Thursday, November 16, 2017

It's a Culture Problem

There has been a lot of ugly stuff in the news lately that I haven’t commented on. For lots of reasons: it’s unpleasant to think about; we already knew the problem existed, and the surprising thing is how it is suddenly unacceptable to people who generally think there’s a right to sex under practically any circumstances.

Sunlight is a great disinfectant. So, even though it’s unpleasant, it is likely a good thing that these things are coming to light. There has been something of an avalanche since the Harvey Weinstein news of some weeks ago, with more coming out almost daily about yet another public person.

Some of the discussion is swirling around Roy Moore, who is running for the US Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who was tagged for the Attorney General job. These allegations include a range of things—all from some forty years ago—ranging from dating teenagers with their parents’ permission, to kissing and touching through underwear underage girls, to statutory rape of a 14-year-old. 
Judge Roy Moore, candidate for Senate
photo from here

I don’t know how to evaluate the information we know. It all comes from mainstream media, which we know we cannot typically trust. It comes at a time—many decades into the public life of this judge—that is so soon before a scheduled election that, even if he is totally exonerated in a couple of months, the damage is done. 

One of the frustrations of life is not always knowing whether people are telling the truth. If the allegations are false, then the accusers are not victims worthy of our sympathy and our efforts to bring about justice; they are instead the most vile of humans, lying with the purpose of ruining a man’s life. On the other hand, if the most serious charge is true, he certainly shouldn’t be in a powerful position like the US Senate. It looks like this case is either one or the other. I hope we learn what is true very soon.

Senator Al Franken
photo from here
Today another allegation came out—with photo proof—about Senator Al Franken

A couple of days ago there were claims of Congressmen sexually harassing female Congresswomen.

Rep. Jackie Spier
photo from here

I’m reminded of a Book of Mormon scripture passage, referring to our day, in 2 Nephi 28:22:

22 And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.
The leader of darkness convinces the self-indulgent human that he deserves special treatment, free of the demands of justice—until that human is trapped in lies. And then the devil abandons him, and, I imagine, sits back laughing while misery rains down.

If this new awareness that these previously hidden behaviors are immoral and unacceptable in civilized society moves people to change, then that is a good thing. I hope that is what we are seeing. Cynicism that this is common and “everybody does it” will not lead toward civilization. But if we can encourage people to stand up and speak the truth, holding the guilty accountable, that will take us in the right direction.

In response to the Congressional accusations, House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested sexual harassment training.

So, in response to this whole situation, Facebook friend Shawn Rogers offers this:

Sorry, Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell, but this is not a training problem, it's a culture problem. You don't solve problems of harassment through training. It's not a case of awareness or not knowing what actions constitute harassment.
You don't fix a culture of harassment by mandating training. You solve it by applying disciplinary actions to those who commit acts of harassment, and by holding leaders accountable for allowing it to happen on their watch. You create a culture non-retaliation for speaking up. You foster a culture where complaints will be fairly investigated and disciplinary action will be taken when violations have occurred.
He’s right. It’s not a lack of training; it’s a culture that accepts lasciviousness.

In lieu of some classroom training, for government and Hollywood, Rogers also offers this comprehensive training:

Dear Hollywood and Government. Here's your anti-harassment training in under one minute.
Ready? Go!
1. Keep your hands (and any/all other bodily appendages) to yourself. (From here on out to be known as the "Franken Rule." See article and photo…..)
2. Don't ask for sexual favors.
3. Be faithful to your spouse or significant other.
4. You're in a position of power. Don't abuse it by pressuring subordinates to satisfy your lust. It's against policy, it's unethical, and might be illegal.
5. Keep your pants on. Don't show somebody something they didn't ask or want to see (in person or electronically).
6. Make hiring and promotion decisions based on skills and qualifications, not on what the person will do for you (or to you, or with you) personally.
7. Practice your religion and share your religion on your own time, not on work time. (Oh, and political or social causes as well.)
8. Don't hang stuff up in your office that you wouldn't want your mother to see.
9. Control your temper.
10. Be nice.
There, you've been trained on how not to harass someone, sexually or otherwise.
I'll send you my bill.

That’s it. That’s all that’s needed. Stop being deplorable human beings and start being civilized.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Socialism Is Selfish

Dennis Prager spoke at the University of Wyoming this past week, despite student protests. He spends 25 minutes addressing the protests; he had also had a protester on his radio program. The accusations were both absurd and unfounded. For example, he was accused of being anti-Semitic. Um, he’s Jewish, and has written books on Judaism and anti-Semitism.

screen shot from video

He gets to his topic, “Why Socialism Makes People Selfish,” at about 25 minutes into an hour-long speech plus Q&A. I did a transcript of that beginning 10-minute segment on the topic. He says things that I’ve said.

So, the topic was “Socialism Makes You Selfish.” I didn’t forget the title. According to all sorts of opinion polls, you, your generation—half of you believe in socialism and not capitalism. So, let me respond to a few things, the moral and the economic. I’ll just begin with the economic.
The only thing that has ever raised large numbers of people from abject poverty is capitalism. Nothing else in the history of humanity has raised large numbers of people from abject poverty. You would think that would matter to people who care about people living in abject poverty. But they don’t. That’s the interesting thing. People on the left care about equality, not prosperity.
It’s a different moral world. Just understand that. They live in a different moral world. And clarity is our best friend. They don’t care about lifting large numbers of people from abject poverty; they care about the inequality in the Western world.
But inequality only bothers people who are bothered by inequality. That’s a tautology, obviously. In other words, only if you resent the fact that some people make more than others do you resent inequality. Inequality doesn’t bother me.
Mr. Prager then tells a story about being raised middle middle class, related to cars. The man next door bought a Cadillac every year; he was clearly much richer than the Oldsmobile-buying Prager family. They were happy for Mr. Klein. His wealth in no way harmed them.

