Thursday, January 29, 2015

Courts and Public Opinions

The Supreme Court reversed its October decision, wherein it decided not to rule on states’ being required by circuit court judges to change their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

Maybe you saw what I did there; I did not say states were being told it was unconstitutional to ban gay marriages—for several reasons: 1) the Constitution is silent on that issue, which leaves it to the states; 2) keeping the definition as it has been in most cultures during all the millennia of human history is not a ban, which would require taking something existing away; and 3) people need to be aware that a change in definition of terms for a particular contract is what’s going on, such that marriage would no longer include permanence, exclusivity, and the sexual act required for procreation, but would simply “honor” anyone in any sort of sexual relationship at the current time, regardless of society’s interest in such a relationship.
Anyway, the SCOTUS changed because there is now a split among circuit court rulings, which gave them impetus to rule sooner rather than later. We can expect a decision by late June.
I never like putting matters of basic right and wrong ordained by God into the hands of a few judges (mainly appointed for their leanings). But we can pray that a good decision on their part might be helpful. As president of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, said, “Lower court judges have robbed millions of people of their voice and vote on society’s most fundamental relationship—marriage.  There is nothing in the Constitution that empowers the courts to silence the people and impose a nationwide redefinition of marriage.”
So, this decision for SCOTUS to get involved happened Friday, January 16th. The previous Friday, January 7th, the 5th Circuit Court heard oral arguments on the cases before it, relating to Texas. An interesting group of amicus briefs was presented—against same-sex “marriage,” from adults who had been raised by same-sex parents. Their complaints ranged from sexual confusion, to fear of disagreeing with the same-sex “marriage” promoters (risking ostracism from family relationships), to subjugation to sexual predation—apparently unprotected by the parents, and possibly even enabled by those parents.
I find some of what these people suffered to be horrifying. Their testimonies are anecdotal. However, they represent much larger numbers who have feared to come forward. Going against the culture they were raised in puts at risk the relationships they have reason to value.
The prescribed claim being made about “same-sex families” is that children raised by same-sex couples differ in no particular way from those raised by heterosexual couples. It might look like a pleasant claim, but it’s unsupportable. Studies have generally compared such children to children raised by heterosexual unmarried parents—which have significantly poorer outcomes than children raised by their married mother and father. More evidence is coming out that, not only are these children not better off than other children lacking a mother or father; these children also have the addition of sexual confusion and other sexual-related problems (overly sexual at a young age, inappropriate sexual relationships with much older adults, promiscuity, prostitution).
If the question is what is best for the children, there is nothing about same-sex parenting that satisfies society’s interest.
I listened to a good part of the oral arguments [here]. The plaintiffs’ claim that there is a Constitutional right to same-sex “marriage” fails to identify what marriage itself means. Their claim is that a minority group cannot be discriminated against by denying them marriage. This argument fails, because marriage laws do not prevent any homosexual person from getting married to a person of the opposite sex. Many homosexuals do that very thing; it’s the main way children come to exist for homosexual parents (adoption and in-vitro fertilization from a non-parent sperm donor being the other ways, because obviously a homosexual couple cannot produce offspring together).
So the argument further claims that there is a fundamental right to marry the person of your choice. But that simply isn’t so—and the different limitations are determined by the states. No state allows persons to marry someone already married, or someone under the age of consent without the consent of a parent (and then within a limited age range), and each state determines the level of consanguinity allowed (i.e., no states allow brother/sister marriage, and most disallow first cousins from marrying, maybe even second cousins). While the plaintiff’s law team made a show of reason and case law, their argument boils down to, “You have to call homosexual relationships equivalent to heterosexual marriage, because they want that, and you’re just being mean.” It’s emotional, not logical.
Some of the questioning of the defense dealt with various past cases and what each had contributed. Mostly they dealt with the question of whether and how marriage had been defined. A case concerning whether inmates could marry didn’t determine, for example, whether there was an inviolable right to marry, but related somewhat to whether a marriage could take place if there was no chance that the couple could consummate the marriage. Which really leads to a germane question that gets danced around: is it marriage if the couple does not intend to—and indeed cannot—consummate the marriage with the act that marriage is concerned with? You know the one—the particular kind of sex that can lead to procreation.
Some of the questions related to cases in which there is infertility or age impediments to procreation. But those are old, and answered; the law assumes that a man and wife with the appropriate genetics have the theoretical possibility of being fertile, and so the law does not interfere on that basis. However, failure to participate in the procreative sex act has been grounds for annulment or divorce pretty much universally; it’s a breach of the marriage contract.
What should be asked of same sex couples is, do you intend to behave as a married couple? i.e., engage in the required type of procreative act? And is it possible for you to do so with one another? If it isn’t possible, genetically, then what they are asking us all to do is pretend something is marriage that is not marriage. Our agreeing with them and proclaiming it so will not make it marriage; that will only disregard the underlying purpose of marriage.
Marriage may be much more than simply the sex act, but it must be at least that. Love is not required, but that particular behavior is. So to suddenly come up with a definition of “marriage” that excludes one of those basic essential details of what marriage means seems imprudent at best—and a hundred years hence will look foolhardy. There will not be (cannot be) progeny from same-sex couples, so the progeny of that generation will ask, “What were they thinking?”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks
photo from
In the wake of these marriage issues, there was a news conference this Tuesday, a relatively rare thing for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asking for protections for freedom of religion. The whole twenty are worth hearing in context, but I’ll try to summarize the three parts. Sister Neill Marriott represented Church Public Affairs, and talked about respecting each other’s views and working together to understand one another. Elder Dallin Oaks, who has been a state supreme court judge, talked mainly about issues related to same-sex marriage—and the persecution that has come upon those who stand for traditional marriage. He pointed out that a people should be granted basic rights, and he enumerated things like being able to find employment and housing. But he also asserted the right for individuals to disagree on belief issues, and we should respect rather than stifle the freedom to believe differently. He was followed by Elder Jeffrey Holland, who spent much of his time concerning the larger questions of religious freedom, such as being able to choose whom to hire or what services to perform as a business, without coercion by government or pressure groups.
I thought they all three sounded reasonable and kind—extremely kind. There was no hate speech there. Nor was there any new doctrine or shift in policy. There was simply a declaration that the doctrine is what it is, and while we can respect that many people don’t believe the same way, we request, and firmly insist, that we have the right to our beliefs as well. We have been kind and respectful, and we ask for that in response.
Whatever the Courts decide, God will still have His will, and it’s up to us, in our personal ways, to go about aligning ourselves with that. Let’s pray that the Courts don’t make things harder for any earnest believers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tops and Middles

