Category Archives: Sunday Sermon

Sunday Sermon: Zion Canyon Community – A Classic!

The Tuacahn Summer Arts Institute held a Faculty Chamber Music Series concert in the old Rockville church … now the Rockville Community Center … on Saturday night. The combination of the classic old church, the even more classic town of Rockville, and the classical music of Mozart, von Weber, and especially Tchaikovsky seemed to blend together to create an memory that will be one of those that will live in my heart as long as my heart lives.

The whole ZiCC community turned out for a very good reason. The internationally acclaimed musicians provided a performance that matched anything I ever heard in cities from the Washington Lincoln Center to the Seattle’s McCaw Opera Hall. The Mozart was rhythmic, whimsical and melodic as only Mozart can be. Von Weber was reliably classical. But Tchaikovsky soared. I could hear hints of 1812 and Romeo and Juliet. All were enriched by virtuoso performances from musicians whose abilities can only be compared across continents and centuries.

The array of black folding chairs was full to the back row and the wooden pews on both sides were too. But when I looked outside during the intermission, most of the parking on Rockville’s shady main street was still open. I realized that must be because most of the people from Rockville simply walked to the concert. It’s a sad commentary on the life we live to assume that the only way to get somewhere is to move thousands of pounds of metal and plastic. ZiCC people in Rockville don’t have to assume that. It’s a beautiful thought.

(One of the nicer traditions here in ZiCC is putting away the chairs. In both the Springdale and Rockville community centers, dozens of ZiCC friends pitch in to stow the chairs away after an event. Many willing hands make light work. The job is done in just a few minutes.)

ShakespeareAnnounceAs Roxy and I guided our own thousands of pounds of metal and plastic back to Springdale, my mind went back to the continual stream of art and science that graces the Zion Canyon Community. Great performances and outstanding science seem to be drawn to this place. A few years ago, the Springdale Community Center hosted an expert in Shakespearean sonnets. The Springdale Library book group is reading Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors this month. (My review of the play can be found here.) Inspired by the lecture, I composed two sonnets in the classical style of Shakespeare based on the theme of Zion Canyon water. (And topped them off with a limerick just for fun.) Water is even more of a theme this year. And since recycling is in vogue these days too, I decided to recycle my sonnets here.

Sonnet to a Virgin Dew Drop

A drop of dew was born a thousand years ago.
Water vapor from a sea a thousand miles away.
The dew drop fell as snow on the Kolob plateau.
One of thousands of billions who danced in a winter ballet. 

When sun turned deep white snow to blood red mud,
Slot canyons raged until the surge was spent.
But a drop of dew did not join the raging flood.
The drop began a long and slow descent. 

The dew drop fell through stone a mile deep.
Nations rose and fell; the drop secure.
Then Kayenta slate showed the path to a gentle seep.
The dew drop emerged, so cold and pure.

The Virgin is made of dew drops like this.
Each one is as precious as a virgin’s kiss.


Saving the Dog Park

The rain went on for weeks without an end.
Brown water surged across our grassy park.
The desert makes some rain a valued friend.
This much made all the people sad and dark.

Just sand remained where dogs and people played.
The word went out. The tons of sand must go.
Next Saturday, the park will be remade.
Just bring yourself, a spade or rake or hoe.

The day dawned bright and full of warming sun.
A hundred friends worked side by side that day.
We worked as one until the job was done.
Until the sand had all been pushed away.

The Virgin didn’t really beat us down.
It just made us a stronger, better town.


Let’s Go To Zion!

There is a fine river named Virgin
It either runs low or it’s surgin’
The sights are so great
I hardly can wait
I don’t need any more urgin’

(Updated!!!) Sunday Sermon: Water Conservation in Springdale

A Guest Sunday Sermon, Co-authored with Barbara Farnsworth

(Note: Tom sent a private email — Tom won’t post directly at the site — in which he states that two points I make in the sermon aren’t quite right. I posted Tom’s email for him in the article. You might want to read Tom’s corrections at the end of the article.)

(Click to expand to full size.)

(Click to expand to full size.)

Springdale conserves water better than other communities in southern Utah. One reason is that water costs more here than other communities in Southern Utah. The chart shows that water gets expensive a lot faster here in Springdale than in St. George.

(Water is generally more expensive in Springdale than in most of Utah. Researching this Sunday Sermon was a real education in western US and Utah water rates! This chart was developed using published rates at the St. George and Springdale web sites. My Excel spreadsheet is available for analysis.)

But we’re still not doing enough! If you’ve looked at the Virgin recently, and you have lived here more than a few years, you know that the river looks as low as it gets in August … and it has been low since last year. The weather forecast still shows zero rain. We’re in for a very tough summer.

Barbara Farnsworth asked me to co-author this Sunday Sermon with her.  It started when Barbara sent the letter below to the town several weeks ago.

I realize that lush, green lawns look elegant but Springdale lies in the high-desert rainfall zone. Before we are involved in a huge drought, we need to consider how water will be used. The growth and remodeling these past few years could be very problematic. Specifically I am concerned with excessive water usage on large sodded grass areas that have been installed along SR 9. This includes The Hampton, Meme’s area, as well as smaller new sod lawns installed in several businesses. The La Quinta Inn water playground also needs to be addressed.

The Town Code, Title 10, Chapter 18, Landscaping states:

Acceptable Plant Species: Water conserving plants shall constitute at least eighty percent (80%), by area (including areas covered by turf), of the total landscape area on a site. Developments located in the foothills shall utilize plant species appropriate to less fertile soils. A list of recommended water conserving plant species, as adopted by resolution of the town council, shall be available in the town office.

Some standard needs to be implemented for future landscaping designs. Watering through automatic sprinkling systems when a rainstorm is occurring, or watering with broken sprinkler heads that flood the road, need to be regulated. Allowing La Quinta Inn to run water playground displays on a hot day when no one is even present at that area should be addressed.

The sod lawn size for home owners also needs attention. Many HOAs follow the town’s code that native plants (as those in the surrounding area) must be used outside the actual “building pod”.

Will these same sod lawns look good when they are dry, brittle, and brown? Please consider the need to save Springdale’s precious commodity.”

I have made the point before that writing a letter to the town isn’t a very effective way for the “people who just live here” to get anything done. In all my years of attending planning commission and town council meetings (some as a member), I have seldom heard of a letter even being mentioned. Most times, you have to ask to know if town officials have even read it.

Mary Stultz followed a different strategy. She paid her own lawyer (and it wasn’t cheap … for the town or Mary) and the district court then required the town to follow their own ordinances and state law. I was a big supporter for Mary because her cause was just and because the town had closed off every other course of action. But, in general, it shouldn’t have to come to that. That’s a big reason for this website. I’m trying to create a new way for the “people who just live here” to actually be a part of the decision making in our community without paying lawyers.

