Friday, December 30, 2016

Good Thing Coming to an End

Economist Thomas Sowell wrote his final column this week. Fortunately, he’s not dead; he’ll keep writing books, keep giving interviews. We just won’t have his frequent short pieces of wisdom to count on each week.

Thomas Sowell
image from here

He’s 86—and only retiring from the column. He said last spring he was on a photography trip to Yosemite with friends. For four days they had no access to news. And he really enjoyed that. While writing the column, he has felt obligated to keep current on news and events so he could comment intelligently about them. And now he’s letting that go.

I relate to that, since I write regularly here, and it does a good part of the time relate to current events. During this holiday season, surrounded by family, I’ve mostly tuned out radio and newspapers, and even much social media—and it is refreshing.

Thomas Sowell has me by nearly two decades, after an extraordinarily prolific career, so I think he’s entitled to the relief from news. Back before writing this blog, when I was writing a few pieces a year (mainly in defense of traditional marriage), I would take hours—weeks sometimes—to write a piece. I marveled at how Thomas Sowell could put out something so profound, well-researched, and well-reasoned a time or two a week.

Eventually I learned that there are differences in writing when you’re doing something quick and regular. I don’t polish as much. I don’t provide exhaustive footnotes as often. I just try to put out a complete thought. I think that’s what Thomas Sowell has done as well, compared to his books, which are longer, more polished, and more referential to specific research. It’s just that he has a huge body of research in his head, and all the thought connections he’s made over many thoughtful decades.
I mentioned his Basic Economics as a favorite influence in my very first blog post. I’ll probably continue to refer to his writings as a model and a resource.

In celebration of his column retirement, I thought I’d share some Thomas Sowell wisdom.
First, if you have half an hour, he did an interview on the Larry Elder radio show on Wednesday. Their conversation covers a wide range, and gives the flavor of his wit and wisdom:

I wrote about a Thomas Sowell interview on Uncommon Knowledge in 2015, following the publication of his book Wealth, Poverty, and Politics. Worth a re-read

Townhall put together a list of “12 Fantastic Thomas Sowell Quotes in Honor of His Retirement.”

And now I’ll share a few of the quotes I’ve saved in my Spherical Model quote file:

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.

Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.

Character is what we have to depend on when we entrust power over ourselves, our children and our society to government officials.
We cannot risk all that for the sake of the fashionable affectation of being more non-judgmental than thou.—(article following resignation of NY governor Elliot Spitzer)

Someone once said that a con man's job is not to convince skeptics but to enable people to continue to believe what they already want to believe.—(article on Obama’s “faith” speech 3-19-08)

One of the biggest taxes is one that is not even called a tax—inflation. When the government spends money that it creates, it is transferring part of the value of your money to themselves. It is quiet taxation but often heavy taxation, falling on everyone, no matter how low their incomes might be.—(10-29-08)

How have intellectuals managed to be so wrong, so often? By thinking that because they are knowledgeable—or even expert—within some narrow band out of the vast spectrum of human concerns, that makes them wise guides to the masses and to the rulers of the nation.
But the ignorance of PhDs is still ignorance and high-IQ groupthink is still groupthink, which is the antithesis of real thinking.—(11-11-08)

The medical care stampede is about much more than medical care, important as that is. It is part of a whole mindset of many on the left who have never reconciled themselves to an economic system in which how much people can withdraw from the resources of the nation depends on how much they have contributed to those resources.—(8-19-09)

There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.—(9-29-09)

People who call differences "inequities" and achievements "privilege" leave social havoc in their wake, while feeling noble about siding with the less fortunate.—(5-4-2010)

Among people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, those who are likely to be most disappointed are those who thought that they were voting for a new post-racial era. There was absolutely nothing in Obama's past to lead to any such expectation, and much to suggest the exact opposite. But the man's rhetoric and demeanor during the election campaign enabled this and many other illusions to flourish.
Still, it was an honest mistake of the kind that decent people have often made when dealing with people whose agendas are not constrained by decency, but only by what they think they can get away with.
On race, as on other issues, different people have radically different views of Barack Obama, depending on whether they judge him by what he says or by what he does.—(7-19-2010)

Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.

The vocabulary of the political left is fascinating. For example, it is considered to be "materialistic" and "greedy" to want to keep what you have earned. But it is "idealistic" to want to take away what someone else has earned and spend it for your own political benefit or to feel good about yourself.—(3-22-2011)

Even if it could be proved that judges who are making rulings that go counter to the written law produce better results in those particular cases than following the letter of the law would have, that does not make society better off. When laws become unreliable and judges unpredictable, lawsuits become a bonanza for charlatans, who can force honest people to settle out of court, for fear of what some judge might do.—(3-22-2011)

The Obama administration seems to be following what might be called "the Detroit pattern"-- increasing taxes, harassing businesses, and pandering to unions. In the short run, it got mayors re-elected. In the long-run, it reduced Detroit from a thriving city to an economic disaster area, whose population was cut in half, as its most productive citizens fled.—(3-22-2011)

Since the government creates no wealth, it can only transfer the wealth required to hire people. Even if the government creates a million jobs, that is not a net increase in jobs, when the money that pays for those jobs is taken from the private sector, which loses that much ability to create private jobs.—(7-6-2011)

People who say they want a government program because "I don't want to be a burden to my children" apparently think it is all right to be a burden to other people's children.—(8-2-2011)

Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.

