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Christmas Creep

I am a proud Christmas Creeper. I set up the Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, get the lights ready to go December 1st, and listen to Christmas songs in earnest November 1, if not earlier. It wasn’t always so. I was once like the rest of you Christmas Creep hating Scrooges. But not any more.

A few years ago I started researching the stories behind some famous Christmas carols, and they are, in a word, awesome. Silent Night and O Holy Night are a couple of the very first Christmas hymns, come from humble beginnings, and have fascinating and inspiring stories. It’s well worth your time to learn their histories.

A couple of years ago I decided to research another song and picked I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day. It was not necessarily a favorite of mine at the time, but now it’s one of the most poignant for me.

It was written by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas Day, 1864. Three years prior his wife had died in a fire. Longfellow still carried the scars from his attempt to save her. Three years later, and against Longfellow’s wishes, his 17 year old son joined the Union army to fight in the Civil War. In the months leading up to Christmas, his son was critically injured in battle.

For him, Christmas had become a time of mourning, writing in his journal, “A Merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”

I think I can understand some of what Longfellow was feeling that day. When my daughter was just days old we rushed her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. I vividly remember going to the hospital after work and school one day and breaking down upon seeing her covered in tubes and bruised from the countless needle pricks to draw her blood. I held her in my arms and sobbed. That was the first week of December. She spent her first Christmas with an IV infusion ball attached to her arm. She still has two little scars from it. Christmases have always had a tinge of melancholy for me since then.

Two years ago my father passed away. My parents split when I was young and I didn’t know him growing up. My mother remarried and I had a great step dad. I had only reconnected with him a couple of years previous, and it was a halting, at times awkward reconnecting. He had a big white beard and a jolly laugh, and he played Santa during the holidays, I think to make up for not having his kids with him for so many years. We once were in a restaurant in December and a little girl came up to us sure that he was Santa Claus. That happened to him all the time. The last time I saw him I cut our visit short in favor of other obligations. A month or two later he died all alone. I’m not sure I will ever not be sad about that. I think about it every time I see a Santa Claus.

For some reason Christmas makes our heartbreaking moments more poignant. I can imagine Longfellow waking up that morning and hearing the church bells ringing. I imagine he felt that same ping of melancholy. He must have been heartbroken when he wrote

“and in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth I said.”

But Christmas also turns our heartbreaks into faith. No man was more heartbroken than He was. So when Longfellow wrote about his despair, the Christmas bells pierced his broken heart, and mended it. He then wrote

“then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

We Mormons believe that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me”, and when I hear Christmas songs I feel as Longfellow did. I like when the bells peal loud and deep. I like what it does to this time of year. God is not dead nor doth he sleep. Right will prevail.

So I let Christmas creep, even into November (or beyond). The more, and more often, we can feel as Longfellow did Christmas Day 1864, the better.


It’s Now Safe For Gay Marriage Activists To Come Out Of The Closet

Back in 2006 I came across this article by Stanley Kurtz titled, “Zombie Killers”. In it Kurtz uses statements from cutting edge social scientists and gay marriage activists and shows how they were saying the same thing about the effect of gay marriage on traditional marriage that its defenders were saying, and had been doing so for years. Phrases like,“The queering of the social calls into question the normativity and naturalness of both heterosexuality and heterorelationality” are just academic speech for “gay marriage undermines marriage”.

It was a fantastic way of pulling the curtain back on the underlying goal of these marriage activists. This was about changing marriage, subverting it, even. To wit,

“strip away the jargon, drop the element of celebration, and it turns out that conservative opponents of same-sex marriage and some of Europe’s most influential sociologists are saying much the same thing: Same-sex marriage doesn’t reinforce marriage; instead, it upends marriage”

This was fascinating to me and would be, I assumed, to many other people. So I shared it, bringing it up in the many conversations I had on the topic over the proceeding handful of years. It was, of course, summarily dismissed by those whose minds were already made up. What seemed like incredibly important context to gay marriage was ignored because it didn’t fit the established narrative. It hurt the cause.

But now, over the last year or so “the cause” has become seen as inevitable. Court cases have been won, public opinion seems to have flipped, and suddenly it’s become okay to be honest again.

Last June, giddy in anticipation of the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, Steven Thrasher wrote an article for Gawker titled, “The Truth About Gay Marriage”. With the cause so close to being won, he was finally free to tell the world what he had kept hidden for so long: gay marriage isn’t like marriage as traditionally understood. He cited an ongoing University study, the largest and longest of its kind, which shows that a majority of gay couples not only have sex outside of marriage, but do so with their partner’s knowledge and even consent. He wrote of how the courtship stories shared in public are about love and committment, but that once you dig just a tiny bit past the PR campaign you find these relationships have their genesis in “sex-and-drug-filled circuit parties”, one night stand hookups, and something called “geographic monogamy”. These stories, of course, wouldn’t do much for changing public opinion and furthering the cause, so they aren’t shared. But to hear Thrasher describe it, promiscuity and so-called open relationships are a feature, not a bug, of gay relationships:

“Where straight unions idealize fidelity, gay men’s version of a lifelong commitment doesn’t necessarily include forsaking all others.”

