Archive for March, 2016

Republicans Are Not Monolithic

March 18, 2016

Many Trump supporters are new to this political game, and I think it’s time I explained something.

First, republicans are not monolithic. We do not agree with each other. We disagree a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean, a lot. In fact, there is not one single topic I can think of that all republicans would agree to.

Let me introduce how I see the republican party. I’ll divide it up.

The first division has to do with power, and who holds it.

First, there is the republican leadership. This is all the people who are in power, either in government or in the party organization. It also includes all the people who republicans tend to listen to. There are a lot of people in the republican leadership. I consider myself part of it, since I am a PCO and I’m pretty good friends with the district leader where I live.

Note that the republican leadership really runs the party. We decide what the party does and what it stands for. Note also, that we do not agree with each other. Not even a little bit. When there is a shift in leadership, there is a shift in tone and direction. Everyone has their own idea of what the Republican Party should stand for and how it should work. And we don’t agree.

Next, there are the “lay” members of the Republican Party. These include the people who write checks and who wave signs but mostly don’t do much else besides vote. It also includes the people who tend to just vote R on each of the ballots they get.

Finally, there are the marginal republicans, people who usually vote republican but sometimes vote democrat or don’t vote at all. Or they usually vote democrat but sometimes vote republican. They tend to be obscure, tend not to contribute, and they tend to have strong opinions that they don’t express to anyone in the Republican Party. We have to use a crystal ball to figure out what these people want, and we usually get it wrong.

I’d like to interrupt to say that Donald Trump has few supporters among the leadership, a lot of supporters among the lay members, and a remarkably huge amount of support from the margins. Donald Trump represents the marginal republicans asserting their authority over the other republicans, and because they have so much support from the lay members, the leadership is scared. Not me personally, but you can see that there is a lot of angst up the hierarchy.

Let’s look at ideology. Suffice it to say, if there’s a position, you’re going to find republicans who support it.

One area to look at is foreign relations. I’ll break this down into three areas:

  1. Immigration Policy
  2. Trade Policy
  3. Foreign Policy

On immigration, I think the vast majority of republicans want to seal the border against illegal crossing. Some don’t want to build a wall nor do they want to enforce the law at the border.

Continuing, there is the question of what to do with the illegal immigrants already here. Some want to keep the status quo (deport those who break the law in some other way), some want to grant them amnesty, and some think we should be proactive in finding and deporting them. I myself lean towards the status quo. I don’t think poorly of those who want to be proactive, but I am opposed to those who want to grant amnesty. With amnesty, comes the question of whether they should be put on a path to citizenship or whether they should be forever barred (until they change their immigration status legally.) If I had to go with amnesty, I would not put them on the path to citizenship, unless they legally change their status to immigrant. That would involve getting in line behind all the other immigrants.

And finally, on immigration, is the question on who we should allow into our country. I believe that we should maintain open, secure borders. Let anyone who wants to come here to work or to play come. However, they need to prove to us that they come for peaceful purposes, and if there is any question, we should default to “no.” Others want to close the border to entire countries, which I don’t disagree with too much. Others think we should just let everyone in, which I think is dangerous.

There’s also the question of who can become a citizen, but I think we have a pretty good system in place, even though it is clunky. Basically, if you want to become American, you have to live here for a long time, keeping our laws. You have to understand our government and political traditions. And you have to swear an oath. The only thing I might add is that you would need to own property and show fluency in English, which is our de facto national language.

There is the question, of course, of foreign workers who take our jobs. What people forget is that they are already taking our jobs. The question is whether we want them to work here or in their home country. I believe having them work here is the best option, so I support anyone coming here to work, even if it means “unfair competition”. I myself compete everyday with Chinese and Indians, and I know that my salary is lower because of it, but I would rather have them here than have to think of moving to China or India to do my job.

This leads us to trade policy. Unfortunately, despite Adam Smith settling the question once and for all in the 1700s, we do not agree on whether free and open trade is best. A lot of republicans are protectionist, probably the majority. I’m not. I like to point out that the reason why Marxists hate Adam Smith is because Adam Smith makes people rich, and rich people don’t like communism.

Foreign Policy is the question of what do we do about other countries. I subscribe to Theodore Roosevelt’s philosophy: Speak softly but carry a big stick. Meaning, be nice to everyone, but keep the biggest military on hand just in case things get uncivil. Many in the Republican Party agree, but others think we should be more pacifist or more aggressive. There’s a lot of debate and this is an issue that divides the party.

Let’s look now at economic policy. Unfortunately, this is tied into things like health care and poverty. I’ll list the topics I’ll cover.

  1. Tax Policy
  2. Spending Policy
  3. Welfare
  4. Entitlement Programs
  5. Health Care
  6. Environmental Regulations
  7. Regulations in General

On Tax Policy, I think most republicans agree taxes are too high. I think this is one of the issues that keeps getting republicans elected and resonates with everyone. Some feel we should have more taxes in some areas. There is a large contingent that wants the Fair Tax. Very few think we can abolish taxes altogether. I am one of them.

On Spending Policy, we all agree we want less, but we can’t agree on how to cut it. One of the tactics used is to point out how absurd spending is in specific areas, but generally, republicans can’t agree on what to cut.

Welfare is when government gives money to poor people or companies. Republicans are generally opposed to it, but many republicans feel like a “safety net” is important. I believe a “safety net” is the reason why so many people don’t work and why we aren’t doing more to help each other in our own communities. I’m for abolishing all welfare, corporate or otherwise, but I am not popular at all on this position.