New data map from here
I had a casual dinner conversation over the weekend in which the top 1% came up. I pointed out that two of my dinner companion’s brothers were in the top 1%. She protested. I couldn’t remember numbers, but I kind of insisted it was anyone making over about $250,000 a year. She insisted it was in the several millions. I knew I was closer (and her brothers probably fit into at least the top 2%). But I was second-guessing myself and came home to look up the numbers. I was much closer than she was.

The numbers I came up with are from 2012, which isn’t very satisfying, but there you go.* [I found the information here.] Anyway, I’ve listed the top 1% in each state, from least to most. I also wondered about median income (per household) by state and various questions about the relationship between the top and the middle.
So here’s the data, followed by a couple of comments. (Delta is the difference between the top 1% and the median family income. The ratio is the top 1% divided by the median family income for that state.)
           Top 1% $300,000 or under                  Median in state                              Delta             Ratio Top 1%/Median
1.      Idaho               $274,000         $45,489           $228,511         6.0
2.      Montana          $280,000         $45,076           $234,924         6.2
3.      Arkansas          $283,000         $40,112          $242,888         7.0
4.      New Mexico    $286,000         $42,558           $243,442         6.7
5.      Wyoming         $295,000         $54,901*        $240,099         5.4*
6.      Alabama          $299,000         $41,574           $257,426         7.2
7.      South Carolina $300,000         $43,107           $256,893         7.0 

