Thursday, November 29, 2018

Which Is It?

Is it really a matter of what is is? Some things are factual and obvious—and yet denied with defiance.

graphic from here
I’m talking about gender—or rather, sex. Gender is mainly “the formal classification by which nouns and pronouns (and often accompanying modifiers) are grouped and inflected, or changed in form, so as to control certain syntactic relationships,” as my vintage Webster explains. English doesn’t bother with gender so much, but it’s common in Spanish, French, and other languages. The two options are masculine and feminine, unless a word is neutral. These terms don’t necessarily relate to sex. For example, la mesa doesn’t imply that a table relates to women, nor does el cuarto imply that a room relates to men.

If you keep reading, Webster explains that gender also can be used as a transitive verb (a verb with an object)—really a shortened version of engender—used in genetics, to refer to “units occurring at specific points on the chromosomes, by which hereditary characters are transmitted and determined.” It doesn’t even necessarily relate to whether it’s on an X or Y chromosome.

Hidden at the end of the main noun entry, Webster mentions that gender is a colloquial term for sex.

So I looked up sex: “either of the two divisions, male or female, into which persons, animals, or plants are divided, with reference to their reproductive functions.” Plus, of course, the obvious other meanings of the word sex.

Controllers of language have a lot of power. Someone invented the relatively new meaning of gender to be something completely apart from language gender, and also different from human biology, related to something internal in the mind.

The phrase “It’s all in your head” used to mean something different and rather condescending. Now it’s considered something of so much overarching importance that it requires the world to bow to it as a new reality.

That’s a problem for people who value truth. (For people who value family and a number of other things as well, but we have to limit a blog post to some reasonable length.)

There’s a contradiction going on. There’s a claim that a person can be born biologically one kind of human and not actually be that kind of human—but that understanding is an inborn, immutable characteristic that the person discovers about him/herself. And therefore we need to be open to a person’s choice about which kind of human to be. But if it’s a choice, it’s not an inborn immutable characteristic. Right?

Earlier this month Jordan Peterson—who came to fame by refusing to use invented unnatural pronouns being imposed by the Canadian government in the first instance of compelled speech since the invention of British Common Law—was asked to deal with this contradiction in a Q&A in The Netherlands.

Jordan Peterson, left
screen shot from here

He starts out giving Canada’s Bill C 16 as an example of needing to look deeper when deciding your stance on an issue. The host, in The Netherlands, used this as a springboard for further discussion, not on compelled speech, but on transgender rights (at around 14-21 minutes):

Host: I don’t know if you know, but in The Netherlands, three weeks ago the first official non-gender passport was given to a Dutch citizen. At the same time, in the US, of course, the new Trump bill, which considers to narrowly define gender as something that’s immutable and that’s totally based on genitalia at birth, is now the potential law. So, if you had to choose between these two laws, which one would you pick?
We’ll forgive someone from another country for not knowing how our laws work. President Trump does not put forth bills; the legislative branch does that. What he’s referring to is a definition to be used by the executive branch pertaining to already existing laws. The Department of Health and Human Services sent out a memo, which was passed on to news outlets, directing that government agencies adopt a definition of gender that is determined "on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable." 

OK, back to the discussion:

JP: Well, if you’re transgendered, is it immutable?
Host: (long pause) I don’t know.
JP: Right. Neither does anyone else. And so there’s tremendous incoherencies in the theory. So, at the moment, for example, it’s perfectly reasonable to formulate the proposition—and this is very characteristic of, let’s say, the ideological types who drove Bill C 16—to say you can be a man born in a woman’s body, which is a biologically determinist argument, and to say that gender is socially constructed, and to say that it’s a personal choice. It’s like, sorry, all three of those things cannot simultaneously be true. So, there’s going to be a variety of legislative responses to that, but mostly it’s just incoherent.
And I also think that it’s driven by something deeper. It’s driven at least in part by the desire to destabilize traditional perceptual and cognitive categories. And I see that as part of an assault on the idea of categorization itself. It’s been undertaken with a fair bit of success in the universities since the 1970s. And so, generally speaking, I’m opposed to such things. I don’t believe that introducing confusion about gender identity into the lives of young people at an early age is going to have a net positive consequence. We’ll see. But I doubt it.
He sidesteps the proposed choice between the two bills—the question designed to put him on record as either opposing or supporting Trump.

Host: But wouldn’t you also be against the Trump bill, because, as you said, it’s also a way in which the law compels a certain identity upon you, which is the reason you opposed Bill C 16? So, how would you go about—what is your position on this?
JP: I opposed Bill C 16 because it compelled my speech in a particular manner.
Host: Yeah.
JP: It wasn’t that it compelled an identity on me. It was very specific, in that, in the entire history of English common law, there has never been legislation that required people to utter particular phrases.
And he simply goes on with the explanation about compelled speech that he has been making for a solid couple of years.

The contradiction he points out interests me. He divides it into three possibilities:

·         A man being born into a woman’s body, for example, is biologically determined.
·         Gender is socially constructed.
·         Gender is a choice.
They are mutually exclusive. If it’s biologically determined, there’s no choice about it; there is simply discovering whatever evidence overwhelms the obvious reproductive biology. If it’s socially constructed, there’s no choice about it—unless you invent some way to deconstruct whatever social construct there was. (And do you do that individually or societally as a whole?) So we’re supposed to let a person choose that choice that they don’t really have, and then respect their choice?

And if you don’t do exactly that, you can be prosecuted in Canada, bounced from Twitter, silenced on Facebook or YouTube, fired from your job, and blacklisted from future employment.

Or lose custody of your child.

image from here
For example, there’s a father whose six-year-old son, James, insists he is a boy when he is with his father, but allows himself to be dressed and presented as a girl, Luna, when with his mother. She is trying to both take away visitation from the father and force him to pay for the transgender-affirming doctor she has chosen. So the boy does not consistently express gender dysphoria symptoms, nor consistently assert that he is the opposite gender from his biology; rather, he displays symptoms of tragically sad attempts to try and please a misguided mother. And if the mother isn’t stopped, within two years the boy could be started on hormonal therapy that will alter his life forever. (Another story on this case here.)

