control. This inevitability has raised emotions on every side of this issue.

Here in Utah there has been a run on semi-automatic weapons. People are putting off all sorts of important purchases so that they can spend close to two grand on a device they will likely only use as a imprecise hole punch. Gundealers all over the country are apparently selling out their inventories of AR-15s as fast as they can place them on the shelves. Gun sales will likely show up as a significant element of the GDP in next quarter’s report. If there is a direct causal relationship between semi-automatic rifle ownership and gun homicides there should be an increase significant enough to reverse the downward trend we have been enjoying for the past few years.

Communications media are flooded with battles of pseudo intellectual giants facing off over gun control issues. I have been treated to several copies of a televised segment where Piers Morgan discusses gun control with a very agitated Alex Jones. I’m not that familiar with Morgan or Jones, but in the Atheist blogosphere Sam Harris posted a lengthy analysis of gun ownership issues and a rather agitated PZ Meyers responded with a post suggesting that Harris’s logic should lead him to fear invisible snipers and students in tanks. I preferred the Morgan – Jones dialog as it had much more crazy in it.

If a disgruntled student rolls up to my front door in a tank, I can’t expect the SWAT team from Minneapolis to get all the way here in time — it is a problem of physics.” – A sarcastic PZ Meyers

"How many chimpanzees can dance on the head of a pin?" – A sarcastic Alex Jones

The problem with not jumping into the fray on one side or the other is that both emotional camps view those not a member as the enemy. Chanting “If you are not with us you are against us” can be quite alienating.

Issues agglomerated with the muster of the competing forces effectively, but perhaps accidentally, describe the two camps’ demography. Objectively gun control is not a white issue, or a rural issue, or an education level issue, or even a religious issue. Subjectively it looks like it is, and of all the subjectively associated issues none is more emotionally connected to gun control than religion.

Guns –n- Bibles” would make a great title for a movie if it has not done so already. The movie would star several rugged bible-toting white men slowly riding through the rural America of a time lost to history; they would talk slow, plainly, and shoot bad guys with big guns.

This American connection of guns to bibles naturally alienates atheists. It is difficult to even temporarily ignore this connection to discern if there are any objectively worthwhile points in the pro-gun camp’s rhetoric.

One argument that is often made by the pro-gun camp is that violence will occur with or without guns. Partially because of its terrifying freshness the recent highly-publicized story of the brutal public murder of an Indian girl at the hands of a pack of rapists armed only with an iron rod has been used as an informative anecdote by both sides. Mr. Jones screamed at Mr. Morgan about the impossibility of outlawing iron rods to link this terrible event to his argument.  It has also been pointed out that India has both low levels (well...lower than the USA)  of reported violence and very strict gun-control laws. 

In the US the group of rapists would likely have been armed with guns. On the other hand the lacerations to the poor girl’s internal organs caused by the iron rod might have received medical attention sufficient to prevent her death. I'm not a fan of anecdotes driving public policy.

"Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Looking just at the published statistics for murder it would appear as if India has a lower violence rate. India’s murder rate is 3.4 per 100,000, while that of the US is 4.8. However, there the cultural definition of murder in Asia can lead to gross underreporting of deaths as murders. A girl who is doused with kerosene and burnt to death to atone for the shame her family experiences as the result of her being raped might be classified as an honorable suicide; by some estimates several thousand bride burnings in India each year are officially classified as accidents.

Perhaps the most egregious skewing of murder statistics in an Asian country occurs in Afghanistan. The official murder rate for Afghanistan is 2.4 per 100,000. This very low number obviously ignores the thousands of people murdered as part of the ongoing war in that country. The overall death rate in Afghanistan is the second highest in the world, and many of those deaths would be classified as murders if they were not exempted through the “war excuse”.

The natural result of examining linkages of guns-and-religion and guns-and-violence is to see if there is a strong statistical driver between religion and violence. So I decided to examine this.

Using the same type of data that are often thrown around in the gun control discussions I plotted religiosity vs murder rate. As with many things better left to social anthropologists these data appear so very full of holes. However, they are the best data I could find, and appear to be of a quality that is fairly standard for these sorts of comparisons.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime puts out a statistical package every year, and I got the murder rates per 100,000 from a digest of that material. World religiosity is a more feeble quantity, and I directly used % religiosity numbers from a Gallup International Association/Red-C international opinion poll.

