Thursday, August 31, 2017

One More Little Story of Hurricane Harvey

During Hurricane Harvey, and even since, we have had an outpouring of concern for us. But our home was never in danger. As I talked about Monday, we’re just north of the Addicks Reservoir, which filled fuller than it has ever been. Ever!

We looked at elevations. The spillway was breached about 108 feet. As that happened, and more water just kept coming, there was an estimate that the level would peak just under 110 feet. Our street level drain is at about 109. Our house is another foot or two higher. Maybe three feet. With water already going over the spillway, it couldn’t get as high as we are without filling every part of Houston lower than about 112 feet.

But it was close. Our usual subdivision entrance has been underwater since Saturday night. We were concerned that the other entrance would be closed and leave us on an island with no way out. But that didn’t happen.

This is usually the entrance to our subdivision. Neighbors were putting up
a line of sandbags, trying to keep it from coming up on our side.

They ingeniously filled garbage bags with sand
from our neighborhood volleyball court.

During a storm like this, the first concern is personal. Are we going to be OK? And then comes concern for others. Since we felt fairly secure, we have been very concerned for many others, many we know that had to evacuate or suffer damage to their homes. A third of Harris County was underwater, which is only just today beginning to recede.

We haven’t left home much, because we don’t have rescue equipment, and it was often better to be off the roadways and out of the way of rescue personnel.

This is across the main four-lane road separating the upper and
lower parts of our subdivision. I usually take this route
to go to the neighborhood pool. Only high profile vehicles
could navigate this relatively shallow part of the main road.
The neighborhood roads are for all-terrain military
vehicles or boats only.

These rescuers are launching from the 4-lane road so they
can go down into the neighborhood. By Wednesday, people
who thought they could stay might be ready to get out.
But that idleness leads to a sort of survivors’ guilt anxiety. It is better to be out doing something meaningful. My prayers had included being guided to know what to do to help.

Yesterday we again took a walk to our entrance, and down the main street along our subdivision fence. The water was a bit higher than the day before. And boats and military vehicles were still doing work to get people out. There are people who would have stayed in an upstairs floor, where they’re safe, but then after a day realize they’d better get out.

As we were walking, we came upon a man sitting on the grass, with five dogs: a Chihuahua, three Dachshunds, and a Labrador. At first we thought he was just out walking the dogs. But as we talked, we learned he was displaced from one of those flooded houses across the street. We ended up driving him out to Katy, and learned more of his story along the way.
We found Dean and his dogs sitting on
the grass, just up from all that water. They took
a boat ride out just a couple of hours earlier.

His name is Dean. He had spent the night in a shelter at St. Maximillian, a Catholic Church about five miles away, where he reported they treated him very well. The rising waters sort of sneaked up on him, he said. He owns another house in Rockport, where the hurricane landed, and he’d been paying attention to that, and worrying about both the house and his friend who was living there. It’s a 100-year-old house they had just finished renovating. (It survived, by the way, while much of Rockport was completely flattened.)

That would have been how he spent Friday and Saturday. It was Saturday night when the torrents really hit in Houston. He hadn’t been that concerned, because he hadn’t flooded during the Tax Day Flood last year, even when several streets of homes near him had. That was 15 inches of rain. How bad could this be?

Then, all day Sunday the waters rose. Monday, water was still rising. By Tuesday he had water in the house. Who knows how long that water is going to stay there, waiting to drain? His house is, for now, part of the Addicks Reservoir.

Tuesday he saw a military vehicle going down the street, and he realized he’d better take the chance to get out. He had no time to take anything with him. He set up the house so the dogs would have food and water upstairs, and he left for the shelter.

Then on Wednesday he came back to see if he could rescue his animals. On the way in, he had to wade through chest-deep water for about half a mile to get to the house. Inside was a mess, but the dogs were upstairs and safe, just worried. He had to wait for an animal rescue boat to get them out, because there was no way to carry all five, and the water was too deep. The Labrador might have been able to swim, but the little dogs—two of whom were pretty old—couldn’t. So they waited for the boat and got on. Fortunately, he was able to take one small bag with him this time.

But then, once out, he had no transportation. And he realized that he had left his cell phone in his back pocket, so it no longer worked. He had planned to end up in his ex-wife’s and daughter’s house, but he hadn’t memorized the phone number; he always depended on his phone to remember for him.

Dean hesitated to ask, but he ventured to see if we had a vehicle that he could put dogs in. We do. We’re dog people, even though we don’t own one right now. We were going to go back to the house with him, to see if we could find the phone number on a computer. But it was about a mile walk back, and those little dogs have very short legs. By the time we got to the open entrance, Mr. Spherical Model decided he’d leave us there and walk quickly back for the car.

In our haste, we didn’t think to bring water or food. Afterward we learned he had been sitting there with his animals for probably two hours when we came upon him. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast at the shelter. We’re sorry about that, Dean.
I-10, also called the Katy Freeway, was
at a near standstill. This was on a low traffic day.
So glad we hadn't been expected to evacuate
the whole city on this road, even though it's maybe
the world's biggest freeway.

The drive to Katy usually takes about 25-30 minutes in good traffic. We had to go out of our way, since the usual route was right through the reservoir and will be underwater for probably the next couple of months. We went east to Beltway 8, south to I-10, and then west toward Katy. And then hit traffic. There was an accident slowing traffic almost as soon as we got on the freeway. And then traffic slowed because water on the road was taking up a couple of lanes. So it took about half an hour to get past that section. The rest of the way was clear, and we dropped him off safely.

