Friday, October 26, 2012

Why Utahns should consider Peter Cooke for Governor

I live in Utah, and although I am registered as an independent, I want to make a case for the democratic gubernatorial candidate, Peter Cooke. Here is my brief case as to why Utahns should not just write him off:

For reference, here are the two candidates' web pages on issues:
  1. He is a democrat, but he's not the kind of democrat Utahns fear. Take a minute to look at Peter Cooke's webpage. Does he want to change marriage laws? No. Does he want to legalize all forms of abortion? No. Does he want to turn the state healthcare system into socialized medicine? No. Whew! Conservatives can breath easy. He's not that kind of democrat. He's far removed from that left-wing stereotype.
  2. He is transparent, and is concerned with transparency. Take a look at the economic pages for both candidates. Do you notice anything different about the conventions? How many sources does Governor Herbert cite? Don't try to count them, because there aren't any. How about Peter Cooke? Don't worry about counting them. The point is that he cites his sources. Any educated person can tell you that statistics are subject to error and/or manipulation, and politicians of all sides are notorious for taking advantage of this weakness. Don't you feel a little better though, knowing that one politician at least makes the effort to tell you where he got his data? Also, I won't go into it here, but consider a brief web search on Utah's track record of closed-door decision-making, or the recent bills that make it easier.
  3. He is open to more energy options. Although this is typically taken up as an environmental issue, I'm going to take up the issue pragmatically. Take a look at Governor Herbert's page on "Competitive Advantage." Governor Herbert recognizes that we have an advantage because we have "cheap, abundant energy." That's wonderful. Truly, it is. But how does he plan to sustain it? The governor's pan is to fight the Federal Government. Here's another link on the issue:
    I'm not saying that this is a bad idea - I think we should have more access to the public lands - but I do think it is a bad idea to wager the energy future of a state on a supreme court decision that could leave us with no change and lighter pockets. Why not also consider using our nice, dry, sunny deserts for expanding solar power? Well, Peter Cooke is considering that. We need mixed solutions, rather than betting all on red, or, to use a better-suited analogy, putting all our eggs in one basket.
  4. He is concerned about our crap-tastic air quality. I love Utah, but being along the Wasatch Front during an inversion makes me feel sad. And gives me a headache. And makes my eyes itchy. Peter Cooke at least recognizes that this is a problem, and wants to consider possible ways to rectify it. I can't say that much for the governor.
  5. He is more in touch with education issues. Take a look at the candidates' pages on education. Governor Herbert's page basically boils down to: "We'll make sure we retain control over our education." What about our large, difficult class sizes? Well, the governor has this reassuring statement:

    "Teachers are the backbone of our system, and I appreciate their efforts in the classroom. They know how to make more with less, which is a tribute to their dedication."

    Isn't that nice? Yes, it's true that we have some great teachers. I am married to one. But go ahead and ask
    any teacher about class size and student learning. I guarantee that any teacher will tell you that the bigger the class size, the lower the achievement. Despite this nice "tribute to our teachers' dedication," we could, and should be doing more for our students. There are more concerns than retaining state control. Oh, and Peter Cooke recognizes this.
  6. He takes into account a wider breadth of issues and solutions. Governor Herbert loves to toss around Utah's low unemployment statistic, which is indeed impressive. Although we could take issue with the unilateral importance of that statistic as an economic indicator, I won't do that now. But just consider things like wage rates and poverty rates (these aren't so shiny, btw). My main concern is that a governor should be concerned with more issues. Based on his website, his concerns boil down to three things. In order of importance:
    1. Bringing businesses into Utah
    2. Retaining state autonomy
    3. Tackling healthcare issues

