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August 2, 2014
Then a Cruel Joke, Now a Serious Policy Proposal
An idea I first encountered as a juvenile husband's cruel joke on his young wife is now seriously proposed as policy, to solve a problem which might be much smaller than we've all been thinking: the high divorce rate.
Have you ever noticed how an idea that was once a joke may eventually be taken quite seriously? I haven't been around long enough to know whether this a distinguishing feature of modern life or characteristic of human life generally. In any case, here's an example.
Nearly 30 years ago, some friends were telling me about the tempestuous early years of their marriage. She was 15 or 16 when they married, which sounds too young to me. He was a decade older, give or take, but going on 12, which was the larger problem, I think. By their own account, they fought like cats and dogs -- rather like the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, perhaps.
Just a few years into their marriage, as their anniversary approached, he did a terrible thing. He was trying to be funny -- and they both laughed about it as they told me the story years later. He may also have been trying to be cruel; if so, he succeeded brilliantly. He told her that their marriage license was coming up for renewal on their anniversary, and he wasn't going to renew. She reportedly spent the next few days and nights in tears, before he finally grew up just a wee bit and explained the "joke."
Granted, that particular teenage girl probably wasn't ready to daydream about marriage, let alone be in one. And we might have forgiven her a few years later, in the immediate aftermath of the joke, for promptly widowing herself with a large skillet or butcher knife, or -- less poetically -- with one of the firearms they kept in the house. In this case, homocide hardly seems excessive. As it was, she grew up a little, and I think he did too, eventually.
A year ago -- almost to the day -- I read a Washington Post op/ed advocating the creation of a new institution. Because wedlock so often ends in divorce, Paul Rampell extolled the virtues of wedlease.
Why don’t we borrow from real estate and create a marital lease? Instead of wedlock, a “wedlease.”
Here’s how a marital lease could work: Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years -- one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes. It could end up lasting a lifetime if the relationship is good and worth continuing. But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.
In an article posted today at the Deseret News National Edition , Emily Hales reports on expert opinion suggesting that official trial periods -- beta tests -- would offer no real benefit. Agree or disagree with the experts, as you wish. My point is that the idea of a wedlease -- often by another name -- is being taken seriously, to the point that in Mexico City there was an attempt to create such a legal institution.
Twenty-nine years have passed. My friends raised three fine children but eventually divorced. He remarried twice, with only temporary success each time. I spoke at his funeral a few years ago. She is married now to another good man I knew. Maybe you're thinking that these two would have benefited from a wedlease, if anyone ever could. I think they grew up and became the fine people I came to know in large measure because -- from the beginning -- they considered their commitment to each other permanent. But their personal experience is not my point.
My point is that his cruel joke on her is now advocated as public policy -- by people with straight faces. Perhaps that's the crueler joke, and it's on us.
It may be even crueler than it looks. It's common knowledge now that about half of marriages end in divorce, and that only about 30 percent of surviving marriages are happy, whatever that means. There's some new research that suggests those numbers are wildly inaccurate: that the divorce rate is less than half that high, and about 80 percent of marriages are happy (whatever that means) after five years. The same study asserts that the divorce rate is even lower -- 27 to 50 percent lower -- among churchgoers. If the study is right, or even close to right, then the bad joke is also built on bad data.
Finally, a personal note. In view of the new, happier numbers, I don't feel any less lucky that my marriage license would be up for its 26-year renewal eighteen days hence, if the world were even weirder than it presently is. The new numbers just mean my good fortune was more likely than we knew. They do not reduce the breathtaking magnitude of that good fortune.
July 15, 2014
Losing Our Souls at the Border
When we see real problems primarily as political problems, or as opportunites to seize political advantage or do mischief to our political enemies, do we still have a political soul?
We mortals can't have government without politics, and I'm not sure we'd want to.
Politics brings partisanship, which in small doses is healthy and in large doses is toxic. When partisanship takes command of our minds, hearts, discourse, and policy, things get very ugly. Look around.
Lately, I wonder if we still have a political soul.
I've watched politics and government for decades. I don't remember things being as toxic as they are now -- not even in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I'm not saying we're on the verge of civil war, or that things are as bad as when our nation was in one. But we're now routinely forgetting that some problems are real, not just political. Among other things, this insures that we'll make them worse.
As you've probably heard, children are spilling over our southern border in astonishing numbers. Many of them are unaccompanied by a parent. It's not a new problem; it's at least two years old. But the news of it is newer than that.