Then he gives other comparisons and finishes his first main point:

Shortstops make more than surgeons. Is that fair? No. In some utopian world it isn’t fair, because surgeons save more lives than shortstops. OK, that’s just a fact. But it doesn’t matter. In a free society shortstops will make more than teachers and surgeons and nurses, and all people doing sweet and good things. That’s just the way it is. And it’s OK. Why would it bother me? If they make their money legally and ethically, why do I care?
I don’t care. They care. Because they covet. They resent the fact that some people have more than others.
I’ve been pointing this out as well—it’s because they covet. I wrote about that here and here, and more recently here. Prager continues:

Capitalism, not socialism, has taken people out of poverty. Capitalism also has a lot of inequality, because all liberty will have inequality. If you develop an iPhone, you make a lot of money. That’s just the way it is. And everybody likes using some sort of smart phone. That’s good. It’s good for everybody.
Why does it hurt me if some guy has billions of dollars? It doesn’t hurt me in any way. It helps me, because I am more productive, thanks to what that person has developed.
Socialism spends the money that capitalism creates. That is what you need to understand. Socialism does not produce wealth. Only capitalism produces wealth.
And the only moral question is not, “Why is there poverty?” The only moral question is, “Why is there wealth?” Poverty is the norm. Wealth is the aberration. All of the world was impoverished. But capitalism saved them from it.
This is also something I’ve written about. The economic section of the Spherical Model defines wealth as the accumulation of the results of labor.” Why shouldn’t someone who labors and accumulates the results be able to choose how to spend it?

Then Mr. Prager begins his second main point, the other moral argument:

Socialism and all of the doctrines of the left make people, generally speaking, more selfish and in many other ways morally worse than they were before.
Let me give you the biggest single example. Let me read to you a statistic. Americans give more charity per capita per income than any other people in the world. OK? Let me read to you.
This is the Comparative Non-profit Sector Project at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society[i]. It compiled a ranking of private philanthropy in 36 countries from 1995 to 2002. Based on giving alone, the United States comes first. Giving 1.85% of GDP, followed by Israel at 1.34%.
By the way, isn’t it interesting that the two most hated countries in the world are the two most generous countries in the world? Isn’t that fascinating? It shows you how sick anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism are. I have that in my book… my book on anti-Semitism has a whole chapter on anti-Americanism.
Next, one fact stands out. This is Forbes, December 26, 2008. “Among developed nations, those with higher taxes and bigger social safety nets tend to have lower rates of giving.” You hear that? The countries with higher taxes and bigger social safety nets produce cheaper people. Produce less generous human beings. I’ll explain why in a moment.
In charitable giving as a percentage of GDP, nations with cradle-to-grave welfare systems rank far down the Johns Hopkins list. Sweden 18th. France 21st, Germany 32nd. Why? Here’s the answer. In American history—before socialism caught on—in American history, this was the belief: I have to first take care of me; then I have to take care of my family; then I have to take care of my community; and then I have to take care of my whole society. That was the belief.
Socialism kills all four. The state will take care of me; the state will take care of my family; the state will take care of my community; the state will take care of my society.
Which produces finer people? It’s so obvious that it is indeed a rhetorical question. If you think that you’re morally obligated to take care of people, you are a better person than the person who thinks, “The state will take care of my mom; why do I have to?” And that’s the way they think in much of Europe and in all of these other cradle-to-grave welfare places. Indeed, I don’t have to take care of me.
Today, a lot of your generation—indeed, I shouldn’t say your generation, ten years older than you—still live with their parents, playing video games in the basement. “Mom and Dad will take care of me, and if they don’t, the government will. The rich will take care of me.” And this is considered a moral idea. Well, it obviously isn’t.
There’s nothing more beautiful than taking care of yourself, and taking care of your family and community.
And a minute later he adds,

As government gets bigger, we get smaller.
He means small as in small-minded, small as opposed to great or generous.

There’s a lot we know about socialism. It has been tried elsewhere (like Denmark or Venezuela), so we can extrapolate the outcomes. We would be less well off by every measure: less freedom, less prosperity, less civilization.

Yet the pro-socialists are gaining purchase. Our next presidential race will probably include a Democrat who gladly proclaims he’s a socialist, along the lines of Bernie Sanders. They use the appeal of the argument, “It’s unfair that there’s inequality.” They promote coveting.

screen shot from here

This can be countered by education—although I don’t think we can expect our schools and universities to provide it, since they’ve been failing to teach principles of freedom, prosperity, and civilization for many decades now. My Spherical Model project is an attempt to help educate.

But the trend must also must be countered with better morality—standing up for real morality, and calling out fake morality such as unfair income distribution. 

Better moral teachings are going to require adherence to the outcomes of the Ten Commandments, honoring God, life, family, truth, and property. That last one relates both to “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet”—both of which are sins socialism is based on.

Capitalism, on the other hand, is always moral. I wrote about that in a four-part piece called "Anything Evil about Capitalism?: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, in the first month of this blog, back in 2011. And I also wrote about it here and here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Communism’s 100-Year War on Civilization

One hundred years ago this week (November 7, 1917) Communists took power in Russia. This is not a day to celebrate, but it’s a day we ought to be aware of.

I grew up during the Cold War, when people understood communism was an existential threat. But an entire generation has grown up now without ever having to do bomb shelter drills.

Some years ago I was teaching the Spherical Model way of identifying ideologies for some homeschooling high schoolers. I’m not sure how much sunk in, but I remember one young man thanking me, because he’d never understood what communism, and fascism, and socialism and all those -isms meant. These things aren’t common knowledge, as they used to be.

So we’ll use today’s post as a reminder. Here’s an official definition of communism, from my very old (1980) dictionary, which includes a bit of historical perspective:

Notice that socialism is a synonym. Sometimes people separate the two by saying socialism is a stage, working toward a total communist state; they are both based on Marxist ideas.

