Monday, January 30, 2017

Defending Religious Freedom

We have this beautiful Constitution, designed to help us “form a more perfect union,” with limited specific roles. Included are the Bill of Rights, and the first right mentioned is freedom of religion.

To be specific, the first amendment refers to government at the national level, and does two things:

·         Prevents the federal government from establishing a religion.
·         Prevents the federal government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
In subsequent years, states (some of which started with state religions) have followed suit, and now there is an assumption that a state cannot infringe on this natural, God-given right. While technically the US Constitution doesn't settle state law, the Bill of Rights is there to remind us that these are God-given rights, not government-granted rights.

And yet, governments—both state and federal, plus sometimes local—have interfered with the free exercise of religion.

We’ve recounted these before. Among the disagreements between many religious people and governments are issues of sex, gender, marriage definition, life, and abortion.

We know what is necessary for civilization to flourish: a righteous people who honor God, life, family, truth, and property. The disagreements put government against the side of civilization. That means that the moral compass of these governments—which actually means the moral compass of those holding positions of power in governments, because governments don’t have feelings or morals in and of themselves—their moral compass is wrong.

But they don’t know it. They very smugly go forward, assuming their rightness, and their righteousness, as they trample the rights of those who believe differently.

It will never be true that gender is just a social construct subject to the choices an individual feels inclined to make. When we get past the current confusion, we will look back at this as sheer foolishness.

It will never be true that a relationship between two people of the same sex is equivalently valuable (in the general sense, to society—not each individual relationship) to permanently committed man and wife who procreate and raise their own children to adulthood. When we look back, we will see which is more likely to both produce children and provide children the best outcomes.

Eventually it will become clear that unborn human life is still human life and not some clump of cells, like a tumor, interfering with a woman’s life plans. And elderly life, or life with disability, is still valuable and worth protecting. Killing some humans one deems as less valuable or less fully human is an evil we call murder.

Forcing people to go against their conscience, just because government disagrees with their conscience, is tyranny.

And tyranny is always bad. So it is important to everyone in a free society that we stop government—and anyone with power over others—from infringing on religious freedom rights.

Figuring out how to stand up and protect these rights is a challenge we have to face. On January 21, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and former Utah State Supreme Court Justice (and President of Brigham Young University while I was there), spoke at a religious freedom conference in Arizona. This was mainly to Latter-day Saints, but the principles work for everyone who wants to stand for religious freedom. He said,
Elder Dallin H. Oaks
photo from Deseret News

Whatever our differences, most of us want to live together in happiness and harmony, with goodwill toward all…. We want effective ways to resolve differences without anger or contention and with mutual understanding and accommodation. We all lose in an atmosphere of hostility or contention. We should encourage all to refrain from the common practice of labeling adversaries with such epithets as “godless” or “bigot.” We all lose when debates on ideas and policies turn into personal attacks, boycotts, firings and other intimidation of adversaries.
He used a metaphor of a two-sided coin:

Love of others and tolerance for their opinions and behavior is only one side of a two-sided coin. The other side is always what is true or right. One of these sides cannot govern without consciousness of the other. Those who question why the Church does something they consider contrary to love overlook the companion requirement of truth.
So the question follows, how do we do it? How do we stand for truth while being accused of hating, even when we’re not hating?

The LDS Church has a new website to help: Again, this is designed for Latter-day Saints, but is useful to anyone trying to stand for truth. Among the helpful features are several lists. One is "10 Ways to Protect Religious Freedom":

1.       Study up on the issues.
2.       Speak up with courage and civility.
3.       Get involved in the political process.
4.       Get to know people of other faiths.
5.       Volunteer for a charity—help solve problems in the community.
6.       Get involved in education.
7.       Be part of a club, business group, or professional association.
8.       Extend the reach of your faith—cooperate with other faiths.
9.       Make it a family matter and a matter of prayer.
10.   Enlarge your voice through social media.
I’m feeling fairly good that, in my small circle, I’m doing these things. It’s how I live my life now.
Some of those suggestions might benefit from this additional list, "7 Keys to Successful Conversations":

1.       First seek to understand, not judge.
2.       Remember that the people you’re talking with are children of God—give them respect and love.
3.       Express your beliefs calmly and sincerely, from your personal perspective.
4.       Stay true to your beliefs.
5.       Rely on the Holy Ghost—trust that God will inspire you with what to say.
6.       Be kind, listen, and love—this, even when others are not kind toward you.
7.       Know when to end the conversation—when others are unwilling to offer respect, and listening, it is unproductive to continue.
There are additional articles, links to documents, videos, and various resources. For example, if you’re dealing with religion and schools, there’s “7 Religious Things You Can Still Do,” along with a video example, and links to additional guides in PDF form: “What US Parents Should Know” and “What US Teachers Should Know.”