           Above $300,000 up to $400,000           Median in state                              Delta             Ratio Top 1%/Median
8.      West Virginia  $304,000         $40,196             $263,804         7.6
9.      Indiana            $307,000         $46,974             $260,026         6.5
10.  Mississippi      $309,000         $37,095*            $271,905         8.3*
11.  Kentucky         $311,000         $41,724              $269,276         7.5
12.  Iowa                $316,000         $50,957               $265,043         6.2
13.  Maine              $322,000         $46,709              $275,291         6.9
14.  Nebraska         $329,000         $50,723              $278,277         6.5
15.  Wisconsin        $334,000         $51,059             $282,941         6.5
16.  Ohio                $334,000         $46,829              $287,171         7.1
17.  Oklahoma        $335,000         $44,312             $290,688         7.6
18.  Missouri           $335,000         $45,321             $289,679         7.4
19.  Louisiana         $335,000         $42,944             $292,056         7.8
20.  Hawaii             $337,000         $66,259*           $270,741         5.1
21.  Tennessee        $338,000         $42,764             $295,236         7.9
22.  North Carolina $338,000         $45,150             $292,850         7.5
23.  Arizona            $339,000         $47,826             $291,174         7.1
24.  Delaware         $339,000         $58,415             $280,585         5.8*
25.  Michigan         $340,000         $46,859             $293,141         7.3
26.  Nevada            $340,000         $49,760             $290,240         6.8
27.  Utah                 $340,000         $57,049            $282,951         6.0
28.  Oregon             $342,000         $49,161            $292,839         7.0
29.  Vermont          $349,000         $52,977             $296,023         6.6
30.  Kansas             $351,000         $50,241            $300,759         7.0
31.  South Dakota   $352,000         $48,362            $303,638         7.3
32.  Alaska             $354,000         $67,712*           $286,288         5.2
33.  Rhode Island   $359,000         $54,554             $304,446         6.6
34.  Georgia           $365,000         $47,209             $317,791         7.7
35.  Florida             $367,000         $45,040             $321,791         8.1*
36.  New Hampshire$375,000        $63,280*          $311,720         5.9
37.  Washington      $378,000         $57,573            $320,427         6.6
38.  Pennsylvania   $387,000         $51,223             $335,777         7.6
39.  Texas               $391,000         $50,740             $340,260         7.7 

            Above $400,000                                     Median in state              Delta             Ratio Top 1%/Median
40.  Colorado          $406,000         $56,765            $349,235         7.2
41.  California         $433,000         $58,328            $374,672         7.4
42.  Minnesota        $408,000         $58,906            $349,094         6.9
43.  Illinois             $413,000          $55,137            $357,863         7.5
44.  Virginia            $433,000         $61,741*          $371,259         7.0
45.  Maryland         $435,000         $71,122*           $363,878         6.1
46.  North Dakota   $455,000         $53,585             $401,415         8.5*
47.  New York        $511,000         $56,448             $454,552         9.1*
48.  Massachusetts  $499,000         $65,339*           $433,661         7.6
49.  New Jersey      $504,000         $69,667*           $434,333         7.2
50.  Connecticut     $642,000         $67,276*           $574,724         9.5*
51.  DC                   $688,000         $66,583*           $621,417       10.3*

I marked the median state level for top 1% (as many states below and above); it’s $340,000, which is the actual top1% for three states. The range of top 1%-ers goes from a low of $274,000 in Idaho, up to $688,000 in Washington, DC (not even a state, but an expensive US place to live).  

