Archive for the ‘Citizenship’ Category

What Cancel Culture Can’t Account For

January 5, 2022

A short article, but a miraculous one in our climate of cancel culture and the scorched-earth ideologies and tactics of whomever wields influence at the moment. The article reports how former inmates with the once-imprisoned Bill Cosby still try to keep in touch with him because of the positive impact he had on their lives while he was behind bars.

The author struggles with what appears to be this impossible paradox – a man imprisoned for accusations of sexually assaulting incapacitated women – could still have wisdom to impart and be a benefit to anyone. Because by today’s standards, this shouldn’t be possible. Someone who commits a crime or violates the accepted or promoted values of the moment deserves to be destroyed. Deserves to have their honorary degrees revoked, their accolades trampled, their achievements obliterated. The idea that a deeply flawed human being could at the same time actually be someone capable of doing good to others doesn’t hold currency in our culture today.

St. Paul would disagree, though. Read the latter portion of Romans 7 (actually, read ALL of this letter, but the most pertinent part to this discussion is in Chapter 7 for my less patient readers). St. Paul is not trying to exonerate himself. He is not insisting that he does not sin, or that his sin should not count against him. Rather, he acknowledges full well the reality of his sin, the severity of the sin, his deserving of the full penalty of the law for that sin. He realizes that his intentions are not enough to satisfy the requirement of the Law. And he recognizes he is doomed under the Law if left to himself. He is totally dependent on being rescued, redeemed, restored by someone external to himself (vs. 24-25).

I’m not defending what Cosby may have done. I’m not arguing he should not be punished for those crimes if they occurred. I simply hope to remind people that we are incapable of perfectly fulfilling the law. Either laws we create for ourselves or the Law given to us in Scripture upon which all of our laws ultimately derive whatever validity they might have. As such, punishment must come. As such, all of us to varying degrees deserve punishment. And as such, all of us must pray and plead not simply for justice and obliteration but mercy. Because whether we’re guilty of gossiping or shoplifting or murder, most every one of us also has moments where we are capable of doing some good – large or small – to others. Therein lies our humanity and our love for tragic heroes.

It’s not hard to punish. But it’s hard to punish while still desiring the best for the person being punished rather than simply wishing their suffering for reasons of revenge.

Following the French

December 31, 2021

I could have sworn I blogged some years ago about an initiative with some French grocery stores to sell ugly produce at lower prices. This based on the reality that only a portion of produce grown is able to be sold to grocery stores, who generally want perfect fruits and vegetables which will appeal to consumers. Those less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables often end up rotting with no buyers available. However, I wasn’t able to find either that post or any related online material about the program. Hopefully it’s still going!

But the French are continuing to re-evaluate how to be environmentally friendly in the grocery store, this time banning plastic packaging. I’ve been amazed (and depressed) that despite alleged concerns over the environment and trash here in the US, disposable products continue to be created and marketed – a triumph over alleged convenience over any sort of ecological or environmental conscious. The example that sticks in my mind is commercials for single-use disposable plastic cutting boards.

Attempting to reduce the production of single-use plastics and the ongoing creation of trash bound for landfills ought to be a common-sense topic for those who truly believe human beings are behind climate change. It ought to make sense in general, regardless of your views on the origins of climate change. Less trash is good, and reminding people of the financial as well as environmental benefits of reusing and reducing is something we all could use.

Might even make a good resolution for the new year!

Narrowing Solutions

December 18, 2021

We’re ramping up for a dire winter according to many predictions. The Omicron variant is widely believed to be far more transmissible than Delta even as early reports from South Africa and other places say it is less severe in the symptoms of infection. Or, you’re more likely to get it, but less likely to be hospitalized or die from it. On the whole good news if you presume (as I do) that Covid variations are not going to just disappear on their own and we are not going to suddenly develop bio-technology to eradicate them. Like the flu, Covid will continue to be around but will gradually grow less challenging as people develop better immune responses.