Entitlement Programs are entitlements that people have earned, such as Social Security, Medicare, or veteran’s benefits. Republicans generally don’t want to touch this, but some people think a reform is necessary. The reformers tend to want to ensure the status quo can continue. I am pretty much alone in thinking we should just abolish the entitlement programs. Write a check that gives people we promised money the lump sum of the value of that promise in today’s dollars. And then never, ever make any promises to anyone ever again. If you want veterans to get benefits, give them more money, or buy a policy with a lump sum one-time payment. I believe that too much money is hidden in the entitlement programs and it just invites fraud, especially when others take power. I also believe we should never make promises we can’t keep, and we cannot make future generations keep those promises.

Health Care is pretty divisive in the Republican Party. Some want to abolish all the regulations, like myself, but we are a very small minority. Most want to liberalize the health care industries by permitting things like purchasing health care from other states or even other countries. Some want to make sure poor people get health care, but I think I’ve addressed that under “welfare”. The vast majority of republicans agree that Obamacare, or rather SCOTUScare, is a disaster, but many want to “replace” it with something better.

Environmental Regulations, again, are a divisive issue. Many want the government to take an active role in the park systems, in ensuring air and water quality, etc. Others want the free market to work its magic. Many republicans do not think carbon dioxide is a threat, but many do. If I were to try to find the one thing we agree on, I think it would be that we think the environment exists to be managed amd exploited by us. Yes, let’s keep it clean, but let’s not keep people from using the national parks and let’s not stop people from hunting and fishing and cutting down trees. At the same time, let’s ensure we leave the environment better than we found it so our children and grandchildren can enjoy a better lifestyle.

Regulations in general cover all the little rules that government makes. I think we all agree that there are too many regulations, but we disagree on how few there should be. I tend to be towards the lower end of the spectrum, wishing that regulations were few and far between. I think most republicans see regulations as how industry, government, and the people get a say in what the rules should be. We’re perfectly happy when the oil industry shows up to tell us what regulations they want, and we’re perfectly happy hearing about the effects these regulations might have on the environment, for instance. Government should be the place where everyone comes together to find a good solution for all.

As you can see, the Republican Party has a wide variety of opinions, and so it should come as no surprise that we have a wide diversity of republicans. It’s not just the party of the “rich” or “powerful”.

If there was one thing I think that binds all republicans together, it is respect for the law and the principles in the constitution. It is also unabashed patriotism and a willingness to get things done, whether or not government involve. Yes, we complain and moan and fight, but in the end, we respect each other and we don’t mind the fact that our neighbors don’t agree with us.

Where does Trump fit in? He’s definitely republican, even if he doesn’t carry the conservative banner on most issues. Trump’s appeal is that he is bringing in marginal republicans and exciting lay republicans, even though he is attacking the republican leadership. I think we deserve the criticism aimed at the leadership, who have often failed to listen closely to the lay and marginal republicans on most issues. An in failing to listen, we’ve lost their attention.

 

A New Racism, or Rather the Old One

March 18, 2016

It is said the victors write history. So sometimes, in the echoes of voices long silenced, you uncover something you didn’t expect to find. After all, there was a reason why so many people fought on the other side, why they bled and died. And oftentimes, the winners don’t want you to know what they where thinking, because if you thought those same thoughts, we’d have to fight the fight all over again.

We look back at the racists of times past and mock them, rightly so. They were wrong. Or rather, our strawmen of what they stood for was wrong. The strawmen that we created were that the whites in the South thought that they were better than the blacks and that they needed to keep the blacks in slavery so that they could stay in power. It was all a power play, and the greedy, white racists were winning, and the black slaves were losing.

This is a very simplistic view of things. It’s hard to understand why anyone would fight or die for such an idea. And so I think it is not the correct view.

Before you read any further, I ask that you open your mind to thoughts you didn’t think were possible. I ask that you keep that mind open to the end, and use these thoughts to question your own morality and value system, and see if there are things you need to change.

I don’t believe you can get people to fight and kill just because a certain group of people are ugly and vicious and we don’t like the way they smell. When I read the writings of historical figures who attempted to conquer the world, that is not what they were thinking.

What they were thinking was this: If I can win these wars, if I can subjugate all nations under my ideas, perhaps we can create a better world without war, where people communicate with each other, where ideas can flourish and trade can prosper.

This is what Alexander the Great thought. At the end of his conquest, he intended to unify with the Persians, not exterminate them. There were many things the Persians did that he admired, and there were many thing the Greeks did that he admired. He wanted, really, to expand the Persian system throughout the world. The problem was the Persians were not militarily capable of doing it, while the Greeks were. The Greeks had mastered a certain form of warfare, and they had also mastered the problem of multiculturalism. They could be the backbone of the common language that could allow all the societies and religions in the world to live in peace, since Greece had found a way to do it centuries earlier.

So what, then, were the racists fighting for?

First, they were fighting for individual liberty. Yes, you heard that right, by enslaving the black race, they actually thought they were bringing them personal liberty and progress. This is witnessed by the fact that there were black slaveowners in the South. So obviously, the South did not have a problem with people’s skin color. There was something else they were objecting to.

Put yourself into the mindset of an 18th Century European. You’ve seen your culture, through the Renaissance, not only master the material that had troubled the most brilliant minds of the past entirety of human civilization, but surpass them to such a degree as to be absurd. They were, to put it in modern terms, flying through space with warp technology, while the rest of the world was still using horses and manual labor.

