30 June 2006

Sadhus, Cigarettes, Cell Phones, and Soccer

A couple of you commented that you liked the picture in my previous post, and this morning I came across (total coincidence I swear!) another enjoyable picture of Hindu ascetics doing incongruous things... Enjoy.

28 June 2006

Heard on NPR this Morning...

" 'Drunk dialing' could be a thing of the past. One company is introducing breathalyzers on some of its U.S. cell phones. You blow into a spot and, if you've had too much to drink, the phone displays a weaving car hitting traffic cones. It will then prevent you from dialing pre-specified numbers that could cause embarrassment. Hundreds of thousands of "breathalyzer phones" have already sold in South Korea. Now, if only they could make a cell phone that didn't drop so many calls."

- Heard this morning on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" - 7:30 am

26 June 2006

Danny and Deidre

My friend Danny married a lovely lady named Deidre on Thursday, the 16th. It couldn't have been a more perfect day - it cooled off just so to be a lovely summer's evening. The wedding was held at La Caille - a charming and over-the-top facsimile of Provence in Salt Lake City - replete with peacocks and rabbits roaming the grounds!

Danny and Deidre

Danny met Deidre a number of years ago, at a community service expedition called "alternative spring break," I believe. Their friendship matured into love, and they are fortunate to be surrounded by loving and supportive mutual friends.

The Groom, and Mr. Hughes escorting his daughter down the steps.

The wedding struck me in its simplicity and beauty. The Rev. Tom Goldsmith of Salt Lake's First Unitarian Church (of which Danny is a member) presided over the ceremony, which was written by the bride and groom. Having met Danny on the first day of High School (back in 1993), I've come to know his family and friends, and it was nice to see the extended network of people come together and celebrate.

Rev. Goldsmith administering the vows.

The mothers of the bride and groom were given an opportunity to speak to the couple before they exchanged vows. Vicki, Danny's mom, related a great story of when Danny was 5, serving as a ring bearer at a family member's wedding. When asked if he wanted to get married someday, Danny replied that he would, so long as "she had superpowers and brought her own toys." Vicki noted that while Deidre's superpowers were not in dispute, did she bring her own toys? Carol, Deidre's mother, asked them to remember the role God played in bringing them together, and that God would keep them together. To reinforce Carol's benediction, the groomsmen (I had nothing to do with this!) decorated Danny's car, scrawling "GO WITH GOD!" on the back tailgate.

Deidre and the Bridesmaids

I had a chance to speak at their wedding, also. I was asked to give a few words to the couple and to the party as they sat down for dinner. I told them of how I met Danny on the first day of high school: we were playing a game out on the football field, where everyone was paired up with someone else. I happened to be paired with Danny. Brother Bob asked us to sit down back to back, and lift ourselves off the ground using each other's back for leverage. Little did Danny know that he'd be watching my back ever since.

Ever the momma's boy.

For thirteen years, our friendship has been a blessing and my life has altered course because of his influence. In 2003, he asked me to manage his campaign for city council in Bountiful, Utah - a race where we were totally smoked out by the competition. His mother arranged for me to interview for a job at the State of Utah, a job which started me on my career path. Danny inspired me to go back to school to get a MPA degree, and apparently I encouraged him to go back for a masters in Urban Planning. The adventure continues: our research interests have converged in a way that we're giving a joint presentation at the Western Planner Conference in Boise in the first week of August.

This wedding gave me my first opportunity to attend a real bachelor party. Danny, who's notorious for causing himself bodily harm while drunk, was given a hockey mask to wear so that he wouldn't break his nose before the wedding. In life as in drinking, Danny sprints: in about two hours, he consumed more alcohol than I had in weeks. The irony was - as he was reaching for my shot (his eighth, my second and last) , he lectured me about drinking too much.

I am so happy for you both, Danny and Deidre! I wish you both health, happiness, and long, loving lives! I look forward for the day when we can go on senior citizens cruises together.

Danny, in protective headgear, with one of his fraternity brothers, and my fellow groomsman, Chris.