Like so many people, in so many countries, who started out to "spread the wealth," Barack Obama has ended up spreading poverty.—(10-17-2011)

Politicians can solve almost any problem—usually by creating a bigger problem. But, so long as the voters are aware of the problem that the politicians have solved, and unaware of the bigger problems they have created, political "solutions" are a political success.—(10-17-2011)

Let's stop and think, if only for the novelty of it.—(8-29-2012)

The black family survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow, but it has disintegrated in the wake of the liberals' expansion of the welfare state. Most black children grew up in homes with two parents during all that time but most grow up with only one parent today.—(1-15-2013)

There are no magic solutions [to getting out of poverty], at least none that I know of. Common sense, common decency, work and honesty are about all I can come up with. These things are not fancy or new or politically correct. But they have a better track record than much that we are doing today.—(5-20-2014, “Poverty and Snowstorms”)

I am so old that I can remember when most of the people promoting race hate were white.—(“Who Is Racist?” 7-2014 National Review)

If you don’t understand the issues, but want to do your patriotic duty, then stay home on election night, whether in the primaries or in the national election in November. Uninformed voters turn elections into a game of playing Russian roulette with the future of America.—(1-30-2016)

The old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish has been updated by a reader: Give a man a fish and he will ask for tartar sauce and French fries! Moreover some politician who wants his vote will declare all these things to be among his “basic rights.”—(

Friday, December 23, 2016

It's Christmas!

About a month ago I drove up to visit my grandkids and do a photo shoot for the Christmas card. I pictures something a little different, but we take what we can get when we’re dealing with wild animals and children.

I thought we might have “Mary” sitting on the donkey, and “Joseph” leading it with a rope. But it turned out our donkeys were actually wild. They belong to one of granddaughter, Little Political Sphere 1’s, friends from school. They live in a small Texas town (one elementary school), and the friends live on some acreage down the road, where they raise some calves for sale, but otherwise work in normal in-town jobs. The donkeys lived on the property when they bought it well over a decade ago. 

The one in the photo, Jack, was tame enough to come up and eat carrots out of your hand. So we fed him a lot. And took what we could get. I would have liked a different angle, but then we’d have had to move the truck, and we didn’t know if we’d get the donkey back. The other donkey—more standard looking, with the cross on her back—took one carrot from my very large son. That was more than she usually does.

In most of the photos Little PS1 was so thrilled to be feeding the donkey that she had a huge smile that didn’t say “I’m weary from traveling all the way from Nazareth.” And we were limited by Little PS2’s attention span. But it was a fun time, with a photo good enough for our purposes.
Not sure what to do for next year’s photo.

I’ve been enjoying the music of the season as well—I always do. Besides the choir, and playing with my dulcimer jam group at a few parties, I’ve had my Pandora station set to Pentatonix holiday. I like more and more of their music.

Favorites have included their “Little Drummer Boy” and “Mary, Did You Know?” This year the one that got my attentions is “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

One more I’ve enjoyed this year is Peter Hollens and 300 friends (including BYU’s Vocal Point) doing Carol of the Bells. This fun version makes me like this song again.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Doctors Thornton

This past week, for book club, we read a biography: The Ditchdigger’s Daughters: A Black Family’s Astonishing Success Story, by Yvonne S. Thornton, MD (as told to Jo Coudert). It’s not a new book; it was first published in 1995. But it’s at least as relevant today.

It’s an example of how a father in the home, doing his job well, makes all the difference. The five Thornton girls grew up in the 1960s, at a time when their friends were surprised to learn that their married parents lived in the home—the father hadn’t left.

Donald Thornton, whom the girls called Daddy, worked two jobs always. His wife Itasker (usually called Mommy) worked as a maid or laundress most of their growing up lives.

It was a loving and stable home. But Daddy was also blunt, as you might guess from the opening lines:

“You kids are black,” Daddy sometimes said to us. “You’re dark-skinned and ugly.”
“Daddy, don’t you love us? We wailed.
“I love you. I love you better than I love life,” he assured us. “But I’m not always gonna be around to look after you, and no man’s gonna come along and offer to take care of you because you ain’t light-skinned. That’s why you gotta be able to look after yourselves. And for that you gotta be smart.”
There’s a fair amount of frank talk about racism in the book, but never as an excuse. Daddy didn’t let them do that. Just face facts, and then do what it takes to overcome the odds.

I hadn’t realized how much racism based on skin tone existed (still does?) among blacks. Light skin is preferred, and given advantages within the culture. It was considered marrying down to marry someone more dark-skinned. But the book is never about how insurmountable racism is. Just the opposite.

To those who work so hard to inculcate a high self-esteem in children, separate from their accomplishments, Donald Thornton’s way was different. The way out of poverty was to work hard, be smart, do what it took to earn respect. He had specific goals for them: become doctors. That MD was inarguable; society had to respect you when you earned that degree.

