Thursday, March 30, 2017

Upward Mobility

Here at the Spherical Model, we talk about the interrelationships of the political, economic, and social spheres. Freedom affects prosperity, and both are significantly affected by the civilization level of the people.

I came across a long piece by Megan McCardle for Bloomberg News (I’m estimating 25-30 pages, but online it’s a bit uncertain) about the state of Utah, where I grew up. And the interrelationships are evident.

Let’s start with some descriptions. The story begins with the population: 192,672. That’s the city proper. But that’s not really accurate. That puts it in the range of the Tri-Cities in Washington State (Kennewick, Richland, and Pasco together), which has a small town feel, and not even a 4-year college. The Salt Lake metropolitan area is actually well over a million. And if you extend the area north to Ogden and south to Provo, you’re up to nearly 2.5 million. It’s not as big as, say, Houston, but it’s significant in population size.

Salt Lake City, view from airplane, May 2014

Salt Lake City and surrounding areas have a high percentage of Mormons, since the valley was settled by Mormons after they had been driven from five previous homes by mobs burning and looting their property and killing them. (The Governor of Missouri had signed an extermination order, which made murdering Mormons legal.) So, it’s no wonder they wanted a place of their own, away from threats, where they could settle permanently.

Going back there, when daughter Social Sphere went to college, she commented, “I’ve never seen so many blonds.” I hadn’t noticed it growing up, but she was right. It’s a little startling after Texas. A lot of the Utah population comes from the northeastern US, plus many from England and Scandinavia (my heritage). So blonds are common.

But there are other notable demographics as well. Hispanics are around 22%. Then there are sizable populations of Pacific Islanders, and Asians (Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka), and Bosnians.

There are only about 2.7% blacks. There has never been a migration of blacks to Utah. There has also never been slavery, and blacks (and women) had the vote all along, before statehood in the 1890s (statehood took away the women’s right to vote for a couple of decades). McArdle asserts that institutional racism is the reason blacks stay away—I have to say that’s an incorrect assessment of the people, and of the Mormons. But I’ll save that debate for another day.

Anyway, some of the comparisons between Utah and other places are like apples and oranges just because there isn’t an underlying racism issue. And another overriding question is, can the things that are working be transferred elsewhere, or is it because of the Mormons?

Upward Mobility

Upward mobility—the American Dream—is more likely in Utah than in the rest of the US. The main impetus of the article is to explore why there is this upward mobility gap:

A child born in the bottom quintile of incomes in Charlotte [North Carolina] has only a 4 percent chance of making it into the top quintile. A child in Salt Lake City, on the other hand, has more than a 10.8 percent chance—achingly close to the 11.7 percent found in Denmark and well on the way to the 20 percent chance you would expect in a perfectly just world.
Government Spending

Government spending isn’t the reason. Utah’s government seems to commit very limited funds for both fighting poverty and for education. “Utah is dead last in per-pupil education spending.” It’s not last in educational outcomes, however. For K-12 schools, it ranks 22nd, but in higher education it ranks 2nd. For overall education it ranks 9th.

They have a surprising solution for homelessness that seems to be working, called “Housing First.” It turns out, if you just outright pay for housing for the homeless, before dealing with the cause of that individual’s homelessness, it’s cheaper and more effective than the crisis-led practice of dealing with them once they show up in emergency rooms.

As McArdle summarizes:

That’s the thing about the government here. It is not big, but it’s also not … bad. The state’s compassionate conservatism goes hand-in-hand with an unusually functional bureaucracy.
Volunteer Help

Besides actually cheerful, helpful government workers, the biggest factor seems to be community involvement, with an army of volunteers.

The volunteering starts in the church wards, where bishops keep a close eye on what’s going on in the congregation, and tap members as needed to help each other. If you’re out of work, they may reach out to small business people to find out who’s hiring. If your marriage is in trouble, they’ll find a couple who went through a hard time themselves to offer advice.
Besides the very local, very personal volunteering, there’s also larger, more institutional helping. Welfare Square is visited by governments all over the country and the world, to see how it’s done, and to see what they can replicate. It’s not just a food pantry; it’s a production facility—actually a network of production facilities: bakeries, dairies, canneries, farms, orchards, and more.

Here in Houston we have a peanut butter cannery producing for Church welfare storehouses in Utah and all over. It’s run by volunteer labor. Additionally, the cannery is used by the Houston Food Bank to produce about 400,000 jars a year for local food pantries. The only jars actually sold are to Mormons buying a case or so for their personal family pantries. All the rest is donated to the poor.

