Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Walking the Walk

May 3, 2019

Many people  are upset about Facebook’s recent changes.  In addition to banning individuals it considers to be dangerous (and what exactly are the criteria for being labeled dangerous, and who gets to decide them and determine who meets the criteria?), Facebook will ban other users from linking to external sites (such as Infowars) it deems inappropriate.  Repeated attempts by a Facebook user to link to banned sites could or will result in that Facebook user being banned from Facebook as well.

You might think that this is all a good idea or not.  You may like Infowars or you might not.  At the end of the day this is a good reminder that Facebook is not a government entity or some other sort of entity that is required to do things the way we think it should.  It is a business with owners and a Board of Directors and investors.  They are convinced that implementing these sorts of policies will not hurt Facebook’s business.  If they thought it would, they probably wouldn’t do it.  For all the talk about community and connectivity, at the end of the day money talks.

So here’s what to do if you’re upset.  It’s what you should probably do if you’re not upset either, because while you may agree with banning these particular people and sites, one day you may find that other people and sites are banned that you don’t see as problematic.  Pendulums have this nasty habit of swinging back and forth.  Or  even if the pendulum doesn’t swing back, what kind of community and connectivity do you have if you only ever see and hear things that you agree with or that reflect one particular ideological direction?  Are you comfortable cutting everyone out of your life who doesn’t agree with your political or social or religious views?  Many people may be, but should you?

So, here’s what you do.

Go through all those Facebook friends.  Those who are actually friends and you actually keep in touch with, message them and request direct contact information.  E-mails or phone numbers or addresses.   Instagram or  other platform usernames (though these will be less useful  as inevitably, if Facebook succeeds, other platforms will follow suit).  Figure out how to stay in touch one on one without an inbetween entity.

And when you have all that data, then get rid of Facebook.  If you want to send a message, send it this way, but deleting your account.  If enough users were to do this, I’m sure Facebook would notice and perhaps even rethink its policies.  Facebook is a company focused on making money.  As such it is free to do what it wants or thinks is best in this regards within the limits of the law.  But consumers are free to respond to those changes and indicate if they approve of them or not.

Back in the 80’s Coca Cola decided it would change the recipe for Coca Cola to make it sweeter, more like Pepsi.  I and millions of other Coca Cola lovers objected, loudly.  We refused to buy the new product, and raised a pretty big stink about it.  Coca Cola eventually re-introduced the original recipe as Coca Cola Classic.  Companies can make mistakes just like people can.  Sometimes those mistakes can be moved past, other times they can’t.  The question is ultimately what are you going to do about it, personally?  Are you willing to quit using Facebook?  Sure, it will be inconvenient to some extent.  Are you willing to suffer a little for something you believe is right?

More importantly, are you willing to take a risk to find out if it really is inconvenient or painful to live without it?

 

 

 

Slow Moving Train Wreck

May 1, 2019

The Los Angeles Times reported today that for the first time since records have been kept, the county of Los Angeles experienced a growth rate of 0% last year, and California as a whole grew by the smallest amount since we’ve tracked these sorts of things.

The article duly noted a variety of potential causes for this slow in growth rate.

  • Fewer immigrants from Mexico and more from Asia.  Asian immigrants apparently on the whole are better educated than Mexican immigrants, and better-educated people tend to have fewer children.  Tuck this particular detail away in your memory for just a moment – we’ll come back to it.
  • Native-born Americans have been experiencing a decline in birth rates for years.
  • A lack of housing (affordable, of course) is another possible contribution to slower growth rates as people can’t afford to move here.  Or stay here.
  • Economic uncertainties over the past 20 years are also likely to blame as people are less able or inclined to have kids in rugged economic times.
  • Natural disasters such as the devastating wildfires of 2017 and 2018 contributed to a rearrangement of population in certain affected areas.
  • California lost roughly a million people between 2007-2016.  Six million people moved out of the state and only five million moved in.

What the article didn’t see fit to note is the popular idea – pushed for the last 50 years – that we are overpopulating the planet.  This idea – pushed in schools particularly – is likely to take psychological root in many people who then decide to have smaller families.  The longer you’re in school (the better educated you are, as per above), the more often you’re going to hear this over-population mantra and will likely feel greater pressure to respond to it by not having lots of (or any) kids.

