Monday, September 24, 2018

Change Is Possible

I was listening to/semi-watching the Michael Knowles show last Friday, when he announced a guest that caught my attention: Dr. Nicolosi. I knew that name from research on same-sex attraction. When I saw Dr. Nicolosi, I was surprised how young he looked, since I’ve been citing studies for close to twenty years. It turns out the interview was with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Jr., the son of the Dr. Joseph Nicolosi I’ve cited.[i] But they are in the same field—researching and helping people with same-sex attraction.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Jr. (left) and Michael Knowles
screen shot from the Michael Knowles Show, September 21, 2018
See video below.

The interview was about reintegrative therapy. That’s a new word to me. It isn’t reparative therapy, or conversion therapy. But the eventual outcomes sometimes have an effect of change in sexual orientation, when that is the desire of the client.

Michael Knowles introduced the segment by pointing out that the left, including Hollywood, portrays gay conversion therapy in very negative ways. There’s a new movie called Boy Erased, with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, that shows it as horrifyingly abusive. And Vice-President Mike Pence, who is a religious person who favors traditional marriage, as I do, is accused of promoting electroshock therapy, which he has not. And that negative side would include reintegrative therapy as if it were those abusive horrors. So Knowles gives Dr. Nicolosi the opportunity to explain and clarify what it really is:

We need to differentiate between two things. One term is conversion therapy. Now, conversion therapy is a term that’s broad. It’s ill-defined. There’s no ethics code, no governing body. And it’s practiced by unlicensed individuals. This is the stuff that we’re seeing from Hollywood. Right.
In the work that we do, in reintegrative therapy, the client is in the driver’s seat. The licensed psychotherapist uses evidence-based mainstream treatment approaches, the same treatment approaches used in other clinics throughout the world to treat trauma and sexual addiction. And as those underlying dynamics are resolved, the sexuality changes as a byproduct. Our clients notice significant and lasting decreases in their same-sex attractions and increases in their heterosexual attractions.
Dr. Nicolosi goes on to talk about neuroplasticity of the brain, something that I have long thought should be important in dealing with unwanted LGBT issues:

There’s no so-called “gay gene.” But that’s science fiction. Here’s the science. We know that the brain is capable of something that we call neuroplasticity. It’s like, there’s a new study released basically every week demonstrating that the brain has this neuroplastic capability. Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can wire and re-wire itself based on our life experience. And with neuroplasticity in mind, why would everybody’s sexuality be set in stone? So, we see that there’s further and further evidence for this, and we also know that the regions of the brain that are responsible for sexual preference are the same regions of the brain that we know change over time.
The brain is changeable, but it requires creating new neural pathways with enough frequency, intensity, and duration that they become strong enough to be the chosen pathways. The difficulty has been with identifying the exercises that would create the new pathways. But identifying where the pathways began going wrong seems like a good starting point.

Dr. Nicolosi has observed a pattern:

I can tell you this. The hundreds of men that I’ve worked with, in our clinic, they tell me very remarkably similar patterns in their childhood experiences that they believe relate to their same-sex attraction.
He later talks a little more about those similar childhood experiences:

You know, so many of my clients who have never met one another, they describe remarkably similar backgrounds in their childhoods—things that are not being addressed by Hollywood. My clients consistently report having distant, detached, critical fathers; higher anxiety, sometimes intrusive mothers; and they themselves who were temperamentally sensitive. If you put these factors together, it seems to increase the probability that the boy will have difficulty making that gender identity shift away from the mother and toward the father that’s typical in young childhood. Oftentimes my clients had a bullying older brother. If you put these factors together, it makes it harder.
These individuals, my clients, when they were growing up, girls were their closest friends. They knew girls like the back of their hands. But boys, and roughhousing—my clients felt scared. They felt intimidated by these kinds of behaviors. They didn’t know how to connect with other guys. And their childhoods were filled with getting female attention, affection, approval, but no male attention, affection, approval. Eventually, in puberty, those underlying desires became sexual. This story is happening again, and again, and again.
I read a study offering this family dynamic causal suggestion almost twenty years ago. It seemed plausible, but it covered only a certain percentage—though pretty high—of those with same-sex attraction. What about the others? Another large percentage—and there was overlap—were boys who were sexually abused by older males[ii]. Some don’t claim this as abuse, because they saw themselves as willing, but if we were looking at adult males having sex with young females, we would call that statutory rape, at the very least. There are reasons young people are considered capable of giving consent in such situations.

It appears that same-sex attraction, then, is a wiring problem. Sometimes the mis-wiring happens so early in life that the person doesn’t remember a time before thinking that way—hence the claim that they were born that way. Sometimes we can see that having an experience wires the brain in a certain way, deepening pathways that were only possibilities if the person remained celibate.

Any way you look at it, we’ve been right for a long time when we say it’s a mental issue, not a physiological fact, and it is changeable.

The term reintegrative refers to the idea that, when the young person is developing thought patterns, he (or she) separates out parts of the self, can’t see their own gender in a healthy way, and in a way dissociates from their wholeness. The therapy helps them reintegrate, or bring back together those hidden or buried parts of themselves, making it safe for them to be wholly who they are.

Some don’t want to change. Fine. This therapy—as most psychotherapy—is intended for clients who perceive a problem that they want to work on and change.

For those that want that change, there are good reasons. Dr. Nicolosi sees three categories:

One: Individuals that were sexually abused by someone of the same sex when they were young, resulting in conflict and confusion, and lingering effects of the abuse. And these are individuals who, as adults, say they want to resolve this. And we see that with standard trauma therapy, when we focus on treating the sexual abuse memories, these adults often describe their sexuality changing on its own.
The second is individuals, because of their closely held beliefs—maybe they’re Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists. These are all people who say, “I believe I was designed heterosexual.”
And the last is individuals who, they’re not religious—they’re not dealing with a deeply held belief. They’re not traumatized. But they’re here for pragmatic reasons. They say, “Look, I tried homosexuality. I came out ten years ago. I find homosexuality, homosexual relationships compelling, but at the end, not really fulfilling.” And they wish to explore heterosexuality. And I believe no one should interfere with that. That’s their right to pursue if they choose.
Ironically, the movement that says everyone ought to be able to choose the lifestyle they want to live is very hostile to anyone who chooses to leave.

