Monday, December 24, 2012

Rejoice! Rejoice!

The grandson was one week old in this photo; the granddaughter is three.

This is what it's all about--the good news of our Savior. And once we know this, we pass it on to our children.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
This second photo is one of the outtakes, but I love it, because "Mother Mary" was rejoicing loud enough to startle "Baby Jesus," but she really meant it. It is something of a follow-up to last year's card photo, where she portrayed the angel bringing glad tidings to the shepherds.

"For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy..."
Already looking forward to what the next year brings. Wishing blessings to come to you all.

Friday, December 14, 2012


At Spherical Model, the cultural/social sphere has civilization in the northern hemisphere and savagery in the southern hemisphere. What we saw in Connecticut on Friday with 28 deaths, mostly children, was savagery. This is something so far down at the southern pole of the sphere that recognition of it as savage is virtually universal. Any philosophical argument about right and wrong being relative, that one person’s “bad” might seem “good” to someone else, is clearly vacuous when you see such a worst case scenario.

I don’t know how this particular perpetrator became so savage. It is a relief we don’t have to suffer through a post-tragedy trial, but it would have made closure easier if there were some explanation. Yet the simple explanation for unspeakable evil is choosing, time after time, against guidance from God.
The path away from evil is toward God. May we ever follow the path leading us closer to God, and may we lead all children there with us.
God bless the families suffering the loss of a beloved child, family member, or friend.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


The word “secession” has been tossed about a bit since the election, maybe more here in Texas than in some places. It’s not something to toy with, and I don’t intend to do that. But I hope to add some clarity as to why it shouldn’t be casually considered.
There’s a nice little video spelling out whether Texas can secede; it’s worth viewing for some context.


With that background, I just want to add this analogy. States join the union of the United States with the intention of permanence—indivisibility—the way most people throughout history have entered marriage. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Divorce is not supposed to happen, but it does. Historically, just cause has been reserved for the big A words: adultery, abandonment, addiction, abuse. Irritation, anger, disappointment, disagreement, and other failures are a difficult part of life, but not just cause for breaking a marriage covenant, if the marriage covenant itself is to continue to have meaning for society.
So, by comparison, a state in the union is meant to be a permanent part of the United States. That covenant should not be broken without just cause. Again, irritation, anger, disappointment, disagreement, and other failures are not just cause. However, there is this contract, the Constitution, that is essentially the marriage document between states and the federal government. If the Constitution is violated—and I think this must be in a clear, incontrovertible, unrepentant violation—such that the just cause for separation listed in the Declaration of Independence become true again, then the contract is by the union, and the state has the moral right to separate.
A marriage that expects one party to remain bound when the other feels free to violate repeatedly various parts of the covenant is nothing more than slavery. A Constitution that binds states to a union that violates many or most of the guarantees of freedom agreed to in the contract is nothing more than slavery. No state has made such an agreement. Our Constitution, unlike those of other countries where a constitution is viewed as merely some nice suggested wording about governing, is the supreme law of the land. Honoring the contract protects us all.
While the contract has been violated, and repeatedly, I don’t know that we are beyond all the other stages of correction—the marriage counseling parts. If we, in the various states, stand up against unjust laws, refuse to allow imposition of actions that break the contract—then we might find that the bully government backs down. There might be a renewed respect from the federal government toward the individual sovereign states. Until those steps (what we might call nullification in some cases) are taken, then we don’t know that dissolution is the only recourse.
Could there come a time when, as the Declaration of Independence says, “it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another”? Yes. Some may argue we are there already. I say first, let’s as states stand up for ourselves and refuse to tolerate abuses of the Constitutional contract. Because, in the way divorce damages the family, divisibility would damage the union. And, without a divorce court to settle the division, that would be settled by whoever is the stronger force in war. In other words, if we’re not yet willing to fight to the death for our independence from the union, it’s not time to talk secession.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cliffs, Valleys, and Flash Floods