This website is the best resource I’ve found on defending religious freedom since Ryan T. Anderson’s book Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom came out in 2015, shortly after the errant Supreme Court ruling redefining marriage.  In that book he suggests being clear that the ruling has nothing to do with the Constitution. And he believes in bringing in new, recent research, so that science is on our side. He also believes in being kind, and listening—even when only intolerance is returned.

We shouldn’t give in to the defensive position of proving we’re not bigoted while we are being assaulted by religious intolerance. We just need to be the reasonable ones in the conversation, and trust that truth will persuade among reasonable people.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

School Choices

Education is one of my intense interests. That’s why we homeschooled for a decade. I’ve written a whole education collection of posts, and have added more (quite a few this past year).

·         Education Collection (July 24, 2013
·         Education Ruse (September 25, 2013
·         A Parent’s Job (May 16, 2016
·         Leeper Day (June 9, 2016)
·         Separating School from State (October 3, 2016
At last weekend’s tea party meeting one of the speakers talked about school choice. And I’d been thinking I’d write about that this week. As I was gathering info, I kept coming across—unbidden—stuff about school choice. Sometime on Tuesday it became clear: this is School Choice Week. 

Here in Texas that meant a gathering at the state capitol on Tuesday, with the governor and lieutenant governor committing their support to school choice during this legislative session.

Nationally, Senator Ted Cruz offered his support for school choice. In a statement he said,    

The facts are unequivocal—school choice improves students' test scores, keeps them in school longer, saves taxpayer dollars, provides a safer learning environment, and increases competition and quality in traditional public schools. School choice truly is the civil rights issue of the 21st century—it's opening doors for children to pursue their talents and ambitions and it’s providing some of our poorest students a ticket to a better life and more promising future.
If that is true, the question should be, then why isn’t everyone on board with school choice?
Also this week, Prager University launched this new video on school choice:


PragerU has launched a new initiative called where you can sign a petition of support, as a parent, teacher, or other supporter, and donate if you choose to.

There’s also an older PragerU video entitled “Teachers Unions vs. Students,” which provides some important background.

Now for some specific information, and then some Spherical Model perspective.

Colleen Dippel, from Families Empowered ( ), was the other speaker at our local tea party meeting last Saturday, which got me thinking about education this week. They are not lobbyists, or a think tank; they are trying to take action toward better education. I gather one thing they do is help parents find a public school, a charter, a private school, or some other option in their area that might meet the child’s need.

Dippel told us there are about 5.2 million K-12 students in Texas. That means 10% of kids in the US are going to school in Texas.

More fun facts: there are 130,000 students on wait lists for charter schools—which are proliferating in Texas, but can’t meet the need. Meanwhile there are 100,000 empty seats in private schools. She didn’t say how you could seat some of those students in those empty seats; vouchers would cover only a portion of private school tuition. But it’s interesting that there’s a demand and supply that aren’t getting together.

Also, there are 900,000 (17% of that 5.2 million) attending 1,032 failing schools in Texas. That means the school didn’t meet the minimal yearly progress (a pretty low bar) for three years in a row.
It seems obvious that giving parents the option to get their kids the heck out of those failing schools ought to be a given. But it isn’t.

Every district is different. Here’s some info about ours—in a fairly well-off, conservative suburban area, where we have nevertheless fought the pro-government-control of our school board.

·         Student enrollment has grown 30%, with a population explosion.
·         Teacher ranks have grown 50%, which is well above that population growth.
·         Non-teaching staff has grown 102%.
Non-teaching staff can include bus drivers and kitchen and custodial help, which is actually lower cost per hire than for teachers. But that doesn’t account for more than triple the growth of the students. It means money isn’t getting to the classroom.

