Monday, March 19, 2018

The Virtue Signaling Religion

Back around the beginning of this century, Gordon B. Hinckley, our beloved prophet at the time, wrote a book titled Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes. The “Standing for Something” part refers to a saying: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
I own the book, but I
got the image here

The book is about our need to return from the secularization of our culture. In the introduction he says,

People who carry in their hearts a strong conviction concerning the living reality of the Almighty and their accountability to Him for what they do with their lives are far less likely to become enmeshed in problems that inevitably weaken society. The loss of this conviction, the almost total secularizing of our public attitudes, has been largely responsible for the terrible social illnesses now running rampant among us (p. xix).
I think there’s a connection between this loss of God and a movement toward a whole long list of alternative “virtues” that don’t qualify as ultimately good, because ultimate good is defined by God. In short, when people stop relying on God, they fall for all kinds of substitutes.

People like to be able to think well of themselves. A traditional way of measuring your own goodness has been through religion. And that has been effective. Religious people tend to think about things bigger than themselves, related to pleasing God and effecting good for the rest of the human family. This leads to stronger intact families, celebrating life and protecting the lives of others, honesty, respect of property ownership, service, sharing, helping, kindness, and other things we typically think of as virtuous.

People who fail to believe in God still want to think well of themselves, but they don’t have the same source of guidance. They may still adhere to many of the behaviors in the above list. Or their secular religion might come up with another whole list of “virtues.”

They might shun some of the traditional virtues—particularly sexual purity. And then, in an effort to let those around them know that they have reason to think well of themselves, they do outward behaviors to signal their perceived virtue. They virtue signal. To themselves as much as to others.

And along with virtue-signaling, they might also shame anyone who doesn’t join them in their “religious” behavior. 

That’s where we have problems. It’s hard to find common ground when one person is shaming another—either direction. Sometimes these very people shove their beliefs down the throats of everyone around them while shouting, “Stop shoving your beliefs down our throats.” And they do this completely without self-awareness.

People might not be aware these days of some ancient history patterns. We think we’ve grown beyond the pagan, or the superstitious. But some of the virtues being signaled today are the same, with some wording differences and technological updates, as ancient pagan practices.
We can categorize some of these anti-religion’s tenets.

Worship of Environment and Animals above Human Life

I wrote this last year, after the US stepped away from the Paris Accords:

Climatism (not climate-related science, but the thing you’re not allowed to question) looks to me like a pagan religion. The sacrifices being required of us in the essentially vain hope that such sacrifices will appease the climate gods look eerily similar to throwing people into the volcano. It might make people feel like they have some control over something out of their power, but it doesn’t actually affect an eruption—and it’s really bad for the ones who get thrown into the volcano.
Are there reasons to be concerned about clean atmosphere and water? Of course. We’re better off with clean air and water. But the more advanced technologically a country gets—much of that from fossil fuels—the better air and water quality. In fact, we have made so much progress that way that there was a sudden shift from worrying about carbon monoxide to worrying about the very natural and positive carbon dioxide.

Should we be concerned because of climate models? Maybe, but they’ve been so consistently wrong so far that changing our entire lifestyle seems extreme.

And saving water is a good idea, especially if you’re in a drought area, because getting enough potable water for a large population is a challenge. But, the world is not running out of water. I saw a documentary in the IMAX theater of a museum once that showed a very dry part of the US, and talked about the worry of running out of water. I was puzzled, because they didn’t say “here”; they said it as though the world is losing water.

But, if you were taught the water cycle in grade school, then you know that water from the atmosphere comes down as rain, and makes its way into groundwater or into streams and rivers that eventually flow into the ocean. When something wet dries, that water goes into the atmosphere. And sun shining on lakes and oceans causes water to evaporate into the atmosphere. That’s how it gets there to come down as rain or snow. And the cycle goes on.

Water molecules are made up of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom. Those are elements. They don’t disappear. Even if you disconnect the hydrogen and oxygen, you don’t lose them; they stay here as part of our earth, and they can be reconnected. (“Sciencing” was used in the novel The Martian, about an astronaut trapped on Mars, explaining how to “make” water.)

Example of virtue signaling found here

Should we be concerned because of climate models? Maybe, but they’ve been so consistently wrong so far that changing our entire lifestyle seems extreme.

Another aspect of ancient pagan religions is to honor animals above humans. No other species would sacrifice its entire species out of guilt that its existence fails to always positively impact some other species. Species are designed to perpetuate themselves. It isn’t virtuous to feel guilty for being human; it’s unnatural and ungrateful.

So, if you’ve been virtue signaling in one of the following ways, you might want to ask yourself how you know what you do is virtuous. And then, if you can’t explain it so clearly, logically, and unemotionally to a nonbeliever that you convert with persuasion, maybe you’d better stop the shaming as well:

·         Feeling panicked about global warming.
·         Driving a Prius or other electric status vehicle.
·         Pushing for alternative energy sources—except not nuclear.
·         Eating vegetarian or vegan, not just for your health, but because you believe your species has no right to eat other species.

Sexual Depravity and Human Sacrifice

Related to valuing other species above humans also shows up as human sacrifice in pagan, savage societies. Certainly we ought to be beyond that. And yet that is a pretty good description of abortion.
Some ancient societies do away with the old and infirm. That is what euthanasia is.

Savage societies typically fail to honor monogamy. This leads to a lot of social failures we’ve known about for a long time, as described by Vico and Unwin. (I’ve written a fuller discussion here.)

A side issue related to failing on monogamy is the spread of what have always been considered deviant behaviors: homosexuality and gender confusion. Finding better ways to treat people with these issues has to be a more humane approach. But tolerating and embracing deviancy isn’t enlightened; it’s very old and very pagan.

