All Now Mysterious...

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The State of the So-Called Union

The State of the Union? Here’s how I see it:

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is at an all-time high. But so is xenophobia. Our President blames ‘both sides’ when a white supremacist drives his car into a crowd and kills someone. The President keeps pushing for a wall that won’t work and that will only drive the country deeper into debt. Meanwhile, immigrants who have been here for years—decades, in some cases—are being unceremoniously deported back to their ****-hole countries, often without their families. Travel bans based on thinly-veiled anti-Muslim paranoia continue to wind their way through our courts.

We just experienced a government shutdown. Partisanship in the House and Senate is keeping either side from getting any real work done. The Congressional majority has tried and failed on numerous occasions to ram through legislation to undo the Affordable Care Act and other laws they don’t happen to like, seemingly without regard to what their constituents actually want and value. On the other hand, Congress did manage to pass a tax bill that, according to non-partisan analysis, gives little to no relief to the middle and lower classes, but provides big tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and the corporations they own and manage.

The President’s Twitter misadventures grow more bizarre and unstatesmanlike by the day. Random and unprovoked attacks on Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, demonstrable lies and misrepresentations about easily verifiable events and facts, and personal attacks against ‘fake news’ media outlets are the routine of the day. Anyone who disagrees with these tweets or tries to point out the factual inaccuracies is shouted down, shamed, and bullied. Above all that, the President is in a personal p*ssing match with the leader of North Korea; the only reason we’re not at war yet is that Kim Jong-il is the only world leader more bombastic and incompetent than ours.

We’ve pulled out of the Paris Accords, because our government leaders are more willing to listen to the 3% of scientists who agree with their political and economic agenda than the 97% who agree that climate change represents a credible threat to the future of life on this planet. But this is hardly surprising; for the past year, government science agencies have been defunded and their social media accounts gagged. Agencies like the EPA and the National Science Foundation can only publish what Capitol Hill approves.

We have a climate change denier at the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a brain surgeon running Housing and Urban Development, and a Secretary of Education who has never attended a public school (and neither have her children). The White House has become a revolving door of staff appointments and resignations, and the sole voice of reason at the top levels of government appears to be a Marine Corps general nicknamed Mad Dog. And there’s still that little Russian election issue that nobody wants to talk about.

Our nation is less respected, less truthful, less welcoming, and less stable than it was a year ago. President Trump ran for office on the promise that he would Make America Great Again©. By all independent metrics, that hasn’t happened and isn’t happening.

But hey, the Dow is up, so it’s all good, right?

Friday, January 05, 2018

My Latest Brilliant Plan for Fixing College Football’s National Championship Mess

This will never, never, ever actually happen, not ever. But if I were the King of College Football, as powerful as I am benevolent and unfettered in my righteous autonomy, this is exactly what would happen.

So now we have a playoff, and that’s a good thing. Teams can now realistically say that they played their way into the national championship game. But the playoff are still chosen somewhat arbitrarily. This year’s playoff features--you guessed it--Alabama, who not only didn’t win the SEC, but didn’t even win the SEC West. They got waxed by Auburn, who then got waxed by Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Nevertheless, the committee decided that Alabama, arguably the third best team in the SEC, was one of the four best teams in the nation and gave them a place in the semifinals. Meanwhile, B1G champion Ohio State and PAC-12 champion USC played each other in a Cotton Bowl that made it pretty clear that neither team wanted to be there.

The idea of having five major conferences represented in a four team playoff is inherently problematic, of course. One conference is always going to get left out. Except for this year, when two conferences got left out.

My bold solution? It’s twofold: expand the tournament, and rearrange the conferences.

At present, the Power Five (P5) conference membership numbers look like this:

ACC: 14 (plus Notre Dame)
B1G: 14
Big XII: 10
PAC-12: 12
SEC: 14

That’s a total of 65 teams currently participating in P5 football. In practical terms, these 65 teams are the only with with a shot at the playoffs. No team in the so-called Group of Five (G5: American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt conferences, plus three or four independents) has any chance whatsoever at playing for a national title. More on that in a bit.