All of us know the difference between having our child in a class with a good teacher and a not-so-good teacher. Even in a failing school, your child’s teacher is the most important factor beyond what the parent does with the child at home. When you have several administrators looking over the shoulder of every teacher, that’s not actually helping the teacher. Often it’s hindering the teacher—creating more paperwork, worrying about testing and other issues that the bureaucrats worry about, but that have no positive benefit for students in the classroom.

We talked about what choice means. It can mean freedom to attend the public school of choice, instead of the one assigned because of your address. It can mean winning the lottery for a position in a charter school. It can mean using a voucher to attend a private school. It can mean homeschooling (probably without a voucher or any benefit, but at least not stopped by government).

And then there’s the Education Savings Account option, which were pushing for in Texas this year. That means, like with a health savings account, the money follows the child, but the parents can use it as they see fit for that child—in any combination of educational options, curated by the parent for their child, including online options that are growing. Funds can be carried year to year, and even saved toward college for that child. It’s a way of inputting market into the educational world.

There’s a dirty little secret about these choices. After all the money the state collects and puts toward education, it does not fund—has no intention of funding—those who choose an option other than public schools.

Public schools count on a certain number of students opting out—at their own expense. If all of those private schoolers and homeschoolers opted to attend those public schools, there isn’t anything close to the funding to educate those additional students.

That’s why there’s so much push back against ESA’s, vouchers, and other choice options.
What is interesting in this School Choice Week discussion is that it’s considered an odd, new idea to make choices for our children’s education.

If the parents aren’t the main, expected decision-makers for their child’s education, then we are living in tyranny. Public schools have been a tyranny.

We should have expected this outcome. Every time government steps beyond its proper role—protecting life, liberty, and property—then it will cause negative consequences, usually exactly opposite of the stated purpose.

This is very obvious at the national level; I went through my entire public school education before the creation of the Department of Education, during the Carter administration. Education costs have gone up astronomically since then, while outcomes have gone down or flat lined.

At the state level, the more the state government tries to control, the worse the outcomes. The more the parent controls, the better. If you’re going to have a classroom, the person in control needs to be a good teacher, supported by parents, plus a minimum number of administrators who smooth the way for that teacher, as well as hold him/her accountable.

What does living in tyranny feel like? Having some distant, arbitrary dictator force us into living in a way that we would not choose for ourselves and our families.

This is America. When tyranny happens here, we have to stand up and say, “No! Not here. You don’t control my life.”

The fact that we have to discuss school choice, because it has for so long been taken from us, means we’ve allowed tyranny.

If we want to educate every child, we need to wrench control back from government, and do it right, with parents in a free market.

Monday, January 23, 2017

March and Meaning

The media told us there was a historic event across the country and around the world this past Saturday. Women came out, in extraordinary numbers, to march about….   I’m not sure.

As a strong woman friend, who didn’t attend, said on Facebook, “The whole point of a protest is to educate those who don't know anything about what it is about. I was left completely clueless.”
A confusing poster from the Women's March
found on a friend's Facebook,
original source unknown

I know a few women who participated. Young, educated, successful women. Women who have made their career choices, or are staying home with beautiful children while their husband pursues career goals that support the whole family. That’s anecdotal, I know. I just don’t happen to know any downtrodden, marginalized women who participated. But I assume in crowds that big, there were some.

But I’m confused about their message. Women around the world were protesting the election of a US President they don’t like? When the alternative was a catastrophically bad choice? That seems unlikely.

So, if we broaden out the purpose(s) for this solidarity march, maybe it’s about pushing a progressive (tyrannist), social justice (fascist) agenda that happens to be led by people who identify as female for now.

To anonymously quote one of my Facebook friends who attended in her city:

My earlier post only mentioned it was a reaction to a misogynistic president (which it definitely was), but it also was a pro-immigrant, pro-racial equality, pro-LGBTQIA rights, pro-environment, and pro-healthcare accessibility demonstration as well. Everyone marched for their own reasons, but it did expand beyond just feminism yesterday.
She linked to this Reuters article, which claims the activists were “outraged by Trump's campaign rhetoric and behavior they found to be especially misogynistic.” This is the very next day after the inauguration, and the event was in planning stages for some time, so it is not about either his rhetoric or behavior as president. Their timing, therefore, is a bit off; the campaign is over.