So, if you’ve been approving of the following things in an attempt to virtue signal, you might also want to ask yourself how you know what you do is virtuous. And again, if you can’t explain your reasoning so clearly, logically, and unemotionally to a nonbeliever that you convert with persuasion, maybe you’d better stop the shaming as well:

·         Alternative sexual lifestyles
·         Promiscuity
·         Homosexuality
·         Same-sex “marriage”
·         Transgenderism
·         Sexual freedom (promiscuity) for minors
·         Abortion
o   Favoring government funding and approval
o   Refusing any limits to abortion
·         Divorce for any reason
·         Benefits to couples whether married or not
·         Pro-masculinity for women
·         Anti-masculinity for men

Ruler as God

Another tactic of ancient potentates—kings, emperors, pharaohs, etc.—was to replace the people’s religion, setting themselves up as god incarnate, or perhaps an idol that they create as the object of the ruler's new religion. Then the people had to be loyal to him or be prosecuted (and usually executed) for heresy. The people were instructed to bow down to their god/ruler, pay him whatever assessment he charged, and then he, their god/ruler, would look on them favorably.

I don’t know if the ancient king who set up a fiery furnace for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego offered amenities that some “subjects” expect of their government today. Life was brutal, so maybe just less imposed brutality was enough to buy their subjects’ worship. But today, in exchange for “worship” of the government/ruler, people speak as though government is doing the divvying out of good things so that the “subjects” can be absolved from needing to give.

So it becomes something virtue-signalers do when they “take care of the poor and less fortunate” by having government confiscate wealth from some to give to others. And they feel charitable doing this—even though it was coerced, and therefore not charitable giving by them or anyone else.

And anyone who even mentions that government interference actually makes things worse (look at welfare recipients since the War on Poverty began in the 1960s) is shamed as cold and hateful—even if that person is personally giving a tithe and more in actual charity and the virtue-signaling shamer has given nothing.

As we say here at the Spherical Model pretty often, 

If the government wants to implement something beyond the proper role of government, not only will government fail to achieve the stated goals; it will likely do exactly opposite of the stated goal.
So, if you’ve been approving of the following things in an attempt to virtue signal—you’re getting the idea—ask yourself how you know what you do is virtuous. And once again, if you can’t explain your reasoning so clearly, logically, and unemotionally to a nonbeliever that you convert with persuasion, maybe you’d better stop the shaming as well:

·         Socialism

·         Anti-capitalism
·         More government regulation
·         Infringing on First Amendment rights: religion, speech, assembly,
·         Gun control
·         Welfare unrelated to work or ways to get off welfare
·         Ignore or reimagine the Constitution
·         Public school monopoly of education
·         Socialized medicine

The list could go on. The point is that our disagreements go deep—as deep as religious beliefs. If we are ever to have peace, we need to learn to respect people with different beliefs, stop assigning them epithets—racist, homophobic, transphobic, hateful, bigoted, science denier, etc.—simply for not following a new, unpersuasive list of virtues.

And if we want more civilization and less savagery, we need a religious people who recognize virtue in honoring God, life, family, truth,and property.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Reality Is Kinder

Have you ever known anyone with anorexia? I’ve known a couple. Their brain is telling them that they are fat, that they must do something to lose weight, when in reality they are dangerously thin. They starve themselves, affecting their health, possibly causing permanent damage, and risking their life if left untreated. It is treatable, but not easily.

Would you go to such a person and support them in their delusion about themselves? Would you say, “You’re right; those people who are telling you that you don’t know what you’re talking about are so unsupportive. You stay away from that food all you want”?

No. If you care about them, you do whatever it takes to bring them back to reality—because their life is at stake. You get them mental health care. You might get them to a hospital or live-in program that will intervene long enough to get their brains to develop new neural pathways.

So, can we agree that, when a person has a mental disorder that causes them to be unable to perceive or accept reality—if that delusion is life-threatening, it would be better to offer treatment than to attempt to change the world to buy in to their false view?

If we compare this anorexia example to gender dysphoria, leading to transgenderism, we need to know two things:

·         Is the person with gender dysphoria unable to accept reality?
·         Is going along with the delusion (if that is what it is) life threatening?
If the answer is yes to both, then the treatment for gender dysphoria ought to be similar in process to treating anorexia or other mental delusions. I’m not saying the treatment is the same, or even that I know how to treat mental delusions. I am saying that treating for the delusion is a more humane approach than supporting the delusion.
image from here

I’m not the first to make this comparison. The CanaVox video blog uses this as a way to discuss transgenderism in an age appropriate way when it comes up with children. And, because of media, and activists within academia, these issues are coming up for children at younger ages than we wish. I'm unable to provide the video here, but this link will take you to the 5-minute video on Vimeo.

Let’s start with definitions. Back when my dictionary was written (which I use in order to recall what certain words meant before recent definition changes), gender referred mainly to the classification of nouns and pronouns in languages that use those distinctions. In Spanish, for example, you can’t communicate without knowing the gender of the nouns and modifiers you’re using. In English, gender is mainly confined to pronouns that are referring to the sex of a person or animal: he, she. But, colloquially, gender can also be a synonym for sex; i.e., male or female.

The invention of gender as something separate from sex, something outside of biology, is newly invented.

So, back to the two questions. There’s the scientific, biological answer. And then there’s the non-scientific, or philosophical (personal belief) answer.

The non-scientific newly invented definition insists that gender is fluid, and a matter of choice, and refers mainly to expression to the world. That’s pretty vague. But it essentially means putting on the trappings—clothing, hair, makeup, mannerisms—of the gender of choice. And this has been extended to include more elaborate expressions, by hormonal and/or surgical interventions that make the transgendered person appear more like the opposite of their biological sex.

The scientific answer is that the gender, or the sex, of a biological creature is determined by what part is played in the reproductive process of the organism.

