Gun control folley

My high school was filled with guns and no one was ever shot.

I lived in a rural area in Ohio and graduated from high school in 1976. On any given day, there would be students with guns in their lockers and guns in their vehicles parked on school grounds. Usually these were kids going hunting before or after school. Students also brought guns to work on in wood shop or metal shop classes.

Based on current hype, one would expect that the mere presence of so many guns would have resulted in OK Corral-type shootouts on a regular basis. That never happened. My high school had its share of bullies and crazy people, but no one chose to release pent-up frustration by murder.

Although the weapons were mainly shotguns and rifles, if someone had decided to go on a spree and kill multiple students, he probably could have easily done so. Small-town police response was slow. There were no cell phones, so anyone reporting the crime would need to make it to the office—a daunting task when confronted by an armed killer.

The lack of mass murder had nothing to do with guns. The reality is that crazy people who want to kill others have been successful in doing so throughout recorded history. Guns are often a convenient weapon of choice. But in reality, a determined assassin will find a suitable weapon.

If there had been a killing rampage, it would not have attracted the level of attention that such events bring today. There was no Internet. There were three television networks and the closest local news affiliates were some distance away. There was a weekly newspaper. By the time word got out about a deranged lunatic who went on a rampage it would have been old news and coverage would have been sparse or non-existent.

Although random mass shootings get more attention today, those who research the subject note that spree shootings are not becoming more common. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/rise-mass-killings-impact-huge-article-1.1221062

The terms “amok” and “berserk” are used in English to describe situations or individuals out of control. The words have Mayan and Norse origins and originally referred to people who went on killing sprees. Both words have been around for centuries. This is obviously not a modern or American phenomenon.

England has strict laws that severely limit gun access. Yet in the 1987 Hungerford massacre Michael Ryan killed 16 people and wounded 15 others before committing suicide. Australia also has rigorous gun control laws, but in 1996 Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 21 before police stopped him.

The first mass school shooting in the United States occurred on July 26, 1764. Four American Indians in Greencastle, Pennsylvania shot a teacher and 10 students. Apparently groups of unarmed children have long been viewed as easy targets. Given the date, I suspect the weapons were single shot muzzle-loading muskets. Those were the assault weapons of that era and apparently they were effective.

The shooting in Connecticut occurred in spite of a state ban on assault weapons. The Columbine massacre was not prevented by a national ban on assault weapons. The shooter in the Trolley Square spree killings in Utah used a shotgun and handgun.

Proximity to specific types of weapons is not an inducement to murder. Banning a class of weapons will not deter a crazy man who goes berserk or amok. Men with explosives, men with swords, and even men using vehicles have committed mass killings.

There are abundant studies and research that shows stricter gun control does little to prevent spree killings or to reduce other types of violent crimes. Focusing prevention efforts on gun control will never work.

 

 

 

| Leave a comment

A simple proposal to increase Utah graduation rates

Many in the Beehive State were surprised on Nov. 27 when the U.S. Department of Education released statistics that show Utah ranks 32nd in overall high school graduation rates.

One simple change by the Utah Legislature could dramatically improve graduation rates and reduce education costs.

Lawmakers should pass a bill that requires school districts to award a diploma to any student who meets state graduation requirements. Currently, many school districts impose graduation standards that are much stricter than those mandated by the Utah Department of Education. In other words, the low graduation rate is largely a self-inflicted wound.

The state requires students to complete 24 credits of coursework to graduate from high school. Many school districts, however, require up to 28 credits for graduation. While that might not seem like a big difference, it amounts to an extra half year of classes.

The 24 credits required by the state include:

— Four credits of English

— Three credits of math, including one credit of Algebra 1, one of geometry, and one of advanced, applied, or supplemental math

— Three credits of science, including two from earth systems, biology, chemistry or physics, and one from the foundation courses, or the applied or advanced science core list

— Two-and-a-half credits of social studies, including one of U.S. history, one-half of geography, one-half of world civilization, and one-half of U.S. government and citizenship

— Three-and-a-half credits of directed coursework, including one-and-a-half credits of fine arts, one CTE credit, one-half credit of computer technology and one-half of general financial literacy

— Two credits of physical education and health

— Six elective credits

It certainly seems like a comprehensive list.

Allowing districts to set stricter graduation rules is unfair to Utah’s students. The current situation means that students in some districts fail to graduate even though they complete the same coursework as students who graduate in a different district that sticks with the state requirements.

Districts justify the requirement for additional credits by arguing the extra courses ensure students receive a better education and are more prepared for college. Districts should provide the supporting data and a detailed analysis of how much those additional classes cost and how student scores and graduation rates improve as a result of requiring those extra hours.