I’m noting this, because young people seem enamored with socialism as described by Bernie Sanders, who fails to understand basic economics and refuses to admit Socialism’s nasty history.

National Review provided on Facebook a short video of Communist history, with these words:

100 years ago today [November 7], the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, establishing the world’s first communist state, and unleashing the deadliest political system in human history. During the past century, communism has resulted in unparalleled oppression, terror, and genocide. From the Soviet Union to Mao’s China, to Castro’s Cuba, to Pol Pot’s Cambodia, millions were killed by the state, in the name of total control and the elimination of “class enemies.” And millions continue to be oppressed by Communist regimes worldwide. Vladimir Lenin and his successors all declared war on civilization. And the world is still living with its consequences.
screen shot from National Review photo essay

Yes, communism means war on civilization. The opposite of civilization is savagery, and that’s what they’ve wrought.

The Daily Signal did a video interview with Daniel Hannan, member of the European Parliament, who gave us this reminder:

Communism, in terms of crude numbers, must be reckoned the most lethal ideology ever devised by human intelligence. The Atlantic slave trade killed maybe 10 million people. The Nazis killed maybe 17 million. Communists killed 100 million people. Some of them were shot into pits. Some of them were arrested at night, and worked to death in Gulags. Some of them were starved as deliberate policy to enforce collectivization. You don’t get more murderous than that. So, why is it acceptable to wear a Che Guevara T-shirt now? Why isn’t that in the same moral category as wearing an Adolf Hitler T-shirt or an Osama bin Laden T-shirt?
Victor Davis Hansen wrote a piece reminding us of the good contributions of Russia during WWII—which shows that there can be good, courageous people even under a bad regime. But in that piece he mentions this data: 

Prior to the German invasion, Stalin was responsible for some 20 million Russian deaths through forced farm collectivization, planned famine, show trials and purges, and the murders of his own Red Army troops. More than 10,000 soldiers were likely executed at Stalingrad by their own officers.
These words, from Ezra Taft Benson[i] in 1962, sound pre-contemporary to our ears today, yet what he says is still pertinent:

The Communists bring to the nations they infiltrate a message and a philosophy that affect human life in its entirety. Communism seeks to provide what in too many instances a lukewarm Christianity has not provided—a total interpretation of life. Communists are willing to be revolutionary, to take a stand for this and against that. They challenge what they do not believe in: customs, practices, ideas, and traditions. They believe heatedly in their philosophy.
But our civilization and our people here in America are seemingly afraid to be revolutionary. We are too "broad-minded" to challenge what we do not believe in. We are afraid of being thought intolerant, uncouth, or ungentlemanly. We have become lukewarm in our beliefs. And for that we perhaps merit the bitter condemnation stated in the Book of Revelation 3:16: "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth."
This is a sad commentary on a civilization which has given to mankind the greatest achievements and progress ever known. But it is ever a sadder commentary on those of us who call ourselves Christians, who thus betray the ideals given to us by the Son of God Himself. I ask, are we going to permit the atheistic communist masters, fellow travelers, and dupes to deceive us any longer?
There is a deception going on in our country this very moment which is just as dangerous to the United States as the false pretensions of Fidel Castro were to Cuba. It is amazing to me that some of our citizens seem to take special delight in ridiculing the warnings of government investigators and the cry of alarm which comes from Iron Curtain refugees when they see how the United States is being led carefully down the trail of disaster.
He's right. Here, in this nation so blessed with freedom—which has shared the ideals of freedom with much of the world—must not give up that heritage for lack of speaking up. Let’s be clear about this: Communism is a sure way to tyranny, poverty, and savagery. We must consistently head the opposite direction, toward freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

[i] Ezra Taft Benson was at one-time Chairman of the Department of Agriculture, and later the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This quote is from The Red Carpet, Bookcraft, 1962, pp. 53-54.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Truth Be Told

I’m always on a search for truth. I feel I have something in common with someone when I learn they are also searching for the truth. So I get interested when I read a piece that declares the value of the search for truth.

But then, I get to reading, and find out they define truth as their viewpoint, and everyone who differs is some sort of sub-human that should be dealt with unmercifully.

I’m trying to be certain that I do not do the same. But what I’m finding is that the self-proclaimed truth seekers who disdain dissent are on one side of the spectrum—what they call left, but here at the Spherical Modelwe call south, into tyranny, poverty, and savagery, rather than freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

So the argument isn't new. But I sure miss
the congenial way he said it.
I’m not saying they are purposely and knowingly choosing tyranny, poverty, and savagery; they think they are choosing something good. But there’s a closed-mindedness that keeps them stuck in their misconceptions.

I’ve collected a few pieces to illustrate what I mean.

This first I saw in the Houston Chronicle opinion section “To some, ignorance has become impervious to fact” by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (It’s his column from October 5, although I think it appeared in the Chronicle October 8.) He begins with an anecdote from 2010. Some reader named Ken refused to believe that an African-American soldier was a World War I hero—even after being sent multiple credible sources of documentation.

I would call that an anomaly. I don’t personally know any person who would refuse to believe such a thing. It would require both racism and ignorance—to a degree of self-assuredness that drives the person to challenge the story repeatedly. Seriously, who is both that ignorant and energized in that direction?

But, instead of dismissing the guy as a crank, self-described truth seeker Mr. Pitts extrapolates to a very broad spectrum of people:

It’s not just Ken who makes me doubt [that efforts to improve journalism will help]. It’s also Fox “News” and talk radio. It’s Trump’s lies, his war on journalism and people’s tolerance for both.
I use a pretty wide variety of news sources, only occasionally including mainstream media. That’s because the mainstream media—the Houston Chronicle, New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, etc.—are so obviously biased, they are a waste of time for anything other than big events of the day. That has been so for a long time.