Now, the Christian ideal is that we share what profits us. We send out missionaries to bring others to our level. In the 18th Century, we watched as Christianity changed European culture from the dark ages to the modern age. We watched as people went from studying warfare to studying calculus. We believed that there was something magical just around the corner, a sort of tipping point at which human progress would surpass anything we could imagine.

Racists saw this and saw a problem: The other races of man were barbaric, crude, and their culture was infecting ours. They saw men turn back to base passions and ideals, and wondered what could be done about it. The protestant work ethic said that work, hard work, was the cure for almost any societal ill, so putting the lesser advanced races to work in a modern environment was the ideal.

Think about what the slaves were involved in on a plantation. They worked using modern technology. They used things like irrigation and crop rotation, modern inventions. They had the cotton gin, a machine that made it so much easier to pick the seeds out of the cotton fibers. Slaves who showed promise as civilized people were brought into the house and taught how to live in polite society. For instance, Scott Joplin, as a child, was found to have some talent with music, and so, as a slave, he was trained in the classics and became a piano artist.

Blacks who rose up through the ranks became welcome citizens of Southern society.

So really, the racism of the racists had nothing to do with skin color. I am sure they would have had no problem enslaving east asians or white people from more barbaric cultures.

When you look at it this way, it’s easy to see why racists would defend slavery. Now, just because we can appreciate their argument doesn’t make it right. I believe that the ends do not justify the means, and so I would point out the inherent inhumanity of slavery, even “polite” slavery which didn’t involve physical abuse, and I would point out that whatever method we use to civilize the rest of the world, slavery would not be it.

Watching Star Trek, this kind of “racism” is evident everywhere. The Federation believes that they have superior technology and philosophies compared to backward cultures. They even go so far as to encode how to deal with these backward cultures with the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive states that if the culture is not “sufficiently” advanced, that they should be left alone. Many of the episodes deal with the problem of people from the Federation or other races “infecting” those cultures with their own ideas.

Part of the justification of the Prime Directive had to do with the fact that once you take it upon yourself to civilize someone, you have a huge temptation to do evil to them. Another problem is that sometimes people take a bit of your advanced civilization and end up hurting themselves. For instance, if we gave nuclear weapons to Genghis Khan, history might have been entirely different. But another problem is that there might be something the culture might develop that could be valuable to the Federation, and interfering would destroy any chance of that happening.

This last point I think is important: The Federation didn’t think that the races who lived in these backwards societies were inferior. They thought they merely needed more time. Most importantly, they thought that perhaps they might contribute something significant. That is, these primitive cultures were incubators of perhaps the greatest thoughts that were yet to be.

Back to the original topic, slavery was an institution justified as sort of an anti-Prime Directive. Slaveowners felt they were doing a service to the slaves, and at the same time, a service to their culture. They were wrong, of course, but they felt so strongly about it that they were willing to fight and die for it.

Now, this gets me to the point: The New Racism. It seems today that I am a racist simply because I believe my culture is superior to someone else’s. It seems today that when I say things like, “We need to preserve our culture” I am being racist. When I say, “I would like more of these types of immigrants and less of those I am a racist. But really, my thoughts have nothing at all to do with race, but culture. And as we know, culture is completely independent of race. In fact, it is racist to think that someone cannot become a member of a culture because of their skin color!

I don’t believe in the Prime Directive. I support my church which not only sends out missionaries to explain to people why and how God loves them and why we need to be nice to each other, but also missionaries who teach people how to dig wells, how to get immunized, how to bear children safely and how to treat each other with love and kindness in a family relationship. We have missionaries whose sole purpose is to help people find the best job they can get, or get training that matches their personality so that they can get a good job. We have missionaries who spend their time giving people who otherwise couldn’t work, usually due to physical disability, meaningful jobs within their capacity.

I believe this should be the general attitude of America. We should “racist”, according to the bad, modern definition, and try to spread our culture throughout the world. Not through force, but by service and love.

I think Star Trek would be quite a bit different if the Federation spent its time trying to understand how best to help people, rather than focused on understanding the true nature of the universe. I do agree, however, that certain efforts must be made to secure our borders and ensure no one enters our country who wishes us ill. The Federation did a good job at that, screening candidates and carefully considering whether membership in the Federation was right for them. And that is a very, very good thing.

When was the last time violent Christian extremists took control?

March 12, 2016

I had a shower thought: When was the last time violent, Christian extremists took political control in our country?

If you said, “The republican party, when they elected Abraham Lincoln”, you’d be correct.

And what was the effect?

The abolishment of slavery.

Folks, I don’t fear violent, Christian extremists. They are willing to lay their lives down for their brother, and are willing to pick up the sword in defense of the rights of their neighbor.

What’s wrong with legal immigration and free trade?

March 11, 2016

Let’s review, shall we, where wealth comes from.

When two people get together and decide it is in their mutual self-interest to trade, the both walk away with something of greater value than what they started with.

In other words, when you go to the store and but something you want more than the money you have, you get a little richer. The store is more than happy to give you the item for the money because they would rather have the money, and so they get a little richer.

Free trade, free markets, freedom in general, creates wealth.

See, wealth is not having a lot of stuff. Wealth is having the things you want. The only way to get the things you want is to make it for yourself, or to trade. When we are allowed to freely trade with each other, we all find our comparative advantage, the thing that we are better at more than anything else we can do. And when we all work at our comparative advantage and trade for everything else, everyone benefits the most.

With this lesson in mind, let’s review what our foreign policy should be, to maximize our profits here at home.