Dean isn’t a neighbor we’d met before, even though we’re within a mile, and are essentially part of the same subdivision. At first he seemed a bit muddled, and was having a hard time explaining things or making decisions. Eventually, though, on our way, we learned about his work (in real estate and related work), and he seemed to be thinking clearer. It helped that the answer of where to go and how to get there were finally answered for him.

I wrote down for him the hotline numbers for the LDS Mormon Helping Hands, Catholic Charities, and others who will work together to do recover volunteer work once people can get back into their homes.

South of the Addicks Resesrvoir, water had covered the much lower
feeder road and, despite all efforts, had taken out a couple of lanes of I-10.

Eventually Dean will be OK. And we felt better because we had found a meaningful way to help. It was only one person (and five dogs), and there are tens of thousands of displaced people. I was reminded of the parable about the starfish left on shore when the tide goes out. You can’t save them all, so why try? Because it will mean something to the one you can save.

On our way home, we stopped by a restaurant where Mr. Spherical Model has been doing performance consulting lately. They had taken on a little water and were replacing a piece of carpet. But they were due to open the bar with limited food today, and a limited dinner menu by Friday night. In the meantime, they were making soup and bread to take to shelters. They’d done that the day before and were just getting ready to provide food for up to 300 people being sheltered at nearby Cy-Fair Lone Star College, where several smaller shelters had been consolidated. The workers were upbeat and willing, and excited to be doing what they do best—feeding people.

It will be a while before Houston and surrounding areas are back on firm ground. But spiritually, Hurricane Harvey showed that so many Texans have been on firm ground all along.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Rains Came Down and the Floods Came Up

We’re in Houston. We’re still OK. It’s still raining.

It’s the fourth day of Harvey, although we only got sprinkles on most of Friday. The winds of Hurricane Harvey did most of their damage Friday night further south, toward Corpus Christi. Entire towns were laid low. Rockport hardly still exists. But very little human life was lost, because people evacuated.
Hurricane Harvey, photo National Weather Service

Wind has not been an issue here in Houston, with the storm downgraded to a tropical storm, but it is stalled and swirling. It is rain like we haven’t seen here—or anywhere—since, maybe Noah. (I’m thinking it must have been challenging for Noah and family to have this downpour for ten times longer than we have faced so far. Although they were probably occupied enough with the animals not to obsess about it much.)

Houston is built for floods. The city is at about 30 feet above sea level and very flat. So we have a canal system in and around every neighborhood to take care of runoff. It’s called the Bayou City, which sounds better than the Drainage Canal City. Also, there are areas set apart as runoff reservoirs. Just south of us is the Addicks-Barker Reservoir. In normal times, it’s a very large park, with baseball and soccer fields, camp sites, a tiny zoo, and lots of biking trails. When it rains, it becomes a lake. 

Sometimes water flows onto nearby roads, and traffic gets diverted to alternate routes for a while.

This setup handled Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, Hurricane Rita in 2005 (two weeks after Katrina), Hurricane Ike in 2008, the Tax Day Flood of 2016.

Actually, the Tax Day Flood—before hurricane season, just a freak storm—showed us the limits. This is like the Tax Day Flood day after day. 

Addicks and Barker Reservoirs Elevation

Last night Harris County officials decided to open the dams, for a controlled release. It will relieve some of the water rising on homes near the reservoir, but endangers more places downstream. But if the dam were to be breached, an uncontrolled release would affect those downstream locations even worse. During a press conference a newsperson asked about that, because it looks like officials are choosing whom to flood. But the official just looked at him and said, “Downtown is already flooded.”

Downtown Houston before and after the flood
photo found here

It was surprising how quickly we got back to normal after that April 2016 flood. Water drained. Much of the building material was designed to handle that and was quickly cleaned and serviceable. I don’t know how long recovery will take this time. Water is higher. It’s staying longer. Downtown could take longer.

Many of the homes affected last year went through a months-long recovery process, and homeowners have probably felt uneasy this entire hurricane season. Many of the same people are being affected again. As well as many who were a close call last time.

This is the front door of our beloved LDS Houston Temple
photo courtesy the Haines family,
more information here

Usually we worry about areas closer to the coast, in southeast Houston. This storm is big enough to affect the full circle around the Greater Houston Area. And that’s a big area—bigger than Rhode Island, and twice the population of Manhattan. Random places are affected that haven’t been hit before. And it is an unimaginable amount of water. (This Washington Post story tries to give perspective.)

At our home wee’re at 30.12 inches since the storm began. We got 15 inches in the Tax Day Flood. We got more than 15 inches the first 24 hours of Harvey, but we’re only getting about 9 inches a day since. Whoever thought saying “only 9 inches of rain” would make sense? I've been obsessed with the Harris County Flood Warning System site, which is full of useful graphics and data.

What I’m trying to say is, this isn’t in any way the fault of people who have built in high-risk areas, or who have done less than they should to take precautions. We have learned with every storm, and have gotten better at handling floods. I’m very grateful to both government and private citizens who are going out of their way to rescue and care for people.

Loss of life count on this fourth day is at three confirmed, including where the Hurricane made landfall—or maybe five in some reports. [While I was writing this, a family of six was washed away in their car. Surely the count will go up a bit.] Each of these is important and unfortunate. But at this point 2000 people had lost their lives in Katrina. That difference is stunning.