Every now and then I get annoyed that the opposition to freedom has control over the national vocabulary. So I’m striking back a little bit with my own small force. What I’d like to do away with is “fiscal cliff.” The term implies that, at a certain point (and this time it’s at the end of the year when the Bush tax cuts expire and everybody’s taxes then suddenly rise to previous rates), there will be financial freefall. It’s looking like a game of chicken.
I want to change the metaphor to something closer to what is about to happen.
Back in late 2008 we went off a cliff—we had the sudden drop of a severe recession. What do you expect after a recession fall? That’s right—a bounce back up to where we were. Under normal circumstances, when the economy hits bottom, it heads back up with about the same amount of energy, sometimes climbing higher than previously. Unless, of course, there’s interference “to help.” I wrote about this in “Parabolas” and “The Trampoline Effect.”
Winter Camp Slot, Near Moab, UT
photo from here
Government interference took away the bounce back up. The trampoline metaphor would look like jumping off a cliff onto a bouncy trampoline floor that would just as robustly put us back up where we had been. But the “help” meant someone stopped the bounce from happening, and we found ourselves pretty much stuck down there on the valley floor. Nothing for it but to walk along the cliff wall until we can find a path with enough possible foot and hand holds to allow us to climb back up.
So we’ve been walking along the valley floor, kind of wandering, for four years. Sometimes the floor of the valley has been heading very slightly up, so we’ve tried to follow that direction, moving along this valley as we go.
But now what is about to happen—the sudden across-the-board tax increases—is we get stuck in a tighter canyon; we’re running out of valley floor to walk on, and the cliff we’re inexorably approaching is even more sheer and imposing than the one we dropped down originally. Can it be climbed out? Maybe, with the right  equipment, some skill, and a lot of determination. As Westley said, while climbing the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride, “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but this is not as easy as it looks. So I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t distract me.”
Private sector business is the climber; the distractors, a combination of Democrats, liberals, media (redundant, I know) are pointing out that they’re waiting to kill the climber when he reaches the top, which “does put a damper on the relationship.”
[We could also see the distractors in this climbing scene between Vizzini and the Fezzik the giant:
Vizzini: You were supposed to be this colossus. You were this great, legendary thing….
Fezzik: Well, I’m carrying three people….
Vizzini: I do not accept excuses. I’m just going to have to find myself a new giant, that’s all.
There are so many ways we can apply The Princes Bride to our world.]
It’s a precarious situation we’re in. What’s even worse is that climbing the economic canyon wall, while necessary and difficult, is made more treacherous by an additional looming danger. We hear distant thunder. That means rain, which, in this terrain, means FLASH FLOOD. If there is enough “rain”—quantitative easing, or printing of money that is not backed by wealth created, as well as debt along with mounting interest, now at higher rates because of our twice-lowered credit rating—then we get hyperinflation. We get washed away down the economic canyon.
Flash floods in this terrain are much more dangerous than in, say, a flatter plain, or more gentle slopes. The tight canyon walls direct the path of the flood and speed it up. Everything in the narrow canyon gets washed away. Occasionally there are survivors [the link is a news story about the 2004 Antelope Canyon flash flood and its one survivor; not about economics, but a fascinating story], but deaths are common. In our analogy, the deaths are business closings and more lost jobs.
Is this for certain going to happen? We don’t know. We just know the conditions to watch for, and we see them. Darkening clouds loom above. Thunder rumbles not too distant. We’re up against the cliff wall, struggling against great odds to get to higher ground.
So, in not-very-cheerful summary: the expiration of Bush tax cuts (which, after a decade simply translate as a sudden tax increase) are a huge sheer wall in the way of recovery. But the real fear isn’t a sudden new drop, or recession; we’re already there on the valley floor, so we’re not about to step off a ledge. What we have to fear is the flash flood of hyperinflation, washing us down, down, down the ravine, with plenty of inevitable drownings.
Congress shouldn’t be overly concerned about the looming cliff wall. Dithering about whether we’re going to walk into the wall isn’t the least bit useful. Better would be to put out warnings: get to higher ground. Now! Save yourselves! Government can’t do anything useful at this point but get out of our way.
In a related mistranslation: tax increase does not equal revenue. I wrote about the Laffer Curve here. This video, from Prager University, is one of the better explanations.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Family Ties to Economics