First, we should remove any and all trade barriers that we erect. Whether another country decides to do the same is entirely irrelevant. Any tariff we charge should cover the cost of doing the sorts of things government is wont to do in the name of security and such, such as inspecting cargo, making sure people are who they claim to be, etc…

With low or almost absent tariffs, the end result is that everyone will want to sell their stuff to the US. When they sell it, they have to bring something away of comparative value. That’s where we win. By keeping our costs (tariffs and trade barriers) low, we both profit.

Second, we should allow any and all people who want to come to our country for peaceful purposes to come and go as they please, and do whatever they want while here. If you’re like Trump, then you’re probably concerned about unemployment.

In order to dispel your fears, let’s imagine a scenario. Two countries are competing with each other. One has an open borders policy: people can come and go as they wish, and do what they like, as long as it is legal. The other country will not allow foreigners to come and go easily, nor will they allow them to work without special permission.

Question: Where would you build your company? In the first country, you can rest assured that if you need to hire someone, you can hire from any country. In the other country, you’d better make double sure that you don’t need anyone from the first country, or else you’ll be in trouble.

If you decide it’s best to build your company in the first country, then that should be your answer to unemployment. If people decide to build their companies in the US, then unemployment will drop.

It’s also important to understand the cause of unemployment. Simply put, no one is willing to work for the wages they are offered. This could be for several reasons, but usually it has to do with government setting restrictions one way or the other on who can do what and for how much. Right now, if you’re a poor black kid growing up in the projects, you are pretty much denied the chance of ever getting a job thanks to minimum wage. What businessman would think it wise to hire you at ridiculous rates that you simply aren’t worth? With no job, you can’t get experience, you can’t prove your worth, and you can never show the world you are worth more than what you are paid and you can never get practical experience. Similarly, there are people in your community who have an entrepreneurial spirit but who are denied the ability to act on it thanks to arbitrary government restrictions. They could’ve hired you, but they aren’t even in business.

Remove the barriers, unemployment disappears.

Is it any wonder that the Smoot-Hawley tariffs, combined with the new tax-and-spend-and-regulate federal government brought our economy to its knees in the late ’30s?

Remember, when two people are allowed to get together and freely trade, they both come away richer. We should be encouraging people to freely trade with each other, leaping over arbitrary obstacles, like immigration policies and trade barriers.

Trump is wrong on this. I think he knows it. I hope he is wise enough to listen to economists who will be more than happy to explain this all to him.

A Mormon’s Thoughts on Your Lie In April

March 10, 2016

Netflix recently released Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso四月は君の嘘), a Japanese anime focused on a middle-schooler’s life and coming to terms with death and life’s purpose. This is a long review, with many spoilers, but I hope it will shed some light both on what I learned from the series and what being a Mormon is all about.

The main character is Kosei Arima. To his friends he is Kosei, and to his acquaintances he is Arima, his family name. Like many anime of this variety, he lives alone. His father all but abandoned him, his mother is dead.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that he is a particularly talented pianist. At a very young age, he started playing, emulating his mother’s example. In his youth, his mother, dying of an unnamed disease, drives him to insanity, going so far as physical abuse, trying to distill in him all the basic skills needed to be a world-renowned pianist. He wants to play passionately, she wants him to focus on technique and in copying the masters (who should never be questioned) and to win all the competitions.

He gets the mistaken idea that he can somehow cure his mom of her disease if he can simply play perfectly enough and well enough that he can touch her soul. She dies before the final round, and he has a break-down on stage where he can no longer hear his notes. His last words to her were a cruel response to a cruel incitement. He lives with regret for saying those words, but most especially, failing to play well enough to cure her.

Whenever he tries to play the piano, he feels like he is swallowed up in the deepest abyss. The notes don’t make any sounds other than the thumping of the keys and the mechanical movements of the dampers and pedals. His hands get heavy, he plays loud and fast, and people think of him as a second-rate pianist who can’t even play properly. Consumed with despair and regret, he refuses to even try to play the piano again.

It is Kaori Miyazono who is the light that picks him out of this abyss. At her endless persistence, he agrees to play as an accompanist to her violin concert. Her last accompanist quit after she played without even following the music. But her music touched the hearts of everyone, including Kosei. Kosei never agrees, but his friends force him to play in the competition, and so he forces himself to play. Sinking in the abyss, eventually, he stops playing mid-performance. Kaori continues, but after a while, she stops too. After pondering his situation for a while, and seeing the light that exudes from Kaori, he decides to play for her, and they end up playing a beautiful impromptu piece based off of the original music that touches everyone’s hearts.

Kosei sees the effect that Kaori has on him, and so he agrees to enter another piano competition at her suggestion. Although he loses, he gradually begins to understand how to handle the stress and insanity of being raised the way he was with the help of the top pianist in the country, close friend of his mother, Hiroko Seto. Hiroko is always trying to pull him out of his depression. She worries that he will one day give up piano altogether. So she agrees to take him under her wing, partly feeling responsible since it was her suggestion to train Kosei in the first place against his mother’s wishes.

Kosei comes to grips with his particular situation. Rather than let his sinking into the abyss be a burden, it becomes a stepping stone. He learns how to look up and see the light. He learns how to play for other people rather than himself. It seems all is coming together. That is, until Kaori fails to show up for the performance, and it is revealed that she is deathly ill and incapable of playing violin ever again.

As the series comes to an end, Kosei devotes himself to another competition. He also promises himself to playing as accompanist one more time with Kaori. Kaori is sick in the hospital, and Kosei knows that it is his mother all over again, but he won’t fall to despair. After seeing Kaori crash, he gives up, sinks into despair again, refusing to practice or do anything. Kaori, returning from the ICU, pushes Kosei to perform and promises to play together in the near future. In a touching scene, Kaori draws on an imaginary violin and plays a beautiful solo before collapsing again. With new hope, Kosei promises to perform and Kaori promises to stop thinking of suicide and instead take a chance on surgery.