Daddy and Mommy expected the girls to figure out how to get A’s in school. They taught them to look at someone who did well, use them as a pattern, pass them up, and then choose someone else to be a pattern.

Sometimes the girls would say it was just too hard; they weren’t cut out for college. But their Daddy wouldn’t accept that. He’d say it was just a matter of working hard enough.

One important development in the family was music. When they expressed a desire to learn, Daddy found a way to get them instruments and teachers. Good teachers. Usually male professional musicians. The girls got good, and eventually formed a band, which paid for the instruments and lessons, and eventually paid for college.

It took some tremendous energy for the girls to travel and play in the band—The Thornettes—on weekends, and keep up with their schoolwork, plus sometimes extra jobs. They continued all the way through med school, which had to be dizzying and relentless. It also kept them busy, and out of trouble, and always aware of how much effort it took to earn advantages.

In the afterward of the edition I got (ten years after the original printing), Yvonne gives an update:

My oldest Sister, Donna (tenor sax) never celebrated her fiftieth birthday. She lost her battle with lupus in 1993 and died at age forty-eight. Although Donna chose not to graduate from college, she still recognized the value of education. Her daughter, Heather, is an alumna of the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania. She is a social worker now living in San Francisco with her husband and young son.
Betty [a cousin who was adopted into the Thornton family] and her husband still reside in “The House That Donald Built” in Long Branch, New Jersey. Betty will soon be retiring after almost forty years of being a geriatric nurse.
Jeanette (electric guitar) continues to practice psychiatry in Albany, New York, in her subspecialty of Addiction Psychiatry. She has been married for over twenty-five years to her husband, Emile, a gastroenterologist. Although they have no children, Jeanette remains involved in many civic activities.
Over the past twenty-five years, Linda (drums and percussion) has since retired from the United States Army as Lieutenant Colonel. She is now one of the very few female board-certified prosthodontic oral surgeons in the country and holds a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration. Currently, Linda is an associate professor on the faculty of Temple University School of Dentistry in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she serves as the course director for removable prosthodontics.
Rita, my kid sister (piano and keyboards), has had a more circuitous route to her present career. After leaving her position as a science teacher, she enrolled in Seton Hall University School of Law and received her law degree at the age of forty. Not being satisfied in the legal profession, Rita hanged her path, entered the New Jersey Institute of Technology and, in 2006, at fifty-four years of age, became the first black woman at NJIT to receive a PhD in Environmental Science.
As for me, since 1983 (when the book ends), my life has been occupied with trying to balance my roles as a mother, wife, professor, obstetrician/gynecologist, and author. I am still married to my medical school sweetheart, Shearwood. It will soon be thirty-four years. Where does the time go?
I have been affiliated with several teaching hospitals and universities since the book was published in 1995. The academic achievement of which I am most proud is my climb to the faculty position of Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cornell University Weill Medical College in New York, and my delivery of 5,542 babies. I am presently a consultant in High-Risk Obstetrics (Perinatology).
It was an impressive goal for Donald Thornton to want all his daughters to become doctors. You set a high goal, you might reach it—and if you only get close, you’ll have accomplished more than if you set a lower goal.

One thing their Daddy told them over and over was to keep away from young men who would have no respect for their goals and their futures. It was all too easy to try to please a man, get pregnant, see him up and leave, and find yourself stuck in poverty. In a time, place, and culture where that was the common outcome, the Thorntons all managed to avoid that outcome. A determined Daddy and dedicated mother were the main reason.

In the afterward, their one more part that I think is important when you’re looking at successful career women:

My mother always told us: “No amount of success in your profession can ever make up for being a failure at home.” With that said, my greatest life accomplishment has been (with my husband) rearing two exceptional children. Our daughter Kimberly, is a graduate of Stanford University and is now completing her graduate studies in socio-medical sciences in the Master of Public Health program at Columbia University.… 
Our son, Woody (Shearwood, III), is a Life Chess Master and has had a stellar career in the world of chess. He was the 1997 United States Junior Open Chess champion… and won the United States Chess Federation Scholar-Chessplayer Award before entering Harvard University. Woody graduated cum laude from Harvard and began his medical studies at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (our alma mater). When he graduated from P&S, my husband and I ascended to the stage and presented him with the diploma of Doctor of Medicine. He is currently in his residency, training to be a neurosurgeon.
One more time, the way out of poverty in America is:

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.
Donald Thornton set the sites for his daughters even higher. This was a starting point (he was actually only 18 when he married), but with drive, energy, and consistent common sense, he made it possible for them to have a much better future than a ditchdigger and a maid could normally expect.

Plus, the book is a joy to read.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Random Economic Thoughts

On Saturday Texas Representative Mike Schofield came out to our local Tea Party meeting, talking about the upcoming legislative session, and whatever else was on our minds. He gave an explanation about federal and state economics that made sense to me, and I’d like to share.
Rep. Mike Schofield speaking to us last Saturday
photo: Cypress Texas Tea Party

This is from my notes, so not direct quotes. But he said the federal government ran out of money decades ago. It has no money—so it spends debt. 