We’ve talked here before about the formula for success in America (which I wrote about here and here):
1.         Don’t have sex before age 20.
2.         Don’t have sex until after marriage.
3.         Stay married.
4.         Obtain at least a high school diploma.
I first had this formula spelled out in a speech from Richard Wilkins in 2001, the first time I met him. While going through various tributes following his early death (this is a good one, from Sharon Slater, who worked with him for Family Watch International), I found a link to one of his last speeches (full speech here) Richard Wilkins was the keynote speaker at the June 2012 UN event Standing for the Family: The Family in the Context of Human Rights. The speech is called “The Family as the Cradle of International Human Rights,” and again he asserts that the necessary solution to poverty and other social and economic issues worldwide depends on strengthening marriage and family. As always, it is clearly laid out and well documented.
He points out the founding UN documents that validate the family as the basic unit of society, and then laments the failure to abide by those founding principles.
During the past 65 years there has been great (and laudable) progress in individual rights and freedom, particularly with regard to equality for women. But the family—and the associated civic virtues of hard work, tolerance, patience, kindness, forbearance and forgiveness that are taught to children by wise and loving parents—has been ignored. It is well past time for the international community to acknowledge the fundamental roles played by the family and to take appropriate action to strengthen and support the family.
He spends the body of the piece outlining the specific benefits to men, women, and children—and to society as a whole—provided by marriage and family, well-documented by mounting social research. He then outlines social problems stemming directly from family breakdown. And ends with a call to strengthen family:
Because families are the fundamental unit of society, governments and other social assistance actors should not bypass the unit that can best strengthen society. Fathers and mothers, by and large, love their children. Policies and assistance that permit fathers and mothers to work together to strengthen their families to improve the condition of their children will not only be more successful than other possible approaches, they will strengthen society itself. By building a healthy family, we build a healthy society and—ultimately—a healthy world.
In the shadow of some looming economic catastrophes in our own country, I think we need to make the connection to family breakdown as the root cause and stronger families as the ultimate only solution.
Paul Rahe
Photo from Uncommon Knowledge interview
While I was thinking this, I happened to be doing a little catch-up watching of things I got behind on, and tuned in to Glenn Beck’s November 30th show—last Friday. Glenn wasn’t there that day. BYU History Professor Paul Kerry  hosted, and his  main guest was Professor Paul Rahe of Hillsdale College (I recognized him from Week 3: “The Greek Miracle,” from Hillsdale’s free online History 101 course). Much of the hour talked about the need for a long-term view, and what perpetuates that view. Family is one of those things. Starting at about 21 minutes in, the discussion gets somewhat specific:
Paul Rahe: Let me give you some statistics that I think will shock you and surprise you. In 1940 what was the rate of out-of-wedlock births, in other words the percentage of children born who were not born to people who were already married? The answer is somewhere between 2 and 3%. That was true in 1950,2-3%. It went up to 5%, a shocking number, in 1960. And, among African-Americans, it went considerably higher than that, to about 12%, which caused Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was an assistant secretary of labor, to work on the so-called Moynihan report about the crisis of black families.
Paul Kerry: And a Democrat as well…
Paul Rahe: Yes. By 1980 it was 18.4%. Last year it was 39.6%. Now, think about that. We are approaching a situation in which half of the children born in the United States are born to young women who are not married. This is a very good example of a lack of long-term planning. Because they’re taking on heavy responsibilities that it’s hard enough for two parents to manage, especially with one working full time and the other at home (which was the old pattern) to manage. And they’re doing this without thinking.
Now, it’s even worse than I say. Because, if you go back to 1940, there’s almost no form of contraception available. So, in the absence of contraception, the out-of-wedlock birthrate was 2-3%. With the presence of contraception, it’s 39.6%. And I’ve left abortion out of the picture. In 1940 there are almost no abortions; last year in the United States there were three-quarters of a million abortions. There have been 50 million abortions since 1973.
So the pattern, which is among young people—because 50-year-olds aren’t having this problem, since they’re not giving birth—the problem is a lack of impulse control. The problem is a lack of long-term planning. The problem is that a moral revolution has taken place.
So a question you  might want to ask yourself is, can a republic sustain itself in a world in which people are acting on impulse and irresponsibly—and I say irresponsibly, because there are other human being involved, not only the sexual partner but the offspring—can a republic be sustained in those circumstances? Because the women who have children out of wedlock are in fact going to be dependents on the state. And what they’re going to do is call upon other people to pay their bills, to take care of them. Not the father of the child, but welfare, food stamps, things along those lines.
It was a nice connecting of the dots. Who teaches impulse control and encourages a long-term outlook that helps individuals and communities? Families do that. Who does it in broken homes or single-parent households? No one. Especially if the broken family situation happened because of choosing short-term impulse over long-term perspective. In those cases the burden to teach the values falls on someone who does not hold those values.
The solution to economic problems is not to forcibly take income from successful people and hand it unearned to people whose behavior led to dire circumstances; the solution is to strengthen families, where the formula for success is taught. A backup is for churches and schools to also teach the values traditionally inculcated in families, rather than working against them. The social problems caused by an out-of-wedlock birthrate of 2-3% are much easier for society to solve than the overwhelming 39.6% rate. Too many problems, and too few successful society members to make up for the problems.
We know the formula for success. We know the path to take. Some of us will take that path no matter what. The question is, why isn’t that the direction followed by everyone who ever sought to be a leader? Because a leader moving people in any other direction cannot lead to success.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Each Life that Touches Ours for Good