A decade or more ago I read a piece by Orson Scott Card, the fantasy writer. He was doing a column for his local North Carolina newspaper that got picked up by an online magazine I read. He is a Democrat. But he is also a Mormon, so on a number of issues, usually social issues, he is surprisingly conservative. His piece covered a front page of the news, pointing out the numerous biases evident in a casual read, on a random day. The list was astounding.

I occasionally highlighted my paper that way too. [Here’s one example.] Eventually I mostly stopped reading beyond the food section.

Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, included a piece on the demise of journalism earlier this year, by Michael Goodwin. His evidence is unassailable.

So claiming this is because of Trump's “war on journalism” lacks self-reflection at minimum.

Another “you have to believe what I believe or you’re not a truth seeker” article showed up a few days ago on Vox. As Pitts did in his piece, David Roberts lists a number of “crazy conservative fairy tales.” These include “Pizzagate”—a supposed Democrat-run prostitution ring in a pizza parlor, which I never saw taken up in any source I go to for news, and:

Hillary Clinton has had multiple people killed, that Obama is a secret Muslim who wasn’t born in the US, that Trump had millions of votes stolen, that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump’s White House, that Seth Rich (the mid-level Democratic staffer who was tragically murdered) was assassinated for stealing DNC emails and giving them to WikiLeaks, or that Antifa, the fringe anti-fascist movement, will begin going door-to-door, killing white people, starting on November 4.
I suppose you can find these stories on sensationalist sites with only occasional ties to truth (maybe Alex Jones, although I haven’t gone there to look, because I don’t go there). But it’s not part of any talk radio or podcasts I listen to, including Glenn Beck, Ben Shapiro, Hugh Hewitt, Larry Elder, Michael Medved. I haven’t listened to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity lately, but I have in the past, and they just didn’t peddle stories like that. I typically have talk radio on in the background during my workday, so I get a pretty large sample.

Roberts and Pitts are painting with a very broad brush, so far out of the lines that a typical conservative like me does not even encounter what they say “millions of Americans fervently believe.”

I do agree with Roberts on this assertion:

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy having to do with how we know things and what it means for something to be true or false, accurate or inaccurate. (Episteme, or ἐπιστήμη, is ancient Greek for knowledge/science/understanding.)
The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know—what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening.
Yes. But his sense of where this comes from is about 180 degrees wrong:

The primary source of this breach, to make a long story short, is the US conservative movement’s rejection of the mainstream institutions devoted to gathering and disseminating knowledge (journalism, science, the academy)—the ones society has appointed as referees in matters of factual dispute.
In their place, the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem.
No. The primary source of the breach has been the media and academia being so biased that people cannot and should not trust them any longer as sources for truth, and must therefore search for truth elsewhere.

Writing with a different opinion this week was Erick Erickson. He tells of a question a friend asked on Twitter:

He just wanted to know how many political reporters know anyone who owns a pickup truck.
It seems like a rather mundane question. After all, the top three best-selling vehicles in America are the Ford F-150, the Chevy Silverado and the Dodge Ram. All three are trucks. Very few political reporters gave a number. Most actually raged that it was an unfair question or they dared to pull the "how dare you" card suggesting their questioner dared to suggest they were out of touch. Their reaction proved just how out of touch they are.
Erickson recounts this story: In heated political rhetoric, a Democrat in Virginia called Republicans “evil.” Not just his particular opponent, but all his voters. And the Democrat ran an ad showing a “typical” Republican, with a Confederate flag on the back of his truck, “trying to run over Muslim, Hispanic, and black children.” That’s how that side views those of us who don’t see the world the way they do.

Erickson comments:

The contrast between the fever dreams of the Democrats and reality could not be more striking. In Democrat rhetoric and dreams, Republicans in general and Trump voters in particular are the racist, evil monsters who run over Muslim children. In reality, a Muslim terrorist ran over a diverse group of people in New York City.
Why are conservatives viewed in this unrealistic, untruthful way? Maybe because the Pitts, Roberts, and other media from that side haven’t ever met us:

In their mostly large cities, progressives and the press have isolated themselves from others. It is far easier for a progressive to avoid daily contact with a conservative than it is for a conservative to avoid progressives. It is also far more likely that a Republican will encounter more diverse voices in his party than a Democrat will.
Another story popped up recently, about former NPR head Ken Stern, who decided to do field research, by planting himself among the regular people, and then became  a Republican. (He has written a book about his conversion):

Spurred by a fear that red and blue America were drifting irrevocably apart, I decided to venture out from my overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood and engage Republicans where they live, work and pray. For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side, standing in pit row at a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings and sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. I found an America far different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents (“cling to guns or religion”) and presidential candidates (“basket of deplorables”) alike.
He tells a story from Texas, where a store owner defends himself from an armed robber, and then says,

It is an amazing story, though far from unique, but you simply won’t find many like it in mainstream media (I found it on Reddit).
It’s not that media is suppressing stories intentionally. It’s that these stories don’t reflect their interests and beliefs.
It’s why my new friends in Youngstown, Ohio, and Pikeville, Ky., see media as hopelessly disconnected from their lives, and it is how the media has opened the door to charges of bias.
Truth comes from diverse sources. There’s that “diversity” word we get thrown at us so often. But, as Erickson says,

Democrats talk a great game on tolerance and diversity, but they increasingly view anyone who thinks differently from them as evil. They can do so only because they have chosen the superficial diversity of color and gender over the more complex diversity of thought.
Roberts thinks the way to truth is to stomp out the sources of opposing voices. Pitts thinks it may be hopeless, because people who disagree with him are too stupid to accept his “facts”—even when biased fact checkers like Politifact tell you what the facts are.
image found on Pinterest

They think I’m evil in all kinds of ways I’m not. For some reason that attack doesn’t make me more willing to believe they’re right. Especially when there’s so much evidence that almost no one out here among us is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful. Evidence: Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

But I’m willing to think those people might benefit from some time among diverse thinkers, like myself. After all, we handle standing up for ourselves in school and public discourse all the time. We’ve had practice. And that’s one way we know our beliefs—what we believe is truth—stand up to scrutiny.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Houston Strong

We interrupt our usually scheduled political philosophy blog for this special announcement:

The Houston Astros won the World Series

It’s worth celebrating. It’s hard to gauge from here at the current center of the universe, but my guess is that Houston was a sentimental favorite everywhere this year, because of Hurricane Harvey.

