All Now Mysterious...

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.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Didn't See That Coming . . . .

So, Donald Trump defied conventional wisdom, flipped several blue states to red, and got himself elected to be the 45th President of the United States.

Huh.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Why You Won’t See Me on Facebook for the Next Two Weeks

The Unites States Presidential election takes place one week from today. Based on everything I’ve seen for the past several months, I anticipate seven full days of anger, name-calling, ad hominem attacks, distortions, misrepresentations, threats, and outright lies. And that’s just from the candidates. Their followers on social media are, inexplicably, even more poorly-behaved. I don’t need a week of that.

I expect the week after the election to be even worse.  I foresee seven days of unrelenting negativity including gloating, accusations of election fraud, smug self-righteous I-told-you-so’s, calls for secession, threats of violence, or even actual violence --plus everything in the previous paragraph. Again, I don’t need a week of that.

So I’m taking two weeks off. Maybe more. We’ll see.

There were a few things I wanted to say before I left, though. Take these for what they’re worth.

1. Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. Yes, I know that today’s poll numbers show Donald Trump with a one point lead over Clinton. Doesn’t matter. Polls don’t decide the Presidency--the Electoral College does.  And Trump can’t win enough of the battleground states to earn the requisite 270 electoral votes. One report I read today shows likely electoral votes based on states that are solidly in favor of, or leaning toward, one of the two candidates. In this scenario, Clinton already has 263 electoral votes, while Trump has 180, with 95 still up in the air. That means Trump has to win at least six of the following seven battleground states: Nevada, Arizona, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and/or Florida. (And that’s assuming he wins Utah, which is no certain thing at this point.) Sorry, folks, but that ain’t happening. Trump is toast.

2. I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton. It’s not because I dislike her, or because I think she’s untrustworthy. Although, to be honest, I don’t like or trust Secretary Clinton, the main reason I’m voting against her is because I disagree with her vision of what government should be.  She stands for bigger government--more government involvement, more government interference, more government control. She thinks only the government can solve all of the problems of America and Americans. There’s no doubt that there are problems to be solved. But I don’t think bigger government is the answer. Isn’t our government big enough and intrusive enough as it is? Realignment and restructuring? Absolutely, and the sooner, the better. But expansion? Again? No thanks. Any government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take everything you have.

3.  I will not be voting for Donald Trump, either. Yes, I am a Republican (RINO, in the eyes of some) and have been since I first registered to vote back in 1986. But Party loyalty is not reason enough to vote for Donald Trump. Even if I thought Donald Trump were an actual Republican (which I don’t) or agreed with his policies, such as they are (which I don’t), the simple fact is that the man is not qualified to be the President of the United States. His shortcomings are numerous and well-documented, and I have no wish to spend the next two hours listing in detail all the reasons he is not fit to lead any nation, never mind the United States. I will simply say that Trump shows no signs of being able to handle the day-to-day rigors of being a world leader. He lacks the knowledge, the experience, the temperament, and the self-discipline to be the President.

4.  A vote for a third party isn’t a ‘wasted’ vote. I’ve heard all manner of “A vote for anyone but Trump is a vote for Clinton”, as well as the inverse. It’s all bovine scatology. It’s vote shaming. It’s bullying in the classic sense: the use of threats or intimidation to coerce someone to comply with one’s own will. Sorry, kids, but I’m too old and too smart to fall for that. I will vote for the candidate I think is the most qualified, conventional wisdom be damned--and I encourage everyone else to do the same. The only ‘wasted’ vote is one that doesn’t represent what you really feel is best for the nation.

5.  My one vote isn’t going to affect the Presidential election in the slightest. Since I don’t live in Nevada, Arizona, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and/or Florida, I know that my single vote will not influence the outcome of the Presidential race one iota. That’s just how the system works. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Now, does that mean my vote doesn’t matter? Absolutely not! By voting for a third party, I might just help someone other than House Donkey and House Elephant get a seat at the table in future elections. What might happen if someone other than a Republican or a Democrat gets some electoral votes next week? How would it shape future races? Imagine what the election process would look like if the candidates actually had to earn their votes amid a multiplicity of choices, instead of just pandering to one side or the other! The Two Party System™ is long past broken; it’s time to raze it to the ground and build anew. Voting for someone other than Trump or Clinton is a good place to start.