LDS Peanut Butter Factory in Houston

Help from the Church is intended to be temporary. And recipients are expected to do volunteer work in exchange for the help, whenever physically possible. Usually help will be to tide a household over for a matter of a few months, all the while helping them find gainful employment, or head toward the training or education they need. There’s no life-long welfare help in the Church.

McArdle contrasts that with government programs:

This combination of financial help and the occasional verbal kick in the pants is something close to what the ideal of government help used to be. Social workers used to make individual judgments about what sort of help their clients needed or deserved. But such judgments always have an inherently subjective and arbitrary quality, which courts began to frown on in the middle of the 20th century, in part because they offered considerable discretion for racial discrimination.
Turning government welfare into an automatic entitlement based on simple rules undoubtedly made it fairer, and kept people from slipping through the cracks. But making it harder to remove benefits from people who stopped trying also made it easier for people to make understandable short-term decisions which turned into long-term dependence, leaving a significant number of people disconnected from work and mired in multi-generational poverty.
One of the factors in upward mobility is what BYU research David Sims calls “middle classness that’s so broad it’s almost infectious.” He means that young people are exposed to social differences beyond how they were raised. Moving up looks possible. And belief leads to efforts to succeed.

Lots of Marriage, Not Much Alcohol

Mormons contribute some additional social benefits. Mormons don’t drink alcohol, so poverty-related outcomes of alcohol addiction are a much smaller problem in Utah.

Also, Mormons are more likely to be married. We’ve talked about the formula for avoiding poverty in America at the Spherical Model from time to time. That comes up again here:

Economists Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins famously estimated that we could reduce poverty by 71 percent if the poor did just four things: finished high school, worked full time, got married and had no more than two children — and the number of children was the least important factor in that calculation.
Salt Lake Temple,
photo from the Conference Center
in the rain, January 2012, by Social Sphere
Marriage avoids poverty not only for the couple as individuals, but also for the children in the next generation. Marriage builds social capital. In areas of the US where it looks like upward mobility is racially caused, “once they controlled for the family structure of the community, that effect disappeared. Marriage seems to have more of a correlation with mobility than race does.”
And not just the families of married parents benefit; neighborhoods benefit:

If you live in a neighborhood full of single mothers who had a hard time finishing school, that’s probably the future you’ll expect for yourself and your own kids. If you live in a neighborhood full of thriving two-parent families, that’s probably the future you’ll envision, even if your own father disappeared when you were 2. Marriage matters at the individual level, but it also matters at the community level, because the community can strongly shape individual behavior.
That sounds just like something we’d come up with here at the Spherical Model. Families are the basic unit of civilization. You need a critical mass of families with intact married parents in order to get out of savagery and into civilization.


So, here’s what you need, if you want Utah’s results of exiting poverty. You need married parents raising families with stability and caring. You need a volunteer force to care for the less fortunate. You need people willing to care for one another, rather than leaving that to government. And you need minimal government bureaucracy that, where necessary, is done with care and efficiency.

You might get that where there’s not a handy supply of Mormons. I’m even hopeful that it is possible. That’s what the Spherical Model shows. But if you need social capital to get underway, it sure is handy to start with a Mormon population.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Science and Economics of Life

Our local Tea Party recently visited the local office of our state senator to let him know what bills we were following, and what we are encouraging him to do. The biannual legislative session is underway in Austin, so we met with the staffer.

Normally a staffer is pretty circumspect about saying where the legislator stands on any given issue. But we have a conservative state senator who is generally in agreement with us. He had already authored or signed on as a co-author on most of the Senate bills we were looking at, so we just wanted to thank him. Some had already passed through the Senate and had been sent to the House. A few others hadn’t been moving, so we encouraged paying attention to those. Then there were a few House bills we wanted him to be aware of for when they pass through the House and reach the Senate.

So the staffer was friendly and comfortable with us. He said it was like a breath of fresh air to meet with people like us (people who weren’t hostile or complaining, I’m assuming). He said last week he had Planned Parenthood visit him, from the clinic here in Houston that was filmed selling baby parts.* The Senator represents them as well, so the staffer’s job is to listen politely and let them know he’ll pass along their views to the Senator.

But he shared with us that one of their points was that we should be in favor of abortion, because that would mean fewer people, and that would mean a lower tax burden. So it would be fiscally conservative to favor abortion. The staffer told us they said this with a straight face.