Thus far, the only solutions to yet another wave of Covid I’ve read focus on the need for vaccination, despite the fact many initial reports indicate vaccination does not prevent infection or even symptoms, but reduces the impact of infection. Or, getting the Omicron variant if you’re vaccinated should be less painful than if you get it and you aren’t vaccinated. Of course, I haven’t read many comparisons of the effects on vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated persons. If you have, send me a link. I surmise the lack of discussion about this is because vaccination is the solution we have culturally honed in on to the situation.

But if Covid will become endemic rather than pandemic (something common and expected as opposed to new or unfamiliar), the virus could continue mutating for some time, causing repeated spikes. While I pray this is not the case and the virus goes the way of other pandemics such as the Spanish Flu, which was really only extraordinarily deadly for 2-3 years, we can’t know that for sure. If it doesn’t, and there are recurring spikes, the problem is less a matter of keeping people from getting the virus than it is having the capacity to assist those who experience it more harshly and in potentially life-threatening ways.

Already cities and states and counties and countries are locking down again. While this may slow the transmission to some extent it certainly doesn’t stop it, as we’ve already seen in the various Covid waves thus far. But what it can do is minimize the number of people who have to go to the hospital. The concern ultimately is that we aren’t equipped to help those who are most likely to require hospitalization, that hospitals and ICUs will become overloaded and unable to help everyone who needs it.

I still marvel that no exploration of increasing our capacity (literal, our hospital bed capacity) has generated any notice or interest. We can’t shut down countries and states and cities indefinitely, but we could expand our hospital capacity to help more people who might require it. Considering we’ve spent already $3.5 trillion dollars on Covid-related relief, expanding capacity in New York City or Los Angeles seems like a good investment. At the very least, it could be good practice.

It’s not like there isn’t a plethora of real estate available that could be put to this use, even if temporarily. Creating the equivalent of higher-tech, more robust Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals seems like good practice to have. Beyond dealing with pandemic issues such experience could be valuable for other types of natural or national disasters. And if we had the capacity to handle the most serious cases Omicron might bring this winter, we could allow the virus to run it’s course in the hopes it is indeed less severe and could therefore provide additional levels of immune and antibody resistance to larger numbers of people more safely. There are reports that even for vaccinated people, contracting Covid further improves their immune response.

Our resolute determination to eliminate Covid may be valiant at one level, but it’s also a very narrow response. It would be nice to hear about other approaches to handling this pandemic so that it truly can transition to endemic status if our efforts to simply eliminate it fail. This sort of investment could economically benefit a much wider segment of our businesses than just the pharmaceutical companies.

Problematic Cuteness

December 16, 2021

I’m not immune to cuteness. Certainly there’s no lack of it available on the Internet. Perhaps you watched this little video as well. Cuteness a-plenty. And the first few times I watched it I chuckled. He is, certainly as the headline captures, a cheeky lad.

But then I kept thinking about it. And little by little I viewed it less than cute and more as problematic.

This isn’t a kid’s spontaneous exuberance. This isn’t a burst of spontaneity. This was planned. And I’m pretty positive the kid didn’t plan it all on his own.

There’s no hesitation. No uncertainty. No getting star-struck by the size of the arena or the lights. No wavering when being pursued. There’s an accomplice – assisting in either distraction or perhaps as an extra pair of hands to grab the ball initially or pass off to at the last minute. This was a pretty well-orchestrated heist.

And on its own there’s still a certain cuteness to it. It’s just a one-off event, after all. It’s not like they don’t have more game balls. But what does it teach us? What if it wasn’t a one-off but this happened in games and matches everywhere, all the time? I mean, beyond the fact that at some point the game balls would become more worthless because everybody already had one, what would this bring us to? The assumption that games should be regularly interrupted by the shenanigans of fans? What if they started swiping other things instead of just game balls?

All of this sounds pretty Grinch-y, but it just points out to me the double-standard we continue to create for young folks and reinforce in older folks. On the one hand we desperately want people to play by the rules and be good neighbors and co-workers and citizens and fans. On the other hand, we actively applaud those who flout the rules. This sets up an eventual collapse of order. You can’t tell kids in school to obey the rules and then act shocked when they don’t obey them because they’re being rewarded for breaking the rules.