Doing some math fun, I notice that the range of 1%-ers from the lowest to median is only $66,000. The range from the median to the high is $348,000. So I wondered, where does $66,000 above the median land; I’m sure you were wondering that very thing. That’s $406,000, right where Colorado is. Forty states fit within this range. I’m thinking, then, that states that don’t fit within $66,000 of the median are outliers, exceptions. There are ten states plus DC in this group. California plus the DC to New York/Connecticut corridor, with North Dakota randomly tossed in.  

My chart also shows median income for all the states. I wanted to see if regular people have to make more in the same states as the top 1% need more income to reach their top status. There’s some correlation. Forty-five states have median household incomes under $60,000 a year. Those that don’t are all among the outliers requiring high incomes for their top 1%.  

There are a couple of lower outliers as well. Mississippi has the lowest median income, at $37,095, while it ranks tenth lowest for its 1%-ers; even with that low 1%-er ranking, the top earn 8.3 times what the median family earns.  

Wyoming has a midrange median family income of $54,901, while ranking fifth for its 1%-ers.  So cost of living is low, and it doesn’t take that much to get to the top. (Go into oil, except when it’s at $50 a barrel, like now.) And then you have a place like Hawaii, with a relatively low rank for 1%-ers, but a surprisingly high $66,259 for median family income—high cost of living, but not so much harder to reach the top.  

In general, it takes a lot of money to live in the coastal bastions of “progressivism.” And apparently a lot of people make good money in North Dakota as well—maybe because of the oil boom there. (Again, the data is from 2012—with boom underway and no oil price slump yet.) 

What the chart doesn’t tell us is what lifestyle looks like for the top 1% and the median family. I looked at the ratio to see how many years it would take a median family to earn what a top 1% family earns in a year. That tells us a little about disparity, but not everything.  

Look at my state of Texas. There’s opportunity to get into the top 1% (it’s within $66,000 of the median states’ top 1% range), but the standard of living for the median family in Texas is pretty good. It’s not an outlier with a 7.7 ratio, but it does seem to have a relatively high disparity, if you don’t know that a median family might be buying a house in the suburbs. In Connecticut, it takes the median family 9.5 years to make what the top 1% make in a year—and the cost of living (made worse by taxes) leaves the median family probably hopeless about home buying. 

As for the dinner conversation—I admit I was low-balling the estimate for top 1% earners. Mea culpa. But I was right in that the top 1% are pretty nearly regular people, probably living in nice suburban homes, maybe with some extra property. They could be business owners, or maybe professionals who’ve had time to build up their business over some decades. But they aren't what most of us think of as "filthy rich." They might have more freedom to travel and invest than many. But they’re not casually buying numerous mansions and yachts and private jets.  

If you think the top 1% are multi-millionaires (by income every year), then you’re mistaking them for the top .1% (1 per thousand) . Or maybe the top .01% (one per ten thousand). There aren’t that many of those, no matter how many you see in media. And even if you confiscate all the wealth from all those super-high earners, you don’t lift standard of living nearly as well as those people can by hiring and spending on their own. 

So, re-read the Ten Commandments, and notice that one about “Thou shalt not covet” (also here). Let go of class envy and the associated false misperceptions. And trust that there is enough abundance in the world and to spare for all who follow the principles of freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

* PS: This evening, while looking for something graphic to go with this post (which I used above), I find that CNN put out a story today with some updated data. I’m not going to redo my math, since that wasn’t my point. Suffice it to say, what growth there has been since 2012 has been top heavy. Where there was disparity, there’s now more. It’s more pronounced where “progressives” enact their policies.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Linguistically Speaking

