US flag
David Rodeback

David Rodeback's Blog

Local Politics and Culture,
National Politics,
Life Among the Mormons,
and Other Stuff















LocalCommentary on Twitter

 

October 21, 2014
Tonight's School Boards Debate at Lone Peak High School

This post is at FreedomHabit.com. Link within.


Read this post at FreedomHabit.com.

 

October 20, 2014
David's Handy Little Election Guide . . .

Has been posted at FreedomHabit.com. Link within.


. . . the Early Edition . . . is available at FreedomHabit.com now, instead of LocalCommentary. See you there!

 

October 3, 2014
My Two New Web Sites Just Launched

I've been scheming this for years and working off and on since February . . .


One of my new year's resolutions this year, or maybe it was two, was to launch two new web sites: FreedomHabit.com and BendableLight.com.

I've wanted for a long time to take a slightly different approach to blogging on government and politics than I have here for a decade at LocalCommentary.com. And I don't do as much local blogging as I used to. Besides that, for technical reasons I need a new platform -- in part to accommodate readers using mobile devices. (I landed on WordPress.) Hence FreedomHabit.com.

Among the other subjects on which I enjoy writing are religion and books (and reading generally). Plus I wanted to create a decent place for my own efforts as a writer (outside of these topics). And I think all this needs to be separate from the political stuff. Hence BendableLight.com.

You are more than welcome to visit either or both. Commenting is easier for both of us there, and your experience on a mobile device will be better. Plus you can check a box to have new posts e-mailed to you automatically.

I'm not a graphic designer, and it shows. The design will probably evolve (or devolve). And I'm working on some speed issues. That said, I think the point is the content, anyway.

The fate of LocalCommentary.com is uncertain. What's here will remain online, and new stuff that's local to Utah County or American Fork likely will appear here until after the election. After that, I'm not sure what I'll do with new local content. But I have to do something. My fine content management tool, CityDesk, is no longer being updated, and it's not fully compatible with Windows 8. Using it is getting difficult.

Finally, another of my resolutions for the year is to give away 50 more bumper magnets. I've been giving these away off and on for two years; I've added some promotion of one of the new sites to the original design. If you want one, details are here.

 


 

September 21, 2014
Why One Mormon Doesn't Go to Anti-Gay Marriage Rallies

They're asking why a lot of us don't go, but I can only answer for myself.


Rambling and Silliness -- Skip This Section If You Like

There hasn't been a lot of blogging here at the blog, lately. I've been tied up with other projects. More's the pity, too, at least in one sense. Look what kind of week it's been.

Wednesday was Constitution Day. I could have said a lot of things about that. For the record, I noticed but didn't blog. I do have thoughts on an intriguing news story percolating. The resulting brew may be an interesting discussion of constitutional issues and the rule of law generally, but we will serve no wine before its time. At least not this wine. (How's that for abominably mixing beverage metaphors?)

Thursday was a big rally in Salt Lake City, ostensibly in defense of traditional marriage. I was invited to that. News flash: I didn't go. Was that wrong? I didn't even consider the possibility. Was that wronger?

Friday was Talk Like a Pirate Day. Coulda had fun with that. Didn't. Had my 50th tomato sandwich of the garden season, give or take, which was probably better than faux piracy. I'm not quite sure why I mentioned that.

Saturday brought this headline -- and it wasn't in The Onion, either. It was at KUTV.com. "Polygamist women in ninja costumes attacked two adults in West Jordan [Utah], police say." Words fail me.

Today -- Sunday -- readers of USA Today found out that a lot of folks are in jeopardy of the IRS deciding that they -- the folks -- got too much help up front with their ObamaCare premiums, so the IRS will take back what it considers the excess by seizing it from the folks' 2015 tax refunds. Then again, another story about how ObamaCare costs a lot more than they promised isn't really news any more.

looking ahead wednesday september 24 is national punctuation day which can be a fun but surprisingly challenging day for blogging but i don't know if ill have a chance to celebrate it properly this year im giving you the short version now i guess in case i cant do something more about it wednesday see what i mean

Also, I've heard there's a fairly significant election coming up -- and did I mention the big vote on secession in Scotland this week, where they decided not to? -- but I'm not prepared with election goodies just yet.

So, eeny meeny miny moe. (I have no idea about the correct spelling of that, and it's not in my New Oxford American Dictionary (3rd Edition). At least I think it's not. Dictionaries are most useful for checking spelling when you already know how to spell the word, as you may have noticed -- rather like a meteorologist who stands your front yard, in case you want to go outside and ask him if it's raining.)

So, Thursday. Or Thursday's topic, anyway, with debatably tangential connections to Wednesday and Saturday, at least.

Why Aren't More Mormons . . .

There's been some chatter in the media, print and otherwise, on a question which seems to baffle a certain segment of Utah's population. To wit: "Why aren't more Mormons standing up for traditional marriage?"

Before we consider anyone's answers to the question -- which I heard several times in several different places in the last couple of weeks -- consider the assumptions behind the question itself:

  • Because most Mormons believe in the importance of family and in the existence of divinely-revealed standards of sexual morality, they will (or should) agree on how the law should treat same-sex marriage.
  • Because they mostly agree on what the law should be (see the previous assumption), Mormons should support a rally at the Utah State Capitol as an important and proper way to exert their influence on society.

