Thursday, April 02, 2009

Utah Voters - Snookered Again

Ex-legislators can still register as lobbyists, it seems, immediately after losing or vacating their seats

By Curmudgeon

Well, we [the voters] have been snookered yet again by Utah's Republican legislative majority. Remember the ethics reform package that passed this term? The one papers like the Standard-Examiner thought involved, at best, minimal reform but was at least a start in that direction? And remember one of the lynchpins of that so-called reform was that it banned former legislators from lobbying the legislature for at least a year after they left the house or senate? It closed "the revolving door" for at least a year?

Well, guess what? It didn't. The bill the boys in Salt Lake passed has a loophole which permits former legislators to register as lobbyists immediately after leaving the house or senate. No delay at all. The SL Trib has the story in one of its lead editorials this morning:
Revolving door - Lobbyist law may have a loophole
Rep. Brad Dee [R-Washington Terrace], one of the bill's lead sponsors, insists the loophole was not intended. That it was inadvertent. A mis-understanding. He needs to talk to Sen. Bramble [Troglodyte, Provo]. If the boys are going to sell this scam to the public, they need to get their stories straight. Here's Bramble on the loophole:

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, tells The Tribune that he believes "most legislators were" aware of the loophole. "The bill was plain on its face."

So, the great ethics reform bill [politely so called] was a sham. And Rep. Dee either didn't understand what was in his own bill, or [as Sen. Bramble, one of Dee's party's own legislative leaders, implies] he did know what the bill said and would do, and so is now not being honest when he claims he didn't.

Yes, ex-legislators can still register as lobbyists, it seems, immediately after losing or vacating their seats. What a surprise....


ozboy said...

Mr. Curmudgeon

In the Utah legislature it's called just another day at the office. Nothing is ever as represented by the NeoCon rupublicans that control all things political here in Fry Sauce land.

OgdenLover said...

The foxes aren't guarding the hen house. The foxes are disguised as hens.

dan s. said...

This is why we need to teach our students to read and write carefully.

At one level, it looks like the "loophole" is merely intended to exempt former legislators who lobby on behalf of themselves or a business they already own or work for. And such an exemption is needed (at least up to a point), because we can't take away someone's First Amendment right to petition the government.

But the loose wording certainly can be interpreted more broadly to exempt any free-lance lobbying at all (though not working for a firm that specializes in lobbying). And I'm sure that some legislators (who knows how many) voted for it with this broad exemption in mind.

What I'm really wondering is why the press didn't pick up on this loophole before the legislation passed. Didn't the reporters read the bill?

The Lovely Jennifer said...


Ethics in the legislature? Since when ...


The Lovely Jennifer said...

Dan S.

I took a philosophy course (Critical Thinking from a Dr. P.V.) ... asked him why he was having us read all these crazy left and right political publications ... his answer (loosely translated):

So we can learn to wade through the BS and figure out quickly enough what they are really saying. Hopefully with enough time to react to and get someone to fix the loopholes.

More people should take that class, methinks.


dan s. said...


Philosophy is second only to physics in teaching students how to think clearly.

Curmudgeon said...


Some kinds of philosophy are based on clear and exacting thinking. Some, not so much. And the field is fairly well down in the rankings in teaching students how to express what they're thinking clearly --- just ahead of Ed schools.

Now history...properly taught, of course... there's a discipline that teaches people how to think clearly, how to assess evidence intelligently, how to recognize dreck when they come across it and how to write well to boot.

But physics is nice too.

monotreme said...

A good friend of mine is a researcher in meteorology and a heck of a tornado chaser as well.

One day I was "touring the facilities" at NOAA in Boulder where she works, and I was marvelling at the supercomputers and intellect that went into analyzing such complex systems.

She said, with her usual enthusiasm, "It's SIMPLE!!! It's just ENERGY TRANSFER!!!"

I use that a lot. My field is simple. It's just energy transfer. So is Dan's.

Rocket science? Energy transfer. Brain surgery? Energy transfer.

History, however, is hopelessly complex and abstruse.

bullet sponge said...

As a computer programmer I've found I carry over the same skills it takes to design and troubleshoot software into cutting through the bull that clouds the majority of people's opinions. Basic logic separates the intelligent points from the emotional and/or egotistical garbage. So I guess some computer science classes would be in order as well :)

Curmudgeon said...


You wrote: History, however, is hopelessly complex....