Dr. Nicolosi was one of many who testified against a bill in California, AB 2943, designed to prohibit any and all treatments that could possibly lead to changes in sexual orientation. As it turned out AB 2943 was pulled by the assemblyman who sponsored it, on the very last day. Dr. Nicolosi said we might never know exactly why:

But it probably had a lot to do with a lot of individuals saying, “Look, I was sexually abused when I was young. Don’t take my right away to walk away from homosexuality. I don’t want to be kept in homosexuality against my will.” Or other individuals who say, “Well, wait a second, the client should be in the driver’s seat of their own psychotherapy, not the government.” And this is not the kind of legislation that would pass, I think, in court. I think it would get torn to shreds.
So, despite activism against options, there’s hope for change, for those who want to. In my religion that isn’t uncommon for young people with same-sex attraction. They sincerely pray for release from it. They don’t know where to turn. Not sure whether their parents or peers will understand their struggle—at a time when almost all the media says they can’t change, and shouldn’t.

Screen shot from the documentary Free to Love,
available at

There have always been ways. But I’m glad to see this particular approach—the same used for healing trauma or sexual addiction, which is a pretty good description of what same-sex attraction is, explaining why those in that lifestyle have manifold more sexual partners than healthy heterosexuals. And also it explains the co-morbidity, the existence of additional mental problems. Dealing with the underlying problems means healing, and then there’s an opportunity to choose.

I’m thinking this might be a better approach for gender dysphoria as well, because those underlying issues are still there after reassignment hormonal treatments and surgeries. In a sensible society, the obvious answer would always have been, “Let’s help you heal, and then we’ll see what you want to do,” rather than, “Let’s indulge your delusion and change the world and its reactions to you.”

If you’d like to know more about reintegrative therapy, I suggest skipping any and all Hollywood versions. There’s a documentary, available online, called Free to Love, that Dr. Nicolosi helped produce. You can find it at

Here is the video of the Michael Knowles Show. The 15-minute interview with Dr. Nicolosi begins at about 17 minutes.

[i] Here are some of the Nicolosi references I have used:
·         Lack of long-term fidelity in same-sex males: Joseph Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1991), p. 111.
·         Pro-homosexual writers claim fidelity is a heterosexual norm and should not be expected of homosexuals: Ibid., p. 140.
·         The level of promiscuity amongst the gay population is also very different from mainstream society.  The Kinsey Institute published a study showing that 28 percent of male homosexuals have had sexual encounters with one thousand or more partners with over half having more than 500 different sexual partners in a lifetime: Ibid. p. 124.
·         Successful homosexual partnerships have embraced infidelity: Ibid., p. 125.
·         Evidence concerning change from homosexual lifestyle is abundant. Study concludes that “20% to 30% of the participants [in voluntary conversion therapy] said they shifted from a homosexual orientation to an exclusively or almost exclusively heterosexual orientation,” belying any assertion that homosexual orientation is “immutable”: Joseph Nicolosi, A. Dean Byrd, Richard W. Potts, “Retrospective Self-Reports of Changes in Homosexual Orientation:  A Consumer Survey of Conversion Therapy Clients,” 86 Psychological Reports 1071, 1083 (June 2000). 
·         Change therapy: Joseph. Nicolosi, “Belief and Practices of Therapists Who Practice Sexual Reorientation Psychotherapy,” 86 Psychological Reports 689-702 (2000).

[ii] Bill Watkins and Arnon Bentovim, "The Sexual Abuse of Male Children and Adolescents: A Review of Current Research," Journal of Child Psychiatry 33 (1992); in Byrgen Finkelman, Sexual Abuse (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995), p. 316. Also, a Child Abuse and Neglect study found that 59 percent of male child sex offenders had been victims of contact sexual abuse as a child." Michele Elliott, "Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: What Offenders Tell Us," Child Abuse and Neglect 19 (1995): 582.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Deny! Deny! Deny! So What?

There’s a pattern used by the opponents of liberty. It is to deny some behavior, or belief, that is clearly contrary to civilization. Deny repeatedly. And then, suddenly to admit the accusations were right all along, but to admit without shame, with smugness even, and a “so what?”

The timing of the denial is important, because it’s hard to maintain shock and outrage. So the repetition allows time to dilute impact. And then, when there has been enough dilution—then comes the “so what?” The admission, with the cynical barb that, anyone outraged by this is reactionary, prudish, “on the wrong side of history.”

I've written about rhetorical strategy before, covering a few examples. Today we'll do a little review and then add a new one.

First example. Back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton spent half a year claiming, “I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” And then, of course, he finally admitted to it, but added the "so what?” It was just his private life, nothing to do with his role as president.

But that wasn’t actually true. Having sex with a presidential intern, in the Oval Office, is abuse of power, an appalling evil in itself, but also opened the president up to blackmail or coercion. With the "so what?" he admitted to the abuse, but still refused to take responsibility by claiming it didn't matter.

One more disturbing thing is, people who started out agreeing that having sex with an intern was egregious departed six months later, mainly along party lines, giving that president a pass for his bad behavior—as well as his months of lying about it.

Second example. Pro-abortion activists denied, denied, denied that an unborn baby was a human life. Then, as technology makes the facts of life ever more clear—and literally gives us a clearer view of the growing baby—those science deniers start saying “so what?” Several years ago, a Salon writer said it was just too hard to go up against the “it’s a life” argument. So why not embrace that fact and just add “so what?” Sure, it’s a human life; but that doesn’t mean it’s worth protecting, because not all human life deserves protection.

Really? Innocent life doesn’t deserve protecting? Why? Because that life might be inconvenient?

Third Example. Socialism. All through the Cold War, and the first couple of decades following that standoff, we were able to agree that communism, and its synonym socialism, was evil. Socialism is incompatible with our constitutional republic.