I didn’t listen to much of the State of the Union the other night. I can’t do that fairly, because the president’s voice sounds derisive and condescending, and I don’t hear what he says clearly enough because of the nonverbal negatives. I did hear parts, and anger bubbled up, so I turned to a book. And then I read the transcript later.
at 2015 SOTU, image found here
When you have the transcript, there are all kinds of details you can draw out, separate from meaning. People have pointed out for some time that Obama talks about himself pretty endlessly. Andrew Klavan suggested a drinking game while listening:
1.) Take a drink every time Obama uses the 1st person, singular pronoun.
2.) Drown.
Fortunately, I don’t drink. So, no damage done.
Anyway, I began to wonder, just how often does he refer to himself? How does that compare to earlier in his presidency (since people have brought it up enough that his speechwriters should be addressing it as a problem)? How does that compare to other presidential SOTU speeches?
So I’ve done some analysis, using the handy “find” feature of my word processor:
Obama SOTU 2015
Total words: 6550 (59 minutes at 110 wpm, without pauses for applause)
Total first-person singular pronouns: 98
Ratio: 1/67 words
For comparison, I looked at three years ago.
Obama SOTU 2012
Total words: 6963 (63 minutes)
Total first-person singular pronouns: 103
Ratio 1/68 words
So he upped the frequency a tad over three years ago, but probably not a statistically significant change. If he has speechwriters working on the problem, they’re not up to the job.
How does he compare to his predecessor? I randomly looked up 2003, which was a year before an election year as well.
Bush SOTU 2003
Total words: 5327 (48 minutes)
Total first-person singular pronouns: 43
Ratio: 1/124 words
Clearly Bush was less about himself—by about half. What about other presidents? Here’s Clinton, in the same year of his presidency as Obama is this year.
Clinton SOTU 1999
Total words: 7589 (69 minutes)
Total first-person singular pronouns: 116
Ratio: 1/65 words
Interesting. He spoke longer, and used first-person singular pronouns even more often than Obama. Yet we didn’t talk about it that much at the time.
How did Reagan do? I chose the 1987 SOTU, which is, again, the same length into the presidency as this year’s.
Reagan SOTU 1987
Total words: 3799 (35 minutes)
Total first-person singular pronouns: 60
Ratio: 1/63
So Reagan’s a lot less verbose, but he uses first-person pronouns just as much as Clinton, and slightly more often than Obama. Yet no one ever commented on it.
There must be something else that’s getting our attention than simply the use of the first-person pronoun. I started to see a difference as I skimmed through Bush’s sample address. Here are some of Bush’s uses:
·         “You and I serve our country…”
·         “Some might call this a good record. I call it a good start. Tonight I ask the House and the Senate to join me…”
·         “I am proposing that all the income tax reductions set for 2004 and 2006 be made permanent and effective this year.”
·         “I ask you to end the unfair double taxation of dividends.”
·         “I will send you a budget that increases discretionary spending by 4 percent next year, about as much as the average family's income is expected to grow.”
·         “… about strengthening Medicare. I urge the members of this new Congress to act this year.”
·         “I have sent you…”
·         “I urge you to pass…”
·         “I ask you…”
·         “Tonight I ask Congress and the American people to focus the spirit of service and the resources of government on the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens…”
·         “I propose…”
·         “I ask you to protect infants at the very hour of their birth and end the practice of partial-birth abortion.”
·         “There's never a day when I do not learn of another threat, or receive reports of operations in progress or give an order in this global war against a scattered network of killers. The war goes on, and we are winning.”
·         “I thank the Congress…”
·         “The budget I send you will propose almost $6 billion to quickly make available effective vaccines and treatments against agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, ebola and plague. We must assume that our enemies would use these diseases as weapons, and we must act before the dangers are upon us.”
·         “Tonight, I am instructing the leaders…”
·         “I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.”
·         “I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country.”
·         “Tonight I have a message for the men and women who will keep the peace, members of the American armed forces.”
That is essentially the entire list. There is not a single moment where he takes credit or where he orders Congress or anyone else to take his orders. He thanks; he asks; he proposes; he urges. This was the man the media said didn’t know how to speak.
There are too many self-references in this year’s SOTU to handle them all, but we can sample.
·         “In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas…”
·         “So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals…”
·         “You [two representative hard workers who suffered in the bad economy] are the reason I ran for this office. You're the people I was thinking of six years ago today, in the darkest months of the crisis, when I stood on the steps of this Capitol and promised we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation.”