I asked Barbara if I could publish her letter at this site and she responded:

I have been fighting water waste on lawns and landscapes for a long time. I have tried to educate people through several state native plant societies, as well as turning around the plantings proposed for the Canyon Community Center when I saw their plans at an annual Earth day. I went to the Town and they gave me free range on converting typical “center plantings” to native plants as long as I followed the intent of the landscape designer. That was a fun job, working with Cheryl Decker at the park, and the landscape company. I was even able to have several plantings changed by the landscape company because they had very little knowledge that one species uses continual watering and not another – the wrong one was planted. Several of us hoped that the native plantings would showcase their beauty and diversity to the town and entice people to follow suite.

I am not looking for an active confrontation from people I live with. I will support you in a way that allows different ideas to coexist; compromise is okay, and peace is possible.

Sincerely, Barbara

Barbara’s original letter to the town highlights a section of the town’s ordinances that I wasn’t fully aware of before this. As I listen to the planning commission and town council consider development applications, I hear about mere inches in building height and shades of color debated almost endlessly. (The town forced a change in the roof design of the Zion Adventure Company building because one end of the building was higher than allowed by a few inches even though the other end was within the limit.)

I asked for a copy of the list of “Acceptable Plant Species” and the recent La Quinta and Hampton developments are clearly in violation. I met with Tom to ask whether it would be possible to force the new La Quinta or Hampton developments to replant with water conserving species as required by the town code. Tom said that case law on this point is not consistent because developers can make the point that because the town allowed the development, they are not at fault and the town is responsible. It’s a good point.

It appears that since the town seems to be simply ignoring this section of their own code, the only logical step now is to start with the very next development application and remind the town of their responsibility to enforce their own code. That’s what I plan to do.

If the town persists in simply ignoring their own ordinances, maybe I’ll write a letter to Chief Wright and ask him to arrest Mayor Smith and the other members of the town council.

Other suggestions are welcome!


Tom’s Corrections (17 June 2014 – sent in a private email by Tom)


Great Sunday Sermon on water conservation. I agree with your main point that we all need to be doing a better job of managing water resources. I think there are things that can be done as individuals and as a town that can help make our water resources go farther. Thanks for highlighting this important issue.

However, there are two statements in your post that need to be clarified:

1)      “The recent La Quinta and Hampton developments are clearly in violation [of the landscape ordinance].”

Although you never clearly state why you have made this conclusion, from the context of your post I assume you think the large amounts of turf included in both of these developments is out of compliance with the ordinance. However, nothing in the Town Code limits the amount of turf a development may have. The only regulation specifically addressing turf areas in the code is found in section 10-18-6(F). This section clearly envisions developers using turf as a landscape element. Far from limiting the amount of turf allowed, this section actually requires a minimum amount of turf when lawn is used as a landscape element. It also reinforces the standards of the plant list by stating that turf areas need to use drought tolerant grass varieties. The plant list identifies both fescue and rye grasses as acceptable grasses. The turf areas at both the Hampton and La Quinta are fescue/rye blend grasses. Thus, while I agree that the turf areas at these developments may use more water than other landscape choices, I don’t believe they are “clearly in violation” of the Town Code.

2)      “I met with Tom to ask whether it would be possible to force the new La Quinta or Hampton developments to replant with water conserving species as required by the town code.”

This statement is a misleading half-truth. In reality you asked a general question regarding what would happen if the Planning Commission approved a hypothetical development in gross violation of the Town Code. You made no mention of either the La Quinta or the Hampton. You did not ask if the Town could force a developer to do anything. You merely asked what would happen in the generic hypothetical mentioned above. Even when I pressed you for specific details about developments that you were concerned about you divulged nothing about the Hampton, La Quinta or landscape requirements. The statement in your post makes it appear as if we discussed the specifics of the landscaping at the Hampton and La Quinta. This is misleading and untrue. Had you asked about landscaping at either of these developments I would have provided you with the information in the above paragraph. (This is an example of how an internet discussion forum / blog can easily spread misinformation by presenting out-of-context and incomplete information as the accurate whole truth.)

Thanks again for the post encouraging water conservation.



Dan Mabbutt reply to Tom’s Corrections


Thank YOU, both for the thanks and for the reply. I can see that you made a real effort to compose a careful reply. Everyone who reads it is in your debt. It remains a mystery to me why you will send such a great email, but you won’t post it as a comment. But it’s better than nothing at all by a long shot!

“you never clearly state why you have made this conclusion”

Au contraire mon fraire! As stated … “clearly” … above: 10-18-4(B). Which YOU never mention in YOUR reply.

“Water conserving plants shall constitute at least eighty percent (80%), by area (including areas covered by turf)”

The only question is whether the grass that developers plant around here is on the town list of “water conserving plants”. You say that it’s “fescue and rye grasses”. I asked a number of plant specialists if they could identify the species of grass planted and I wasn’t able to find anyone who would commit. But if the lawns in front of the La Quinta and the Hampton are “water conserving species” … well … then the town code is where “half truths” can be found.

Developers are routinely required to demonstrate whether lights are “down directed” and colors are “on the color palette”. They could be required to say whether plants are “water conserving” too. But they’re not. I’m just asking for equal treatment.

I repeat, “The recent La Quinta and Hampton developments are clearly in violation [of the landscape ordinance].”

And, by the way, 10-18-6(F) only states that turf has to be a minimum of 10 feet wide. It doesn’t say anything about “addressing turf areas” as mentioned in your reply. (Half truth???) But it does repeat the requirement I stated, “Drought tolerant grass varieties shall be selected for turf and lawn areas.”

I’m with Barbara: “Will these same sod lawns look good when they are dry, brittle, and brown?”

“… you asked a general question regarding what would happen if the Planning Commission approved a hypothetical development in gross violation of the Town Code.”

Right. At the time, I had not received Barbara’s permission to divulge her emails. I receive a lot of private emails about my site … damn few comments, but a lot of emails … and I have made a commitment not to divulge private emails. (Your emails are an exception since we have already established that emails from town staff are automatically public.) So I didn’t feel free to discuss the particulars then.


But your reply did not point out where I had made an error; only that I didn’t tell you why I was asking. And I didn’t say that you agreed with my conclusion on landscaping either. I only said you said what you said not what you said that I said that you said.

Clear now?

“… an internet discussion forum / blog can easily spread misinformation by presenting out-of-context and incomplete information as the accurate whole truth”

Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is such an opportunity to make this point again.

“Out-of-context and incomplete information” is found in private emails, hallway conversations, telephone calls … all those places where you can’t respond and you don’t even know what is being said. I posted my article publically with the goal of giving anyone and everyone the opportunity to correct it. Which you did. Which I thank you again for doing.