Yup. Exactly like life. In the real world, that is. Thanks for the plug.

Thought for the day:

"History: it isn't what it used to be!"

The Lovely Jennifer said...

Dan S.

I thoroughly enjoyed the philosophy course. Majored in Math though, not Physics. Econ also gave me plenty to think about, though at times it isn't too clear. :)

Math, like physics, is reliable. Unlike philosophy & politics. History doesn't change - but can motivate future change -- or not. Some polititions promise change, but all we really end up getting is the same old BS with a new name.

'night all


Curmudgeon said...


History doesn't change? Wow. I'd be hard put to think of a single short sentence about history less correct than that one.

And as for physics being "reliable" [or even comprehensible]... read much about string theory lately?

The Ever Lovely Jennifer said...

Curmy: Mwah! I love you, man.

History - meaning that which has already happened - does not change. We cannot change what has already happened. What is happening right now isn't history until it is done, then it cannot be changed.

"a. A usually chronological record of events, as of the life or development of a people or institution, often including an explanation of or commentary on those events;" {"history." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 03 Apr. 2009.}

"2. a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account; chronicle; 3. the aggregate of past events.
4. the record of past events and times, esp. in connection with the human race." {"history." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 03 Apr. 2009.}

Our basic laws of physics are reliable - what goes up (here on earth, anyway) always comes down. It's a matter of discovery, not invention. Physics IS. String theory is being investigated in discovery mode, in order to understand it. Once they get it figured out, they will tell us what it IS. (Help me out here, Dan S.)

You don't need to comprehend physics. Just like you don't need to comprehend electricity. We know it works, we know its basic properties and dangers and act or react accordingly.

Have a good day! Happy Friday!


dan s. said...

Speaking of physics, tonight is the 3rd annual WSU Physics Open House, 5:30 - 9:30 pm, in the Lind Lecture Hall at the northeast corner of campus. This is a free family event with lectures, demonstration shows, and hands-on activities.

Curm: I had one history prof in college who held me to the highest standards in clear writing and providing evidence, which I greatly appreciated. But they weren't all like that. I've read that physics and philosophy are the best majors to prepare a student for law school.

Curmudgeon said...

Dan S:

In re: best prep for law school, depends on who you ask. Fed Dist Judge in Baton Rouge used to recommend an English major, on grounds that it was the best prep for learning to write, to make an argument on the page which so much of effective lawyering involves. And a local law firm --- one of the largest in town --- hired an English professor to teach its attorneys how to write letters to clients that the clients had a hope in hell of understanding.

I've also had students tell me law schools recommended to them both history and political science. Never heard, until now, anyone say physics was good prep for law. Occasionally they throw philosophy into the mix. But I suppose any course of study that involved learning how to evaluate evidence rigorously, and how to martial evidence on the page to support a conclusion would be good prep.

Curmudgeon said...


Well, notice that all three of your definitions of history say it's not "the past" per se, but some kind of record of the past. All three of them. And if that's the definition you want to work with --- history is some kind of record of past occurrences and commentary thereon --- then I'm here to tell you history changes. Often. Endlessly.

A little disconcerting that two of your definition suggest history is largely a chronological arrangement of past occurrences. History hasn't been chronicle anywhere outside of badly taught high school classes for a very long time.

As for string theory being in "discovery mode," and the boys and girls are going to make it all clear to us as soon as they have it worked out. A lot of physicists wish that was so. There is a nice little firefight going on right now among theoretical physicists about whether string theory is science at all, since some string theorists are beginning to argue that, not only hasn't it been experimentally confirmed [not a crucial problem so long as it conceivably can be some day when we have better measurement capabilities]; some of them are arguing that even theoretically it cannot --- not ever --- be experimentally verified. That it really isn't, as you put it, " a matter of discovery, not invention." Which, some physicists [not string theory fans] argue means it is not science, much less physics at all. That if it cannot theoretically be physically and experimentally verified, it's "merely" philosophy.

As for the basic laws of physics being "reliable." Well, usta was [as my undergraduates sometimes say], but not any more. Much of both small particle and astro-physics these days involves the assumption [or probability] that the basic laws of physics break down under extreme conditions [think big bang or black holes], that under certain circumstances, even the basic forces [gravity, electromagnetism, the large and small nuclear forces, etc.] break down and begin behaving in very strange ways.