Thrasher is not alone in his analysis of gay marriage. More recently in The Daily Beast another gay writer, comfortable that the cause has been won, also expounds on the radicalness of gay unions. He too cites the San Francisco State University study showing half of gay unions aren’t monogamous, but then adds that within the gay community the feeling is that “it’s more like three-quarters.” According to The Daily Beast, it’s widely known amongst homosexuals that gay marriage isn’t like traditional marriage. They’ve just kept it a well hidden secret because it could harm the cause. Says the author:

“But it’s been fascinating to see how my straight friends react to it. Some feel they’ve been duped: They were fighting for marriage equality, not marriage redefinition.”

Hmm, hasn’t “redefinition of marriage” been the conservative argument? It appears it’s the gay activist argument as well, and always has been. Only now instead of hiding the goal, gay activists are celebrating it. The battle won, it’s safe to come out and reveal the true purpose.

The queering of the social calls into question the normativity and naturalness of both heterosexuality and heterorelationality really is just another way of saying gay marriage undermines marriage.

The Death Of the Tribune’s Business Model Doesn’t Mean Journalism Is Dead

Yesterday Jesse wrote that the Salt Lake Tribune should die, and the arrogance of the “Save the Tribune” petition and movement is just further proof of why. He argued that traditional print media’s business model is failing, and no softly bigoted campaign to save the Tribune from the evil clutches of the LDS owned Deseret News will change that.

The response from journalists was swift and aggressive. And much of it just further proves Jesse’s point.

While I do see a need for full-time, professional journalism because part-time, unpaid bloggers can only do so much, Jesse’s blog post garnered a lot of attention and kickstarted long conversations in social media. But even more telling to me was some of the responses from the journalists themselves in the form of comments on Jesse’s post.

In a post with a headline proclaiming main stream media’s arrogance, main stream media jumps into the comment section and…turns into the grammar police. That’s your big beef with a post saying your business model is dying? To attack grammar? There was of course the obligatory snark about blogging from your mom’s basement, but there was also this nugget:

“Yes, because everyone wants to hear the LDS point of view </Sarcasm>”

Grammar policing, snark, and anti LDS sentiment – maybe the problem is that journalists have been spending too much time in the Tribune comment section and it’s starting to rub off.

There is good reporting and good reporters at the Salt Lake Tribune. Journalism is an integral part of our country’s success. There’s a reason why freedom of the press is enshrined in our Bill of Rights. However, for all the praise heaped upon the Tribune by its supporters, and for all the high-minded talk about the press’s role in our society, the mainstream media is getting a huge vote of no confidence from the public they’re supposed to be serving. In 2012, when people were asked how much they trusted the media to report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly” 60% of us said not much or not at all. That is a terrible, terrible record. When 60% of your customer base doesn’t think you do your job well, you’re gonna have problems.

I think it’s clear that newspaper’s current business model doesn’t generate enough revenue to stay afloat. Budget cuts and layoffs nationwide seem to make that indisputable. It’s also clear to me that professional journalism, when it’s good, is extremely valuable to our society. Just because people don’t read the morning paper anymore doesn’t mean journalism is dead. There are multiple 24 hour a day news channels being supported by the public right now, and many online sources with plenty of clicks. Clearly, there is still demand for news. Even long form journalism generates interest today. So no, I don’t think the economic failure of the Tribune business model portends the death of journalism. What I do believe though, is that whatever model takes its place will only be successful if they are able to win over the skeptical 60%.

Of Moderates, “Extremists”, and Winning Elections

Over at Utah Policy, Lavar Webb argues that Republicans have to tone down their rhetoric in order to win elections because governing is harder than just throwing red meat to the base. Webb is a fan of “moderates”, thinking they are the key to broadening our base of support and therefore winning elections.

Maybe. But too often we focus solely on winning elections for those with an R next to their name without thinking about what they’ll actually do once in office.

It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans did win most of the elections, holding the White House and both houses of Congress for the first half of the 2000s. We gave the Webbs of the world exactly what they wanted and what did we get? Expanded entitlements, massive deficits, and more cumbersome federal education bureaucracy. In other words, terrible policy. And because of it we lost credibility with the public and then all subsequent elections, giving back first Congress and then two terms (at least) of the presidency. We have to not only win elections, but win elections for those who will govern well and govern conservatively.

