June 16th, 2006

Hypocrisy

So this morning I was reading in 3rd Nephi, and came across this verse:

Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (3 Ne. 14:5, c.f. Matt. 7:5)

It got me thinking… To one degree or another, we are all hypocrites. We all, myself definitely included, tend to hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. We look down upon the sins of others so easily, when ours are probably pretty comparable.

How many times do we see people attempting to expose the faults, sins, and mistakes of others? Whether in politics, religion, academia, or life in general, I think it is human nature to point the finger and shift blame.

That is why Jesus asks more of us. He’s trying to take the natural man out of us. He’s trying to lift us to a higher level. This is further demonstrated by the fact that the verses surrounding his denouncement of hypocrisy speak of not judging others and treating others the way we would be treated.

We are all imperfect creatures, (hopefully) moving forward on our journey towards perfection. Let’s try to cut each other some slack, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and help each other.

June 15th, 2006

Pernicious Political Partisanship

“This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately.”
—C.K. Chesterton, as quoted in American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation

Partisan politics. It is the absolute antithesis to how government should work.

I love, encourage, and seek after a healthy debate. It’s like Hannity and Colmes say on their show: “We have our opinions. You have yours. Debating is what makes America strong”. Debate helps us to formulate opinion, articulate our thoughts, and (ideally) come to a harmonizing compromise on an issue.

This is one of the biggest problems I have with liberals. For the most part, (there are always exceptions, I recognize) they have nothing politically and/or legislatively constructive to offer. Their entire platform is one of malevolence and finger-pointing.

Case in point: During the 2004 election, I spoke with many democrats and liberals (not always the same thing). Not one wanted John Kerry as their president. All the guy did was blast Bush, attacking his policies, past leadership, and administration. He offered very little in the way of what he would do if he were President. (Well, he did, but he changed his mind so many times that nobody knew what he would do.) So none of these people wanted to vote for him. The only reason they did is because they wanted Bush out of office.

What the? Is that what our political process has come down to? Voting somebody into office because it would be the “lesser of two evils”? Can’t we find and vote for somebody who will do a good job in office, make this country a better and safer place, and fix the problems that run rampant in our society?

Worthy of mention is a snippet from the excellent book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Referring to the revolutionary generation, author Joseph J. Ellis says:

“…the very notion that a candidate should openly solicit votes violated the principled presumption that such behavior itself represented a confession of unworthiness for national office.” (p. 162)

Wow. Talk about the “good ol’ days”. You can’t walk ten feet during an election year October month without being bombarded by yard signs, banners, street corner signs, buttons, flags, and bumper stickers, all slapping a politician’s name across your face. How many times have people voted for somebody simply because their name sounded familiar?

Sadly, that’s how elections are won these days. Get your name out in the public, and make sure you don’t say anything stupid. Look good, do your hair, dress nice, and smile. Who cares what you have going on upstairs? Promote your ideals? Nah, people don’t care. Just help them memorize your name, so that when they’re in the voting booth, they’ll recognize it.

But the Founding Fathers understood differently. Again, from Founding Brothers:

“Within the context of the revolutionary generation, however, giving one’s allegiance to a political party remained illegitimate. It violated the core of virtue and disinterestedness presumed essential for anyone properly equipped to versee public affairs. Neither Washington nor Adams had ever played a direct role in their own campaigns for office. … [Thomas Jefferson] described party allegiance as ‘the last degradation of a free and moral agent’ and claimed that ‘if I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.'” (p. 210)

Liberals have become the lobsters in the bucket that pull the Conservatives down whenever they try to do something constructive. Whether the topic be the war on terror, illegal immigration, or social security, liberals offer little in the way of compromise and constructive suggestion. They just get their soundbytes in the media, calling Bush a scumbag and liar.

Time to grow up, kids.

It is for this very reason that I don’t consider myself a Republican. I am a conservative. I don’t “belong” to a party. I answer to myself. I vote for who I think will do a good job in office. I will never vote straight down a ticket, whether that be Republican or Democrat. The status of our society demands that we find and elect good leaders who will uphold the constitution and laws as they currently exist. But clinging to a party is naive. Think for yourself. Investigate the issues. Vote for who will represent you best.

Sadly, I think partisan politics boils down to pride. We have in our government two teams, both trying to one-up the other. The Democrats yell at the Republicans, and the Republicans accuse the Democrats. With all the blaming, finger-pointing, and tattle-telling, when in the world are we going to fix our country?

I was watching CSPAN on the internet while Congress was debating the MPA. What I saw astounded me. One Democrat congressman stood up and proceeded to talk for almost an hour about how the MPA was a waste of time, and how this was an attempt by the Republicans to stall the Congress, tying their hands behind their backs by not letting them get on to “more pressing issues”. What?? This person took up an hour of their day, simply complaining about how the MPA was a waste of time!

Sometimes I am boggled by the sheer ludicrousness of our elected leaders.

Rather than trying to score points for their “team”, attempt to get a ratings boost, and make themselves look good for the next election year, why can’t our elected leaders honestly, humbly seek to further the cause of America, protect its citizens, and secure a prosperous future for our children?