Week in Review

What a crazy week it was. I just finished a big project at work: The Changing Economic Structure and Current Baseline of Draper City, a long and detailed look at the state of one of Salt Lake's most prosperous and dynamic suburbs. I'm also updating BEBR's website (which looks terribly old-school), and designing a brochure for our organization. With all these projects taking up valuable computing time in my head, I've neglected my blog. I'm sure my one reader has abandoned me by now.

If you want to see what I do most everyday, click on the Draper project link. It'll pull up a huge PDF. Be careful though - reading a document like this cover to cover might induce thoughts of suicide. All the same, it's a good picture of what I'm doing professionally. (sorry. I've just learned that I can't post a PDF here. Once it's loaded onto our website, I'll provide a link).

In other news, I spent the weekend assembling new furniture for our bedroom. Our bedside tables, which rightly should have been decomissionsed in the Reagan administration, were finally retired. I also spent too much time trying to figure out why our cable modem wasn't communicating with the new wireless router Rob got for his birthday. After spending hours on the phone with Comcast's and Linksys's technical support, we diagnosed the problem as a hardware failure - which means, new modem! Whoopee! When I first encountered the problem, I called my brother Shawn, who said "you're modem's probably hosed." I should have taken him for his word and done my yardwork, instead of spending hours on the phone with Canada and India. Aren't computers supposed to make our lives easier?

19 June 2006

Last Weekend and The Week Ahead

I had a great weekend. Rob and I went up to a condo in Park City and relaxed the weekend away. The condo was so huge and drafty that we invited the Shawns and Teri to join us for the second evening. We stayed up way too late drinking wine and playing the Game of LIFE.

Sunday was, of course, Father's Day and the family gathered for a barbeque celebration in my sister's back yard. Her boyfriend made Chicago Dogs (with mustard, relish, chopped onions and tomatoes and celery salt!) which were simply to die for. I ate three. I also made mojitos, for which I am famous.

My friends Henry and Ulla, and their children are coming to visit us in November and I simply cannot wait to see them! I am beyond excited -- it's been three years since I saw them last, in Austria.

In the coming days I'll upload some pictures from Danny's wedding last Thursday. I may also talk a little bit about my favorite tyrant, North Korea's Kim Jong-il, who allegedly has been busy topping up a Taepo Dong 2 ballistic missile, getting it ready for launch sometime soon.

This man - yes, THIS MAN, strikes the fear of god in millions of North Koreans. God help us all when they wake up and smell the charlatan.

14 June 2006

The Mosquito Tone

This is interesting: a ring-tone that most Americans over 40 apparently cannot hear. Kids are using it to communicate via cell phone in class, while keeping their instructors oblivious. It's called the "mosquito tone."

Here's a link to an mp3 file of the ring tone. Can you hear it? I can. And it's annoying as all Hell.

Flag Day

Pledge of Allegience being said at school - 1899. Note how the students have their hands flat and palm-down against their heart. Interesting, huh?
Photo courtesy of Andrew Sullivan

Happy Flag Day, everybody!

Forgive me for waxing patriotic, but I love America and I love being an American. Sure, I complain a lot about our current priorities as a nation, but at the end of the day, I see this country for what it is: a nation of great potential, spirit, and drive, instilled with some of the best virtues of humankind.

It is really quite remarkable that our nation's founders managed to hammer out a constitution and a republic that has endured to this day. Unfortunately, there is a tendency among us to reify the founders, but they were humans like us - people of great character who were also deeply flawed. Our constitution is as much a product of political calculation and compromise as it is a lofty testament to political and philsophical ideals.

Recently, some groups, particularly evangelical conservatives, have pressed the case that America is a stridently-Christian nation, and that the United States is part of some messianic project. An example of this is the effort among some (particularly Roy Moore in Alabama) to place the Ten Commandments in courtrooms. I do not believe this is an accurate portrait of our history, and I see attempts at redefining the American experience in terms of protestant Christianity as an unfair appropriation of our nation's history and philosophy. The founders of this country, many of whom practiced a Christianity that bears little resemblance to today's religious movements, would have none of it.