Looting has been minimal. A story I read yesterday reported two shootings of home invaders, one killed. And the story pointed out that there are 22 million guns in Texas. So, unlike New Orleans after Katrina, looting here is not profitable.

There was no panic to evacuate. Those who needed to evacuate have done it orderly, as needed. More evacuations are happening, including long-time friends of ours this very afternoon. This evening evacuation orders came out for subdivisions just across the main road from us, and just to the west of us. (Actually, our subdivision has been mentioned, but as a warning, not mandatory, if I’m understanding correctly.)

Our church doors have been opened to about a dozen families. Downtown, the George R. Brown Convention Center is taking in 4800 refugees. Somewhere around 30,000 (estimates keep rising) have been evacuated. Thousands are being rescued in boats and by Coast Guard and Navy helicopters. I heard about a search and rescue team from Utah that traveled here to find and save people in trouble. And people with boats have answered the County Judge’s request to go out in neighborhoods to collect flood victims and transport them to shelters.

People who are dry in homes are asking how to help [some suggestions here], and where they can take donations of water and other basic needs. We’ll get more of those as people can be certain they’re safe to go out.

We went out to the Kroger one mile from home—our first time out in the car since Thursday. Some water was on the main road, and pretty deep the direction we weren’t going. But we got what we needed—except eggs, which were not to be found. No bread or water on the shelves, but we have enough at home, and we covered the rest of my weekly grocery list. People were orderly and cheerful, including our checker, who was uncertain whether she would have to evacuate later today.

We’re about five miles north of the Addicks-Barker Reservoir area. And our elevation is just above the top of the levee. I think we’re going to ride this out without damage. We’ve had power the whole time (except for a couple of momentary blips this evening). A tornado touched down about five miles west on Saturday, but tornado alerts are much fewer now.

Tornado Saturday in Cypress
photo from here

Social media has been very helpful. We’ve been able to check in on one another, and get word out that we’re safe. We’ve been able to share photos and information.

It is touching how many people are sincerely praying for us here. People have called and texted to check in on us. Our church does that; we try to make sure everyone is accounted for and needs are assessed. And once that is settled, the next question is, “How can we help?” We’re organized that way. But, really, all of Houston has developed that attitude.

Thank you if you are praying. Thank you if you are looking for ways to help. I’m sure there will be the need for help with recovery for some time to come.

Someone posted a comparison to Charlottesville, or Berkeley, saying that Houston, with people rescuing one another, is the real America. It’s full of love and caring. And we can feel God’s spirit with us as we get through this unprecedented disaster.

SWAT team member rescues woman and her 13-month old
photo found here

As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pointed out, even in this dire situation, people have maintained their sense of humor.

Here’s one example.

I found this on Facebook, but it may have come from here.

And here's another:

I found this on Facebook, but I don't know who to credit.

Again, we personally are among the blessed ones still safe and dry at home, for which we are grateful. We are mindful of our many friends and neighbors who will have some big challenges rebuilding their lives after the rain finally stops. Please keep the prayers coming.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

And the Wall Came a’Tumblin’ Down

The 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s memorable speech at the Brandenburg Gate was in June, but his speechwriter, Peter Robinson, switched chairs on his online interview show Uncommon Knowledge, and was interviewed by longtime friend Pat Sajak, which came out just this week.

They talked about the circumstances that led to that line in the speech: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” And it was a piece of history worth revisiting. I’ll share a few bits of the conversation, and then offer the whole interview.

Here’s the story of how a 25-year-old who had never written a speech got a job as a White House speech writer:

Peter Robinson: This is not a story that reflects well on me or on a couple of people we know or on the federal government. After college, I studied at Oxford, you mentioned I got a degree from Oxford. I stayed in Oxford an extra year to try to write a novel. At the end of the year I had a novel so bad that I couldn't stand reading it, and William F. Buckley Jr, the late and great conservative journalist who much to his credit encouraged young conservatives, suggested that I try to go to Washington and become a speechwriter.
It was 1982 and Bill said get in touch with my son Christopher who was then writing speeches for Vice President Bush. So, I flew from Oxford to Washington, presented myself to Christopher Buckley, hoping he might have a lead on a job writing for a member of Congress or for the Postmaster General. Christopher said, “Well, I'm about to leave this job in two weeks and my replacement just fell through. I don't see any good reason you shouldn't write speeches for the vice president of the United States, and while you're here, go downstairs, downstairs in the old executive office building and talk to Tony Dolan who's the president's chief speechwriter.” I did that. While I was talking to Tony, the phone rang. It was the gubernatorial campaign of a man called Lou Lehrman who was running against Mario Cuomo for governor of New York. Tony Dolan, and they needed a speechwriter. Tony said, “Ah, I have just the man.”
Christopher the next day told the Bush people that he found the perfect replacement for himself, yours truly, but that they'd better move fast because Lou Lehrman wanted me. Tony told Lehrman’s people, “I found the perfect guy for you, Robinson, but move fast because the Bush people want him.” So I went back and forth from interview to interview, New York to Washington, and at the end of two weeks they both offered me a job and nobody asked if I had ever written a speech before.

He worked for the Vice-President for a year and a half, and then joined President Reagan’s staff, so he had five years of speech writing under his belt by 1987. And he knew the President’s mind and voice thoroughly by then.