Anyway, here’s my idea: Take these sixty-five teams and add five historically high-achieving G5 teams, making a total of 70. Divide these 70 teams into seven Regions based on history and geography. The Power Five conferences become the Power Seven (P7) Regions. Each team plays all nine other teams in its Region each year--seven true round robins to determine seven Region champions. These seven champions, along with the highest ranked conference champion from G5, are the eight playoff participants. The committee’s job will be to seed the teams as they see fit, but will have no voice whatsoever in determining who gets into the playoff. Playoff qualification will be determined strictly on the field.

This will necessitate a few logistical changes, of course. First, there will be no conference championship games for the P7. Region champions will be determined during the regular season via the round-robin schedule. The regular season will conclude Thanksgiving weekend, with the playoffs beginning two weeks later. This still leaves time for a twelve game schedule for the P7: nine Region games, at least one game against another P7 school each year (Sorry, K-State) and two games against old rivals, G5 teams, FCS teams, etc.

The first round of playoff games will be held at campus sites; with the #1 - #4 seeds hosting the #8 - #5 seeds, respectively.  Semifinal and final games will be held at neutral sites, with semifinal games perhaps being played as part of the bowl season.  Semifinal games will be played just before Christmas, with the national championship on New Year’s Day.

What about bowl games? Well, for the 122 FBS teams not participating in the playoffs, nothing changes. The conference realignment will undoubtedly lead to some changes in bowl affiliations, but that can’t be helped.*

Okay, so what are the seven Regions? So glad you asked.  Take a look:**

  • Region 1: Boston College, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Navy, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse.
  • Region 2: Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, NC state, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Virginia, VA Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia.
  • Region 3: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, GA Tech, Miami, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina
  • Region 4: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
  • Region 5: Boise State, BYU, Colorado, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Utah
  • Region 6: Arkansas, Baylor, Houston, LSU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech
  • Region 7: Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State

Yeah, I know, I know, these Regions aren’t balanced. Yet. Give it time. If every school in this arrangement knows that it can play its way into the national championship picture in any given year, recruiting should be equalized in short order.

So, let’s look at hypotheticals. For this season, our champions would have been something like this:

  • Region 1: Penn State
  • Region 2: Clemson
  • Region 3: Georgia
  • Region 4: Ohio State
  • Region 5: Boise State
  • Region 6: Oklahoma
  • Region 7: USC
  • G5 participant: Central Florida

The committee would be responsible for seeding these eight teams, leading to a bracket looking something like this:

  • #8 Boise State at #1 Clemson
  • #7 Central Florida at #2 Oklahoma
  • #6 USC at #3 Georgia
  • #5 Penn State at #4 Ohio State

From there’s it’s a single elimination tournament. Win, or go home.

Eight teams. Seven games. One national champion determined entirely on the field.

That’s how it would be, were I the King of College Football.

*Also, under my reign, bowl games can no longer be named solely after their sponsors. “ Bowl”? Give me a break.)

**For the curious, the five teams I elevated were Boise State, BYU, Houston, Navy, and Northern Illinois. In a similar exercise, someone else might have chosen different teams. That’s fine. Different schools might lead to slightly different conference arrangements. (For example, you could replace Navy with Central Florida by shifting West Virginia to Region 1 and South Carolina to Region 2. Cincinnati could be swapped directly for NIU. And so forth.) Otherwise, it works exactly the same.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

In Memoriam

In a way, this is the end of an era for me. When I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Prophet and President of the Church was Spencer W. Kimball. I couldn’t even hazard a guess who his counselors were. When I went to college, the Prophet was Ezra Taft Benson and I can tell you who his counselors were: Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson. The same was true when President Benson died and President Howard W. Hunter was called to the Prophetic office.  Upon his death shortly thereafter, President Hinckley was called to be the prophet, and naturally President Monson was his first counselor.