Another clever person made a comparison to NFL football following yesterday’s games:

I refuse to accept the results of the AFC & NFC Championship games. Tomorrow I’ll be protesting, picketing, looting, rioting, and forming support groups. Contact me privately for details.
#NotMySuperBowl     NFLMemes on Facebook
So, there’s the timing problem. Then, it is difficult to believe people are outraged about distasteful, disgusting things the now-president has said or done in the past when they show up costumed as their own genitalia. Signs they carry are some combination of vile, offensive, profane, or just stupid.

Video here, if you care to see; I’d rather not reproduce those images on my blog. But here's a photo of the leftover detritus.
The leftover detritus
photo credit Ben Ferguson

Then there’s the irony related to solidarity.

This Occupy-Wall-Street-sponsored, Planned-Parenthood-funded march attempted to exclude pro-life women.

A piece on Lifesite News, by Kelsey Kurtinitis, two days ahead of the march, starts out, “I am a woman, and yet the Women’s March on Washington does not represent me.” Later in the piece Kurtinitis explains,

According to their mission statement, they aim to “join in diversity” while sending “a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”…
All of these well-intentioned statements might have at least maintained consistency if they had not then immediately violated their very own mission statement.
Yesterday, the Women’s March organization made headlines by removing New Wave Feminists, a pro-life women’s group, as an official event sponsor. The Women’s March released a statement to defend their decision, apologizing for “the error” of having previously listed an “anti-choice” group as a partner. They also made it clear that they only wish to march on behalf of those who share the pro-abortion mindset.
So, women who “choose” life for children are not “woman” enough to qualify for the Women’s March. Hmm. Given pressure, organizers backtracked and decided to grudgingly allow participation from women who believe in giving birth to babies rather than killing them in the womb. For some reason that doesn’t win me over.

There has been some pushback. Some women explain why they didn’t join the march, while others respond with why they were wrong not to join. Some claim the definition of feminism has been hijacked, and others say the definition means anything and everything.

Conservative Review had a piece last September about the failure of modern feminism:

Like most progressive movements, modern feminism purports to laud equality, tolerance, and freedom of expression as its primary goals. The truth, however, is that feminism promotes two unappealing visions of equality, neither of which could be considered “tolerant.”
Some feminists have attempted to reach equality by disarming and devaluing men. For these women, equality demands that the status and intrinsic worth of men be lowered for the sake of female liberation, independence, and “leveling the playing field.” This is the “fight the patriarchy” and “the future is female” group.
An alternative and more radical form of modern feminism asserts that equality demands total transcendence of sexual and all other differences—complete uniformity in role, in pay, and, consequently, in perceived value. This view not only attacks men, but any person whose beliefs or values challenge the progressive feminist agenda. I call this camp the “feminist fascists.”
I have good friends who are willing to use the term feminism, and then define it themselves. They usually mean they want equal pay for equal work—usually unaware that women already have this, because they hear soundbites rather than look at data. [Pew Research points out that nearly all pay differences can be traced to women’s choices.] Sometimes they mean they want women to have the opportunity to pursue whatever work they want to do, as long as they are capable—again, unaware that women are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to go to college [52% since 2010, according to UN statistics], and are more likely to be hired over a man to avoid accusations of sexism.

These sisters mean well. I don’t really have a quarrel with them. But I’ve been around long enough to know how the word has been used for many decades to mean anti-female. Women don’t gain more rights as women by denying their womanhood and acting like uncivilized men.

So I don’t ever describe myself as a feminist. And it never occurred to me to join in this meaningless march.

What did I do instead? I attended a funeral to celebrate the life of a beautiful, energetic, humanity-serving woman I had the privilege to know during the last few of her 78 years. Then I spoke at our local Tea Party meeting, outlining our legislative priorities during the session that just got underway here in Texas. (No one at the meeting talked about the march, or even mentioned the inauguration; we’re on to doing what we need to do next.) Then I went and played some music with friends. And then I went home to share a quiet evening watching a movie with Mr. Spherical Model, because sometimes being a woman living a very full life is  not only enough, it's exhausting.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


We’re within hours of the peaceful transfer of power in the United States. I don’t know what will be said yet. But I’ve been thinking about what an inaugural address ought to contain—and some good words from the past.