Ryan T. Anderson, author of When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, explains it this way:
available here

Sex is a bodily reality that can be recognized well before birth with ultrasound imaging. The sex of an organism is defined and identified by the way in which it (he or she) is organized for sexual reproduction.
This is just one manifestation of the fact that natural organization is “the defining feature of an organism,” as neuroscientist Maureen Condic and her philosopher brother Samuel Condic explain. In organisms, “the various parts… are organized to cooperatively interact for the welfare of the entity as a whole. Organisms can exist at various levels, from microscopic single cells to sperm whales weighing many tons, yet they are all characterized by the integrated function of parts for the sake of the whole.”
Male and female organisms have different parts that are functionally integrated for the sake of their whole, and for the sake of a larger whole—their sexual union and reproduction. So an organism’s sex—as male or female—is identified by its organization for sexually reproductive acts. Sex as a status—male or female—is a recognition of the organization of a body that can engage in sex as an act.
That organization isn’t just the best way to figure out which sex you are; it’s the only way to make sense of the concepts of male and female at all.
There is no alternative scientific definition of sex. Maleness and femaleness are biological realities in particular organisms.

As Anderson says, this shouldn’t be controversial. In social “science,” however, the non-biological approach has gained traction. That should not be construed in any way to actual science overriding what we know of biology. Anderson quotes Dr. Lawrence Mayer:

I have searched dozens of references in biology, medicine and genetics—even Wiki!—and can find no alternative scientific definition. In fact the only references to a more fluid definition of biological sex are in the social policy literature.
Dr. Mayer says further:

Scientifically speaking, transgender men are not biological men and transgender women are not biological women. The claims to the contrary are not supported by a scintilla of scientific evidence.
So, the answer to the first question, about reality, is that gender dysphoria is a condition in which the person is unable or unwilling to accept reality. It is not possible to change from male to female, or from female to male. It is only possible to do elaborate play-acting.

There are plenty of delusions in which otherwise sane people might be unable to accept reality, and yet the delusional can go along with their lives functioning well enough anyway. So the second question is also important. Is it harmful?

“Transitioning” does not bring psychsocial outcomes of wholeness. This proves true even in countries that are considered “trans-friendly.” That is, they accept what many societies would consider weird, and take it in stride without social isolation or stigma.

Long-term follow-up studies are rare and inconclusive. But Anderson suggests the best one comes from Sweden. There, it was found,

Ten to fifteen years after surgical reassignment, the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery rose to twenty times that of comparable peers.
An argument for having transitioning treatment (hormonal and surgical) has been that it would solve the dysphoria, assuming the dysphoria was caused simply by a mismatch between brain and body. So it was assumed the depression and suicide among those with gender dysphoria would be drastically reduced. Instead, the underlying problem causing the dysphoria is untreated, leading to even greater hopelessness, and 20-fold more suicides.

It is difficult to know if that number is accurate. It may be higher. One of the difficulties with long-term studies is that the few attempted studies have lost track of more than half of participants. One likely reason for being unable to re-locate a participant is suicide.

If that weren’t tragic enough, according to Anderson, “death due to neoplasm and cardiovascular disease was increased 2 to 2.5 times as well.”

So the answer to the second question is, yes, going along with this delusion can be life threatening.
Therefore, treatment to bring the person into touch with reality is much kinder and more healthful than joining activists to change the world and insisting it is wrong to even question the “right” and “rightness” of playing along.

I am now acquainted with a transgender person, which I wasn’t aware of a week ago. I have seen several, of course. But not among people I know. This is not someone I know well. But I have known his wife since she was born, and was there for their wedding.

He has decided to become a woman, and is already undergoing hormonal therapy. He has not, prior to this, been cross-dressing. It used to be a requirement, or at least a recommendation, before transitioning “treatment,” to live as the opposite sex for a full year. Now it appears that, at the first sign of gender dysphoria, a therapist encourages transitioning—permanent changes, as yet untried, just to see whether it helps. Because a delusional person who is denying biological fact should be treated as sensible and capable of making such important decisions?

So, I am sad for the people I know who care about this young couple. So far the couple is childless, and cannot going forward ever engage in sex that results in offspring. They froze some sperm, just in case—because they’re not actually unaware of biological reality. But they stopped going to church and completely altered their lifestyle at the moment of beginning the hormonal treatments. So their support system is compromised as well. The wife is staying with him for now. But she is not a lesbian; she is not attracted to women. But staying with him forces that pretense upon her.

Also, I’m just saying, as a woman, we’re aware of body image, more so than your typical male. What are the odds that a 6”2” “woman,” who is a slightly doughy and hairy male to begin with, will be without body image issues simply by “changing” into a female?

My disapproval will matter not at all to these people; we are not close enough for me to have that influence. But I am sad that people who should have been able to offer actual help—particularly the psychiatric/medical community—offered instead something that is likely to lead to suicide, misery, and the loss of parenting opportunities and anything we might have meant when we wished this couple happiness in their marriage. I see nothing but tragedy in their situation—chosen, avoidable tragedy.

Monday, March 12, 2018

A Wrinkle in Theme

This is going to be a movie review today, plus some tangents.

We went to see A Wrinkle in Time this past weekend. I think it was opening weekend, not sure. We went to a late matinee, and shared the theater with maybe five other people.  So it’s probably not going to be a blockbuster. It was a worthwhile use of a couple of hours, especially visually. But, because I’m familiar with the book, plus a couple of other reasons, it was somewhat disappointing.

The Newbery Award winning book by Madeleine L’Engle was first published in 1962. For perspective, this science-fiction/fantasy comes seven years before the moon landing. It predates Star Trek, the TV series, by four years. It came fifteen years before the first Star Trek movie. So you can’t judge it by current science. You just need to suspend your disbelief about the science. The purpose of science fiction and fantasy is to put people (or other sentient beings) in different circumstances, so you can see more clearly the important human interactions without the noise of our world to blame things on.