Storm on the left, 'Stros on the right
from a friend's Facebook
One Houston Chronicle headline I read this morning said, “Harvey dropped 51 inches so the Houston Astros dropped the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1.” It may not be a cause-effect relationship, but it’s important. Several of the players had photos in their lockers of Houston homes underwater. They said that when they had a tough day and felt like slamming their glove into the locker, they’d see that photo and remember it was their fellow Houstonians who really had it rough. And they’d resolve to win this for them.

As the Chronicle story says,

The team wore "Houston Strong" patches on their jerseys, even when some of us felt less than mighty sifting through wet, damaged memories. The team visited flood victims in shelters, bringing a bit of blue and orange light where darkness was the norm.
It has been two months now, plus a week, since Harvey hit. Most of the damage near my neighborhood is no longer visible from the outside. But friends are still out of their homes—maybe for another 4-6 months—while inside repairs are underway.

As the team said last night, if they could just bring four hours of joy on a game night—a little bit of happiness—that’s what they wanted to do.

from a friend's Facebook*
There was a lot of love coming from the team. And it showed in their playing. And there was a lot of love back at them. My Facebook feed is very orange today, with Astros banners. The whole city—and everyone who ever lived here—is celebrating. The way we felt unified in the face of Harvey’s tragedy, we feel unified now celebrating with our team.

I’ve never lived in a championship city before. Maybe other places feel this way with their celebrations too. But, because of what we’ve been through here, it feels especially good.

2017 has been one for the history books.

No place like home.
I almost never wear graphic Ts,
but I want this one.

Springer, who gave us 5 home runs this series,
won MVP. And he gave us the term "Springer Dinger,"
which was yet another of his hits right when it mattered.

Governor Abbott declared Friday Houston Astros Day.
Houston schools are closed.
There will be a parade.

*The Houston Astros Day image is from Governor Abbott's Facebook page. The T-shirt is a screen shot. All the others came from Facebook posts, and I do not know the origins, but I don't take photo credit for them.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Kids, Go Ahead and Appropriate

Let’s all just agree that Halloween is a holiday, mainly for kids, to dress up as someone or something they are not. And they go house to house, getting treats, presumptively to prevent them from doing tricks—which their good parents would never allow them to actually do—and as a reward for the clever costumes, even if said costumes are hidden under winter coats that weren’t even needed a week ago.

That’s really it. Scary stuff may get added in as they get older. But, as grandson Little Political Sphere 2 told me this weekend, “Grandma, your decorations aren’t really scary; they’re funny.” Yes, they are. Which is really the point.

The ghosts around our house aren't very scary.

There may be historical references to nefarious things surrounding Halloween. But that isn’t what’s going on these days. Grown-ups might go in for scarier movies and other really creepy things. But for kids, Halloween is about costumes, candy, and fun.

It is not about solving adult social problems. It is not about prejudices, bigotry, racism, or something supposedly offensive called “cultural appropriation.”

Whatever happened to the axiom, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”?

Instead, little kids get accused of being insensitive, and microagressive.

Here’s a clue: You know you’re in the wrong, if you’re accusing five-year-olds of purposely offending you with a Halloween costume.

There’s another new word I discovered in reading about the evils of culturally appropriative Halloween costumes: woke. In the urban dictionary, it means being culturally aware and sensitive. Or, as the urban dictionary sarcastically adds,

state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading The Huffington Post.
Ali is so woke. At brunch she explained how wearing anything other than Chuck Taylor's or Tom's is really a microaggression. Hey did you get your Amy Schumer tickets yet?
How does this apply to our un-woke little munchkins? (Can I say that—or is it insensitive to the littler-than-American inhabitants of the place Dorothy landed, which was not in Kansas anymore?)
It implies that if your child dresses up like a Disney princess from some other time and place, they are being hateful. So, no little Jasmines. No little Tianas, No Moanas. No Elenas of Avalor. No Mulans—although there seems to be less complaint about pretending to be Asian, since they’re already at the top of the class in America.

However, if your little girl is Caucasian, like her parents, she shouldn’t dress up as Frozen Queen Elsa either. As feminist blogger/complainer Sachi Feris, who runs the site Raising Race Conscious Children, says,

I feel like because Elsa is a White princess, and we see so many white princesses, her character sends the message that you have to be a certain way to be “beautiful” or to be a ‘princess’ ... that you have to have white skin, long, blonde hair, and blue eyes.
Really? If a little girl dresses up as a fictional character she admires—one from a fictional land that seems Scandinavian—then she’s dissing all the other types of beauty? Maybe she just loves the movie Frozen, because of the story and the beautiful music and other things that make it worth re-watching endlessly. Maybe it has little to nothing to do with the hair and eye color of the character, or worse, assuming that is the only kind of beauty.

Let’s just agree that inculcating little kids to be woke is a misuse of their childhood.

There was a clip of an interview, from our local Fox news station, talking seriously about the cultural appropriation “problem.”

The woman who takes it seriously could easily have said the very same things, in the same way, as a parody. She loses all credibility when she complains about Americans celebrating Cinco de Mayo. They wear sombreros and celebrate Mexican culture—how dare they! That holiday, though, if you weren’t aware, isn’t a Mexican holiday celebrated by immigrants here; it’s an unofficial American holiday with the purpose of celebrating Mexican culture, because of our many Mexican immigrants. She’s upset that the holiday accomplishes its purpose.