If Barbara and I had just complained to each other about this, THEN it would have been “out of context and incomplete”. But we didn’t. We complained in public so we would be accountable for what we wrote.

In my recent town council report, I groused about how everyone on the council seemed to know about the parking facility that is on the planning commission agenda today. I called you and asked if the agenda had been published. You said, “No.” (I didn’t tell you why I was asking then either. Bad on me … I guess … But then you might have been less inclined to write an email that I can publish and bring to the attention of the rest of the Zion Canyon Community!)

My point then, and now, is that the whole council seemed to have a whole bunch of inside knowledge that the rest of us did not have. Honestly, it’s hard to follow the conversations up on the raised platforms because there are so many “inside” references that they throw around.

If these discussions were posted in a “public and accountable” Internet forum, those conversations during the meeting would be a lot easier to understand.

Sunday Sermon: Denial … America’s Chronic Disease

DenialI just finished reading a book that I bought years ago and was sitting unread on my bookshelf: Bertrand Russell’s America. Those of you who are as old as I am might remember Uncle Bertie. Here’s a quick bio:

Lord Bertrand Russell – his title goes back to the Tudor dynasty – was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, social critic and political activist. In 1950, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. But here in America, he is known for his outspoken opposition to many of our national faults. And for the most part, he was right.

Let’s consider a few …

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, one of his major efforts was exposing McCarthyism and the political repression and fear campaign that spread paranoia throughout America. McCarthyism is recognized as a dark and destructive episode in our history now. (By most folks … but not all folks … that’s the problem.) At the time, Russell was condemned by virtually every institution in America from newspapers to government to academics as a tool of the evil red empire. If Russell had been matched against Satan in a popularity poll, Satan would have won.

Although we now see McCarthy and his movement more clearly for what they were, we still haven’t faced up to why we were so wrong. It happened because we let emotion rule our judgment instead of reason. In his letters and articles (which America couldn’t stop because he didn’t live here, although American media did a good job of marginalizing him), Russell thoroughly documented why McCarthy was wrong. People didn’t listen. That’s denial. (But see the note below.)

At the same time, Russell told us why America was stopping the world from backing away from nuclear destruction. And he was right again. Russia was always willing to negotiate an equal nuclear arms agreement. They weren’t willing to surrender.

Russell explained to the whole world how America was the aggressor in Cuba. In 1961, America equipped and supported an invasion of Cuba. (On 15 April, eight CIA-supplied B-26 bombers attacked Cuban air fields and returned to the U.S.) In 1962, America brought the whole world to the brink of nuclear war because Castro, driven into the arms of the USSR by American aggression, decided to allow nuclear missiles to be based in Cuba. It’s worth remembering that America had nuclear missiles on Russia’s borders in Turkey and on many Polaris submarines. Castro offered to allow independent inspection of all of Cuba if America would allow inspection of the invasion bases in southern US states.

Russell may be remembered most for his stand against American aggression in Vietnam. That remains the most recent and most glaring example of American denial. An outgrowth of American paranoia about communism, the Vietnam War never needed to happen. The result for America was the death of over 55,000 of our own young men and women and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians; not to mention the billions that the war cost. We gained nothing; nothing at all; and we lost so very much.

I could go into the lies and deceit in the Vietnam War, but if you don’t know already, then you’re part of the problem. Documenting the lies isn’t what this article is about. It’s about how America desperately needs to face our national disease of denial before we can recover from it.

In 1970, Russell died and so he wasn’t around to tell the world about how an army officer named Saddam Hussain rose to power as a result of an American co-sponsored military coup in Iraq – Britain was the other complicit power – which eventually resulted in a war that sacrificed, not billions, but trillions in national treasure and another generation of young men and women.

We’re not learning from our mistakes. We will keep making the same mistakes until we face them. Psychologists are united in saying that as long as someone continues to deny responsibility for problems, that person can’t change and the problem will keep coming back, again and again. I think it’s the same with nations.

The best thing we could do as a nation would be to admit that we have a serious problem with military aggression that could be fatal to us and the rest of the world and start the long road to recovery.

Note – Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Morton Sobel

Russell was also a big defender of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted and fried in the electric chair for spy activities. (Literally. Ethel Rosenburg’s head started to smoke before it was over.) And of Morton Sobell, who served 17 years of a prison sentence. Bertrand Russell’s America was published a decade before we discovered that they were guilty after all! Sobell confessed to a New York Times reporter shortly before his death and information from the former Soviet Union after the breakup confirmed it.

But Russell’s very logical point was not that they were innocent; it was that they never received a fair trial. And that remains true.

Sunday Sermon
Conservation in Springdale; What We Can Do

KateJewelCDIn the coming decades there will likely be 11 billion people on Earth. This population increase, and our diet and lifestyle choices, have driven us to a precipice.

Deforestation is a central cause of climate change, contributing more greenhouse emissions than does the transportation sector. The tropical forests of Central and South America, Africa and Asia are being destroyed to provide land to graze cattle, to grow food for the animals people choose to eat, and for wood and paper products. I discuss the consequences of diet choice in my book length essay, To Save the Animals. (Nearly completed.) This editorial will focus on the need for paper, cardboard and other recycling.

Trees use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis, therefore when they are destroyed, more CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere. In addition, the water from plant transpiration rises, then condenses to form clouds, and falls as rain or snow. Deforestation disrupts this cycle, and much of the land turns into desert. Large quantities of carbon stored in the soil (especially in peat swamps) are then released to the atmosphere.

Primates, elephants, parrots and other fruit-eating jungle animals disperse seeds away from the parent trees, and package the seeds in fertilizer (dung). As we destroy the forests, we are forcing these species to extinction; the forests may well go extinct, too, without their help. We destroy the forests either by setting fire to them or by cutting down the trees. 50% of all animal species live in the rainforests. We set them on fire or starve them when we destroy the forests. Our actions have set in motion the greatest mass extinction of all time, one that is happening 1,000 (perhaps even up to 100,000) times faster than any previous mass extinction. The animals do not have time to adapt to the rapid change, new species cannot evolve.

Climate change is responsible for heat waves and drought that cause tree deaths from disease and infestations, and lead to hotter forest fires that destroy more trees. Recently, British Columbia lost 58,000 square miles of forest in only a decade. The forest fires kill wildlife. Animals suffocate, burn to death, or lose their shelter and sustenance, as in tropical forests. Thousands of fish may suffocate from ash or die from the heated water in a single forest fire.