I was looking at the timeline, to see where I was back then, because I'm only a year or two younger. In 1982 I was married and working as a contract writer for a university, writing curriculum. My academic career wasn’t as impressive as Peter Robinson’s, but I was a working writer, which I thought, maybe rightly so, that I was very fortunate. So I can see how fortuitous his situation was. I suspect he had some writing credentials that he underplays here, or he wouldn’t have been so successful once he got the job.

Robinson explains that the practice was for speech writers to be anonymous, so he never made any claims about the speech—or the famous line—for a good decade. But then he had to:

PR: It was Ronald Reagan from beginning to end, and if we get a chance to discuss how it came to be, you'll see that only he would’ve delivered it. In any event, for the first 10 years I didn't say a peep about it. I didn't associate myself with it in any way. Then I discovered that one of the diplomats who in fact had tried to stop it was in Germany where he was then making, he'd been nominated to a high position in Germany and a friend of mine in Germany sent me a German, I had to have a translator, this guy was taking credit for it. I thought, “That's not right. That's just not right.” It was Ronald Reagan and we speechwriters were, it was our job, it was not, it was not an apparatchik at the State Department. I wrote a piece about it then and it turns out that it's all right, it's easy to live with because people only become interested in it about once every five years. I have the feeling that on this, the 30th anniversary, you and I, I’m discussing it now for the last time. I don't think anybody will be all that interested 35 years from now.
Here’s the story of the research that went into the famous speech.

PR: I was there for research. I was only there for about a day and a half. I went around to various sites in Berlin beginning with where the president would speak, and then that evening I broke away from the American party. That is to say the advance men, the press people and the security and so forth, and got into a cab and went out to a suburban home in West Berlin where the Elz-es, Dieter Elz and Ingeborg Elz, whom I had never met before but we had friends in common in Washington put on a dinner party for me of West Berliners, simply so I could get to know some West Berliners.
We chat a little bit and then I said, “I have to tell you that the ranking American diplomat in Berlin earlier today told me, President Reagan's speechwriter, don't make a big deal out of the Wall. They've gotten used to it by now.” I had been flown over the Wall in a US Army helicopter. So I said, “It looks to me as though it would be the kind of thing it would be hard to get used to. Is it true? Have you gotten used to it?”
And there was a silence, and then one man raised his arm and pointed and he said, “My sister lives just a few kilometers in that direction, but I haven't seen her in more than 20 years. You think we can get used to that?” They had stopped talking about it but they hadn't gotten used to it. We went around the room. Another fellow said, “I walk to work by the same route each day. I pass under a guard tower and there's a young man on that tower with a rifle over his shoulder who looks down at me with binoculars. We share the same history. We speak the same language. But one of us is a zoo keeper and the other is an animal. And I've never been able to decide which was which.”
Then our host is a lovely woman called Ingeborg Elz who just died a couple of years ago. She was a lovely woman. She was a gracious hostess, but she became angry and she said, “If this man Gorbachev means this talk, this perestroika, this glasnost, he can prove it by coming here and getting rid of that wall,” and that was—.
Now by this point I'd been in the White House for five years. I knew Ronald Reagan. I don't mean to say that I played cards with Ronald Reagan or that I was a guest at the ranch. Nothing of that kind. The relationship was entirely professional, but we speechwriters, it was our job to know the mind of the president, to watch which material he liked, to understand how he thought, and I just knew the moment she said that, that if Ronald Reagan had been there, he would have responded to that. The simplicity but the power of that remark. So, I put it into my notebook and went back to the White House and that did become the basis for “Tear down this Wall”.
The famous line was controversial. Reagan and his speechwriters liked it, but the other reviewers of the speech especially wanted that line out—too controversial. But Reagan, Robinson reminds us, besides being a genial and lovely man, was also boldly aggressive, and he saw this as an opportunity to press his advantage. He wanted the line. Robinson knew it he wanted it. And so it stayed. And now it is historic.

It’s history we should remember. There’s something really wrong with a government that must wall in its citizens to keep them from escaping. Tearing down that wall—which happened two years after the speech—was a symbol for freedom for all people. If you don't know this piece of history, you really need to hear him tell the story.

I hope you’ll enjoy watching the whole conversation.

Monday, August 21, 2017

When Evil Eclipses Good

Last Monday I wrote something fairly positive about Iceland’s culture, but before you make plans to move there, there’s more news. I wrote that their drug and alcohol use among teens has gone down. There were a couple of main features of that success: involving youth in positive activities, and getting families to spend more time together.

But what happens when the family doesn’t pass along the basic values required for civilization? Those are valuing God, life, family, property, and truth.

The news, right after last Monday’s post, was this CBS News headline: “Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion.”

Now, if you’re a normal human, you would think that eliminating Down syndrome would include something related to therapy, or maybe genetic engineering. Something that would alleviate the difficulties people with Down syndrome face, right?

Instead, this skewed view rejoices in eliminating the syndrome by eliminating the people who have it. Iceland, along with Denmark and China, have lowered to near zero the number of births with Down syndrome—by preventing the birth of those with Down syndrome. They kill them.

As Alexandra DeSanctis said at National Review:

But Iceland isn’t “eliminating Down syndrome” at all. It’s eliminating people. The callous tone of the piece makes selective abortion sound like a technological innovation rather than what it really is: the intentional targeting of “unfit” persons for total elimination.
They have done nothing to improve the lives of those with Down syndrome; they have given up on that—even though people born with Down syndrome are living and enjoying happy and productive lives wherever we find them. They have decided these people are subhuman and not worth allowing to live. 