At the closing scenes, Kosei plays through his despair, delivering the most amazing performance. At the same time, Kaori is in surgery. Her spirit appears, playing against Kosei’s amazing performance. Kosei’s purpose is twofold: Keep up with Kaori and to show his friends and the audience what is in his heart. It is revealed that she died, but Kosei is moving forward, promising never to forget Kaori and never to stop playing the piano. For the first time in the series, Kosei has come to complete terms with death and despair, and has a recipe to use when he sinks into the abyss: his friends and his purpose. He is a pianist! He must play!

I’m sorry to spoil the entire thing. There are other stories that are just as noble and worth watching within this series, and I fear my words can do no justice to this beautiful series.

There are several themes here. I’ll touch on a few and comment on them from the perspective of a Mormon.

First is the theme of music. Music is mechanical, but it is also the means of communicating heart-to-heart. When we can communicate heart-to-heart, people change. Mormons are consumed with attempting to obey the commandments, just like Kosei was consumed with playing each piece with unnatural perfection. Like Kosei, though, we know that simply mechanically following the rules will not inspire anyone. Despite these rules, or rather because of them, we can uncover the composer’s intention. In the case of commandments, the intention is love. God gave us these commandments so that we can draw closer to him and especially to each other. It is only through obedience that we can begin to understand one another.

Another common theme is death and despair. These are real issues, and they don’t go away. Wishing someone won’t die, and working super-duper hard at it will not prevent the tragedy. We live in a world of death and despair. That’s the truth. Sometimes we succumb to it, becoming immobile. What’s worse than Kaori’s suicidal thoughts are Kosei’s incapability to do anything but mope. I am told that truly depressed are so depressed that they can’t even find the energy to kill themselves. When they are treated, sometimes they end up committing suicide, because despair is worse than death.

Just because we live in despair and death doesn’t mean we have to be consumed by it. Kosei’s friends are ignorant of what is truly going on in his life. Only Kaori really understands. Kaori made the conscious decision to live her life to the fullest, and her decision became a light to Kosei. Kosei’s decision to move forward became a light to the people around him. Ultimately, it is only Kosei, it seems, who can shine light in the darkest places. Indeed, from a young age, Kosei has touched the hearts of many, including Kaori, long before they met.

In a way, Kosei is symbolic of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ descended below all things. He suffered all tragedies. He suffered all pain, all sickness, all sin. What drew him out of it? I do not know, but I imagine it was his love for us. Finding the strength to look up from the infinite abyss, he overcame all. We cannot understand what he felt, although we may be blessed to suffer some of the things he did. But we can understand that he can be a light of hope in all circumstances. Like Kosei, and like Jesus Christ, we can be a light to others when we learn to look up and out of our own abyss.

And so we get to the point: What is our purpose? The two great commandment, love God and love one another. We show love to God by devoting ourselves to perfection, always falling short, but practicing harder anyway. We show love to one another by playing for the benefit of the people around us. As long as we keep our focus on these two things, everything else will fall into place, and no loss or tragedy can stop us from moving forward.

Kosei’s childhood was horrible. This was because of his mother’s endless torment and physical abuse. His mother had only a limited time to impress upon her son what was most important. She felt a duty to do so, even though she was extreme. In the end, Kosei came to understand this, and he replaced the demon of his tormenting mother with the angel of what she intended to do. We too, can learn to forgive. We can learn to see people the way they truly are, rather than the way they appear to us. As mormons, we are taught that the worth of souls are great in the sight of God. We are taught that God descended below all things for each one of us. We are told that inasmuch as we do it to the least of our fellow humans, we are really doing it to God. We are taught that if we cannot learn to forgive, we will suffer a worse sin than whatever sin was committed in the first place. Sure, Kosei’s mother was tyrannical, and as Hiroko explained, unnecessarily so, but it was Kosei’s inability to forgive that truly hurt him. Once he learned how to forgive his mother completely, he was freed from the demon that haunted him.

Another theme is rivalry. I don’t think we appreciate the idea of sportsmanship anymore. Our rivals, the people we compete against, are there to make us better. It is through the challenge that we get better. In reality, we are all following each other, all learning from each other. We need not fear competition. As long as we keep the basic rules of the gospel, competition and rivalry can be a very good thing. I think this is one of the reasons why we, as a country, are getting weaker: We have forgotten how to compete properly. We are focused on winning rather than playing the game to our best ability. The standard of conduct has been set in this series. It is touching to see rivals say, “I must beat him, but I must beat him when he is at his best” and cheer for their opponent to get stronger and overcome their challenges. What started as childhood envy became a motivating force for good. Bitter rivals became close friends who truly understand one another and care for each other.

Another theme is friendship. Kosei’s friends aren’t pianists, and don’t understand what that means. They have their own sports, their own personality, but they love and accept Kosei and challenge him to be better. In a way, Kosei was the selfish one, because he was always focused on his own challenges. But by seeing his friends remain by his side, he learned to cheer for them as well.

All in all, many gospel principles were taught in this series. They didn’t hide from death, defeat, and despair, and they didn’t glorify it either. They showed that true beauty comes only by facing life’s challenges and learning to overcome. And you can only overcome if you have help from the people around you. It is a tragedy in that everything bad happens, but a comedy in that we learn how to live happily despite our losses.