To help prevent this cruelty and devastation, it is crucial for businesses and residences to recycle cardboard. Options include:

  • Allied Waste/435.628.2821. AW charges less for pickup of both recycling and trash than for trash pickup only.
  • Blue Sky Recycling/435.673.1400.
  • Sol Foods has a cardboard compactor. They bundle then sell the compacted cardboard. The owners, Max and Julie Gregoric, generously allow other Springdale businesses to bring cardboard to the compactor, located at the side of the building, between Sol Foods and the hardware store. Sol Foods bought the compactor from AFS, and Rocky Mountain Recycling purchases the cardboard.
  • The post office has a recycle bin that accepts cardboard, plastic and paper. It is not big enough to accommodate cardboard from businesses; however, people may recycle cardboard from packages there.
  • The town bins, located past the Community Center and tennis courts on Lion Boulevard, now have a cardboard recycling bin. However, it is not for business use.

Springdale businesses can work together to expand cardboard recycling options. For example, were businesses to contact Dixie Waste to request recycling, it would provide incentive for Dixie Waste to provide such a service.

Businesses and private residences can also make a significant difference by choosing to use recycled paper products – cups, plates, napkins, toilet paper, paper towels.

Springdale is a village, but millions of tourists come here every year. Springdale can help them to recycle plastic, paper and metal cans by placing small recycle bins throughout the town (as is done in Zion National Park). Motels can provide individual recycle bins (metal/plastic/paper) in every room; Cliff Rose Hotel already does this. A competition, either for children and young people, or for people of all ages, could inspire beautiful posters and banners, and fliers to display in store windows to encourage people to recycle. T-shirts, perhaps with designs by children, could promote recycling. Once Springdale has earned bragging rights, there could be bumper stickers and decals as well.

For Springdale to truly be a green community there must be water conservation. The Virgin River provides the water in Springdale. The forecast for the West the coming decades is drought, to where what now is a very dry year will be considered a wet year. The temperature is expected to continue to rise. There will be less snow melt, upon which the Virgin River depends. Springdale can promote water conservation with signs in motel rooms, public restrooms, and restaurants. Businesses and residences that have not yet done so should install water-conserving showerheads, faucets and toilets. Waiters should ask customers if they want water, or partially fill glasses, or restaurants can use smaller glasses. Leftover water should be saved to water plants. Businesses and residences should only water before 8:00 a.m. and after 7 p.m. from mid-April through September; during the heat of the day, much water evaporates. Green laws are water intensive, and therefore not appropriate in Springdale; desert landscaping is beautiful.

There is no more glorious place on Earth and here. Recycling and water conservation are ways to treasure the land and to save wildlife.

Kate Jewel

Sunday Sermon: Rights and Relationships in Springdale

conflictMost of us have probably heard the saying, “Your rights stop where my nose begins.” (see Note below) It’s a favorite of mine because it summarizes a way to understand practical rules that work for relationships in a community – like Springdale.

In planning commission and town council meetings, I have frequently heard members of our community and town officials forget this bit of wisdom as they struggle with the difficult decisions that we have to make together. In the most recent town council meeting, for example, both sides of two different issues might have thought about this to understand how to find the best resolution.

In one, the issue was smoke. On one side, a member of our community said that the right to enjoy property and the canyon was being destroyed by clouds of campfire smoke from a neighboring campground. The other side said that the campfires had been there for a long time and the citizen was complaining about something that wasn’t really a problem.

In another, the issue was property appearance. On one side, a member of the council said that multiple complaints had been received about a property that wasn’t being maintained and was dragging down the appearance of the whole neighborhood. The other side wasn’t represented in the meeting, but I think we might be able to guess the point of view.

(You may note that I haven’t used any names here. A lot of people reading this will be able to fill in the blanks, but I try to keep the focus on issues, not people. It’s way too easy to say, “Oh, I don’t like ‘Person A’ so I’m against whatever ‘Person A’ is for.” I try hard to avoid that. Public officials aren’t covered by that rule, however. The authority they hold makes them a special case.)


This issue is complicated by several things. One is The Tragedy of the Commons. The link takes you to my Sunday Sermon where I discussed this important idea. We share the canyon air in common. If the canyon air becomes less and less breathable, we all suffer the loss in common. But the owner of the campground enjoys nearly all of the profit from the campground alone. So the loss that the owner suffers due to the pollution of the air is more than balanced by the profit from the campground. The economist’s way of saying this is, “Marginal loss due to individual consumption of a shared good is always less than marginal gain to the consumer of the shared good.”

You can see this process repeated over and over around the globe. In the last few decades, “Communist” China has given their country over to the capitalist few who are rapidly using up the air that everyone breathes. The few have benefited; the many suffer. The capitalist few should be made to realize that their rights stop where the noses of the many begin.

“But, but, but …” (I hear you saying)

  • Nobody has complained before!
  • That use of the campground is ‘grandfathered’ in because they’ve been doing it for years.
  • Regulating things like this is so hard to do!”
  • Isn’t the ‘nose’ of the campground owner going to suffer if this ‘property right’ is taken away?

These are all arguments that I heard during the town council discussion.

Nobody has complained before!

What difference does that make? Somebody’s complaining now. Are you saying that people only have rights when they’re the third or fourth victim?

That use of the campground is ‘grandfathered’ in because they’ve been doing it for years.

This argument has been used to justify trampling human rights for centuries. Slave-owners were able to use it to make slavery part of the Constitution in 1787. More recently, it has taken years to overcome the inertia of social change and ban smoking indoors nearly everywhere in the US.

Regulating things like this is so hard to do!”

This is a fake argument from the start. I can tell you from my years on the commission that ordinances about everything are hard to do. This one seems to me to be relatively easy in comparison.

Isn’t the ‘nose’ of the campground owner going to suffer if this ‘property right’ is taken away?

Indeed it is. This is the ONLY legitimate argument in favor of not regulating smoke. The campground owner has rights too and we shouldn’t easily dismiss them. This is an issue of relative value. The community has to make a decision.

I would frame the issue this way: Is the value of a person to simply enjoy their own property a higher value than the value of making a profit on property? I enjoy my property. I watch the sun set over the cliffs of Zion. I share the blackbrush with chipmunks. I don’t expect to make a profit from it. We all benefit from the health of business in Zion, but I don’t think that value should be the highest one.

In last year’s community survey, it seems to me that more ZiCC people agreed with me. But as I listen to town council and planning commission meetings, I think that town officials are more on the other side. And I think that we – the “people who just live here” – need to “lean” the other way and correct this.

Property Appearance

This is an even more difficult issue because nobody is trying to make a profit. (Well … not directly. The banner of “property values” is frequently waved about. That’s a “potential profit” like a rock on top of a mountain has “potential energy”.)