So proponents of socialism, knowing that, would try to push their government control schemes without using that name. It would be a “social safety net,” or “progress,” or government providing for “positive rights,” such as housing, minimum income, redistributed income from higher earners, healthcare in the form of enforced purchase of insurance, regulating to control certain industries, and more. 

Now—meaning the last few years—socialists are giving up the denial and starting the “so what?” They’re saying, “Yes, we’re socialists, and we’re proud of it.”

Examples include Bernie Sanders and his followers in the last presidential election. Then more recently Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the socialist who won the Democratic primary in June of this year, defeating a more establishment Democrat, for the 14th Congressional District of New York. She has been a darling of the media since, and a target of conservatives, who look at what she says and can hardly believe anyone would go along with her, since she makes no sense.

This past week, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked her about a way to pay for the $40 trillion cost (an estimate provided by “left-leaning studies friendly to her cause.” She had no answer. She had previously suggested an increased tax on the wealthy and corporations that, assuming no change in behavior on the part of those earners, would bring in $2 trillion. What about the other $35 trillion?
Jake Tapper asks Ocasio-Cortez about a plan
to pay the $40 trillion cost of her planned programs
screen shot from here

She has no answer. Dig down enough, she believes you just tax the undeserving rich more. That of course won’t cover $40 trillion additional expenditures.

But she’s very Rah! Rah! about socialism, and is perfectly willing to call it by its name—leaving off, of course, the final result of granting government the power to take what it wishes from its people, up to and including their lives. 

Another “so what?” on socialism came from philosopher and erstwhile comedian/actor Jim Carrey. On HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher," Carrey said, “We have to say yes to socialism—to the word and everything. We have to stop apologizing.” 

Jim Carrey embraces socialism with Bill Maher
screen shot from here

Carrey was called out for it by a Venezuelan journalist, Laureano Márquez. Márquez was respectful, but better informed. He explained that many people believe socialism means “the antithesis of selfishness, synonym of concern for others…support for the weakest and their needs, of seeking health and education for all.” But in Venezuela, which just a relatively short time ago, was rich in resources, and one of the most advanced countries in the Spanish speaking world, “What we find is just that our regime is not—for God’s sake—the antithesis of selfishness.” Rather, he explained. “In Venezuela, dear Jim, from what I have just told you, there is no equitable distribution of wealth; wealth is concentrated, as rarely before in our history, in very few hands.” 

In socialism, someone decides—someone other than the person earning the money—how and where money will be spent, on what it will be spent, who gets to do what. Someone decides. And that person or group of persons has all the power over people’s lives. Those few elite deciders don’t go hungry when poverty strikes the general population. Those elites aren’t inconvenienced when the people can’t even get hold of toilet paper. Those people are the ones confiscating small amounts of food at the border that people were going to try to sell in exchange for needed medicine. Those are the ones enforcing a minimum wage that no one is receiving, because no business can afford to pay it.
But Venezuelan president Maduro dines on steak, during a visit to Istanbul. People were outraged, of course. But maybe that’s fine with him.

In a New York Times op-ed, Amherst College Professor Javier Corrales writes, "An extremist government like Maduro's prefers economic devastation to recovery because the misery destroys civil society and, with it, all possibility of resisting [the regime's] tyranny." 

At this “so what?” moment surrounding socialism, our society can go either way: shrugging our shoulders and deciding it was never all that evil in the first place, or standing up to it, because we know based on principle, and based on overwhelming evidence, that socialism is just another iteration of statist tyranny, which inevitably leads to loss of freedom and loss of life, and toward abject poverty and savagery.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Can We Keep It?

Two hundred and thirty-one years ago today, thirty-nine brave patriots signed the Constitution of the United States, which became our inspired form of government following ratification by the states.
As Benjamin Franklin responded to the question of what type of government the men produced for the new nation, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
The US Constitution
image from here

The question, all these years later, is whether we’re doing all we need to do to keep it.

This past week I attended the Christian Values Summit at a church north of Houston. Speakers included several pastors and government officials Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, US Representative Kevin Brady, plus several headliners: Rafael Cruz, Sarah Palin (both nights), and Dinesh D’Souza.

The theme overall seemed to be that people of conscious, mainly Christians, need to stand up and speak out.

Rafael Cruz, a pastor (at large, I believe; he doesn’t have a specific church where he presides) and Senator Ted Cruz’s father, gave some historical background. He pointed out that America is the only country founded on the word of God.

In the Mayflower Compact, the early pilgrim settlers proclaim they are forming their new land “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” That’s a glorious heritage, he told us. “No other country has this history.

Of the twenty-six grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence, Cruz explained that those had been the subject of sermons during the previous ten years, calling out King George for the atrocities.
When Paul Revere made his famous ride, he was heading to the home of Pastor Jonas Clark, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were staying. It happened that the battle of Lexington began near this same home.

There was a pastor named Peter Muhlenberg, in Woodstock, VA, who was preaching one Sunday around the beginning of the Revolutionary War. He tells his congregation, “There is a time for war and a time for peace.” Then he pulls out his musket from behind the pulpit and says, “This is a time for war.”

Muhlenberg had a brother, also a pastor, Frederick Muhlenberg, in New York, who chastised him for profaning the pulpit. But then, after the British burned Frederick’s church, he joined the revolution too.
Rafael Cruz
image from Christian Values Summit

Cruz reminded us about Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who came to America about fifty years into the great experiment, and wrote Democracy in America. He said he found America’s greatness in her churches. He is famously reported to have said, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Cruz told us, “We’re at that crossroads today.” Then he went through some of the recent historical slippage.

In 1962 prayer was banned from public schools. In 1963 the Bible was banned from public schools. He reminded us that Congress printed the first Bible in America, to be the principle textbook. And this was how it was used for the first 150 years or so.

The bigger problem was that churches remained silent. They said it was a political issue.
Then teen pregnancy skyrocketed. So did violent crime.