Simply put, the American project is a pluralist, classically-liberal, and fundamentally secular movement. These values have underwritten a national identity where it's possible for anyone of any faith to feel fully embraced by the nation, and that's a good thing. The constitutional guarantee of religious freedom is to allow individuals to follow their conscience freely. I fear that incorporating the history and philosophy of our country into an evangelical/Christian narrative risks precluding those who don't fit into that narrow paradigm. For example, when the Family Research Council complained about a Hindu religious figure giving the invocation before Congress, they argued:

The USA's founders expected that Christianity--and no other religion--would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship.

On the contrary. As I've understood it, the founders as a group were pretty hostile to the idea of religions interfering with government. No one argues the authenticity of their Christianity, or the fact that they recognized that Christianity formed a core part of the early national identity of Americans. But they were among the first political leaders in the world who realized that keeping religion and the state apart at a healthy distance made for stronger faith and better statecraft. Americans are more religiously- and culturally-diverse now than ever before. All the more reason in my mind to emphasize the fundamentally secular, pluralistic, and ecumenical heritage of our nation.

Interestingly enough, the Concerned Women of America, another group who views our constitution through stained glass, got their facts wrong on the Pledge of Allegiance. Andrew Sullivan has the scoop.

13 June 2006

Refinery Meadows

I am always amused at the trend in our culture to recast suburbia and urban sprawl in the warm, pastoral glow of rural America. In Salt Lake, for example, we have a nice condominium/townhouse development called Old Farm, which is neither old, nor is it a farm. Bill Vaughn summed it up best:

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.

Names say a lot about a place, and it's interesting what we associate to a place like New York, Paris, or Baghdad, just by hearing its name. Planners, developers, real estate professionals, and marketing people are keenly aware of this. For example, Sugar House is a neighborhood in Salt Lake City that is full of these beautiful little arts-and-crafts homes and neat postwar bungalows. It also has a successful commercial center that is one-half bohemian, and one-half big retail. Because of its success, realtors are labeling homes for sale upwards of three miles away from Sugar House as being in Sugar House.

...and I always thought that Sugar House ended where the monument signs say it does.

Here's another example: I just read in this morning's Salt Lake Tribune that there is a movement afoot to rename the suburb of North Salt Lake to Orchard Hills. North Salt Lake is really known for two things: oil refineries, and traffic jams. That may not be fair, because there is plenty of decent housing up on the foothills and a great golf course. But this is the perception that the North Salt Lakers are trying to fight. But Orchard Hills? To the best of my knowledge, there aren't any orchards on those hills - there haven't been for some time.

When a name change is so transparent like that, it becomes silly and a bit absurd. Why not rename North Salt Lake - Refinery Meadows? At least that's an accurate description of the west end of town.

Incidentally, Rob and I bought one of those houses that some realtors will tell you are in "Sugarhouse" but really are not. We live in South Salt Lake, another city of industry with nice houses to the east and a seamy side to the west. I'm not afraid to admit it: I live in the 'hood -- The Sugar hood.

The Tesoro Refinery Complex and Salt Lake Valley in the background - on the border of Salt Lake City and North Salt Lake
Photo credit: panoramafactory.net

11 June 2006

Marriage, Part IV

Thursday is the Day of the Weddings. I just learned that Robert's little brother Jonathan is marrying his fiancee, Romy, on Thursday as well!

Jonathan served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Santiago, Chile, where he met Rommy. They corresponded after he returned to Utah and, in time, love flourished among the e-mails and IM's. Earlier this year, he returned to Chile to get a sense of where the relationship was going and ultimately, he decided to stay there, extending his tourist visas as necessary, in order to secure the paperwork to facilitate the marriage and Romy's immigrant visa to the United States. They are now vacationing in Argentina, as Jonathan was thrown out of Chile for extending his stay. He is due to re-immigrate into Chile to complete the process in the next couple days.

I am excited for them, in awe of this crazy bohemian tale of international love, and impressed by the sacrifices that Jonathan and his family have undertaken to make this work. I can't wait to meet the happy couple, and wish them the best of luck in the meantime.

Jonathan y Rommy - Salud!