Here is a scatter plot of the data:

Here is the same plot, but I’ve indicated Afghanistan, India, and the US.

These data show, at the very least, that decreasing religiosity is correlated to a decrease in the likelihood of violence. In other words it is consistent with these data to suggest that decreasing the religiosity of a country will strongly decrease the likelihood that the country will experience high levels of violence.

Because the low-violence outliers like Afghanistan and India may reasonably be associated with significant under-reporting of violence levels it may also be reasonable to state that these data suggest a correlation between decreasing religiosity and the amount of violence, not simply the likelihood of increased violence.

Applying this trend to the US it appears as if cutting the religiosity of the USA in half would decrease the amount of violence by close to 70%.

It would be easy to take the above statement and infer that I am suggesting bible control instead of gun control. Amusing as that idea is there is a much more pragmatic way of achieving a decrease in US religiosity: simply remove the tax-free status of America’s churches. The economic pressure would reduce the level of religiosity to productively low levels.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


The Toyota’s thermometer read a frigid 18 degrees (almost -8 degrees for those of you who use a more rational temperature scale) while stopped at a Salt Lake city traffic light sometime near noon yesterday. A young man on the doughy side of 21 crossed stiffly in front of my car. He was wearing the equivalent of a high school gym uniform, but his black shorts and hunter green T-shirt lacked any school insignia that I could make out. His black socks had the white silhouette of a splayed-legged man jumping to deliver a basketball into a net, and this was easily visible as his cloth bedroom slippers only covered his toes. I wondered aloud whether the ice that would inevitably get into his slippers would melt at the current temperature.

On the pre-dawn trip into the big city the thermometer read -1; less than -18 Celsius. At those temperatures one can often see a brightly reflecting crystalline material blowing -almost suspended- on the slightest breeze. I imagine the material is smog frozen directly from the air in which it is suspended.

As if to validate my theory the day’s warming trend had sublimated this material back into a thick layer of haze. It was impossible to see across the valley, and the islands in the Great Salt Lake were gone.

The haze, I have been told, was the result of an “inversion”. This is not entirely true. My idling car at the stoplight, and the undoubtedly fossil-fuel-warmed location the inappropriately-dressed pedestrian was shuffling off to had something to do with it.

An inversion is weather, and who has any part in the responsibility for the weather? I grew up in a world with air pollution, but now that has been replaced with inversions, and all my personal overconsumption sins are forgiven.

Last week I drove the truck into the city. If the haze was air pollution rather than simply an inversion then the act of driving my poor gas-mileage truck into the city might have meant that I would have had to take on additional responsibility for the haze. Luckily the problem is an inversion which will eventually be washed away with rain. Weather is on the super end of the spectrum of natural phenomena.

I had to go into the city to pick up a dozen ten-foot lengths of 2-inch PVC tubing (No metric whatsoever), and they would not fit in the Corolla. I have picked up one section of pipe in the Corolla, but on the 75 mile-per-hour speed limit 35 mile section of I-80 on the ride home it occurred to me that it was not my brightest idea ever.

We have a Home Depot in Tooele. When it opened I barely stopped myself from spinning sound-of-music style through the aisles singing Disney hits like: “It’s a Whole New World”. Suddenly I could afford to supply several dangerous tangential projects at the same time, and save the two hour trip to Salt Lake that had interfered with scheduling more than one at a time.

But the Tooele Home Dept was out of 2-inch PVC. They explained that it was a “seasonal item”.

“Oh…I was not aware that there was a PVC season. I believe that Festivus poles are usually aluminum. What holiday requires 2-inch PVC?” I asked.

“It is for sprinklers. Not the 2-inch PVC, cause they don’t use that in sprinkler systems, but the other pipe, and so we don’t get as much of the 2-inch in, and it runs out.” I was told.

“So basically you are telling me that you would sell me something except there are not enough people who regularly want something else at this time of year? I’m not sure whether that is just a bad business model or a feeble attempt at cultural homogenization.” I replied.