There are at least three likely reasons for the recent attention. First, it's getting worse -- partly because things get worse, and partly because the White House is actively making them worse, to pressure Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform in time to bless the fates of Democrats in the 2014 and 2016 elections. Second, a bunch of Americans are trying to stop the flood, including the buses the federal government is using to haul the illegals to US cities for dumping. Third, the government of the United States is sending internal security forces to stop the Americans who are trying to stop the illegals.
I concede that these refugees are coming because, under our selectively lawless regime, there is every expectation that they will be allowed to stay. And let's pause for a moment and nod to Peggy Noonan, whose definition of comprehensive immigration reform last week was astute: "huge, impenetrable and probably full of mischief." Perhaps I could be forgiven for thinking that mischief would be the real point of it, because we're treating it as just a political problem, not a real problem.
This is a very partisan blog post, so far, you might say. But was any part of that untrue or unreasonable?
For what it's worth, the rest of this likely won't be partisan enough to please anyone.
Let's pull our discussion back from the front lines a few steps, shall we? Forget for a moment even the policy questions, like these: Do we even have immigration law any more, or is it all dead by desuetude? What government actions, if any, could fix the problems? What exactly would sound policy look like? What conditions would make it possible? In the meantime, how do we absorb or turn back the flood?
Let's briefly suppress our alarm at what the future may hold, when the only solutions anyone in power attempts for real problems are solutions designed to solve political problems for one faction and create political problems for another, irrespective of the effects on real people and their real problems.
Some of the children crossing the border are with a mother, and some are to be reunited with family members already in the United States. Let's focus on the children who don't fit either category, but came alone.
What must the circumstances be, if so many mothers and fathers are willing to send their children alone to the United States, knowing that the physical, emotional, and other dangers are extreme, and that their transportation to and across the border is with criminals who are well known to be ruthless?
Several comparisons come to mind. Here are two.
I can imagine a Judean mother, two millennnia ago, giving her toddler boy to the first passing nomads, without anything resembling a character reference or background check, because that way he would have at least a small chance of a good life, instead of surely dying in Herod's slaughter of innocents.
I can imagine a mother stranded on the fifth floor of a burning building. Firemen won't be able to get to her in time, and she can't get herself through the one window not already obstructed by flames. Even if she could, she would only fall to her death with her baby. So, thinking quickly, she takes every electrical cord and computer cable she can find, ties them quickly together, straps her baby into a car seat, and ties one end of the makeshift cable to the seat and the other to the radiator below the window. She lowers the little one as far as she can out the window. She knows full well that the cable isn't long enough; the infant will still be 15 or 20 feet off the ground. She also knows that the fire below poses dangers to a baby dangling outside the building. But at least this way the baby has a chance at a life. Someone may be able to rescue the child in time, or he might survive a shorter fall. She prays mostly for his safety, as she also prays for herself, that smoke inhalation will kill her before the flames do.
What does it tell us about life in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that parents, and mothers especially, are sending their children unattended through grave dangers, in the hope that they'll be able to make a life in America?
The reason has to be more than run-of-the-mill poverty; many fine parents have raised many fine children in poverty. It must be more than garden-variety tyranny, under which many moms and dads have raised many daughters and sons. What problems are so immediate and so chronically hopeless as to justify such desperation? What problems have our foreign aid, our charity, and our mostly decent national example failed to resolve -- or made worse?
Gang violence is one such problem, and a lot of it is drug-related. But we're not talking about ordinary, American-style gang violence. We're talking about large-scale, gang-dominated anarchy, where the government is unable or unwilling to impose order in a large part of a nation. We're talking about someplace much worse and much larger than Detroit.
We could blame the citizens there for having no effective government, but that won't help, and next we'd have to consider blaming ourselves for our own government.
We could blame the parents for bringing children into such a world in the first place -- for conceiving children at all or failing to abort them responsibly (as some might say). But have you met a child lately? A child embodies hope and the future -- and hope for the future. More often than not, we hope, he or she is also the product of two committed spouses celebrating their love for and commitment to each other.
Pardon me for the arguably partisan act of suggesting the reality and relevance of God, but God seems to have arranged for hope to be born of love, and for newborn hope to be showered with new love -- and how is any of that bad? Does anyone need hope or love more than people who live out their lives together in hardship? Does anyone exert more love or hope than parents raising a child in trying circumstances? Some folks shouldn't reproduce, perhaps, and some reproduce too much, maybe, but we can't say that of all the parents of these immigrant-orphans. I'm not convinced it's ours to say, anyway. So I cannot blame the parents.