However the article mentions in passing the completely devastating this false idea is and will continue to have on our society as fewer young people struggle to support a larger population of older people.  Is it any wonder that socialism and a restructuring of our economy is gaining popularity among younger generations?

Also not discussed in the article is the trend for people to wait longer before marrying.  I’d presume that there is a corresponding delay in having children, at least among people inclined to think that those two things are related.  And if you aren’t marrying until your very late 20’s or early 30’s, and need to get your economic ducks in a row before contemplating children, then it’s going to be getting more and more difficult (biologically) to get pregnant and carry to term.

And I wonder about possible links about delaying having children and whether people who have built enjoyable lives without children are having a harder time considering adding children to the equation and spoiling some of the fun.

No conjecture was offered as to why more people are leaving than coming to California, but many Californians will quickly offer some explanations – over-regulation, over-taxation, and a disconnect between the major population centers and the rest of the state.

Lots of factors to consider, both ones that the Times chose to talk about and a few it didn’t think to mention, but which likely have a real impact as well.

 

 

 

Jumping for Conclusions

April 23, 2019

Like many of you, I watched in sorrow as Notre Dame de Paris burned at the start of Holy Week.  And like many of you, I heard many news reports declaring that, even before people were able to investigate fully, the cause of the fire was accidental, related to an antiquated electrical system, perhaps.

News stories have left it at this, at best.  CNN has no new updates on the cause or investigation after almost a week.  The New York Times runs stories (like this) that presume an accident and leave no room for deeper exploration of the event.  But that’s not unreasonable, is it?  I mean, it must have just been an accident, right?  Even though it happened at the start of Holy Week – the holiest time of the Christian liturgical year?  I mean, you’d need additional evidence before you start hypothesizing that perhaps it wasn’t just an accident, right?

I didn’t hear about other attacks on churches in Paris in the same rough timeframe.  Here’s an article that deals with whether US media should bother to report on Christian sites being attacked in Europe (fortunately the article thinks that they should be reported on, but the reality is that they by and large are not reported on in the US.)But this article pointed out that Notre Dame was  not the only church having difficulties in the days leading up to or including Holy Week.  Like the Basilica of St. Denis.  Another article indicated that a recent arrival from Pakistan had been arrested in conjunction with some  of the vandalism, though the article did not mention the man’s religion.  And in the weeks that followed, as Christians around the world suffered violence and death, there has been a marked reluctance to identify causes.  The article’s title – Taquiyya – is reference to a Muslim doctrine that permits Muslims to lie about their religious adherence when necessary.  What about the arson at St. Sulpice in early March?  Didn’t hear about that either, and Newsweek apparently is only mentioning it because the priest there is cautioning against Notre Dame conspiracy theories.

Didn’t hear about these events?  Or about many other similar events?  How curious.  There’s a story here about it.  Here’s a story with an editorial insert to assure readers that they aren’t insinuating that Notre Dame was anything but an accident, despite all these other horrific acts of vandalism or sabotage to other Christian churches.  Articles such as this go out of their way to quote people – religious  people especially – who claim that Christian houses of worship are not being singled out for attack.  But this is exactly what seems to be happening, whether the media wants to acknowledge it or cover it or not. Christian news sites are far more willing to say the difficult reality – attacks on Christian churches are on the rise, and that those attacks with links to Islam are increasing dramatically.

If a mosque is attacked anywhere in the world, the outpouring of sympathy is monumental.  But if Christian churches are attacked and their adherents slaughtered, there is little mention at all.  Some sites are willing to show the unusual lengths that many prominent politicians in our country will go to not to acknowledge acts against  Christians, and not only to not question Islamic extremism, but use attacks on Christian churches as an opportunity to denounce Islamophobia.

Americans can enjoy or depend upon a basic NIMBY attitude (not in my back yard) to justify ignorance or disinterest.  But ignorance and disinterest are the necessary fertilizer to allow acts of violence to crop up and proliferate.  As many have pointed out, regardless of whether Notre Dame was an accident or not, as lamentable as the destruction to the building is more lamentable still is the atrophied state of Christianity in France, in Europe, and increasingly in the United States.  In many real senses the death of church buildings is a sign of the death of the faith itself in large numbers of the population.