Both sides of this issue are simply trying to enjoy their own property, and both sides claim the other is damaging their nose. This issue came up again and again during the discussion of the new agriculture ordinance. “Noise and flies from cows and goats interfere with the enjoyment of property. Chickens make noise too. Bees scare me and I think I’m allergic to them.” And the capper, “It will scare the tourists away if they see somebody slaughtering a cow.” Where do they think their hamburger comes from?

The appearance of property is simply another version of the same argument. We have a direct value clash. Whose values are we going to enforce in the community?

I don’t often agree with the “libertarian” side in discussions because it usually turns out to be not “libertarian” but rather “anti-community”. In other words, an excuse to avoid working together to solve problems. This is an exception.

I call this the “You say ‘toe – may – toe’ and I say ‘toe – mah – toe’ issue. There’s no accounting for taste. You think my house is ugly? Well, I think your house is ugly. So there!! I found it very interesting that the left photo below was featured scenic wallpaper. I much prefer the right photo, but that’s just me.


I don’t know how to resolve this except to vote on it. But I would say that we ought to be very sure that what we’re doing is really necessary.


This is very frequently misquoted as being from Abraham Lincoln, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and John Stuart Mill. In fact, according to exhaustive research that you can read on the web site, Quote Investigator, “current evidence indicates that the saying under investigation began with Prohibitionist orators who expressed it using a variety of formulations during their speeches.” The fact that people so often think that their favorite figure from history must have said it is evidence of the broad appeal and commonsense wisdom of this quote.

Sunday Sermon: At Last! A “Public and Accountable” Conversation Involving Springdale (town administration)

Last week’s Sunday Sermon was devoted to showing why no Utah law is stopping Springdale (town administration) from discussing issues with Springdale (people who just live here) in an Internet based message forum … like this one. I quoted the Utah laws to support my point of view.

Tom Dansie (who specifically said in a later personal conversation that I’m completely free to use his name in these articles) replied … and did a really good job of it. He has written a great explanation showing how an email message posted over the Internet is legal and a forum message posted over the Internet are two entirely different things. The first is legal (it must be … he did it) and the second is not.

I’ll post Tom’s entire email in a moment, but I want to make a couple of things clear first.

Number One is that I’m not trying to say that people have to post on THIS web site. I think that the best solution would be a “public and accountable” web forum sponsored and managed by Springdale (town administration). I only created this web site because Springdale (town administration) completely and totally refuses to consider the idea … and I think we need one.

Number Two is that I believe that everyone involved … from Tom to Rick to the commission to the council … everyone … is doing what they think is best for Springdale. There are no bad guys involved in this conversation. There is a disagreement about what actually is best for Springdale. And friends can disagree.

Because it’s the starting point, here’s the Utah law again.

52-4-103.   Definitions.
(5) (a) “Meeting” means the convening of a public body, with a quorum present, including a workshop or an executive session whether the meeting is held in person or by means of electronic communications, for the purpose of discussing, receiving comments from the public about, or acting upon a matter over which the public body has jurisdiction or advisory power.
(b) “Meeting” does not mean:
(i) a chance meeting;
(ii) a social meeting;
(iii) the convening of a public body that has both legislative and executive responsibilities where no public funds are appropriated for expenditure during the time the public body is convened and:
(A) the public body is convened solely for the discussion or implementation of administrative or operational matters for which no formal action by the public body is required; or
(B) the public body is convened solely for the discussion or implementation of administrative or operational matters that would not come before the public body for discussion or action; or
(iv) a meeting of the State Tax Commission to consider a confidential tax matter in accordance with Section 59-1-405.

52-4-210.   Electronic message transmissions
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to restrict a member of a public body from transmitting an electronic message to other members of the public body at a time when the public body is not convened in an open meeting.

Both Tom and I agree that this is, at best, unclear. It seems that subparagraph (B) does suggest a little caution. If, for example, the published agenda for the planning commission states that a design development review for a plutonium storage facility will be considered in the next meeting, then I think that commissioners and councilors might want to abstain from commenting in an online discussion of that topic. That wouldn’t prevent the rest of us from excoriating them for the temerity to even consider it. And it wouldn’t prevent them from reading our earnest lamentations. But, on the other hand, if no such action is scheduled, then I can’t see where anything in the law would prevent anybody from saying anything about it.

Tom begs to differ. Here’s his email to me, complete and uncut.

Thanks for your reference to 52-4-103 and the definition of “meeting” in the State Code. You highlight the circumstances identified in subparagraph 5b under which public bodies can convene without being considered a meeting. I think your interpretation of these exceptions is off base (I will get to that later). But more importantly, I think you should give more attention to subparagraph 5a which defines what a meeting is.

Subparagraph 5a is clear in defining a “meeting” as any convening of a public body “for the purpose of discussing, receiving comments from the public about, or acting upon a matter over which the public body has jurisdiction or advisory power.” You have promoted the online discussion forum as a method for the Town Council and Planning Commission to discuss and receive comments from the public about items for which these bodies have jurisdiction or advisory power. I believe an online deliberation forum as you propose fit squarely within the definition of meeting in subparagraph 5a. In fact, this definition seems to anticipate such online deliberations and discussions as it specifically includes meetings held “by means of electronic communication.”

You contend the subparagraph 5b exempts online discussion forums from the definition of “meeting.” I believe this is a misinterpretation of that section.

First, in order to qualify for this exemption the public body in question must have both executive and legislative responsibilities. Only the Town Council has legislative responsibilities, so the Planning Commission does not fit this exemption right from the start.

Second, in order to qualify for this exemption, the item being discussed must be of purely administrative or operational nature and require no formal action in a public meeting. Discussion of issues that would later require formal deliberation and action in a public meeting do not fit into this exemption. In promoting your discussion forum you have often said something along the lines of, “wouldn’t it be great to have a discussion on this item so we can get all the issues resolved prior to the meeting.” If something is going to be discussed later in a public meeting it cannot also fit into the exception of “meeting” in subparagraph 5b.

Third, much of what you post on your blog are recaps of public meetings. Many of the issues discussed at these meetings roll from one meeting to the next. Because these items are noticed on meeting agendas they cannot also be considered “exempt” from the definition of meeting.

I think it is fine for individuals (including Council Members, Commissioners, and staff) to make comments on online forums for issues that are not covered by the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act. Many of the things on your blog fit into this category. But much of your blog contains discussion about items that are covered by OPMA. It would be inappropriate for public officials to make comments on those items.

You also state the town staff is using “scare tactics” to impose a “gag rule” on public officials. I would refer you to sections 52-4-303 and 52-4-305 of the State Code. These sections imposes stiff penalties for violations of the Open and Public Meetings Act, including criminal penalties. What you term “scare tactics” are actually real penalties established in State law.

Having said all of the above, I realize I will never (even with my Jedi powers) be able to convince you that the online discussion forum you propose would violate the Open and Public Meetings Act. You will likely still contend that your proposed online forum complies with State law. Neither of us being lawyers we should probably each respect each other’s perspective and move on.