The proposal to award a diploma to any student who meets the state requirements does not dumb down graduation to make it easier. Districts would not need to make any changes to curriculum and students would be free to complete more than the required 24 hours of coursework. But it would be at a student’s discretion and not that of the school district.

Most Utah high school graduates that continue their higher education will do so at a Utah college or university. Very few will go to Ivy League schools, Stanford, or similar academically rigorous institutions. Students who complete the courses required by the state and who excel, are still qualified to attend those schools. Beyond grades, it is what those students do outside the classroom and their personal commitment that determines whether or not they will be accepted and succeed at any institution of higher learning.

Consider a hypothetical example:

Student X graduates from a Utah high school that requires 24 credits. He plans to attend college and takes appropriate coursework. He graduates with a 3.8 GPA. He scores 25 on the ACT test. During school he competed in tennis and was a member of the jazz band. He was class secretary his junior year.

Student Z graduates from a Utah high school requiring 28 credits. He takes the most challenging classes available. He finishes with a 3.4 GPA. He gets a 29 ACT score. He earned his Eagle Scout award.

Both students apply to the University of Utah. Both will likely be accepted. Which one will be more successful in college or after college? It is impossible to predict! The traits that will ultimately define their future success will not be determined by those additional four elective credits in high school.

In many cases, those extra classes might actually hurt a student’s performance. Over four years, those extra credits mean additional class work and homework. Instead of being able to concentrate on core classes, a student’s efforts and time are more divided. If a student gets a poor grade in an elective class, it still has a negative impact on his overall grade point average.

Requiring credits that exceed the state requirement increases costs in several ways. Those additional four credits amount to an extra half year of classes. Extra teachers, classrooms and materials are all obvious costs. There are also less obvious expenses.

In many districts requiring 28 credits, a student who opts to take released time LDS Seminary can never have an open class period in his schedule during all four years. That means no study time during a school day. All assigned work must be completed outside of school hours. That creates a stressful situation if the student is also trying to participate in extracurricular events like sports, music, drama, or even holding a part-time after-school-job. In many cases, it leaves very little time for homework or study. The end result is that the student doesn’t do as well academically.

Here is where a less obvious extra cost comes in: What if that harried student who has a full day of classes followed by hours of practice for a school play ends up failing English one semester? The state requires four credits of English to graduate and after the failure the student will be a semester short. He will not graduate unless he makes up the deficit credit. He has no opening in his schedule, so he must find a way to make up that English credit after school, on weekends, or during the summer. And the district must provide a way to facilitate that student’s need.

This is not an unusual situation. It happens to thousands of students each year. As a result, districts have the expense of special make-up programs, including the costs of materials, teachers, classrooms, and in some cases, entire schools. It would be difficult to calculate the total cost statewide because it varies from district to district. But it could easily be many millions of dollars. All this occurs because some districts choose to exceed the state education requirement of 24 credits.

Worst of all, many students who fail a class or two simply give up trying to graduate because it can be so cumbersome to make up the lost credit.

Utah’s abysmal graduation rate is obviously a problem that needs addressing. Granting a diploma to any student who completes state graduation requirements would be a good first step.

| 1 Comment

Preventing future Highland tax increases

During many years as a journalist, one of the things I found most surprising was how at any level of government, elected officials would completely disregard the will of the people who put them in office. A recent incident in Highland is a great example.

City council members voted to raise taxes by 58% (about $900,000). This occurred in spite of an overwhelming response from local citizens who oppose the tax hike.

The proposed increased is slated for road repairs and maintenance and council members who approved the hike justified it by saying that it will be cheaper to do the work now.

That makes sense. A bad economy means that construction costs are relatively low. That is exactly why I would like to undertake some major repair and remodeling costs on my home. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to do it. And unlike Highland city officials, I have no way to compel someone else to pay for my pet project.

I’m sure city council members will argue that roads are necessary and benefit everyone. But I can counter that improving the appearance of my property could also benefit all those who live in my neighborhood or who drive past.

In fact, the value might be equal to the benefit derived from the expensive meandering sidewalks and landscaped medians recently added throughout the city.

Not long ago the city spent a fortune building new city offices, a library, and a splash park. If the road infrastructure work is so important, it seems like it would have made sense to pay for the road work first and delay some of the luxuries until the economy strengthed.

Some city officials who approved the recent tax increase as well as these other expensive projects ran their campaigns on promises of fiscal restraint. Apparently restraint is a 58% tax bump rather than a 100% increase or more.