I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories.  Nor do I think that Muslims are behind any and every attack on Christian sites or people.  Neither should we turn a blind eye – or have our eyes blinded due to lack of coverage or investigation – if there are real and credible threats.  And as a reminder to all those folks out there so aghast that our President might belittle or mistrust media and news outlets, it’s slanted or non-existent coverage of this kind that lead not just the President but many others to distrust our media and news outlets, suspecting them of partisan politics and skewed reporting to support it.  Be objective and let the chips fall where they may.  This used to be the ideal and goal of news outlets and journalists.  I don’t blame people for suspecting that this isn’t the goal any longer.

Rebuilding What?

April 18, 2019

Like many of you I watched in horror as the images and live-feeds of Notre Dame de Paris engulfed in flame flickered across my computer screen.  I’d last been there in 2016, and that was my third visit in my lifetime.  It’s an amazingly beautiful architectural achievement.  The crowds are lamentable but, since I’m part of them, it’s hardly reasonable to complain.  Each visit I stood in increasingly long lines to march up the steps to the twin towers.  Last time I snapped a Facebook photo of one of the rose windows that miraculously survived the recent conflagration.

Now it has been grievously damaged by the fire, and will require substantial rebuilding.  But the question becomes whether it should be rebuilt as it was, the reflection of nearly 1000 years of changes and additions?  Or should it be made into something new, something representative not of its past but rather today or the future.  A reflection not of Christianity and the God of the Bible, but rather some undefined representation of a now mostly undefined French or even European culture.

It may sound strange that people would want to reimagine a Christian house of worship – particularly one so famous – into something not a Christian house of worship.  But there are those who are promoting exactly such an idea, as this article describes.

There would indeed be a bitter irony if this beautiful place of worship was recreated into something atheistic or secular.  While numbers have undoubtedly dwindled in recent times, worship is still something that occurred in Notre Dame each day, the last service about an hour before the fire broke out.  But with houses of worship – even great cathedrals  – falling into disuse and subsequent disrepair as the European exodus from the Christian faith nears completion, it’s hardly surprising that many people see them as nuisances rather than useful places for continued Christian worship.

 

 

Living What We Believe

March 27, 2019

There’s a funny dichotomy at play in our culture today.  On the one hand, people  with alternative values and ideas about reality are expected not simply to believe these things but put them into practice to transform traditions and time-honored ways  of doing and thinking.  On the other hand, religious people (ie. Christians) and others who find value and meaning and purpose in tradition are told they can believe these things privately (for now) but are publicly castigated and punished if they attempt to live out their beliefs in the public sphere.

I love the headline on this article.  The Christian school is allegedly “denying education” to this young person, rather than simply denying them admittance to their particular school.  The sad thing is here at play are many actual members of the Catholic parish that runs the school, who think that the Roman Catholic teachings on sexuality are a “notion”  rather than a long-standing theological understanding of not only Christians but Jewish people before them.  The situation also highlights the importance of consistency, as making exceptions in one area can lead to the misunderstanding that exceptions are appropriate in all situations.

Sad But Not Surprised

March 13, 2019

So scandal has broken loose again.  The rich and famous have been found using their status and money to set their children up with admissions to top universities.  People have been paid to take tests.  Lies have been told.  Money has been paid.  And former starlets have been arrested.

Most of the people I’ve heard talking about this are shocked and outraged.  I can understand the outrage, but shock?  Really?  Are we that naive?  Or are we that convinced that our sinful human natures have been sufficiently remedied by our rule of law?  C’mon, people!  You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, and you should assume that somewhere, in some manner, money is talking and people are listening and systems are compromised.

This is how it’s always been.  Money buys influence.  The rich have access to myriad options that the rest of us don’t.  It’s not fair or right, it just is.  It can and should be illegal but people will still find ways around it.

This is not justifying the behavior and saying we shouldn’t care.  Sure, go ahead and care.  Allow justice to do its work when it gets the chance.  But don’t imagine it has solved the problem or eliminated the practice.  Some people got caught.  Others haven’t and won’t.