This isn’t like you and me, or even the vast majority of states that are required to have a balanced budget. We can spend beyond our ability to repay for a while, but soon we have to tighten our belts or find additional income to repay the debt.

The federal government is far beyond the ability to ever repay, and yet they keep spending. They get away with it in just a couple of ways. One is higher taxes, but you can’t do that indefinitely. People won’t tolerate it, and the economy slows to a crawl or into a recession when government removes so much money from the market.

The other thing they do, which has been their preferred choice lately, is to push programs down to the states. They keep hold of the rules and regulations (so they can take credit for "doing good") but push the bill onto the states.

What is the way out? We can hope that a Trump administration will reverse the trend. Heads of programs can remove requirements (unfunded mandates). Another hope is that new appointments to the Supreme Court will stop ruling those myriad regulations, with laws created by unelected bureaucrats, as unconstitutional.

There is an old view—believed by the democrat party and beyond—that you win the election so you get to do what you want. But we have this document called the Constitution that says otherwise. It’s not about doing what you want; it’s about doing what you’re allowed by the supreme law of the land to do. As for the Supreme Court, you certainly shouldn’t be on the Court if you don’t believe in the Constitution.

Rep. Schofield then talked about the Texas constitution. With a balanced budget requirement, when you cut taxes (and literally cut revenue), you have less money to spend. You can’t expand the size of government.

So when the federal government comes in and mandates a program, it literally cuts what the Texas legislature can do with the state budget.

For example, Medicaid is a cancer on the budget. Of $209.4 billion, $64.2 billion is for this one federal program. All we can do is keep qualifying down to narrow the group.

When you buy into the program, you’re stuck with the terms of the deal. But the federal government can change their part of the deal and still won’t let you out of your requirements. They might provide less federal money. They might stop paying entirely, and you’re still required to provide the program in full—now totally at state expense.

Then they say things like, “Then you’ll need to have an income tax.” They want government to have more control over every citizen’s money, because they think they know better than you how to spend your money.

That brings us to one of the basic principles of the Economic Sphere of the Spherical Model: Who decides what will be done with the fruits of your labors? If you want the benefits of the prosperity hemisphere (north on the sphere), the decider should be the person who did the work to earn the money, not some far distant wielder of power. 

This morning I was listening to the third hour of the Glenn Beck radio show. He was talking with Chris Martenson, of Glenn asked what we could expect from the Fed this week, and how that would affect us. Martenson responded that they would have to raise rates. And the two discussed why. Eventually they got to talking about imbalances. And Chris Martenson made this assertion:
Chris Martenson of PeakProsperity,com
photo from their website

Chris: These things have all been building for a really long time, Glenn. And I think if we had to, if we wanted to put our finger on something, we would say August 15th, 1971, when the United States abandoned the gold standard for the world—that’s really where all of this started. And these imbalances are enormous now.
Glenn: Well, that’s when we all decided we wanted a life we couldn’t afford. So the United States did that, but we convinced the rest of the world that, we’ll continue to buy your stuff, so that will be good for you. But we all said—all of us—we want more stuff than we can afford if we base our dollar or our currencies on gold. Is that accurate?
Chris: It is, because gold provides a set of restraints that you just can’t get around. And, if you can’t get around those restraints, well, sometimes you get to live beyond your means, but very soon thereafter you have to live below your means. The world kind of collectively said, “We don’t like that below our means part. How can we just forever live above our means?” That’s how these imbalances got started.
And it’s a very human thing, Glenn. We’ve seen this so many times in history, and here we are again.
They discuss the differences between inflation and deflation.

Chris: So, everybody I talk to says, “Look, I like falling prices.”
That’s not what the Fed is targeting when it’s worried about deflation. They have a different thing they’re worried about where prices rising or falling are the symptoms, but the cause is what they’re concerned about. And the cause is either our credit markets are expanding or they’re contracting. When they’re expanding, which is inflation, everything kind of works. Governments can continue to run deficits, and big banks can do crazy dumb things. And it all seems to work out. 
The opposite, though, Glenn, when credit is falling, that’s also known as 2009 in the United States. It is deeply scary. What works in forward doesn’t work at all in reverse. The whole system shudders and threatens to collapse. It’s a really scary moment.…
Remember, the Federal Reserve is not really federal; it’s a private entity. It’s got a charter from the US government, and it operates in a very nice monopoly. But it’s first set of clients, always, is the banks. So if the banking system’s happy and expanding, the Fed’s happy.
Glenn: OK, so they’re not worried about deflation; they’re worried about the bank. But, by doing what they’ve done, they are throwing caution to the wind by printing $7 trillion dollars’ worth of currency. Never been done before in the history of the world. And expecting that hyperinflation won’t happen. How can we have printed that much money and not have the problem of the Weimar Republic? What’s the difference?
There are some discussions, then, about where the printed money has been floating around. Instructive. But we really want to know about that hyperinflation thing looming over us.