Is that too much to ask?

[ UPDATE: The John Birch Society has a great video that talks about the detriment of political parties. ]
[ UPDATE x2: Paul Allen has a great blog post about partisan politics and the effect the internet can (and hopefully will) have on it. ]

June 15th, 2006

Web Design and Whitespace

Whether you are designing for print or the web, there is one element that is perhaps the most important of all: whitespace. Without it, all other elements on the page become unreadable and cluttered. Whitespace (also called negative space) is best defined as “the empty space that is kept around grouped items to visually separate them”. [1]

A large percentage of web sites of yesteryear suffer from design clutter. Using tables, spacer GIFs, and font tags, these sites (suffering from “tag soup” design) are often inefficient for presenting information in a readable fashion. Print designers have long since understood the importance (and necessity) of whitespace in their layouts, and web designers would be well off to incorporate this technique.

Often times when designing a site, there is pressure from the higher-ups to insert as much content as possible onto a single page. Their reasoning is that by dumping all relevant information onto a single page, the reader won’t have to click through multiple pages in order to find what they are looking for. Under the pretense of “usability”, this approach to web design has found itself much too commonplace in the web.

However, reason dictates that by placing large amounts of content onto a single page, the reader will easily become lost in a mass of material. Indeed, too much information on a web page dramatically reduces its effectiveness at presenting the content. [2, section titled ‘White Space is Better Than Tight Space’] The reader’s eye tires easily, making them less willing and/or able to continue looking for what they were initially hoping to find.

The solution to this design dilemma seems a bit counter-intuitive to some. By placing less content on the page and increasing the amount of whitespace surrounding each visual element, the reader’s eye will naturally flow from one section to another. Reading comprehension improves dramatically, and the reader is able to absorb more information at a quicker pace. [3]

Giving the text on the page room to breathe is a simple yet effective way to make your content easy on the reader’s eyes. Additionally, increased contrast is introduced into the design, naturally bringing the reader’s attention to your content.

Thankfully, gone are the days of animated GIFs, bright colors, and patterned backgrounds. As web designers, we need to understand that one of the best ways to capture a reader’s attention and present an intuitive, clean site design is to appropriately use whitespace.

June 15th, 2006

Mac Evangelism

Disclaimer: I’m a “Fanboi“. I love macs.

Why do I love them so? Here are a few reasons…

  • They are usable. Anybody can sit down and in five minutes learn how to use a mac.
  • On the flipside, OS X is very powerful and adaptable, letting the advanced user easily get to the grind.
  • Mac OS X is a cutting-edge OS. This is further evidenced by the fact that VISTA, years behind, is copying what Mac OS X has been doing well for years. Then again, this isn’t new.
  • No viruses. Not a one. Microsoft VISTA = Microsoft Viruses Infections Spyware Trojans Adware
  • They are pretty. I can’t count the number of “ooohs” and ahhhs” I’ve received because of the (several..) macs I own.
  • Steve Jobs understands the zen of good design.
  • Video chat. I chat regularly with family members (who live in a different state) full-screen on my 23″ cinema display. It’s like they’re in the same room. Amazing. And free. Free is good.
  • Included, tightly-integrated applications. iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD, iEverythingElse. They all work together nicely. Not so on Windows.. You’d have to scour the net for clunky apps that might come close in their functionality, but don’t seamlessly integrate w/ the other apps, and each brings with it a veritable deluge of spyware, virii, and advertisements. Blech.

This list could easily be twenty times longer, but for the sake of space, I’ll cut it short. Needless to say, I’m proud of my mac. So much so, that it almost becomes a philisophical ideal.

Macintosh's Witnesses
Mac missionaries (via)

There is no reason to use Windows. It just sucks, plain and simple. The only reason people continue to use it is because of the “traditions of their fathers“. I get strange looks when I start drawing a comparison between the gospel and a mac, but I see a comparison worth analyzing. Just as we are to be a light to those that are in darkness, I feel the need to preach the macintosh to the unbelieving, Windows-using masses.

Release the chains that bind you! Step into the light! Get a mac!

June 14th, 2006

La cara latina de Utah.gov

If you live in Utah, chances are you’ve heard of the recent spanish website [2] [3] put out by Utah.gov.

It was espanol.utah.gov.

For about two days.

Sure enough, a bunch of people freaked out about it, and complained to the governor‘s office. The site was taken down in less time than it takes for a street vendor’s burrito to pass through your digestive system.

So why the fuss? People who don’t hablar español (such as Bob Lonsberry, it would seem) immediately assumed two things:

  1. This site was created for illegal immigrants
  2. This site advertised free health care, free education, and other taxpayer-usurping benefits

In actuality, neither are true. Granted, the timing of the release of the spanish Utah.gov portal was not the best; the debate regarding illegal immigration was raging country-wide, and Mexican Presidente Fox had just made a pit stop in Utah (much to the dismay of the minutemen). However, the site itself did not advertise “free goodies” for illegal immigrants.

My thoughts on this matter turn less from the right-and-wrong debate of the state having a spanish-only website, but instead towards the invective spewed forth from the mouths of semi-ignorant people, ready to vilify before doing their homework. Shame, shame…

Seems to me that the counsel found in James 1:19 is of needed attention.