Marriage, Part III

I'll I've been talking about lately is marriage...

Today marks the beginning of a momentous week in my best friend's life, and therefore in mine.

Danny Schoenfeld, my friend and my other brother, is getting married to the lovely and unstoppable Deidre Hughes. I am so proud of them both, and it is an honor to be Danny's best man.

This week will include the rehearsal on Wednesday, the wedding and reception on Thursday, and a celebratory open house on Friday. And then Danny and Deidre are off to British Columbia for their honeymoon.

Danny has asked me to be the MC at his wedding - "like Jon Stewart at the Oscars" he said - but I hope I can do a better job at the wedding than Jon did at the Oscars. But Danny has always been there when I've needed him, so it's the least I can do to stand up and talk through his wedding. Even though I'll probably make a fool of myself, I won't make a fool of him.

"Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togethew today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam. And wove, twue wove, wiww fowwow you fowevah and evah… So tweasuwe youw wove…"

09 June 2006

Marriage, Part II

I am also having difficulty understanding why so many religious groups are anxious to interfere with an institution - civil marriage - which many of them have little part in. Notably in the Catholic Church and among my good neighbors, the Mormons, marriage has sacramental characteristics. Simply going to the county court and getting married is often insufficient; at least in the Catholic Church, a couple is expected to receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, which is something that no justice of the peace can confer.

If Britney Spears, Liz Taylor, or Michael Jackson can get civil marriages, is there really a good reason why Robert and I can't? What, exactly, are so many religious groups defending given the number of civil or common-law marriages that occur that they wouldn't sanction? Besides, in Utah, first cousins can marry under special circumstances.

A potential way out of the marriage controversy would be to no longer allow religious ministers the right to marry on behalf of the state. Japan does this: everyone who wants to get legally married must do so in front of a judge. If a couple wishes a religious ceremony, they may participate in one seperately. This way, civil and ecclesiastical marriages would be totally seperate, and religions would be free to confer marriages in accordance with their rules, without feeling compromised by the law.

Another possibility is to reclassify civil marriages as civil unions. Ministers would still have the right to confer marriages, so long as they were legal and conformed to the religion's moral dogma. But anyone who wished to get married in front of a judge would instead receive a civil union.

Think I'm crazy? Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the outgoing Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, had this to say about the marriage debate:
It seems to me that we really have to continue to define marriage as we've defined marriage for thousands of years as a union between a man and a woman.

Now, I think the legislation as it is proposed would not throw out the possibility of a civil union. And I think we can -- we can live with that if this is what -- if this is what the Constitution will provide for.

-Cardinal McCarrick in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, 7 June 2006

Marriage, Part I

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

On Wednesday, the Senate defeated the Marriage Protection Amendment on a procedural vote, 49 in favor to 48 against. Technically, the Senate didn’t even vote on the substance of the amendment, which would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

On many levels, this effort offends me. First, I have never bought into the idea that I as a gay man am somehow a threat to a heterosexual marriage, or that my desire to secure a long and fulfilling life with Robert would somehow undermine the institution that so many others enjoy.

Secondly, the rush to “preserve” marriage is not a crisis in the true sense of the term – it only becomes a heated issue in the months leading up to a national election. Far from being a legitimate social issue, it is a rallying cry for a voter base that is necessary for the GOP to remain in political power. Unfortunately, people like Rob and I are cast as the enemy in this little political drama; the straw man to be burned in order to win votes. Knowing that the amendment would fail to get the required super-majority, the Republicans pressed on, knowing that it would excite the base. This tactic is particularly regrettable given the current condition of the President’s popularity rating. This sad political spectacle will repeat itself when the House votes on the amendment next week.

Third, a federal constitutional amendment that would set a national standard for marriage is offensive to the tradition of federalism that is so cherished in this country. For all the talk of protecting marriage from over-zealous judges in a state like Massachusetts, passage of a marriage amendment would force Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and California which have to varying degrees offered some marriage rights to same-sex couples to comply with the moral norms of a place like Alabama or Utah. Why not let federalism run its course? Those states that wish to enshrine marriage as a heterosexual institution should be free to do so; those that wish to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples should also be free to do so.