Chris: The bubbles always have the same self-reinforcing mental map on the way up. People think it makes sense: “Well the last guy paid $79 million, and I paid $85 million. Surely somebody is going to pay me $100 million for this piece of art.” That’s all self-reinforcing on the way up. And we don’t know why, but eventually there’s a pin that that bubble finds, and when it bursts, then you discover what is the true value of things. And things go down very quickly at that point.
Glenn asks, again, will the bubble burst badly, or are there systems in place to prevent that now?

Chris: Well, you know, if it’s not going to burst, we have to believe in the four most dangerous words in human investing history, which is: This time it’s different.
It’s not different. It’s never different. I’m seeing the exact same psychology, rationalizations, post facto rationalizations that people make.... To me, it’s much easier to understand where we are if you see that we’ve got a very scared set of central planners. They’ve worked themselves into a multi-decade corner. They don’t know what to do. So they print.
 And you can find this story in Roman times; you can find it in the first paper money in China. You can find it all through history. And it boils down to this, Glenn; it’s very simple: humans would much rather take a little risk today, instead of some pain today, in the hopes that things turn out better in the future. We always go down the same path.
I highlighted that. I think it explains a lot. 

But, about that hyperinflation: will we see it, Glenn asks, within the next four years?

Chris: We’re going to see it at some point. It could come at any time. It will happen at some point. And I think that the best quote on this comes from Ludwig von Mises; he’s an Austrian economist. And he said, “There’s no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.”
This isn’t good news, of course. We probably ought to have some food stored, and have some real assets. I don’t know if gold is the right answer. I don’t know what is the right answer. I guess I’m not here to answer how to mitigate the damage caused by the central planners; I’m here to point out that the central planners never do a better job of controlling the economy than a true free market would do.

If only we could try that for a change.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thought Crime Press

I have a list of questions:

·         When five of nine judges make a societal change, are all Americans required to change their beliefs to align with that slim majority?
·         If individuals don’t immediately realign, should they be shunned, publicly shamed, forced out of their livelihood, and protested? Should this happen based on assumptions about someone’s beliefs, rather than on what they have done?
·         If one judge swings the majority opinion to something at odds with entire religions, such as Catholics, most Protestants, Latter-day Saints, and Muslims, should all of those adherent be required to denounce their religions or face the loss of their rights to participate in the marketplace and society?
·         If everyone is to change their opinions to align with that slim majority, does that include the four dissenting judges? Should the dissenters be forced to change their opinions or else risk being drummed out of their positions?
·         If even judges are to be forced to change their opinions whenever they are in the minority, does that need to happen even when a ruling goes against the side you’re now supporting?
·         Does that mean that you must change your beliefs whenever a slim majority of the Court goes against you? Should you be subject to coercive efforts such as shunning, public shaming, being protested, and forced out of your livelihood?
I’m asking the questions to carry a thought to its logical conclusion. Because people who police other people’s thoughts and attack them for disagreement tend not to be people who think things all the way through.

I’m hoping that we’ve reached the end of that pendulum swing (the disallowing dissent from current popular beliefs, particularly those in progressive/social-justice-y minds) and moving back to actual tolerance and respectful disagreement and dialogue.

This past week there was the attempt at public shaming of Chip and Joanna Gaines, hosts of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. I’m a fan. I’ve binge watched the seasons available on Netflix, and I’m glad a new season is underway. We’ll be within an hour of their store in Waco during the holidays, and we’re trying to work out a visit.

Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV's Fixer Upper
Photo from HGTV on Twitter, also found here

One of the things I love about the show is their happy family. They show the kids, at home around their farm. And they show how the family works around the parents’ busy schedules to make sure there is time for kids. There’s a little bit of family in every show.

They’re Christian. They’ve been very open about their faith in multiple interviews. Joanna has talked about how God led her, first to close down the store she loved to spend time with her small kids. And then, when it was time, step out and build something even better. Their growing business isn’t just about hard work, skill, and Joanna’s exceptionally good taste; it’s about using their talents to serve others and glorify God.

The attack in the press, BuzzFeed, was underhanded, and couldn’t even qualify as journalism. They spread the story that Chip and Joanna attend a church where the pastor is against “same-sex marriage.” There was no interview of the pastor; there was nothing in his behavior to show that he has attacked homosexuals or even been unkind to them. There was only assumption and inference. And, by association it was implied that the Gaineses ought to have publicly denounced their own pastor. And, failing that, maybe their show ought to be boycotted.

But, instead of some of the torches and pitchforks we’ve seen surrounding this issue, even people who support “same-sex marriage” were saying, that’s not only bad journalism, it’s just the wrong thing to do.