If I were imaging the ideal, I would want the new president to express his intention and dedication to protecting and defending our Constitution—as written and understood when written. I would like to hear humility, and gratitude for the confidence placed in him by the American people—and an appeal for prayer to sustain him in that effort.

I love beautiful language, like you get from Lincoln. But even more I’m in favor of honesty and integrity—being authentically himself, so no efforts toward flowery, pretentious, “I’m making this sound more important so I will seem more important” language. Short is good. And the words should be meaningful and understandable—not just sound like they must be in a “the emperor has no clothes” kind of way.

If I were to guess, I predict Donald Trump will sound like himself. Hopefully he will be clear and meaningful. And I pray that he might connect with our Constitution—and mean it.

We’ve had some good examples in the past. Ronald Reagan was good at being himself and meeting those other requirements. We could probably say the same of John F. Kennedy’s speeches. Back much further and we have to just imagine their voices. But here are a few words from the past.

George Washington’s 1st Inaugurual, April 30, 1789

Depiction of Washington's 1st Inaugural Address
image from here

The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.

George Washington’s 2nd Inaugural, March 41793, in its entirety

Fellow Citizens:
I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.

Thomas Jeffersons 1st Inaugural, March 4, 1801

A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.
I repair then, fellow citizens, to the post you have assigned me. With experience enough in subordinate offices to have seen the difficulties of this the greatest of all, I have learnt to expect that it will rarely fall to the lot of imperfect man to retire from this station with the reputation, and the favor, which bring him into it. Without pretensions to that high confidence you reposed in our first and greatest revolutionary character, whose pre-eminent services had entitled him to the first place in his country’s love, and destined for him the fairest page in the volume of faithful history, I ask so much confidence only as may give firmness and effect to the legal administration of your affairs. I shall often go wrong through defect of judgment. When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground. I ask your indulgence for my own errors, which will never be intentional; and your support against the errors of others, who may condemn what they would not if seen in all its parts. The approbation implied by your suffrage, is a great consolation to me for the past; and my future solicitude will be, to retain the good opinion of those who have bestowed it in advance, to conciliate that of others by doing them all the good in my power, and to be instrumental to the happiness and freedom of all.
Relying then on the patronage of your good will, I advance with obedience to the work, ready to retire from it whenever you become sensible how much better choices it is in your power to make. And may that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.

Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural, March 4, 1865

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Ronald Reagan’s 1st Inaugural, January 20, 1981

Reagan's 1st Inaugural Address
image found here

"To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle."
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.

And also:

We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our Government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.

It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.

Monday, January 16, 2017

MLK's Ten Commandments

It’s Martin Luther King Day today. Yesterday I came across a Wallbuilders post in honor of the day. David Barton of Wallbuilders pointed out that he was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  There are schools that remove the “Reverend” title out of some misguided idea that mentioning a historical person’s religious affiliation is somehow “establishing” a national religion.
Ten Commandments of Nonviolence
image from here

If that is true of some school—yet another reason to homeschool.

But David Barton went on to share Martin Luther King’s Ten Commandments for those joining him in the nonviolent movement. If we share nothing more about the man today, these Ten Commandments of nonviolence ought to be repeated.

1.       MEDITATE daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
2.       REMEMBER always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation—not victory.
3.       WALK and TALK in the manner of love, for God is love.
4.       PRAY daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
5.       SACRIFICE personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
6.       OBSERVE with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7.       SEEK to perform regular service for others and for the world.
8.       REFRAIN from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
9.       STRIVE to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10.   FOLLOW the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.
So, the tenth is directly related to the movement, at that time, in a particular city, so we may not need that right now. And the second is worded as time and place specific as well, but the idea of seeking justice and reconciliation rather than some nebulous idea of victory is still valid.

Not everyone is Christian. Nevertheless, I believe it is true that meditating on the teachings and life of Jesus. The remaining commandments are a pretty good description of what a regular person might work on to be more Christlike—to live a more truly civilized life.