Getting someone into office is the easy part, imo. Get an approachable candidate people can relate to coupled with a better PR team than your rival and you can win over voters. With perhaps the exception of the first Bush, that’s what got every presidential winner of my lifetime elected. No, getting elected isn’t really about being right or having the best policy ideas. But getting reelected often is. And maintaining Party dominance most certainly is. And that’s the reason Republicans no longer hold sway in Washington DC.

So political consultants like Lavar Webb can strategize election victories all day, and they can caution candidates about rhetoric and red meat, staying “moderate” once in office because you don’t want to overreach or go too far in the push for conservative policy. But based on the track record, I’d settle for a Republican majority that first does no harm.

It’s A Loving Choice – Another (Horrible) Pro Choice Argument Everyone Makes

Earlier this month a Utah man was arrested for shooting and killing his five month old son. It was a heinous act that garnered national attention and may end with him facing the death penalty. But what if this deranged man was just making a family choice after taking into consideration the quality of life that could be provided to his child? It wasn’t a decision made on a whim, but a very difficult one that took him weeks of agonizing before finally deciding upon. What if this was demonstrably the best choice for his family? What if, given the circumstances, it was the only morally responsible and loving choice he could have made?

Of course considerations of can the family afford the baby, or what kind of life can the family provide for the baby, have zero legal or moral standing when it comes to ending the child’s life. And rightfully so. Obviously so. It offends our very humanity to even entertain the question. But when engaged in discussions about abortion, you will undoubtedly hear some variation of what I call “the loving choice” argument.

The arguments go something like this. The baby will put undue strain on the family. Parents’ mental, physical, and fiscal health could be affected. There are harsh consequences to raising a child when you aren’t ready to do so, and sometimes parents make the “loving choice” to not put a child through the difficulties of being raised in what is often terrible circumstances. Who are you to judge this agonizing, difficult choice a parent is forced to make for the benefit of the whole family?

But if you are horrified by the thought of the Utah man killing his five month old son because he knew he wasn’t able to care for him properly, why is it ok to kill a five week old son still inside his mother’s womb? If these choices can be made solely at the parents’ discretion, then ending a child’s life is a valid act for a parent to make so long as the child is dependent upon his parent for survival.

Which is why the “loving choice” argument is such a dangerous one. How we value life is extremely important for our society. This is not mere philosophical theorizing. You may have heard of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion doctor on trial for murder after authorities discovered one of his abortion patients died under his care, but also because when performing abortions and a baby was accidentally delivered alive, he would snip through the back of their neck, severing their spines in order to complete the life ending abortion. Somehow killing the baby while it was still inside her mother’s womb was legal, doing it after she left the womb was not. You may be surprised that Dr. Gosnell’s pro choice view was also the “loving choice” one:

“As a physician, I am very concerned about the sanctity of life. But it is for this precise reason that I provide abortions for women who want and need them.”

Women from all over came to Dr. Gosnell’s clinic because here was a man who didn’t ask questions. Here was a man who understood that sometimes “abortion is the most morally responsible and loving choice we can make.”

But it’s not just sleazy, murderous abortion doctors who advocate this position. It’s world renowned Princeton ethics professors. It’s a position published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, where two medical academics create the new term “after-birth abortion” and argue that everyone knows there’s no difference between an infant and a fetus, and therefore infanticide is a perfectly acceptable action for parents to take. It’s a position defended by the editor of the ethics Journal by saying,

“The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world”

The most eminent ethicists in the world have taken the “loving choice” abortion position and extended it to its inevitable conclusion: parents know best what they can handle and what they cannot. Babies, whether born or unborn, are not fully human and can often represent serious hardship to their parents. Joshua Mortenson, the man who killed his five month old son, shouldn’t be jailed for making a terribly difficult choice you and I may never have to face.

Who are we to judge?

Medicaid Expansion Is The Opposite of What We Should Do To Fix Healthcare

A major goal of national health care policy makers has been reducing the number of uninsured. This is why Obamacare began as single payer, moved to a public option, and finally settled on Medicaid expansion. This insurance-centric policy push is simply wrongheaded. 

The biggest problem with our health care system is rapidly rising costs. Though it’s tailed off a bit the last few years, health care cost growth still outpaces inflation, and insurance premium cost growth far outpace wage increases, putting a major crimp on household budgets. But simply transforming the government into a giant insurance company doesn’t address those fundamental problems.

The transfer of who pays for health care, whether through private insurance or through government, has been a long process. In 1960 a health care consumer – you and I – paid 48% of our health care costs. Today, it’s just 12%. So who pays for it today? Private insurance picks up 30% of the tab. But the government has been the biggest mover, paying for only 24% in 1960 and rising all the way to 48% today.

Think about that. Government, with its price fixing and rigid treatment plans, accounts for almost half of all the health care purchased in this country. And yet policy makers would have us believe the “free market” is the problem.

Over the last 50 years we’ve flipped how health care is paid on its head, and have seen costs rise exponentially. Shouldn’t that set off alarm bells? At the very least a raised eyebrow?