For pretty much my entire life in the Church, Presidents Hinckley and Monson have been in the First Presidency. Now they have both been called home.

Much has been said about President Monson’s reunion with his wife, Frances, and rightfully so. But I can’t help but believe that President Hinckley was also there waiting to greet him when he arrived.

Thank you for your service, your example, and your teachings, President Monson.  Thank you for making this world, and this Church, a better place by your service.  May God bless your family as they mourn your passing and celebrate your life.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Two Jokes

 In reviewing my blog posts of the last several months, I realized – to my horror – that  most of them had been political in nature. That will never do. So, here's something amusing to break up the monotony. You're welcome.


A guy went to see his psychiatrist. He said, "Doc, you've got to help me!"

"What seems to be the problem?" the psychiatrist responded.

"Whenever I meet somebody new, instead of saying 'Hello' or 'How do you do', I just blurt out, 'What's new, pussycat?' It's weird, but I just can't help myself."

"Very interesting", the psychiatrist said. "It appears that you have developed a condition called Tom Jones Syndrome."

"Tom Jones syndrome?" the man asked. "I've never even heard of it. Is it rare?"

"Well," the psychiatrist responded, "it's not unusual."


A man found himself standing at the pearly gates before St. Peter. He gave his name, his address, and a few details of his life. Saint Peter then said, "I have located your information, and it looks like we have you listed for provisional acceptance into Heaven. It doesn't look like you've committed any particularly serious sins, however you haven't really done anything to distinguish yourself for the side of Right, either. If you could tell us about something you've done that was particularly courageous or heroic, it would really make the issue a lot easier to resolve."

"Well," the man said, "I was walking home from the pub when I looked down a dark alley and saw a young girl on the ground, surrounded by five or six tough-looking bikers. They had her trapped, and I could tell their intentions weren't honorable. I don't know why, but it made me really angry. I knew I had to do something.

"So I turned and walked right down that alley, right towards the biggest, toughest-looking one. He turned around when he saw me coming, and before he could do anything, I kicked him right in the family jewels, if you take my meaning. He dropped like a rag doll, and the others started to close in on me. Well, I picked up a piece of metal pipe and brought it down right on the next guy's head. He dropped, too.

"By then they'd hesitated for a minute. So I shouted at them. I said, 'All right, you scum, that's enough! I've never seen a more disgusting collection of human filth in all my life! You're all animals! You leave this poor girl alone, you freaks! Now get lost, before I give the rest of you a serious lesson in pain!' "

"Wow," St. Peter said, "that's quite remarkable. That would certainly qualify you for entry into Heaven. When did this happen?"

The man replied sheepishly, "About two minutes ago."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

In Which I Lament the Unfortunate Juxtaposition of Football and Politics

Okay, Broncos 'fans', let's get one thing straight here: The Broncos did not lose today's game because a number of players knelt for the National Anthem. It wasn't 'karma' or 'justice' or any of that nonsense.

I mean, a number of Buffalo players also knelt for the anthem, and clearly they weren't suffering 'karma' or 'justice'. Think about it.

No, the reason the Broncos lost today was because they couldn't make big plays at key times and Buffalo could. That, and maybe Von Miller's late flag. That's it.

So please knock it off with the "They lost because they disrespected America" crap. It's just not true. You're smarter than this.

And while we're on the subject: Those players who knelt during the National Anthem weren't disrespecting the flag, or America, or the nations veterans.

They were protesting the profane and inappropriate remarks made by our increasingly provocative and belligerent President.

Consider this: If the President of the United States publicly calls for a private organization to fire its employees over a protest, that's tantamount to government suppression of free expression--and that is expressly forbidden by the First Amendment.

President Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. He's not doing that.

And the players have every right to call him out on it, in whatever nonviolent way they see fit.

President Trump owes those players he referred to as "sons of b*****s" a serious, legitimate, and very public apology.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

In Which I Address Food-Related Science Quackery

[WARNING: Rant Mode ON. Maximum verbosity enabled.]