Additionally there’s the sticky wicket of not being able to differentiate between which rules are acceptable to be broken and those that must not be broken. It’s ok to steal game balls but not ok to shoot up schools. Seems like a no-brainer, but obviously people are struggling with that differentiation. Or it’s ok to steal game balls but it’s not ok to default on legal and financial obligations you’ve sworn to uphold.

In which case you get articles like this (warning – profanity ahead) not explicitly telling people not to default on their student loans, but warning them there could be long-term repercussions beyond just freeing up short-term cash flow. Since they weren’t equipped by our massive and impressive educational system to realize that there are repercussions sometimes in going to college, and that loans need to be repaid. Obviously we can’t have everyone defaulting on their loans, can we? Even if they defaulters are cute. And yet when you break free morality and virtue from any comprehensive mooring, what else should you expect? If there isn’t a larger narrative wherein morals and virtue play important roles, why just pretend they’re important if you really believe there’s nothing bigger or greater than the moment or the span of this short life?

Kids aren’t stupid. They figure out pretty quickly that rules are arbitrary. And this further reinforces the larger cultural narrative that nothing has any real meaning anyway. We’re all just cosmic burps, accidents of gasses and molecules with no past greater than human desire and no future beyond the wall of death and no greater value in between than what we can beg, borrow or steal. We sit around and wring our hands about why the kids aren’t all right. More likely we just don’t want to acknowledge what we’re lacking. Contextualization. Meaning. Purpose. Not pretend stuff we make up for ourselves, but something rock-solid that carries us from the dawn of creation to the eternity after our deaths. Nothing short of this kind of meta-narrative can bear the weight of our personal disappointments and losses in this life, the voluntary (or involuntary) restraint of our desires and rages.

I’d have much preferred the cheeky lad to be met by parents who made him give the ball back, but I’m betting the parents are likely the ones who helped him plan it. Either actively with their presence or through their absence during his planning with others. It would ultimately have been not only cute but also important to have a morality and virtue greater than cuteness showcased. And I can quietly hope that actually happened. But you’re certainly not likely to see it filmed and going viral on the Internet.

The rod and reproof bring wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. Proverbs 29:15

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 1:7

Lutherans in the Spotlight

November 17, 2021

Lutherans – and particularly conservative, Confessional Lutherans – don’t often make it into the public spotlight. That’s partially intentional. Still, people are noticing that our aversion to the spotlight doesn’t mean we don’t have ideas (Biblical, hopefully!) to communicate to the power-brokers and king-makers of Washington D.C. Here’s a brief spotlight on the unfortunate necessity of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod working to help shape public policy and the rule of law.

Swallowed by the Cracks

November 17, 2021

(Still a great jam all these years later.)

Unsurprisingly, being fully vaccinated (whether with Johnson & Johnson’s single shot or the two-shot program required for other vaccines) is likely going to be redefined to insist on at least an initial (and I believe eventually annual at least) booster shots. In other words, I don’t think it will be long before immunized or vaccinated status is a rolling status dependent on mandatory updates. Failure to stay up to date on boosters will kick someone into the legal status of unvaccinated.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention to the actual science of the vaccines and the changing understanding of how they work and more specifically, how long they work. If antibody generation wanes considerably after six months, only through additional boosters can the population hope to be protected long enough – by our current methods – for the virus to wane in prevalence and strength. Of course, since the vaccines only reduce your odds of infection and reduce the effects of infection, the virus may never really subside, a reality countries around the world are coming to grips with as they transition from pandemic footing to trying to manage the situation as endemic and ongoing, like the flu.

In the meantime, the reality of an even bigger problem will likely garner little more than passing notice by lawmakers and citizens alike. Indeed, as more and more states decriminalize not only marijuana but cocaine (and potentially other drugs), the number of people dying from drug overdoses continues to skyrocket. Just in the last 20 years we’ve surpassed the number of Covid deaths (if my math is mostly correct). That may seem like a long time but this year we just surpassed 100,000 diagnosed deaths by drug overdose, up from only 20,000 a year just 20 years ago. At this rate the potential death rate for drug overdoses could rival Covid deaths, with no magic vaccine available to slow it down.

