Thursday, November 30, 2017

Light in a Dark World

It’s Christmas season, which officially is only a single day several weeks from now, it’s really a season. Parts of it (music—because it takes time to learn and prepare) start months ahead of time. I plan my Christmas card photo pretty far in advance too. This year I’m featuring my new grandbaby and her big brother in the nativity scene. This photo isn’t one I’m using, but here’s the little newborn.

Christmas reminds us of family, goodwill, giving, kindness—all things the Savior whose birth we celebrate would want us to remember. So it’s bigger than one day will hold. And we can sure use more of those good things for a longer time. Maybe long enough to become a habit, which some say takes at least three solid, consistent weeks.

If you want to enjoy the whole season—in ways totally separate from hustle, bustle, shopping, and pressure—then maybe you’ll want to join me in a celebration called #LightTheWorld. This is an initiative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it’s for everyone. 

We did this last year too.

The idea is that each day you do something, small or large—but more likely small—that is a good deed, or kindness, or something that will make things better for others.
LightTheWorld Calendar

You can share your light in any way you want, but there’s a calendar with ideas for each day, if you’d like to follow that, with a scripture theme, a one-minute video, and ideas of things to do for each day. You can get all of this in any of 30 languages, so it really is meant for the whole world.

Here’s the video for Day 1:

You can see what other people have been doing. And you can share what you’ve done, if you want to. And if you use the hashtag #LightTheWorld on social media, then it’s searchable in ways hashtags are (a mystery to me).

I don’t know how we’ll measure the additional light after the 25 days. But I believe that we’ll each have a sense of greater light in and around us as we do this.

It’s an experiment, and experience, worth doing.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Defining Net Neutrality

This past week net neutrality made its way into headlines—and panicked Facebook posts. It is because the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by President Trump, has decided to undo the net neutrality rules Obama instigated in 2015.
internet cyber cabling, image from here

From the panic, you would think the return to what the internet always was before the recent interference was going to deprive all Americans of the freedom to google.

So I thought maybe we should review what’s going on, to lower the panic level.

As I’ve written before (even about this very topic), there’s a Spherical Model axiom:

If the government wants to implement something beyond the proper role of government, not only will government fail to achieve the stated goal; it will likely do exactly opposite of the stated goal.
So, if the government is trying to make the internet neutral, you can be pretty sure it will not make the internet neutral, if that ever was the problem. It will interfere, and the interference is likely to favor some and disadvantage others.

The panic seems to be saying that we can’t possibly live without government regulation of the internet—even though the internet flourished unhindered, with innovation after innovation, for it’s first several decades, up until Obama's year or so in office.

I don’t really understand the reason for the panic (other than media fear mongering). But I can be pretty certain that turning over something to five government officials is not a good way to decide what any free person or company can be permitted to do on the internet. Remember, the administration that imposed net neutrality is the same administration that weaponized the IRS against non-profits that promoted ideas it didn’t approve of. 

To repeat something I’ve said before (again, about this very topic), regulation is one of those words that government has stretched beyond recognition:

In dictionary world, like the one our founders live in, the word “regulation” means to make regular—to make sure something can happen regularly, without blocks or interference. That’s what the founders meant by regulation interstate commerce.
But in today’s government, regulation means something else: governmental power to decide when, how, and whether something can happen. It’s arguable that all government regulation prevents, rather than provides, regularity of something happening.
About net neutrality, Senator Cruz has long spoken up. I believe it was during the presidential campaign that he said this:

"Net Neutrality" is Obamacare for the internet; the internet should not operate at the speed of government.
Just as the so-called Affordable Care Act leads to less care at greater costs, you can be sure so-called net neutrality leads to less internet freedom, not more of the freedom we expect of our free-market internet.

The supposed problem has to do with various internet service providers providing streaming services. The net neutrality requires them to be neutral about providing services at the same rates and speeds, no matter how much bandwidth is required. They are not allowed to provide greater speeds for a higher price to those willing to pay for the better service.

Instead, those five regulators sitting in faraway Washington decide that the greater service must be provided at the same cost, regardless of how illogical or impossible it is to do so.

The end result is that the market is not allowed to work out the issues, and that means there is no profit incentive to improve service or options in areas where little choice is currently available.
This Being Libertarian piece gives some explanation:

So why be skeptical of something we’re told is meant to keep the internet free?
Well, for starters, most plans aimed at freeing a market don’t include the FCC placing 400 pages of new regulations on that market. Likewise, it’s always a safe bet that whatever a bill is sold to the public as, it will undoubtedly do the opposite. Much like we’ve seen with our very ‘Affordable’ Care Act, or the invasive Freedom Act that culminated from the Patriot Act, net neutrality is anything but ‘neutral.’ Instead, it vilified ISPs, claiming that in its absence they would be able to restrict internet access to their customers at a whim. Although they couldn’t recall a single instance of this happening, or provide any reason that ISPs would have for doing that, the FCC shifted the control from the providers over to the government in order to save us from this preposterous threat.
Just like that, net neutrality became another political tool, used to reward select groups at the expense of others.
Senator Ted Cruz
Image from Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo, found here
As Senator Cruz and Michael O'Rielly explained this week:

The internet has changed how we communicate, engage in commerce and live our lives. It not only provides a platform that can be used to promote free speech, but serves as a great equalizer when it comes to jobs and opportunity by dramatically reducing the barriers of entry for anyone with a new idea and broadband connection.
Unfortunately, because the nature of government power is to control, tax and regulate, there will always be government officials who will seek to implement policies to increase these inherent powers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Obama administration made the decision to set aside decades of bipartisan agreement and enact a radical proposal that reclassified the internet as a regulated public utility. The Obama-era regulations give federal bureaucrats new authority to regulate pricing and terms of service and eventually even collect billions in new taxes.
This policy not only threatens investment across the United States but seeks to force companies of all sizes to ask the government for prior approval of business decisions. The end result is less broadband, less innovation and less freedom for the American consumer.
Thankfully, relief will soon be on the way, as the Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Ajit Pai seeks to repeal the so-called Open Internet Order and return the internet to its original classification as an information service, which allowed the internet to flourish.
The repeal of the order is simple enough to accomplish. But the panic may lead to additional interference. Senator Cruz further explains the next challenge:

But, the restoration of internet freedom may be short-lived, as there are already scores of politicians and state and local regulators who have indicated an interest in replicating the Obama administration’s fatally flawed rules at the state and local level. As harmful as the FCC’s rules have been for broadband investment and innovation, replacing such rules with a patchwork of state and local requirements would have an even more detrimental effect on the internet.
Allowing the Obama administration’s dangerous policy to infest the internet through state and local government mandates serves no purpose other than to stifle America’s entrepreneurial spirit, frustrate innovation, and block economic opportunity.
The internet has been a great example of how freedom and free market lead to thriving. Government regulation didn’t lead to all the innovation and online information and marketing; staying out of the way except to protect life, liberty, and property allowed that.

Let’s quickly get back to this digital experiment in freedom and prosperity.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Yields Happiness

There’s an axiom about God’s commandments: He commands us to do exactly what will lead to our greatest happiness. One commandment is to give thanks in all things. It is mentioned a lot.

Here’s one:

Psalm 107:1
O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
And another:

Mosiah 26:39 (Book of Mormon)
… being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.
And another:

Ephesians 5:20
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Earlier this week, Dennis Prager put out a new Prager U video on the connection between gratitude and happiness. Worth watching, this week while we’re purposely thinking about being gratitude.

As for me, I’m especially grateful for a new grandbaby. We were traveling on the day she was born, but she waited until just after we arrived at our hotel for the night, so we got to tune in with video chat (we used Duo) in the nick of time for her grand arrival. And there she was, right on our tablet screen. I’m grateful for technology that can make that possible.

It was another full day’s drive, and then the following day before we got to meet her in person, just an hour before coming home from the hospital.

So, this week of Thanksgiving, I’m writing less. Sitting around holding a baby. Doing a lot of cooking, and playing with her big brother (almost 3 years old). And taking lots of photos. We have plans for a Christmas card photo with the littles playing the main roles.

Here’s a quick glimpse of this new, perfect, little blessing.

Little Social Sphere 2, 4 days old

5 days old, still sleeping a lot

Thursday, November 16, 2017

It's a Culture Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Jackie Spier
photo from here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Socialism Is Selfish

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

screen shot from video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

screen shot from here

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Communism’s 100-Year War on Civilization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

Truth Be Told

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do agree with Roberts on this assertion:

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

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

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

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

Erickson comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Houston Strong

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

The Houston Astros won the World Series

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

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

As the Chronicle story says,

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

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

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

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

2017 has been one for the history books.

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

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

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

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