I realize that what I'm about to post probably won't make a bit of difference to anyone.  The people who, in my humble opinion, would benefit most from reading this, almost certainly won't make it to the end; and even if they do, it won't change their minds. They 'know' what they 'know', and any words from a science shill like me will only serve to prove to them that they were right all along. Nevertheless, I'll say it.  As Satai Dukhat once said, "When others do a foolish thing, you should tell them it is a foolish thing. They can still continue to do it, but at least the truth is where it needs to be."

So here we go.

#1: For The Love Of All That Is Good And Holy, Stop Saying "Chemical Free"

The phrase "chemical free" is a lie, pure and simple. There is no such thing.

The reason there is no such thing is that everything, literally everything we see and touch and eat and know, is made of chemicals. Water is a chemical. Oxygen is a chemical. High fructose corn syrup and Splenda© are chemicals, of course, but so is pure cane sugar, and every other sweetener you can name. Sodium benzoate, a commonly used preservative, is a chemical, but so is salt (including sea salt and Kosher salt), and it's been used as a preservative for millennia. Vitamins, minerals, proteins, chamomile, oil of peppermint, eucalyptus extract, David Avocado Wolfe's hair conditioner--they're all chemicals.

The fact is that all matter on Earth is composed of chemicals. Period. The only matter of which I'm aware that might reasonably not be called 'chemicals' is Dark Matter and neutron star matter. And nobody currently living on Earth is ever going to have to worry about those things--or if they do, it'll just be the one time.

So stop telling everyone that your food or your cosmetics or your sunscreen is 'chemical free'. It's just not true. And claiming to be 'chemical free' is not something to be proud of--it identifies you as someone lacking information, and an easy mark for hucksters.

#2: Genetically Modified Organisms Are Not 'Frankenfoods'

For thousands of years, human beings have engaged in the practice of genetically modifying organisms to make them serve our own needs. For most of this time, this was done by selective breeding. For example, our ancestors chose those plants and animals that had characteristics we liked and bred them with each other to reinforce those characteristics. Over the course of generations and centuries, we turned these naturally-existing organisms into the kinds of organisms that we waned them to be. This process of genetic modification is now known as 'domestication'.

Today, our scientific knowledge and technological expertise allows us to accomplish the same goals, but in a drastically reduced period of time. Now that we know about genes and DNA--discoveries made only in the last couple of centuries--we can alter an organism's genetic code to reinforce desirable characteristics (high yield, resistance to disease, etc.) directly.

So please don't waste your time (or mine) telling me about the benefits of non-GMO corn or non-GMO beef or non-GMO chick peas.  Because they don't really exist. The fact is, all of these foods--and, in fact, all food from domesticated sources--is GMO food, and has been for centuries.

"But wait," I hear you cry. "Genetic engineering and selective breeding aren't the same thing!" You're right, of course. Genetic engineering is much more precise and reliable--and much more heavily regulated--than traditional crossbreeding methods.

"But wait," I hear you cry again. "We don't always know what genetic modification of an organism will do!" Well, that's true. But we don't always know what traditional crossbreeding will do, either. The fact is that due to random mutations inherent in the reproductive cycles of all forms of life, crossbreeding is much more likely to produce unexpected results than genetic modification.

"But wait," I hear you cry yet again. "GMO foods aren't safe!" Let me be direct: You don't have any evidence that that's true. I have yet to see a single scientific study published in a recognized, peer-reviewed scientific journal that supports the assertion that GMO foods are unsafe at any level. Oh sure, I've seen articles/blog posts by the Food Babe and Natural News decrying the dangers of GMO foods. Those aren't scientific publications. They're marketing sites with an agenda (and related products and accessories!) to sell. Get on the website. Look at their prices. Where does that money go, do you suppose?