·         “And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this…”
·         “That's why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college—to zero.”
·         “I want to spread that idea all across America…”
·         “And I want to work with this Congress, to make sure…”
·         “I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine…”
·         “I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks…”
·         “I want Americans to…”
·         “…when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there's bipartisan support in this chamber…”
·         “I believe it's where the American people want to go.”
·         “I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership.”
·         “…we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we've done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.”
·         “I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.”
·         “…I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
·         “…I will veto any new sanctions bill…”
·         “I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children's information.”
·         “I couldn't be prouder of [our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers who fought Ebola in West Africa], and I thank this Congress for your bipartisan support of their efforts.”
·         “…I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate.”
·         “I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children…”
·         “I will not relent in my determination to shut [GTMO] down.”
·         “You know, just over a decade ago [at the 2004 Democratic National Convention], I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn't a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America—but a United States of America. I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home…”
·         “I know…. I still think…. I believe…. I have seen…”
·         “I know…. I know…. I know….”
·         “I have no more campaigns to run. I know, because I won them both.”
·         “I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol—to do what I believe is best for America.”
·         “I hope you'll at least work with me…”
·         “I want…. I want…. I want…. I want…. I want….”
I tried to give a good representative sample, without skewing to make him look bad. You need to see the final paragraphs in context to understand all those “I want”s. I think this was an attempt at parallel construction. An example would be, from My Fair Lady, when Eliza’s dustman father says, “I’m willing to tell you. I’m wanting to tell you. I’m waiting to tell you.” The same construction emphasizes the word(s) you change, adding power and meaningfulness. Lincoln was very good at this. But, in my opinion, a series of “I want”s sounds very much like a spoiled 5-year-old to a weak parent the child knows will give in.
Some of Obama’s uses of the first-person pronoun were acceptable. Most would have come from a less self-absorbed person worded differently.
A SOTU address is a report, to the legislative branch, on how well the laws are being executed, and how effective the enacted laws have been at presumably protecting life, liberty, and property. They are not intended as a propaganda platform to go directly to the American people to say, “I’m trying to give you this, and this, and this, but these obstructionist legislators are getting in the way, so I’d like you to help pressure them.”
I did a quick review of the Clinton and Reagan speeches, because they both used about the same rate of first-person pronouns. Clinton’s were mostly appropriate to expectation. Many were “I propose....” Some were “I ask….” A few were to reference stories showing he related to the people. I didn’t like Clinton; all those proposals were mostly beyond the proper role of government. But he seemed to respect the process, and the American people.
Reagan’s were particularly endearing. Here are just a few:
·         “I congratulate…”
·         “I stand on the shoulders of giants…”
·         “I invoke special executive powers to declare that each of you [members of Congress] must never be titled less than honorable with a capital ‘H.’ Incidentally, I'm delighted you are celebrating the 100th birthday of the Congress. It's always a pleasure to congratulate someone with more birthdays than I've had.”
·         “I cannot find better words…”
·         “I renew that pledge…”
·         “I assume full responsibility.”
·         “I am pleased to report…”
·         “I begin with a gentle reminder…”
·         “The responsibility of freedom presses us towards higher knowledge and, I believe, moral and spiritual greatness. Through lower taxes and smaller government, government has its ways of freeing people's spirits. But only we, each of us, can let the spirit soar against our own individual standards. Excellence is what makes freedom ring. And isn't that what we do best?”
I miss that voice.
What does this look at linguistics tell us? It’s the sub-text of the speech. Even with the help of speechwriters, apparently it’s hard to cover up the thinking.
I don’t recommend simply getting wordsmiths who will alter the words to hide who the speaker really is. I recommend change. Transformation. From power-monger to service leader. Failing that, change to a much better leader in a couple of years.