I suggest this: If you’re feeling offended with behavior that is not intended to offend, you have a problem; you need to fix yourself in order to function within civilization.

If you’re feeling guilty because you’re accused of offensive behavior when no offense was intended, do not genuflect to the offended, giving them incentive to continue being offended. 

Do not apologize for something you did not do, which was offend. Instead, do something socially appropriate. Try laughing, without derision toward the person, but clearly disarming the accusation. Point out the absurdity of labeling little children as racists for dressing up as a princess, or a Native American, or an ancient Egyptian, or any other costume representing something they are not. That is, after all, what a costume is—pretending to be someone or something you’re not. Trying it out for the day. For fun.

When it’s no longer Halloween, it’s still a good idea to dis-empower the offended.

Go ahead and do what you want with your hair—braids, cornrows, or dreadlocks included. Wear the earrings you want. Hoop earrings, for example, have been pretty mainstream, off and on trend, at least since the 1960s, without having any race or ethnicity attached. The same for Nehru jackets, or Asian inspired dresses. Or harem pants. Or dirndls. Or any other in-or-out-of-fashion statement that may have been “inspired by” some ethnicity.

And go ahead and decorate your home with things you love from whatever culture. It’s how we express appreciation for various cultural details. The more we love and appreciate about various cultures, the more we understand one another, accept one another, and get along in harmony.

We miss out on those benefits if we get our hands slapped every time we try to take something from a different culture into our melting pot lives. So let’s just stop letting those hand slappers get away with being offended by our appreciating one another.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

About the New Kind of Boy Scout

It was news, about a week ago, that Boy Scouts of America would now allow girls to participate in the Cub Scout program, and would soon make regular Scouting available, so that girls would have the opportunity to earn the rank of Eagle.

This may seem like “one more nail in the coffin” after previous announcements. (I actually saw that phrase, on Facebook, in response to the announcement.) But, personally, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Today I saw a video that clearly summarized the concerns of those who see this as one more nail. It’s worth looking at, before I share another view. This is news personality Liz Wheeler. Her video ends with this minute:
Liz Wheeler
screen shot from here

There’s a very simple reason cultural Marxists want to destroy the idea of gender. If we erase gender, that erases traditional gender roles in society. If we erase gender norms in society, that erases traditional relationships. If we dissolve man-woman relationships, that breaks down marriage. If we attack marriage, that destroys the family structure. If we lose the family structure, people all across the nation will be forced to resort to reliance on the government, instead of their families, for everything you can think of, A to Z. From emotional support to education. From financial assistance to morals, God, and friends. What happens when people rely only on government? 1984 happens. And the liberal government politicos who push this cultural suicide on us in the first place, now in a position of absolute control over every aspect in our lives, grow very very rich. Never underestimate the power of your voice in fighting these culture wars.
I agree with her about the culture wars. I appreciate the step-by-steps she outlines of the slippery slope. I’m also wary of changes to the Boy Scouts of America over the past several years—mostly due to pressure from the LGBTQ bully/lobby. And you can include the feminist lobby with that.

But this latest change isn’t exactly caving to the pressure—and much of the pressure wasn’t coming from where you might think.

First, the change to allow girls to join Cub Scouts, and eventually Boy Scouts—in addition to the older Explorer Scouts and Sea Scouts that have included girls for many years—does not put girls into the same Cub Scout dens along with the boys. It allows Packs to form dens specifically for girls, using the same program as the boys; or entire packs can form for girls. When the program eventually begins accommodating girls in Boy Scout troops, they will be in separate troops as well.

So, the Boy Scouts have succeeded in taking away an issue from the pressure groups, without taking away the opportunity for boys to be among boys.

And there is a plus for girls. On the ground, among families raising girls and boys and participating in scouting, parents have been asking for the Boy Scout program for their girls. Not to erase gender roles, but to provide something valuable for their daughters as well as their sons.

As the BSA announcement says,

The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls, the organization evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders, as well as parents and girls who’ve never been involved in Scouting–to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.
Girl Scouts began about three years after Lord Baden Powell began Boy Scouts, in London. It was obvious, even 100 years ago, that what boys were being taught was valuable for girls too—preparedness, self-reliance, honor, self-control, or, as the Boy Scout Law and Oath, which differ slightly from Cubs to regular Scouts, but emphasize character traits that lead to civilization.

The Girl Scouts have similar Laws and other reminders. The Girl Scouts patterned themselves originally after the Boy Scouts, with some differences related to actual gender differences. But the two organizations have always been separately run.

There was a time when the Boy Scouts tried to serve girls through Campfire Girls, which also separated. They were popular in the past, but now, as far as I can tell, is too small now to meet the need.

Girl Scouts, as an organization, are up in arms. What the Boy Scout change does is pull girls away from Girl Scouts, and that offends them.

But, in my opinion, based on our experiences with both, the Boy Scouts has been a solid program, working hard to build boys into men, for a very long time. Girl Scouts has had some value, depending on how the local troop functions. But programs change. And the Girl Scout Gold Award—the pinnacle award, after earning the Silver  and Bronze Awards, with all their requirements—has never carried the social honor that the Boy Scout Eagle Award carries.

Our Brownie troop years were pretty good, and up until age 12. And we had some good camping experiences after that. But programs kept changing. Even the type of accomplishment marker kept changing—while boys have had badges you can put on either the uniform or on the sash, depending on what the item is, without much change. We got through the Silver Award with our daughter, but working almost entirely on our own. No one else was working toward any goal. There just wasn’t as much sense of purpose in meeting together with the troop.

My daughter, and many girls her age (mid-20s) look at this change and say they’d have loved to have had the Boy Scout program, back in their growing years.