It’s a good idea to try to understand how people with differing opinions think. So I thought I’d explore this belief. It requires some surmising on my part, but this is what I think is their though process:

·         They know our state senator has an excellent long record of being all about lowering the tax burden on his constituents (he used to the be county tax assessor, and was outspoken about making sure homeowners got every property tax advantage they could get). Therefore, a lower tax argument must get his attention.
·         They believe, because he favors lower taxes, he will favor them above any other issue, including abortion.
·         They believe he doesn’t actually value life of the unborn when weighed against money issues.
·         They believe more people mean more tax burden. That must also be true of immigration, and emigration from other states into ours as well.
So a person who is pro-abortion is making some negative and erroneous assumptions, about life in general, and about those of us who disagree with them.

All the while the governor (a conservative) is attempting to attract businesses to the state, and we’re generally pleased about being a state that’s growing. That growth includes children. But there’s an assumption among conservatives that parents take care of their children. There are school costs, but the parents’ taxes plus their neighbors’ taxes cover that so that we have productive adults in the rising generation.

That pro-abortion lobby is assuming babies are nothing but a burden—of money, energy, life.

That’s an unbridgeable divide.

This morning on Glenn Beck’s radio show he referred to a 2013 Melissa Harris-Perry news clip, in which she denies the science that a human fertilized egg is human life. She was holding a model of a fertilized egg and said,
Glenn Beck shows antique zygote models
screen shot from here

[T]he very idea that this would constitute a person, right? And that some set of constitutional rights should come to this.  Look, I get that that is a particular kind of faith claim. It’s not associated with science. But the reality is that if this turns into a person, right, there are economic consequences, right? The cost to raise a child, $10,000 a year up to $20,000 a year. When you’re talking about what it actually costs to have this thing turn into a human, why not allow women to make the best choices that we can with as many resources and options instead of trying to come in and regulate this process?
Glenn Beck also had, in his studio, some antique models of the developing fertilized egg—which were used to teach the science of human development.

The thing is, there isn’t anything a fertilized human egg can turn into except a human fetus, and eventually a full-grown human being. There isn’t any point from the moment of egg and sperm coming together that this “thing” is either “non-living” or “non-human.” That is scientific fact, not “faith,” as she claims. Melissa Harris-Perry is a science denier.

And, like the Planned Parenthood lobbyists at the state senator’s office last week, she is making the economic claim—that life is not worth protecting if a person deems it not economically worthwhile.
By that argument, who besides the not-yet-born human should it be legal to kill?

·         The already born child, if the parent doesn’t want to bear the expense of raising him/her.
·         The elderly, who are no longer contributing economically.
·         The chronically ill or disabled, who are not contributing economically.
·         The mentally ill, or disabled, such as Down’s Syndrome children, who cost more economically than they contribute.
·         Prisoners on death row or life imprisonment, who cost more economically than they contribute.
·         Anybody receiving government support long-term, costing more economically than they contribute.
·         Anybody costing another person economically—tough competitors in the marketplace, unsatisfying employees, dependent spouses and children, doctors and other service providers who charge too much for their services, etc.
What is the purpose of earning wealth? To provide for our lives—our shelter, food, clothing, and other needs and wants. Money is not the goal; it is the tool. It is to be used to support life, not measure its worth and deem it disposable.

Now, I don’t actually believe most on the pro-abortion side are in favor of murder in any other cases. I think they are not deep thinkers; they simply want what they want—sex without consequences—and believe if they keep insisting loudly enough, the entire culture will capitulate.
fetus at 20 weeks
image from here

But as science advances—so that human life is recognized earlier, and is shown more clearly, and the age of viability is lower—more people come to recognize their error. 

It will be the science deniers who hold out the longest. At some point it’s not just a difference of opinion; it is people who rebel against truth. As clear thinker Ezekiel put it millennia ago, “thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.” [Ezekiel12:2


* The journalists in this case were later exonerated.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Man with Integrity

"One man with integrity is a majority."
— Thomas Jefferson

I’ve watched, here and there, parts of the Neil Gorsuch hearings. I think he has done well. While we have been deceived about the promise to adhere to the written Constitution before (with Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, and others), there is reason to hope that Neil Gorsuch will be an excellent replacement for Justice Scalia.