Let’s dig into his reply.

The heart of my side of the discussion is, “an Internet forum is not a meeting”. The heart of Tom’s side is, “you should give more attention to subparagraph 5a which defines what a meeting is.” Let’s give it more attention.

(5) (a) “Meeting” means the convening of a public body, with a quorum present, including a workshop or an executive session whether the meeting is held in person or by means of electronic communications, for the purpose of discussing, receiving comments from the public about, or acting upon a matter over which the public body has jurisdiction or advisory power.

Tom … no public body is ever “convened”. They just post messages. They do it individually. We could make people sign a form that they will never post messages with three or more of them present in the room. (That’s a joke. Town staff also warns that three or more councilors or commissioners can’t even have a conversation at the post office.)

Besides, these guys “discuss and receive comments from the public about items for which these bodies have jurisdiction or advisory power” all the time.

On Thursday night, they met at the CCC and discussed town business all evening. They received lots of comments from the public about all kinds of things where they have “jurisdiction or advisory power”. And a quorum was present, too!

Tom’s point about, “it specifically includes meetings held ‘by means of electronic communication.’” is a smoke screen too. There’s a whole section of Utah law that defines an electronic meeting. Tom knows that. It clearly doesn’t include an Internet forum.

The thing that made the get-together on Thursday night  – and an Internet forum – “not a meeting” is all of the exceptions that the Utah code lists next. An Internet forum qualifies just as the “community discussion” on Thursday did.

Then Tom says, “in order to qualify for this exemption, the item being discussed must be of purely administrative or operational nature and require no formal action in a public meeting. Discussion of issues that would later require formal deliberation and action in a public meeting do not fit into this exemption.”

That would make Thursday’s fun little party clearly illegal. Just about everything discussed will later require formal deliberation and action in a public meeting.

Call the Attorney General! Arrest Tom and Joe instead of Rick and Kurt this time!

Just joking again. – It doesn’t say that, so Tom and Joe are safe. (Also, they got rid of John Swallow so perversions of justice like that aren’t likely to happen again.) The law says what it says. I could start to parse sentences and words to prove that, but you can do that too so I won’t waste the space.

There is a lot that makes an Internet forum different.

  • It really is public. Very public. Anybody can look at it anytime. You don’t have to go to town hall at 5:00 or wait for a month to read minutes. And you can use Internet search tools to find out what somebody said years ago. Community organizers use a different name: Transparency. That’s generally considered to be a good thing … except by people who don’t want to be that visible.
  • It’s a conversation. It’s more than just “testifying at a hearing” where you get to say your piece and then listen to commissioners or councilors talk to each other like you never said anything at all … while you have to sit quietly. To Tom’s eternal credit, THIS is now sort of a conversation. Springdale (both Springdales) have the ability to read what I say and read what Tom says and then decide which one they agree with. That makes it really different from 99 44/100 percent of what passes for community involvement here.
  • It’s “public and accountable”. As good as it was … and it was very good … Thursday night’s community discussion wasn’t a “public and accountable” conversation
    either. It was a massive “post office” chat that wasn’t recorded or available to anyone except the few people listening. Suppose I said, “Tom told me that he had planted a bomb under my seat at town hall and he was going to set it off the next time I came to a commission meeting!” Prove that Tom didn’t say that! That’s what “public and accountable” means.

I have to give Tom a lot of credit for a thorough and … well … impressive reply. I was impressed! In fact, he’s completely right about one thing. Not even his Jedi powers have been able to convince me. And I’m taking Tom’s advice and moving on. For me, “moving on” means I’m going to continue to work to create a forum for Springdale (town administration) to have a “public and accountable” conversation with Springdale (people who just live here).

Sunday Sermon: When is a Meeting Not a Meeting?

When it’s a web forum!!!

(See the addendum below … more has happened since this was originally posted.)

I recently had an email exchange with a member of Springdale’s town staff about this. Just to make sure everyone understands, I’ve had other email exchanges with other members of Springdale’s government, but I have been advised by my correspondent that it was, “meant as a private email between you and I.” So that’s as much as I can say about those specific email exchanges and they’re not quoted here.  But the member of Springdale’s staff wrote, “all written communication between town staff and residents is considered public.” I’ll be quoting extensively from staff email exchanges.

doonesWhy am I not identifying my staff correspondent by name? Well, Springdale’s Facebook page and many emails are simply identified as just “Springdale” — no names. I thought this might be a subtle way to highlight that. On this website, everyone has to use their own, actual name. Using your actual name is called, “accountability”.

When I was a commissioner, we were continually (really … continually!) told by the Springdale town staff that we couldn’t say anything about town affairs outside of meetings. (We all know that every one of them does anyway.) During the recent training (mandated by state law so I used to get my annual inoculation when I was on the commission) I’m told that the message was reinforced again. Since I have been outspoken about making Springdale’s government much more “public and accountable”, my efforts were discussed at some length. Most of Springdale’s government didn’t think my ideas about “public and accountable” were good at all.

Why? That’s what this is about.

The first line of defense, back when I was a commissioner, was that public officials were simply not allowed to participate by law. But then I found  Section 210 of Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act

52-4-210.   Electronic message transmissions.

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to restrict a member of a public body from transmitting an electronic message to other members of the public body at a time when the public body is not convened in an open meeting.

A member of Springdale’s staff protested that, “This bill is just one of many crazy freaking things they did that year.”

Maybe so, maybe no. As I responded, “Section 210 remains the law of the land.”

Then, a member of Springdale’s staff wrote to me, “Springdale will not be sponsoring or participating in online deliberations regarding issues that are governed by the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, no matter what format such deliberations take.”

Well … That’s pretty final. I wrote back that:

The key is in 52-4-103.   Definitions. Here’s paragraph 5, complete and uncut. Bolding has been added to the key phrases for emphasis.

            (5) (a) “Meeting” means the convening of a public body, with a quorum present, including a workshop or an executive session whether the meeting is held in person or by means of electronic communications, for the purpose of discussing, receiving comments from the public about, or acting upon a matter over which the public body has jurisdiction or advisory power.

            (b) “Meeting” does not mean:

            (i) a chance meeting;

            (ii) a social meeting;

            (iii) the convening of a public body that has both legislative and executive responsibilities where no public funds are appropriated for expenditure during the time the public body is convened and:

            (A) the public body is convened solely for the discussion or implementation of administrative or operational matters for which no formal action by the public body is required; or

            (B) the public body is convened solely for the discussion or implementation of administrative or operational matters that would not come before the public body for discussion or action; or

            (iv) a meeting of the State Tax Commission to consider a confidential tax matter in accordance with Section 59-1-405.