Musicians and other celebrities continue to pass away at young ages but the role of prescription medications as contributing causes of death is ignored. Regardless of whether someone kicks the habit or not drug abuse can cause permanent damage, damage that shortens a person’s likely lifespan. Yet we continue to allow the glorification of drug use even as it continues to strangle young people at an alarming and growing rate.

What a waste. When we emerge from our government and media inflicted Covid paranoia (at least I hope people emerge!) will we rally to destroy this larger and far longer-term enemy in our midst? Or will we continue to demand increasing laxness regarding the issue of drugs in general, further contributing to mixed messages to our impressionable youth?

I was a kid when the war on drugs began, long-overdue at that point and really just at the beginning of the epidemic of harder drug use as a widespread issue. The deaths in this war far eclipse the deaths of all of our military ventures in the last 40 years and Covid – probably combined. Maybe we won’t properly start caring about it until our ICUs are overwhelmed. Then again most overdoses aren’t caught in time to attempt medical treatment so I guess that conveniently won’t be a problem.

Maybe we’ll have to wait for the cemeteries to fill up and the environmentalists to get pissed off before we recognize that legalizing for tax benefits drugs that are killing our children is not good public policy. We seem far more willing to protect the environment than our children.

Show Me the Math

October 31, 2021

It’s hard in life as well as poker to know when someone’s bluffing. It’s easy to act and speak as though you’ve got a winning hand, and finding out if that’s true or not always entails a certain amount of risk. Some people aren’t willing to risk calling a bet to see if the other person is bluffing or not. Others love the risk.

Elon Musk certainly seems like a guy who isn’t afraid of risk. And why not – he certainly can afford to call a few bets now that he’s worth over $300 billion dollars. I’m glad to see he’s willing to put his money where someone else’s mouth is – if they can back their claims. Elon Musk has signaled he’s willing to spend $6 billion dollars to substantially alleviate world hunger, if the UN official who named that figure can prove his math.

Frankly, this is a great move – by both people.

The assumption that the wealthy could fix the world hunger problem (either in the short or long-term) has been a steady assertion by progressives advocating for wealth redistribution. However efforts to stave off or solve world poverty and hunger issues have at best blunted the damage of famines and other disasters, and have not resulted in the elimination of chronic poverty, hunger, malnutrition, etc. In some cases at least, aid efforts may have actually made things worse in the long run. This information is not often discussed by the media, though others are willing to point it out.

So for the United Nation’s World Food Program director to put a $6 billion dollar price tag on saving 42 million lives from eminent starvation is not unusual save for the specificity. But specificity is exactly what is needed. I assume the wealthy have reached their state of wealth and maintain it by some very good evaluation and analysis skills, something often lacking in wild assertions about how taxing the rich will fix various local, national, or global problems.

Musk’s calling out of this claim is also crucial. Talking about how the rich can save the poor is one thing. But showing it is quite another – or at least I assume it is. I assume the reason poverty and hunger have not been eliminated already by massive influxes of aid is because the calculations of experts and mathematicians and others fail to take into account basic human sinfulness. They operate strictly within the realm of the theoretical without accounting for the avarice and cruelty that is part and parcel of a fallen humanity.

Wanting to solve hunger is different from being able to, and the issue is not simply money, unfortunately. However hopefully this exchange – in addition to saving very real lives – could lead not just to future giving and investment increases, but improvements on the processes by which aid is envisioned, planned, and executed. I’ve got to believe that if the mechanisms were clearer, more people would be prompted to give. And if the mechanisms are flawed, then business people are far more likely to be able to help correct and improve them.

These are real lives at stake, and the inability to solve hunger and poverty totally should not hold people back from saving very real lives here and now. Hopefully the upshot of this exchange will be saving lives and showing others – wealthy and otherwise – how their donations can make real differences rather than just ending up in the pockets of anyone with a gun, a gavel or a scepter who decides to help themselves first.

Catastrophic

October 23, 2021

This is the word Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor used to describe the Court’s refusal to block Texas from enforcing Texas Senate Bill 8 which went into effect in early September and made it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to obtain an abortion from either an abortion clinic such as Planned Parenthood or a licensed doctor’s office.

It’s a good word. But let’s flesh it out a bit.

Catastrophic can mean something that causes great damage and suffering. It can also mean extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. It might also mean a sudden and large-scale alteration in state.

Great damage and suffering. Sotomayor means this to describe the suffering of women in Texas who are – at least for the time being pending Supreme Court review by early next month – possibly unable to obtain an abortion. Most statistics I found online indicate that there were in the neighborhood of 55,000 abortions provided in Texas in 2020. That to just under 4,600 abortions per month. For the sake of argument assuming numbers are constant, that means around 8000 women are potentially going to be prevented from obtaining an abortion from when the law went into effect until when the Supreme Court has promised an opinion on it.

That’s a big number. Then again, so is 596, the number of months since Roe v. Wade was finalized in January of 1972. I’m going to assume static numbers again, which I know is not entirely accurate since abortion numbers fluctuate by year, rising steadily from 1973 until 1996, when they began to decline. But since the fluctuation is similar to a bell curve it’s good enough for my broad brushstroke purpose here. 596 months of legal abortion, which adds up to – in Texas alone, and again based on generalized numbers – more than 2.7 million abortions in Texas. Think about that – 2.7 million babies legally killed in Texas alone since 1973.

I don’t know what Sotomayor’s rationale is for defending abortion. I don’t know at what point she believes the union of an egg and a sperm magically transforms from a non-human bunch of cells into a human being defended by other laws in our nation from being murdered. But if she thinks potentially delaying or preventing or causing greater cost or inconvenience to 8000 women who find themselves pregnant (despite presumably knowing that intercourse leads to a risk of pregnancy no matter what form of contraception you prefer to practice) is catastrophic, she hopefully can grasp how great a catastrophe over 2.7 million murdered babies in Texas is for those who based on clear science as well as religious conviction know that when that egg is successfully fertilized by a sperm, it is at that moment a new human life deserving of the full protection of our laws. Hopefully she can grasp that as catastrophic as she finds it that men and women should be inconvenienced by the biological results of their decisions, it is a far greater catastrophe to have redefined the meaning of life simply for the greater convenience of sexual liberty.

Extremely unfortunate or unsuccessful. Undoubtedly Sotomayor thinks of this in terms of the Supreme Court’s refusal to block S.B. 8 from enforcement until their review. However perhaps it should be used in this sense to describe the failure of a philosophy and culture of death that glorifies the sexual act but insists on stripping it of natural consequences and removing it from the sanctity of marriage. Nearly 50 years of Roe v Wade and undoubtedly for Sotomayor and those who share her philosophy and opinion it is catastrophic to think their way of thinking and their philosophy and their life choices could be found lacking, inappropriate, even illegal. There is the clear message from those who support legalized abortion that this is simply a fact of life now, a reality that must be accepted and protected as inevitable and unchangeable, even though it’s really just a legal decision rendered by a small group of people 50 years ago.

And legal decisions are capable of reversal. It is fully possible for a ruling to be recognized after the fact as inappropriate on any number of bases. In fact our judicial system is based on this recognition and insistence. People are flawed and therefore decisions can be flawed, no matter how passionately some people wish they were not. No matter how clearly science destroys the most fundamental arguments they use to support their position. The extremely unfortunate issue is that it has taken this long to threaten legalized abortion. That it has taken this long to begin to dismantle the idea that abortion is somehow some sort of human right the US government has an obligation to not just defend but actively promote.

Sudden and large-scale alteration of state. This is certainly true, and I suspect that Justice Sotomayor and I probably would agree in how we apply this definition. If Texas is successful there begins – because other states will follow suit – a formal recognition of the reality that has existed for 50 years – a huge portion of the US population believes abortion is morally wrong or intellectually indefensible. It means that supporters of abortion can no longer pretend it is a monolithic, universally accepted and desired option and that dissenters are outliers and a crazy minority.

Hopefully it will challenge the devastating effects of our liberal ideas about unfettered sexual behavior, though this is probably hoping for too much or, at the very least, will take a lot longer to come about. By continually denigrating the estate of marriage and the historic understanding of family, our country has fostered and perpetuated cycles and systems of poverty linked to unplanned pregnancies and pregnancies where the father is absent. The State has attempted to pretend the family and fathers don’t matter and that the State can replace these things with aid programs. It has failed miserably and those statistics are pretty quickly available. We’ve spent billions upon billions of dollars in the last 60 years on a philosophical and political model that has failed to save those it claims to save, and instead has consigned them and their descendants to a continuous cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to break under current conditions.

Hopefully we can start to have dialogue again about the importance of understanding sexuality as something far too important to fling about casually with a disregard for consequences – something made possibly only by the continued support of legalized abortions and free or nearly free contraceptives and abortifacients. Hopefully we can begin to talk again about the value of human life instead of how to sacrifice some lives in order to make our lives more convenient.

Yes, the changes afoot – changes that hopefully will be sustained by the Supreme Court’s review – are catastrophic. But I’d argue in a good way, rather than the negative way Justice Sotomayor interprets them. That’s a lot of hope, but even for a realist like me, hope is critical. That hope is well worth the inconvenience of 8000 women. The lives of 2.7 million murdered Texan children deserve a little inconvenience by some at the moment, if the outcome could be the saving of 2.7 million Texans over the next 596 months and more.

Suffering for Your Faith

October 12, 2021

I’m no fan of Jehovah Witness theology, but I certainly respect the conviction of the young men described in this article who are willing to serve prison time rather than violate their religious beliefs of pacifism. I wonder how many Christian young people here in the US would be willing to suffer rather than sacrifice their beliefs.

We recently re-watched the epic The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy since our youngest recently finished reading the books and wanted to compare the movies to the books (overall not bad but a lot of creative license in adding or expanding characters). Throughout the books/movies there is a consistent theme of being willing to face almost certain doom and failure, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Whether it’s Frodo and the Fellowship willing to take on the “fool’s hope” of trying to destroy the Ring of Power in the heart of enemy territory, or Theoden leading the remainder of his troops against an overwhelmingly larger force besieging Minas Tirith, the theme of being willing to die for what is right rather than submit to evil is powerful.

What an essential theme to pass on to our children! Life is a beautiful thing, so beautiful that sometimes it must be risked in order to ensure it remains beautiful and free. I’m reminded yet again of C.S. Lewis’ prescient words:

Since it is so likely that (children) will encounter cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.

London Bridge

September 1, 2021

It’s quiet at 7am on Sunday morning in Lake Havasu City. I drive down from the seemingly endless rows of houses towards the main drag through town that skirts the Colorado River where it bulges out into Lake Havasu. I’m seeking a cup of tea before the morning of commutes and preaching between two different parishes I’m visiting with a colleague in Kingman, AZ and Needles, CA.

I see the sign for the London Bridge.

Ah yes, the London Bridge. Brought over from England and set back up again in this strange little river town. Bought from the town of London in the late 60’s and carted over to Arizona as a tourist attraction. Who would have ever thought of such a thing?

But somebody did. Somebody in London thought of offering it for sale instead of demolishing it to make way for the new one that was needed. And a wealthy businessman in the US thought of buying it and setting it up again. And there it remains today, some 50-years later.

I’m not interested in seeing the Bridge. It’s enough to know it’s there. Enough to know that daring people were able to conceive of such an improbable venture and carry it to fruition. Enough to know that such intrepidness was possible in the not-so-distant past, even if such intrepidness seems very lacking today. Today when we’re too absorbed in our cell phones and binge-watching and can’t be bothered to be concerned about our eroding freedoms and new definitions of liberty.

It’s good to know the bridge is there. Anachronistic as it is both in terms of engineering as well as regulatory red tape. Good to think that perhaps there remain people willing and able to dream and dare and accomplish improbable things.