Your confidence that physics just is what it is, and no mistake [so to speak] is not a view, I think, shared today universally across the profession.

To which I'd say: hell, it's all that uncertainty at the edges that makes studying it fun.

Just like history.

TLJ said...

curm - not my definitions (note the citations)

curm - its friday: lighten up

curm - not so sure I love you anymore.

I like to play, but dont like to be bullied.

nothing is very much fun anymore {pink floyd - one of my turns, 1979}

Curmudgeon said...


Lighten up? Hey, TLJ, I was enjoying the conversation. Disagreeing with you about what constitutes history, and about the [supposed] certainty of physics, yes, but in no way bullying you, I think, nor trying to.

Nothing much fun anymore? Sorry about that, for you. I still think lots of things are fun. Like conversations that take off from WCF posts in very unexpected ways. [The fraud of ethics reform in the Utah Legislature somehow led to a discussion about the nature of physics and history. Who the hell would have expected that?]

Peace, TL. I was enjoying the conversation, for which thanks. Sorry you weren't.

blackrulon said...

Interesting discussions. Many fine examples given to illustrate what a slow news day brings to a comment board.

dan s. said...


Most pre-law students can't handle physics or philosophy; that's why they major in English or Political Science. I believe the data I saw were actually for LSAT scores. Physics and Philosophy majors ranked first and second--and I forget in which order.

You're absolutely right about lawyers needing to be able to write. But there's writing and there's writing. A typical English major writes a lot of literary criticism papers, full of opinions that are rarely anchored in fact. My intro course in political science required no papers at all (but then, I made the mistake of not taking it from Paul Wellstone--perhaps the biggest mistake of my undergraduate years).

Your discussion of string theory is full of distortions--for which I blame not you but a few disgruntled physicists and the popular press.

Let me give you an analogy that's imperfect but perhaps helpful: global warming. There are hundreds upon hundreds of scientists working on the subject, learning more all the time, turning yesterday's open questions into tomorrow's accepted facts. And among them there are a small number of gadflies who, for whatever reason, refuse to accept the consensus and use the popular press to express their dissent. This activity is actually useful to the discipline, because sometimes a dissenter will have a valid (though usually minor) point, and this encourages everyone to use the most rigorous standards of evidence. Meanwhile, though, a significant segment of the general public get the impression that there is no consensus and that the whole discipline is just a matter of one side's opinion against the other's.

It's pretty much the same with string theory. The important differences are (a) neither the mainstream scientists nor the dissenters are motivated to any appreciable extent by external political considerations; and (b) the subject is much harder for the general public to understand. The first of these factors tends to lessen the danger that the public will get the wrong impression, but this effect is approximately canceled by the second factor.

Curmudgeon said...


You've opened up lots of additional topics, not least of which is whether the LSAT is a good predictor of how successful someone will be in law school, or how "good" an attorney he or she will be after it. [Same argument for the GRE or SAT or any standardized test.] But that's an argument for another day.

As for likening string theory to global warming, and suggesting that the former is as well established in physics today as global warming is among climatologists... well, from what I'm reading, that analogy is a poor one. From what I'm reading, string theory is a long way from being as well-established empirically as global warming is. A long way.

Do you really think the great majority... overwhelming majority... of physicists today would agree that string theory, today, is as solidly established on empirical grounds as is global warming?

[Sources: Most of what I've read about string theory, & the current state thereof, comes from Brian Greene's book [not the tv version], plus occasional additional articles in Tuesday's NYT Tuesday "Science Times" section. If you've got better ones to suggest, by all means do so.]

Not quite sure what you think I've distorted. Scientists [much like historians] get to arguing now and then about "What is science?" [akin to "What is history?"] And again, from what I'm reading, people in the field are suggesting that some speculations of modern physics may never be empirically verifiable. Which has triggered discussions about whether something that is not, even in theory, falsifiable, can be considered science at all.

TLJ said...

curm - you are just sometimes way too over my head (PhD vs B.S.) And I got out of a Physics minor by explaining to my Math advisor I wanted to be an actuary when I grow up. So I minored in English instead. Maybe I shoulda taken Physics so I could enjoy these conversations more.

I'm fine (freaked out, insecure, neurotic & emotional). Female of the species has a tendency to be moody. That would be me.

Peace back at ya.

The poetry I chose to memorize for my Senior Lit course:

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast;

He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For our dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.