Neil Gorsuch, during nomination hearing
photo from CNN

The balance of the Court doesn’t change yet. That fight will likely come with the next justice replacement.

The Senate’s role is to advise and consent. They advised president Obama that, during the last year of his presidency, with a presidential race underway, and no time to appoint before it was too late for last year’s rulings. During Obama’s first term the House went Republican; during his second term the Senate majority went Republican. It appears the American people would not favor replacing a conservative with one ideologically at odds with the majority of the people.

One of the (very few) reasons to vote for Trump was his promise to appoint conservative justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia. It was in exchange for that promise that Ted Cruz gave his endorsement. And he gave a strong supporting statement earlier this week during the hearings.  

The Heritage Foundation put together a short ebook describing Gorsuch’s career, and what we are likely to see from him, in comparison to Scalia. It mentions both are sensitive to overcriminalization. Gorsuch has asked, “What happens to individual freedom and equality when the criminal law comes to cover so many facets of daily life that prosecutors can almost choose their targets with impunity?”

Gorsuch has pointed out a historical example:

[H]istory bears warning that too much—and too much inaccessible—law can lead to executive excess as well. [The Roman emperor] Caligula sought to protect his authority by publishing the law in a hand so small and posted so high that no one could really be sure what was and wasn’t forbidden.
Both are textualists—which is a technical difference from originalist (although I generally think of them the same, and, along with many conservatives, use the terms interchangeably). As Scalia put it,

Textualism means that you’re governed by the text. That’s the only thing that is relevant to your decision. Not whether the outcome is desirable. Not whether legislative history says this or that. But the text of the statute.
In his book, Reading Law, Scalia uses this description:

We seek a return to the oldest and most commonsensical interpretive principle: In their full context, words mean what they conveyed to reasonable people at the time they were written.
It was often a delight to read Scalia’s opinions. And it was a delight to hear him speak, as a pleasant, colorful, down-to-earth human being who just happened to have a quick and well-reasoned mind.

I’m hoping to appreciate Gorsuch in many of the same ways. He will be a different personality, a different person. But it appears he uses his well-reasoned mind in similar ways—principle-based ways. He is reported to be a man of integrity. Commonsense together with integrity are greatly needed in our hopes of restoring our country to the Constitution.

Scalia and Gorsuch on a fishing trip
photo from here

Meanwhile, Democrats are threatening to fight the appointment, to the point of filibuster, along party lines, not based on anything they can find against Gorsuch.

If they do this, they will completely lose their veneer of good intent. They will have said that no one, no matter how capable, unbiased, and well-qualified in the law, will meet their approval. They do not want a justice who reads the law and gives an unbiased ruling based on the law; they want someone who will contort the law, make it up, and word things in an obfuscating way, all to get a pre-determined partisan outcome.

I hope, for the sake of the future of our country, that at least some of these partisans can see reason, and do the honorable thing and support the Gorsuch nomination. I don’t prefer what is being called the “nuclear” option. But there is no way that a country willing to vote for Trump mainly for the purpose of getting judges who abide by the law will be cowed by anti-law Democrats throwing a tantrum. They would be wise to see reason in the coming weeks.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Escaping Spin Zones and Echo Chambers

“My rule of thumb is that the more emotional I feel about a headline/news article (either in agreement or the other way), the more carefully I should consider bias/source/etc.”
That’s a comment following a friend’s Facebook post. My friend—one of my favorite people in the world, but we pretty much never talk politics—had shared someone else’s post a couple of days earlier about the Trump budget cruelly cutting funding for Meals on Wheels, so the elderly will starve.

But my friend got additional info, and posted it. And suggested,

Anytime I post something that you suspect may be the product of either media spin or an echo chamber, please feel free to send me information on the other side of the story. I want people to be aware, but I want that awareness to be accurate.
Meals on Wheels image from IMGH

Slashing Meals on Wheels

The additional information my friend shared comes from Mother Jones, not exactly a conservative source, but the blogger, Kevin Jones, was looking at the accusation and saying, “They have too much animal shrewdness to do this even if they wanted to.” So he looked a little closer. And here’s how he describes what really happened:

1.       The Department of Housing and Urban Development runs a program called Community Development Block Grants. It's exactly what it sounds like. It provides funds to states that they can use for a variety of approved purposes. 
2.       Last year, the Obama administration recommended cutting its budget from $3 billion to $2.8 billion. 
3.       This year, [White House budget chief Mick] Mulvaney proposed that the program be eliminated entirely. Here's what the Trump budget has to say about it:
Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, a savings of $3 billion from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results. The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level, and redirects Federal resources to other activities.
4.       Some bright bulb noticed that a few states use a small portion of their HUD CDBG money to fund Meals on Wheels. Actually, small isn't the right word. Microscopic is the right word. Elderly nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels receive about $700 million from other government sources—most of which aren't targeted one way or the other in the Trump budget—but hardly anything from CDBG grants….
That’s a long way of saying the Trump budget recommends cutting the CDBGs, because that program has failed after 40+ years of giving it the benefit of the doubt. In the unlikely event that any Meals on Wheels activity is affected anywhere, the state and local governments have other sources to use—and (he doesn’t mention) private donations. I know I get regularly reminded by Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston of the need to donate to Meals on Wheels. I was unaware that any government money went to the Houston program—I’m not even sure whether it does here.

Logically, don’t you think if good people are made aware that elderly people are starving, they will step up to prevent that tragedy? Isn’t it the long way around to say we want the furthest-away level of government to tax us and divvy up our money, to pay lots of bureaucrats to then filter the money back to the states in the hopes some of it might go to help those who need it?

Ditching After-School Programs

Back to that challenge of getting the right information. Another inflammatory headline, from the Washington Post, read, “Trump budget casualty: After-school programs for 1.6 million kids. Most are poor.”  The piece begins with this hand-wringing:

Every weekday, 700 children from some of the poorest parts of the Atlanta area stay after school for three hours with Wings for Kids, a program that aims to bolster not only academic performance, but also social skills, relationships with caring adults and a sense of belonging at school.
The kids get a safe and enriching place to spend the afternoon and early evening, and their working parents get child care. But now, Wings for Kids and thousands of programs like it are on the chopping block, threatened by President Trump’s proposal to eliminate $1.2 billion in grants for after-school and summer programs.
It’s hard to argue with good intentions. But, as we know here at the Spherical Model,

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.
So if you care about kids, a government program is least likely to help. As it turns out, there is evidence that the program wasn’t merely wasteful; it was harming kids. The Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal tells us the program has been failing since it was begun in 1998. But because no one wants to cut funding for helping at-risk kids, Congress has continued to fund it. The program, measured by comparing participating students to similar students not in the program,

·         Failed to impact homework, on 21 or 22 outcomes.
·         Had harmful impacts on academic achievement in reading and English, and no positive impact on other academic subjects.
·         Had harmful impacts on behavior, doing more harm than good on 6 of 12 outcomes.

Is there a better solution? Probably a non-governmental one. Definitely a non-federal-government one.

Killing Big Bird

While we’re looking at heart-wrenching headlines, here’s an infographic about cutting federal funding for PBS—which is sometimes spun as “killing Big Bird.” Notice that each of these items shows a high demand for a desired product. In a free market, you don’t need government to pay for something that people are willing to buy.

infographic found here

The claim is that PBS is “free” and “non-commercial.” But it isn’t actually commercial-free. There are ads at the top (and often bottom) of every hour, every program. Each time it says, “Funding for Public Broadcasting is provided by….” And there are pledge drives—which are “pay for our product” pitches long enough to make up for any non-ad time.

One argument has been that government funding makes PBS free to do things that aren’t appealing to the masses. Except that, their other argument is that they do appeal to the masses. And, I don’t know if they’ve noticed, but we’re not limited to three commercial stations plus PBS anymore; there are plenty of niche markets, doing documentaries and limited interest programming. The others all manage to do it without government funding.

So, if PBS is of value, it will survive a budget cut from the federal government. No one is killing Big Bird. No one is doing anything but suggesting PBS should compete in the marketplace like every other broadcast outlet.

So, if you see an emotional headline, chances are that’s not news; that’s spin designed to elicit the emotion, so that you will jump to a conclusion and not think. If you feel that gut-wrenching going on, go find some more accurate sources.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

We'll Sing and We'll Shout

The phrase in the title comes from a hymn called “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning.” It is historic and well-loved in my Church. The chorus says,

We’ll sing and we’ll shout
                With the armies of heaven,
Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb!
Unlike many hymns, this one is loud, even boisterous. I like that.

I’m not a person who loves demonstrations, or huge gatherings, or big symbolic gestures generally. But sometimes those have been worth doing. Like 4th of July fireworks. Or Thanksgiving Day parades.