Methanol Manufacture will Save the Environment

March 5, 2016

Honestly, I don’t buy into the whole Global Warming or Climate Change scare. I don’t buy into a whole lot of environmental things that the green movement gets behind. The reason is that I actually care about the environment, and I want my kids to grow up healthy and strong in a clean environment, and the green movement is working to stop that.

What does it take to get a clean environment? Simply put, it takes profit. That is, the stuff that is left over after you’ve paid all your bills. With profit, there is money and time and energy to clean the environment and keep it clean. Without profit, people would be so busy trying to feed and clothe themselves they won’t have time or energy to keep the environment clean.

We see this pattern throughout history and we see it across the world.

That said, we must also not bury external costs. An external cost is a cost that is not obvious and often a cost that someone else has to pay. For instance, if I build a chemical plant and dump chemical waste into a river, I might not suffer for it since all the pollution and bad environmental effects are felt downstream. When other people bear external costs, or when they are hidden, people often make really bad choices — like dumping chemical waste into the environment. I do believe government has a role in this equation. Government should be where all the various parties meet together to ensure that external costs are internalized. IE, if a company wants to dump waste into a river, then they should pay the price of cleaning it up, either directly or indirectly. Either way, they need to have a financial incentive to produce less waste.

These two factors — profit and internalizing external costs — are all that is truly needed to keep the environment clean. When people have surplus time, energy, or money, they are going to spend it on things they want, like pristine environments. When companies bear the costs of their behavior, they choose the most profitable route by minimizing costs.

What does this have to do with the methanol plant? Simply put, the Chinese chose Tacoma to build the worlds most advanced, largest plant because it will result in the highest profit. Our job is to make sure that none of their external costs are ignored. I believe the people in this area, along with our government, can do just that, probably better than any other group of people in the world.

The net result of these two things — the profit and the internalization of external costs — will not only keep our environment clean here, but give us extra resources to make it even cleaner. It will give the Chinese extra money and resources as well, money and resources that no doubt they will likely spend cleaning up their environment. If there’s anyone in the world who needs help cleaning up the environment, it’s the Chinese.

As I’ve said before, we have the opportunity to show the world how they can join the first world and maintain a clean environment at the same time. This is our opportunity to shine and set an example for the world.

Now, those of you who do believe carbon dioxide is a pollutant, and that we’re destroying the planet by driving our cars, you will be happy to know that methanol manufactured in the way they are planning at Tacoma will dramatically reduce not only actual pollutants, but carbon dioxide as well. So rest assured that it will, on the whole, lower our carbon footprint, probably more than planting trees in the area would. (link)

So, in summary, if you care about the environment, then you care about internalizing external costs and increasing profits. You will support the methanol plant and at the same time, ensure that external costs are internalized by the plant. This will do more to help the environment, here in our area and over there in China, than anything else.

If Trump Becomes President…

March 3, 2016

If Trump becomes president, not much will happen.

I am confounded, honestly, why life-long conservatives are behind Trump. My best conclusion is that they sincerely want to shake things up, and they think Trump can do it. When I point out how Trump is no conservative, they wave it off, suggesting that what’s needed more is a break to tradition.

To me, Cruz seems to be the ideal conservative, TEA party candidate. He started off as a TEA party nominee, he stayed more or less faithful throughout his term, and he has proven himself an enemy of the establishment. However, it seems he has failed in the only test that really matters: conservatives don’t like him. I don’t know why, but I’ll be honest, I don’t like him either. Sorry, Ted Cruz, you’re just not a celebrity.

What kind of president will Trump be? Perhaps we have an Andrew Jackson or a Reagan-type president. These presidents genuinely changed how business was done. They shook things up. Andrew Jackson closed down the federal bank. Ronald Reagan stopped inflation and cut taxes. Trump is probably going to do something similar.

Does Trump have the ability to manage the executive branch? No, but not one else does either. The executive branch has long ago left the control of the president. Even Reagan complained that he had no control over the state department. We have a professional bureaucracy running the executive branch. Those who have seen “Yes, minister” know what that means. The only thing that can be done is to fire the lot and replace them with new, fresh blood. The last time anything like that happened was under Eisenhower.

What kind of staff will Trump associate with? I have no doubt that Trump will take the job of president far more serious than Obama is. He will surround himself with people smarter than he is, probably the best of the best.

What about congressional relations? Here, I think Trump is going to have a huge fight with congress, the way it should be. Congress, led by Paul Ryan, will be taking issues to Trump. Trump will be a moderate. Perhaps Trump and Ryan and congress will get along famously, as Trump may delegate the responsibility of the budget and legislation to congress, the way it should be. Trump would then focus on the things that heads of state should be focused on.

The most important thing Trump will likely do is change the tone of politics in this country. Trump doesn’t see America as democrat vs. republican. He sees it as a whole bunch of failures trying to succeed. All the failures need is someone to keep the honest and motivated, and Trump can do that.

Trump will also likely change the dynamics of foreign relation. Perhaps he will open up the possibility of an actual reset in foreign relations. Will he maintain America’s strong Saudi alliance, or will he open up doors to the Iranians and others? Who knows.

Trump is a wild card, after all. That’s his schtick, and he’ll likely stick with it.

Why Methanol Manufacture is Safe

March 3, 2016

This article discusses why we have no reason to fear for the safety of our community if we build the methanol plant.

Put simply, we have regulations for a reason, let’s use them. But really, the process of making methanol is extremely safe, and allowing them to build the plant here is safer than alternatives.

