Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Salt Lake City reborn [Bryan]

When I was a student at the University of Utah, I had an art professor who always talked about a great urban tragedy. The tragedy was the Salt Lake City had taken most of its beautiful mountain streams and channeled them into pipes underground. He had this idea of letting the rivers flow more freely through the valley. It would, he argued, create that waterfront ambiance that most great cities have (think Paris, London, Chicago, etc.). I came to agree with him. In that context, I was excited to see that the "City Creek" project, which involves letting that river emerge from underground, is becoming a reality. Salt Lake is becoming one cool city. Check out this tour of new downtown development project:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bad day on the hill - updated [Bryan]

Today, 42 senators will filibuster the so-called "tax-extenders" bill. The bill would extend unemployment benefits, would protect doctors from a 21 percent pay cut for Medicare patients, would close tax loopholes for companies that move jobs overseas, and would provide billions in aid to state governments. Without the aid to states alone, there will be 900,000 public- and private-sector layoffs, mostly teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. The cuts to unemployment benefits will reduce demand in the economy, thereby making more businesses cut back on hiring. The Republicans, who were fine with running huge budget deficits during the Bush years, won't even let this bill come up from a vote. If you are a looking for moment when the U.S. economic recovery died, this could be it.

Reminds me of a story. Once upon a time, in 1937, a country was on the verge of coming out of the Great Depression. The country had spent a lot of money of programs designed to improve unemployment and, because of this, it was running big budget deficits. Employment was slowly improving and economic growth was returning. All the politicians, however, including a president named FDR, started to feel guilty about all that spending and decided to prove how tough and fiscally virtuous they were by cutting the budget, raising taxes, and tightening the monetary supply. The result was four more years of depression and continued human suffering. Read about the "Roosevelt Recession" here.

We seem to be going down this same path again. This is bad news.

Update: Yup, conservatives blocked the bill from even coming up for a vote. Apparently, it only takes 42 out of 100 senators to bring an economic recovery to its knees. I should point out that Harry Reid cut the spending on this bill in half, and cut the deficit spending to a quarter of what was originally proposed. All in a vain effort to compromise with people who simply will not compromise on anything.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tales of a stay-at-home dad [Bryan]

I just finished with three days of being a single, stay-at-home father. Whew! I escaped with my sanity (barely) and a renewed appreciation for Ellie. I also enjoyed spending the time with my kids, particularly talking to them and getting a glimpse of the thoughts that rumble around in their little minds. Take the following instance, when I was stalking a fly with a fly swatter.
Nora: Daddy, don't kill that fly.

Dad: Huh?

Nora: You shouldn't kill any animals unless you have to. You should catch it and let it go.

Dad: It's just a fly.

Nora: It is still something that is alive.

Dad: Why do you think it is wrong to kill things that are alive?

Nora: Because nature is important. It is even more important than television. And ice cream.
Fascinating stuff.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Perfect cookies - Updated [Bryan]

My quest for the perfect mashed potatoes has been well-documented on this blog. Less known is my obsession with finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. I thought I had found it in the New York Time's Jacques Torres cookie. I have recently uncovered a recipe from America's Test Kitchen (the best source of recipes ever) that might just give it a run for its money. The secret to this recipe seems to be browning the butter and adding dark brown sugar. I'm worried that the salt content is too low (chocolate chip cookies need a salty overtone) and that there is no time for chilling, but we'll see. I'm trying them tonight for Family Night. I will let everyone know how they turn out.

RESULTS: The America's Test Kitchen recipe did indeed make yummy cookies. In fact, the dough was probably the best testing dough I have ever sampled, with deep caramel and toffee flavors. Still, something was lost during the baking process and those flavors didn't come out as strongly in the finished cookie. Further, the taste was not as sophisticated as the New York Times cookie and I think the coarse sea salt in that recipe creates a complexity of flavor that the Test Kitchen cookie does not match. Edge: New York Times.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some recent pictures and videos [Bryan]

It has been too long since I posted some pictures of the family. We've been very busy lately, with Nora in soccer, dance, and piano lessons, Andrew in soccer and gymnastics lessons, and Stephen in walking and talking lessons. As you can tell from these pictures and video clips, they are all growing up quickly.

Stephen is walking (finally). This clip also captures one of his favorite games: playing catch with himself.