Anyway, on the issue of GMO food safety, all I can say is this: Saying that GMO foods are unsafe doesn't make it true. Show me the evidence.  I'll wait.

#3: Organic: I Don't Think That Means What You Think It Means

First, let's get some terminology out of the way. In terms of chemistry, 'organic' means 'containing carbon'. And other than water and a handful of minerals, all food contains carbon.  In other words, all foods are organic foods, scientifically speaking. So as a description of what the foods are actually made of, 'organic' isn't terribly useful.

Now, 'organic' as a marketing term for foods? Well, that's something else entirely. Some food producers use different methods for growing foods, mainly involving which fertilizers and pest control methods they use, in order to appeal to more environmentally-conscious or health-conscious consumers. And that's fine. Foods produced in such a fashion are usually labeled 'Organic', and usually sell for a higher price than non-'organic' items.

But what does this label really mean? Well, as it turns out, not necessarily a lot. Standards for 'organic' food production are not consistent, and they are not always rigorously enforced. And a few unethical producers don't even bother with the process at all; they just market all their food as 'organic' because the profits outweigh the risks of getting caught. Additionally, there's not a lot of evidence that 'organic' foods are nutritionally superior to their mundane (and less costly) counterparts. Research in this area is ongoing, of course.

As a food descriptor, 'organic' is often just a synonym for 'expensive', sadly.

#4: All-Natural Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better

Here's a simple comparison. Cyanide is produced naturally in the pits of stone fruits (peaches, apricots, etc.) and will kill you dead, dead, dead. Medicinal insulin is synthetic (and produced by GMOs, no less!) and saves the lives of millions of people every day. So, which is better, natural or synthetic?

That's actually a trick question. The correct answer is this: It doesn't matter. Not at all. The source of a molecule (the basic unit of a chemical, you know) has nothing whatsoever to do with its properties. The molecule doesn't know or care if it's from natural or synthetic sources. It makes no difference whatsoever.

Now don't get me wrong, I prefer real vanilla extract to the artificial stuff. It tastes better. That's because it has ingredients (chemicals) in it that are not produced by the synthetic process. But the primary molecule found in both real and artificial vanilla is exactly the same, despite the difference in origin.

If you feel better about 'all-natural' foods, cosmetics, and supplements, then good for you. But if you're claiming that the same ingredients derived from synthetic sources are somehow different or inferior, that's just not true.

Okay, that's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading.

[Rant Mode OFF.]

Friday, January 20, 2017

RINO No More

I celebrated today’s inauguration of President Donald Trump by changing my voter registration from Republican to Libertarian.

I first registered to vote when I turned 18, back in the Reagan administration. I've been a registered (if not always enthusiastic) Republican my entire adult life. I haven't always agreed with the policies and positions of the Party, but I always felt that the Republican Presidents (or Presidential nominees) and other Party leaders were basically good people who genuinely wanted what was best for the nation.

But I don't feel that way about the current Republican leadership. In the last few weeks, Republican leaders in Congress and elsewhere have demonstrated an astounding recklessness in their actions. Their first act in Congress was to try to abolish the independent ethics panel that oversees them.  Who decided that was a good idea? They want to tear down the Affordable Care Act--which, almost without exception, they refer to derisively as ‘Obamacare’--and replace it, eventually, it with something else. But nobody seems to know what that is.  Oh, sure, I’ve heard people talk about about ‘Health Savings Accounts’.  I suppose they’re okay, if you’ve got so much money that you don’t need insurance anyway. At this point, even I am starting to think Canada’s single-payer system looks pretty good.