While it is likely that some officials who voted for the increase will be out of office after the next municipal election, it will be too late to mitigate the economic damage to the citizens of Highland. The roads will be fixed and built, and the increase will never be repealed.

Did you hear the joke about the man who picked up an old lamp he found on the street? When he rubbed it a genie came out and said he could have three wishes. “There is just one catch,” the genie explained. “Whatever you wish for, your mother-in-law will receive two fold.”

The man’s first wish was for a 20,000-square-foot palace. At the genie’s command it appeared, and so did a 40,000-square-foot palace for his mother-in-law.

“For my second wish,” the man said, “I want 10 billion dollars.”

“It is done,” said the genie. “There is 10 billion dollars in your new palace and 20 billion in your mother-in-law’s palace. Now, what is your final wish?”

“For my last wish,” the man replied, “I want you to beat me half to death.”

Admittedly, it’s kind of a dark joke. But so is an elected official raising taxes in opposition to the people he promised to fiscally protect.

Perhaps, however, the joke can be the genesis of a great idea. I’d like to see a law that said anytime city council members vote for a tax increase that it would apply to them 10 fold.

| Leave a comment

Completion of a project

This isn’t a usual post for me, but I finished a big project and had to tell someone.

About 15 years ago Anette and I bought an unfinished wood kitchen table, eight chairs and four barstools. We finished the top of the table and and the seats of the chairs in a cherry stain and painted the legs and backs blue.

After the blue, at one point the table and chairs were partially repainted with cream-colored legs and backs.

After raising four children and starting on some grandchildren, the old set needed a new look. My daughter, Jenine, has a furniture refinishing business. She had done some stuff Anette really liked, so we decided to copy some of her style. She uses lots of French words on her stuff. So we decided to use Icelandic instead, because I served a mission there and it is unique.

We had to remove most of the old finish, which was a major undertaking–especially on the chairs because of all the spindles and round areas. We literally worked on it all of last summer with Anette doing the majority of the sanding.

We had a goal to finish the project before Creed got home from his mission in November and before the holidays. We made it, but just barely. Literally within a week after finishing, I was at DI and found another table with the exact same style. Since we are always short of table space at big family gatherings like Thanksgiving, I called Anette and asked me if she wanted me to get it. She said to go for it.

At the time, I could not bear the thought of another refinishing project so soon. So the table sat on my deck until a couple weeks ago. Yesterday I finished the last coat of polyurethane so the project is officially complete.

The original table has two leaves that extend it so it can actually seat 12 people. The second table does not have any leaves. I also added two high-backed stools in the process because we needed more seating for younger children.

I didn’t take any before pictures, but I got a shot of my son-in-law helping me sand the table top.

| Leave a comment

Sex education far less threatening than physics

The recent furor over abstinence-only sex education in Utah is only the latest in a long history of arguments about teaching human reproduction in Utah classrooms. While it is easy to understand the passion many parents demonstrate over such a sensitive topic, their ardor is misguided.

There is something far more insidious taking place in Utah classrooms and no one is expressing the slightest concern.

Utah schools are teaching physics. While that might seem harmless, there is no telling where it could lead. In fact, there is nothing more potentially lethal and destructive.

You see, from physics, one can learn how to construct bombs.

Not just dry ice bombs or pipe bombs either. Physics leads to the big bangers—atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs. These are weapons with the power to destroy all life as we know it and they are teaching these principles to children in local schools.

You might think I’m overreacting. After all, the schools are just teaching the basics of physics. It isn’t as if they are handing out atom bomb kits.

The point is, they are teaching them something. And while it might be just basic information, no doubt it will be enough to make some kids curious. They won’t want to stop with what they are getting in school.

They could start studying physics on their own.

Perhaps they will sneak down to the library or a book store and quickly skim through books, looking for pages that refer to nuclear weapons. They’ll joke about physics in locker rooms. It might even be the subject of course humor in back alleys.

Mothers of physics students could start finding scientific journals under their children’s mattresses—you know, the kind with illustrations. Perhaps there will be a sketch of an uncloaked triggering device. Or maybe there will be a photograph of the cold, naked shell of one of these weapons of mass destruction.

Eventually, even the hard core stuff won’t be enough to satisfy the curiosity of budding physicists. Young Bobby will notice that Mary Lou isn’t like the other girls he knows. She is naturally well endowed with an understanding of quarks and other sub-atomic particles.

The two of them will start spending more time together. Soon, talking about physics won’t be enough. They’ll begin experimentation. And if they stumble on the big bang, there will be no going back for them or for anyone else.