Anyway, the movie does some updating and scene changing, some of it intended to make it more appropriate to our times. Some of it works, but some of it adds extra noise.

The original is set in rural New England. The Murry family is made up of both mother and father scientists, plus high schooler Meg, her ten-year-old twin brothers, and pre-kindergarten age genius brother Charles Wallace. The movie keeps the parents, lowers Meg’s age to middle school (I’m guessing; it isn’t specified), leaves out the twins, and adds an adopted Charles Wallace.

Instead of flaming red hair and porcelain skin, the beautiful mother is played by British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I didn’t recognize her, but she played Plumette in the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast. She’s mixed race but appears black, and is very attractive. That fits the book, but the movie doesn’t have her doing crazy concoctions over a Bunsen burner, and talking naturally about when her children’s father will return. Instead she’s uncertain about his disappearance, even though she’d been working on the experiments with him, and is kind of angst-filled, which doesn’t help the two kids.

Father is played by Chris Pine, who is one of the more reliable actors around these days. He’s less heroic and swashbuckling than usual here, but he’s one of the reasons I was hopeful about this movie. In the movie he’s ahead of his time and his science is scorned by others. In the book, he is part of a government team, and not the first to attempt the tesseract (which is moving through time and space, not a magical artifact as in the Marvel universe).

Anyway, the marriage of these two attractive parents means the daughter, Meg, is mixed race. Adopted Charles Wallace is unidentified. He looks maybe partly Hispanic.

One of the things I liked was that this racial updated was completely uncommented on. It just was. That is how to treat race in a movie, so I didn’t mind that.

I do miss the brothers, the rural setting, and a few other details. The change in theme is subtle, but significant. I’ll get to that in a minute.

movie poster from
The movie uses some big name star power: Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, Zach Galifianakis. Probably others I’m missing. These are big personalities in real life—and in other roles they’ve played. Except for Reese Witherspoon, who imposed a full personality on her character (different from the character in the book, but I can tolerate the differences), the others were underused. Oprah Winfrey was stiff and lifeless—so coated in glitter that maybe the stiffness was to prevent it from flaking off. The same was true for Mindy Kaling, who had the added difficulty that her character was “evolved beyond speech,” so she only spoke in quotations. The quotations were updated and didn’t always seem as apt as the ones in the book. But my disappointment was that she and Oprah seemed like prom dates with a special dress and hairdo that they’re too afraid will spoil if they get down and dance at the prom.

The Happy Medium is female in the book. I wouldn’t mind the change to male, to make use of Zach Galifianakis, if they’d made use of him. He was odd. But neither he nor Oprah nor Kaling were useful; any random unknown but decent actor could have filled any of those roles.

The child actors are adequate. Storm Reid plays Meg. Since the character was meant to be not yet attractive (her mother hadn’t been as a child either), and socially awkward, her stiffness is tolerable. We may see more from her in the future. Calvin is played by Levi Miller. He’s a pretty boy, with pretty eyes, and most of what he is required to do is look adoringly at Meg for reasons that aren’t really explained in the movie. If his job was to be of interest to tween girls, he’ll do. Charles Wallace was OK. The role required being able to speak as though he was very advanced for his age, while looking somewhat babyish. He was able to deliver the lines, but there wasn’t much acting there.

Full confession: Back in sixth grade (which was elementary school, not middle school, in my world), my class read this book and decided to turn it into a play. We typed up the dialogue and some stage directions, and then put it on for the school and our parents. I played Meg. That was the full extent of my acting career, I’m sure for good reason. Anyway, when I say the young actors were adequate, that is a complement. I think it takes a lot for a young person to provide depth to a role.

Getting back to the change in theme. This is a book I’ve used to teach my method for doing literary analysis for homeschoolers. It works for anyone, not just homeschoolers. But sometimes it’s a challenge for non-English-major moms to figure out how to talk about literature with their kids, and they resort to online lists of questions, which is almost as painful as answering a list of questions in school. This doesn’t instill a love of literature; it instills dread. So, I have this brief pattern for the conversation, and the parent can facilitate, but doesn’t need to have all the answers beforehand. They discover them together.

You list all the main characters. Then you go through each one and describe what it is that character wants, or is seeking, near the beginning of the book. Then you see if the thing they were seeking changed by the end of the book. Give evidence from the book as you answer the questions together. (And there can be disagreement; just write the extra views on the board too.) Then identify whether the characters’ individual goals were met or not—with evidence from the book. By the time you’ve gone through this discussion, you know a lot about the book, and you’re ready to try to say what the author was trying to tell you. Take a stab at a theme statement or two.

So, that’s the process. This is actually the first book I did this with in our homeschool. At the beginning of the book, Meg’s goal is to fit in, to not be different. She’s not doing well in school. People talk behind their backs about why her father is missing (the assumption that he must have run off with another woman). Meg is socially awkward, unlike her twin brothers, who seem to fit in fine.
On page 19, talking to her mother, she says, “I hate being an oddball. It’s hard on Sandy and Dennys, too. I don’t know if they’re really like everybody else, or if they’re just able to pretend they are. I try to pretend, but it isn’t any help.”

In the movie, she has troubles as well. But it appears those around her are just mean; no one in their right mind would want to “fit in” with them. She’s just suffering because life is cruel, people are cruel; and that turns out to be because of the darkness shadowing and looming above in space.