A Special Olympics event from 2006. Our kids, and other
youth from church volunteered at this event for several years.

Lest we feel superior for not being like Iceland, the US rate for aborting Down syndrome babies is at least 67%. So two out of every three of these precious babies is killed, maybe as many as 9 out of 10. British moms kill 90% of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome. Europe averages 92%.

France is approaching totality. They recently banned a video in which people with Down syndrome were portrayed living happy lives—because it hurt the sensibilities of the women who had aborted their Down syndrome babies.

This is the video: “Dear Future Mom” from 2014 World Down Syndrome Day:

Sometimes a comparison helps us see more clearly. Let’s say that science came up with a way to assess, with a prenatal test, which babies were at risk for developing type 1 diabetes. It’s a lifelong trial. There are health issues involved through one’s entire life. There are resources that need to go toward medication and testing. Maybe an insulin pump. What if somebody decided to declare those lives not worth living, and that it would be a kindness to prevent the suffering by killing anyone with the genetic predisposition?

Does that do anything to further medicine? Or improve the lives of diabetics? Think about the people you know (there are probably several) who are type 1 diabetics. Do you wish they had never been born? Would the world have been better off without Mary Tyler Moore, Peter O’Toole, baseball legend Jackie Robinson, author Anne Rice, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Would they have been better off never living, rather than living a life with the limitations of diabetes?

We might not find as many Down syndrome people who are famous for major accomplishments. But there are a great many people among us who aren’t famous for our accomplishments. More likely we are significant to those we work and live among, and especially to those we love.

People with Down syndrome can learn, and can be healthy. Sometimes minor surgeries are required. Sometimes therapies can help. does brain research and develops exercises for a wide range of brain disorders. They teach parents to do the therapy, because frequency, intensity, and duration are required for brain change, and that means daily—sometimes more than once daily—exercises, where a weekly visit to a therapist just isn’t enough. Their results show that Down syndrome people can be developed to average levels—which is enough to graduate from high school, do productive work, and carry out fulfilled lives.

If there were a push to actually “eliminate” Down syndrome, it would be to further these therapies, which help not only Down syndrome people, but a range of other health issues as well. That would be worth celebrating.

There’s a particular talent common to a high percentage of Down syndrome people. It’s obvious to anyone who has spent time among them. It is their ability to love those around them. They give and accept love without limits. And, while they can experience a full range of emotions, they often choose to be happy. (See this video: “Happy” from 2014 World Down Syndrome Day. And while you’re at it, check out this one: “Not Special Needs,” from this year.)
This pretty girl is the daughter of a friend.
She just turned 1. It's hard to
imagine a world without this sweet face.

Some Down syndrome people, in my experience, have spiritual strength beyond many (maybe most) of us. There are several sacred stories of these special people having a connection to heaven that I won’t tell here. But here’s a quote from a young Down syndrome girl who was asked what she thought about God.

I love God.
I can hear him in my mind.
I can hear his finest whispers.
He says He loves me too.

This is not the kind of thinking that comes from someone so subhuman she should not be allowed to be born. This is someone worthy of love, who is contributing to our civilization.

If there were a genetic test for those who would become eugenicists, that might be useful knowledge. Not so we could kill them while they are still innocent, but so that we could do therapy—with the frequency, intensity, and duration that retrains the brain—to teach them not to choose that murderous path. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017


Here at the Spherical Model, we have an alternative to right and left, which could help during these times when the terms right and left are being used in absurdly inaccurate ways.

Fascism isn’t right; it never was right by any traditional uses of the term. Fascism is coercion to follow the directives of the people in power. It is totalitarian—which, in the Spherical Model is far south into statist tyranny.
The Political Sphere of the Spherical Model

Nazism is fascist. And specifically it means national socialism—coerced enforcement in which the state decided what people can do with their lives and their money, and even their thoughts. It is, by definition, far south into statist tyranny.

Neo-Nazism is a fringe group of haters who think it’s a good idea to play like Hitler and pretend they can coerce enforcement of statist tyranny—assuming, no doubt, that the fringe will be the ones wielding the power. And this fringe today, like Hitler of old Nazism, tends to be white supremacist. They actually believe the greatest qualifier is not what they accomplish, what they think or invent, or how they treat people—but something they have absolutely no control over: the amount of melanin in their skin.

What is the Alt-Right, then? It isn’t “right”; it is deep south into tyranny. It is essentially Neo-Nazism. It has nothing to do with what could be construed as right or conservative. It has nothing to do with believing “all men are created equal,” or that God has endowed us with basic human rights including life, liberty, and property, which are best protected by limited government as spelled out in the US Constitution. The Alt-Right is white-supremacist—something conservatives in our country have never been and cannot be.