America has a long standard of dealing with different legal standards for gambling, alcohol, prostitution, and other moral norms. Marriage need be no different. If the Republicans were intellectually-honest about this issue, the proposed constitutional amendment would simply protect a state from having to accept the validity the same-sex marriage license issued in another state. Instead, the party has marched out a patently offensive, divisive, and anti-federalist piece of legislation that would kill not only gay marriage but possibly civil unions as well (although Cardinal McCarrick seems to disagree - see above), masquerading as an effort to rein in an overzealous court.

Furthermore, the constitution is not the right venue for defining a legal institution like marriage. Political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote that

The rising demand that every personal preference become a constitutional right is a worrisome disease.

He’s right. The constitution is intended as a framework for how the federal government is to work, and what powers and rights are reserved to the states or to the people. But to make a corollary argument, the rising demand that every moral injunction become a constitutional prohibition is also a worrisome disease. Prohibition didn’t work in 1919, and it won’t work now.

For more on the conservative case against the Marriage Protection Amendment, follow this link.

image credit: camagazine.com

08 June 2006

Farewell, Zarqawi

...and good riddance.

For all the talk of an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, the deliverance of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which has been in the works for weeks, involving the assistance of several U.S. agencies, the Kingdom of Jordan, and Iraq, is an illustration of why we cannot pull out. Simply put, there is so much more to be done. Perhaps the killing of Zarqawi will prompt the end of the vicious insurgency that has gripped Iraq despite Dick Cheney's promises that our forces would be greeted with carnations, not roadside bombs.

It would be a devastating failure for us to leave before we completed the project of restoring order and civil society to a broken and shattered country; to leave would be to let down the Iraqis, and that is not a viable option, morally or strategically.

I think the debate over whether we should be in Iraq is misguided. Whatever the reasons, we are there now, and we should be committed to prosecuting this war as ruthlessly, effectively, and quickly as possible. The administration has erred in underestimating the force and expense needed to fight it the right way; but many democrats are failing us by arguing for an immediate withdrawal, and by harping on the reasons for which we went to war in the first place. The task at hand is to ensure victory, and victory for us means a stable and democratic Iraq, regardless of why we were there in the first place.

After a litany of mistakes and abuses - including the torture at Abu Ghraib, questionable detainment practices, illegal wiretapping, and the feckless and cowardly side-stepping of the Geneva protocols - we need to work hard to restore our nation's legitimacy and to leave a positive legacy in a volatile region. Removing the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, symbolically at least, is a good start.

The monster, himself

07 June 2006

Vox Civitatis?

Why "vox civitatis"?

Some of my friends have suggested that "vox civitatis" sounds like a venereal disease. And then, this morning, I got this in an e-mail from my boyfriend:

Vox Civitatis sounds like something that a woman might catch and need penicillin to cure.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, you have Vox Civitatis,” the doctor said.

“How will I tell my husband?” she replied, burying her head into her hands.

Actually, vox civitatis is Latin for "voice of the city." Cities have facinated me for as long as I remember. My infatuation with cities as a child eventually guided me into urban planning and public administration in college, and into the career I have now.

Just so you all know, it's not contagious and it's nothing to be embarrassed about.

Panorama of Salt Lake City

06 June 2006

King George

Compare and constrast for a moment:
The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many...may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

- James Madison, Federalist No. 47
"I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel I owe anybody an explanation."

- George W. Bush, to Bob Woodward, 2001.

Perhaps the greatest legacy of the framers of our constitution was the establishment of seperate branches of government with a clear and equitable division of power between them, so as to serve as a break against the accumulation of too much power by one branch. The "checks and balances" that we heard about in school is a fluid and dynamic system, and currently it is at the breaking point because of a president who does not have much of a sense of accountability and who has agressively expanded executive power since he took his first oath of office in 2001. Meanwhile, President Bush has successfully reshaped the courts to accept his image of a "unitary executive" and a compliant Congress has allowed itself to be emasculated.