Perhaps most frustrating is that we were warned. We had the data to predict this outcome years ago.

The largest health care study ever was conducted during the 1970s by the nonprofit RAND Corporation. Researchers studied health care outcomes and purchasing behavior of people with free health care and those who paid varying degrees of their health care out of pocket. What they found is equal parts astounding and quite obvious.

First, the obvious part. The group that paid 95% of their own health care costs spent 30% less than the group who got their health care for free. Which of course makes sense.

But what today’s policy makers would have you believe is that when people pay for their own health care they put off wellness check ups and preventative services which results in more serious illnesses and costs later on. But today’s policy makers are wrong. 

Researchers found that the 95% health care payer group not only spent 30% less, but they were just as healthy as the people who had all their health care paid for. In fact, they were just as healthy, just as happy with their providers, used fewer services, and were actually less worried about their health than people who paid nothing.

Doesn’t that sound like a desirable health care policy outcome? Happy, healthy, stress free patients. And a 30% cost reduction to boot! Not to mention a whole lot less hassling with insurance companies.

Tragically, the ACA and its corresponding Medicaid expansion does the exact opposite. Its overriding goal is adding more layers of insurance companies and government sponsored free health care, locking in that needless, wasteful 30% spending increase.

We’ve spent the last five decades ignoring the science behind spending on medicine, and now we’re stuck swallowing the bitter pill of skyrocketing costs. But there is a cure. We need to refuse the ACA’s mandated Medicaid expansion, unwind the dizzying regulatory health care environment, and promote policies that simplify the relationship between you and your doctor.

Should Laws Be Based On Morals?

This was the question posed to me (and others) this week. Are laws moral? Should they be?

A libertarian answered the question by saying some laws are moral, but the only rule to go by when setting laws is,

“Does the activity to be banned/regulated *directly* harm innocent third persons?”

On the surface, this seems like a solid answer. One I’ve probably agreed with at some point. If I want to engage in an activity which does no harm to anyone else, it is my right to do so. If I contract with another person, and the activity is agreed upon and mutually beneficial to the both of us, and this activity does no harm to a third-party, then we have the right to do so.

This seems pretty cut and dried, which is why it’s such an enticing political philosophy. It seems to be the foundation of libertarianism, and creeps into Republican rhetoric as well. But it leads libertarians to uncomfortable places. Prostitution, for one. If two people contract to engage in that activity, who else has the right to tell them they can’t? For me, it’s always been self-evident that prostitution should not be legal. But I never really articulated why. Ironically, it was a famous libertarian who provided me the means to explain.

In an podcast last May David Schmidtz and Russ Roberts discussed noted libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, and his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Schmidtz then told a fascinating story of a dinner he shared with Nozick in 1999. In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick had argued that if a man needed money and contracted to sell himself into slavery to get it, then he was within his rights to do so. But at this dinner, Nozick said he had softened his stance on this point. Here’s how Schmidtz tells it:

I said that in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Now fast forward, and I’m thinking about symbolic value. And I’m thinking: countries don’t just do things, like defend freedom or not, or secure freedom or not, secure freedom of contract or not. They also stand for things. And at some point, America’s supposed to be the country that doesn’t just defend freedom. It stands for freedom. And I thought, if this is going to be the country that stands for freedom, allowing the emergence of a class of slaves, that’s not a really impressive way of standing for freedom. In fact, it’s not a really successful way of standing for freedom. And so he thought, he said: I came to the conclusion that it matters what a country stands for. And so, even though this is, in a truncation of freedom of contract and the sacrosanct status, individual status, of contractors–he said–I came to think there’s an importance of standing for freedom; and in view of that I gave up on the idea that people should be allowed to sell themselves into slavery, even voluntary slavery.

Countries stand for things. Society stands for things. Simply saying, as long as an activity doesn’t harm an innocent third-party then that activity is fine, isn’t enough any more. Suddenly morality, virtue, comes into play. We can legislate away voluntary slavery because it violates our morality. Consequently, we have a basis for creating moral laws. When we are asked, should laws be based on morals, we answer with a resounding YES.

Perhaps even more fascinating to me is how Nozick’s thoughts on freedom, and protecting freedom, led him to advocate a public policy that many of his philosophical descendants would claim restricts freedom. In the above story he’s quoted as saying that creating a class of slaves not only would conflict with the idea of standing for freedom, but that “it’s not a really successful way of standing for freedom.” In other words, if we allow people the freedom to sell themselves, freedom is inevitably destroyed. Slavery, prostitution, drug use, alcohol abuse – all of these destroy freedom. As such, promoting their legality in the name of protecting freedom is counter productive. Why do we restrict or regulate activities which on the surface appear to hurt no one but themselves? Because freedom demands it.