Ben Shapiro, in Monday’s podcast, spent a few minutes defining Alt-Right for us (from 7:30-9:30 in the video):

What is the Alt-Right? The Alt-Right is marching in the streets. And the Alt-Right is supposedly… There’s a lot of misperception. People on the left are calling everyone on the right Alt-Right, and saying everybody’s a Nazi. It’s absolute garbage, Ok. The Alt-Right is its own movement. The Alt-Right is a group of white supremacists who believe, essentially, that western civilization is an outgrowth of white race, and that threats to white race are a threat to western civilization. That’s the basic premise of the Alt-Right.
Ok, a lot of people think they’re Alt-Right now, because they like memes, or because they believe in the god of Kek. Kek is the meme-ry that you see on 4chan and Reddit. And a lot of people who think that if they post a frog, that makes them a member of the Alt-Right. That’s not what the Alt-Right is.
The Alt-Right has a basic root philosophy. What happened over time is that the Alt-Right was mainstreamed by a group of people that decided to broaden the definition to include people who liked frog memes. OK, they decided to broaden the definition. And they used that broadened definition in order to make the claim, basically, that they were a big movement that had a lot of support.
And then you saw people like Donald Trump and Steve Bannon—yes, the president of the United States; yes, his chief strategist—give legitimacy to the Alt-Right and refuse to condemn them in the middle of the campaign, which gave them added impetus. And now you see them marching openly in the streets.
So, was Charlottesville Trump’s fault? No, of course Charlottesville wasn’t Trump’s fault, any more than what happened in Dallas a year ago was Barack Obama’s fault, when a guy who believes a lot of the slogans of Black Lives Matter went out and shot a bunch of cops. You’re only responsible for violence if you are rhetorically calling for violence. Trump has never done that. What he is responsible for, in some degree, is mainstreaming the Alt-Right, and not treating them as a cancer to be excised from the conservative movement that they really are.
I had to look up that bit about Kek and meme-ry, because I’m not a millennial. I read about it here, and it is summarized in this meme. It’s not germane to the discussion from here on.

What happened last weekend in Charlottesville began with an Alt-Right protest. The movement is so small that only a very few locals would have participated; the thousand or so had to be brought together from all over the country to make enough to get media attention. Their purported purpose was to protest any movement toward removing Confederate war memorials.

Without media attention, this event—and, further, the movement—would end “not with a bang, but a whimper.”[i] Instead, the media has used this fringe movement to try to claim every Republican, every Trump voter, is a raving, bigoted imbecile, in a misguided “leftist” effort to unseat our duly elected president.

Trump fights back, but gracelessly. That is probably a good summary of the man. Sometimes he says things that are true, and sometimes he does things that are right for freedom. But he seldom says or does things gracefully. We knew that well before the election.

Just as we knew president Obama was a black socialist SJW (social justice warrior) who would try to impose control over free people where he could, and would have a knee-jerk reaction against police and non-blacks and actual conservatives at every opportunity. The solution is to argue truthfully and wait out the length of his administration.

There are people, however, who refuse to do that with Trump in the White House. And they are easily stirred up.

Stirred up people went to Charlottesville to give voice in opposition to the white-supremacist fringe. Some of this opposition were well-meaning, but among them was a violent group calling themselves Antifa, which is short for “anti-fascist.” Their beliefs are a disgusting soup of SJW fanaticism and radical communism. Ironically, Antifa’s methodology tends toward violent imposition of their particular beliefs.

What was the definition of fascist, again? Fascism is coercion to follow the directives of the people in power. Antifa is fascist, not anti-fascist. They’re labeling any ideas they oppose as fascist, but they are using fascist methods to enforce their views.

Which is why the Spherical Model is so much clearer about these things. The Alt-Right is southern hemisphere statist tyranny. Antifa is southern hemisphere statist tyranny. They are not opposites; they are different flavors of the same thing—a small-stage replay of Germany and Russia in WWII.
Back to Charlottesville.
Fascism and Socialism are similar stripes
in the same zone of statist tyranny.

So, you allow a white-supremacist rally, lawfully exercising free speech, however distasteful. But you don’t also allow, in the same proximity, a violent fascist group that disagrees with that speech. At the very least, you keep these protest groups miles and miles apart, with a strong police force defending the lines they shall not cross.

That didn’t happen on Saturday. Both sides got violent. It looks like Antifa instigated the first violence. Then one lone wolf from among the Alt-Right upped the violence, using a vehicle as a deadly weapon, killing one woman and injuring several others.

Anyone, of any belief tribe, who uses violence to enforce their beliefs must be punished to the full extent of the law. That should happen for the killer, and also for any other violent demonstrators.

There is no civilization where hatred rules. The Alt-Right has no chance of either building or maintaining a civilization based on “my greatest contribution is my skin color.” Antifa has no chance of either building or maintaining a civilization based on “you must believe what I believe, or I’ll force you to.”

Both are ugly, savage, and tyrannical. Oscillating between one or another stripe of southern statist tyranny just ensures more tyranny, poverty, and savagery.

The way to freedom, prosperity, and civilization are known. We need people to choose the behaviors that get us there.

One heartening thing I saw was a story about a black man, Daryl Davis, who has spent decades befriending white supremacists. His question is, “How can you hate me when you don’t know me?” So he gives them a chance to know him, and they—on their own—give up their old beliefs.

I don’t know how he finds them. He’s a brave man. But I think he’s right: the way to get people to stop hating one another is to give them a chance to be treated like a friend by someone they have called an enemy. It sounds like a suggestion made in the Sermon on the Mount.

[i] T. S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Iceland Has Cleanest-living Teens

I’m always in favor of moving toward civilization, along with freedom and prosperity. So when I see an example of where it’s happening, I get interested. That’s why I read a story about Iceland I came across this week (the story first appeared in January 2017). It seems they’re doing something right:

Many of Iceland's teens are involved in sports.
Image from here.

Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.
The story is long, and detailed, about what they’ve been doing. So I’ll try to condense it, hopefully without leaving out essential information.