6.  I’m not worried about Hillary Clinton stacking the Supreme Court with ultra-liberal judges. This has been floated as one of the main reasons to vote for Donald Trump in spite of his many glaring flaws. This is a scare tactic by the GOP. The fact is that Clinton could nominate Bozo the Clown to the Supreme Court, but he won’t become a Justice until he’s confirmed by the Senate. Remember Merrick Garland? Yeah, he’s the man President Obama nominated to replace Justice Scalia back in March--more than seven months ago. Why isn’t he on the Supreme Court? Because the Senate not only hasn’t confirmed him, they haven’t even talked about him (although he’s likely to be confirmed quickly once Senate Republicans realize that President-elect Clinton could withdraw the nomination in January and replace him with someone they find even more unpalatable. Heck, President Obama could do the same thing the day after the election!). The way to keep the Supreme Court ideologically balanced, in this circumstance, is to keep the Senate in the hands of the Republican Party. That’s where the GOP should be focusing their efforts, because Trump is frankly unelectable. If the Republicans lose the Senate as well as the Presidency, well, they’ve got nobody but themselves to blame.

7.  The Presidential election isn’t the real issue, anyway. Do you want safer neighborhoods? Lower property taxes? Better schools? More responsive government? Because the President doesn’t have anything to do with any of those things. For that matter, neither do your Senators or Representatives. These issues are decided locally by mayors, school boards, and state legislators. Local ballot initiatives will also be important. These are the elections that will affect our lives the most on a day-to-day basis. Most of us, however, know little or nothing about these races. So forget about the national elections for a week and concentrate on the local races. You (and your community) will be glad you did.

That’s all I have for now, I guess. I’ll see you all again on or around November 15th. Try not to yell at each other too much while I’m gone.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In Which I Lament the State of the Republican Party in2016

The problem with the Republican Party today is that there really isn't one. George Will is quoted as saying, "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Amusing as that sentiment is, it's more literally true of the GOP today.

The Republican Party isn't really a single entity with a unifying vision and platform. It is instead a loosely-organized coalition of competing and often internally contradictory factions. They are, to borrow from Battlestar Galactica, a ragtag, fugitive fleet, on a voyage to they-know-not-where. Meanwhile, Republican leaders are forced to pander to as many of these splintered factions as possible in order to get anything done. Republicans squabble amongst themselves almost as often as they squabble with Democrats.

Among the factions currently claiming affiliation with the GOP: the Gun Rights faction, the Anti-immigration faction, the Rich White Folks faction (Hillary Clinton notwithstanding), the Shouting Evangelical faction, the Get The Gummit Outta My Life faction, the Anti-Islam faction, the I'm-Mad-As-Hell-And-I'm-Not-Gonna-Take-It-Anymore faction, the Obstructionist Tea Party faction, the Anti-Vax/Climate Change Denial/Anti-Science faction, the Anti-Common Core/Pro-Homeschool faction, and maybe, somewhere in all of that, a few actual Reagan-era conservatives. These vastly disparate groups are united (if that's the right word) by just one thing: for one reason or another, they all dislike President Obama and/or Secretary Clinton.

That's no way to win an election. (See 'Kerry, John' for details.) There's no way any one candidate--or even any one Presidential/VP ticket--can hope to satisfy all of those factions. 

The Republicans have lost the last two Presidential elections--and if you ask me, they're on track to lose the next two--because  the Party no longer has any idea who the Hell they are or what they stand for. All they know is what they're against.