There was a big gathering downtown Houston a year or two after 9/11, once the anti-America crowd dared speak up in the media after a time of only quiet muttering in deference to the dead. So in reaction to that we had a big patriotic gathering to support our troops and America in general.

I’ve been to the state capitol a time or two with rather large groups for specific purposes. But I tend to prefer quiet solitude.

But I saw a video of a singing and dancing demonstration—a nicely choreographed flash mob—that I’m glad happened, earlier this month. It was in Peru[i], possibly the most pro-life people in the world, celebrating their annual March for Life.

Young people sing and dance “por la vida”—for life. Briefly translated, “we take to the streets, together, in the march for life.” And then a lot of singing and dancing ensues. It’s just three minutes, worth watching.

They dance for life, with exuberance; they don’t mention being against abortion. I like the positive power of that message.

And I’m thinking that kind of positive would be helpful in the effort to defend civilization on a number of issues.

For example, yesterday’s Houston Chronicle had a front-page story about the bill in the Texas legislature that—as the Chronicle put it, “Texas Senate Oks measure limiting transgender rights.” The byline is Andrea Zelinski; I’m noting that because it isn’t a news story; it’s so slanted that disguising itself as a news story can only be called propaganda. So now I know Zelinski is an editorial writer masquerading as a reporter.

What does the bill have the audacity to do? Require people to use the public bathroom that correlates with the gender they are born with. It has to do with privacy and safety, rather than, as implied, discrimination and trampling someone’s rights.

Up until a couple of years ago, when Houston’s then-mayor Anise Parker went out of her way to force through a “transgenders have more rights than you” rule, and she illegally ignored the people’s will to repeal it, and she tried to oppress churches and pastors who might not agree with her—up until then, transgenders used whatever bathroom they wanted. If a male looked like a woman, he could go in a women’s restroom and use a stall like anyone else. But if he looked like a man, and/or he did something that made females uncomfortable, they could let their discomfort be known.

The new city law was to silence them. If they worried such a person might not be a harmless transgender, but might be a sexual predator, they would be breaking the law to say so. Their rights of privacy and security were overridden for the sake of transgenders who insist that reasonable accommodations aren’t good enough. Only total capitulation by all of society will do.

Houston’s mayor got overridden. The people spoke up about reasonable safety issues. The issue came up a few other places. And then suddenly president Obama made an executive order that every state and every school had to shut up about their discomfort with predator facilitation and kowtow to the LGBT juggernaut. He had no right as president to make such an edict, so states have an obligation to defy it. And Texas is codifying that with SB6.

So what I’m suggesting, for some creative person out there, is a joyous, exuberant, singing dancing flashmob to deliver the positive message, “Women are women, and men are men, and we’re really glad we have our own bathrooms and locker rooms. Hurray for differences! Hurray for common sense! Hurray that we can speak up for safety and privacy!” So, somebody out there, go for it.

There are probably some other things we ought to sing and shout about, instead of eggshell-walking so media doesn’t slam us.

·         We love a free market with government out of the way!
·         Our brilliant Constitution works every time it’s tried!
·         We celebrate our religious freedom by living it in our everyday lives!
·         How about that great right to assemble and talk about what we want—even things we disagree about!
·         We know how to rise above poverty in America—and we want you to know how too!
·         The person who earns the money decides how to spend it—and that’s great for everyone!

·      You get the picture. We conservatives aren’t a negative lot; it’s the other side who actually fits that description.

But we could use some practice at saying how great it is to be for freedom, prosperity, andcivilization. Those are things we ought to sing and shout about.

[i] On March 15, Peru suffered severe rains and flooding. My prayers go out to them.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A World Too Savage

There’s a series of somewhat related items I came across the past few days. Some of them heartbreaking for a lover of civilization.

This first is from December, but it came to my awareness this week. The piece begins, “Nearly 400 children have been rescued and 348 adults arrested following an “extraordinary” international child pornography investigation in Canada.” This was the result of a three-year undercover project. It wasn’t limited to Canada:

What they eventually found was a full blown child porn production and distribution company in Toronto that was distributing their content online. The site was run by 42-year old Brian Way and sold and distributed images of child exploitation to people across the world.
The head of Toronto’s Sex Crimes Unit said they enlisted the help of the United States Postal Inspection Service since many of the videos were being exported to the U.S. and began a joint investigation. After a seven-month long investigation, officers executed search warrants across the city of Toronto including at the business of Brian Way.
It is hard for a civilized person to understand the demand—the market—for obscene violence to children. There are actual people, among us, who choose this evil.