In a Heritage Foundation panel discussion, “Decision 2016: What’s Next for Conservatives?” Ben Domenech of The Federalist talked about this in a way that made me hopeful:

I don’t think we should underestimate how significant an issue the fact was in this election, that we had an election after the progressive left in America had announced an end to the culture wars. They were confident that the culture wars were over, “and we won. And we’re going to go around the battlefield shooting the wounded. And we’re going to continue to do that in a very public way. And we’re going to single out American individuals, private citizens, who simply have what is, from our perspective, the wrong views. The wrong views about God. The wrong views about family. The wrong views about the way that we live.”
I think it is very interesting what happened over this past week with the targeting of the HGTV hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines, merely for the fact that they went to a church where the pastor was a Christian and believed Christian things that one would expect to see if you went to a church in Texas and heard Christians talking about Christianity. And the fact that there were a number of members of the media, the left media included, who stood up and said, “This is unfair. You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t target people this way.”
I think that we are in an entirely new space culturally, about where there are a number of people on the left who recognize, “Hey, there are a lot of Americans who don’t agree with us about things, and maybe we should acknowledge that those views are acceptable to have within the public square. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to embark on this type of targeting.”
I think, under this administration, you are going to see an amazing thing happen, which is that the left is suddenly going to rediscover that they like civil liberty, that maybe federalism is a pretty good idea. Maybe not the entire country needs to be governed by the same rules or expectations whereby a centralized government in Washington… I think you’re going to see them rediscover the fact that, hey, local things are good—and not just food. And that’s something that I think is going to be a very beneficial trend. And it’s one that conservatives, that people who believe in the Constitution, should be prepared to seize a hold of. Because, if the outcome of that is to devolve power back to our citizens, to our communities, to our neighborhoods, to our states, that’s something that we’re all going to benefit from.
Chip and Joanna Gaines said nothing during the week of attacks on them. Then Chip finally tweeted this:
Chip Gaines
Regardless of our decision to make a statement about all this craziness, or not, I ask that people please! respect @KateAurthur & @ginamei
3:15 AM - 3 Dec 2016
He asks for respect. That is all. After taking the attacks without so much as a single defensive grumble, he appeals to common decency. In other words, he has responded as a good Christian.
Maybe there’s something in Christian beliefs that build people like this, or at least people who strive to be like this as much as we have learned so far.

I don’t know the anything more about Kate Aurthur, who wrote the non-news piece with the insinuating headline. I’m not inclined to shun, shame, and protest until she is fired and blacklisted. But I’d like to point out the irony of her claim—after what she just did to Chip and Joanna—that Christians are immoral. And I suggest she open up a Bible and look up Matthew 7:4 or Luke 6:42 and read about motes and beams in the eye.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gilmore Girls and Social Commentary

We’re having a discussion about civilization today. But it will look a lot like a TV show review. I can’t promise there won’t be spoilers ahead, but you’ve had a full couple of weeks to watch the four new episodes—one per season—of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

The official Netflix poster;
I found it on Wikipedia

I watched all four on Netflix this past week. And then discussed them with daughter Social Sphere, because that is what mothers and daughters do with Gilmore Girls.

Social Sphere got me started on the original series about a year and a half ago. I hadn’t been interested during the original run. They talked unnaturally fast, and I just couldn’t tune in often enough to get acquainted with the characters. It worked better for me to binge watch the entire series over a three-month period.

Let me start with things I like. Except for one of the seasons, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore have a close, honest, delightful mother-daughter relationship. It felt familiar to Social Sphere and me.

Eventually I got used to the pace of the conversation. I don’t know if it’s even possible for people to banter that fast; there’s no time for thinking up the quick comebacks and shared references. It had to be scripted and memorized. But it was fun to imagine that minds and mouths could function that quickly.

I think the show did a good job of showing the variety of personality types. It’s all right to be different in style and personality. Sometimes it was portrayed as a difference between the wealthy upper class Gilmore parents down the road in Hartford, Connecticut—with cold stiffness, rules, and expectations—and the quirky small town Stars Hollow people, where Lorelai and Rory lived, independent and comfortable. There was that contrast. But I thought the more personal contrasts were more interesting.

If you’re aware of classical philosophy, there are four elemental types: air, fire, water, and earth, described in various ways, but my explanation will do for our purposes here. “Air” is high energy. Tends to be full of ideas and possibilities, quick thinking but not deep thinking, light-hearted, fun-loving, often impulsive. There are possibilities for good and bad in this type, as with them all. Lorelai is quintessential “air.”

“Fire” is also high energy, maybe a stronger whoosh of energy even than “air.” Tends to be pushy, results oriented, practical. Luke might be this, maybe also Paris, but this type wasn’t a major component of the show’s dynamic.

“Water” is a slower energy: flowing, smooth, connected, emotion-based, detail-oriented, tends toward worrying—especially about whether they personally measure up, or whether they have offended someone. Rory fits in here.

“Earth” is slow, even still, and certain, immovable, rule-oriented, and exacting. Emily Gilmore is here, possibly combined with fire.

So much of the series is about the dynamics of Lorelai’s somewhat flighty “air” being unacceptable to her unyielding “earth” mother. Rory’s “water” connects them, and connects to both of them.

In the first season Emily Gilmore seemed over-the-top unlikable. But as we saw more of her, we began to see that she just had a different way of dealing with hurt, and showing love (or refusing to show love) after being hurt. She isn’t a villain; she’s just different.

Lorelai, who left home, pregnant, at 15, eventually achieved her dream of owning and operating an inn. She is still young, in her mid-to-upper 30s in the original series, so we also see her go through a series of failed relationships. And we hope eventually she’ll figure out that Luke is the steady center meant for her.