      These are all important issues. It is not my aim to criticize his concerns. Rather, I am concerned with his narrow vision of issues. There are more things happening in Utah than what the governor sees. There are educational concerns. There are growing environmental concerns. There are people who are treated like dirt. In sum, there are things we can do to help ensure that Utah retains some of the blessings we have enjoyed in recent years, and there are things we can do to address some of our current and future problems. But first, we have to recognize that there is more going on. I support Peter Cooke because I believe that he is more in touch with the complexity of issues Utah faces, and he is willing to consider more, different solutions. 
Conclusion: The Russian literary master, Leo Tolstoy wrote:
"In quiet and untroubled times it seems to every administrator that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every administrator finds the chief reward of his labor and efforts. While the sea of history remains calm the ruler-administrator in his frail bark, holding on with a boat hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to. But as soon as a storm arises and the sea begins to heave and the ship to move, such a delusion is no longer..." (War and Peace)
I do not want to discredit the positive things that have happened in Utah during the last few years, but I do want to suggest that if we continue a course with such a narrow, economic focus, we are setting ourselves up for failure we may be too blinded to see. Economic well-being is important, but it is not a panacea for all society's ills. No one looks at a person's health by checking his/her wallet. Why should it be any different for a state? Maybe economic indicators will continue to rise, but what about education, air quality, energy levels, government transparency, and treatment of marginalized groups? Peter Cooke is not going to turn our state into a left-wing socialist republic, but he will probably make things a little better with a kind of common-sense pragmatism that we should all be able to support.

I am voting for Peter Cooke, and I suggest you consider it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The "Good" Samaritan

What was the central lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan? Was it to help people in need? Yes, and more. The parable's message extends beyond a simple injunction to serve others.

The goodness of the Good Samaritan was not only his helpfulness to a man in need. Commentators have astutely pointed out that the Samaritan should have been the least likely to help, based on the ethnic preconceptions of the time. From this we learn that we should serve all people, independent of race or ethnicity or ideology. The message goes deeper than this, however.

The Samaritan was journeying like the others who passed the injured man, yet he alone paused his travelling to care for the wounded traveler. We cannot assume that his journey was any less important than the others', nor can we assume that he was in less of a hurry. We do know, however, that the Samaritan was open to an additional, unintended, higher calling, received as a rupture of intended purpose.

We live in a curious world, wherein efficient, rational action has extremely high moral value. We endlessly praise those who live rational and efficient lives, including those who maximize their time, who stay constantly focused on the task at hand, and who never get distracted by other voices. Admittedly, such people do tend to accomplish many great things.

Another version of the parable of the Good Samaritan is Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol. Recall the dialogue between Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley, who, in his posthumous state of bondage, laments his mortal doings:

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. 
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  "Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

In order to live productive and meaningful lives we must engage in purposeful activity, but in doing so, we must take care to remember the business of which we are always about. Being Christlike requires more than rationally planning our activities and taking care to dedicate a certain number of hours to service. In all of our activities, be it planning, errand-running, administrating, teaching, parenting, conversing, or travelling, we must always remain open and responsive to the unanticipated calling to serve a higher purpose. This, I think, in addition to comprising the heart of the parable of the Good Samaritan, reflects the kind of life that Christ himself lived and preached.

A Day.

How much can change in a day!

The tree I daily pass without a thought today demands a minute's pause. To rush along without respect, to leave the gift along the way, untouched – who am I to scorn the purest call to love and veneration? The daily gift to me is given, in forms diverse – physical, emotional, spiritual, to name a few – yet even in their constancy, I cannot think to call them but for miracles.

The miracle appears to me a thing transmogrified – the change is quick and clearly breaks from days before – yet logically I must confess that though the gift appears at once, the gift was made in changes incremental and unseen. This knowledge of the transformation as a process – does it kill the humble concept of the miracle? For some it may, but still I ask: do you not feel, fortunate, even blessed, for being there when process reached its climax? Did the tree not inspire a feeling of cosmic gratitude?

Monday, October 1, 2012


There is more to life than maximizing its ease and pleasantness. There is also love (in all its forms), and love has a way of making unpleasant demands from time to time. But what is worth more, or is more worthy of allegiance?

For anyone who is stuck behind a stationary car at a green light, or something similar.

Life is filled with grievances, and in many instances, the more we try to avoid them the more they are heaped upon us. We build up rules, laws, regulations, procedures, standards and norms to protect us from the grievances that invade our lives and threaten our happiness, and then we expect that everything must go “according to plan.” But life does not go according to plan. Norms are violated, laws are broken, procedures are forgotten – and what happens then? We throw up our arms in dismay! “How dare they!”

By all means, establish order, but let not yourself become its slave. Not every violation merits misery, nor deserves the sacrifice of love and understanding. The joyful woman knows not the grievances over which the wretched man obsesses.

We would be happy to metabolize this one fact: that the reality of life is one of persons, not procedures. Therein lies happiness, and the secret to “patience.”