American psychology professor Harvey Milkman was involved in learning about drug addiction back in the 1970s. He learned not only why people would choose particular drugs, depending on their approach to stress, but also why they would continue. He figured out that people were on the verge of addiction before trying drugs, and then the addiction followed their style of coping. He published in his doctoral dissertation that heroin users wanted to numb themselves; amphetamine users wanted to actively confront it.  According to the article:

Milkman was instrumental in developing the idea that people were getting addicted to changes in brain chemistry. Kids who were “active confronters” were after a rush—they’d get it by stealing hubcaps and radios and later cars, or through stimulant drugs. Alcohol also alters brain chemistry, of course. It’s a sedative but it sedates the brain’s control first, which can remove inhibitions and, in limited doses, reduce anxiety.
So, if people were trying to change their brains, it seemed plausible that they would be willing to do things that would change their brains without the downside of using drugs or alcohol. That led him to develop a project of activities for teens that offer a natural high. By 1992 he was conducting a program in Denver, Colorado, called Project Self-Discovery, targeting youth in trouble for drugs and petty crimes:

“We didn’t say to them, you’re coming in for treatment. We said, we’ll teach you anything you want to learn: music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts.” The idea was that these different classes could provide a variety of alterations in the kids’ brain chemistry, and give them what they needed to cope better with life: some might crave an experience that could help reduce anxiety, others may be after a rush.
At the same time, the recruits got life-skills training, which focused on improving their thoughts about themselves and their lives, and the way they interacted with other people.
Meanwhile, in 1991 Milkman got invited to Iceland, to see if he could share his research and implement a program there. Attention on his ideas grew, and change began with data gathering. Youth ages 14-16 filled out questionnaires with questions like:

Have you ever tried alcohol? If so, when did you last have a drink? Have you ever been drunk? Have you tried cigarettes? If so, how often do you smoke? How much time do you spend with your parents? Do you have a close relationship with your parents? What kind of activities do you take part in?
From this they learned what bad shape their next generation was in. But they also learned what activities did seem to work to divert young people toward better behavior. The full list of protective behaviors is something we ought to look at more closely:

[P]articipation in organised activities—especially sport—three or four times a week, total time spent with parents during the week, feeling cared about at school, and not being outdoors in the late evenings.
It’s not enough to just get kids involved in extracurricular activities. That’s helpful, but only within a setting that actually reduces teen stress. And, wouldn’t you know—it takes family.

The way Iceland has implemented their program is interesting. Normally I dismiss anything that is top-down and government controlled. (And I don't want to see yet another government program to control our kids' lives in this country.) But, with this relatively smaller, relatively homogeneous country, they have managed to get good results—not just by putting money into extracurricular classes, but by educating parents, encouraging and arranging for more family time, and getting more parental involvement in schools--things we used to see in this country some decades back.

They have continued to gather data with those questionnaires. So they have—if not proof that there is a causal relationship—evidence that the markers they were looking to improve are getting better and staying that way.

They have been able to export the questionnaire, and therefore various local versions of the program, in Europe and in countries across the world. And they have enough data now to show that what has worked in Iceland can work elsewhere.

Mostly, though, other places pick and choose what to do, leave something out—something important, like being required to be home in late evenings—and they get lesser results. Still, teen use of alcohol and drugs have trended downward wherever some form of the program has been tried.

Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir, who was voted Woman of the Year in Iceland in 2016, comments on her country competing well on the world stage in activities as diverse as football (soccer) and music. She says,

We learned through the studies that we need to create circumstances in which kids can lead healthy lives, and they do not need to use substances, because life is fun, and they have plenty to do—and they are supported by parents who will spend time with them.
I don’t expect this government program to be implemented in the US. It could be done at a local school district level, if enough resources could be put to it. But it isn’t really about a government program—whether that program works somewhere in the world or not; it’s about what is done in individual young people’s lives.

There are some non-governmental groups that have excellent success at keeping teens on a healthy path, even without Iceland's program. Among these is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which emphasizes family, and works with families to inculcate principles that lead to life happiness for all members.

There are going to be variations, of course. But we Mormons do involve our young people in a lot of activities that bring meaning and accomplishment. And we have set aside times for families to spend together. In a larger society, getting that family time is still going to cause some issues. But families regularly spend much of their Sundays, and also their Monday evenings together. Youth often get up early, before high school, to do scripture study together. Parents set examples by not smoking or drinking, and by serving in the home and in the larger community. And usually they encourage education and extracurricular activities.

Brigham Young University, my alma mater, sponsored by the Church, proudly holds the title Number 1 most stone cold sober university for 20 straight years. Students have the advantage of, not only having fun during their university years; they were thinking clearly enough to remember it. So the program extends beyond high school years.

This was in this week's alumni update, linked to here.

Another group with success is homeschoolers. Besides having better than typical success at getting into college, homeschooled youth tend to be involved in several extracurricular activities a week. And, by definition, they spend a lot of time with their families, with a lot of involvement and attention from parents.

So, it’s helpful to have the data of a government program. But it’s really about families doing what families must do to be civilized. Having a whole community agree on what that looks like is helpful. But no amount of government intervention and control can accomplish the desired ends without individual parents and families moving toward civilization.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Surprise at Old News

There was a surprising headline that showed up this week: “Gay teens have higher pregnancy rates than their straight peers” in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I found the story retold at The Daily Wire. And that story linked to The Federalist as its source, which was an entertaining take, linking to the original. So the story is getting around. 