In 1977 the Supreme Court “discovered” a right to abortion within the Constitution. Again churches remained silent. Sixty million murdered babies later, their blood is on the churches for their silent consent, he said. He quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: 
God will not hold us guiltless.
Not to speak is to speak.
Not to act is to act.
Cruz went on with his list. In 2015, the Supreme Court—not a lawmaking body, but a bare 5/4 majority of nine unelected judges—redefined marriage. That decision, Cruz attested, wasn’t just about same-sex “marriage”; it was a direct fundamental attack on the traditional family. And if you destroy the family, you destroy society.
My distant phone photo of Rafael Cruz
at the Christian Values Summit last Thursday

Next come the SOGI (sexual orientation gender identity) ordinances. Here in Houston we remember this attack against the people and the churches. The city council had passed an ordinance requiring that all bathroom and shower facilities be made open to anyone who chose to go in them, regardless of actual sex. Regardless of how you feel about transgendered persons and their “rights,” the ordinance opens up women and children to predators, and labels them as bigoted transphobes if they so much as complain about their fear or discomfort.

The people of Houston  gathered well over the required number of signatures to require that the ordinance be brought before the people. The mayor threw out enough of the signatures—without cause—to claim there weren’t enough. And she also subpoenaed all the churches to provide copies and transcripts of all their sermons, so that she could go through them and accuse them of interfering with government, if they so much as mentioned the issue.

This was one of those times when the churches rose up. Among the pastors was Steve Riggle, who hosted the Christian Values Summit at his northern campus. The churches were successful. And the law was on their side. The mayor had no right to the writings and speeches offered at churches. And churches can address issues; they are entitled to address issues that they believe affect the morality of the community, or for whatever reason. Judges slapped the now-former mayor for both the subpoenas and the throwing out of valid signatures. And then the people spoke, by voting, and ended the ordinance.

That’s what happens, even in a very Democrat city, when people who value morality speak up.
Other cities, and various businesses in other states, derided Houston and said they would boycott. But let me just note that, if they have actually stayed away, it’s their loss. Houston is better off without the ordinance, and has done fine without whatever business was lost, if any.

Here’s one more thing Cruz said, that you hear all the time that politicians cannot legislate morality. “That’s a lie,” he said. “It legislates morality all the time. The question is, whose morality?” The issues he listed: prayer and Bible in school, abortion, redefinition of marriage, and SOGI ordinances—all relate to the morality of the people. They relate to someone’s morality, just not ours. And not the morality the founders knew we needed.

During the break between speakers, just before Cruz's speech, they threw out T-shirts into the audience that said “Stand up / Stand out.” I caught one that came right to me. I pretty much never wear T-shirts with graphics on them, but I might just wear this one.

I’m also thinking about what I can do to persuade my churchgoing friends, and anyone else, to do just the little bit that it takes to be an informed voter—and then to get just enough better educated to know when and how to speak up.

I started my Spherical Model quote file with these words from one of my beloved church leaders:

The building of public sentiment begins with a few earnest voices. I am not one to advocate shouting defiantly or shaking fists and issuing threats in the faces of legislators. But I am one who believes that we should earnestly and sincerely and positively express our convictions to those given the heavy responsibility of making and enforcing our laws. The sad fact is that the minority who call for greater liberalization, who peddle and devour pornography, who encourage and feed on licentious display make their voices heard until those in our legislatures may come to believe that what they say represents the will of the majority. We are not likely to get that which we do not speak up for.
—Gordon B. Hinckley, “In Opposition to Evil,” Ensign, September 2004
The nation’s founders were farmers, shopkeepers, merchants, preachers. Not many of them were wealthy and powerful beyond their relatively small communities and states. Yet they stood up, and stood together. And the result is the greatest example the world has ever seen of how you get to freedom, prosperity, and civilization by good people governing themselves.

As larger portions of the society become less able to self-govern, it’s an experiment in danger of ending.

So I’m looking at what I can do, to enlarge my circle a bit. To speak up. To persuade good people to join together in the cause of liberty, for our country and for the world. That’s my resolve on this Constitution Day.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


There’s a feeling we had on this day seventeen years ago that we hadn’t felt three days earlier. There was compassion, hurt, worry, also resolve. And more than anything there was a sense of oneness. A sense that we are all Americans now. Party didn’t matter. Ethnicity didn’t matter. People around the world stood with us—not looking down on us, or pitying us, but loving us and standing alongside us in our time of distress.

Flag in the aftermath 9-11-2018
image from NBC News

There’s a feeling we had a year ago in Houston last year, after the 50+-inch deluge that came with Hurricane Harvey. Neighbors helped neighbors. And everyone was our neighbor. People came in from well outside Houston. The Cajun Navy, as they came to be called, were neighbors with boats that set out from Louisiana to bring their small fishing boats to help rescue flood victims. People fed one another, and housed one another. Sometimes long term, since it took from several months to more than a year to get many homes back to habitable—some are still not. People helped each other muck out the debris, and clean, and dry out, and then begin the rebuild. People gave of their time and money.

Nobody asked, before offering help, “Are you part of my tribe?” No one cared about race, ethnicity, religion, political party. We were all people. We were all Houstonians. Even people from far outside the city, and even beyond the country’s borders.

My friends Derrick and Gloria, after Harvey (their 3rd flood)
The photo is his.

Right now there’s a disaster about to hit the southern east coast, aiming at Georgia and the Carolinas. More than a million have been evacuated. Sometimes these things turn out to be less than predicted, but sometimes—as we know around here—the worst case scenario shows up. So right now we’re all sending our prayers that direction. I heard there was a call for the Cajun Navy to re-deploy. Again, no one will be asking whether those in need are of a particular tribe: color, party, ideology. We’re all Americans, all humans, pulling together for those of us in harm’s way.

radar screen shot from CBS News

Can we agree that the oneness we feel under these circumstances is a good thing? I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you’re civilized enough to believe this is true.

We know how to get the unity: suffer a calamity.

What we need to know is how to get the unity without the calamity.

I don’t know the answer. Well, not true. I do know. Choose life in the freedom, prosperity, and civilization zones. Live by the rules that get us there. Do it individually, and then share your ways with the next generation, and with your larger circle of influence.

So, individually choose ultimate good: that’s the way to move from the fragmented, tribal culture that is making us simultaneously less unified and less individual. Persuading people—many people persuaded one by one—to choose ultimate good, that’s the challenge. I’m not sure how we’ll accomplish that.

But, in my personal, very small crusade toward that end, here’s a review of the ways to get ourselves up into freedom, prosperity, and civilization, according to the Spherical Model.

The Political Sphere
·         Keep government limited to the proper role of government: protection of life, liberty, and property.

·         Ask these questions:
o   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?
o   Does the policy infringe in any way on the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights?

We’re born naked, impoverished, and inexperienced. It is by growth, hard work, and gaining in expertise that we try to overcome this condition throughout our life. We are born with the right to life, the right to live free (not enslaved), and the right to pursue our own path to overcome the naked impoverished state.
The Economic Sphere

Prosperity comes when we are free to work, build our wealth (the results of work beyond subsistence), and choose how to spend the results of our work. In short, we need a free market. Not a crony capitalist economy. Not a highly regulated economy with government favoring various players. Not an economy of monopolies. But a true free market.

Policies should always be guaranteeing the right to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Prosperity is tightly tied to civilization. Because we need people acting honestly, people who are trustworthy.

And we also need generous people who are willing to help those who cannot help themselves.
So the answer to prosperity is a free market—which is the engine for creation of wealth—combined with philanthropy.

Civilization requires a critical mass of people living the laws of civilization. These are simple but not easy things:

·         A religious people.
·         Strong families.

The religion we’re talking about is fairly broad and free. We need to believe that God is our creator, and we are held accountable to Him for how we live our life. He has provided a moral code that we are bound to follow.
The Social Sphere

The moral code is identified in the Ten Commandments, among other places: honor God, family, life, truth, and property.

These laws can be lived individually. But the smallest unit of civilization—living among civilized people—is the family. So we need to clarify what valuing family looks like.

Religious freedom is required for civilization. God is essential, because He is the giver of rights. Anything excluding God limits our rights to whatever the person or entity chooses to grant.

Civilized societies value family as the most important and basic unit of governance. Alternatively, a hallmark of totalitarian regimes, which are savage, is the replacement of the family with the state. Totalitarianism resents loyalty to any societal unit other than itself. And it is this absolute weakness that will always prevent a totalitarian state from offering true Civilization as you’d find it in a free strong-family society.

We have a lot of evidence, from thousands of years of history, to show that strong families, and hence strong civilizations, do not happen without protecting marriage: a man and woman committed and exclusive for life, raising their own children. Such families allow civilization to perpetuate, against the strong pull of chaos and tyranny.

So, if we’re going to be united, without being compelled by catastrophe, we need to do it by being a people who love freedom, prosperity, and civilization, and willingly live the laws that get us there.

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Schoolhouse Rock Style Civics Lesson

Senator Ben Sasse gave the country a nice civics lesson last week, as his opening statement at the Judge Kavanaugh confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice.

Senator Ben Sasse, opening remarks
at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings
screen shot from C-SPAN3

First, he made it clear that the hysteria surrounding a well-qualified judge with bipartisan support among his colleagues has nothing to do with Brett Kavanaugh. It has to do with a misunderstanding of—and a corruption of—the balance of power laid out in our Constitution.

This is not something new. He says,

These confirmation hearings haven’t worked for 31 years in America. People are going to pretend that Americans have no historical memory, and supposedly there haven’t been screaming protestors saying women are going to die at every hearing for decades. But this has been happening since Robert Bork. This is a 31-year tradition. There’s nothing new the last 18 months.
It's ideological, and it’s political. And unfortunately it's treated like team sports:

Our political commentary talks about the Supreme Court like they’re people wearing red and blue jerseys. That’s a really dangerous thing.
He suggests that a better use of these hearings would be to do some Schoolhouse Rock civics lessons for our kids, to give them the opportunity to understand our government better:

We should be talking about how a bill becomes a law, and what the job of Article II is, and what the job of Article III is. So let’s try just a little bit. How did we get here? And how do we fix it?
And then he spends a little time going over some constitutional basics.

The Constitution’s drafters began with the legislature. These are equal branches, but Article I comes first for a reason. And that’s because policymaking is supposed to be done in the body that makes laws. That means that this is supposed to be the institution dedicated to political fights.
If we see lots and lots of protests in front of the Supreme Court, that’s a pretty good litmus test barometer that our republic isn’t healthy. Because people shouldn’t be thinking of protesting in front of the Supreme Court; they should be protesting in front of this body.
The problem is that Congress (he refers to the legislative body using the general term Congress, comprised of the House and the Senate) has abdicated its responsibilities. The founders believed that the desire for power—generally a bad human trait, but nevertheless part of human nature—could be harnessed to have three separate but equal branches of government all jealously maintaining their power from overreach by the other branches. The founders would be surprised to see what has actually happened.

Here’s his description:

How did we get to a place where the legislature decided to give away its power? We’ve been doing it for a long time, over the course of the last century, but especially since the 1930s, and then ramping up since the 1960s—a whole lot of the responsibility in this body has been kicked to a bunch of alphabet soup bureaucracies. All the acronyms that people know about their government, or don’t know about their government, are the places where most actual policymaking—kind of in a way, lawmaking—is happening right now.
This is not what Schoolhouse Rock says. There’s no verse of Schoolhouse Rock that says “give a whole bunch of power to the alphabet soup agencies, and let them decide what the governance decisions should be for the people”—because the people don’t have any way to fire the bureaucrats.
And so, what we mostly do around this body is not pass laws. What we mostly do is decide to give permission to the secretary or the administrator of bureaucracy X, Y, or Z to make law-like regulations. That’s mostly what we do here. We go home, and we pretend that we make laws. No, we don’t. We make giant pieces of legislation, 1200 pages, 1500 pages long, that people haven’t read, filled with all these terms that are undefined. And we say, the secretary of such and such shall promulgate rules that do the rest of our dang jobs.
from Schoolhouse Rock video
Three Ring Government

That’s why there are so many fights about the executive branch, and about the judiciary, because this body rarely finishes its work.
He admits there’s a rationale, flawed though it may be, for the regulatory system:

The Congress can’t manage all the nitty gritty details of everything about modern government. And this system tries to give power and control to experts in their fields, while most of us in Congress don’t know much of anything, or, about technical matters, for sure, but you could also impugn our wisdom if you want. But when you’re talking about technical, complicated matters, it’s true that the Congress would have a hard time sorting out every final dot and tittle about every detail.
But the real reason is more self-serving. Legislators don’t want to take responsibility for difficult or unpopular decisions.

If people want to get reelected over and over again, and that’s their highest goal—if your biggest long-term thought around here is about your own incumbency, then actually giving away your power is a pretty good strategy. It’s not a very good life, but it’s a pretty good strategy for incumbency.
In the abstract, maybe it doesn’t seem so awful. But it has real life consequences to the people. Sasse offers an example of his fellow Nebraskans:

When Congress neuters itself and gives power to an unaccountable fourth branch of government, it means the people are cut out of the process. There’s nobody in Nebraska, there’s nobody in Minnesota or Delaware who elected the Deputy Assistant Administrator of Plant Quarantine at the USDA. And yet, if the Deputy Assistant Administrator of Plant Quarantine does something to make Nebraskans’ lives really difficult—which happens to farmers and ranchers in Nebraska—who do they protest to?
As the senator points out,

Almost all the power right now happens offstage. And that leaves a lot of people wondering, “Who’s looking out for me?”
He does offer a solution. It’s one of those simple but not easy things, but it beats what we’ve been doing:

The solution here is not to try to find judges who will be policy makers. The solution is not to try to turn the Supreme Court into an election battle for TV. The solution is to restore a proper Constitutional order, with a balance of powers. We need Schoolhouse Rock back.
We need a Congress that writes laws and then stands before the people and suffers the consequences and gets to go back to our own Mount Vernon, if that’s what the electors decide. We need an executive branch that has a humble view of its job, as enforcing the law, not trying to write laws in the Congress’s absence. And we need a judiciary to trust to apply written law to facts and cases that are actually before it.
This is the elegant and the fair process that the founders created. It’s the process where the people who are elected—two and six years in this institution, four years in the executive branch—can be fired. Because the justices, and the judges, the men and women who serve America’s people by wearing black robes, they’re insulated from politics.
So, we need to stop playing the decades-long game of politics surrounding the Supreme Court. Maybe we can get that if Congress will take back its power. There are hints that that could happen. The rolling back of regulations is a start. Making sure any new legislation is simple, straightforward, and necessary, based on the proper role or the federal government would help.

And—as it appears is a possibility at last—we can have a majority on the Court that know the limits of their power and abide by the law, instead of making it up as they go.

If you’ve got a young person around who isn’t getting taught this kind of civics in school, share Senator Sasse’s lesson with them. The whole 15 minutes is below. And for younger kids, maybe you should look up some of those old Schoolhouse Rock videos online. It’s amazing how the tunes—and the messages they carried—can come back decades later.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

L-Shaped Recovery and the Trampoline Effect

Some years ago, I talked about government interference affecting the economy. There’s a pair of posts: Parabolas and The Trampoline Effect. When there are downturns in the economy, there’s usually a natural rebound, forming a parabola, like a U. The bounce back usually reaches and exceeds the start of the fall pretty quickly. But if government steps in to “help,” or interfere, then you get something more like “help” on a trampoline, when someone steps in purportedly make the bounce higher. That help disturbs the natural up and down, and takes the energy out of the bottom of the bounce, so you don’t go back up. You just sort of stumble, and the trampoline flattens. And then you have to get going again from scratch.

In economist terms, this is an L-shaped recession recovery, instead of the usual U-shaped recovery.
Here’s the definition

L shaped recession—refers to a period of stagnant recovery after initial fall in GDP. Even though technically the economy may have positive growth (e.g. 0.5%) it still feels like a recession because growth is very slow and unemployment high.
You know the phrase, about the scariest words: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Government’s role isn’t to interfere, or intervene. It’s to set up the background for free enterprise to take place. 

Government isn't the only interference that can cause an L-shaped recession, but it's the usual suspect. When we look at the past decade, we see an L-shaped recession/recovery, and it wasn't just bad luck; it was government caused. 

There are a number of measures of how well the economy is doing. Growth in GDP is one. In fact, a recession has a specific definition related to GDP: "a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters."

The converse is that two successive quarters of growth, however minimal, signify the end of the recession. But in an L-shaped recession, getting to technical recovery likely takes longer, probably over a year, rather than merely months. But getting back to starting position can take much longer, multiple years.

The L-shaped recession recovery looks like this:

Such a "recovery" can take so long that various opinions may start calling it a square root-shaped recovery, meaning that, instead of ever getting back up, we should expect a new, permanent, lower growth reality. Obama and George Soros agreed on this "just the new reality" description of the 2008-2009 Great Recession. The malaise economy of Jimmy Carter was also described as a new normal that turned out not to be normal, after a bit of a Reagan tax cut.

And the Great Recession wasn’t a square root-shaped “recovery,” we now know, because the malaise of extremely low growth wasn’t permanent. It went away as soon as we had a government regime change that made necessary changes. They haven’t been extraordinary changes: lower taxes across the board, and concerted attempts to get rid of burdensome regulations.

We didn’t have to get all the way to the ideal lowest possible tax rate, just better. And we didn’t have to get rid of all burdensome regulation, just go in that direction, and stop the threat of ever more regulations that could be placed at any time, causing businesses to be wary about investing and growing. When people are free to make use of their own money, and can plan without government-induced uncertainty, that's the energy we need to get the economy moving back upward.

We can see some examples of the L-shape in various charts. A typical chart for showing recessions is GDP growth. This one, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)[i]

Because growth, by definition, rises, in order to see the parabolas and other shapes of recessions and recoveries, you need to turn the chart somewhat sideways, so the rise line is horizontal. The green is to show the L-shape.