[UPDATE: Sometimes it’s interesting to ponder a role reversal. ]
[UPDATE x2: The site is back online. ]

June 14th, 2006

WVP as a graph

So on Digg the other day I stumbled upon this graph generator for websites. It creates a visual representation of a website based on the code used. Pretty interesting.

Here is a page on my portfolio site:

WVP graph

June 14th, 2006

Religion’s influence on the Marriage Protection Amendment

So a colleague recently emailed me asking the following:

How do you argue gay marriage should be against the law when you take religion out of the argument?

My reply to his question:

Short answer:

You don’t.

Long answer:

As I alluded to last week, I think people on both side of the political line can attempt to claim that God is on their side, and that they are right. Hence the divisiveness of partisan politics today. Church-going people in the same congregation can have varying political ideals and beliefs. Why is this so?

I believe that politics and religion have more in common than most people like to believe. Both are systems created to govern men. Both prescribe a set of rules and regulations to follow in order to be in harmony with that established organization. If you break the law, you get put in jail. If you commit a grievous sin, you are excommunicated. So, if both politics and religion exist to govern men, where do we draw the line between the two? Where does secular law stop and religious law begin, or vice versa? Is there a dividing line that naturally separates the two?

Secularists often love to quote Thomas Jefferson, claiming that there must be a “separation between church and state”. This term, coined by Jefferson, found its origins in Jefferson’s personal correspondence, and did not become a widespread notion for almost a century later. Nevertheless, what does this phrase mean? It is my firm opinion that the separation between church and state is just that — between church and state, not religion and politics. Politics is naturally influenced by the religion and beliefs of those who are involved in its processes. The separation is prescribed only for power and policy; a church cannot sentence one of its members to death, nor can a city mayor excommunicate somebody from the local congregation. This proverbial wall between church and state was meant to put an end to the corruption that ran rampant in the motherlands of many of the nation’s founders, where churches commanded supreme political power. It is not my belief that Jefferson, nor any of his contemporaries, ever meant to imply that religion should never play a role in politics. Numerous are the instances of invoking God, Providence, and Nature’s Creator in political writ and dialogue. Many government meetings were (and are) opened with prayer. The country, after all, was founded by a majority group of Christians.

The Founding Fathers were a diverse group of men, all believing in a different God. Some were Deists, some were Christians, others were Secularists. All, I believe, understood the divine role of religion in society. However, these men were no doubt influenced by their beliefs. Their personal correspondence and journals bleed through with examples of their desires, thoughts, and attitudes towards certain political decisions. Ultimately, their decisions were made after pondering on reason, religion, and examples from past societies and civilizations.

So, before I digress further, let me pull in the reigns and address the specific issue — the Marriage Protection Amendment.

I am amused by some Democrats, who, resorting to partisan political banter, claim that the sole existence (revival, rather) of the MPA is to sway election-year voters, revive the republican party, and satisfy the religious conservative demographic. Such a claim can be made for any single piece of legislation proposed by one or the other parties. The fact is, the MPA is alive and kicking because there are a slew of voters who support it and want to see it passed. Whether or not it passes (from recent reports, it isn’t likely) is another issue altogether.

So how do you argue gay marriage should be against the law when you take religion out of the argument? You don’t, for it is God-fearing, scripture-believing Christians who see gay marriage as something against God’s commandments, and want to influence the political forum to assure it is not made legal. There are plenty of social behavioral studies showing the damage caused by not having a mother or a father in the home, the benefit that it does provide, etc. However, same-sex marriage advocates will simply chalk this up as biased fallacy, saying that there is a lack of evidence on same-sex couples. The strongest argument by proponents of the MPA against gay marriage, then, is that God opposes it. The Bible denounces it. If you take religion out of the argument, you might as well condone a man and his mountain goat marrying. It sounds absurd to us now, but think of what gay marriage would have sounded like 1000, 100, or even 20 years ago. Society may be loosening its propriety, it may be changing its standards, but those who believe gay marriage to be in opposition to God’s commandments feel it necessary to take whatever steps necessary to insure that it does not happen, no matter what society has come to accept and embrace. One of those avenues is the political arena.

I’m sure I’ve made almost no sense as I have tried to compile my thoughts on the matter into a single email. However, I hope that I have conveyed that it is my opinion that religion and politics are inherently intertwined, given their similar purpose. Those who have conservative views will always vote for conservative leaders. Those with liberal views will vote for people who believe similarly to them. These leaders will in turn vote on legislation based on their faith, beliefs, background, and preference. This debate boils down not to Republican and Democrat, but to those who believe same-sex marriage to be against God’s will, and those who do not. So on a fundamentally religion-centered topic, you can’t remove the religious aspect without nullifying the entire debate. Religion IS the reason the MPA is being put before the Senate in the first place.

I suppose Confucius summed it up best when he said “To put the world in order we must first put the nation in order. To put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order.” Those who favor the MPA feel that to put the family in order, federal legislation has become necessary in order to protect the sanctity of marriage, a fundamental and important institution in our society.

My 2¢.

Connor