There’s a lot in there about love—even when love isn’t offered in return—and about being kind, courteous, self-restrained, and selfless toward others.

The list I use most often to describe civilized behavior is the summary of the original Ten Commandments: honor God, family, life,property, and truth.

And another good list comes from the description of charity, the pure love of Christ, in I Corinthians 13:
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is    not puffed up,
 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
 8 Charity never faileth
I love the King James English language, but if you need a quick translation, the list is

·         Long suffering
·         Not envious
·         Not self-centered, no over-inflated ego
·         Well-mannered (courteous, kind, modest)
·         Not self-serving
·         Controlled temper
·         Controlled thoughts to avoid evil
·         No joy in doing bad, but joy in finding truth
·         Tolerant and long-suffering
·         Positive, believing, and hopeful
·         Enduring in goodness through life
As Peter taught, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). In the Book of Mormon, Nephi taught the same principle, that God “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33).

The required bahaviors of civilized behavior—leading to the comforts and joys of true civilization—apply to everyone. Live that way, among others who live that way, and you can fully enjoy civilization.

Live that way even when not among others who live that way—and work, as Rev. Martin Luther King did, to persuade others to live that way as well.

That is still a movement to get behind.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

To Read or Not to Read--Shakespeare

I’ve begun yet another free online course by Hillsdale College, this one about Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Tempest.

As you’re probably familiar, Hamlet asks,

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? (Act III, Scene 1)
That’s what happens in Shakespeare; people take a look at what can be done, and what ought to be done—what is right to do when faced with whatever life throws at us.

The Globe Theater in London
from our trip last May

Professor Stephen Smith will be the main teacher. In lecture 2, his introduction to Hamlet, he says,

I really think all of Shakespearean drama broods over a key question: what habits does the human being need to lead a free, prosperous, truthful, and great life?
Here at the Spherical Model, we ask these questions too. Less artfully than Shakespeare, but we want to know, what is the way to freedom, prosperity, and civilization—rather than the alternatives of tyranny, poverty, and savagery?

Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, gives introductory lecture 1, about why we read Shakespeare—what we get out of it. One reason is to see what happens when a person makes certain choices. We can see the situation, the thought process going into the decision, and then the results—all complete.

He gives an example of something Winston Churchill advocated for that, at the time, looked like it might not move toward peace. In fact, the war lasted another five years. But it eventually did appear that Churchill was right about the choice, although some consequences are probably still playing out even now.

Actions that we take seldom are really complete. But in a play, they can be complete. In three hours you can see some dramatic things done by people, in Shakespeare in beautiful language, to explain why they’re doing it. And a world, a whole world, can be described in a few words, that is rich and beautiful, and compelling, and evocative.
In Hamlet, Dr. Arnn says,

we can find out what happened to him. We can find out his choices in detail. We can feel the pressures that he feels. We can weigh the competing goods to which he is loyal, and then we can see how it comes out in the end.
Both Churchill and Lincoln were avid readers of Shakespeare—enough that they could mouth the words when they attended performances. Why?

To conclude, what did Lincoln and Churchill find in Shakespeare? Why did they love him? Well, they were people who made extremely consequential decisions all the time. And what they could do is practice those decisions by watching those plays. To see how one thing happens and another follows—and this is this, and this is that. Also see how even the highest intentions sometimes go wrong. But nonetheless the intentions are high and worthy, even if they don’t succeed.
Both those men—I think the greatest statesmen of democratic history, along with George Washington—both those men had Shakespeare for a teacher. And if he was helpful to them, think how helpful he can be to us in our daily lives and how we carry on.
Back before our homeschooling years, our boys attended a gifted magnet school. One year they studied Shakespeare. They had a “reduced” version of Hamlet. That is, a version that uses mainly the original language, but simplifies the plot and some of the lines, so it can be more easily understood and performed by children. The teachers had originally planned to just read it together. But the kids said, “Why don’t we put it on?”

In a gifted school, if you have kids who want to do something, you probably go with it. Two weeks later they put on a performance for family. Not all the lines were memorized, and costumes and sets were very simple. But they did it. Son Economic Sphere was in fourth grade that year; Political Sphere had already moved on to middle school. Economic Sphere went around the house quoting Shakespeare at appropriate moments (seeking out such moments), which delighted me, but his brother thought he was showing off. The next year they did A comedy of Errors.