I guess that headline should be surprising, since, by some commonly understood definition, there’s supposedly no pregnancy-inducing sex going on among this demographic.

The pregnancy news, then, is surprising. But the information isn’t actually new.  Among the research I’ve accumulated over the past 15 years of writing in defense of marriage, some of these details have been around.

Here are the graphs illustrating the study, provided by the Star Tribune:

Self-identified homosexual teens (not questioning or bisexual) have pregnancy rates two to seven times greater than heterosexuals in their demographic. Science does not need to be thrown out the window; it still isn’t possible for two people of the same sex to engage in sexual activity that leads to pregnancy. The youth whose data are being analyzed have enough sex with the opposite sex that they are much more likely to get pregnant than their peers.

Around half of homosexual teens were sexually active, while around a quarter of the heterosexual teens were.

It has long been known that those who engage in sex with partners of the same sex tend to be more promiscuous—astronomically more promiscuous—than heterosexuals. According to a 2003 study in Amsterdam, where same-sex “marriage” was socially accepted, homosexual males are found to average 22 partners a year, or as few as 8 partners a year if “married.”[i] The CDC reported, in 1997, that 50% of male homosexuals had over 500 sexual partners. Among the first several hundred AIDS diagnoses, the average was 1100 lifetime partners.[ii]

The numbers for lesbians are a bit different. According to Robert Kronemeyer in 1980, “Lesbian relationships are likely to be more stable and lasting than those of males.” However, “Most of the unions last three years or less.”[iii] And Yvonne Zipter notes, “the lasting lesbian relationship” is a “mythic entity.”[iv] Lesbians, as a population, are measurably less promiscuous than male homosexuals, but they typically have many partners. Most have had sex with a male in the past year, including men who are high risk for sexually transmitted diseases. According to Katherine Fethers, et al., women who have sex with women (WSW) were likely to have 50 male sexual partners in their lifetime; the median for the control (women who only have sex with males) was 12,[v] so, more than four-fold.

The new study, then, isn’t news. But the perspective on teen pregnancy is new.

If we are to draw some conclusions from the science—as opposed to the anti-science politically correct assumptions—we would say that the “born that way” doctrine is still at odds with all the available and mounting data.

We can hypothesize (if allowed) that the entire LGBTQ mindset is much more mental than biological. While individuals of course differ, these groups tend toward multiple high-risk behaviors and mental pathologies. These include alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, depression, suicide, and more.

By the way, the homosexual teen pregnancy study included info on drug and alcohol use, shown in this chart:

United Families International’s Guide to Family Issues:Sexual Orientation has a long list, all with references. Here’s one: 

According to a study in the Netherlands where homosexuality has been accepted and mainstreamed for years, homosexual behavior significantly increases the likelihood of psychiatric, mental and emotional disorders, negating the mindset that society’s lack of tolerance of homosexual behavior and lifestyle produces these psychoses. Youth are four times as likely to suffer major depression, almost three times as likely to suffer generalized anxiety disorder, nearly four times as likely to experience conduct disorder, four times as likely to commit suicide, five times as likely to have nicotine dependence, six times as likely to suffer multiple disorders, and more than six times as likely to have attempted suicide. (Study of 5,998 Dutch adults) Theo G. M. Sandforte et al., “Same-Sex Sexual Behavior and Psychiatric Disorders: Findings from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence” Archives of General Psychiatry 58, 10 (2001): 85-91.
If we could go back 40 years, before the American Psychiatric Association removed same-sex attraction from its almost endless list of disorders, for political rather than scientific reasons, then we might at least look at the LGBTQ mind as a marker for other mental disorders. Studies could be done. Treatments could be developed. People could be gently led away from self-destructive behaviors that will never lead to the contentment they seek.

Some have managed to leave the lifestyle and do much healing, in spite of the lack of professional support. I like this story, byJosh Weed

And, if we could go back, we would be free to return to protecting real marriage, which is the best way for humans to raise other humans. Best social design ever: Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan sums it up:

If we were asked to design a system for making sure that children's basic needs were met, we would probably come up with something quite similar to the two-parent ideal. Such a design, in theory, would not only ensure that children had access to the time and money of two adults, it also would provide a system of checks and balances that promoted quality parenting. The fact that both parents have a biological connection to the child would increase the likelihood that the parents would identify with the child and be willing to sacrifice for that child, and it would reduce the likelihood that either parent would abuse the child.[vi]

[i] Xiridou, Maria, et al., “The Contribution of Steady and Casual Partnerships to the Incidence of HIV infection among Homoseual Men in Amsterdam,” 1029-1038 AIDS, 17 (7) May 2, 2003.
[ii] G. Rotell, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men (New York, Dutton, 1997.
[iii] Kronemeyer, Robert. Overcoming Homosexuality, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1980, p. 32.
[iv] Zipter, Yvonne, “The Disposable Lesbian Relationship,” Windy City Times, (December 15, 1986), p. 18, and see Zipter, a lesbian, in an article in Chicago’s gay journal for the quote.
[v] Fethers, Katherine, et al., “Sexually Transmitted Infections and Risk Behaviors in Women Who Have Sex with Women,” Sexually Transmitted Infections 76 (2000): 348.
[vi] McLanahan, Sara, and Gary Sandefur. Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps, Harvard University Press, 1994, p. 38.