When they travel to Kamazotz, that dark mysterious planet her father disappeared to, with plans to rescue him, they come upon a tidy neighborhood with children bouncing balls. All at the same time. To the same rhythm. This shows up in the movie, too. But the scene dissolves afterward, so none of it was real. In the book, these are real people, afraid of making an error or doing anything differently.
On pages 100-101 they have a conversation with a paper route boy, who is puzzled by their being out on the streets at a time when only route boys are allowed:

“Are you examiners?” the boy asked a little anxiously. “Everybody knows our city has the best Central Intelligence Center on the planet. Our production levels are the highest. Our factories never close; our machines never stop rolling. Added to this we have five poets, one musician, three artists, and six sculptors, all perfectly channeled.”
“What are you quoting from?” Charles Wallace asked.
“The Manual, of course,” the boy said. “We are the most oriented city on the planet. There has been no trouble of any kind for centuries. All Camazotz knows our record. That is why we are the capital city of Camazotz. That is why CENTRAL Central Intelligence is located here. That is why IT makes ITs home here.”
So, of course, they go exploring to find out what IT is. Charles Wallace’s brain is captured in the process—not at all like in the movie. He becomes a voice for the IT. And he starts telling his sister to give in, to submit. To their request to see their father, the IT-controlled Charles Wallace says, “Father? What is a father?” Charles Wallace intoned. “Merely another misconception. If you feel the need of a father, then I would suggest that you turn to IT.”

Here’s something scary about it, explained through the little boy’s body:

“Perhaps you do not realize that on Camazotz we have conquered all illness, all deformity—“
We?” Calvin interrupted.
Charles continued as though he had not heard. And of course he hadn’t, Meg thought. “We let no one suffer. It is so much kinder simply to annihilate anyone who is ill. Nobody has weeks and weeks of runny noses and sore throats. Rather than endure such discomfort they are simply put to sleep.”
“You mean they’re put to sleep while they have a cold, or that they’re murdered?” Calvin demanded.
“Murder is a most primitive work,” Charles Wallace said. “There is no such thing as murder on Camazotz. IT takes care of all such things.” (p. 127).
And page or two later he adds,

“On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Difference create problems. You know that, don’t you, dear sister?”
“No,” Meg said.
“Oh, yes, you do. You’ve seen at home how true it is. You know that’s the reason you’re not happy at school. Because you’re different.”
In the book, IT is a disembodied brain set on the dias in a room in a large building. The thing is “just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying.” In the movie IT is a planet-sized brain, and they’re inside it, fighting off the occasional swinging neuron tendrils.

In the book it tries to take them in by its pulsing rhythm, so the humans resist by reciting things in their minds that won’t fit into the rhythm. In the book, at Calvin’s suggestion, just before IT can take them in, Mr. Murry tessers them away from Camazotz, to a weird cold planet, where a kind creature helps them rest and recover. And then Meg is the chosen one to return to rescue Charles Wallace. In the movie, Mr. Murry is somewhat cowardly and is willing to lose Charles Wallace (because he’s adopted?), but Meg doesn’t allow him to tesser her away.

In both movie and book, Meg reminds Charles Wallace of her love, and this pulls him out of the spell of IT. And then they get away with the help of others tessering them away.

Visually, the rescue scenes are very different. In essence, love wins out over the darkness. But in the movie the darkness is just a vague uncomfortable human meanness. In the book the darkness is loss of freedom—of thought and action.

I don’t think Madeleine L’Engle was very political. In New England, if anything, she was probably Democrat. But the ideas here compare to socialism or communism—IT provides everything, and everyone is made equal, but at the sacrifice of their freedom and individuality. Remember that article a while ago, about Iceland eliminating Down’s Syndrome? They did it like IT—by eliminating (i.e., killing) any Down’s Syndrome babies or fetuses. Central control ≠ a good thing, no matter what IT claims. It’s not about what’s good for the people; it’s about what gains power for the tyrannical ruler, which is what IT is.

In the end of the book, what Meg wants isn’t to fit in, or conform; it is to resist conforming. And you do that with love from one individual to another.

The message of being an individual came through in the movie. It was kind of a celebration of “You should stop loathing yourself and love yourself for being an individual.” But the message of resisting conformity is lost.

So, the movie was interesting, and visually worth watching. But probably not the classic that the book has been for almost 60 years.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Being Capable of Self-Rule

I don’t like the idea of elite vs. the great unwashed, or the proletariat, or the uneducated masses. I’m with Martin Luther King, Jr., willing to look at the content of a person’s character, rather than where they come from or some other arbitrary detail.

But the purpose of politics is to persuade large numbers of people—people who may or may not be educated or clear thinking enough to understand the issues on their own and be capable of recognizing solutions.

The difficulty is that, in a democratic society, the persuaded masses rule, whether they’re right or not.

Our founding fathers tried to prevent the damage that could happen from a straight-up democracy—which is essentially mob rule. They gave us a Constitution, which limited government to certain enumerated powers. And within those constraints, they set up a representative government, with a bicameral legislative body, with the House of Representatives based on population, and the Senate based on the separate states equally. The House would respond more directly to the people, but the Senate would be a more deliberative body, thinking more of state interests than individual interests.

"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution"
painting by Howard Chandler Christy
image from Wikipedia

They separated the legislative, judicial, and executive branches, with more or less equal powers that would be a check and balance on each other. All of this was to prevent any branch from usurping powers it was not granted.

The founders took great care to set up government to do only what it was intended to do: protect life, liberty, and property.

But a self-ruling people—that is, a people who set up their own government, rather than become subjects of a ruler—must be capable of ruling themselves.

Usually I have a lot of faith in people in general to think things through and try to do the right things. That’s what I do. So sometimes I believe any normal person does that.

But there’s a lot of evidence that large portions of the populace do not think things through. And that leaves them subject to being swayed by propaganda rather than truth.