(To a degree I do blame a dysfunctional US legal immigration system, which offers scant hope of the whole family ever fleeing legally to a place to which people still want to flee. But that's another story. Or is it?)
I have a little friend at church, a beautiful, intelligent young lady named Charlotte. (I use her name with her parents' permission.) She's about a year old. I was sitting on the stand a while back before our weekly worship service (sacrament meeting), and her mother needed to start the organ prelude. Her father was elsewhere for a few minutes, tending to his own duties. I offered to hold Charlotte until her father appeared. She was no less charming a conversationalist for being monosyllabic. Since then, we've run into each other occasionally in the halls after church, because her parents and I have responsbilities which take us regularly to the same part of the building after meetings. I am pleased to report that her parents are raising her properly, by which I mean that, when she is not simply exhausted, she is a happy and skilled participant in such activities as fist-bumping and high-fiving.
I have seen Charlotte's and her mother's -- or father's -- eyes, when parent and child look at each other. I have witnessed her complete trust in her parents, when she's exhausted and just needs a place to rest her weary head for a while.
I have older children, at least some of whom are too young to be abandoned to find their way to another country. The oldest recently moved to Texas, but that's a slightly different story.
How grave and certain must the threat be, and how hopeless the future, to move parents like Charlotte's to give a child like Charlotte to passing nomads, just so she'll have a chance at a life? How utterly unbearable must the prospects be at home, for a parent like me to send a child like mine into and across Mexico, in the custody of criminals, to make a physically dangerous border crossing, which, if successful, will likely be followed by a very difficult life in the United States -- also, perhaps, in the custody of criminals?
How do you measure -- or ignore -- the agony of parents who realize thay cannot protect their children where they are and cannot escape with them, either -- that their child's best chance for life is for them to roll the dice and hope for sevens?
I don't know all the answers. I do know they're not all political. I don't know how to get the answers I think I know to the places where the problems are, or to insure their positive effect.
In the end, perhaps I know only this: there is a real problem here, a massive and growing human problem. To view the situation solely -- or even primarily -- as a political problem for us is unconscionable and inhumane, whether the viewer in question is a rabid Tea Party Republican or a detached, calculating Democrat President or a disspirited non-voter. To view it primarily as a US law enforcement problem is naive or worse.
We must see the real problems beyond the politics. We must do this for the sake of the parents and children. We should do this for the sake of our still having a soul tomorrow and next week and next year. We ought to do it for the sake of acting, when we choose to act, in ways which help to solve the real problem, not make it worse somehow, as we seek our partisan political advantage.
Here's a happier parting thought. People who have more perspective than we do still see the United States of America as a desirable place. It is a place where people want to live, to make their lives. We forget easily, but others remember that being here at all is still a blessing. A big part of that blessing is still hope.
July 11, 2014
Things I Have Written and Things I Haven't
A couple of welcome and unusual experiences for this writer, some thoughts on how far we've come (or gone), and what happens when ideology and reality collide.
I've been writing more than usual lately, just not so much at the blog. I write at work, at home, at church. Part of my writing has been in pursuit of two New Year's resolutions, projects which I hope will eventually see the light of day -- soon, in one case. Not that all the words will survive; neither you nor I would want them to. As the mousepad on my desk at home says, "I write, therefore I rewrite."
I've mentioned two interesting and unusual writing projects here lately, both of which spun off from my writing here at the blog. I mention them again to report another facet of the writer's experience: observing audiences as they experience one's writing -- which we don't always get to do.
In my first work for the big screen, I wrote for and otherwise helped to create a feature-length documentary on the American Fork High School Marching Band. It premiered in May and is nearing a disc release. On a single evening, in three separate showings, I sat with a total of about 1400 people and listened to their responses, moment by moment, as they heard and saw what I had helped to create. I'm not sure every writer even wants that level of feedback, and I'm not sure I always do. And I'd probably feel much differently, if it hadn't gone very well indeed. But the experience was fascinating, useful, and, I readily confess, gratifying.
I also reported here that I was invited to write a bit of text to be considered for use on a monument. The monument stands in American Fork's Robinson Park, honoring a deputy sheriff who lived in American Fork as a child and was killed in the line of duty earlier this year. My work was accepted; it's the first time my words have been carved in stone, think. It's also the first time I've written words which were intended from the beginning to be carved in stone, which is a different experience in itself. As I've mentioned, my name isn't with my words, and it shouldn't be. The name which belongs on and is on the monument is Sergeant Cory Wride. I went to the announcement, where the plaque portion of the monument was displayed on Memorial Day, and watched people respond to it. All of this is prelude; my point is what happened next.