Both of these assumptions are leaps more of faith than of logic. It's akin to the leap from "I believe this" to "this should be the law of the land for everybody."

It's easier to link to a web article than a radio broadcast, so as an example I'll offer a piece by someone I assume is a very nice, well-meaning person -- and talented too, judging by her bioblurb. Wendy Asay asked the "Why Aren't" question in a Meridian Magazine piece a couple of weeks ago, which was almost the first place I saw or heard it lately. She suggested the following reasons: "We" feel isolated. "We" fear being bullied or humiliated. "We" don't see (or understand) the complexities. "We" want to show love (presumably to people of other orientations). "We" have been caught off guard. Then she said that an excellent first step in standing up for traditional marriage would be showing up at that Rally in Defense of Marriage I mentioned, which was held Thursday at the Utah State Capitol.

Here's Why One (Supposedly) Isn't

So here are my responses to this very worthy question. I speak only for myself, but I suppose I must admit the possibility that someone out there more or less agrees with me on a point or two.

  1. You hint that "standing up for marriage" involves attending a rally. But there are other ways, not all political. I may be doing some of those, but you wouldn't know, even if you were less fixated on rallies and on politics generally.
  2. No one is attacking my marriage. (Make no mistake: It's pretty traditional. I'm a man. My wife is a woman. Our four children belong to both of us, legally and biologically. We live together. We're still married.) No significant political faction or government entity is trying to ban, abolish, dissolve, or otherwise destroy our marriage. Nor, as far as I can tell, is any significant faction attempting to make it impossible for any of my children to have a traditional marriage, once said child is prepared and able to persuade someone else to join the effort in perpetuity.
  3. We live in a pluralistic society, governed by laws and constitutions, with serious guarantees in place to secure and defend individual liberties, of which freedom of religion is (to my mind) the most basic. My commitment to freedom of religion includes great reluctance to compel others to abide by my principles, and it entails great suspicion of any effort by others to govern society on the basis of a particular set of sectarian principles, in the absence of a near-consensus in those matters among Americans generally.
  4. I actually do grasp a lot of the complexities. Earlier this year I spilled about 10,000 words here at the blog (spread across several posts), wrestling with the intersection of freedom, moral principles, marriage, civic morality, and the like. The real complexities in this picture -- for Mormons who are also Americans -- are far greater than the rallying types acknowledge. Not everyone who fails to rally to their banner is duped by easy slogans and bumper stickers.
  5. At present, I am far more concerned by threats to religious and other freedoms on both sides of the gay marriage debate than I am about whether the law allows John to marry Mike in the same way it allows Fred to marry Suzie. One side wants to maintain legal prohibitions against something it finds immoral, despite a growing consensus in American society that it should be permitted. This side has conjured for itself an Orwellian sense of religious freedom: not having to have people around who violate my religious principles. The other side -- at its all-too-familiar extreme -- thinks everyone should be forced to acknowledge and embrace its principles, and any dissent should be labeled, if not punished, as hate speech. Both sides, at least at their extremes, seek to distort or destroy freedom. A (figurative) pox on both their houses.
  6. I am able to separate these questions, as American principles require: "Is it moral?" and "If so, should the law require it, and if not, should the law forbid and punish it?" I don't want a tyranny of the pious any more than I want a tyranny of the impious, and I don't believe the law is an appropriate means for imposing principles on human conscience. When for any reason the law cannnot or should not enforce a moral principle, it must be left in the realm of debate, preaching, and persuasion, which are often better tools anyway.

Her Reasons Don't Work for Me

Now, a final word about Ms. Asay's reasons. (I call her Ms. because I wish to make no assumptions about her marital status -- though she is a grandmother -- or her preferred title. Offense is possible in this, but I mean none.)

Do I fail to act as Ms. Asay wishes because I feel isolated? No, but I do feel isolated. Too many people on both sides of gay marriage -- if there are only two sides -- act as if civilization stands or falls on whether civil law allows two people to marry when (some) religious law says they shouldn't. Far too few people on either side are weighing their words, actions, and political positions against the foundational principle of freedom, especially religious freedom -- which is a larger and more urgent question.

Is it because I fear being bullied and humiliated? No. Speaking in general terms, I've been bullied (verbally) by her side (not her specifically) far more than by her opponents for things I've said of a political nature in the past, and that didn't stop me from saying them. I know the other side has engaged in plenty of bullying too, but once you've been bullied by people who ought to be your friends and allies, bullying by your opponents isn't that much . . . different.

Is it because I want to show love? No. I don't think my Christian obligation to love precludes me from declaring what I believe to be right and wrong. It may affect the tone, timing, and medium of that message, I admit -- as it should.

Is it because I've been caught off guard? Not in the least. Some of what we're seeing I predicted years and years ago, to people who thought things could never get this far. Some of what we're seeing was percolating (there's that verb again, and I don't even drink coffee) in the Colorado city in which I spent my first decade of life -- nearly half a century ago -- and it was pretty hard to miss, even for a child.

"The time is past," writes Ms. Asay, "where we have the luxury of complacency." Perhaps -- if there ever was such a time. Oh, but how I wish for the luxury of debating consequential issues with people who are suspicious of their own urges to codify their particular moral principles into public law!


 

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.

I'd renew.


 

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.