Be sure yourself and your own reach to know
How far your genius, taste and learning go.
Launch not beyond your depth, but be descreet
And mark that point where sense and dullness meet.

In wit, as nature, what affects our hearts
Is not the exactness of peculiar parts, [...]
'Tis not a lip or eye we beauty call,
But the joint force and full result of all.

The bookfull blockhead, ignorantly read,
With loads of learned lumber in his head,
With his own tongue still edifies his hears
And always listening to himself appears.

Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes
And pause a while from letters to be wise;

For peace is nigh
Where wisdom's voice has found a listening heart.

Then let us pray, that come it may,
And come it will for a' that;
That sense and worth, o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gill, and a' that;
For a' that and a' that
It's coming yet for a' that
That man to man the world o'er
Shall brothers be for a' that.


ozboy said...

Mr. Curmudgeon ya shoulda been a lawyer! Ya woulda knocked it clean outa the park cause you are one arguing machine if I ever saw one!

Curmudgeon said...


Well, Oz, discussing disagreements... aka holding conversations... with interesting well-informed people is kind of fun, I think. And I learn things that, sometimes, lead me to change my mind. [It happens.]

Now about "shoulda been a lawyer." Ahem. I have some standards, sir!

By the way, on the off chance that there is someone out there who has not already been bored to the point of planning to drink Clorox if they see one more post on the topic, there's a recent summary article out [April 2009] discussing the current disagreements among physicists about string theory. Link here.

NB: I have no opinion whatsoever on the disputes among physicists about string theory or superstrings or alternate universes or M-theory etc. I'm not qualified to even begin to form one. Only offering the article as evidence that physicists themselves are debating such matters as I mentioned above to TLJ.

dan s. said...

Curm: Granted, LSAT scores aren't going to be perfectly correlated with law school grades, much less with success as a practicing lawyer. But at least we have data on LSAT scores for students majoring in various fields. If you have conflicting data to offer, please share it.

I stand by my analogy between global warming and string theory. I'm not an expert on either, but I've followed the development of both fields of research for well over two decades. My information comes not just from reading popular books and articles but also from reading (or more often, browsing) technical articles, and from talking to many researchers in both fields. As I tried to explain above, you don't get an accurate perspective on the subject by reading articles in the New Yorker.

You asked what the "great majority of physicists" would say about string theory. That's like asking what the great majority of meteorologists (including TV weather reporters) would say about global warming. In both cases you'll find plenty of skepticism and just plain ignorance, but you're asking the wrong people. For string theory you want physics researchers who work on string theory or something closely related (quantum gravity or grand unified theories). For global warming you want scientists who do research on long-term climatic trends, past and present. Again, I think the level of consensus over the big picture is similar, with plenty of acknowledgment that there are many unanswered questions.

The specifics of the fields are, of course, very different, and this is reflected in the types of evidence used to judge truth from falsehood. String theory is highly mathematical and so, naturally, mathematical reasoning plays a much more fundamental role. Climatology is much more empirical but has the weakness of having to rely heavily on imperfect statistical data.

When you quote someone saying that "some speculations in theoretical physics may never be theoretically verifiable", please keep in mind that that statement is, itself, speculation. But it's certainly not accurate to apply that statement to the whole framework of string theory. Similarly, you could make such a statement about many specific speculations on earth's past and present climate. The data just isn't complete enough to answer every question. But it wouldn't be correct to throw out the whole subject and say it isn't science.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like my analogy.

here's for the hero said...

Well It was Rep Hansen Democrat from Ogden that was the only one to see this loop hole and voted against the bill. The only Representative to vote against it. I got to admire the one that is right.

But yet the press beat him up for pointing out the flaw and voting against the bill.
I just love Rep. Hansen, He is my kind of hero.

Curmudgeon said...


Be careful. You are in grave danger, any minute now, of having Oz tell you you should have been a lawyer. [grin]

dan s. said...

Curm: Thanks. Must be my physics training.

The open house begins in half an hour!

Anonymous said...

We clicked on this link to find a heady discussion of ontological history theory, Peter (venn diagram) Vernesse, lsats, string theory, and Rep. Hansen.
Almost like a coffee breakfast at Reed College.

As a rascal-rogue legal guy, and a lay physicist, we can attest:
Cause and effect often ignore the arrow of time. Sometimes events in the future affect the past.
Just don't count on it.

Surely, this thread is one of the reasons we love this town.

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