Several weeks later, I went to the park for the unveiling. Most of the people there didn't know who I was, and most of the people who knew me didn't know they were reading my words. Because of that, I was able to stand unobtrusively to the side after the ceremony. There I listened as adult members of the slain sergeant's family read my inscription aloud and explained it to their children, word by word and phrase by phrase. That is not an everyday experience for most writers, either. And again, I might feel differently if it hadn't gone well. Happily, in this case the words appear to work as they were designed to work.
There was a bonus, too. At the park that evening, a city official introduced me to the sergeant's widow, Nannette Wride. She took a minute or two to describe to me what those words have already meant to her family and to her personally, and that will be a lasting and happy memory for this writer.
I also reflected this morning on what I haven't written lately.
This category was conspicuous to some of you recently. To those who inquired about the absence at my blog of the usual pre-election notes on candidates and issues (and often my own votes), I apologized. For the first time in eight years, I wasn't a state or county Republican delegate, and other circumstances -- related neither to politics nor to writing -- had so dominated the weeks before the primary election, that I was still fishing for indicators about the candidates mere hours before the polls opened. What I found was too tenuous and too subjective to report, even for me, but it was enough to give this voter a little guidance in each race. One of my four favored candidates won; I've done worse.
It's not that I've lost interest in local or national politics. I've just been watching them from a greater distance, partly by choice and mostly by necessity -- and I hope that both the choice and the necessity are temporary. Maybe distance gives perspective, at least for a while; maybe it's just distance. But I've never found it particularly difficult to zoom out and contemplate processes, institutions, and philosophies, instead of just the spin du jour on the issues of the week. That said, I will admit to wondering more often lately what I might say that would be worth saying in the current tempest.
Watching from a Distance
At the national level, we live in a time when we're no longer surprised, let alone more outraged, when we hear of the latest misconduct by tyrants and those who abet them. Lois Lerner lost her e-mails, and so did thirteen other executives, and there's no archive or backup, which seriously inhibits investigation of the administration's use of its primary taxing agency to harm its political opponents? Seriously, is anyone surprised by that in 2014? Does anyone even believe it?
As a matter of policy, the Justice Department only prosecutes cases of voter intimidation if the victims are black and the accused perpetrators are not? Business as usual.
The President announces that, if the duly constituted legislative branch of our national government, i.e. Congress, will not enact his draconian wishes in some policy area or other, he and his executive agencies will simply do so by decree? We already knew he was doing that on dozens of fronts, including some major ones. We expect it now. It's not even news. The Supreme Court is overturning these abuses one by one, usually by large majorities, but at the present rate they won't catch up for a century or two.
Word leaks out that the White House is cooking the books, where census figures and unemployment rates are concerned, not to mention fudging the ObamaCare numbers again? Yawn.
A terrorist state is raining rockets down on Israel again, by the dozens of dozens. Other, more responsible Western heads of state are conferring with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the fund-raising First Golfer cannot even get on a phone call? We're not surprised any more. Not at all.
The Republicans in Congress are acting like lobsters in a tank, grasping cannibalistically at anyone who tries to rise up and accomplish something? For how many years has that not been news?
What does it mean for us, when we run out of outrage and horror, when we lose our capacity to be shocked or even surprised about such attacks on the American spirit? When all we can manage -- sometimes, lately, all I can manage -- is a wry smile at how the mainstream media now complains publicly that Mr. Obama is making it much too hard for them to make him look good.
Closer to Home: When Reality and Ideology Collide
Is all this too depressing? Let's look much closer to my home. The streets in American Fork are crumbling, and the dominant faction -- to judge by the last city council election -- believes that it would be immoral to increase taxes to pay for the needed repairs. They also believe it would be immoral to borrow to jump-start our road work, even if that would be the cheapest way to handle the problem at this point -- in the long and short runs. Pay as you go is the only moral option, they say. I drive almost every day on the smashed fruits of pay-as-you-go, when it followed don't-pay-as-you-go. The real problem is that, years ago, administrations thought it politically expedient to borrow massively from the infrastructure to pay for other things. That is, they borrowed from the future, not that they called it that. Now we see the results, but the future fruits should have been pretty obvious to people who supposedly knew the numbers back then -- assuming they weren't blinded by politics or by the supposed immorality of taxing to pay for infrastructure.
