Archive for July, 2008

BYU Professor Chris Foster on Animal Advocacy

July 23, 2008

Yesterday, BYU Professor Chris Foster gave an interview on KCPW’s The Public Square about animal advocacy and humane treatment. I think his arguments are very persuasive. Of course, I’ve never been a fan of the machismo and violence of the rodeo. And over the recent years, I’ve been moving my family more and more towards a plant-based diet. I’m not necessarily planning on a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet, if for no other reason that there are some meats and animal products which I really enjoy (sadly, my favorite meats tend to be the most highly processed, the various sausages). Any consideration of an outright ban is met with a fit from my palate. So instead, I’m simply seeing how many great meals I can make without meats, or with very small quantities of meat. I’ve found plenty of pasta, legume, or grain salads which are every bit as delicious as any meat entree. I’ve learned plenty of ways to get protein and the umami hit of meat without resorting to a cow (I’m not keen the texture of tofu, but there are plenty of ways to prepare great tempeh dishes!). I hear that many who go for a plant-based diet end up finding meat distasteful. If that happens, great. If not, we’ll continue to eat meat on occasion to satisfy those occasional carnivorous urges, but focus on plant sources of nutrients.

Concern for the treatment of animals is only one factor in my decision. The meat-based diet of modern U.S. society has been a key factor in the rise in obesity, heart disease, and various other ailments over the past few decades. Given the recent concern over food production and costs, it is worth noting that meat is a terribly inefficient source of energy; it takes many more times the amount of energy and land to produce a calorie of meat than to produce the same amount from plants. Many free-market advocates have made a big deal about the impact of increased biofuel production on food production, and their points are certainly not invalid. But long-term, the increasing emphasis on meat in diets throughout the world, and the increasing amount of resources needed to provide that meat, could be seen as a far greater threat to the world’s food supply than biofuels. Rather than encouraging developing nations to adopt the Western/U.S. style diet, we should probably be doing more to adopt diets more similar to theirs and to our ancestors. As Professor Foster pointed out, such diets would be much more consistent with the counsel of the Word of Wisdom than the hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, roast beef, and other staples of the U.S. (and Mormon) diet today.

Alternative Pioneer Festivities

July 15, 2008

Utah’s big holiday is fast approaching. Our state pulls out all the stops for its Days of ’47: Parades, picnics, fireworks, the whole nine yards to celebrate the Mormon pioneer trek to Utah.

My wife and I enjoy the holiday, but not in the traditional way. We tend to skip the parade and most of the Mormon pioneer-oriented activities, preferring more alternative celebrations. On the evening of the 23rd, we regularly attend the International CultureFest, a celebration of cultural diversity downtown at the Gallivan Center. And on the 24th, we hang out in Liberty Park for several hours (or as long as our water holds out in the blazing heat) at the Native American Celebration in the Park. They have lots of craft and food booths, kids activities, music, and the Powwow. We’ve really enjoyed seeing the costumes, the dancing, and the singing at the Powwow Unfortunately, it appears that the Powwow is no longer free. But even if you’d prefer not to spend the money, there will still be plenty to see and do at the park.

If you’re looking for something different to shake up your Pioneer Days, give some of these a shot.

Jeffery Nielsen Courageously Takes Another Public Stand

July 3, 2008

Jeffrey Nielsen, professor at Westminster College and UVSC who fired from BYU after writing an editorial questioning the LDS Church’s support of the federal marriage amendment, has again been taking a very public stand as the issue resurfaces. He recently released “An Open Letter to California Mormons.”

I am a member of the Mormon Church, a married heterosexual, and a supporter of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. I am asking you to pause and give sincere thought to the letter from our religious leaders you have heard read, or will soon hear read, over our church pulpits asking you to get involved and oppose marriage equality in California. Please think deeply about this, not only as a member of a particular church, but also as a citizen of a democracy.

To press for an amendment to a civil constitution that would legalize discrimination against an entire class of people is no small matter, but of the greatest significance. When the argument, no matter how well intentioned, is based solely upon a religious proclamation; then, I believe, it is a serious contradiction of the wisdom of our founding fathers. It also does tremendous damage to the great progress in civil rights we’ve made in our country respecting the equal dignity of each person and towards a more certain legal equality for all citizens.