There was an example this week. Steven Crowder did one of his “Change My Mind” sessions at a college campus. This one was “White Privilege Is a Myth: Change My Mind (2nd Edition)” on the campus of Texas Christian University. It’s rather long, most of an hour. But I’ve included it in full below.

Most of the conversation is between Crowder and a young black woman who defers mostly to her white friend (Crowder points out that the white girl is “white-splaining” for the black girl). The white woman claims that America was set up by white men for the sole benefit of white men, and has been corrupt and oppressive from its inception.

While she is right that women didn’t originally have the right to vote (and, depending on the state, neither did white or any other race of men if they didn’t own property), she fails to understand that all of the Bill of Rights pertained to women every bit as much as men. Slaves were originally excluded in slave states—but of course we suffered a Civil War to correct that.

When Crowder asks what evidence she has of men having privilege today, she claims it is really white male privilege; there’s no privilege for black men, who get sent to jail for having a quarter ounce of weed while white men would get away with it. Crowder asks for statistics; she has none. He uses his handy phone and looks up data on the NAACP website, which shows that black men are incarcerated at higher rates, but that site has no mention of behavior. The girl insists that of course black men don’t commit crimes at higher rates, because it’s all about the racist system. She knows that is so, but she doesn’t have data. Crowder provides some for his side, but she cannot. But she’s sure it’s just a matter of doing a little online search, and then her views would be proven.

Except they’re not.

After Crowder talks with her, he has a young black man and his Asian friend, neither of whom believe they’re oppressed in America. Their conversation is more uplifting.

The earlier white girl was absolutely certain that she was right. And she was absolutely certain that what she was saying was common knowledge and common sense. Even though it was either unsupported opinion or provably false.

She was a college student, and made it clear she had gotten a scholarship for being top of her class. So she knew what she knew—accusing Crowder of enjoying privileges that were unrelated to his life growing up in a French Canadian culture with a fair amount of oppression and difficulty, not coming to the US until adulthood.

As Reagan used to say,

“It isn't so much that liberals are ignorant. It's just that they know so many things that aren't so.”

On Tuesday, working at the polls—primary elections where Republicans and Democrats had to awkwardly share a room for their separate polling places—I was gratefully aware that voters were trying to do their civic duty. But I was also aware that not very many spend as much time as I do researching and figuring out who to vote for, especially for the many smaller judicial races. I do believe if everybody studied as hard before voting as I do, we would have better outcomes, even though they wouldn’t always agree with me. 

In order to be an informed—instead of a propaganda-manipulated—people, we need to know the criteria to look for. A nice candidate who seems articulate isn’t enough. And it certainly isn’t enough for a candidate to try to sway voters by appealing to their tribal issues (race, gender, etc.) We need voters who understand how our government is set up.

When you’re looking at candidates, there are questions that help gauge just how likely a person is to pursue freedom, prosperity, and civilization for all. These are Spherical Model questions, rather than right/left questions. I laid them out in 2015, here.

If you—or your representative—need to decide on an issue, you can ask these freedom-leading questions: 

·         Is the policy being debated something that an individual has the right to do, and therefore has the right to delegate to his/her government?  For example, a person has the right to protect his own life and property. He can, therefore, combine resources with his neighbors and hire a government entity, such as a sheriff, to do that job for him. Similarly, the several states can combine to delegate the power of defending the nation to a national government entity. Conversely, a person does not have the right to take his neighbor’s excess grain production, for example, and bestow it on himself, because his neighbor was more prosperous in a particular season. He can, of course, ask his neighbor for charity, but he cannot coerce the neighbor to give. That would rightfully be considered theft. Therefore, the person cannot delegate the redistribution of wealth to the government to do for him. 
·         Does the policy infringe in any way on the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights? Does the policy infringe on the free exercise of religion or try to establish a particular sect as a state religion? Is political speech hindered? Does the policy infringe on the right of citizens to bear arms? Does the policy constitute an illegal search or seizure? Does the policy deprive a person of life, liberty, or property when the person has not committed a crime for which that deprivation is the just sentence? Does the policy try to claim for government a power that was not specifically granted in the Constitution? etc. If the policy infringes on the God-given rights, then government cannot take that power without usurping power from the people.

·         Is the idea being debated a proper role of government, some aspect of protection (including defense, protection from interstate crime, enabling international and interstate commerce, standardized weights and measures and currency, the judiciary that guarantees the protective laws), as enumerated in the Constitution? If not, then accepting the idea is outside the Constitution and below the northern 45th parallel.
Two years ago I listed the Five Essential Attributes of Active Citizens, as outlined in a speech on Citizenship by Lawrence C. Walters.

1. Accept responsibility.
2. Do their homework.
3. Engage with others.
4. Take action.
5. Learn from their experiences.

If we’re going to remain a self-governing people, rather than slip downward into being ruled by power mongers, then we need a critical mass of educated populace, willing to do their part. If you’re reading this, that’s a start. You’re probably doing your part. So share it with anyone who has a sense of civic responsibility. If enough of us do that, then we can trust it will be enough.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Happy 7th Anniversary, Spherical Model

Today (or, specifically yesterday) is the 7th anniversary of the Spherical Model blog. We’re approaching 900 posts. Usually on an anniversary day, I do some reminding about what the Spherical Model is. I’ll do that today. But I also want to talk a bit about what it’s for, what is the purpose or mission.

Those who control the language control the thoughts, because language is what we use to represent our thoughts.

We as a people are divided—more divided than ever in many ways. But I believe, on the level of human beings, we’re not so different. We’re divided because we use language that divides. Framed a different way, we might be nearly on the same page.

This past Friday, Mr. Spherical Model and I spent some time campaigning for congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw. I’d never held up campaign posters and done actual campaign work like that before. But I thought this candidate was worth it.

