Thursday, May 31, 2018

Red Tape Cutting

There are many things wrong with regulations—almost as an entire category:

·         The definition.
·         The negative economic effects.
·         The beyond the Constitution regulatory tyranny.

As I’ve mentioned before, our founders, when they used the word in the Constitution—i.e., “regulate Commerce,” and “well-regulated Militia”—they meant

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.
What we need is for government—especially government regulations—to get out of the way, so that what we want to happen regularly, like commerce, can happen freely.

President Trump cuts red tape
in ceremony in December 2014

A Just the Facts article, “The Effects of Regulations on the Economy,” by James D. Agresti, shows how regulation has actually prevented what it claims to be trying to do:

For example, a 2015 working paper from the Harvard-Kennedy School of Government found that regulations are likely the main reason why community banks’ share of the U.S. banking market fell from more than 40% in 1994 to around 20% in 2015. This is because “larger banks are better suited to handle heightened regulatory burdens than are smaller banks, causing the average costs of community banks to be higher.” Likewise, a 2016 paper in the DePaul Business and Commercial Law Journal found that the 2010 Dodd-Frank “Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act”:
could actually be enhancing the consolidation of the banking industry, in direct opposition to its principal purpose—eliminating “too big to fail” banks. While the industry has intentionally trended towards consolidation in the past, the current dramatic increase of consolidation of banking assets is likely an unintended consequence of increased regulation. This consequence comes from astronomical regulatory costs passed on to community banks, as well as increased capital requirements that diminish these banks’ competitiveness. Dodd-Frank has exacerbated this problem, and it will likely result in further increased consolidation of the banking industry.
What do we keep saying about the unintended consequences of government interference?

If the government wants to implement something beyond the proper role of government, not only will government fail to achieve the stated goals; it will likely do exactly opposite of the stated goal.
Why isn’t that obvious enough that people would stop wanting government to interfere?
It’s hard to get data on the negative effects of regulation on the economy. As Anne C. Steinemann, author of the textbook Microeconomics for Public Decisions, says, it’s pretty easy to create a cost-benefit analysis that will “produce a desired outcome,” and “it is practically impossible to predict all the future impacts” of a government program, “let alone their magnitudes and their probabilities of occurrence.”

An example provided by Agresti compares pro and con arguments. On the pro side, the Obama administration drafted a report in 2014

Estimating the costs and benefits of major federal regulations from 2003 to 2013. It concluded that the costs were somewhere between $57 billion and $84 billion, while the benefits were much greater at $217 billion to $863 billion.
Since we were in an elongated recession without the expected recovery through most of those years, that seems like it could be just a wild invention to say, “You think this is bad? Imagine how bad it would be if we hadn’t stepped in.” You can’t exactly “prove” an imaginary alternate universe.

Meanwhile, a 2013 paper in the Journal of Economic Growth found: 

The effects of federal regulations on the U.S. economy have been “negative and substantial.” They estimate that GDP would now be more than three times larger if federal “regulation had remained at its 1949 level.”
Which is right? Probably the one that coincides with the principles that lead to freedom, prosperity, and civilization. In other words, government regulation, which is rule by unelected bureaucratic fiat—or tyranny—is unable to lift an economy out of poverty and into prosperity. So if the pro-tyranny side is claiming their interference is creating all kinds of magical benefits, chances are they’re skewing the data for their purposes or simply outright lying.

Agresti suggests there are plenty of other indicators to lead to the conclusion that regulation is a negative on the economy:

A key driver of economic growth plummeted in the wake of two major regulatory expansions in modern U.S. history. This element is productivity, and as explained by former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen (and various other economists with wide-ranging political views): “The most important factor determining living standards is productivity growth, defined as increases in how much can be produced in an hour of work.”
The Journal of Economic Growth study, mentioned above, uses historical data, of which there is an abundance, and finds

that regulations have “strong and robust negative effects” on economic growth, and these “results are qualitatively consistent with those obtained from studies using the various cross-country and panel data sets on regulation.”
Notably, regulations harm the economy by harming productivity. What we can see is that federal regulations spiked under President Carter (1977-1981) and Obama (2009-2017). “In the wake of both of these regulatory expansions, productivity growth crashed,” as you can see in the chart:

Chart from Just the Facts

So, while we don’t have absolute cause-effect proof, there is plenty of evidence for reasonable people to see the harm government regulation (which is, almost by definition, over-regulation) does to the economy.

What we ought to insist on is adherence to the Constitution; that would give us plenty of evidence that freedom from regulation is good for the economy. But we haven’t tried that experiment in a very long time. The Congress has mostly abdicated its legislative authority to the regulatory arms of the executive branch. And the courts have mostly bowed to the “experts” of those regulatory commissions.

However, there has been some recent progress from this administration: the FCC’s net-neutrality repeal, HHS healthcare reforms, EPA details, some Education Department deregulation. These are actual campaign promises President Trump made that he is keeping.

There are three ways to accomplish regulatory reforms:

·         Executive orders ending the executive orders of the previous administration (easiest to do, but also easiest to reverse by a future administration).
·         Legislation requiring change, and returning responsibility for lawmaking to Congress, and, in many cases, returning the judicial functions to the judiciary, instead of leaving all powers in the hands of regulators to determine law, prosecute, and punish.

·         Reform from within regulatory agencies, which depends on appointees to champion the goal of deregulation.
Adam J. White, writing for the Hoover Institution (in “Trumping the Administrative State”), says, ”2018 will mark the beginning of a steady wave of agency decisions that will immediately be appealed to federal courts.” The most high-profile of these

will be filed strategically before courts staffed disproportionately by sympathetic judges in Washington, D.C., or on the West Coast. This litigation may come to resemble the lawsuits challenging President Trump’s immigration and refugee orders: Judges will scrutinize agency actions much more aggressively than before. The traditional deference by judges to regulatory agencies’ decisions is unlikely to prevail, and courts will undoubtedly invoke statements by the president or by his appointees that they see as undermining the credibility that agencies usually are afforded. (This will be quite a turnabout after Democrats less than a year ago criticized President Trump’s appointee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, for having questioned the amount of deference” that courts give agencies.)
Of the legislative option, he says this is “an opportunity Republicans may not enjoy again for a long time.” And he adds, if they fail to use it,

It would be disappointing and ironic: Congress’s inaction is itself one of the main causes of our modern administrative state. By failing to legislate on the issues of greatest national interest, Congress creates a policy vacuum that agencies fill unilaterally with regulations. Lawmakers further compound this problem by failing to reform the antiquated appropriations process that no longer ties Congress’s oversight of agencies to its constitutional “power of the purse.”
As for the third option, he makes these suggestions for the regulatory agencies:

They can unilaterally adopt reforms to promote transparency and accountability within their own houses. Perhaps the best example of this so far are the efforts at the Justice Department and Education Department to scale back their reliance on “guidance” documents, a broad category of agency pronouncements that regulate the public but that do not undergo even the minimal procedures for public accountability otherwise required of new regulations. If these two departments succeed in reforming their own practices, they could come to be seen by the public (and by judges and legislators) as the regulatory equivalent of “best practices,” raising the bar for what we expect of other agencies.
So, we’re at a time when we have at least some reason to be hopeful.

In his conclusion, White talks about the most lasting reforms of the Reagan era; they lasted because they became systemic. They became the expected practices over several administrations. Based on that, he says,

Years from now, we may find that some of the Trump administration’s most important regulatory reforms in 2018 were the ones that attracted the least attention. Executive orders and regulatory repeals announced to great fanfare are very important; even more important are reforms changing the culture of modern regulatory agencies, achieved through sustained effort within those agencies, to little fanfare and no ribbon-cutting.
In one of the announcements, President Trump cut a big red ribbon, to mean cutting the “red tape.” I hope his commitment to that is real. And I hope the results will become sustained changes that return us to the freedom that helps us thrive and prosper.

Sunday, May 27, 2018


In Sunday School yesterday we talked about an event in Joshua, when he parted the waters of the Jordon River for the people to cross (which was so Moses-like, it let the people know he was their new prophet). They made a memorial with twelve stones—one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel—to mark the place. So they and their children would remember the event.

There are a number of scriptures in the Book of Mormon that remind the people to remember the goodness of God in delivering them: from Egypt, from Jerusalem to this promised land, from bondage at various times in their history. For example, Mosiah 25:16, Alma 29:11-12, and Alma 36:2.

In addition, our sacrament prayers help us make the commitment to remember Christ our Savior always, so that we can have His Spirit with us.

Remembering is something we need to do. To remember good things that have happened. To remember good others have done for us. To honor those who have sacrificed for us.

A healthy amount of remembering helps us live better in the present.

So, on this day, we are better if we take a moment out to remember those who have sacrificed all for us.

The photo below is a a memorial here in Houston, just a slight detour from our normal route to the Houston Temple. A friend discovered it for the first time a few days ago after visiting the temple. If you don't know it's there, it's easy to miss. I remember when this was being built. It's comforting to know it's there, along with other memorials. Because we need to remember.

In my own effort to remember, I’m going to repeat much of what I wrote for Memorial Day five years ago, about Memorial Day's history, and about our need to remember.

Monday, May 27, 2013

read something yesterday,* about Memorial Day, reminding me that it wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day, along with several other holidays, was changed from a specific date to a particular Monday, allowing for three-day weekends. The author hypothesized that something of the meaning began disappearing with that change.
Fallen Warriors Memorial--Houston
from their Facebook page

I started thinking about that, for other holidays as well. Presidents Day was one; we no longer celebrate the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington on their actual February birthdays, learning about them in school classes and elsewhere. Instead we have a holiday for family vacations, a brief college break, an extra shopping day, during which we have pretty much nothing in the way of traditional ceremony reminding us of those two extraordinary presidents.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, celebrated on a Monday in mid-January, came after the change, so has never been truly connected to his actual birthday. Having a holiday for a single American, no matter how influential, seems odd when we only bunch our greatest, and all, presidents some Monday in February. It’s better when the day is referred to as celebrating equal rights or something—something worth teaching about in schools. But again, it’s a day off from schools, with very little in the way of traditional celebrating.

We tend to keep traditions alive better when they are date specific, rather than a convenient Monday. Christmas tends to be full (overfull, at times) of traditions. The Fourth of July, Independence Day, could hardly be celebrated on a different day, and it does retain traditional parades, fireworks, and brass bands in addition to summer cookouts and family time together.

Thanksgiving is on a changing date, but always the fourth Thursday of November; it remains full of tradition. It can be anywhere from a single day off during the week to a four-day or even seven-day vacation. Easter is day specific as well, a certain Sunday after the spring equinox. There’s enough meaning attached that we get together for traditional family celebrations whether we get time off or not. So it’s possible, even without specific dates. But the three-day weekend does seem to have lessened, rather than increased, our ability to pay attention to the purpose of special days.

What if we had kept Memorial Day on its original May 30th? Would we remember it is as something much more than the first good cookout day of summer? Would we meet together somewhere in reverence, at a cemetery or monument, and tell stories of fallen heroes? Would we remember how solemn this day is, compared to July 4th, and compared to Veterans’ Day? I don’t know. And I don’t suppose it’s likely we’ll go back.

But here in Texas we say, “Remember the Alamo,” and of the current war against radical Islamists who attacked us 9-11-2001, we say, “Never forget.” Memorial Day was officially instituted after the Civil War, to honor soldiers who had fallen on both sides, so we would never forget their sacrifice that brought us toward full freedom, and all the soldiers since who have made that ultimate sacrifice….

We plan to see grandkids, have some Texas barbecue, and enjoy the Monday off. I expect many of you will do the same. But I hope we can all also do some grateful remembering.
*The link had video/audio of three mournful but beautiful pieces of music honoring fallen soldiers, worth listening to.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Telling the Truth

Among the relatively few rules necessary for civilization is honoring truth. That means respecting the truth, telling the truth as clearly and accurately as we can perceive it. Truth is good; truth is moral.

There’s another moral imperative that we treat other human beings with dignity and respect. I think we can agree with that. We honor God, life, family, property, and truth. So that comes under life specifically, but also under God, our creator, and family, which gives life and passes along morals such as respecting one another.

A social argument these days is about what is required of respect. We make sure no human beings are considered less than human, subject to the whims of some superior class. We are all equal before the law. That is a founding principle of this nation—perhaps the first nation on earth founded on such an idea.

But the argument is that, if you don’t go along with everything a particular minority group insists on, you are denigrating them. This includes when you refuse to lie for them.

So the dilemma for moral people is: honor truth, or honor individuals by going along with their lie?

Transgender activists protest near the White House in
Washington, D.C., February 22, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
image found at National Review

I’m talking specifically here about the transgender debate, although the social war is larger than that. But this is instructive about the larger social war as well.

There’s been a debate going on recently at National Review. J. J. McCullough recommends a compromise: He “requires sacrifice on the part of progressives, who are currently overplaying their hand in an effort to strong-arm sweeping social change as a flex of their power.” Note that is what progressives must do, formerly called liberals or leftists—which on the Spherical Model is pro-savagery, poverty, and tyranny.

Of conservatives (the pro-civilization, prosperity, and freedom crowd), he requires “broad tolerance for the reality that transgender men and women exist, and are entitled to basic human dignity, just like everyone else.”

Michael Brendan Dougherty responds to McCullough’s suggested compromise:

The demand to acknowledge someone’s “existence” is a slippery bit of a double-talk. I would be an idiot to deny McCullough’s existence. But if he said that he were a Camaroonian, rather than a Canadian, would it be his existence that I denied by contradicting him?
Dougherty adds the question, “But are we allowed to tell the truth?”

David French adds further commentary concerning that question about whether we’re allowed to tell the truth:

Increasingly, the answer is no. J.J. compares the modern dispute over transgenderism to current and recent fights over homosexuality. The comparison is instructive, but not in the way that he hopes. There has been no “compromise” over homosexuality. Instead, we’re locked in brutal legal fights over whether Christian bakers and florists can be compelled to use their artistic talents to celebrate gay weddings. Christian colleges have had to fend off challenges to their accreditation and funding (and the Obama administration raised the possibility of challenging their tax exemptions) for simply upholding basic standards of Christian sexual morality. And in California, the new sexual orthodoxy now threatens even the sale of books that deliver a disfavored message not just on sexual orientation but also on sexual conduct.
Along that tangent, I just saw a new video with Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington florist, telling the story of her persecution—not for refusing service to anyone, including the homosexual man at the heart of the case, who had been a long-time customer and friend—but for declining to use her artistic skills for an event that celebrated something against her faith. She couldn’t use her skills—which God gave her—in service of something against God’s will. Worth watching.

Back to that compromise discussion. David French concludes with this:

Treating every single human being with dignity and respect means not just defending their constitutional liberties and showing them basic human kindness, it also means telling the truth—even when the truth is hard. Any compromise that requires conservatives to grant the other side’s false and harmful premise is no compromise at all.
The uncompromising Dr. Jordan Peterson, who has been embroiled in this debate, for standing up and stating truth, has a full chapter on truth in his book 12Rules for Life. Rule 8 is “Tell the Truth, or at Least Don’t Lie.” In it he says,
image from Amazon

Taking the easy way out or telling the truth—those are not merely two different choices. They are different pathways through life. They are utterly different ways of existing.
When confronted with the choice to use the pronouns the government requires--which are lies, and are linguistically unnatural--or suffer the consequences, he chose to suffer the consequences. Because it's a way of life to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

For him, this is a free speech issue. It just happens to pertain to the transgender issue. As he points out, we don’t use a particular pronoun to imbue a person with respect; we use a pronoun to identify a person we may not know anything about beyond the visible details. “He did it,” does not imply, “That-person-I-know-so-well-that-I-have-ascertained-that-person’s-chosen-gender-identity did it.” It, rather, implies, “That-male-appearing-person-whose-name-I-might-not-even-know did it.”

What a transgender person who requires a different gender pronoun—or an entirely new made-up but unhelpful-for-identification-purposes pronoun—is requiring is mind-reading. You, the person who may have never interacted with them before, are supposed to use a pronoun in reference to them that you have no way of knowing is their preference. Dr. Peterson has found that the vast majority of transgender persons who have responded in comments support him and do not prefer the weird made-up pronouns.

So what the offended persons are requiring is special consideration, far above and beyond what any of us have the ability to offer one another. They’ve got a lot of nerve. In their interactions with me and with you, what have they done to deserve our submission to the loss of useful pronouns, just because they say they are offended by standard usage? What about how offensive it is to call us offensive for simply using language that has a purpose and works? Should we be pilloried while they are not? We use pronouns when we don't know someone; these people are demanding a special pronoun even when we don't know them. What have they done to earn that special treatment from people with whom they don't even have a relationship?

So, Dr. Peterson tells the truth. He gets attacked for that, quite a lot. But he also gets the respectful attention that allows him to share a great many truths. Probably a good outcome. Telling the truth wins.

Dr. Michelle Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatrics, put out a short video in December 2017 (full video below) talking about what happens when you deal with the truth and when you don’t.  She offers one case from a number of years ago:

I had one little boy, a patient we’ll call Andy. Between the ages of 3and 5 he increasingly played with girls and stereotypical girl toys, and started saying he was a girl. I referred the parents and Andy to a therapist. Sometimes mental illness of a parent or abuse of the child are factors. But more commonly, the child has misperceived family dynamics and internalized a false belief. In the middle of one session, Andy put down the toy truck, and held onto the Barbie, and said, “Mommy and Daddy, you don’t love me when I’m a boy.” What the therapist learned is that when Andy was 3, his sister with special needs was born. She required significantly more of his parents’ care and attention. Andy misperceived this as, “Mommy and Daddy love girls. If I want them to love me again, I have to be a girl.” With family therapy, Andy got better.
Today, doctors would insist that the parents alter the world to support Andy in his delusion, and give him puberty blockers—which, when used in adults for prostate or gynecological problems, are known to lead to memory loss, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, cancers, and emotional problems such as the one the experts claim to be preventing.

Additionally, doctors might offer surgical interventions such as a double mastectomy or penis removal.

While gender dysphoria is a treatable mental illness, and in many cases disappears by puberty or adulthood even without therapy, the current “treatment” is to permanently disfigure and sterilize—not so that a woman can become a man, or that a man can become a woman, but so that they can impersonate what they are not.

Asking the world to lie for them, and to them, is not going to change reality. Telling them the truth, while also being respectful of their worth as human beings, might actually help far more. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ennui and Evil

We had another school shooting, this past Friday. Too close to home. It was at Santa Fe High School, about 30 miles south of Houston, toward Galveston. It’s a little over an hour from our home, near where we go to pick strawberries in the spring. I didn’t know anyone there, but almost right away a friend asked for prayers from Facebook friends for her relative who was a teacher at the school.

News report following the Santa Fe shooting
screen shot from here

Santa Fe High School has been in the national news before. You might recall, back in 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, on the question, “Whether petitioner's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause." SCOTUS ruled 6-3 that it did.

There were larger questions in the case as it came up. The majority religion in the area was Baptist. The Does (the unnamed plaintiffs) were Catholic and Mormon. The Mormon family did not object to prayers at graduation and football games. What happened was that a particular teacher, in class, handed out flyers to students encouraging them to attend a revival meeting—clearly inappropriate. But that same teacher also harangued the Mormon student in front of other students, insisting that Mormons belong to a cult. That should never happen in a school, or anyplace else that we expect civilized behavior.

If I had been the mother of such a child, you can be certain the Mama Bear teeth and claws would have come out in protection of my beloved cub. That family joined in a class action suit with the prayer-objectors, although it was the establishing—or favoring—of one religion over all others that was at issue.

The families filed anonymously with good reason: the school district attempted to “out” them through various means, which were harshly condemned by the judge. In other words, what we would normally see as simply pro-religious behavior was, indeed, anti-any-other-religion behavior. And at a public school, no student should be required to submit to that sort of atmosphere.

It's harder to see how someone could be harmed—or forced to participate in a particular established religion—at a football game prayer. The issue there was that a particular chosen chaplain always gave the prayer. Respecting other religions by taking turns, or having various students apply to pray would have solved that issue. But by the time it got to the Supreme Court, it became an opportunity for an overreaching court to actually limit religious freedom.

The ruling ended up giving permission for a student-led prayer at a solemn, once-in-a-lifetime event such as a graduation, but not giving permission for student-led prayer at football games. The original ruling allowed for “non-sectarian and non-proselytizing” prayers and discussions at the school. The school district went ahead with graduation prayers following students’ voting for that. But then the district appealed based on the “non-sectarian and non-proselytizing” phrase, and lost even more.

In the dissent, Justice Rehnquist pointed out that the majority opinion "bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.” For one thing, the policy change being ruled on, going against the original ruling, had never been put into action, so no one could have been materially harmed by it. SCOTUS legislated from the bench to prevent a possible future violation of the Establishment Clause. And second, Justice Rehnquist asserted that the speech in question would be private, chosen and delivered by the speaker, rather than public, school-sponsored speech.

overhead view of  Santa Fe High School
image from here

I’m bringing this up because of the irony of preventing a community that wants to have prayer—that has even had students vote in favor of having prayer—from having the free exercise of religion, which is the essence of the First Amendment. And now, that same community that was prevented from exercising religion is faced with the evil of a school shooting.

Is there a direct correlation? I don’t know. The prayer in school question goes back much further—before I was in school. When I was in first grade, I had a teacher who decided to disobey what she deemed a wrong decision and have us bow our heads for our own private prayer every day anyway. No one complained.

One thing we do following a school shooting is offer prayers for the victims and their families and friends. That is good and right to do. Anti-gun people complain that that is doing nothing. But what we really needed was prayer in schools all along—or, I should say, the atmosphere in which prayer is natural, normal, and encouraged. Because when you have an atmosphere that honors God, you’re a lot less likely to have an atmosphere that cultivates mass murderers.

Back when I was in high school, people brought rifles, in a rack in their pickup trucks, or in their cars, so they could go deer hunting after school. The guns themselves, or their prevalence, did not increase our danger—because no one intended to use them for mass murder. People carried knives to school too. We didn’t need metal detectors, or armed teachers, or policies that didn’t tolerate even a paper gun or a pop-tart bitten into the shape of a gun. We didn’t have mass murders, because we didn’t have mass murderers among us.

So the question is, why are there mass murderers among us now?

The answer is going to be cultural. When you have savagery and you want civilization, you need to have a preponderance of people living the rules of civilization. And that hasn’t been happening for a while.

We’ve been looking at various possible causes, which, if any single one was the actual cause, we could address it. If only it were that easy.

There’s the fatherless home issue. But Friday’s shooting was someone from a two-parent family. No record, like the Parkland shooter, where there were multiple calls for police to come to the home. The parents seem duly shocked.

There’s mental illness, and medications used to treat it. We may not know enough yet, but that doesn’t appear to be part of this scenario. It may be a factor in some others, but not all.

People have talked about the bullied child, the loner, the unaccepted one. If that were the causal factor, some people think we could address that with better inclusion skills.

There’s video game addiction. But it doesn’t seem to be just any game for any person. There’s a problem with single shooter games, where the “win” or the “score” comes from killing multiple innocent people—in the game. So they look like humans, and the reaction to doing that may lead to desensitization. But only for some people who can’t, or won’t, separate fantasy from reality.

Along those lines, Dennis Prager talked today about ennui. That’s beyond boredom, to world weariness. The world weary youth attempts to address this undesirable feeling with excitement, for some sort of adrenaline rush. In a mind without purpose or meaning—without civilization—that might mean acting out violence for the adrenaline hit more than because of any hatred or other rationalization.

One of the best explanations I’ve seen was written by David French this past weekend. He was referring to an explanation by sociologist Malcolm Gladwell from 2015, who in turn referred to research by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter. Granovetter’s theory is that we should not be looking at these shootings as isolated incidents. We are essentially looking at a slow-motion riot. Someone starts it—and that seems to be the Columbine shooters. And others who would not start an action on their own become willing to do it along with other bad actors.

French explains the theory this way:

In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.
The theory goes that the Columbine shooters laid out a script, and others have followed it.

Researcher Ralph Larkin examined the twelve major school shootings in the United States in the eight years after Columbine; eight of the twelve perpetrators made explicit reference to the Columbine shooters. Looking outside the US, he examined eleven school shootings between 1999 and 2007; six of the eleven were copycat versions of Columbine. In addition, he looked at eleven cases of thwarted shootings during the same period; all followed the Columbine script.

Friday’s shooter wore a long trench coat, like the Columbine shooters. This is ostensibly to hide a longer weapon. But the 17-year-old perpetrator wore it daily, like a signature—in Texas where the weather was 90 degrees and humid. There were explosives placed, as in Columbine. I don’t know whether he was addicted to video game killing; he may have been. But there does seem to be evidence that he admired and emulated the legend of Columbine. If only someone had noticed that way ahead of time.

As Gladwell says, “Let’s not kid ourselves that if we passed the strictest gun control in the world that we would end this particular kind of behavior.”

That’s grimly pessimistic.

Riots always end—after lots of destruction. But they do end. Typical riot control involves strong security forces controlling, dispersing, and arresting rioters. Sometimes riots can be prevented by the presence of strong security forces and the announcement that heavy penalties, possibly even death, could result for rioters.

In this “mass shooting” riot, they’re already dispersed. We can try to control, with various safety measures around schools aimed at thwarting mass shooters and/or bringing them down quickly. Sometimes they don’t care about the threat of heavy penalties or death. They may count on death. The last two have been taken alive, but that is rare. And no school shooter ever gets away with it and goes on with life. Not one.

David French ends his essay with this: “There are young men in the grip of a terrible contagion, and there is no cure coming.”

He may be right that there is no cure in sight. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cure that we can eventually find. We must.

I don’t know what the specific actions we must take will be. But, step one, if you’re a parent and want your kids safe: pull them out of school and homeschool. There are plenty of good reasons for that; safety is only one. Providing your child with civilization is even more important.

Another step might involve profiling, recognizing the kids who are showing signs of acting out this particular Columbine-inspired fantasy. We need a way to intervene without trampling the rights of innocent people. That’s a big challenge.

And, somehow, we need a more civilized total society. We have to say this is rock bottom; we can’t endure with this evil among us. Then we follow the rules of civilization so thoroughly that we move up out of savagery until those savage acts again become unthinkable.

It comes down to this: There is evil among us. We mostly have control only over ourselves. So we protect ourselves and our families—and outward from there as best we can. And we live lives so full of goodness andpurpose that there is no room among us for world weary ennui or any other excuse for riotous evil.

So we pray. And may God bless us as we do what we can.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Historic Day in Israel

US Embassy in Jerusalem Dedication
May 14, 2018 (image from screen shot)

Israel is a country with a capital city—like pretty much every other country in the history of countries. Except that in Israel’s case, people in various countries have been trying to tell them they can’t have their capital there, where it has historically always been (including thousands of years ago). Our country and others have given lip service to recognizing Jerusalem as their capital, and promised to put our embassy in their capital. But then, on second thought, just left it in Tel Aviv, even though the government buildings and officials and their meetings are in Jerusalem.

So, when President Trump promised to move the embassy, as at least the past three presidents have promised, we just sort of say, “We’ll see.” But he said it would happen in six months. That means putting a plan of action in place.

And it happened.

If you’ve read here for long, you know I did not support Donald Trump in the election. (I, of course, did not vote for Hillary either; that was unthinkable.) His personality and character are not what I would prefer. And his record as a Democrat, and no particular ideological shift to conservatism, meant I had no particular reason to trust him to do right things for our country. So every time he does something really right, I’m pleasantly surprised. I hope that keeps happening.

Anyway, respecting our strong ally Israel by recognizing their capital by our actions is a good thing.
I watched the full ceremony, and I’m including that recording below. There are good things said there, and there’s a sense of goodness and honor about the whole thing. I felt respect for those involved, including the president’s daughter and her husband, because they were so respectful toward our Israeli friends. (The ceremony starts about 22 minutes in.)

If you followed the news, then you know there were protesters at the gates. The media would have you believe these were unarmed protesters, appearing in response to the embassy dedication. Not really true. There were protesters as there always are. There may have been more at this time of heightened media attention. Also, they were not exactly unarmed. Some were trying to send airborne fires in hopes of burning down the city. These Hamas-led terrorists (a more apt word for them than protesters) were despicable enough to place someone in a wheelchair in the line of fire in their ongoing effort to make the Israelis look like the bad guys.

My guess is that there has never been a country that went so fully out of their way to keep their enemies safe while they were defending themselves from those enemies.

If you need a refresher, there many PragerU videos; here are three.

·         Do You Pass the Israel Test? 
Also, I wrote a series on Israel in 2011 that might be good to review, plus another piece in 2014:

·         Israel, Part I: Ancient History 
·         Israel, Part VI: Continued Unrest  

Monday, May 14, 2018

Population, Urban Thinking, and the Vote

Did I ever mention that I was once a cartographer? It’s what I did as a summer job, putting myself through college. This was back before AutoCAD, so we created overlays by hand. Fun times. It’s always been kind of a family joke, because I’m not good with directions (that’s an understatement). In a city the size of Houston, flat enough not to have directional clues on the horizon, it’s helpful that we now have GPS systems wherever we go.

Anyway, I’ve always been kind of fascinated by maps. I’ve come across some recently that are for different purposes, but imply some correlation. Those red spots are urban areas. I think that's cities with over 100,000. 

Most populated areas of the US (excluding Alaska and Hawaii)

This next one shows that information by counties. Essentially half of the US population lives in those densest counties, including Alaska and Hawaii. The blue "half" includes 146 counties out of a total of over 3141. That's about 4.6% of counties.
Half the US population in the blue counties

Here's a map of where the most murders take place. According to the commentary accompanying this map, "The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68%of murders. Over half of murders occurred in only 2% of counties."

Murder rates in the US by county

This next one is the 2016 electoral map, showing vote winners by county, with more intense color indicating wider margins of the vote.

2016 Presidential Electoral Map

You’ll need to use your imagination to overlay all four maps. But what you see is likely this:

·         Urban areas cover a relatively small part of the land.
·         A relatively small part of the land contains half of the population.
·         The urban areas coincide with high murder rates, and possibly other cultural differences from the less populated areas.
·         The urban areas tend to vote Democrat, while the less densely populated areas tend to vote Republican.

The maps may not show this, but people who live outside the relatively few densely populated areas think differently, on the whole, than people who live in urban areas.

It may be that people self-select. Maybe cities make people think that government control is the answer to all their needs. Or maybe people who think that gravitate toward cities, and maybe more self-reliant types live in the suburbs and rural areas.

Maybe people who are born in cities inherit the ways of thinking that surround them. And people who live outside cities think in ways the people around them think.

Maybe people in these different settings have different needs based on their surroundings. For example, if you live in a small apartment with very little storage, you can’t keep a lot in your pantry and refrigerator—and you probably don’t have a deep freeze in your garage (which you probably don't have). So you would have to shop for just a few items at a time, frequently. Or eat out a lot.

But if you have to drive half an hour to the larger grocery stores, you probably stock up once a week, have supplies on hand to make various recipes. And you probably eat at home more often than city dwellers do.

If you live in a suburban setting, you might do more shopping around, and your stocking up or eating out may have more to do with your family’s schedule than location of stores or home storage limits.

If you live in a city, public transportation is widely available, and you may be used to it. You may not even own a car, which is expensive to garage, expensive to park, and inconvenient to get around town in.

If you live in a rural area, you’re used to driving long distances for everything: food, school, entertainment, work. Having your own transportation is essential.

If you live in a suburb, your access to public transportation may be spotty. And getting where you need to go, among many directions and choices, is a lot more convenient—even essential—in your own vehicle. Plus, you can carry a lot more in a car, or maybe an SUV, than you can on a bus.

Whether it's causal or not, people in urban centers tend to think differently from people outside urban centers. And, because they're surrounded by so many people who think like them, they may think that is the only right way to think. They may not even question what they think.

If we go back 230 years, when the Founders worked out the Constitution, a main concern was that argument about population or state power. Why would a small state like Rhode Island go along with a plan that would forever give all the voice to a large state like Virginia? People in powerful, populated areas thought differently from those in smaller and/or less populated areas.

The Founders came up with a great compromise: two houses of representative government—one determined by population, the other determined by state.

The United States is not a democracy. And that’s a good thing. In a democracy, all you need is half the people plus one to want something, and that’s what you get. If half plus one decide you don’t deserve the money you earn—because of your beliefs, or your looks, or because that many people just dislike you—then they “legally” take your money. If half the people plus one decide people like you shouldn’t own property, or shouldn’t get certain educational opportunities, or some other freedom we take for granted, the mob rules, and you lose that freedom.

That's tyranny of the majority. Back then, the Founders knew better than to want mob rule democracy. Do we still know better?

After the last election, especially, there’s been a push to do away with the Electoral College, which is the representative way we actually choose our president. The Electoral College is based specifically on that compromise between power by population and power by the various states.

Here's Robert Reich insisting that, since the election didn’t go the way of the population majority, the results were wrong, and this should never be allowed to happen again, so he’s offering a plan to thwart the Electoral College without all the bother of amending the Constitution. It’s called National Popular Vote, or NPV. And it’s getting enough traction that you’d better be aware of it.

Let’s be clear. Rule by popular vote intentionally and forever disenfranchises voters everywhere but in the urban centers.

Look at those maps again. What you see is that, if we elected a president by population, the efficient way to campaign would be to win voters only in those most densely populated areas. Win those, and ignore the rest of the country. Always. And forever. Go ahead and ignore the needs and wants of the whole rest of the country, because you don’t need their votes.

Getting rid of the Electoral College—or any other scheme that grants power based solely on population—and you get the mob rule the Founders worked hard to prevent.Tyranny of the urban centers, we could call it.

PragerU has a brief video explaining why the Electoral College is a much better idea than the popular vote, and why NPV is such a bad idea:

Here’s one more graphic* to illustrate the value of the Electoral College to everyone outside the East Coast, the West Coast, Chicago, plus a few other cities.

* Found on Facebook. I don't know the original source.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Scouts and Honor

Last week the Boys Scouts of America changed their name to reflect a change of accepting girls. This week major Scouting sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced they will discontinue their association with Scouting at the end of 2019.

President Thomas S. Monson with Scouts
April 13, 2002
image from here
It looks like cause and effect. But I don’t believe that’s really accurate.

So, what I’m about to present are my personal views; I am in no way a spokesperson for either the Church or Scouting. But I have an insider’s view of both. So, maybe I can help offer some understanding.

Let’s start with what I see as the Church’s viewpoint.

For the past century the Church has adopted Boy Scouting as the activity program for their young men, starting with Cub Scouts at age 8 (so not including Tiger Cubs at age 7), and up through Boy Scouts, including Explorers, Venturers, and/or Varsity Scouts for ages 14-17. This has always been in addition to the larger youth program that teaches young men to grow into spiritual leaders in their homes and communities.

A year ago, the Church announced that it would discontinue the Boy Scout program for boys age 14+. For a very long time, the Boy Scout program for older boys has not been a good fit for the Church. With few exceptions, the Church has sponsored a troop for each congregation, called a ward, including the units from Cubs on up. But outside the Church, the older groups are designed to attract young men (and some young women) with similar individual interests, rather than the general interests of all the Boy Scouts in a unit’s neighborhood. So youth leaders have long struggled with various iterations, trying to make the program work for all the young men in a particular ward.

In other words, Boy Scouting has never been all there was for youth in the Church, because it has never been enough.

Add to that the fact that, for the past 22 years (since February 1996), there are more Church members outside the United States than inside. While Boy Scouts exist in some other countries, the reality is that the majority of boys in the Church have never had access to Boy Scouting.

That means the Church has long been developing a full, worldwide program for youth. That, program, along with changes for young women, was what was announced this week.

When the Church discontinued the Scouting program for older boys, the Church nevertheless paid sponsorship throughout the year as though they were still sponsoring those boys. In other words, the Church went out of its way to prevent its withdrawal from doing harm to the Boy Scout national organization.

Boy Scouts perform flag ceremony in the Mormon Tabernacle
in honor of Constitution Day celebration September 18, 2009
image from here

Now we come to the announcement this week. The Church is giving more than a year and a half for the BSA to prepare and rearrange their budget and planning. It will be a significant adjustment. As the news has been announcing, that’s a loss of about 425,000 boys nationwide. In the Sam Houston Area Council, where we live, about 3,400 LDS boys in 221 units make up about 10% of Boy Scout membership, and about 17% of the total units, along with their budgets, a portion of which goes to support the Council and the national BSA organization.

In Utah, I don’t have access to the numbers, but I’m guessing Boy Scout membership is probably north of 70%, and the budget might be more than that. That will include property, such as scout camps, which are outright gifted to the Boy Scouts.

Non-LDS boys have always been welcome in LDS troops. And after the pull-out, LDS boys will still be welcome in other community troops. But, in Utah especially, it will be a much smaller organization than it has been.

The Church could have simply made the announcement and gone ahead immediately. If they were reacting to last week’s name change or something else, that’s what you would expect. Instead, they’ve tried to make the transition as easy on BSA as possible. Why would they do that, unless they wanted the Boy Scouts to continue on without them?

In the joint statement made by the Church and BSA on May 8th, they say this: 

While the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of BSA or sponsor Scouting units after December 31, 2019, it continues to support the goals and values reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law and expresses its profound desire for Scouting’s continuing and growing success in the years ahead.

Scout Oath and Law

The Scout Oath and Law, as I’ve written before, are a very good guide for civilization. [In fact, I’ve written about Scouting here, here, here, here, herehere, and here.]

About the timing. For those paying any attention, the Church has been going through some major changes in the past few months. Our beloved Prophet Thomas S. Monson passed away in early January; he was a lifelong champion of the Boy Scouts, but it is obvious that any changes happening now were in the planning stages for a long time and had his full support. His successor, President Russell M. Nelson, is age 93 already—older than President Monson was. But he just finished a worldwide tour, and has been so full of energy it leaves many of us breathless. (He still skis with his grandchildren, by the way.) He is wasting no time putting changes into action.

None of these changes are doctrinal. All of them are designed to put more responsibility for our own spiritual growth on ourselves, from children on up, and for helping us put the gospel into action by ministering to one another. This has included changes in local priesthood quorums, retiring the visiting teaching and home teaching programs and changing them into more integrated ministering programs. There have been changes in what young people (ages 12+) are able to do in our temples—which follows lowering the ages for missionaries, a change that came about just a few years ago.

We’re getting so we’re expecting a new announcement every week. So the announcement this week—which was expected eventually, after last year’s ending of Scouting for 14+—is timed for the Church’s needs, and not in response to any BSA policy or name change.

Now for my view of the Boy Scouts.

Boy Scout badges, image from here

Here’s a brief timeline related to current issues:

·         1907 Boy Scouts are founded in Great Britain by Robert Baden Powell.

·         1910 Boy Scouts of America begins founded by W. D. Boyce.
·         1912 Girl Scouts are organized in America by Juliette Gordon Low, patterned after the Boy Scouts, but always a separate organization.
·         1913 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints adopts Scouting as its activity program for boys.
·         1969 BSA begins allowing young women to join Explorer posts wherever chartering organizations allow.
·         2000 After years of litigation, BSA prevails in the US Supreme Court’s ruling in “Boy Scouts of America v. Dale,” which means BSA and other private organizations have the right to set membership standards, including exclusions of homosexual Scouts and Scout leaders.
·         2000+ Despite the legal victory, BSA faces persecution and exclusion from organizations, institutions, and facilities over their exclusion of openly homosexual members (as Scouts or leaders).
·         Meanwhile, BSA tightens its training and rules to prevent molestation of youth, even as NAMBLA prints materials telling predators how to infiltrate youth organizations, particularly BSA[i].
·         2012 BSA’s 11-person national committee reaches “unanimous consensus” that continuing to exclude homosexuals from Scouting was in the best interest of Scouting.
·         2013 More than 1400 BSA volunteer leaders nationwide vote to accept all boys into Scout troops, regardless of sexual orientation; local entities retained the ability to abide by church beliefs. This became policy January 2014. Mr. Perry, the National President, said, “Everyone agrees on one thing, no matter how you feel about this issue, kids are better off in Scouting.”[ii]
·         2015 In July “open or avowed homosexual” adults were no longer banned from youth leadership.
·         2017 In January BSA began allowing transgendered boys (i.e., biological girls who see themselves as boys) to participate in BSA troops.
·         2017 In October BSA announces it will begin having Cub Scout dens for girls, and in 2019 will begin having regular BSA troops for girls (local units will have separate dens or troops for girls, and will not include girls within boy troops).
·         2018 On May 2nd a name change was announced, from Boy Scouts of America to Scouting BSA, to accommodate the addition of girl troops into Scouting.
·         2018 On May 8th The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announces plans to end its relationship as a sponsoring organization as of December 31, 2019.

The Boy Scouts have been pummeled for literally decades now, by people who, rather than start an organization catering to their own values, have insisted that the Boy Scouts become something different.

You’ve heard of the slippery slope. The Boy Scouts continue with the same Scout Oath and Law they have always had. But society around them, instead of recognizing those values, has derided and persecuted them.

In our Church, youth with same-sex attraction were never disallowed from any troop I’m aware of. However, there’s an assumption—because it’s in the Scout Oath as well as part of the religion—that the boys are not sexually active. A boy with same-sex attraction would receive the same level of care and attention as any other boy (maybe more, simply out of concern for him in his challenges). But the Church would never have supported a boy’s acting on those impulses, any more than it would have encouraged heterosexual boys to be sexually active.

Legally the Boy Scouts won their case in 2000. And they continued to stand strong for yet another dozen years. People who insisted that homosexual sex was not a sin told the Boy Scouts, who weren’t even accepting illicit heterosexual sex, that they needed to conform. The method of persuasion was persecution and pressure, to the point that Boy Scouts could no longer use public facilities, including many schools. Some schools even refused to allow them to recruit, or pass out informational flyers—while Girl Scouts and other organizations were allowed.

Every step of change has included considering, “How can we do what’s best for the boys?” Sometimes the decision went something like, “If we give in on this point, the pressure will go away, and it will have very minimal impact on the organization overall.” That was certainly true for allowing boys with same-sex attraction.
At this year's District Awards Dinner,
Mr. Spherical Model accepted
the Chartered Partner Award on behalf
of our local Church jurisdiction

Later, with the increased protection policies and training, there was less risk for allowing homosexual adult leaders, although there was the loss of leaders who would model only moral sexual behavior—i.e., marriage. I would have preferred they’d stayed strong on this. Unlike for boys, at this point it became about, not what a boy thinks, but what an adult does.

The transgender policy was another step with very little impact. The number of actual transgender teens is tiny, and the number of those individuals who would choose to join themselves to an organization with the Scout Oath and Law would be much tinier. And local organizations always retained their freedom.

Now, about girls joining.

The insider view looks more family friendly than feminist. What happens is that families who support their sons in Scouting also have girls. Those girls end up tagging along at those Scout activities. I did this myself, decades ago, as an unofficial Cub Scout. I did the field trips and the crafts. I just didn’t get any badges—and I didn’t get to make a pinewood derby car. But I was there, because, where else was I supposed to go?

So girls have been hanging around, unofficially for a long time. Or, sometimes the family gets split up trying to support a Girl Scout troop as well. During the few years when we had Boy Scouts and a Girl Scout at the same time, we divided duties that way, and kept ourselves very busy. But, as I’ve said before, the Girl Scout program wasn’t ever up to the level of the Boy Scout program.[iii]

What most families who will have girls join Scouting want is to have the whole family together. That does not mean the girls will be in the boys’ troops. It means that they’re hoping the sponsoring organization—their school, their church, their Kiwanis Club—will also sponsor a unit for girls. Then they can share some of the leadership, and can coordinate.

So you might have the boys’ troop meet on one side of the school cafeteria and the girls’ troop on the other. The family goes together to the same place at the same time. And the girls get a better program than they were offered before.

Girls have been part of older Boy Scout units—the Explorers, including the Sea Scouts—for decades, even in the same troops as boys. This is simply an expansion to younger ages, with more continued separation at the Cub and Scout levels.

Would I have liked this opportunity for my daughter? I might have. Much of it was about associations with friends, and meeting her needs. So I can’t be certain I’d have signed her up. But, because of my familiarity with Boy Scouts, I would have been willing to consider it.

It would be interesting to see the alternate universe in which the Scouts never gave in at all, regardless of the persecution. But, at the local level, among those who give all those thousands of volunteer hours for their kids, they’re still going by that Scout Oath and Law. And I hope they can hang on for the next generation.

[i] Jeffery Curley, age 10, was raped and murdered Oct. 1 1997. The perpetrators had in their possession NAMBLA materials, as well as a book, “Rape and Escape,” published by NAMBLA. They used an idea from the NAMBLA materials to lure the boy. The family sued NAMBLA for its contribution to the murder of their son; the ACLU defending NAMBLA pro bono, claiming NAMBLA has 1st amendment rights to free speech; ironically, the ACLU requested a gag order against the prosecution and asked for witnesses who testified in the Curley case concerning the NAMBLA information to be disallowed.
[ii] “Boy Scouts End Longtime Ban on Openly Gay Youths,” by Erik Eckholm, New York Times, May 23, 2013:
[iii] We participated in Girl Scouts up through her Silver Award. But changes like this show why we didn’t want to further the relationship: “Girl Scouts Now Allowing Adult Males to Share Female Restrooms and Changing Rooms With Children as Young as 5” It isn't feminists who want to join the Boy Scouts; it's people who don't want that agenda pushed on their daughters who are likely to join Boy Scouts.