This next story is about a man, a hero, named Tim Ballard, who has dedicated his life to rescuing children enslaved in sex trafficking. After 12 years working for the government as a special agent, he used his skills to create a private organization, Operation Underground Railroad. They recently had a successful sting operation surrounding a Super Bowl party. On February 5 O.U.R. led to the arrest of 9 traffickers and rescued 29 girls.  Since its founding four years ago, O.U.R. “has successfully completed 73 operations, rescued 643 victims, and aided in 273 arrests.”

Tim Ballard, screen shot from here

I’ve seen Tim Ballard talk about his operations on the Glenn Beck show. It is eye-opening to realize how much slavery—and much of it sex slavery—exists. Estimates are that there is far more slavery in the world today than there ever was during legal slavery.

Much of Ballard’s work is in Haiti, which the 3rd highest rate of sex trafficking in the world, mainly because of severe poverty there. He says, “If you just painted orphanage on the side of the wall, people would bring children to you, and then the kids would go out the backdoor in a deal."

But he adds that the US is the highest producer and consumer of child pornography in the world. His operation is successful by posing as American buyers, because they seem plausible to the dealers.

Again, it is beyond shocking that there are people among us who would purchase sex with children, or purchase child slaves for the purpose of using them for sex. This seems beyond the imagination of a dystopian novel.

Closer to home, I came across a third piece, about a woman named Tracie Mann, who spoke to a women’s group in Montgomery County, just north of the Greater Houston Area. Mann is the founder of Phoenix Charity, in which
Tracie Mann
photo from here

she oversees every aspect of the rescue and recovery operations and with a team of at least 30. Her team increases to about 100 with partners on the streets and from various levels of local and state law enforcement agencies in Montgomery and Harris counties, as well as federal agencies such as the FBI, DPS, and ICE.
She is working to provide hope and positively reprogram the mindset of the recovering children who on average are raped in excess of 100 times within 24 hours, beaten, drugged, and branded. As the owner of Body Restore Med Spa and Laser Center, which funds her recovery operations, her work allows her to remove the brand marks, tattoos, burns, and scars the children carry once rescued.
She has been involved in this work, on her own, since 2004. She is trying to raise awareness. She says it happens in front of us, and we don’t notice—at doctors’ offices, at fast food restaurants, through social media and phone apps.

She said, "We watched the sale and purchase outside a McDonald's in Montgomery County. It happens. It happens in plain site because we all live in our own little bubbles."

I admit that I am in something of a bubble. This is a hard thing to think about. Especially close to home. I wrote about a sting operation, in Waco, a couple of years ago. There were 29 arrests, 9 of them for human trafficking. The shock there was that one was a Ft. Hood sergeant. Another was a law school acquaintance of son Political Sphere, who reports that the guy had seemed normal.

That’s what I’m finding puzzling. People among us, enjoying the benefits of civilization that come from a preponderance of people living basically decent lives, yet who willingly engage in heinous acts against fellow human beings—often the young and most vulnerable.

In the Spherical Model I offer a chart of behavior relative to family, showing the ideal on down to the savage, marking where civilization has decayed and the culture sinks. Since we’re talking about the savage behavior, we’ll travel that chart from the bottom up, in hopes of gaining understanding.

Starting at the bottom, my experience is close to nil. I might not have ever met someone who would engage in any aspect of human trafficking. OK—I just thought of an exception, because I grew up on the same street as the kidnapper of Elizabeth Smart. But I’m unaware of ever meeting anyone who would buy or sell people.

Moving up the scale, I can’t imagine anyone I know engaging in child porn (although the less violent versions of porn have affected people I know). I have never met anyone who would admit to participating in prostitution, as either the prostitute or the buyer. But Mr. Spherical Model has come across both in regular business-related circumstances. So it may be shockingly common for people on business trips to pay for that degradation.

Going further up, I have known a very few people I would consider promiscuous, but none that expected approval from me, although in the celebrity world that appears common. And I’ve known a few more who were adulterous; most were ashamed, and recognized it as a causal factor in their divorce.

Further up still, I’ve known quite a number of people who consider sex outside of marriage a normal part of a relationship, and many live together before marriage as if that is an expected step in a relationship. This is where much of our culture is today.