I would love to be engaged in a relentless, multi-year campaign to educate the majority of American Fork voters to the realities which are getting lost beneath shallow ideologies. I have thought myself thus engaged at some points in the past. I planned to be now. Maybe I will be again sometime soon. In the meantime there are people working very hard behind the scenes to see that our current flirtation with self-righteous folly is short-lived, not an abiding, dysfunctional romance. One of the things they're trying to do is educate the opponents, one by one, who were so amazingly fact-challenged during the campaign. I have thanked these quiet heroes personally and repeatedly, talked with them and encouraged them when I could, and maybe helped a little, but not much. Sometime in the future, I'll help them more, and I'll also thank them by mentioning their names.
Meanwhile, I wish I could sit down with the new city councilors who surfed in on the moralistic wave last November. If they would speak to me candidly of such matters, I'll like to probe their thinking about these last several months, as ideology has had to confront reality. I have some experiences of my own of that sort; most of us do.
There are two of those new city councilors, and I'm sure I'd get two much different answers. I'm not interested in this so I can say, I told you so. There's not much point in saying that; anyone with whom it would register doesn't need to hear it. I'm interested generally -- and to a large degree theoretically -- in what happens when ideology and reality collide, because that's a bigger problem in America right now (among other places) than childhood obesity, climate change, and Chevy ignition switches combined.
When ideology and reality collide, do they bounce away from each other like billiard balls, or do they stick to each other like . . . somebody help me with a metaphor here. If they bounce, in which directions? If they stick together, where do they go next? In either case, do ideology and reality deform each other in the collision?
I don't know how many others are interested in such questions, but I am.
Final thought: There's a funny thing about blogging, at least for me: It's easy to get back into the groove. Now I feel another post coming on.
June 26, 2014
Old News Is Hilarious News
I read today that Brother Wayne Dodge was sentenced to 30 days in jail. I rewrote a song about him once . . .
(Here's what I read today.)
Here is what I wrote last summer, when I rewrote a Barry Manilow song, "Copacabana," as "At the Chapel," in honor of Brother Dodge. For the present, I'm resisting the temptation to add a verse or two.
A rerun of a silly post from last year isn't exactly the information on local candidates some of you were interested in and asking about earlier this week. Sorry about that. LBB intervened in a big way.
May 29, 2014
With a Little Help from Stephen Colbert . . .
From the Green Hornet of Justice to Fat Jack's Old Lady, there's nothing quite like an election year. And it's just possible that Idaho is weirder than New York. (For my part, I spent about a decade in each place. What does that say about me?)
Once upon a time -- AD 2010, to be precise -- there was a race for Governor of New York that was a little weirder than usual for New York. I attempted to do it justice, and I had lots of fun doing it. (It also exists as a podcast.)
Fast forward to Idaho's Republican gubernatorial primary in 2014. I'd love to give this one a try, too. But Stephen Colbert got there first, and he does it so much better: Idaho's Bizarre Gubernatorial Debate. It's must-see TV, so to speak. That I grew up in Idaho merely increases my appreciation. (The same with happened with Napoleon Dynamite, come to think of it.)
May 27, 2014
Sacrifice Honored in Stone
In a couple of weeks, a new monument will appear in American Fork's Robinson Park.
I was recently invited to write a few words for possible use on a monument to be placed in American Fork's Robinnson Park. It will honor Utah County Deputy Sheriff Sergeant Cory Wride, who grew up in American Fork and was killed in January in the line of duty. I didn't know Sgt. Wride, and I don't know his family, but I'm honored to have my words selected for the monument honoring him. (Others designed the monument.) At yesterday's Memorial Day service at the American Fork Tabernacle, a portion of the monument was unveiled.
I was told it was important to remember the boy, not just to honor the hero he became. And the family felt the theme of forgiveness was essential; I find that almost breathtaking, under the circumstances. Danny Crivello suggested a couple of good tweaks, and, in the end, my contribution to the monument reads:
Boys play loudly at courage, conquering imaginary enemies in glorious battle. They do not know that, when they are men and foes are real, their courage will likely be quiet and their glory too often found in ultimate sacrifice, williing but unsought. In the shadow of such sacrifice, it is for us, beyond our weeping, to remember the boy, honor the man, and forgive the foe.
It's not every day one sees his own words carved in stone, but, yeah, I know that's not the important thing here.
Those who can, do -- and the rest of us remain behind to tell and to hear the story.