What Can Go Wrong

First, worst-case scenario. I can only think of a few:

  • Massive explosions as somehow oxygen gets where it isn’t supposed to be in sufficient quantities to cause an explosion.
  • Industrial-scale leaks of input or output chemicals, or byproducts.

Let’s look at the fallout of these two:

  • An explosion would make a loud noise and perhaps kill a few plant workers. The firefighters will put their lives at risk. But consider this: Even the Chernobyl disaster only killed 62 people.
  • Leaks of the chemicals involved. Let’s list them:
    • Natural Gas would dissipate in the air. We would have slightly higher levels.
    • The Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide would also dissipate in the air.
    • Methanol is highly miscible and if we had an industrial spill, it would probably be gone within two days or a few weeks. Treatment of methanol spills or fires is “add a lot of water”. There is a ton of water right there in Commencement Bay.

I think everyone can agree that the fallout of worst-case scenarios is really not that severe.

How to mitigate the risk

  • Make sure the latest safety standards are used.
  • Inspect the plant regularly by a third party
  • Hold the plant accountable

The first two are rather obvious. The third party that does the inspection should be a private contractor which is hired by the city or state. The plant should be taxed for the cost of inspection, but the inspector should not be hired by the plant or in any way influenced by it. We already have a really decent system for doing food inspections, and it works pretty well. We just need more of the same, with a higher degree of professionalism and higher salaries.

Holding the plant accountable is rather easy: Make them buy disaster insurance. Safety inspections by the state are one thing, but safety inspections by insurance companies are entirely different. See, the insurance company will raise rates if the plant isn’t using every little thing that will reduce risk.History of Safety

I haven’t seen any accidents at any methanol plant, and this methanol plant will be even safer and more efficient than all the others. The only types of accidents I see involving methanol are people welding methanol tanks where there is still methanol vapor inside. Obviously, this is a bad idea and people die when it explodes. Natural gas is well-understood.

Keep in mind that none of these chemicals are combustible in the absence of oxygen. Without oxygen, no fire, no explosion. Oxygen is part of the process but only in the form of water. If there was a crack that developed that allowed oxygen where it doesn’t belong, then we would have a leak because the chemicals are kept at higher pressure and temperature. At worst, we’ll have a flamethrower.

Balancing Risk and Reward

In all things, consider why the Chinese want a methanol plant here at all. China has a huge pollution problem. It is literally killing their people and ruining their country. Even the communists know it is a problem. The reason why they have a huge problem is because their economy is entirely based on coal. Hence, why China has been so active in North Africa and Iraq trying to tap into their oil supply. Now, we could send natural gas to them, but it is expensive and more dangerous. They are moving operations here because natural gas is cheap and plentiful, and methanol is safer to ship than natural gas.

By building the plant in Tacoma, we will be sparing perhaps millions of Chinese and helping them clean up their environment. All the while, we will not be polluting our own environment, and creating jobs here in America, in Tacoma.

One other risk: War. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because we refused to trade with them the critical resources they needed to build their economy. We did it because the Japanese were abusing the Chinese and Koreans, who were our allies and who we promised to protect. Our trade with Japan was contingent on them living peacefully with their neighbors. They had a choice, and they chose to attack.

China is in a similar situation, except China is not quite like the Japanese and we already have a trade policy with them. They need things we have, and we can either compromise and ensure continued peace through trade, or we can refuse and give them the option of something less civil.

I would like China to know that at least here in Tacoma, and perhaps the entire Pacific Northwest, we are open for trade, and we welcome the Chinese as brothers and sisters. We have a dark history of persecuting Chinese immigrants here in Tacoma, and I think this is a good way to tell them we are done with the old ways.

Finally, the value of a life: We talk about the possibility of people dying. It’s a real risk. Even if we sit around and do nothing, people will die. I don’t mean to cheapen human life, but I mean to put it into perspective. Suppose we lose five lives building the plant, and there is an accident which kills 20 people every hundred years. I think this is way beyond any potential loss of life. I would support the project if it meant it saves an equal or greater number of lives. Right now, the Chinese people are dying because of pollution. Anything we can do to help them clean up their environment and their economy is saving lives. The only reason we live in a place with such a pristine and clean environment as this is because we were willing to build those factories and chemical plants that gave us those things that let us live cleaner lives, even though people died making them and people died working there. We traded those lives for the lives we would have lost if we stayed with the old ways of doing things.

Why Profit is Always Good

March 3, 2016

The way some socialists, communists, and other oppressors of human dignity talk about it, it seems as if the “p” word is the only evil there truly is in the world: “profit”.

Let me help people understand why profit is not only good, but the only good thing there is in the world.

Profit is what is left over after you’ve earned all your money and paid all your bills. If you’re only thinking of dollars, profit is the money you actually make and get to keep.

Where does profit go? You have really only 3 choices: Spend it, save it, or invest it. If you spend it, then someone else gets to earn some money doing work. If you save it, then you’re setting it aside to be spent or invested in the future. If you invest it, then you’re hiring someone to do something that today is unprofitable, but may lead to greater profits in the future. There is nothing else you can do with your profit. All of these things are good.

After all, wouldn’t it be good if more people had jobs making things and providing things to others? Work is a noble endeavor. Those who are lucky enough to have a job know that it brings self-worth and confidence. It gives purpose and meaning. If you think about it, it is the worker who is truly obeying Christ’s commandment to love each other as we love ourselves.  No matter what you do, if someone else wants it done, it is service, whether you are paid or not.