We see Rory go through high school at a private prep school that her grandparents pay for (exacting the price of weekly family dinners). Then she goes to college at Yale, her grandfather’s alma mater. During all this time, she experiences boyfriends, teenage angst, and worry about what direction to take in her future.

There were some bad years for Rory—mostly once she’s in college. On an interview on Jimmy Fallon, actress Alexis Bledel described that the writers were worried Rory was too much of a good girl, but then they overcompensated. Her first sexual encounter was with former boyfriend Dean, married by then (way too young, and not happily). Even Lorelai was morally taken aback, because that was adultery, and her own promiscuity never included that.

They have no church, or belief system that they can rely on. No way out of errors except to stumble about in yet another direction. But they’re mostly good to other people, loving of each other, and likable by those around them.

In the original series finale, the whole town celebrates Lorelai. She gets back together with Luke (we hope permanently). And even her mother comments that someone who inspires this much love and respect must have earned it.

Rory, meanwhile, turns down a marriage proposal from longtime (two-year?) boyfriend Logan, and gets a journalist job on the campaign bus for Barack Obama, which if he were to do well (in real life we know how that turned out) could be a great career starter.

Then there’s a nine-year break.

In Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, we have Rory back in Stars Hollow for a visit, and everyone is congratulating her on her recent piece in, I think, the New Yorker. Lorelai is still with Luke—though not married yet. It is a few months after the death of Richard Gilmore, Lorelai’s father (this following the death of actor Edward Herrmann in December 2014).

Lorelai’s ability to find things to be anxious about continues. We’re expected to believe that, after nine years with Luke, it suddenly occurs to her he might want a child, and considers a surrogate, much to his puzzlement. That’s the winter season. By summer, she’s anxious about losing concierge Michel (a haughty attitude with French accent, but somehow lovable) to a big city hotel. She decides to do what the character in the book The Wild does—go backpacking out West. She does indeed find herself, even without the actual hiking. She decides to marry Luke, and also grow her business, successfully recruiting help from her mother, who has also found herself in surprising ways. Lorelai seems, at last, to have grown up.

So, then there’s Rory.

She doesn’t have any work after the New Yorker piece. Nothing lined up. Opportunities seem to beckon, but nothing she wants. Until she gets desperate enough, and then she finds those opportunities aren’t really there either.

She’s 32, unmarried, unemployed, and aimless.

She has a boyfriend of two years that we meet briefly, but he’s totally forgettable—and she does. She treats him as disposable, and then chastises herself for it, but procrastinates breaking up until, in the final episode, he ends it—by text.

She has an ongoing affair with old boyfriend Logan, who isn’t married either, but is engaged. He’s content to continue the affair with Rory, as long as they’re discreet enough not to alert the fiancée. Rory’s OK with that as long as the fiancée isn’t living with him. Once she moves in, Rory realizes Logan’s marriage plans are real, and she’s just a mistress. Maybe we could use the old word “concubine,” where the man gets all the sexual benefits he wants from the woman, but she has none of the social respect or legal advantages of marriage.

And then, while she’s ostensibly out seeking a story, Rory gets drunk with a bunch of people waiting in line for something, and has a one-night stand with a guy dressed as a Wookie. She doesn’t know his name, and certainly doesn’t want to see him again. Even her mother admits that’s pretty slutty; Lorelai had never had a one-night stand. They brush it off as just a minor mistake. Maybe even as progress toward learning how to fully live life, we are supposed to believe.

Old boyfriend Jess offers occasional wisdom. He suggests Rory write about the story of the Gilmore girls—“write what you know.” So she dives into that. But without a book proposal, without her mother’s approval (until eventually).

I’m wondering about a 30-something in this day and age, in a writing/journalism profession, who doesn’t have some kind of online presence, where she makes her writings available, and continues to add content, regardless of whether she’s getting paid. Because without that platform, what’s the likelihood that she’ll get a book published, let alone sell it to an audience? But, because we’ve been interested in their story, of course we’re supposed to believe that all will work out for her once she has a manuscript in hand.

I’m looking at her generation. Her friend Layne, who married early, is happy and lively as ever. Her husband has settled in to a more respectable (confining?) job, but they continue the band, Layne still as drummer. Her friend Paris is unhappily married—but she was always unhappy, so no surprise. Logan is unmarried. His friends are all unmarried. Jess is still unmarried (although at least he seems to be doing well enough in his career dreams). There’s a group of 30-somethings in Stars Hollow, whom Rory must have grown up with but does not recognize or befriend. They live in their parents’ homes after having failed in the larger world.

Social Sphere tells me this is a reality today for a lot of 30-somethings. I thought this was maybe true for mid-20-somethings. But the Great Recession that has been going on since the end of the original series has been a serious hindrance to getting launched for a lot of young people.

I would have considered it less economic and more social, but the spheres are possibly interrelated.