This is Part II of Remembering Richard Wilkins. Part I is here.
Richard Wilkins, photo from
World Family Policy Center
I first met Richard Wilkins when he came to Houston to speak about defending the family, back in 2001. I took copious notes, which I still have. After the event, I got to enjoy a conversation with his wife, Melany, talking about music and a whole lot of other things. Very fun. He was busy talking with a long line of people, so my conversation with him later was brief.
In 2003, the year the Texas legislature voted on its DOMA legislation, I found much of Richard Wilkins’  information useful when I testified before the House Committee, on a day when 700+ supporters attended and many testified. DOMA passed, but a month later the Supreme Court essentially wiped out the people’s will with the Lawrence v. Texas case (states are not allowed to make laws against sodomy was the specific ruling, but the vague language led to many future attacks on marriage).
In summer 2003 I suggested Richard and Melany as speakers at a homeschool conference, as the keynote speaker to which we invited the public—again to talk about defending the family. We got several hours of information from them, and were able to spend more time together. (They even attended a workshop I taught on literary analysis, which Melany later told me they were using with their youngest son, whom they were homeschooling at the time.) Sometime after the keynote speech I talked with Richard about what to do, now that we had this information. My skill is in gathering information and being able to write it in a way that people can understand, but I had no connections or credentials to get anything published. He said it was good to have the viewpoint of a mother, and that I shouldn’t let that stop me.
Within a couple of months I had written a piece, using much of the information he gave me, and we exchanged emails during an editing process so I could get the references for all the data I included. The piece got published because of his recommendation. In fact, every piece I wrote over the next couple of years, in the defense of marriage, was published because of his recommendation—with the exception of the Houston Chronicle piece shortly before the 2005 Texas Constitutional Amendment to define marriage. But even that was published because he gave me the credential of a voluntary position as writer for Defend Marriage. 
This past spring I re-published some of those pieces on this blog, with links to their original publications:
·         In Defense of Marriage 
·         Defining Marriage and Making Cream Sauce (I co-authored with Richard Wilkins)
·         The Gay Marriage Fantasy
·         Why Texas Will Vote to Protect Marriage—No Matter What You Call Us