Physics classes wouldn’t be so bad if they also taught moral values. But one cannot generally count on that to happen. And the moral values of teachers and school district officials might not be as rigid as some parents would like.

For one thing, physics teachers can’t be counted on to emphasize abstinence. They won’t say “don’t experiment.” Instead, they are likely to say, “If you decide to experiment, these are the precautions you should take.”

In the end, there is only one practical solution: ban physics classes.

Physics is something that needs to be taught in the home by parents. They are the only ones who can teach the moral values, the control and the restraint that needs to accompany such powerful information.

Sex education? Don’t sweat the small stuff. It is physics we need to worry about.

| 1 Comment

Romeo and Juliet or Edward and Bella?

It was Stephanie Mabey’s Zombie Song that started me worrying.

There is a line in the song that says “Our love is stronger than Edward and Bella’s.” It does not say “Our love is stronger than Romeo and Juliet’s.” That caused me to fret that for this generation a trendy vampire saga is replacing Shakespeare’s classic story of overpowering romantic love that has endured for hundreds of years.

Please, let it not be so.

I first read Romeo and Juliet in seventh grade and I wasn’t impressed. Testosterone hadn’t really kicked in at that point and girls were more curiosities than magnetic forces. It was my first foray into Shakespeare and between the boring subject matter and the challenging verbiage, I could not connect with the characters or the storyline.

A movie version which I was not allowed to see came out at the same time. It was before the ratings system, but the film was recommended for “mature” audiences—a word that certainly does not apply to junior high boys. One of my classmates saw the film and while he did not understand or enjoy the movie, he jabbered for days about Juliet’s breasts exposed in one brief scene. This confirms my point about adolescent boys and “mature.”

I was a senior in high school the next time I read Romeo and Juliet. By then I had read other works of Shakespeare and learned to understand and appreciate his irony and clever use of words. I had also experienced personal rejection by young women several times and endured the disapproving glares of fathers. I felt like I could empathize with Romeo’s rejection and frustration.

I can’t relate at all to Edward and Bella.

Twilight replaces romance and tortured love with stalking. Terse comments supplant clever conversation. Where intense passion is the driving force behind Romeo and Juliet, Edward and Bella’s main character traits seem to be broodiness and sullenness.

Romeo and Juliet had a love that is everlasting, as evidenced by the fact that hundreds of years after the creation of their characters, their very names symbolize unbreakable yet tragic love.

Vampires refer to themselves as everlasting, yet one can kill them by driving a stake through their hearts, by cutting off their heads, by tearing them apart or by burning. They justifiably worry constantly about death because some vampire or another always seems to be getting killed in spite of their alleged immortality.

Romeo and Juliet’s fathers were strongly opposed to their union and tried to prevent it.

Although he is a local constable, Bella’s father doesn’t have a clue that monsters populate his town, even though the unexplained death toll is staggering for a small community. He grudgingly accepts the idea that his daughter is involved with a pasty-skinned young man who seems much too old to be in high school, whose family contains several siblings of similar description who all appear to be romantically connected.

When Juliet needed help and consolation, she enlisted the help of a clergyman. He came up with a plan to help the two lovers find happiness together. Unfortunately the carefully crafted scheme goes awry and several people end up dead.

When Bella needs support and comfort she is consoled by werewolf Jacob, who probably makes a living as a bodybuilder or male underwear model. Jacob’s plan to help Bella is to have her dump the other guy. Lots of people also get killed.

Both stories have tragedy in common. The last line of the Shakespeare tale reads: “For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Edward and Bella’s story is tragic because it could mislead a generation into thinking that Shakespeare’s classic is no longer the ultimate tale of star-crossed love.

| Leave a comment

My time with Herman Cain

Tuesday night I attended the Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas. Afterward I got to do an exclusive interview with the candidate. I’ve included links to the stories that I wrote. Many people have since asked me what he was like. In all honesty, it is difficult to judge a person’s character in 15 minutes.

What I can say it that is it extremely unusual for a presidential candidate to grant the type of access I was given. I talked to many people who know Mr. Cain quite well while I was there. They all spoke glowingly about his knowledge, his humility, his honesty and his faith.

http://www.ksl.com/?sid=17740115&nid=757&title=herman-cain-discusses-faith-and-the-lds-issue

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705392832/Herman-Cain-tells-Deseret-News-the-numbers-show-US-economy-needs-help.html

 

http://www.ksl.com/?sid=17742390&nid=1070&title=backstage-access-at-the-gop-las-vegas-debate

 

 

| Leave a comment