The one exception was old boyfriend Dean, who back in the day wasn’t heading toward college or much of a bright future. We don’t know if he got educated in the interim. But he’s now happily married, fourth child on the way, gainfully employed in another town, and just in Star’s Hollow to visit family. He has no regrets about leaving Rory in his past.

So I’m thinking back on the formula for avoiding poverty in America:

·         Don’t have sex before age 20.
·         Don’t have sex until after marriage.
·         Stay married.
·         Obtain at least a high school diploma.
Dean eventually found his way back to the formula. So did Layne. But Rory and pretty much every other 30-something in the show have failed in everything except getting a college degree—learning without wisdom.

Clearly the realities of a near-decade-long economic downturn affected this particular generation. They didn’t have the opportunities they had been led to expect.

But the failure—not just for these fictional people, but for this demographic in real life—seems to have more to do with resilience. They’d rather wait out the bad times with their lives on hold, in hopes that things get better someday. Or they give up hope entirely and limit their expectations to whatever parents will provide for perpetual children.

Rory, who seemed to have so much potential, took until age 32 to get where her mother was at 15.

In some ways she’s worse off. She doesn’t have as many years to recover. And she doesn’t know who the father is; we can guess either forgettable boyfriend who just broke up with her, Logan who is marrying someone else, or mystery Wookie guy. At least Rory knew her father all her life. Her child won’t have that.

Lorelai and Luke will be more comforting and demonstratively loving grandparents. Rory might figure things out; she used to know how to work hard and seize opportunities. Maybe she’ll get that back with a child as motivation. But the possibilities of successful career followed by love and marriage followed by children just got thrown away.

Those people who say single moms can do just as well as married parents, note this (albeit anecdotal and fictional) example. Lorelai really did sacrifice and work hard to give every opportunity to her daughter. Yet the circle of unwed mother raising fatherless child continues.

Our disappointment in Rory must be a hint of what Emily Gilmore felt when her hopes and plans for Lorelai got thrown away.

There was a piece in the Houston Chronicle Wednesday, November 30, by Maggie Gordon, who had enjoyed the original series during her late teens and with her mother. She ends with this:

Maybe the reboot is a critique on society’s idea of how entitled the millennial generation is. Maybe the character traits and decisions that seem endearing at 16 don’t hold up at 30. Maybe I was too self-absorbed to realize the character’s shortcomings the first time.
And maybe I outgrew her. That’s good, I guess. I just know that my mother would have wanted more for—no, make the from—Rory.
Maybe there wouldn’t have been an original story without Lorelai’s teenage mistake. But in real life a child raised like Rory probably wouldn’t have the advantages of a successful mother whom she is close to, and extraordinarily wealthy grandparents.

Maybe, in real life, odds are better for kids raised by their married parents and taken to church—even when the economy is bad.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lighting the World

At The Spherical Model we have an axiom that civilization requires certain principles, but it can start with an individual, or a single family, and spread from there.

So this Christmas season Mr. Spherical Model and I are joining in with an initiative called Light the World. It’s a countdown to Christmas, an advent calendar, of service. The idea is that small, individual acts of service add up, until each tiny spark of light, combined with those tiny sparks by many many others, lights the whole world.

The initiative comes from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You’ll understand the connection between Christ’s life and what we can do in our lives, from this beautiful little video:

This video comes in 33 languages, if you go find it at and look for the “Languages” drop down menu near the bottom.

There's a downloadable calendar, with a suggestion for each day, with a theme such as “Jesus Helped Others to See and So Can You,” followed by three suggestions of things you might do that day, in this case:

·         Find an eyeglasses collection box and donate an old pair.
·         Point out a virtue in someone they don’t see in themselves.
·         Promote a vision charity on social media. You could even use the eyeglasses emoji.
That’s for December 3. Here’s another, from December 8: “Jesus Prayed for Others and So Can You”:

·         Think about a friend that’s going through some rough challenges. Say a prayer for them.
·         Ask God how you can be an answer to someone else’s prayer.
·         When was the last time you prayed with your family? How about right now?
The ideas are mostly small, and doable without a lot of planning. And it’s up to you whether to choose these ideas, or something else—and whether to use the theme of the day or move them around to suit your life.

Some of them will be appropriate to post online, with the hashtag #LightTheWorld, so that others will be cheered and reminded, and share in the growing light. Other things might be private. You can decide.

You can print out the calendar and post it where you can see it every day. Or keep it available on your phone or other device: here.

There's a shorter version: here.

You can get a brief video related to the theme for each day: here.

Or there’s this list of random simple service ideas: here.

Research shows that if you want to develop a habit, somewhere around 14 days of daily practice is a minimum. A week ago we talked about a daily practice of giving thanks, to develop gratitude. If you add this 25-day practice of doing daily Christ-like service, you could have two life-enhancing habits by the end of the year.

While giving thanks and giving service both appear to be taking something out of you, it’s a truth about God that the most valuable things He gives us are infinite, like love; it doesn't diminish what you have when you give it to others. The more you give, the more flows into you. Your life will be more abundant when you do these giving things.

If you really want to have a happy Christmas, this daily giving of service with love is the way to get there. So this is for me—and for you. Let there be more light!