Richard was the one to introduce me to historical scientists of marriage: Vico and Unwin. Information about them is included in several of my published pieces, also at Spherical Model. I’m not sure where he learned of them, but they are now oft-quoted. We both needed to see some original information, so he asked me if I could get hold of Unwin’s research. I did an interlibrary loan and was able to obtain a copy of the near-century-old study and send it to Richard. I wrote a three-part blog post on what we learn from Vico and Unwin, starting with “Devaluing Marriage and Family = Decay of Civilization”    
In addition to specific protection of traditional marriage, Richard opened my eyes to the demographic changes leading to lower and lower birthrates worldwide. I wrote about Demographic Winter in June 2011; the diagrams in this post were first shown to me by Richard Wilkins, which I recorded in my notes.
If there is any single source of information that has affected what I write at in defense of marriage, and in fact the entire “Family Is the Basic Unit of Civilization” section of Spherical Model, that source has been Richard Wilkins. That will continue to be so, because he has shown me where to go for continued information. Defending marriage was something he did as a personal calling, as a service to God. There were so many ways he could have been making money instead. He joked about it being “our expensive hobby of saving the world.”
Richard and Melany had a home near Brigham Young University, where we started taking college kids in 2005 (and our daughter still attends there). Plus, I am from Utah and still have family there, so we started visiting them when we were in town. I always felt honored if they could find time to see us. They are gracious hosts (and good cooks), beyond anything our friendship could offer them. Conversations were always lively and valuable. And they included our children, as well as us adults, as having opinions totally worth listening to.
Richard preparing for role of Scrooge,
photo from Salt Lake Tribune
We only spent a relatively minimal time talking shop; there was so much else the Wilkins’ were interested in. I learned along the way that Richard is very musical. He had taken piano lessons from a teacher who lived just two blocks from my childhood home (the teacher had a couple of kids my age that I knew through school and church--it's a small world). Melany is also musical, which I knew from our first conversation, and I found out her field was theater.
Eventually we learned of their participation in the annual Hale Community Theater production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Richard started playing the central role of Ebenezer Scrooge back in 1985, when he was in his early 30s, way too young to look the part without a lot of theater makeup. We left Utah in 1984, and never got the chance to see him perform. He managed to keep performing even during the years in Qatar; he had a month’s leave every winter. The cast began rehearsals without him, and he would arrive ready to go just days before performances began. The local news stories following his death centered on his relative fame for this role, with the worldwide protection of marriage only in the background. But the performances were about to start for the season. The stories talked about how he relished the role of Scrooge (among other theater roles he performed over the years).
He had a voice that worked well for theater, but also for speaking. This last month there was some discussion about the Daniel Day Lewis performance of Lincoln, with a higher, more piercing rather than basso voice of earlier portrayals. The description reminded me of Richard. When he gave a speech, his voice shifted in pitch, toward tenor from baritone, and carried easily through a big room. In normal speech, he was still animated and lively. And he had a marvelous booming laugh—such that it was almost startling in a small room. At the last dinner we had with him in May (myself, my daughter and her fiancĂ©-now-husband), Richard told us a memorably funny story, with full animation and laugh, and we have repeated it to each other several times since. What a delight!
There’s that image of Scrooge, when he wakes up Christmas morning and becomes aware he hasn’t missed it—and he has more time to live differently and happily. That happy, joyous Scrooge is how I picture Richard: “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge,” “as good a friend…as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”
It is a blessing to find such a friend, who served so well. I recalled a quote this week, from another man who lived such an exemplary life. The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, quoted yet another prophet, Spencer W. Kimball: “President Spencer W. Kimball, who was such a great example of this principle, once said to me, ‘I feel that my life is like my shoes—to be worn out in service to others.’”  Richard was such a man—worn out in service. He was so energetic, so effective, he accomplished whatever the Lord asked of him, and, at only 59, he did it in fewer years than we would have preferred. We will miss him. But we feel privileged to have known him, and look forward to a next-life day when we can joyfully get together again.
* The title "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good" is hymn 293 from Hymns, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint.