Archive for January, 2009

Double Standards

January 30, 2009

The January 17th issue of the Economist has a mini-essay calling for the immediate cessation of Israel’s offensive into Gaza.  That offensive has since come to a halt, perhaps in part because of the plethora of these sorts of demands by people living safely removed from the ongoing threat of unstable rocket fire.  

The author points out that “Israel’s ruthless offensive has already cost it dear in world opinion”.  This opinion, further, is generated by the “emotional impact” of “heart-wrenching images”.  In other words, because the images of the destruction in Gaza are more widely disseminated and available than the images of rockets falling into Israel at all hours of the day and night, Israel’s efforts are somehow more wrong.  The PR war, in other words, is being won by Hamas, and the PR war these days is almost more valuable than air superiority. There’s no mention made of holding Hamas accountable for it’s actions.  There’s no call for Hamas to be pressured out of it’s role in Gaza.  There’s no denunciation of Hamas.  The focus is solely on Israel.  
The essay concludes with the insight that “However justified it [Israel] believes this war to be, it is a war that has done the casue of peace profound damage.”  The implication being that peace was pretty much on the way prior to Israel’s attack on Gaza.  But peace wasn’t on the way.  Hamas was firing rockets with impunity into Israel on a regular basis.  Where was the international outcry then?  Where was the demand for cease and desist?  Where was the moral indignation?
Israel has things to answer for, without a doubt.  Fresh off a stunning stand-off in Lebanon, Israel was keen to make sure that there were no pulled punches.  Israel hit and hit hard, to once again try to impress on it’s neighbors that it is more than willing and able to militarily defend itself as well as pummel it’s enemies.  Unfortunately, this is a point which, no matter how poignantly made, never seems to stick with the leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah.  When you are ideologically committed to the destruction of something, you are willing to absorb incredible losses in your quest for destruction.  The ultimate problem in this continuing conflict is that ideology is hard to deal with through half-hearted military reprisal.  Until the international community becomes committed enough to ending the ideological brainwashing that suffuses much of the Arab & Muslim Middle East, indoctrinating people against Israel without any thought of personal culpability or involvement, this situation is going to keep repeating itself until somebody has the resolve to use nuclear force – at which point the entire region will have lost – perhaps permanently – this struggle.  
Perhaps the lesson that Israel needs most to learn from this conflict is that it needs to devote more attention to the PR war, and not simply the military war.  
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Happy Daze

January 29, 2009

Happiness is big business.

More accurately, the pursuit of happiness is big business.  The actual experience of happiness appears to be getting more elusive.  
4000 books on happiness published last year?!?  That’s mind boggling.  And apparently, not overly effective, which of course is likely to just continue the spiral for more and better and more effective books on happiness.  We’re nothing if not persistent.
Have we always been this unhappy?  Or can this be traced to our unhinging of ourselves individually and culturally from a world view that provides us with a sense of purpose and place, that provides answers as to our proper roles and limitations?  Is it coincidence that the first generations to be broadly considered post-Christian also appear to be the unhappiest, the loneliest?  
More importantly, are we going to be able to admit that we were wrong, that we made a terrible, horrible mistake, and turn around and head back?  Or will we resolutely and persistently press on in the vague hope that a new sense of purpose and meaning can be found, all the while knowing rather cynically that it can’t and won’t?  

Who’s Your Daddy?

January 29, 2009

I find this kind of perplexing.  However, it could just be that it’s late and my brain is not working, right?

So, while apparently the actual embryo itself is not considered a human being worthy of protection, bioethicists are concerned that the DNA material it contains, which is a combination of parental DNA, be treated in a manner appropriate to protecting the identity of the parents.  So, the embryo contains a human identity that is valid and recognizable – but scientists are saying that it’s the parents DNA, not the DNA of the embryo itself.  
I don’t get that.
The parents are real people, and they have unique DNA that is associated with their identity as real human beings.  They have contributed their DNA to the creation of the embryo, which now has it’s own unique DNA, which is not associated with the identity of a unique human being (the embryo itself).  However, the contributed DNA of the parents *is* worthy of ethical treatment since they are real people.
The embryo has the exact same kind of stuff as the parents, but the embryo can be dismissed as just a mass of cells, while the parents cannot, because they’re much bigger and vocal and treating them as simply large growths of non-human cells would tend to make us look like monsters.  But they both have the same material within them that is linked with their unique identity as human beings.
I guess I need somebody to ‘splain this to me.  Because it seems like one huge blinkin’ contradiction.  Funny, the bioethicist they interview doesn’t seem to see any contradiction though.
Must just be me.

Unsocial Networking

January 29, 2009

Social networking is still an odd thing to me.  

An introvert by nature, it’s antithetical to my understanding of relationships to create as many relationships as possible.  Relationships take work, nurturing, cultivation.  I can only do so many of those at a time reasonably well.  Amassing hundreds or thousands of MySpace or Facebook friends seems like an overwhelming prospect that would result in my feeling as though I was not being  a good enough friend to those people.
Then again, I may just be attempting to justify why I only have two friends on Facebook.  
I’ve recently expanded my social network a bit on Facebook, having accepted friend requests from several folks from high school.  I was already friends with the five or so people from high school that I have kept in touch with consistenty over the last 20+years.  But these were newer additions.  People that I knew in high school, but that I wasn’t generally in the same social circles with.   I was in relatively few social circles at all in high school, so this is really an understatement.  
Because of my vocation, I tend to think that I need to allow friend requests from pert near anyone, as the opportunity for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ might present itself.  Which doesn’t appear to have been a concern for this person.  I also recognize that, for some of these folks, there isn’t going to be much in the way of communication or banter or much of any other kind of communique.  They befriended me out of curiosity, and now that curiosity has been satisfied, we return to the situation that we were in for the last 20+ years – noncommunication.  So in hopes of a discussion arising when they peruse my FB info, or happen to stumble over my blog, I allow ‘friend’ connections that I wouldn’t otherwise feel were necessary or even desired.  
High school wasn’t a fun time for me.  I wasn’t well equipped for it, socially, and it showed.  A lot.  I have sorted through a lot of that stuff, and reached a place where I have forgiven those who hurt me in some way during those years.  And I pray that those that I hurt have reached a place of equal peace and forgiveness towards me.  But does forgiveness require that we socially network over the Internet with people, solely for the purpose of demonstrating that we have, indeed, forgiven them (even if they aren’t particularly aware that they caused some injury of which forgiveness would be necessary)?  One friend that I’ve discussed this with doesn’t see the need to allow friendships just because they happen to remember each other’s name from high school.  Her take on it is, if they weren’t friends in high school, why would they want to socially network now?  
It’s a stance I inherently resonate with, yet I’ve chosen to act differently.  Foolish optimism on my part?  I don’t know.  I suppose that when FB goes the way of dinosaurs and AOL, it won’t really matter.  
We’ll just be struggling with the same issues with a new application.  In 3-D.  Fortunately, 3-D would appear to be ideally suited (definitionally?)  for someone with two Facebook friends.  I’m in luck!

Community Garden II

January 28, 2009

I mentioned a while back that I wanted to pitch the idea of a community garden to my church.  Well, I did last night – officially.

Reactions were on the cool side, but certainly not a rejection of the idea.  As expected, the biggest questions concerned liability.  What if someone takes advantage of us in some manner through this process?  Granted, we live in a sinful world and there are people out there who are keen on taking an opportunity wherever they can find one.  Mention was made of a Los Angeles gentleman who allowed a vacant 14-acre parcel of land he owned to be used as a community garden.  When he informed the locals that the garden had to be shut down so that he could sell the property, he was smeared as a heartless man and had to spend some time and money in legally asserting his right to do as he pleased with his own property.
Frankly, I don’t think that situation matches very well with our own situation.  I pray that we’ll be able to come to agreement on this and move forward.  It’s important for churches to be involved in the lives of the neighborhoods they reside within, in very practical and beneficial ways.  We don’t have much in terms of resources, but we do have some space.  We ought to be good stewards and put it to productive use.

Hit Me Baby, One More Time

January 24, 2009

An interesting report on a UK study documents the (not surprising) fact that teen girls are increasingly having more than one abortion (not simultaneously, obviously).  The report indicates that after related adjustments, the percentage of teen girls who have had more than one abortion (and sometimes three & four of them) has increased by 68% since 1991. 

While looking for the report itself, I found this interesting page of statistics about US pregnancies and abortions, which indicates that 47% of women aged 15-44 have had more than one abortion.  Perhaps equally shocking is that roughly 50% of all pregnancies in the US are unintended, and about 40% of these unintended pregnancies result in abortion.  50% of US women obtaining abortions are under the age of 25.  
I find the responses to the UK study to be rather fascinating.  A representative of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service seems to feel that the dramatic rise in repeat abortions is a good thing, since it demonstrates that abortions have become more widely accepted as well as more readily available.  While she does admit that fewer teen pregnancies would be a good thing, she seems to dismiss out of hand the idea that perhaps we need to seriously examine our sexual values.  It would seem that for her, and probably BPAS, the issue is not about discouraging sexual activity (even amongst minors), but rather a matter of better education regarding how to have ‘safe’ sex.  
She seems hopeful about the “extensive” amount of research being put into this topic.  Funny, it seems like we could save an awful lot of time, money, health issues, etc. simply by refusing to sell sexuality to our children, and then pretend that we have no idea why they’re having sex.  If we quit glorifying the celebrities who glorify casual sex – I think we would begin to see rather amazing results.  Clearly, the path of continuing to accelerate the selling of sex to younger and younger children (courtesy of such lovely things such as the Bratz dolls) is *not* going to change things, no matter how much time and money we spend trying to teach our children to have ‘safe’ or ‘responsible’ sex.  

Mission Accomplished

January 23, 2009

Stop the presses.

It wasn’t the highly sexualized, near-naked videos.
It wasn’t  French-kissing Madonna.
It wasn’t her bizarre behavior.
But eventually, the media powers that be figured out a way to generate some serious parental outrage over Britney Spears.  I’m guessing that the idea is for the media coverage of parental outrage to fuel sales and push Britney back up closer toward the envied spot she held – pre-Kevin – of Queen of Pop.  
Parents are outraged to discover that the title and lyrics of the latest release from Spears’ comeback effort, Circus, is just a thinly veiled      vulgarism.
Gee, I can’t imagine why parents are so upset at this behavior.  Were there no inklings earlier on that perhaps Britney was not the best role model for their little darlin’s?   At the risk of offending some folks, I can’t understand why parents are priming their daughters for adolescence at age 5.  Call me old fashioned (and perhaps a variety of other things as well), but it seems rather strange to me that pre-schoolers are being fed a musical and fashion diet of teen-age or older material.  High School Musical may seem pretty squeaky clean next to Spears and other acts, but it’s still a production centered around the lives of teen-agers.  Trust me, our kids are going to be teen-agers soon enough.  Why in the world would we start feeding them a steady diet of teen angst and teen crushes and teen hormones years before they acquire those things for themselves?
Parents need to consider that just because something is produced by Disney, or just because someone used to be a little more bubble-gummy, doesn’t mean that they are suitable for young consumption.  I’m not sure why parents would be in such a hurry to usher their children into the minefield of adolescence, but at least wait until they’ve biologically reached it for themselves.  
We shouldn’t be surprised at Britney or Vanessa or any of the other folks who are so heavily marketed across very broad age demographics.  We shouldn’t be surprised at the behavior of these media products, which also means that we ought to know better than to feed them to our kids.

The Right Right

January 23, 2009

I find it interesting that, with all of the critical reporting about the state of the economy, some of President Obama’s first moves are directed at that cherished issue for the left (and the right, as a result), abortion.  Eliminating the bans on funds to groups who in some way support or provide for abortions seems like a curious initial emphasis.  Considering that funds are going to be in pretty darn short supply in general, it seems odd that freeing them up so immediately is such a high priority.  

Ahhh, the confusing world of politics, of which I gratefully know so little.
In justifying this sort of move, President Obama returns the same rhetorical schtick that the pro-choice crowd has been harping on for decades.  That abortion is a liberating necessity to ensure that women are treated equally.  However, these arguments miss the point.  In arguing for the right to an abortion as the right to be defended and advanced, the pro-Choice folks are missing the point.  They’re arguing for the wrong right.  This essay clearly lays out what I’ve argued frequently on this issue.  The issue isn’t over pregnancy and abortion, the issue is rightfully over sex.  
The real right that is being defended, is the right to engage in sexual conduct without the repercussions of this sort of conduct.  Rather than insisting on sexual responsibility, the argument has been carried that this is not reasonable, or desirable, and therefore, we must ensure that those who choose (and our culture is encouraging them to choose this, make no mistake) to engage in recreational sex do not suffer the harmful – but logical – side effects of sex.  Namely, babies.  
I am completely pro-choice, but not for the same choice that Roe v. Wade created.  I think that every woman should be guaranteed the choice as to whether or not to engage in sexual intercourse.  This would focus legal efforts on far less glamorous – but arguably far more important – issues of ensuring that women are safe from predatory practices, that both boys and girls are brought up to treat sex responsibly rather than as some glorified roller-coaster ride.  It would involve retooling our culture from one of licentiousness to one of responsibility.  There are those that claim this is impossible, but then they’re forgetting the fact that in just 50 years or less, we successfully retooled our American culture the opposite direction.  
I’m all for rights, but let’s be clear about which right is the right one.  