Besides GDP growth, there are some other measures. One is unemployment. Here’s a comparison of recent recessions and up to five years out.  In this chart the U-shape, or parabola, is upside down, because we want unemployment to be low. It goes up during the recession and down afterward. You can see that the unemployment spike was a bit higher in 1982, but by one year out had reached its starting point, and then continued dropping. The 2009 recession went higher half a year out, had some downs and ups for a year and a half, and afterward only slowly began dropping back down, taking seven years or more to reach pre-recession rates.

It’s possible for unemployment to go down even though there are more people not employed. Unemployment is measured by taking some combination of people applying for unemployment benefits and polling. That misses people who would be looking for work in a less hopeless economy. People who can’t find work could try to get more education, or could be just staying home. They don’t get counted. So another way to look at economic vitality is the employment-to-population ratio.

This one gives us a really clear picture of the L-shaped recession/recovery. I’ve highlighted the Great Recession in green, and in yellow are a few other more typical recessions with a quick rebound. On this chart, it looks like there might be another L-shaped recession just after 1960.

Another chart that shows the L-shape is average private sector hourly earnings. The housing and banking bubbles burst in the last quarter of 2008, which precipitated the drop. They didn’t start to rise again until 2015, and we’re still quite a distance from the starting point. The source for this chart seemed certain, later in the article, that things would have been much worse without the government interference. It’s hard to show an alternative version to use for comparison, but it is my assertion that government interference caused the intensity of the problem as well as the continuation.

The 1929 market crash was similar. It was beginning to right itself within months, but then government stepped in with one intervention after another, intensifying and continuing the pain for more than a decade. It wasn’t the war that ended the depression, because there was so much to produce for the war; it was that FDR focused on the war instead of the economy, and he largely quit experimenting with ever more interventions.

There was some good news from The Heritage Foundation's 2018 Index of Economic Freedom. We used to be ranked “mostly free,” but had been less free since the beginning of the Obama administration—or maybe since the legislative takeover by Democrats two years before that. Now we’re moving back toward freedom.

The United States, ranked “mostly free,” had not been performing well in the index over the last decade. That precipitous slide has now fortunately come to a halt, with signs of renewed economic growth reinforced by major regulatory and tax reforms that elevate business confidence and investment. It is notable that the U.S. economy grew at a rate of about 3 percent in the last three quarters, something that economists said was very unlikely just a year ago. For the first time in a while, the United States isn’t just economically stronger. It has a real chance to become economically freer in the coming years.

We’ve had two additional quarters of higher growth since that assessment last February. So the news is even better.

When somebody interferes with your jump back up on a trampoline, it takes some regathering your balance and re-energizing your jump. And that gets harder when the “friend” keeps their hand on the trampoline. But once they get out of the way, the energy you put into the jump gets you rising again.
It’s good that happens in the economy too. When we move closer to a free market, not only do we become more prosperous, we become more free.

[i] CBPP is the source for the remaining graphs in this piece, although some have my marks on them.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Good Is Real

In the last post, “Evil Is Real,” I linked to a video about Operation Underground Railroad, the organization founded by Tim Ballard that rescues children from human trafficking. If you followed that link, you found that there are several additional connected documentaries. In the second one, "Finding Light in the Darkness," Ballard recounts the story of finding two young children in Haiti, a brother and sister, and his story of adopting them.
Tim Ballard, of Operation Underground Railroad
screen shot from "Finding Light in the Darkness"

I heard him tell this story in person a couple of years ago, in a setting where he was fully able to express his religious beliefs, and how that is key to the story. Much of that also comes through in this documentary.

He met the two children, and they were on his mind the following night, when he was coming down from the adrenaline rush, after the arrests of the perpetrators were made and the children were safe. Usually when he would feel these strong emotions, he would pray to have relief from them, so that he would be able to carry on with the work. If you get too emotionally attached to every child in every raid, you can’t move on and focus on the job that needs to be done. This time, however, the prayers didn’t bring relief. The feelings intensified. He ended up calling his wife in the middle of the night, and telling her what he was going through.

She said, “You want to adopt those children!” which was beyond any thought he had formed. They had six kids of their own already. Adopting children was a crazy idea. No, he just wanted relief, but he couldn’t get it. Would she come and help him? She said, no, she didn’t need to come. She also felt like they should adopt the children, and he just needed to start the paperwork.

It took four years to accomplish that task. Most of the first year was spent trying to locate them. Because he was a foreigner, not from Haiti, he was not allowed to know where they had been sent; he was just assured that they were safe.

There were many trips back to Haiti, preparing for and performing other missions. Each time he continued his search for these children, but he couldn’t find them. There was one person in the government who could override the rule preventing him from getting the information he needed, and he had tried unsuccessfully several times to meet with her. There was one last day. He asked his wife to gather the children to be on their knees praying for him at an exact hour, when he would enter the government building hoping to get the information he needed.

The part of the Ballard family that went to Haiti to pick up
the adopted brother and sister are about to introduce them
to the rest of the family.
screen shot from "Finding Light in Darkness"
He and a friend arrived slightly early. Tim waited before entering, because he wanted to be sure his timing coincided with the family’s prayer. Then he went through the gate and bumped into a woman on her way out. Because of the timing, he said, “Who are you?” It turned out she was one of the rare English speakers he could have bumped into. When he told her what he was trying to do, she asked the name of the children. He told her, and she started jumping up and down and saying, “Praise Jesus!” over and over. So he joined her in that. And then he asked what she was praising Jesus for.
She ran an orphanage; it was one of several that the children from the raid so many months before had been sent to. The brother and sister had been sent to her orphanage; she had them. It was well across town. She was only in this government building to handle some paperwork that day. And if he had come in a minute earlier or later, they would not have run into each other.

To Tim Ballard, this was a direct and obvious answer to prayer. That’s a much more reasonable explanation than that it was just an odd coincidence.

I’m telling this story, because I’ve been listening to the debate between Jordan Peterson and atheist Sam Harris, from this past June. Jordan Peterson’s view of religion comes at it from an evolutionary psychologist’s point of view. It’s interesting, but it’s cerebral in its approach to what is transcendent of the intellect and reason. Sam Harris’s view is that religion is actually harmful, and the better approach to finding the best way to live a life would be to use pure reason.

Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris debate, Bret Weinstein moderates
screen shot from here

Peterson is often reticent to give a direct answer to whether he believes in God, because he doesn’t like all the attachments to the answer that other people make. But he does say he lives his life as though there is a God, and that he has evidences that lead him to believe that is the right way. But as a scientist, more so in this discussion than in some others I’ve heard, he talks about religion as the metaphorical stories making up religion that lead us to lead better lives.

What Harris takes from that is that metaphors, or stories, are just fiction, even if sometimes they are useful; you can’t trust a fiction for guidance to truth, because you know it's fiction. Also, he believes the dogma that surround religions are harmful and evil.

Harris’s view negates the religious point of view because of an a priori premise that religion is about belief in something pretend, an invisible being who doesn’t exist.

But he fails utterly to grasp the experiential evidence such as Tim Ballard’s story. Ballard’s story is dramatic, and clearly shows God’s hand. And he has a number of other stories—many involving his wife and her uncanny ability to follow promptings that she knows are from God, and that lead to important good outcomes for the children and the family and others. My personal stories may be less dramatic or convincing for others, but they are no less real for me.

I’m also not satisfied with Peterson’s explanation. It starts with an assumption about evolutionary science that I don’t totally buy into. In fact, I start with my belief in God, which is a truth that I believe I have received enough evidence for. And while I do not know how God went about creating us as the fully formed intelligent, self-aware beings that we are, I use the evolutionary science more as a metaphor to describe that some things, and some creatures, are simple and others complex—rather than as a map of how one thing progressed from another, which we don’t actually know.

I do think there’s something to the idea that archetypal stories are metaphors we use to understand things that are true. But my religious experience leads me to believe that God often uses metaphor and symbolism in stories that are also factually true. It would have been a stronger response to Harris’s arguments to say that God is not only metaphorically factual, but actually factual, and Harris' personal lack of evidence does not negate the personal evidence of billions of other humans.

Harris uses the most heinous elements of some religions to claim that religions in general are bad: human sacrifice, genocide of infidels, execution of apostates. My hypothesis is that these are corruptions of religion. They do not honor a God who created us and loves and cares for us. Nor do they honor life, family, truth, or property. Such religions lack the necessities of civilization.

So what Harris is referring to isn’t religious truth; it’s a distortion, a corruption—which implies that there was something whole that they are distortions and corruptions from.

Moreover, he looks at reason as the source for truth and goodness. This fails to notice a couple of things. For one thing, reasoning, or logic, only works if you start with the right assumption. One example provided in the PragerU video "Where Do Good and Evil Come From?" (included below) is that criminals plan a heist using reason. Reason helps them carry out a successful theft without it causing them to realize the wrongness of the theft. So, in order for reason to lead to moral truth, it needs to start with a moral assumption.
From the PragerU video
"Where Do Good and Evil Come From?"
presented by Peter Kreet,
Professor of Philosophy at Boston College

Where can reason get that? It gets it from a milieu of morality. It’s logical to see that dealing honestly and truthfully with others is morally good, if you live in a society where that is normal. If you live in a society where master have their slaves serve them, and that is all you’ve known, it is logically reasonable to see that as the right way, and perfectly moral—which most of the societies on earth have done. That reasoning doesn’t make it morally true. But true religion—which tells us humans are created by God and have a divine nature—tells us that enslaving a human being is morally wrong.

In other words, Harris believes he gets to moral truth through reason, when he’s really benefiting from living in a civilization with a religious moral legacy.

Peter Kreet lists and refutes the various sources for
moral truth proposed by atheists,

There’s a hypothetical question Peterson and Harris consider: If you were to do an experiment in which you take a religious people to settle one isolated frontier, and reasoning atheists to settle another completely separate isolated frontier, which society would more likely become a thriving civilization? Harris believes it’s obvious the reasoning one will do better.

But it isn’t obvious. And history tells us that atheistic societies (which all the socialist/communist ones are) are much more likely to savagely massacre huge portions of the population. What he’s assuming is that he’ll take the reasoning of people who already benefit from the experience of living in civilized societies—which are based on moral principles—and carry on with everyone being moral simply because the good outcomes are rational.

Good doesn’t come from nothing. In fact, good itself is a moral judgment. If that judgment is based on current reasoning, it can change, depending on how individuals or groups think at a given time. There’s no moral absolute there, because there’s no source of absolute moral good, or moral truth.

You only get that if there is a transcendent source. As Professor Kreet says in the video:

Just as a design suggests a designer, moral commands suggest a moral commander. Moral Laws must come from a moral lawgiver.
Well, that sounds pretty much like what we know as God.
The consequence of this argument is that whenever you appeal to morality you are appealing to God whether you know it or not; you’re talking about something religious, even if you think you’re an atheist.
That’s similar to what I’ve heard Jordan Peterson say elsewhere, in a Q&A after a lecture:
Everything you act out is predicated on your implicit axioms. The system of implicit axioms that you hold as primary is your religious belief system. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an atheist or not. That’s just surface noise….
It doesn’t necessarily have to do with your voluntarily articulated statements about whether or not you believe in something like a transcendent deity. So, what you act out is much more what you are than what you say about yourself. And what the hell do you know about what you believe, anyways?
We know that evil is real, because we experience it. We also know that good exists, because we experience it. We know these things and act on them, even before we know how to identify and articulate our beliefs.

So good is real. And that means God is real—the source and definer of ultimate good. If that is so, then we are better off living our lives in search of God’s truth, gaining experience with Him, and from Him. You don’t get that by experimenting with living a life that excludes God; you get that by seeking Him, through study, faith, and practice at choosing good even when bad is easier and possibly appears more rational.

God has a better view. And civilizations thrive when enough people within them live God’s guiding principles, as articulated in the Ten Commandments: honor God, life, family, truth, and property.