For my money, the 2016 Presidential election is already lost. Dysfunctional as the Democratic Party might be at the moment, nobody seriously doubts that the rank and file will eventually fall in line behind Hillary Clinton in November. As much as Democrats might dislike Clinton, they're not going to vote for Trump instead. Meanwhile, Utah, arguably the reddest of the Red States, is currently polling Trump at 29%, Clinton at 27%, and Libertarian Gary Johnson at 26%. Statistically , it's a dead heat. If, as a Republican, you can't win Utah convincingly, what chance do you have of winning the nation?

I expect that there will still be a Republican Party after November, but I have no idea what it will look like. But the GOP can't go like this much longer. Eventually, the Party is going to implode.

With luck, it'll be sooner rather than later. The sooner it happens, the more time the Party will have to figure out what the Hell it wants to be. They'd better get working on that quickly. It's only four years until the next election....

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Yearbook Fortune Cookies

One of my fellow teachers refuses to sign student yearbooks. She says there just aren't that many ways to say "I enjoyed having you in my class this year" (a sentiment that isn't even true in some cases) and "Have a great summer". So she prints up an inspirational poem or short story and hands that out instead.

Another teacher I know draws a sketch instead of signing yearbooks. He's a lot more talented than I am, in that respect. I could sketch different molecules, I suppose, but just how many aromatic rings can one draw before the novelty wears off?

So this year, instead of signing yearbooks in the traditional fashion, I've assembled a list that I affectionately call "Yearbook Fortune Cookies". I'm going to roll a d12 and write whichever quote comes up from the list. Here they are:

1  If you know immediately that candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago.

2  Understanding is a three-edged sword.

3  Deserve victory.

4  Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.

5  A brave man likes the feel of nature upon his face, but a wise man has the sense to come in from the rain.

6  The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.

7  If you seek meaning, then listen to the music, not the song.

8  Even a mirror will not show you yourself, if you do not wish to see.

9  You don’t have to leave to find a better view.

10  Life is the future, not the past.

11  The point of a journey is not to arrive.

12  You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.

I'm hoping I roll '1' a lot. ::evil grin::

Monday, May 09, 2016

End of Year Report

Writer J. Michael Straczynski, borrowing from Robert Heinlein, discusses the following metaphor:

“If you are trapped high in a burning building, you are eventually left with one of two options. You can stay where you are and perish in the fire, or you can jump and buy yourself a few more seconds to figure out what to do next.  The former spells certain doom; the latter provides at least the possibility of hope.”

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time this year jumping out of burning buildings.

In retrospect, the decision to implement Canvas more fully as a content delivery and assessment system, while simultaneously moving full time to a new electronic textbook, was probably too ambitious.  Despite preparations I made over the summer, I feel like I spent the entire year trying to catch up. Everything took longer than expected to implement—the fact that we didn’t have the promised access to the e-book for the first month or six weeks of school certainly didn’t help—and pacing suffered.  There was a fair amount of material that I simply ran out of time to cover.  SAGE Summative results will probably reveal this in detail.

If I had it to do over again, I would probably move forward with Canvas first, using the textbook we’ve used in previous years.  However, having made it this far, I feel I’m in a good position to implement both the e-textbook and Canvas more effectively next year.  The groundwork has been laid; the infrastructure is, for the most part, now in place. I can spend my planning time next year revising instead of inventing.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Why I Teach Science

“How does this thing work? Why does that stuff change? How does that do what it just did?”
-Introduction, Sid the Science Kid
   
I have a 6 year old daughter and a 2½ year old son. It is a daily adventure watching them discover the world around them. They are so curious about their little universe, so passionate about exploring their surroundings, and so thrilled when they learn something new or figure something out for themselves. They have such joy in discovery.

Science should be like that for everybody.

I have spent the past seven years teaching chemistry at Olympus High School in Salt Lake City.  I have had the opportunity to work with many, many great students.  I have known that most of them would not pursue a career in the sciences.  But I have tried to help them each to cultivate an appreciation for the wonder of our world and the joy that comes from curiosity and discovery.  These are traits that transcend the discipline of science; I believe they are a natural part of a well-balanced life.

I love science because I love learning and discovering new things about the world we live in.  I teach science because I love seeing my students have that same experience.