When we started homeschooling, I looked up the same reduced versions and we started putting them on. All of my kids got their chance, along with dozens of their friends. I directed for six years. Then a friend took over for longer than that. Then others stepped in. They’re still happening in our homeschool community. (In fact, auditions coincidentally are tomorrow for Twelfth Night.)

One thing our young actors learned was that Shakespeare is understandable. And he’s funny. And his plays make more sense when you see them acted out. Plus, they learned a few basics about acting, and projecting, and doing things for an audience. Mainly, they learned to think through what a character was thinking—why he was doing what he was doing—and finding a way to let the audience see that motivation. Sometimes—or nearly always—the character was not like them. That was probably valuable in itself.

So I hope we passed along a love for Shakespeare. I think we did.

During our trip to London last spring, a highlight for me was touring the Globe Theater, which is approximately where the original stood some centuries ago, and is built very much like the construction of the original, although this one is only a few decades old. They still perform there, in the open air. They mostly did that in the original, because they didn’t have many ways of lighting the stage at night. So they were open to the elements.

During our tour of the Globe Theater, they were prepping
a stand-in to take over the role of Kate
in The Taming of the Shrew

Our tour guide told a story about how that open air can affect what’s going on. Once, some years ago, a famous actor (I don’t remember who, but it was an actor whose name I have heard in my lifetime) was performing Hamlet in The Globe, and a pidgeon flew in and landed near him on the stage. This was at the point in the story when Hamlet was standing over Ophelia’s grave. Without missing a moment, the actor continued his lines while following the bird as it wandered around the stage. At last it hopped in on top of the startled, live actress playing the dead Ophelia. Hamlet hopped in after it—which he does at nearly that point in the script, and scooped it up, continuing his lines. And then, at the appropriate moment lets the bird fly free. I’ve looked for the line, not sure which it is. Possibly as Hamlet faces her brother Laertes, who blames him for her death, says,

I pr’ythee, take thy fingers from my throat;
For, though I am not splenetive and rash,
Yet have I in me something dangerous,
Which let thy wiseness fear: away thy hand. (Act V, Scene 1)
That memorable dramatic moment is something that can happen only in a live performance, and only in an outdoor theater. It’s like watching life.

Watching life is why we still love Shakespeare. It is something other species do not do—act out and observe various possibilities to try to determine a better course for a similar future life choice. And this is because humans rightly ask such questions as, “What habits does the human being need to lead a free, prosperous, truthful, and great life?”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Citizens, Not Subjects

Back in the 1770s, American colonists had a disagreement with the King of England. The king insisted that he was to rule over them, because it was the right he was born to; and they were to be his subjects and were obligated to submit to his rule.

They believed they were born to be the same things as the king: men. They were not willing to be subject to a king the way a horse would be subject to a man.
Image found here

And they wrote clearly of their disagreements, and their intentions to defend themselves and their God-given rights. The king could have seen things their way and let them separate peacefully; he didn’t. That is why the Revolutionary War happened.

Freedom won.

Some years later the founders set up a system of limited government—so that God-given rights would be protected, and no one would have power to “rule” over another. Slavery took several more decades and a bloody civil war to eliminate—in order to align with the founding principle that all human beings are created equal before the law.

But there has been some forgetting, particularly over the past century, since around 1913.

Then-Congressman Mike Pence spoke at Hillsdale College in September 2010, which became an Imprimis publication the following month. He spoke on “The Presidency and the Constitution”:
Mike Pence
image from here