Nor is this another argument for redistributing the wealth.  Fiery politicians seem to think they can just take money away from rich people and end all of our problems that way.  This won’t work either.  Corruption conducts business in all sorts of currency, whether monetary or  related to prestige, influence, beauty, etc.  Once again the sinful human temptation won’t be erased, you just change what it looks like and how it plays itself. out.

It’s a shame.  It’s unfair.  But, despite the insistence of some folks, life isn’t fair.  Hasn’t been since Adam and Eve got booted from the garden for pilfering fruit.  It won’t be fair again until God restores it to that status.   In the meantime, be outraged, but don’t be surprised.

The Center Court View

February 19, 2019

As our society continues to spiral out of control in how to understand men and women in terms of gender and sexuality, ideological voices seek to codify new definitions and ways of doing things grounded not in reality but rather in wishful thinking.  In no area is this more apparent than the issue of transgenders participating in sports.

Ideologically, it’s attractive to say that men and women are no different physically, and therefore a man who identifies as a woman has no advantage when competing against actual females.  I remember an argument I had with a student of mine in an online college course over a decade ago.  I made some comment in regards to the physical strength differences between men and women and she took issue with this. Women are every bit as strong as men, she insisted.  I acknowledged that certain muscle groups in women might be stronger than equivalent muscle groups in men.  I acknowledged that women who train hard will be stronger than the average man who doesn’t train hard.  But that all other things being equal, men are still the stronger sex.  She wouldn’t have any of it.  To her, equality between men and women extended to physical equality, and no amount of studies or other data would convince her otherwise.

This sort of mindset is driving decisions to ban any sort of discrimination, including sports.  Males who identify as females are competing in female athletics and many are proving – not surprisingly – to be much stronger and faster than their actual female competitors.  I’ve  seen complaints about this in the mixed martial arts world, so it doesn’t surprise me that other actual athletes  – rather than politicians – would be criticizing it as well.

And they’re being criticized for saying out loud what anyone with an ounce of common sense or actual experience in physical contests between men and women could tell you: men are stronger.  A man may psychologically identify as a woman, but his body is still a man’s body despite whatever surgeries or hormone therapies he might undergo.  The irony is that those  who are speaking out against allowing transgender men to compete against actual women include not just conservative people  (like myself), but also people on the opposite end of the ideological and sexual spectrum.  People like Martina  Navratilova, an amazing tennis player who came out as gay almost 40 years ago.

She is being condemned by people who are driven by ideology rather than reality, who hope to reshape the world into what they would like it to be rather than what it actually is.  And in the meantime, actual real people are being hurt and deprived of the honors that are appropriate to them and their gender.

When I was a kid in the height of the Cold War, we used to make jokes about the Olympics and the athletes that came from Soviet bloc countries like East Germany.  We joked because of the stereotype that their athletes were so much bigger and stronger and powerful than many other countries, particularly the women’s teams because they often seemed suspiciously like men.  How surreal that what once was considered cheating is now being supported and legally mandated by some in the misplaced name of a misguided equality.

He Says it Better

January 24, 2019

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Wag the Dog

January 23, 2019

I’ve yet to see this movie yet, despite thinking about it over the years.  I remember thinking at the time it came out that it was a brilliant concept, and a frighteningly realistic one.  Fast forward 20+ years and our technical know-how and digital wizardry is leagues ahead of 1997.

President Trump has taken a lot of flack for his skepticism, let’s say, about the press.  His insistence that the press is not unbiased and sometimes outright untrustworthy has raised the cry of many, not the least of which the press itself.  And yet we repeatedly find out that the press is a) not unbiased and b) often untrustworthy.  How related these two are falls into an area of personal opinion that I’d rather not get into but leave for you to come to grips with.  Not everyone with a press badge is unbiased or trustworthy.  The press badge does not confer these qualities upon them.  Nor does owning a media outlet, nor does being the editor-in-chief or any other title confer these qualities magically.

Add to this mix the ability for people holding a phone to put together footage that looks and sounds a certain way and then farm it out to the media for coverage, and you have a perfect storm.  There may not always  be a need to wholesale fabricate events (though I wouldn’t put it past most people/politicians), but there is a very real possibility that something presented in a certain way is not the whole story at the very least.