I think he ignored my last remark as he was scratching away at the strange oversized tough-screen phone the Home Depot employees carry with them.

“We will be getting 50 pieces in 11 days” he told me “and they have 73 pieces in at the West Valley store”

“That is like a 100 mile round trip” I stated exasperated.

“More like 80 sir”

“So why don’t you let representatives higher up in the Home Depot firmament know that if you had product in your store that you could sell it to customers and help earn them a profit? You might even let them know that there is no such thing as a 2-inch PVC season so that they could continue to enjoy that portion of their year-round revenue stream”

“Well Sir; I’ve told them, but they don’t listen” He replied

“I find it hard to believe that Home Depot does not have some sort of suggestion mechanism to facilitate communication between people who work for them” I observed.

“Well they only do that for some stuff, not stuff like this. What they stock and how much they don’t want to listen to us about” He explained.

“So you’re telling me that you have information that higher ups would want to know, but because they don’t know it they will not listen to you telling it to them” I made as a parting observation as I made to leave “That’s kinda an inversion”

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I think it's a hunk of burning love

Breaking news!

And I wager the lovely and talented Sandy Riesgraf would be able to verbalize that with three exclamation points, capital letters, italics, bold, a special font, and do it without breaking a sweat. She might glow a little, but doesn't everyone from Fox News do that a little; even if it is just a little ring above their head?

The Jordon School District has recinded their recinding of permission for the theater students of Herriman High School to perform the musical "All Shook Up".

All they have to do is drop one song that has been "deemed too risqué for community standards".

I'm sure that the pressure the Jordon School District felt as a result of my blogging on the issue was the straw that broke the camel's back.  At least I'm sure that if they had read it, or been told about my writing, or maybe knew someone who knew a guy that knew about what I had written that it would have just been too much.  I feel like a revolutionary.

Viva La Revolution!

Viva Las Vegas!

The lovely and talented  Sandy Riesgraf declined to say what song the Jordon School District found to be too risqué.  Perhaps they are leaving it as a mystery so that people will flock to the high school musical to discover which song was cut.

The following is a list of the songs from the "All Shook Up" musical.  Which one do you think they cut?

• "Jailhouse Rock"
• "Heartbreak Hotel"
• "Roustabout"
• "One Night With You"
• "C'mon Everybody"
• "Follow That Dream"
• "Teddy Bear/Hound Dog"
• "That's All Right"
• "It's Now or Never"
• "Love Me Tender"
• "Blue Suede Shoes"
• "Don't Be Cruel"
• "Let Yourself Go"
• "Can't Help Falling In Love"
• "All Shook Up"
• "It Hurts Me"
• "A Little Less Conversation"
• "The Power of My Love"
• "I Don't Want To"
• "(You're the) Devil in Disguise"
• "There's Always Me"
• "If I Can Dream"
• "Can't Help Falling In Love"
• "Fools Fall in Love"
• "Burning Love"

Nuthin But Some Hound Dogs

Legend has it that Elvis has been impregnating women at a rate unprecedented for a man who has been dead so long; if you are inclined to believe he is dead. Such a physically active corpse should have no trouble doing a little extra tuning over in his grave. The actions of the Jordon School District Board of Education (JBE) should have little impact on “The King”’s daily routine.

The JBE has put their foot down on racy and inappropriate arts activities occurring in the high schools under the metaphorical heal of their collective boot. Herriman High theater students had been working since September on a performance of the Broadway musical “All Shook Up”, when they returned from Christmas break on 2 January they were told that the previous permission they had received to perform the musical had been revoked.

“All Shook Up” has a thin but popular plotline revolving around teen angst and an authority’s disapproval of “entertainment”. Some people trace this plot to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, but the myriad of derivatives has cemented it as a well-worn plot device whose ties to any source earlier than the 20th century is accidental. It is more likely that the authors of “All Shook Up” owe more to the 1980’s movie Footloose than the play written in 1601.

In “All Shook Up” the thin plot is merely a vehicle to introduce a large selection of Elvis songs.