And parents would like that too. Sometimes it’s just a matter of convenience for the family. If they can coordinate just enough to have the same day or nearby location for meetings, that would help.
In reality, there are churches and schools that sponsor both Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and sometimes they meet at the same time, in nearly the same place—such as at different tables in a school cafeteria. Where that’s already happening, there’s not much incentive to form new Boy Scout troops for boys. But where families are serving in their Boy Scout troops and can’t find what they need for their daughters, this is good news. And it’s very pro-family news. And very pro-civilization.

In our church, the largest Church sponsor of BSA, there has always been a parallel program for girls—and for boys around the world, wherever Boy Scouts are not a viable option—there will be no LDS-sponsored dens or troops for girls. And that will continue to be the choice of the sponsoring organization. The program for Young Women has an ultimate award, the Young Womanhood Award, which we tried to give the respect it deserves. But I’m sorry to say it has never received as much respect as earning the Eagle Scout rank. That was one of the reasons we tried Girl Scouts in addition.

I hope the BSA is right, that this is just a better way to serve families. And that it will remove the incentive for attacks from the pressure groups. I hope they’re right, because we’re in greater need than ever of ways to bring up our children with the values of civilization.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tax Talk

A few days ago, October 19, there was a debate, unrelated to a candidate campaign, between Senators Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders on CNN. [Transcript here.]They had one a while back on Obamacare. This one was specifically about taxes, concurrent with a tax plan working through the legislative process right now.

screen shot from here
Ted Cruz started with this summary:

This debate is very, very simple. Bernie and the Democrats want every one of you watching today to pay more taxes. And Republicans want to lower the taxes for each and every person watching this debate.
Now, tonight I'm going to make a prediction. Bernie is going to suggest in just a few seconds that this is not really about you, this is about, "taxing the rich." That's what the Democrats always say. But here's what you need to know. Every time Bernie says the rich, what he means is taxpayers. And so if you pay taxes, he's talking about you.
And Bernie Sanders begins with, wouldn’t you know, coveting the rich and hating on those evil Koch brothers:

Let me make a prediction:
In two minutes, Senator Cruz is going to tell you that if we give tax breaks to the billionaires like George W. Bush did, like Ronald Reagan did, we're going to create zillions of jobs and you're all going to become very, very rich, that we have a trickle-down economic theory, tax breaks for the wealthiest people, the largest corporations, and, whoa, everything is good.
That is a totally fraudulent theory. Here is the reality of American society today. For 40 years, the middle class of this country, the great middle class has been shrinking. And what we have seen is a massive transfer of wealth from working families to the top 0.1 percent, trillions of dollars because of cooperate greed and an unfair tax system.
Now, the Trump Republican tax proposal that's before us today, this proposal is being pushed by Senator Cruz's campaign contributors, some of the wealthiest people in this country, by the Koch brothers, who are worth $90 billion. Why are they pushing this agenda? Because 80 percent of the tax breaks in this proposal will go to the top 1 percent.
In fact, 30 percent of the middle class will end up paying more in taxes. Forty percent of the tax benefits will go to the top 0.1 percent. This is massive tax breaks for the wealthy.
So it took one minute, just 163 words, to get to the Koch brothers, who are virtually never mentioned at Republican meetings (I attend many), or at tea party meetings (I attend even more of those), or on conservative radio, or in conservative articles. In fact, the first time I ever heard of them, it was in a left-wing pro-socialist article, claiming they had a stranglehold over all conservative thought—so I, a conservative thinker, looked them up just to know who they were. I wrote about them in May 2011.

There are, of course, exaggerations in Sanders’ prediction about what Cruz would claim: “zillions of jobs,” everybody becomes “very, very rich,” etc. So that even saying “more than zero jobs will be created” would sound like something to be flippantly dismissed. But I thought I’d look at some of the data. 

Sanders says the middle class has been shrinking for 40 years. Not sure that’s essential knowledge, but it seems measurable. So I looked it up. I think the data probably comes from a Pew Research Study

Screen shot from here

Today the middle class is about 49.9%. That means that’s the percentage earning a middle income. Pew Research defines that as “two-thirds to two times the national median income for your household size” or about $46,000 to $141,000 for a 4-person household. Roughly 29% make a lower-class income, which includes entry-level workers, full-time students, retirees—not simply full-time workers who can’t make ends meet, although they are among this level. Another 21% make upper incomes.

The change has been happening over 40 years. But Bernie would have you believe this is all bad news. There has been a slight growth in lower-income households: from 25.2% in 1971 to 29% in 2015, so, over about 4 ½ decades—coinciding, incidentally, with the “War on Poverty.” Hmm.

But, most of the dwindling middle class has come at the upper end: from 14% in 1971 to 21.1% in 2015. So the middle class lost 3.8% to the lower class, and 7.1% to the upper class. In other words, more people are moving up. That’s not a bad thing.

Here’s another detail: “Upper-class Americans have seen their incomes rise 47 percent, while lower-class families have gained only 28 percent.” This is not a bad thing either, if you realize the good stuff is happening to more people. Unless you’d rather see bad happen to everyone if good isn’t happening to you.

And here’s another thing to note: while lower income families aren’t gaining as fast as we’d like, it’s not mostly the same families staying in poverty over those decades. Mostly those are newcomers—new young adults, new students, new entry-level workers. Most of those people gain experience and move up.

But Bernie’s view is that those poor families are specific people losing out because specific rich people are getting their gains.

That’s what you call covetousness. And “Thou shalt not covet.”

If we needed to summarize the difference between Sander’s view and Cruz’s view, it would be that Sanders thinks it’s unfair for anyone to rise; anyone who succeeds should have their rise taken away and given to someone who didn’t rise. Regardless of difference in effort. Using the force of government.