We only had a couple of hours. The usual early voting location near us is closed due to flooding, so we asked where we were needed, and we were directed to an early voting location up in Spring (a further northwest suburb of Houston). There were plenty of other campaigners there, just beyond the campaign limit line, holding up signs, handing out materials, for various candidates and races. 

At early voting sites, both parties enter the same place, and then you’re given the ballot for your precinct and chosen party. So there were Democrat campaigners there too. We all got along fine.

Many campaigners were there for the whole day, so they had chairs, and water, and whatever they needed with them. One of Sheila Jackson Lee’s campaigners kindly offered me a chair and water. I was fine, but I let her know I appreciated her thoughtfulness. A little later a voter came out to talk with her and a small group. The voter was disappointed not to find Sheila Jackson Lee on her ballot. I stepped in to help. If you look at the top of the voter registration card, it tells you which district you’re in. She was in CD 2, my district. Lee’s district is 18. So she voted for one of the five Democrat candidates in that congressional race (there are nine on the Republican side). 

The voter was new to Texas; this was her first time voting here. But she was disappointed not to get the chance to vote for Sheila Jackson Lee, about whom she said, “She’s a real spitfire.” There are other thoughts we Republicans have about Rep. Lee, who has quite the list of ridiculous things she has said (like assuming the Mars Rover would see the flag the astronauts had planted, forgetting they’d been to the moon, not Mars, or like believing the US Constitution is 400 years old already, or like denouncing Wikipedia rather than Wikileaks for leaking government documents).

Lee’s district is highly partisan. Occasionally a Republican runs against her, but it’s a windmill-tilting affair. She regularly gets well beyond 80% of the vote. Still, we could be friendly and helpful to one another. That’s hopeful.

A little later, a Democrat state representative candidate came by. His people were down just a bit from where I was. He stopped and talked to a lady near me, who was campaigning for a different CD 2 candidate from mine. The man very briefly, and naturally as part of the conversation, told us about his background. What he’d studied. What he does. I believe he’s a pastor. The things he said, about people, about responsibility and hard work—those were all things that resonate with us Republicans. He was an inspiring and charismatic sort of person. I could see why he’d have a following.

I could imagine, talking with him, that if we could steer away from partisan politics and talk about what we really believe and want in the way of freedom, prosperity, and civilization, we would have a lot we agree on.

But I knew, because I know what is on the Democrat party platform for Texas, that there is almost nothing policy-wise that we agree on. They believe in abortion rights as an ultimate right that trumps life; they believe in taking money from earners to give to those they deem more worthy of it; they believe in limiting speech of those who disagree with them; they believe in full socialized education and medicine.

Some of what they want—as an actual outcome—is what I want. I want everyone to have opportunities, and freedom to choose what to do with their lives. And when you get the partisan conversation out of the way, many of them recognize that hard work and perseverance are necessary for success, and if they had true data and information in front of them, they would stop assuming their “opposition” is full of haters putting roadblocks in their paths.

Getting to that conversation on common ground is a good goal. Using language differently might help. 

Instead of talking about left or right, or even conservative or liberal/progressive/socialist, we might be able to agree that living in freedom is better than living under tyranny. And we might agree that prosperity is better than poverty—and from there we can see what economic principles interrelate with the principles of freedom. And we might agree that civilization is better than savagery—and from there we can see how the principles of civilization interrelate with the principles of freedom and prosperity.

There’s a lot to agree on. The Spherical Model is an alternative way to arrange the ideas, so we can get to that conversation, so we can find where we agree and stop working against each other and actually reach the outcomes we all really want.

So, here are some links, from previous anniversary posts, to help bring you up to speed on what the Spherical Model is:

·         My Bio: 2017  
·         More “Best of” posts: 2015
o   Part I: Overview 
o   Part II: Political Sphere 
o   Part III: Economic Sphere 
o   Part IV: Civilization  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Primary Matters, Part III

This is part III covering the Harris County Primary ballot. Early voting ends Friday. Primary voting day at your precinct polling location is Tuesday, March 6th.

Just the judicial races. There's a bigger pile of everything else.

In part I, I covered the statewide races (except judiciary, which we’ll cover today). In part II, I covered Congressional District 2, the race to replace retiring Congressman Ted Poe. Today we handle all the rest, which is mostly judiciary.

As in the other two parts, I’ll be covering only contested races. I don’t know of any candidates unopposed in the primary who ought to be opposed.

I use a number of sources for my decisions, including endorsements and input from a friend inside the judiciary, my SREC chair, the Conservative Coalition of Harris County (CCHC), candidate websites when available, personal meetings at my Tea Party and other places, and more. I suggest you add my opinions as part of your research in your decision-making process.

I’ve added a graphic at the end to summarize all three blog posts into a single, easy-to-read list of my choices.


The Texas Supreme Court is divided into two parts, with different purposes: The Supreme Court and The Court of Criminal Appeals. There are two positions on the ballot for Supreme Court Justice, unopposed in the Primary. And there are three positions on the ballot for The Court of Criminal Appeals, two of which have challengers.

Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4

Sharon Keller is the incumbent, serving more than 15 years so far. There is a sense that Keller has been imperfect, but has been a solid conservative judge—which means judging according to the law, not legislating from the bench. Her opponent, David Bridges, has impressive appellate experience himself and could be good. But, without a compelling reason to oust the incumbent, I’m going with Sharon Keller. My inside-the-judiciary friend and the Conservative Coalition (CCHC) are with me here.

Justice, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 8

I have less surety on this position. Both the CCHC and my SREC chair go with Michelle Slaughter. But my judiciary friend says, “Jay Brandon has extensive experience that is better suited to the position he is seeking than either of his opponents. He has served for many years as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and appellate specialist.” I’m giving weight to the judiciary experience and going with Jay Brandon.