“In this show, we journey back to the 1950s for a story involving a teenage girl’s dream, a mysterious stranger with a motorcycle and a guitar, and various residents of a sad Midwestern town where fun and excitement are outlawed.” – Jessica Martin of summarizing the plot elements of All Shook Up.

Footloose, coincidentally, was filmed almost entirely on location in Utah.

The JBE contend that they had changed their policy over the summer. The Bingham High theater students had performed “Dead Man Walking” which had incited the condemnation of the Utah Eagle Forum. The Utah Eagle Forum cited –amongst other issues- that the “Dead Man Walking” contained "inappropriate use of biblical teachings."

Delivering the announcement of JBE's decision to the world at large was the lovely and talented former FOX "News" (KSTU channel 13) TV personality and current Jordon School District Director of Communications Sandy Riesgraf.

Since I have not stumbled upon exactly what the Utah Eagle Forum considers “inappropriate use of biblical teachings in “Dead Man Walking” I will conveniently assume that they are referring to biblical story of the dead man Lazarus walking from the grave. With this in mind the very idea of Elvis gyrating from the grave and impregnating women all over the world would be simply unforgivable.

“Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out” – John 11:43-44

Three of the seven members of the JBE are women, but the president is a man. Coach Rick Bojak has been the president since 2008, but he has a day-job as the Western Field Representative for Bigger Faster Stronger (BFS). BFS is a company that markets training materials to high school athletics programs. “Bigger Stronger Faster *” is the name of a 2008 documentary on steroid use that apparently did not show in Utah before it’s release on DVD in September of 2008.

The standout irony of the JBE decision is that it mimics the censorship that Elvis himself suffered through while he was alive. Many radio stations refused to play the subversive music of Elvis. Ed Sullivan famously refused to ever allow Elvis on his show, then recanted and paid Elvis over 10X what he thought was the maximum he would spend for an entertainer, then –after two relatively uncensored appearances- only filmed Elvis from the waist up.

“he gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos” -- Ben Gross of the Daily News. 8 June 1956

Elvis was considered a Southern phenomenon in 1956, and his second appearance on the Ed Sullivan show would occur on the 24th of October; less than a year after Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a Southern bus. The JBE would decide that a musical featuring Elvis’s songs was inappropriate over 56 years later.

Last year on the 24th of October everyone was abuzz about the presidential debate that took place a couple days earlier. The president had kicked Mitt Romney all over the playground, and many zingers had been uttered. One of my favorites was when POTUS informed Mitt that 1980 called and wanted their foreign policy back.

“Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s." – Barak Obama to Mitt Romney 22 October 2012

Mitt was very popular in Utah, and it is not a stretch to suggest he was even more popular with the members of the Utah Eagle Forum. Perhaps they heard this zinger and decided that they would indeed like the Elvis-censoring social policy of the 1950s?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Minty Boost

I’ve always loved new-year’s resolutions.

I also like reading seed catalogs while there is still snow on the ground. I can imagine the fragrances and textures of the garden much more effectively when they are not confused by early spring weeding.

I get this one catalog of heirloom seeds. I love looking at the pictures of the potatoes they sell. The lighting they have chosen for the potato pictures is dark and luscious. The cut purple and red potatoes look like they are crafted from velvet.

I have a small bed of amazing potatoes in my garden. Last year they were overrun with mint.

I like the strange mint that grows in my garden. Eventually I gave up on viewing the mint like it was a weed simply because it had gotten out of hand. Since it is not recognizably a spearmint or a peppermint (I actually think it may be more of a horehound) I cannot seamlessly introduce it into recipes. It is simply the wonderfully aromatic plant that wants to be everything I grow.

This New Years I have decided that the mint, or its essence, will make a wonderful soap additive. To this end I’ve gathered some rough plant waxes, and I search for lye. Lye is apparently important in the manufacture of meth, and is difficult to routinely acquire for people who look more like Walter White than Martha Stewart.

Like many of my decisions the effectiveness of the unruly mint as a soap ingredient will only be validated in hindsight. I’ve got some lavender that perennially fights off assimilation by the mint, and dried flowers from it should make a reliably saponified plan “B”.