In his zeal to prosecute the war on terror and to ameliorate the interests that enabled his rise to the Presidency, Bush has cast himself as a man with very limited accountability. This trend is at the root of just about every complaint I have against Bush's administration, from the mishandling of the Iraq occupation to the illegal expansion of wiretapping to the abrogation of torture protocols to the flagrant violation of congressional intent. A president unchecked by congress or the courts becomes a king.

For more, read this. It's long and arcane, but worth your time if you are interested. If anyone asks me why I won't vote for a Republican in this year's congressional and Senate elections, I will tell them that my reason is simple: the Republican-led congess stood by as the President arrogated to himself exceptional and (in the case of the wiretaps) extra-legal authority; and this flies in the face of the intent of our constitution and the traditions of our Republic.

05 June 2006


Alan Garcia of Peru's APRA Party will be Peru's next President. He won handily, 53.5 percent to Ollanta Humala's 46.5 percent.

I followed Peru's presidential election closely, as I visited the country in the midst of a contentious run-off campaign whose outcome had implications for an entire continent. Many are breathing a sigh of relief that the nationalist candidate, Ollanta Humala, lost. Ollanta, in the mold of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, promised radical changes to Peru's politics and economy. Ollanta inspired many and scared many more. As the election progressed, Peruvians were put off by Hugo Chavez's ringing endorsement of Ollanta and his continuing war of words with Alan Garcia and the outgoing President, Alejandro Toledo. Much of the presidential campaign has focused on Peru's resentment of foreign powers holding sway over the nation's policies and natural resources. While the voters were upset at their leaders allowing countries like Chile, Spain, and the United States to exercise dominion over Peru's affairs, they were determined not to allow Venezuela to do the same.

I don't think this was an easy election for the Peruvians. Ollanta came to electoral politics by way of a failed coup, and Alan Garcia sought a return to the Presidential Palace after a disasterous administration from 1985 to 1990, in which inflation soared, the currency devalued, and the country disintegrated into violence. For the voters, the choice was the lesser of two evils. As my host Miguel in Cusco said: "it's like choosing between AIDS and cancer."

But at the end of the day, the voters' concerns may have been even deeper. I was struck by a campaign banner I saw as our tour bus careened at ungodly speeds through a desert village along the Pan-American Highway: "Alan Garcia: Agua Para Todos!" Water for all! Peru is a country with remarkable potential, and with deep challenges. Good luck, Alan. Good luck, Peru.

04 June 2006

Love and Hate at Pride 2006

I just got back from Utah's Pride Festival with my loving boyfriend of nearly seven years, Rob; his brother Shawn and his partner, Shawn; and our friends Andrew and Teri. It was a perfect day to celebrate the diversity of a remarkable community. Pride brings out just about everyone - and it is a healthy reminder to me that the LGBT community is an incredible spectrum of people, all united in fellowship and hope. And what an honor it was to celebrate it with people I love dearly.

The LGBT vote is important to Democrats in Utah, who are hungry to pick up as many votes as they possibly can. Every major democratic officeholder and many candidates for the forthcoming election were there, stumping and showing their colors. In fact, I return shortly to man the campaign booth of Scott McCoy, our openly gay state senator.

As with every year, there were protesters. But despite being Christian jihadis, they were pretty polite, unlike in last years. The interchange between the protesters and the counter-protesters was dignified and low-key. It's nice for a change, because I've never seen anyone change someone's mind by yelling at them. All the same, I was struck by the sign pictured at right: God does not love you just the way you are. We Christians believe that to love someone (your family, your friends, your partner) is to see the eyes of God. Compare the picture of the protester to the picture of my boyfriend (tall guy in baseball cap), my brothers, and our friends. Tell me where the love was this morning and I'll tell you where God was.

02 June 2006


I was fortunate enough to visit this most amazing country with my dear sister from 8-18 May of this year. I've travelled a fair amount in my life, and I don't think I've ever had such a rewarding and enriching experience as when I went to this beautiful, friendly, poor, conflicted, and challenging country. In the coming days, I hope to add more about my trip on this blog. Essentially, I will be transcribing journal entries I wrote while on the trip.

It was, as they say, the trip of a lifetime...