My interpretation of all this is that the online discussion I advocate IS NOT A MEETING under the terms of the act.

Bottom line, participating in a public forum is legal and all the scare talk is just that. Any member of the Springdale government who chooses not to participate in “public and accountable” discussions is making that decision on his or her own, not because of the law.

By the way, I haven’t received a reply from “town staff” to that email message.
(Actually … there was a technical glitch. See below.)

At this point, I need to draw a distinction between town staff and the rest of Springdale’s government. Town staff works for a boss. His name is Rick. They can make and follow any policy that Rick decides is necessary and proper. In multiple conversations, Rick has always totally and unconditionally rejected the idea of a Springdale public forum – most recently just last month. So, I can see where it might not be a great idea for a member of town staff to start posting forum messages … at least not until Rick is advised by HIS boss – the town council – that the policy isn’t right for Springdale.

Members of Springdale’s government don’t have to follow Rick’s rules. But the commission and the council are quite different too. The council is elected and the commission is appointed. That means that the council can get rid of any member of the commission for any reason, including making public comments. That’s what happened to me.

I was thrown off the planning commission for writing articles in the St. George News. Technically, my term of office was up and I wasn’t reappointed, but my reappointment had been agreed to and the item to make it official was on the public agenda. On the day of the meeting, I was informed that, due to the fact that I was still writing for the News, they had changed their mind. The item was simply deleted from the agenda. I was there. I was looking forward to at least a discussion along the lines of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution during the council meeting … but I was never given that opportunity.

So I can see where a member of the planning commission might be a little reluctant to exercise 1st Amendment rights.

This brings us to the town council. They’re elected so they can do what they want. I’m going to be asking candidates specific questions about the 1st Amendment when the next election rolls around.

As a final note, you might have noticed that … other than me … you can’t tell who said what in this article. That’s intentional. That’s Springdale’s intent. Do you think that’s right?

Addendum … 7 May 2014

I had a conversation with Tom Dansie, Springdale DCD, after last night’s planning commission meeting. He said that he hadn’t received the email I quoted above and said that it wasn’t the first time he had missed receiving email. He said that he concluded that he had missed something when he read this Sunday Sermon. Horrified, I promised to resend and to post this retraction.

In the meantime, Tom evidently only objects to a public forum and emails are OK. In fact, in a different message, I proposed …

(1) posting questions in my report
(2) emailing the same questions
(3) posting his replies in an addendum to the report

Tom seemed to be OK with that. It seems to be walking backward around the barn to me, but my goal is a “public and accountable” online discussion that anyone in ZiCC can read and/or respond to. This method does seem to accomplish at least some of my goal, so that’s what I’m going to do.

In fact, I’m already started because Tom has now replied in depth to this Sunday Sermon and, in particular, to my interpretation of Utah law. And thoroughly too!! It may take me a day or so to reply, especially since I now have the report for last night’s meeting to post.

Stay tuned!!

Sunday Sermon: Topics for the Springdale Community Discussion

As I reported a few days ago, Springdale will finally be hosting a community discussion during the evening of May 8. The original reason was a directive from the town council to the planning commission to hold one to clarify the topics raised by the survey sent out last year. But since the Springdale General Plan will have to be revised again, the topics discussed will more likely be centered around the General Plan now.

Now is the time to decide what’s important to you. I’ve included a couple of things I want to discuss. Include them here as comments or send them to me attached to an email.

The Springdale General Plan – What is it?

When I became a member of the planning commission, I really didn’t have a clear idea. Since then, it has become much clearer. You can think of it as being, “The Springdale Constitution”.

If you search for “general plan utah” on the web, you’ll see that every town and city from Big Water to Salt Lake has one. The reason can be found in Title 10 of Utah state law:

Municipal Land Use, Development, and Management Act

“In order to accomplish the purposes of this chapter, each municipality shall prepare and adopt a comprehensive, long-range general plan …”

State law specifically gives the planning commission authority over the General Plan although the council has to vote to approve it. This is why the agenda item in town council where planning commission activity is discussed is called, “The General Plan Report”.

The reason the General Plan is important can be found in 10-9a-406,

After the legislative body has adopted a general plan, no street, park, or other public way, ground, place, or space, no publicly owned building or structure, and no public utility, whether publicly or privately owned, may be constructed or authorized until and unless it conforms to the current general plan.

You have to admit, that’s a comprehensive statement! Decisions by the council and planning commission can, and have, been appealed to the courts because they didn’t conform to the General Plan, just like laws can be overturned because they violate the Constitution.

So … the Springdale General Plan is important. You can find the Springdale General Plan on their website at:

If the General Plan is so important, why don’t we understand it?

According to last year’s survey, just a little over 14 percent of the 195 people who responded said they understood the General Plan “very well”. Almost three times as many – almost 41 percent – said they didn’t understand it well at all. (See Note Below) That’s understandable, actually. The blasted thing is 14 chapters long and filled with lofty prose. It doesn’t really look much like a legal document.

The current General Plan has some interesting wrinkles in it. For example, almost 60 percent of the survey respondents said they wanted “more information on the town website”, yet the General Plan only mentions the town website in connection with “Economic Development”. The General Plan also calls for …

The Town Council prepare (sic) a semi-annual progress report, including a schedule of selected initiatives for the subsequent six and twelve months. The report will be published to the Town website with a one page summary mailed to Springdale owners and residents with the newsletter.

Hmmmm … I don’t actually recall seeing anything like that. Do you?

What I would like to see in the General Plan

The New York Times (The Greatest Newspaper in the World) published an editorial in today’s Sunday edition titled, The Koch Attack on Solar Energy. In brief, the owners of carbon based power (coal, oil) are trying to eliminate the growing threat of competition from renewable energy like solar. There was recently a fight in the planning commission on this same subject just a few months ago. (See: Springdale Planning Commission – 5 November 2013) The Springdale General Plan has a fairly strong statement on renewable energy, but there’s nothing on solar power specifically although there is an implementation strategy.

The Town of Springdale has been a leader in Washington County in adopting and promoting practices that reduce our dependence on and consumption of natural resources. When used in this context, “sustainability” means employing strategies that will help preserve limited natural resources for future generations. The Town Council and most town residents strongly support the use of renewable energy, conservation, recycling, community gardening, alternative forms of transportation, and other strategies that reduce consumption of natural resources. The town desires to outline a plan for future sustainability programs and practices, as detailed in the goals, objectives, and strategies of this chapter.

Here’s the “implementation strategy” about solar power:

Where appropriate, make allowances for solar energy installations on residential and commercial buildings that comply with existing design regulations and do not impact neighboring properties.