Andrew helping me try out my new camera.

Nora at the Park of Roses.

Ellie at the Park of Roses.

Andrew at the park of Roses.

Nora's dance recital.

Nora at the Park of Roses again.

Cute Stephen footage

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Against engagement rings [Bryan]

I've always thought the custom of engagement rings was odd. Sure, it is good to show special affection for one's bride-to-be. I was happy to buy a ring for Ellie, since I know how much this means for many women. I wanted to show her that she was just as important to me as the other women who received diamond rings from their men. I would do the same thing again. Wouldn't it be better, though, if we all found a better way of expressing this love?

When Ellie and I got married, we were both students trying to pay our way through college. I worked construction during the summer and as a research assistant during school year. I probably made about $7000 dollars a year doing this, while Ellie made about the same, maybe a little more, working at the Utah Children's Museum. Tuition, books, and living expense ate up most of this income. After buying the ring, and paying for the honeymoon, we started our marriage absolutely broke. I doubt we had $50 to our name. This poverty led to some stress and tensions during the first year (including the now famous "ice cream argument") as we tried to make ends meet -- mostly because of that darn ring.

Anyway, let me join with Friedersdorf and urge women everywhere to start a movement against engagement rings:
But men are the ones who buy the rings? Look, men are ultimately going to buy whatever it is that women want. It's a change in social norms that guys are never going to bring about on our own. Why should women want to end diamond engagement rings? Well first of all, it's your money too, presuming the wedding eventually occurs, and more than that, you're the ones who are silently judged by status conscious people every time they look at the size of your rock -- in other words, either you've got reason to feel bad about what other people think of you, or else you're complicit in a system that makes people with less wealthy fiances feel bad about themselves.
It's up to you, ladies. End the madness!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Is morality descreasing? [Bryan]

There is much talk these days, particularly at church, about how evil and nasty the world seems to be getting. Hardly a Sunday goes by with warnings from the pulpit about how bad the world is now compared to what it was before. In some narrow ways, I suppose this is true. It is certainly true that the mass media seems more crass. There is also more widespread access to smut and porn than ever before. Sexual mores have changed, probably being more permissive now than before. If you believe, as I do, that morality is related to these sorts of issues, then in that sense things are indeed going downhill.

Overall, though, I don't think it is true that the world is getting worse. The world is a better place now, morally speaking, than it perhaps has ever been.

Many people think that the pre-1960s era was the pinnacle of human morality -- before all that sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll stormed across the world. But it isn't too hard to see that planet earth from 1900-1960 was, in reality, the most depraved time imaginable from a moral perspective. Human beings butchered each other by the millions during the World Wars. They sent each other to gas chambers, dropped poison gas, unleashed fire bombs and nuclear weapons on women and children. There was widespread rape, mass slaughter, and cruelty on a scale the world has never seen before. This alone is enough to prove that the pre-1960s era was hardly the "good old days." 1900-1960 was perhaps the most barbarous period in world history.

Apart from world war and genocide, we should also consider America before the 60s. Black men were being lynched and burned alive, while almost everyone turned a blind eye. We had a brutal system of injustice and apartheid in the American South during the Jim Crow years. Meanwhile, the interests of women and children were routinely ignored. Women were often beaten with impunity. Child abuse (physical, sexual, and mental) was often covered up, and kids were beaten in schools. Workers on strike had their skulls bashed in with the clubs of hired tough guys. We poisoned the air and polluted the water with little fear of retribution. Again, the good old days were really something of a dark time.

What are things like now? Well, true, porn is a problem. Overall, though, it seem to me that we treat each other better than we did before. We protect vulnerable minority populations. We generally take better care of the poor, the elderly, the mentally ill, and children. Families are supported in ways that they never were before. People, even strangers, seem ready to serve in their communities and lend a hand when necessary, and my family and I have directly experienced this generosity. Plus, we are not starting as many wars as usual (see graph). Violent crime is down over the last 20 years. Property crime is down.

Why do I care about this? Well, first, it just seems historically wrong to say that things are getting worse. Second, I believe we commit something of a moral crime (a sin) in failing to recognize the good that is being done in the world. To condemn the world in this way is to show a lack of respect (and love) for our fellow human beings. So we really should stop doing this.