I attended a women’s interfaith event where we discussed various belief questions at our tables. At mine, out of about eight religious people, only two of us clearly believed that sex outside of marriage is sinful and goes against our religions. The other was a Christian immigrant from Iran. Since the scriptures are clear, I wondered why the other Christians were so vague on the subject.

Going up further, we find people who believe as I do, that sex outside of marriage is unwise and wrong, but fail to live true to that belief, but then turn their lives around and work in their future toward a strong family. This is the minimum level for civilization. If we don’t get back up to this level, and work to sustain this belief and behavior, we sink further.

There are a couple of other things I came across this week. One is a quote from the Prophet and leader of my Church, President Thomas S. Monson. He said, “Today, we are encamped against the greatest array of sin, vice, and evil ever assembled before our eyes.” The thing is, he said it 50 years ago. There has been some serious sinking since then.

But not all of society sinks, and many individuals rise. And that is reason to be hopeful.

The other thing I came across was a piece in my local section of the Houston Chronicle last week, by Rick Brown. He was talking about the history of cultures that believe, as ours does today, that sex is “to be enjoyed recreationally and that best happens outside of marriage.”

He made the comparison to the apostle Paul’s Greco-Roman culture. As he put it,

There was a lot of sex in the city of Thessalonica. Many—if not most—of the Christians that Paul is writing to came out of a pagan background where sexual promiscuity was the norm and widely tolerated. They had to learn a new way to walk.
The interesting thing is that they did find the new way—the way that had been taught by God from Adam and Eve onward, but was new to the Christian converts. That recovered truth eventually became the accepted and understood way in most of the Western world for the next 1900 years.

It can be done. People can change. People can go against the common culture and toward civilization.

The way—the only way—to civilization is a righteous people honoring God, family, life, truth, and property. We know this. I guess we need to do some Paul-style spreading the word.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Emphasizing Civiization

I fill up my quote file randomly, with what happens to come across my path on a given day. But recent additions have leaned toward the Social Sphere—Civilization and how to get there. Or maybe it's that, as we've known all along, the political, economic, and social spheres are interrelated, and you don't get freedom and prosperity if you sink from civilization into savagery. So it's wise to emphasize civilization.
The Social Sphere--or Civilization Sphere

So here are some of my recent additions to the file:

There always has been, and is now more than ever, only one hope for rescue. If we abide in God’s truth revealed in his Son, then we shall know the truth and the truth will set us free. That is why I say again and again that we must dispense with our verbal arsenal that speaks only in terms of right and left. We have forgotten there is an up and a down. May God help us! We need His transforming power to change our thinking and to give us a hunger for what is true. True freedom is not in doing whatever we wish but in doing what we ought. That has been buried in America. And only one who knows the way out of the grave can give us a second chance to live: Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life that sets us free from within first, before we learn to deal with the lies around us.—Ravi Zacharias, “The Soul of America,” 7-2-2016

The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.
—John F Kennedy

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, First Inaugural Address, April 30 1789

"I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day." Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks edited by Michael Burlingame (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 210.

I feel a strong desire to tell you—and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me—which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking about which is the worse. You see why of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.—C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.—Ronald Reagan

Happiness, whether in despotism or democracy, whether in slavery or liberty, can never be found without virtue.—John Adams

All the principles of science are of divine origin. Man cannot make or invent or contrive principles. He can only discover them, and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author.—Thomas Paine

Without God, there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life.—Dwight D. Eisenhower

"[N]o wall of words, [and] no mound of parchment can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other."—George Washington (1789)

Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”—Martin Luther King, Jr. (quoting 19th Century abolitionist Theodore Parker)

This is still God’s world. The forces of evil, working through some mortals, have made a mess of a good part of it. But it is still God’s world. In due time, when each of us has had a chance to prove ourselves—including whether or not we are going to stand up for freedom—God will interject himself, and the final and eternal victory shall be for free agency.

And then shall those complacent people on the sidelines, and those who took the wrong but temporarily popular course, lament their decisions.

To the patriots I say this: Take that long eternal look.

Stand up for freedom, no matter what the cost. Stand up and be counted. It can help to save your soul—and maybe your country.—Ezra Taft Benson

“No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.”—Samuel Adams

"This is our vision. This is our mission.
But we can only get there together.
We are one people, with one destiny.
We all bleed the same blood.
We all salute the same great American flag.
And we are all made by the same God.
And when we fulfill this vision; when we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began."—President Donald Trump (first speech to Congress 2-28-2017)