The president is not our teacher, our tutor, our guide or ruler. He does not command us; we command him. We serve neither him nor his vision. It is not his job or his prerogative to redefine custom, law, and beliefs; to appropriate industries; to seize the country, as it were, by the shoulders or by the throat so as to impose by force of theatrical charisma his justice upon 300 million others. It is neither his job nor his prerogative to shift the power of decision away from them, and to him and the acolytes of his choosing.
Is my characterization of unprecedented presumption incorrect? Listen to the words of the leader of President Obama’s transition team and perhaps his next chief-of-staff: “It’s important that President-Elect Obama is prepared to really take power and begin to rule day one.” Or, more recently, the latest presidential appointment to avoid confirmation by the Senate—the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—who wrote last Friday: “President Obama understands the importance of leveling the playing field again.”
“Take power. . .rule. . .leveling.” Though it is the model now, this has never been and should never again be the model of the presidency or the character of the American president. No one can say this too strongly, and no one can say it enough until it is remedied. We are not subjects; we are citizens. We fought a war so that we do not have to treat even kings like kings, and—if I may remind you—we won that war. Since then, the principle of royalty has, in this country, been inoperative. Who is better suited or more required to exemplify this conviction, in word and deed, than the President of the United States?
I’m comforted, as we come at last to the end of Obama’s rule, that we have a vice-president who understands the constitutional limits of presidential power.

A week or so ago Valarie Jarrett asserted that one thing that can be said for the Obama administration was that it was essentially scandal-free.

Andrew Napolitano takes issue with that. The subheading on his Judge Napolitano Chambers is “Making Sure Government Is Not Our Master.” He takes the opportunity to contradict Valarie Jarrett with a few reminders in this video.

Back in 2013, the list of scandals was so long it was becoming a joke. You couldn’t just refer to the Obama administration scandal; that was too vague, because there were so many. Just to review, I’ll repost a joke from that time:

Multiple Scandals

Bob: "Did you hear about the Obama administration scandal?"
Jim: "You mean the Mexican gun running?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "You mean SEAL Team 6 Extortion 17?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "You mean the State Dept. lying about Benghazi?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "You mean the voter fraud?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "You mean the military not getting their votes counted?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "You mean the president demoralizing and breaking down the military?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "You mean the Boston Bombing?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "You mean the president wanting to kill Americans with drones in our own country without the benefit of the law?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "You mean the president arming the Muslim Brotherhood?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "The IRS targeting conservatives?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "The DOJ spying on the press?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "Sebelius shaking down health insurance executives?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "The NSA monitoring our phone calls, e-mails and everything else?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "The president's ordering the release of nearly 10,000 illegal immigrants from jails and prisons and falsely blaming the sequester?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "The president's threat to impose gun control by Executive Order in order to bypass Congress?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "The president's repeated violation of the law requiring him to submit a budget no later than the first Monday in February?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "The president's unconstitutional recess appointments in an attempt to circumvent the Senate's advise-and-consent role?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "The State Department interfering with an Inspector General investigation on departmental sexual misconduct?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "HHS employees being given insider information on Medicare Advantage?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "Clinton, the IRS, Clapper and Holder all lying to Congress?"
Bob: "No, the other one."
Jim: "I give up! ... Oh wait, I think I got it! You mean that 65 million low-information voters stuck us again with the most corrupt administration in American history?"

And now we’ve had three more years.

We could add the purposeful(?) deterioration of race relations under our first black president (the timeline is offered here on The Daily Wire).

Whatever we have to look forward to, at least this administration is ending.

There is some fear and trepidation of what is to come. I share some of that; I was not a Trump supporter (and absolutely wasn’t a Hillary supporter). But much of the worry has been, not that he will be too authoritarian, but that he will be an unstable personality for a ruler.

Keith Olbermann, now a correspondent for fashion magazine GQ, offers a video of a supposed well-considered sane assessment—the irony of which ought to be striking, if you have followed his career. He says that you ought to admit that Trump is crazy and the best end for everyone is to remove him before something bad happens. The lack of self-awareness is amazing.

As I said well before the election (before the primary), we’ve had a narcissistic authoritarian; we don’t need to try that again. But here we are. And, while I still don’t like his style or personality, there is reason to rejoice that at least Trump is not anti-American and pro-socialism.

As Thomas Sowell pointed out recently, Trump has put together perhaps the best cabinet and staff, at this point in the process, of any president within memory. The thing we don’t know is what he will do as president. If he listens to these appointees, we have much reason to be hopeful; if he doesn’t listen and just does what he wants, that won’t be as good for America.

What we do know is that, whenever we hold fast to the Constitution, limiting government to its role of protecting our God-given rights to life, liberty, and property, then we maximize our freedom, and set up the best situation for prosperity and thriving civilization as well.