You should also know, not all faithful Mormons agree with our religious leaders’ encroachment into political matters. In fact, a growing number of active Mormons, who have gay friends and family members, are coming to the conclusion that our current leaders are as mistaken in promoting discrimination against gays and lesbians as was the Mormon hierarchy in the 60’s when they opposed equal rights for people of color, and our Mormon leaders in the 70’s when they opposed full legal equality for women.

Of course, religious authorities of any denomination possess the right, and may claim the legitimacy, to set the theology and policy for their religious community. When they; however, attempt to interject religious doctrine into the public spaces of a diverse democracy without reasonable justification, then members, especially faithful members, of that religious organization have the civic responsibility to express public disapproval of such dangerous and undemocratic behavior.

No one is asking that you condone a behavior that might violate your religious faith, but we need to allow everyone the freedom to live their life as they see fit, so long as it does not physically harm another person. After all, religious values must be something an individual freely chooses, not something forced upon him or her by the state. We should never allow our constitutions, whether state or federal, to become weapons in a crusade to impose a particular religious value system upon a pluralistic democracy. Today it might be a particular religious value that we affirm, but tomorrow it might be a religious system, which would seek to legislate against our own sincere beliefs. So now is the time to take a stand and keep separate civil and religious authority.

I do not believe that people choose their sexual orientation any more than they choose their skin color or gender. So to discriminate and deny them equal protection and equal opportunity under civil law because of these natural traits; especially in this case, sexual orientation, is grossly unfair and should be rejected outright in a compassionate and just democracy. If anyone could give me a single reasonable argument against marriage equality in our civil society, which doesn’t make fallacious appeals to tradition, misplaced appeals to religious authority, or make some ridiculous claim about nonhuman animals, then I would like to hear it. So far, no one has been able to present me with even a single justifiable reason.

You should know that like you, family and marriage are very important to me. As I have become acquainted with gay and lesbian couples, I have been touched by their goodness, sincerity, and commitment. I am persuaded that allowing marriage equality would, in fact, strengthen the institutions of family and marriage in our country. Perhaps it might even make all of us a little more considerate and responsible as both marriage partners and parents. I can only hope that the citizens of California, and my fellow Mormons, will possess the wisdom and moral decency to reject the call to discriminate against our gay and lesbian coworkers, friends, neighbors, church members, and family.


Listen to his very thought-provoking interview on KCPW

Why I Like Obama’s Chances: The Historical Perspective

July 2, 2008

I know of a number of liberals who are (understandably) frustrated and pessimistic. Snakebitten by the previous elections, they don’t believe Obama is going to win, and that we will be stuck with another Republican president.

I’m not saying Obama supporters can be complacent or that it is in the bag. But I think there is plenty of reason to be optimistic.

In 2000, the Democratic candidate was a stiff, wooden candidate, unable to connect with voters, tagged by the media as a liar, and who made all the wrong political moves. The Republican candidate was considered folksy and personable. He also had an incredible fundraising machine, and was able to significantly outspend his opponent. The Democratic candidate defeated the Republican candidate before the Supreme Court threw the election.

In 2004, the incumbent Republican candidate was almost at the peak of his popularity, yet to be dragged down by his administration’s botching of the war effort. He maintained a massive war chest. The Democratic candidate was an aloof, distant candidate, tarred as a flip-flopper and dogged by the very effective (if underhanded) Swiftboat campaign. He lost by an incredibly narrow margin.

This year? The Republican candidate is one who is loathed by many among the conservative base. Discontent with the reigning party is high. Support for the war and conventional foreign policy, the central platform of the Republican candidate, is at low ebb. The Republican candidate, while not aloof or unapproachable, is often seen as cantankerous. His “Maverick” and “Straight-Talk” cachet has worn thin with many. The Democratic candidate is one with incredible charisma, able to inspire and galvanize action. For the first time in years, the Democratic candidate has a significant edge in fundraising.

Two straight elections, the Republicans had substantial advantages, and still only eked out wins. Why not feel hopeful this time?