What’s the Point?

January 23, 2009

It’s the day of the big race.  All of the cars lined up on the starting line, engines revved and ready to go.  The checkered flag falls, annnnnndddddd…they’re off!  But within a matter of seconds, it is apparent that there is something odd going on.

All of the cars leaving the starting line are staying in formation.  They’re all driving 45 miles an hour and are perfectly aligned, never breaking their formation.  Yet on the televised version of the race – and on the viewing screens around the race track, a much different race is taking place.  On screen, the cars are jockeying for position and driving 200 miles per hour.  It’s a riveting race, and it’s exactly the same drivers and the same cars that are on the actual track – but it’s a different race.
That seems – to me at least – like a pretty good analogy for the taped music that was used at the Inauguration.  I’m not criticizing Obama & company in particular for this, because this is increasingly becoming the norm for ‘live’ events.  There is value attached to having live performers, but there is *not* a value attached to having a live performance.  We want the people, but we aren’t interested in the liveness of the performance, because that could introduce some fairly significant room for error.  There are environmental limitations for some of these sorts of performances, and we insist on having the performers without any of the risks associated with putting them into stupid situations.
So it’s too cold, and the strings of the instruments might break when they are played?  Then why the heck put the people outside?  What’s the value of having four musical masters sitting outside freezing their talented keisters off if it’s too cold to be playing?  What was the perceived value of having them sit outside, instead of having them seated inside where temperatures could be controlled?  It’s not like most people were going to be able to really see them anyways – they’d be far more visible on a telecast screen or a television.  But no, they had to be outside, and we couldn’t risk having a problem in the performance, so we pre-recorded the music, amplified the pre-recorded music, and then had the musicians play the same music at the same time, unamplified.
I’m thinking that if I were a master musician, I might have informed the planners of the event that it would be completely moronic to attempt to play outdoors because of the cold, and that the performance needed to be indoors, where it could still be televised properly, and where the performance could actually be live.  Apparently, if such a conversation ever took place (and I can’t imagine that it didn’t!), the organizers still insisted that despite the risks, and despite the need to amplify the pre-recorded, controlled session rather than the live, actual players, the performers had to be outside.
We have a propensity for dominating our environment and enforcing our will over it.  Yet we seem oddly adverse to the side-effects of such efforts.  Whether it’s China adding in digitized or pre-recorded fireworks for their Olympics, or the inaugural swap-a-roo, we want to demonstrate such a level of control and precision in events that are, by their very nature, imprecise and beyond total control, that we’re willing to fake reality to a certain degree to bring off the desired effect.  It’s the effect that matters, and how it is achieved is secondary.  But not fully secondary, because we still have to give the impression that the means for achieving an effect are the expected means.  Because that’s what demonstrates our ability to control.  
Frankly, it is often the flaws – whether a crash in a car race, or a broken string in a musical performance – that make the performance most memorable.  We can appreciate a beautifully played song, but we remember the time when the string broke.  It sticks out in our memory precisely because of the imperfection, precisely because it was not a totally controllable situation.  Precisely because despite our desire for total control, we are imperfect, and total control is never truly possible.  Flaws and errors remind us of this, and it’s an important reminder.  
How dangerously isolated we become when we cannot tolerate any room for error.

BSG PDQ

January 22, 2009

I found this to be an absolutely fascinating essay.  I truly hope it’s actually Dirk Benedict writing this.

I remember when BSG first came out.  Yes, it was awful.  Yes, it was cashing in on the sudden rejuvenation of intergalactic interest generated by Star Wars.  And it was really the only option as such on TV.  It had special effects that seemed pretty good for the time (at least good enough for an nine year-old boy).  
I have only seen one episode of the re-engineered BSG that has taken audiences by storm.  And it appeared to be far better acted and gritty than the original.  But are these, in and of themselves, enough to make up for the fact that the show’s emphasis has changed dramatically – from optimistic to a much darker and cynical attitude?  What do we make of the blurring of good and evil, enemy and ally, and the curious relationship of sexuality in these arenas?  
I’ll leave it to fans of the new BSG to examine this issue more closely.  But I agree with the gist of what ‘Benedict’ is saying here, and I think it goes well beyond the issue of an actor bitter at not being included in a new project.  The times, they are a-changin’, and apparently, those changes extend into the far reaches of the universe as well.