And as for President Trump?  He’s even more disturbing. He has no background and no experiences to prepare him for this job--no legal, military, government, or public service experience whatsoever. Worse, his temperament and personality make him entirely unsuited to the position. He’s erratic, combative, and unprincipled. He gets in Twitter fights with people who criticize him. He can’t be told ‘No’, because as far as I can tell, he doesn’t consider himself answerable or accountable to anybody.  His lack of concern for possible Russian interference in our country’s affairs is astonishing. Didn’t Republicans used to want to fight the Russians? And his choices for Cabinet? Incomprehensible. He says he wants to ‘drain the swamp’--but he keeps nominating tycoons and insiders. And not even tycoons and insiders that make sense. He wants a brain surgeon in charge of Housing and Urban Development, an enemy of public education in charge of the Education Department, and a Wall Street executive as Secretary of State. To be fair, I suppose it’s fitting that his nominees are as inexperienced and unqualified as he is.

So no, I don’t feel like the Republican Party is where I belong at this point in time.

But fear not, my friends. My decision to change my registration to Libertarian doesn't indicate a seismic personality shift on my part. I haven’t become a soulless Objectivist automaton or dope-smoking hippie. In reality, my political party membership is less important to me on a daily basis than, say, making sure I leave the house in the morning with socks that match--something I do worry about (and accomplish) pretty much every day. Labels don't mean that much to me, and political party affiliation isn't even in the top ten of how I self-identify.

Changing my voter registration to Libertarian means mostly that I've grown tired of the two-party chicanery our nation has endured for the last twenty years or so. Looking back, I don't feel that my political positions have changed that much. Perhaps the years have made me more moderate in those positions (and likely more cynical), but I have pretty much the same ideas about government that I've always had: that government exists solely to protect the rights, safety, and freedom of its citizens; that government must represent the interests of all its citizens, not just those belonging to the Party currently in power; and most importantly, that government operates by consent of the governed.

I don't think either major political party, Democratic or Republican, operates that way any more (if either or both ever did). Both Parties are more like mega-corporations now, completely amoral and bereft of any genuine concern for the common people in their power-driven chase for ever-increasing market share. We're no longer people that they represent; we're consumers, targets of their greedy and self-promulgating marketing schemes. “Blind men [and women] in the market,” as Rush says, “buying what we're sold.”

Well, I'm not buying any more. Not now, anyway.

I already know that I won't remain a registered Libertarian indefinitely. When the next round of caucuses and primary elections rolls around, I'll change my registration back to Republican in order to participate. Utah is so heavily Republican that the primaries are where most elections are really decided, and the G.O.P. holds closed primaries. So I'll hold my nose and switch back, because it's what I'll have to do to have a voice. And then, in all likelihood, I'll switch back to Libertarian again. Or maybe, two years from now, there will be another option. I doubt it, but maybe. No need to worry about that just now, I suppose.

But for now, I'm no longer a Republican. The G.O.P. won't miss me (and my one vote) or even notice that I'm gone.  And that's okay. The Libertarians will likely be excited to have another name on their roster. If the helps the get more third-party involvement in future elections, then I’m glad to do it.

But mostly, I just can't be a Republican right now.

America's Choir

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is performing at today's Presidential inauguration. There are people who have criticized the Choir for accepting the invitation to perform. I can understand the sentiment, but I feel perhaps these people don't understand what the Choir does or what its mission is.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir will perform between the Vice Presidential and Presidential oaths of office. They will perform one number, "America the Beautiful". The performance will, of course, be beautiful, powerful, and executed with technical brilliance, because that's the only way the Choir does it. Many people will be moved by the Tabernacle Choir's performance today. For some people, this song will be the only happy or hopeful memory they'll have of this day.

That is why the Choir is performing today: not to endorse President Trump or the Republican Party, but to endorse America. To remind the President and the American people that this nation is, in fact, good and great and beautiful. To honor those who more than self their country love, and to encourage us all to a greater love of mercy. To recall to our minds that American dream yet undimmed by human tears. And to encourage us all to beat a thoroughfare of freedom across our contemporary wilderness.

What better message could this administration--and this nation--hear right now? And who is better suited to the delivery of this message than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?

So if you feel the need to demean, disparage, or boycott the Mormon Tabernacle Choir today, do your thing. But as for me, I'll be playing their music loud and proud all day long.

God bless the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and God bless America.