Justice, 1st Court of Appeals District, Place 7

Terry Yates has 27+ years relevant experience. Katy Boatman has been licensed less than 10 years. I haven’t met either. But my judiciary friend and CCHC go with greater experience, and so I go with Terry Yates as well.

Judiciary—Harris County

District courts all cover the entire county. They are assigned specific purposes. When a new court is created, it gets the next number. So the “district” and its number have nothing to do with location within the county. Many courts have been displaced since flooding from Harvey, so I offer my appreciation for the way the courts have worked long and creative hours to keep their courts functioning.

In all but a couple of cases, the contested judicial races are for seats held by Democrats, or open benches with a retiring judge. Two years ago, in a presidential election year, the Democrats, who vote straight ticket (until the law against that goes into effect in 2020) swept Harris County, winning every countywide race, which meant displacing a number of good Republican justices with inexperienced judges, some of whom willingly legislate from the bench. So it is important to vote this election to recover some of those lost seats.

District Judge, 189th Judicial District

This decision is evenly divided. Stacey Bond has judicial experience for this criminal court, and has worked as a prosecutor and defense attorney. She leans toward the defense. Maritza Antu has good experience as a prosecutor, but no judiciary experience. She has the badge of honor of not being retained when Soros-funded District Attorney Ogg got elected, and the defense bar doesn’t like her. It makes more sense to go with experience, although I’m tempted to go with the emotional appeal of Antu. Still may change my mind, but I’ll probably vote for Stacey Bond.

District Judge, 189th Judicial District

Erin Elizabeth Lunceford has been a Governor Abbott appointee, has judicial experience, and scores high in the local bar poll. I’ve met her opponent, Sharon Hemphill, at Tea Party meetings, and she seems experienced as well. But I’m going to go with the unanimous recommendation of my sources and vote for Erin Elizabeth Lunceford.

District Judge, 263rd Judicial District

Justin Keiter gets unanimous support among my sources, with relevant experience for this court, over his opponent Charles Johnson. I’ll be voting for Justin Keiter.

District Judge 295th Judicial District

There are three candidates for this civil court: MichelleFraga, Fred Shuchart, and Richard Risinger. My sources unanimously support Shuchart, and I heard him in person and was impressed by him. So Fred Shuchart gets my vote.

Family District Judge, 257th Judicial District

I like both Alyssa Lemkuil and Melanie Flowers, and have heard them both several times at Tea Party meetings. Flowers always seems to be in a race with a stronger candidate. Eventually I hope she can become a judge. But Alyssa Lemkuil is a former Abbott appointee, and was highly rated by the attorneys who practice in her court. She’s the experience judge, so I’m voting for Alyssa Lemkuil.

Family District Judge, 280th Judicial District

There are three candidates for this court, which handles restraining orders related to domestic violence: Geric Tipsword, Angelina Gooden, and George Clevenger. I’ve heard all three in person. Angelina Gooden was recently appointed by Governor Abbott, so she’s an incumbent of only a few months. While the others would probably be adequate, I going with the Governor and my other source and vote for Angelina Gooden.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 8

The two candidates are Dan Simons and Jay Karahan. Karahan is the incumbent and has done a good job, according to my judiciary friend. Dan Simons gets support from other sources, but he doesn’t have judicial experience. I’ve met Karahan in person a number of times. I can’t see any reason to oust a good incumbent, so I’m going to vote for Jay Karahan.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 11

The two candidates are Lori Botello and Aaron Burdette. I met them both at the February 3rd Tea Party meeting. Aaron Burdette was particularly impressive. He’s has the better experience, and he gets the unanimous endorsement of my sources. I’m voting for Aaron Burdette.

Judge, County Civil Court at Law No. 2

This race has puzzled me. I wondered if I was missing some hidden information. Theresa Chang is the incumbent, with oodles of experience and high approval by the local bar. Her challenger, Erin Swanson, is just four years out of law school, and, while she claims extensive experience, that can’t be so. She’s barely eligible to run for a judge position. Why challenge an effective incumbent? I would not have taken her at all seriously, except that she is the daughter of Rep. Valoree Swanson, which is probably why she got a high percentage endorsement from CCHC. But I looked into this race long enough ago to tell Judge Theresa Chang to list me as endorsing her.

Judge, County Civil Court at Law No. 4

I have met Sophia Mafrige. I have not met David Tang. All my sources, and my personal impression leans toward Sophia Mafrige, so she gets my vote.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2

There are three candidates: Jeff Williams, J. R. Harris, and Mike Wolfe. Williams is the incumbent, since 2010, and I’m told he’s doing a good job. Again, I’m puzzled by challengers to an effective Republican incumbent. Harris got the nod from a spare majority of CCHC, but I’m voting for Jeff Williams.

Other County Races

Among non-judicial countywide races on my ballot, only one is a challenger.

Harris County Republican Chair

Paul Simpson was voted in as HCRP Chair at the same time I became a precinct chair, four years ago. This is an unpaid position, although it takes pretty much full-time work. I’ve seen training and outreach improve considerably. Funding is sound. Technology gets ever better.  Communications have been excellent.

We did lose the county in 2016. The county has always been 50/50, so it’s a matter of voter turnout, and the other party has some effective (albeit unethical) ways of making that happen when there’s an emotional election going on. I’m hoping we make some returns during this off-year election. Chris Carmona and his supporters think a change in leadership is the solution. I don’t. I’m in favor of keeping Paul Simpson.


Propositions on this ballot do not become law; they become suggested party platform planks, with more emphasis than other grassroots suggestions, because they have already made their way through grassroots support to the county party level.

I’m not 100% in favor of every idea, although I do strongly support most of them. But I’m willing to have the debate on all of them. My SREC chair and the CCHC both support a yes vote on all 11 propositions. I’m inclined to vote yes on all as well.