Wouldn’t it be good if more people had more savings? With savings, you can take greater risks, such as education. You can take a vacation and relax your body, mind and soul. You can pace yourself. Just like a farmer with silos full of grain and a barn full of animals, the worry of whether tomorrow will be sufficient disappears. Wouldn’t it be good if everyone had a month, a year, a decade of income saved?

Wouldn’t it be good if we had more investment money flowing around? Those of us who want to create something new and perhaps amazing, and who are willing to risk it would be joined by ever more hordes of people with similar desires. This is what progress is made of: People taking risks with their capital. It’s how we would get better batteries, electric cars that were actually cheaper than the gasoline-powered machines we have today, or perhaps entirely new modes of transport that can reduce pollution and resource consumption. Perhaps we can discover cures for cancer, or a way to make even more food, healthier and more cheaply. If we want to progress, we need to invest, and the more we invest, the faster we progress.

Given that the fruits of profit are universally good, why can it possibly be bad? Let me outline why I think socialists and communists see it as bad. (Spoiler: It’s pure envy.)

When we look across the landscape of the economy, we see some people who are able to take a few dollars and convert it into billions. Their ideas are so good, their execution so perfect, their attitude so mature that they have developed what we can only call the Midas Touch. On the other hand, we see wastrels who seem incapable of turning a profit, even when they have thousands or even millions of dollars. They seem to be worse off year after year.

The socialist or communist will deduce that the reason the rich get richer and the poor poorer is because the rich are taking things from the poor. After all, there is only so much stuff in the economy, and if someone gets more, it can only be because they are taking it away from someone else.

Not only is this thinking wrong, it is dangerous, and one of the many reasons why the poor get poorer. Let me share a story.

Once upon a time, a bunch of people came to America. There were no cities, no roads, no factories, just trees and prairies and dirt and Indians. Over time, these people cut down the trees, built homes, and planted fields. It didn’t always work, and many people starved or died of disease. Also, they didn’t always get along with the native population, and so they were killed or had to spend time fighting. As time passed further, these people built more roads and more houses and more farms. Then they started to build factories and refineries. At first they built a lot of boats. But later, they started to make many more things. After a very long time, they were manufacturing the first affordable car, telephones, airplanes, and much more. After some more time, they had huge cities with massive road networks and millions of cars to run on them, along with oil refineries, microchip factories, etc. Soon they had iPhones and iPads.

It’s remarkable, isn’t it, to consider the long road we’ve walked from virtually nothing to iPads. Where did the iPads come from? Did we steal them from the Indians? Did we take them from the Chinese? No, the iPads came into existence because of a simple principle: When two people get together and trade, voluntarily, they both benefit. That is, they both get richer. Even though the quantity of “stuff” hasn’t increased, they both have more “stuff”, or rather, the stuff they have is more valuable to them.

This is because wealth is not found or exploited or stolen. It is created. In fact, when you try to steal wealth, it disappears. Take, for instance, what happened when the barbarian hordes sacked Rome. Did they become Roman and have all the things the Romans had? No, those things were gone. By using force to try and take what they wanted, they actually fared worse than if they had simply tried to trade with Rome. Certainly the Romans were worse off. But the barbarians were worse off too. They could’ve entered into a trade relationship with Rome and they could have, over time, come to have similar living standards to the Romans, but they did not.

Now, the idea behind Marxism, which is really the same idea behind the evils of socialism and communism, is that somehow, the people who trade for wealth are cheating the other guy out of something. When a rich man comes and pays you some money to work in his factory, is he taking anything from you? Without the rich man, would there even be a factory to work in? And without the rich man, how would the factory workers know what to build, or where to send it? The rich man is just as important to an economy as the factory worker.

We see this story repeated again and again in the tech industry. An inventor comes up with a truly novel idea, and he is offered a hefty check to sell it to someone who knows how to make a lot of money with it. Thinking they can do a better job of monetizing the idea, they decide to hold on to it, only to find out that making money off of ideas is entirely different than coming up with new ideas. Perhaps, the inventor thinks, he would’ve been better off selling the idea sooner, or even getting a job working for the people who know how to monetize ideas. Occasionally, we have Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos who figure out how to make money off of the idea, usually because no one else really “gets it”, but these are exceptional cases. The vast majority of inventions end up in the hands of companies like Amazon and Microsoft who can actually make money from it, and the inventors are usually happy to take home a few years worth of salary as a reward, or enjoy continued employment there.

So the principle that destroys Marxist philosophy is simply this: Wealth cannot be redistributed. Wealth is created only with free trade. Everything else destroys it.

Socialists and communists who think that they can somehow make the poor richer by taking from the rich are making the same mistake that the barbarian hordes made with Rome. Sure, you may get some loot, and it may feed you for a day or a week, but at the end of that week, who are you going to raid next? Even the Mongolians learned that they had to settle down and adopt the ways of the people they conquered or else they would run out of food. Perhaps the Marxists would do well to learn that they have to be good capitalists.

So there you have it: Profit is always good. Free trade creates profit. Don’t stop free trade, and don’t try to redistribute the wealth.

But so far, I’ve only been talking about money. Or have I?

See, everything we do, everything we have, everything we are, is prioritized. We all have our own set of priorities. Mother Theresa prioritized serving the poor, so she made that the most important thing and sacrificed pretty much everything else to get it. What is your priority? Where is your treasure? Once you figure that out, then you should apply capitalist principles to it, and sacrifice everything else to obtain the things you really want. If that’s a comfortable lifestyle, even if it means you aren’t rich, then go for it. If it means living in a nicer climate, then go for it. If it means having a big family, or a small family, or living alone in the mountains, go for it! Profit for yourself.