I’d like to see a much stronger statement encouraging the use of solar power here in Springdale. There were several strong statements about it in the survey. One person, for example, asked, “Where are the solar panels?”

But like all written questions directed to the commission and council, I don’t see an answer.



Commissioner Mike Marriott noted this same statistic in the 4 February 2014 planning commission meeting, but he interpreted it as “we’re not doing so badly”. This really illustrates two points.

1 – Why the original survey really doesn’t answer the question, “What do Springdale citizens think?”

2 – The value of having computer searchable documents. How else do you think I found Commissioner Marriott’s three month old comment?

Sunday Sermon: Values! Everybody’s Got ‘Em!

valuesIn a recent email, I wrote that a friend had been successful in getting an ordinance changed by focusing on their own value, and that the focus was perfectly justifiable. I focus on my own values. Other people focus on their own values. You focus on your own values.

To me, this was a generic statement about something everybody does, like breathing. “I breathe. They breathe. You breathe. Everybody breathes. It’s a condition of life.” But my friend took it as an accusation; that the values of others had been ignored or disregarded. Nothing could have been further from what I intended.

(Being misinterpreted might be the most discouraging thing that happens to me in my quest for “public and accountable” communication. To my great distress, it does happen a lot. I read and re-read everything I post over and over to try to ensure that what I’m trying to say is what the text actually does say. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people disagree with me. But it bothers me a lot when they don’t understand me.)

In that same email, I wrote, “When we start to think that (to borrow from Gullivar’s Travels) breaking your eggs on the wrong end is grounds for a war, then we have a problem.”

(For those who think that Gullivar’s Travels is about a guy named Gullivar and little tiny people, it’s really biting sarcasm about values. The little people were fighting a full scale war and killing each other over which end of a soft boiled egg to break. It’s amazing to me that Jonathan Swift, the author, got away with some of the things he wrote without being burnt at the stake.)

That’s the problem with values. Everybody thinks their own are somehow automatically superior to everybody else’s values.

The Bible actually has something to say about this. In Romans, the English Standard version states:

One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats. … Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Hey!! Roxy and I have been vegetarians for thirty years! Who you calling, “weak”, Bub? Isn’t that passing judgment on vegetarians?

Dietary laws are one of the most common ways that cultures discriminate against each other. One group doesn’t eat pork. Another abstains from shellfish. I’ve even heard of a weird group that doesn’t drink coffee.

It can get serious! The Rebellion of 1857 in India was caused when “soldiers were asked to bite off the paper cartridges for their rifles which were greased with animal fat, namely beef and pork. This was, and is, against the religious beliefs of Hindus and Muslims.” (Wikipedia) More than more than 100,000 Indians were killed in that rebellion.

More recently, when Muslim fundamentalists occupied northern Chad last year, they immediately started enforcing Sharia law which resulted in musicians being executed and centuries old documents being destroyed in the ancient city of Timbuktu.

The point is that values don’t really have to make sense, but they’re deadly real and we all have them. We couldn’t exist without some internal code to guide our daily lives. But trouble always erupts when we think that our own values have to be followed by others.

When the United States of America was born in 1787, the value of “property rights” overruled “human rights” because some humans were property at the time. The value of maintaining a sexual hierarchy overruled a value of women’s rights for a long time too. The value that only a traditional marriage between a man and a woman should be allowed was supreme until very recently, but that value is crumbling right now and won’t last much longer.

Academic philosophers call this whole discussion “moral relativism”. “Moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.” (Wikipedia)

Should we really? The German Nazis had a value that racial purity – THEIR racial purity – had such a high value that it justified genocide of millions. Should we have simply tolerated that value? We did tolerate it more recently in Uganda. The answers are not easy.

Closer to home, I wrote a Sunday Sermon about the value of native plants and animals: If It Lives Here, Then It Belongs Here. I know that some of the values I suggested clash strongly with deeply held values of some of my closest friends here. My point in writing that article, and this one, is not to say that my values are superior to theirs. My point is that we ought to think about values rather than just accepting whatever we happen to hold dear in our hearts. Maybe what we hold dear isn’t really such a good idea after all. Maybe it’s just something that we learned early in life and never questioned. Maybe it’s something that we were talked into but it really isn’t good for us.

Americans generally believe in the value, “bacteria – bad; antiseptic – good”. We were sold that value by people who want us to buy stuff. Now they’re selling us other stuff – probiotic yogurt; digestive supplements – that exactly reverses the value. Now, we’re being told, “bacteria – good”. Health science is discovering that a dirty, germ-filled childhood is necessary for a vigorous adult immune system. We’re learning that the antiseptics we are being sold in thousands of products are breeding superbugs that can kill us. It’s a value that we were talked into by clever advertising, but maybe it really isn’t good for us.

We all need values, but we don’t need values that we never question. One of my most cherished values is, “Always question your values!” I even question whether I should question my values. But if I question that value, then doesn’t that mean that I really shouldn’t question my values? So how can I justify questioning that value since that’s the value that allows me to question the value itself?

I’m confused now.

Sunday Sermon: Fort Sumpter – “Dixie Style”

April 12, 2014 — Exactly 103 years after the act that started the Civil War.

Federal personal moved men and equipment to a facility built and operated by “the united states” … note the lack of capitalization: “states united to work together for the benefit of all” … to enforce the laws of “The United States of America“.  “Politicians screamed about the legality and appropriateness of this provocative move”. (Copied from history web site: “Fort Sumter – April 12 – 14, 1861”.) Because men and equipment were threatened with violence by individuals in rebellion against the laws of the US, federal officials abandoned their plans to defend a federal facility and moved them to a safer location to avoid a possible bloody confrontation.

Students of Civil War history will recognize this as one way to describe the decision of Major Robert Anderson, US Army commander in Charleston, South Carolina, to move troops and guns from the mainland to Fort Sumpter in Charleston harbor. The local government officials in South Carolina decided to rebel against the established government and the Civil War was on. The war started by this action killed more Americans than any other war in US history, including World War II.

In other news …

Supporters, some of them armed, rallied Saturday around Cliven Bundy in his showdown with U.S. rangers over cattle grazing on federal land, forcing a temporary shutdown of northbound lanes of Interstate 15 near his ranch, the Nevada Highway Patrol said Saturday.

Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” said Neil Kornze, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

( – Saturday, April 12, 2014)

The Washington County Commission, in emergency session, and all five members of the Utah congressional delegation have opposed cooperation with the BLM that would allow movement of cattle legally seized from the Bundy ranch through or into Utah. Their stated justification is the health and safety of the Utah cattle industry, but the practical effect is to make it harder for federal officials to carry out their responsibilities. And there is no question about the sympathies of the hard right in this confrontation. They’re the ones with guns who shut down I-15.

They don’t call it “Utah’s Dixie” for nothing.