Matt Walsh responded to Twitter’s banning of anything transgenders disagree with by asking a question—in violation of Twitter’s rules, but so far without getting banned:

Rather than simply arguing my case, as I’ve argued a million times, that men are men and women are women—which is, again, a banned statement on Twitter—I figured that, rather than simply do that, I figured that I’d give the other side of this debate a chance to explain themselves….
So, this is the tweet that I sent last night. I said, “I invite anyone on Twitter to explain in clear and specific detail how precisely a biological male can come to know that he is really a woman? How does he arrive at this conclusion? On what basis? With what evidence to support it? Again, I invite anyone to explain. Thank you.”
Now, this really is the fundamental question, isn’t it? You have biological men who have at some point come to realize, or know, or understand or whatever, that they are really women. OK? So, how does that work exactly? I would think that this question should be really easy to answer, if you believe that transgenderism is an actual thing, like it’s really possible for a man to, in some sense, be a woman and to come to that realization. Then I would think it would be really easy to explain. Shouldn’t it?
And if, in fact, this point of view is not anti-science, then, again, you should be able to explain it scientifically.
And I posed this question. It’s a fair question, not a trick question. And hours went by without anyone even trying to answer it. Instead you had liberals just telling me that I was a bigot for even asking the question to begin with.
That’s the biology question, really. Is there evidence? Can you produce it? There is overwhelming evidence the other way, which Jordan Peterson provides:

So, here’s the argument: biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual preference are independent. OK. They’re not. The definition of dependent is there’s a strong statistical relationship between them. Could be correlational. Could be causal. It is in fact causal. It’s also correlational. There’s an unbelievably tight linkage, so that the overwhelming majority of people who are a particular biological sex identify with that sex. It’s 99.97%. OK.
The overwhelming majority of people who are of a given biological sex and an isomorphic gender identity express their gender in accordance with those two fundamental elements of their identity. And that would be more, something in the range of 95%, assuming that one in twenty is playing with fashion in self-presentation in a gender bending manner—which is not uncommon; that’s been going on for a very long time.
And then, of the people who are of a given biological sex, the isomorphic gender identity, and who present themselves that way, the overwhelming majority are heterosexual. That is not independent. It’s the very opposite of independent, even though that’s not now the law.
As he sums it up,

The idea that biology doesn’t play a strong role in influencing phenomena at every one of those levels of analysis is absolutely preposterous. And that’s pushed very hard by the social constructionists. And I think that’s reprehensible. It flies in the face of anything reasonably defined as fact. And it does no one any favors—not least because you can’t say, “Well, you’re a man born in a woman’s body.” It’s like, well, is that a biologically determinist argument? Yes or no? So what are we saying? “You can be a man born in a woman’s body, and that’s biological, but if you’re a woman born in a woman’s body, that’s socially constructed?” Really? That’s supposed to be an argument? It’s beyond preposterous.
What do people who look these facts in the face and lie about them have to gain? I have my suspicions. Especially when they align, as Dr. Peterson has pointed out, with cultural Marxists. Those people are about gaining power over others. We must resist them, even as we find ways to both coexist with and be kind to the tiny cohort of people who have gender dysphoria. Neither they nor those using them should we allow to control our thoughts, our speech, or our recognition of truth.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Economics Schools of Thought

We had family filling the house for Thanksgiving, and that meant time for some conversation about economics with son Economic Sphere. I was wondering about the economics degree of the new, apparently clueless, socialist congresswoman from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her degree is in economics, and it was my understanding that most notable economics departments had changed in the past few of decades toward free market, and away from Keynesianism. But she seems economically unaware (if I am being kind).

I got this explanation—not recorded, so any errors are mine and not my son’s. Anyway, Economic Sphere said that there are two types of economics programs: those focused on macroeconomics, and those focused on microeconomics. The macroeconomics ones use Keynesian models—despite their being wrong nigh unto 100% of the time. If the model says there will be a particular outcome, they act as though that is the outcome, even after it isn’t, even though sensible people can show why it would never be the outcome.

The ones focused on microeconomics go with free market economic principles. For some reason, they’re more aligned with what actually happens. They’re less willing to interfere, to try to wield power over the economy to get a particular outcome, such as by enforcing pricing, but will instead let the market set prices.

I asked another question, about the difference between the Chicago school (way of thinking) and the Austrian school, since both are free market.

What I got was some basic review. So I thought it might be useful to define a few terms today, and the reasons we prefer what we do--i.e., freedom instead of government interference. While Economic Sphere tends to be a walking encyclopedia, and his answers filter through my explanations below, I've also turned to Wikipedia fairly liberally.

Keynesian Economics

Keynesians, according to my old Webster, “hold that full employment and a stable economy depend on the continued governmental stimulation of spending and investment through adjustment of interest rates and tax rates, deficit financing, etc.” In other words, a healthy economy requires government intervention.

According to Wikipedia,

Keynesian economists generally argue that, as aggregate demand is volatile and unstable, a market economy will often experience inefficient macroeconomic outcomes in the form of economic recessions (when demand is low) and inflation (when demand is high). These can be mitigated by economic policy responses, in particular, monetary policy actions by the central bank and fiscal policy actions by the government, which can help stabilize output over the business cycle. Keynesian economists generally advocate a managed market economy – predominantly private sector, but with an active role for government intervention during recessions and depressions.
One of the first lesson I was taught in a basic econ class, by a free-market economist, was that intervention lags. Legislators—or other officials—look at the current situation, decide it isn’t what they’d like it to be, so they set in motion a policy to change it, that takes about six months, by which time the original situation has changed, and most likely the intervention causes new problems.

Supposedly, the Federal Reserve is there to mitigate and smooth out the damage of cyclical market recessions. What we had before that was occasional volatility. What we’ve had since is occasional volatility plus more regular cyclical recessions. Are the problems all caused by the interventions? We don’t know. And you can’t prove a negative; we don’t have a parallel universe to compare to. But we do know it didn’t do what it set out to do.


Macroeconomics is described here by Wikipedia:

Macroeconomics (from the Greek prefix makro- meaning "large" + economics) is a branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of an economy as a whole. This includes regional, national, and global economies.
Macroeconomists study aggregated indicators such as GDP, unemployment rates, national income, price indices, and the interrelations among the different sectors of the economy to better understand how the whole economy functions. They also develop models that explain the relationship between such factors as national income, output, consumption, unemployment, inflation, savings, investment, international trade, and international finance.
While macroeconomics is a broad field of study, there are two areas of research that are emblematic of the discipline: the attempt to understand the causes and consequences of short-run fluctuations in national income (the business cycle), and the attempt to understand the determinants of long-run economic growth (increases in national income).
So, macroeconomic models—such as those developed by Keynes—are used by governments to develop policies. But, like I said, interference doesn’t work the way their models say they will. Our Spherical Model saying fits here again: 

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.


By comparison, here’s the smaller story of microeconomics, also according to Wikipedia:

Microeconomics (from Greek prefix mikro- meaning "small" + economics) is a branch of economics that studies the behavior of individuals and firms in making decisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources and the interactions among these individuals and firms.
One goal of microeconomics is to analyze the market mechanisms that establish relative prices among goods and services and allocate limited resources among alternative uses. Microeconomics shows conditions under which free markets lead to desirable allocations. It also analyzes market failure, where markets fail to produce efficient results.
Microeconomics stands in contrast to macroeconomics, which involves "the sum total of economic activity, dealing with the issues of growth, inflation, and unemployment and with national policies relating to these issues". Microeconomics also deals with the effects of economic policies (such as changing taxation levels) on the aforementioned aspects of the economy.
In short, microeconomics is what a business would do to figure out how to price a product, and whether to produce the product, based on the price. How well businesses do in predicting price, and allocating limited resources, determines the health of the overall economy. Government interference makes that decision-making process more challenging, adding in tax burdens and other punishments or incentives that distort the actual value of a product.

Free-Market Economics

I looked up both free enterprise and free market in the dictionary.

Free enterprise is “the economic doctrine or practice of permitting private industry to operate under freely competitive conditions with a minimum of governmental control.”

Free market is “any market where buying and selling can be carried on without restrictions as to price, etc.”

So these terms relate mainly to microeconomics. But they are affected by macroeconomic policies, which alter money supply, pricing, taxes, and allocation of resources, distorting information that normally leads to sound pricing and/or production decisions.

I also asked Economic Sphere what is the difference between the Chicago school of economics (i.e., a school of thought, or a set of ideas adhered to by various people—not a physical school) and Austrian, or Mises economics, because they’re both free market. Economic Sphere said the Austrian school of economics is theoretical. It’s about principles and ideas related to the free market. The Chicago school of economics is about policy: how to implement policies as close to the free market as we can get in an imperfect political world.

So, the Austrians tend to be libertarians? I guessed. And he said that was right. Here’s a bit more on those terms.

Austrian School of Economics

I usually hear about the Austrians through the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The originals showed up in Vienna in the late 1800s to early 1900s, although they are all over the world today.
According to Wikipedia,

Among the theoretical contributions of the early years of the Austrian School are the subjective theory of value, marginalism in price theory and the formulation of the economic calculation problem, each of which has become an accepted part of mainstream economics.
Since the mid-20th century, mainstream economists have been critical of the modern day Austrian School and consider its rejection of mathematical modelling, econometrics and macroeconomic analysis to be outside mainstream economics, or "heterodox." Although the Austrian School has been considered heterodox since the late 1930s, it attracted renewed interest in the 1970s after Friedrich Hayek shared the 1974 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and following the 2008 global financial crisis.
I’m assuming that “mainstream economists” from mid-century on refers to Keynesians in this context. Interference was all the rage from about 1910 onward. Keynes and Friedrich Hayek were contemporaries, and Hayek does a good job of refuting the pro-controlled economists with real life. The controllers love their models, and they can’t be bothered with things like real-life evidence and facts.

If Hayek hasn’t been on your reading list, his Road to Serfdom is a must read. Hayek qualifies as an Austrian, but he is also of the Chicago school, because of his influence there. Here’s how Wikipedia describes his contribution:
Friedrich Hayek
image from Wikipedia

Friedrich Hayek (1899–1992) Hayek made contact with many at the University of Chicago in the 1940s, with Hayek's The Road to Serfdom playing a seminal role in transforming how Milton Friedman and others understood how society works. Hayek conducted a number of influential faculty seminars while at the U. of Chicago, and a number of academics worked on research projects sympathetic to some of Hayek's own, such as Aaron Director, who was active in the Chicago School in helping to fund and establish what became the "Law and Society" program in the University of Chicago Law School. Hayek, Frank Knight, Friedman and George Stigler worked together in forming the Mont Pèlerin Society, an international forum for libertarian economists. Hayek and Friedman cooperated in support of the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, later renamed the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an American student organisation devoted to libertarian ideas.

Chicago School of Economics

This school of thought got its name because of the work of a number of neoclassical economists on the faculty at the University of Chicago, producing twelve Nobel laureates in economics.

They rejected Keynesianism, and looked at a variety of other ideas for macroeconomics—that is, policy ideas. They’re a little harder to pin down, but in general are trying to apply free market principles to national policy. Bruce Kaufman, in The Elgar Companion to the Chicago School of Economics (2010) says they are characterized by:

A deep commitment to rigorous scholarship and open academic debate, an uncompromising belief in the usefulness and insight of neoclassical price theory, and a normative position that favors and promotes economic liberalism and free markets (p. 133).
The great economist Thomas Sowell studied at the University of Chicago for his PhD—and remained a Marxist throughout. It was later, when real life woke him, that he transformed into a free-market economist.

Milton Friedman
image from Wikipedia
The Chicago name I know best is Milton Friedman, who was at the University of Chicago for some thirty years. According to Wikipedia, again:

Milton Friedman (1912–2006) stands as one of the most influential economists of the late twentieth century. A student of Frank Knight, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976 for, among other things, A Monetary History of the United States (1963). Friedman argued that the Great Depression had been caused by the Federal Reserve's policies through the 1920s, and worsened in the 1930s. Friedman argued that laissez-faire government policy is more desirable than government intervention in the economy.
One of the critics of the Chicago school, economist and three-term Democrat senator Paul Douglas, complained that, “The opinions of my colleagues would have confined government to the eighteenth-century functions of justice, police, and arms.”

That doesn’t seem like a valid criticism to me; it seems like something to appreciate—limiting government to its proper role. What a concept!

We could summarize today’s economics lesson with this Friedman quote:

One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.— Milton Friedman Interview with Richard Heffner on The Open Mind (7 December 1975)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Giving Thanks For and To

Gratitude, it is said, is the way to happiness. In a world—a fallen world, as we say in Christianity—where there’s plenty of bad things happening, and even purposeful malevolence, the way to happiness is to notice and appreciate the good.

image found here

A common suggestion for those suffering depression is to keep a gratitude journal, a daily recognition of good things. It helps shift the focus away from the bad that is so easy to find.

But there’s something about the word gratitude that we should notice: you are grateful for something, and you are grateful to someone. Simply being grateful, in a vacuum without the connection, is something else. Contentment. Gladness. Maybe resignation. But not gratitude.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, a synonym for gratitude, let’s notice what we’re thankful for—count those blessings. And also notice who merits our gratitude. That could be family members, friends, people who have done good things for us, or who are loving toward us.

But with every good thing we’re thankful for, and every good person we’re thankful to, there’s another layer of thanks to give. That is to God. He placed those good people in your life. He blessed you with the opportunities and the life, and the support. He even gives peace and comfort when you face the inevitable bad things that happen in every life.

I’d been thinking about this idea—that gratitude, or thanks, must be give to someone—for a few days now, after watching a debate between Jordan Peterson and Susan Blackmore. It’s from June, and was done in Great Britain, I believe. And the debate is about the relative merits of atheism and religion. There’s just a small portion that refers to gratitude. Susan Blackmore, the atheist, brings it up. And Jordan Peterson insists that gratitude can’t be just free floating.

Jordan Peterson (right) debates Susan Blackmore
screen shot from here

In this part of the conversation, Jordan Peterson has just pointed out that there’s a lot that undergirds society that was bloodily fought for. You can’t just decide you’re separate from that when you’re the beneficiary of whatever built civilization for you. Susan Blackmore tries to agree, that she’s grateful. But he doesn’t let her get away with calling that gratitude free floating. This is about 30 minutes in:

SB: All that leads me to gratitude for all that we have. I mean, I recognize that. I recognize that has nothing to do with any religious basis at all. I recognize that I could not come on the train here, have a really interesting discussion, meet Justin again, have a nice glass of cold water, without a lot of other people doing it for me. That gratitude, which is one of the things that you quite rightly put into your book, it gives good place to it. It’s very important. That doesn’t come from anything religious, unless you say that because I was brought up a Christian, it came from there. But I don’t base it on that anymore.
JP: Where do you think it comes from?
SB: I think it comes from a recognition that—  I’ve done a lot of meditation. I’ve meditated every day for thirty years, and I think that this has something to do with it. But it’s observing the inner consequences of different ways of confronting the world. And I’m much more in recent years in the habit of waking up in the morning, even if it’s raining in January in England, and looking out and going, Ah! And it’s a feeling of gratitude. Not gratitude towards God, or towards anybody or anything. Just free-floating gratitude. That seems to have a positive consequence. I set the day up better. And it’s kind of self-perpetuating. It pops up again and again.
Moderator: Do you think you can just have gratitude in general, or must gratitude always be given towards something, and ultimately…?
JP: Well, that’s a good question. That goes back to our discussion about acting things out. Gratitude is something you feel towards something. And you can say, “Well, I don’t feel it towards anything in particular.” And I would say, “Well, all right, that diffuse nothing that you feel it toward serves in your psychological hierarchy as your equivalent of God.”
SB: You know, but it’s gratitude— This morning for example, I looked out and it was so green. We’ve had frosts and white the last few days, and it was green this morning. And it was just gratitude to the universe, if you like. It’s not really God, because it’s not a creator. It’s not anything I can pray to. It’s—  I mean…
JP: Why do you feel gratitude towards it, then?
SB: I don’t know, but I find—
JP: That’s fine.
There’s no resolution here between them. They go on to other things. But I think Dr. Peterson has won the point. You can’t have gratitude without it being directed somewhere, toward someone. And “whatever serves in your psychological hierarchy as your equivalent of God” is what you’re aiming that toward.

I prefer to be more direct. I think the God I pray to, and believe is my loving Creator, who made me with purpose, is worthy of my thanks. And I offer that to Him. In addition, there are the loving people around me who also deserve the thanks I give.

Giving that thanks does indeed make life happier than it would be without the recognition and appreciation for the good.

May you find much in your life to give your thanks for and to!

Monday, November 19, 2018

First, Be Thankful for What’s Already Good

Long ago I had a job that included quality control for language translation software. My assignment was to find errors, to see if I could make things go awry. It was kind of a fun game. I had a few challenging words I’d try out, like “fitting,” which can mean a lot of different things, and be used as a verb, a gerund, a noun, an adjective…. Fun times in grammar world.

What happened when I found an error was, I showed the results to the programmers, and listed the things that didn’t work. Then they worked on those things—and generalized somewhat to avoid similar errors with other words. And then they had me try to blow it up again. When I finally gave my approval, we called it “Lindacated.” And everyone had a little celebration.
computer used in the illustration found here

What didn’t happen was, “I found an error, so you need to start over.” Because there was a lot that was right with the program already. We didn’t want that to get thrown out. That would be a waste. And starting over, or even doing major reworking, would introduce new errors.

People have different approaches toward errors and imperfections. Maybe it’s a personality proclivity to see something wrong, and focus on that, to the exclusion of all that’s right. But one example of imperfection does not require outrage, activist energy, and major interventions.

Take a look at our Constitution. It’s a formula for protecting our God-given rights in a way that offers maximum freedom, prosperity, and civilization. And yet that isn’t accepted as truth. We have people who say that, because our founders didn’t write it to instantly wipe out slavery, which pre-dated this nation and its Constitution by all the previous millennia, therefore the Constitution is basically flawed and should be ignored or thrown out—or overthrown, which is how changing the form of government works.

Would it have been nice if the Constitution had been able to accomplish that eventual outcome, which was in our Declaration, that “all men are created equal”? Yes. But the Constitution did set that process in motion. And no other such document had ever accomplished it by that time either.

Another example is the criminal justice system. Say a black man is killed in an altercation with police. Some questions have to be answered about that. What were the circumstances? Was there reason to believe the person a threat to law enforcement or the public? Did police follow procedures? These questions are asked, as a matter of policy, whenever a police firearm is discharged, with much greater scrutiny when someone is killed.

So that policy backdrop is like the Constitution. It’s a structure in place to make things as right as possible in a world where a lot of things go wrong. It didn’t do all that we would now wish for, so does that mean we should throw it out and start from scratch?

Sometimes law enforcement makes a mistake, and a death or injury happens that ought to have been avoided. When that happens, we need to look at what happened, look at policies, fine tune them as needed, in an attempt to prevent such errors in the future.

What shouldn’t happen is a wholesale distrust of all law enforcement, with accusations of racism and hatred and purposeful murder. There’s a lot right with our law enforcement system; we don’t want to lose that as we look at what we can improve.

Another example might be calling “systemic racism” in a country where it’s hard to find examples of actual racism, and it’s practically impossible to find examples of racism that are widely accepted by any major portion of society. Can we find an outlier or two? If we look, yes. Should we label all of society racist, then? No. There’s a lot of society—the vast majority, and the totality of any civilized portions of society—that believes we’re all created equal, and we actually do judge each other based on character rather than skin color. Do we want to throw out those good parts because we aren’t all of us 100% perfect?

Are there men who treat women inappropriately? Yes. And we have too many examples. But that doesn’t nullify the goodness of the vast majority of men in our lives, contributing to our civilization. We can’t allow disposing of due process and the idea of innocent until proven guilty just because some women have been abused. Abusing men with a loss of justice is not an acceptable trade off.

Wherever we look at disagreements in political issues, we’ll find examples. The ones I’ve given are from a particular side. It’s not impossible for conservatives to extrapolate faults as well; most of us see Obamacare as something that should be thrown out entirely. But that’s because Obamacare itself was an overthrow of the healthcare system—because insurance is too expensive for some. (We’ve discussed elsewhere why government interference caused that problem, and why less government and more free market would be the solution.)

So, yes, I have a particular view on this. Nevertheless, I’d like to suggest a better way, in the spirit of the celebration this week.

There are two ways of looking at reality: with a critical eye, or with thanksgiving.

Is there a place for a critical eye? Yes, when we need to improve something. But it should be in the spirit of appreciation for what works, so that we do not lose what works and introduce even more new things that do not work.

So here’s the action plan: when something comes up, something emotional, that makes you think, “Something’s got to be done to rectify this!” take a deep breath. Wait for more details. Look at the overall system, and especially look for something positive in the overall system. What’s working? Get a broader perspective, away from the pinpoint of the event. Only then can you see how the “problem” fits within the overall picture.

After that, you might realize all that’s needed is making sure the in-place procedures are followed to lead to the best outcome under the circumstances. Or maybe there are only small adjustments needed. Think of the energy you’ll save by not crusading for revolution when a little tweaking will do more good—and less potential harm.

It’s a more peaceful approach. Less driven by emotion of a particular event, without a fuller perspective. More likely to preserve the existing good.

Look for the good. Appreciate what’s good. Be thankful for what is already working. And then improve things with wisdom.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Finding the Right Words

One thing we learn from the midterm election is that we aren’t communicating well with one another. Some of us feel marginalized because we hear only opposing views in mainstream communications: entertainment, broadcast news, most cable news, academia. It’s an uphill battle when the controllers of the means of communication refuse to let you share the platform. They even denigrate you—calling you vile negatives like, racist, sexist, homophone, transphobe, bigot, hater, white supremacist—creating a climate in which your voice is not only invisible, but avoided as contemptible.

There are other means, alternative sources, for messaging. I use those all the time to try to get at the truth. But having a totally separate, parallel communication system doesn’t get through to the ones who would be our friends and agree with us on many things, if only they could hear us and come to know who we really are.

I don’t know the solution yet. I keep looking. Finding the right words, and then finding the means to get those words heard are still likely paths. I haven’t given up on them.

I’m ready to celebrate when, occasionally, the right message does get out. I wrote about an example last time, with the appearance of my new Congressman Dan Crenshaw on Saturday Night Live, participating in an uncharacteristic apology from SNL.
Dan Crenshaw
at a house meeting in October

What worked so well for Dan was his total unwillingness to be offended. Maybe that toughness comes with being a Navy Seal. But since I first learned about him, during the primary election, what caught my interest was his ability to say things that were more than just the basic principles of freedom, prosperity, and civilization that I’m always looking for; it was his ability to inspire other people to come join the believers in those things.

I had a couple of friends on Facebook who posted his SNL appearance by the time I had. They liked him, and they liked what he said—even though they don’t like pretty much anything most conservatives think. This may not be a representative sample, because these are people on the opposite political spectrum who already accept me as a friend; we just don’t talk politics.

Anyway, as a follow up, Dan was able to write an opinion piece for The Washington Post, that furthers the message about how to get along:

I woke up on the Sunday morning after the show to hundreds of texts about what Davidson had said. A lot of America wasn’t happy. People thought some lines still shouldn’t be crossed.

I agreed. But I also could not help but note that this was another chapter in a phenomenon that has taken complete control of the national discourse: outrage culture. It seems like every not-so-carefully-worded public misstep must be punished to the fullest extent, replete with soapbox lectures and demands for apologies. Anyone who doesn’t show the expected level of outrage will be labeled a coward or an apologist for bad behavior. I get the feeling that regular, hard-working, generally unoffended Americans sigh with exhaustion—daily.

Was I really outraged by SNL? Really offended? Or did I just think the comment about losing my eye was offensive? There is a difference, after all. I have been literally shot at before, and I wasn’t outraged. Why start now?

So I didn’t demand an apology and I didn’t call for anyone to be fired. That doesn’t mean the “war…or whatever” line was acceptable, but I didn’t have to fan the flames of outrage, either.
Meanwhile, a couple of other conversations I came across today showed what we're up against. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, on Glenn Beck Radio, was discussing how to understand the opposition. Glenn showed a clip of protesters at a Ben Shapiro speech on a college campus. There wasn’t a protester who could identify an idea or a statement of Shapiro’s that was offensive; they just knew that everything about him was so offensive that he shouldn’t be allowed to speak.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin on Glenn Beck Radio Nov. 15, 2018
(subscription required for viewing)

Rabbi Lapin talked about that as an ideological, worldview difference. And he said it wasn’t much different from historical incompatible religious/political disagreements, such as when Muslims (the Moors) overtook the Iberian Peninsula, or when Galileo was silenced for disagreeing with the ruling church’s worldview on the solar system:

Look, this is about competing faith systems. Literally, competing religions…. It’s not different from any time there’ve been clashes between competing and incompatible faiths. Ben Shapiro stands for—as do you, for Heaven’s sake, for so many years, Glenn—for a worldview based on a Judeo-Christian biblical model. And the mobs on the campus stand for a vision that is based on the Tower of Babel, essentially. I mean, nine verses at the beginning of chapter 11 in Genesis provide a complete matrix of understanding of the tension that is taking place there. Of course they don’t want to hear what he says. Why would they?
He's saying that the protesters see Ben Shapiro as a heretic. And for them to maintain their power, they must silence him. At least in our century, in our country, it’s done without beheadings, so far.

Then I read about a Seattle man who was running for city council, until yesterday. Christopher Rufo wrote an open letter explaining his withdrawal from the campaign. It was for the safety of his family. Here’s some of the abuse he describes:
Christopher Rufo and family
image from here

I had hoped that this would be a campaign of ideas, but I quickly discovered that the activists in this city have no interest in ideas. Since the campaign launch, they have harassed and threatened my family nonstop. I was prepared to take the heat, but unfortunately, they have focused their hatred on my wife and children. They've made vile racist attacks against my wife, attempted to get her fired from Microsoft, and threatened sexual violence. They have even posted hateful messages to my 8-year-old son's school Facebook page. I know that as the race progresses, the activists will ratchet up their hate-machine and these attacks will intensify significantly.
This is what is done by people who call this man—and any of us who disagree with their “social justice” religion—racist, bigoted, an any other evil epithet they think might have an effect. But these people are tyrants. They’re extremely concerned about race, but are against Martin Luther King’s advice to see the content of character rather than color of skin—so by any rational definition they’re racist. And their methods are the very definition of fascist: coercing agreement.

Mr. Rufo’s case isn’t an isolated incident. This is what is happening, with greater frequency, wherever those who love tyranny, poverty, and savagery rather than freedom, prosperity, and civilization gather and foment the angry mob.

Dan Crenshaw gained respect from the opposition because he didn’t take offense. Ben Shapiro doesn’t take offense when he’s attacked; he just insists on security so he can get the message to those who haven’t heard it—and who are now, because of the protesters, even more curious about what he’s saying that someone doesn’t want them to hear.

Unfortunately, sometimes the mob is too dangerous. And the infrastructure—the law enforcement and justice—in the city of Seattle were deteriorated beyond what could make it possible for an alternative voice to be heard even in a campaign.

We can’t have much of a dialogue with the actual tyrannical fascists in the mob. But outside the mob, where people are less angry, and where we get along with them in business and community, and they acknowledge that we’re human and good (although they may think we’re singular exceptions), we may be able to have discussions. Or maybe get conversions.

Further in the Rabbi Lapin interview, he said, “When people’s hearts change, so do their politics.” Conversion is a goal well beyond peaceful coexistence. I’d like that too. But first things first.
What do we do when there are two polar opposite sides on a political issue? Dan Crenshaw’s got an answer to that too:

There are many ideas that we will never agree on. The left and the right have different ways of approaching governance, based on contrasting philosophies. But many of the ultimate goals—economic prosperity, better health care and education, etc.—are the same. We just don’t share the same vision of how to achieve them.
How, then, do we live together in this world of differing ideas? For starters, let’s agree that the ideas are fair game. If you think my idea is awful, you should say as much. But there is a difference between attacking an idea and attacking the person behind that idea. Labeling someone as an “-ist” who believes in an “-ism” because of the person’s policy preference is just a shortcut to playground-style name-calling, cloaked in political terminology. It’s also generally a good indication that the attacker doesn’t have a solid argument and needs a way to end debate before it has even begun.
Similarly, people too often attack not just an idea but also the supposed intent behind an idea. That raises the emotional level of the debate and might seem like it strengthens the attacker’s side, but it’s a terrible way to make a point. Assuming the worst about your opponents’ intentions has the effect of demonizing their ideas, removing the need for sound counter-reasoning and fact-based argument. That’s not a good environment for the exchange of ideas.
I’m glad Congressman-elect Crenshaw has had the opportunity to get this message out. I hope these opportunities keep coming to him. So far he’s had the right words to say at the right times, in a way that people who wouldn’t normally listen end up tuning in—and finding where we can agree. I pray he’ll always have the right words. And I’ll keep listening, because I think the right words plant the seeds for a great, positive effect.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Never Forget

Yesterday was Veterans Day, and a special one, because it is 100 years since the cease fire, or armistice, ending conflict in World War I. This happened at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. That’s why we always celebrate on the day, whatever day of the week it is. It became a national holiday in 1938, and was changed to honor all American veterans, living and dead, serving in all wars and peacetime, in 1954.

image from

The poppy is a symbol of the fallen. It relates to a poem, “In Flanders Field,” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, channeling the voices of the fallen soldiers, buried under the hardy bright flowers. The poem was written in 1915, and spread widely prior to McCrae’s death in early 1918. A woman named Moina Michael read the poem in a magazine just two days before the armistice, and was inspired by it. She wrote a poem, “We Shall Keep Faith,” in response, and vowed to always wear a red poppy. She came up with the idea of making and selling red fabric poppies to raise money in support of returning veterans.

Although the poppy was originally associated with the armistice, in America we don’t typically wear poppies on Veterans Day; we honor the fallen on Memorial Day, in May.

There aren’t any WWI veterans still alive, now, after a century. And there are only about a thousand WWII veterans still alive, with an average age of 95.

This past Saturday’s Glenn Beck Podcast featured a young man, Rishi Sharma, age 21, who has made it his life’s mission to document the stories of the remaining WWII combat veterans. He tries to interview at least one a day. He started in high school, mostly going to local rest homes. And then expanded, eventually starting a GoFundMe page to make it possible. He mostly lives in his car, driving from place to place, making friends with veterans. If you want to help contribute (monetarily, or by doing interviews), you can go to Heroes of the Second World War.   

Rishi Sharma on Glenn Beck podcast, screenshot
Sharma says that often he’s the first person these veterans have told their full story to. Many of them just came home and got involved in work and family life, and didn't talk about their experiences. He says,

We shouldn’t have to wait for an obituary to find out about the most amazing and heroic people that live in our community. You know, we should be able to talk to them. We should be able to learn about it while they’re still alive, so that we can talk to them, and look them in the eyes, and thank them. And, you know, interact with them.
There are just so many interesting obituaries that you find, you know, that I find as I’m trying to find the veterans. But there’s no interviews of them. And I’m wondering to myself, here is this veteran that’s been able to live into his 90s and 100s, and no one took the time just to document his story? You know, all those sacrifices and moments of his life have not just been put into three paragraphs? They don’t deserve that.
I mean, they deserve a voice in our world, and our future world, because I think the best thing that we can do for 410,000 boys who were killed in the war—and everyone who was killed in the war across the world—is give their death some meaning. Because if we just pretend that that was a long time ago and it doesn’t matter, and continue to act the way we’re acting now, we’re literally spitting on the graves of those men.
Because, it’s bad enough that they had to die at 18, 19, 20—you know, the fact that they were born, had the middle of their life and the end of their life both before they could even drink alcohol—you know, that’s a really sobering thought. But, it’s bad enough that they had to be killed, but it would be even worse if they were killed for no reason. And I really hope that the veterans who I interview, who say that their friends have died in vain—I really hope that they end up being wrong, and that their friends died for a purpose.
Because, I mean, it was just 75 years ago, which is such a short time in the span of humanity. And, I mean, it should still be relevant and raw. I mean, I just don’t understand why people don’t talk more about it.
If we’re going to be a civilized people, it is required of us to honor those who have made our freedom possible. That is something we all ought to be able to agree on.

At a time when it’s so easy to be disagreeable, there was a response this weekend that I thought was helpful. If you’ll remember, a week earlier, on Saturday Night Live, a comic had mocked congressional candidate—now my new Congressman—Dan Crenshaw, who lost an eye to an IED in Afghanistan, on his third deployment (he deployed twice more after recovering the sight in one of his eyes). The response, on SNL this week, is worth seeing, below. It’s fun. After the humor, Dan is able to say what veterans really want to hear. He suggests that, while saying, “Thank you for your service” is good, he’d like us to say—well, I’ll just use his words:

There’s a lot of lessons to be learned here. Not just that the left and the right can still agree on some things, but also this: Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other.
This is Veterans Day weekend, which means that it’s a good time for every American to connect with a veteran. Maybe say, “Thanks for your service.” But I would actually encourage you to say something else. Tell a veteran, “Never forget.” When you say, “Never forget” to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them, not separated by some imaginary barrier between civilians and veterans, but connected together as grateful fellow Americans. We’ll never forget the sacrifices made by veterans past and present, and never forget those we lost on 9/11, heroes like Pete [Davidson]’s father. So I’ll just say, Pete, never forget.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Working to Change Young Minds

Tuesday’s voting day was a good news/bad news story. The good news is that nationally we gained seats in the Senate and several key governor races. Here in Texas we won the top races for me: Ted Cruz for Senate, Greg Abbott for Governor, and a race I’d been volunteering for, Dan Crenshaw for Congress, replacing our retiring Representative Ted Poe. My state representative, Dwayne Bohac, and my state senator Paul Bettencourt also won, which it turns out was not a given.
Dan Crenshaw is congratulated by Ted Poe
photo from Ted Poe's Facebook page

Here in Harris County, there was record turnout, much of it Democrat, much of it probably generated by the Beto O-Rourke senatorial campaign, which had, according to one account I saw, 805 full-time paid staff, compared to Cruz’s 18. And Beto had about $70 million to work with, a hefty percentage of it from out of state. I can’t say I’m sorry they wasted that money here instead of somewhere else. But, unfortunately, they did do some significant damage.

Two years ago we lost all county-wide races. Those that weren’t up that time were up this time, and we lost the rest of them. Even county judge—and administrative position in the 3rd largest county in the country, and I think the second largest administrative jurisdiction in the country. We got someone whose name I am not yet familiar with, who has no administrative experience, whose way of working with major budgets related to infrastructure managing huge growth and before the next hurricane is to be about climate change and stuff.

All of our judges—with the exception of a couple of Justices of the Peace who ran unopposed—will be inexperienced Democrats. Some will learn their functions well enough, eventually. And some of them might rule according to the law, rather than legislate from the bench, if they’re not typical. But we’re in bad shape for a while.

In my precinct, in a conservative area of Northwest Harris County, where my candidates won, my precinct did not support the Republicans. I worked harder this election than I ever have. Some of that is learning better what to do. Some is tying in with the Abbott and Crenshaw campaigns. But I contacted more voters, and contacted them more often. And I believe Republicans also had a good turnout. (I need to drill down on the numbers later.) But it was not enough.

My precinct does not have a Democrat precinct chair. So all the votes that were gotten out happened through some other type of electioneering that apparently money can buy.

I spent Voting Day at home with a virus, so I didn’t see what the polls looked like. (Luckily I had voted early.) But Mr. Spherical Model was our presiding judge. He reported that we had a higher than usual need for Spanish—which was evident, because I was supposed to be the Spanish bilingual clerk. And we had a great many required SOR forms (statement of residence—when a piece of mail gets returned to the county, then the resident needs to verify that they still live there), which may be related to Hurricane Harvey issues; some people are just now getting back into their homes. We don’t have apartments in this precinct, which leads to transience related to more SOR forms usually. There were a lot of first time voters—people who had never used an e-Slate machine (the electronic device we’ve been using since 2002), which is NOT a touch screen. And among these were many young voters, much more than we had observed in past elections.

So, whatever the Beto campaign did, they got out people who knew very little about voting, but they knew enough to show up and vote Democrat. That means that for the next four years, Democrats will be running the polling place for our precinct—which is awkward, since they don’t have a precinct chair and had to bring in someone from a nearby precinct, two days before the election, just to have an alternate judge. But that’s a problem for the new, inexperienced Democrat County Clerk. (We will of course be running Republican primary elections.)

Besides all the county positions, other losses included two of my favorite nearby state reps: Gary Elkins (who used to be my rep, before the last redistricting) and Mike Schofield, one of the most knowledgeable people on the state legislature. US Congressman John Culberson (who was mine before redistricting) also lost.

I’m lamenting the losses. But mostly I’m trying to figure out what more to do. We need to reach people better. Since I met him last February, I’ve been amazed at how well Dan Crenshaw does it. He has a way of saying things that gets through to Millennials (he one of them, just a year or so older than my son Political Sphere), and Hispanics. He went to high school in South America and is fluent in Spanish, which helps. So, as I go forward, trying to find more and better ways to get through to people who would be with us if they were only getting the message, I’ll be looking to Dan.

screenshot from here
You’ve probably heard of Dan Crenshaw by now, if you hadn’t before. He’s the Navy Seal who lost an eye to an IED in Afghanistan—that Saturday Night Live mocked last weekend, and was appropriately shamed for. Dan was totally unruffled by it, of course.

Tuesday night he gave an acceptance speech that I think is worth sharing. The first half is mainly thanking those who believed in him and helped make this miracle happen. The second half is about American ideas. I’ve heard others say (and I’ve said) many of the same things. But Dan does connect with people and inspire them. So here are his words (as well as I could transcribe among the cheering) as he begins the new life of a US Congressman:

We all vote. We all come together in our constitutional republic every election to cast our ballots. We are deciding what kind of country we want to be. We are making a statement about who we are, what we stand for, how we are to approach governance.
So, what do we want to be? Let’s start with what all Americans, I think, can agree on. We want a stronger economy, and better wages. We want American businesses to thrive. We want an environment where a single entrepreneur can change the world with a good idea—without government getting in the way.
We want a country where success is praised, not punished; a country made up of citizens with strength and character and courage. We’re not a people who shatter at the first sign of offense or hardship. [something about SNL followed by laughter]
We want more affordable healthcare. We want our doctors in charge, not government bureaucrats in Washington. We want to know, the next time a hurricane comes, our infrastructure can handle it.
We want smart, decisive, knowledgeable leaders in Washington, with the right experience to take on threats from China, Russia, Iran, and terrorists across the world. We want representatives who understand America’s special role in this world, who know that America is a force for good. Not congressmen who rush to be first in line to blame America for the sins of others.
at the acceptance speech
photo from Dan Crenshaw's Facebook page

We want towns and cities where the rule of law is respected, where we value our police and our first responders. We want schools that both educate and protect our children, and instill in them the basic values that make our country great: hard work, personal responsibility, and love of country.
We want life. We want liberty, equal rights. And we want government to be there to protect those inalienable rights bestowed upon us by God: freedom of speech, of religion, of a fair trial, and the right to own property, and to defend ourselves on that property.
The question, then, becomes, in every election, how do we get there? Our guiding lights, our ...(?) for the difficult decisions that we must make, are America’s foundational principles. It’s personal responsibility. It’s individual freedom. It’s limited government. And it’s “In God We Trust” that’s written from the halls of Congress to that coin in your pocket. Because, we figured out a long time ago, back in 1776, when our founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, that in order for a diverse people to live together in a complex society, we must empower the individual. Not divide people into tribal groups separated by race or gender or class.
The wonder, the miracle, of American exceptionalism is the ability of a diverse people to live peacefully together and prosper more than any other nation in the history of mankind. It was this country—it was America that ushered in a century of prosperity and defeated the murderous socialist ideologies of communism and Nazism. It is America that has stood up for free market and the idea that you own your own labor, your property, and you are free to enter into an agreement with any stranger, should you both benefit from that transaction. It is this simple idea that has caused poverty to plummet and tribal warfare and suffering to decrease to the lowest levels in human history. It’s this idea that gives us the miracle of a supercomputer in your pocket, a store full of food to buy cheaply and conveniently, or a home that can be heated or cooled with the flip of a switch.
Over a billion people have been lifted out of poverty over the last twenty-five years alone. And the ideas that seek to protect liberty and human rights and prosperity have been underwritten by one country, and one country alone: The United States of America.
America is a compilation of the best ideas from throughout human history. It is the ultimate conservative experiment in the sense that conservatives show a natural gratitude and appreciation of the past trials and tribulations. Jerusalem taught us about a purposeful moral existence under God. Athens brought us the gift of reason. Rome taught us the importance of laws and respect for founding virtues. London taught us that all men are subject to law, even kings. And that balance of power, even checks and balances, are paramount to liberty. The lessons of Jerusalem and Rome and Athens and London during the enlightenment were encapsulated in Philadelphia, where mankind finally understood that inalienable rights were given by God, and that the government’s purpose was simply to respect those rights, not change them.
from Dan Crenshaw's Facebook page
We’re patriots. We believe that the ideals that our country was founded on are the right ones. That doesn’t make us perfect. We don’t always live up to those ideals. We have work to do. But when we struggle, and when we feel loss, and we feel that our country is on the brink, the last thing we should do is throw out the very foundations that have made our country great.
In Texas we still believe in those foundations. I think that most Americans do. Sometimes we need a little reminder—a reminder of the things that bring us together, a reminder of all that is good in this world, and a reminder of the incredible things that we have accomplished, more than any other people in the history of humankind.
That’s what we voted on today. And as a team that was the message we spread. It became the dream that we shared. You all became part of that dream, and it caught fire. And people were reminded of the good things—the great things—that make up the American spirit.
I have great faith that, when we leave here tonight, we will not rest. We will not be satisfied with this victory. We’re going to keep going. We’re going to keep sharing that dream. We’re going to keep fighting for the values that made our country great and keep us free.