There was a significant portion of the debate talking about Denmark. A man from Denmark posed a question:

And, you know, these are countries which—where the government spends—taxes and spends approximately twice the level of the United States. And while I am very sympathetic to many of your spending proposals, especially on the things you mention on early childhood and single-payer and the like, I also know that these are countries that heavily tax everybody, not just the rich people, middle classes. They have consumption taxes on everything of 20 percent.
So while I'm very sympathetic to what you're saying, my sense is still that you would like to spend as a Scandinavian but not tax as one, is that right?
Since Bernie talked about how we need “free” health care and “free” child care—that these are “rights” we are born with and therefore the government is obligated to provide—let’s look at the cost of “free.” I wrote about Denmark a while ago. [  2-11-2016   ] Using data that a young Danish writer offered, an ordinary working class Dane who makes $25,000 DKK a month (about $4,000, which would be $48,000/year) ends up with 9,848.71 DKK before he can start making choices about how to spend it. Here’s what I said:

That is 39.39% of your original. You have paid 60.61% of your income. If you were wealthier, you would add 15% [in taxes] earlier in the process. Not far off from what Bernie Sanders thinks those terrible rich people ought to be paying here. But note that in Denmark everybody pays, no matter how little they make.
Socialism isn’t about getting free stuff; it’s about spending 60% or more of your income on those “free” things, without market choice. Everyone pays it. There’s no getting away from it. If you’re healthy and would rather pay for minimal health care, so you can save up for a down payment on a house, you don’t get that choice. If you want faster internet or more media options than the single media company offers, you don’t get that choice.
But for all the lack of choice, you work until mid-July or later for the government and can only use what you make the rest of the year to support your food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and entertainment choices.
Meanwhile, the government is telling you how happy you must be, because of the good way the government takes care of you.
To translate the numbers in our US experience, a single person makes $48,000 a year, which feels pretty good just out of college. But the government takes $29,092.80, leaving you $18,907.20.

But your healthcare is minimal; isn’t that worth it? If you’re a young, healthy person, do you think $2,424.40 is a good deal for you? Let’s throw in child care—not quite free; the Dane says it’s about $300 a month, depending on region. So, let’s take away $3,600 from your $18,907.20, which leaves you $15,307.20 for your discretionary spending like food, housing, transportation, or travel.

Do you feel better, earning $44,000, but getting to spend only $15,307.20 the way you choose, in exchange for “free” stuff?

Bernie made the false claim that the average Dane has a better standard of living than the average American. But 70% of Americans, according to the data he used, are middle class or above, so they can buy a home, one or two cars, high-speed internet, a big screen TV, and save up for vacations, open their own businesses, prepare for their retirement, and in every other way “pursue happiness.”
Meanwhile, their Danish counterpart is less likely to own a home, more likely to live in an urban setting (in an apartment, without land), and more likely to work for the government (1 in 4).

Ted Cruz brought in statistics about socialized medicine in Denmark:

If you look at socialized medicine, there are waiting periods. There's rationing. The government says, if you're an elderly person and you need a hip replacement, it says, well, you may not get a hip replacement. We were talking about Denmark. The average wait time in 2014 for cataract surgery was 83 days...
And the average time in Denmark, which he brought up, for hip replacement was 55 days, 59 days for knee replacement.
The man asking the question believed these statistics were more negative than the reality. Anecdotally, he reported that his mother was treated for cancer within a couple of days of her diagnosis. However, I don’t know exactly where Cruz got his statistics, but he’s not haphazard about gathering and memorizing that kind of thing. My own familiarity with socialized medicine, Canada’s, involves a former neighbor’s father. He was told they couldn’t do anything to treat his cancer, and he should plan to die soon. He studied, changed his diet, and came to the US for some necessary care. No thanks to Canada’s socialized health care system, he lived six more important years while his grandchildren were growing.

The health care discussion was a side issue for this debate. But what it did was clarify the two vastly different philosophies on taxation. Despite some early dissembling, Bernie Sanders was really in favor of raising everyone’s taxes, significantly—up to Denmark’s levels, which are the highest in the world.

Bernie finally admitted that, but he believed promising all the free stuff would persuade voters:

If we can explain to people, yeah, you're going to be paying more in taxes, it's going to be a progressive tax system. The wealthy are going to pay their fair share, not the middle class, not the working class, but everybody will pay some more.
Cruz pointed out that admission moments later, and Bernie interrupted to tell him not to put words in his mouth. He forgot (or maybe didn’t pay enough attention to know) that Cruz remembers what he’s heard verbatim; it’s his superpower. And he’s better at math:

Bernie's tax plan cost over $13 trillion. That's what he's proposed raising in new taxes. And who pays for it? Well, the Democrats always talk about the millionaires and billionaires, but here's a simple fact. We could take every single person making $1 million a year or more and confiscate 100 percent of their income, everything they make, every penny, and it would raise about $1 trillion, about 8 percent of the cost of Bernie's tax plan.
That means if you want tax revenue, you don't get it from the millionaires and billionaires. You get it from the middle class. You get it from the working men and women in this country.
One of Cruz’s better points was that higher taxes slow growth, and lower taxes lead to more growth. Cruz had charts. Growth is important, because we’ll never get Congress to cut enough spending to cut the deficit. Here’s Cruz’s summary:

Obama versus Reagan, under Obama, median income increased 6 percent. Under Reagan, 17 percent. How about African-Americans? Under Obama, median income increased 8 percent. Under Reagan, 12 percent. How about women? Under Obama, median income increased 6 percent. Under Reagan, 25 percent. Young people, under Obama, 9 percent, under Reagan, 55 percent. Young women, under Obama, 8 percent, under Reagan, 73 percent. And, finally, the bottom 20 percent, those struggling, under Obama, 12 percent, under Reagan, 40 percent.

What I don’t know is whether the current tax plan is as good as we need it. But what I do know is that we Americans make better decisions about how to spend the money we earn than the government does.