So we have the latest outrage over alleged mockery of native Americans by a group of teenagers on the National Mall in Washington DC.  Media – social and otherwise – was apoplectic over the jittery footage displaying a confrontation between an older Native American and a crowd of Anglo high schoolers, allegedly mocking him.  After the traditional screaming matches of the past few days, new footage and testimony apparently contradict the initial reports.  Rather than the teenagers surrounding the man and mocking him, he and his group approached their group, apparently intent on some sort of confrontation, possibly spurred on by the fact that some of the youth were wearing Make America Great Again hats.

These clarified reports of the event are bolstered further by reports that this same man – Nathan Phillips – attempted to disrupt Catholic mass this past Saturday evening at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception also in Washington DC.  What  was – and continues to be – interpreted as another tragic instance of white oppression against minorities, and more importantly as further evidence of the degradation of America under President Trump, may in fact be the exact opposite of this.

An unbiased press might have thought twice before rushing in to condemn the alleged perpetrators.  A more trustworthy press would have sought out possible alternative narratives before passing judgment and leading a firestorm of threats against the youth and their school and families.  That’s the sort of press we need, in a day and age where footage can not only be fabricated, but certainly can be recorded in such a way as to obscure what is actually happening, or to exclude details that might put interpretation into a better perspective.  When every person has a smart phone with a video camera in it, the assumption that any such footage must by definition be fully accurate in what it appears to portray is foolish at best, dishonest at worst.

But since I do believe that much of our press is both biased and untrustworthy, here is a basic tip for y’all at home about how to handle this stuff.

Don’t assume that just because you read it online or see it on a TV news report or read it in your newspaper that it’s true.  Certainly not immediately, and when it relates to alleged footage obtained from unidentified sources.  Journalists should be taking care of this sort of filtering for you but they aren’t.  So do it yourself.  Before you react violently on social media, give things a few days to settle out.  Recognize that media outlets are commercial ventures, not non-profit organizations.   They depend on advertising revenues linked to the number of viewers or subscribers they have.  In which case, the pressure to be the first to report a breaking news event is incredible.  Shortcuts are undoubtedly taken in terms of verifying sources, looking for alternative points of view, and other basic unbiased and trustworthy reporting actions.  Therefore the possibility that breaking news isn’t all that it seems is only going to increase.

And for goodness’ sake, before you start screaming derogatory comments about entire groups of people (which is what this story was all about in the first place, remember?), remember your basic human decency.  Even if it turns out that someone is caught doing something abhorrent on video, it does not mean that:

  • Everyone who wears the same clothing brands as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone who voted for the same candidates that person did supports their actions
  • Everyone of the same race or ethnicity as that person supports their actions
  • Everyone with the same accent supports their actions

Take a few deep breaths people.  We live in complicated times where things aren’t always what they seem.  Don’t be the dog wagged by the tail.

 

 

 

 

St. John Wang Yi Zinzendorf the Baptist

December 17, 2018

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.  ~ Nicolaus Zinzendorf

This mantra has been stuck in my head for over a year now.  While there is some doubt as to whether the words were ever written or spoken by Zinzendorf in exactly this format, the spirit of them is definitely attributed to him.  In a world that seeks immortality through works and words and the acclaim of others, the Bible calls us to obedience to the God who created us, redeemed us, and alone can grant us immortality not simply in the memories of others but in flesh and blood and spirit.

Faithful obedience is not often glamorous.  Not often memorable.  Not often noteworthy.  It’s the decision to get up in the morning and do what needs to be done.  Laundry.  Cooking.  Earning a living.  Faithfulness to those around us.  Restraint.  Hardly laudable qualities in a modern culture that calls after fame and glory in 120 (or 280) character tweets or 4-second vines.

This past Sunday we considered Jesus’ words to John the Baptist – blessed is the one who is not offended by me.  John the Baptist is remembered 2000 years after his untimely death.  He remained faithful to the one who created him, the one who would redeem him.  Whether that faithfulness changed the world around him was not to be John’s concern, any more than whether or not he would ever be freed from prison.

Persecution is hardly new, and it isn’t something that I think we should seek out.  But if we attempt to be faithful, persecution is apt to find us in one way or another.  John the Baptist found this out.  Jesus knew this.  Pastor Wang Yi now lives with this reality.  While we don’t have any words known to be written personally by John the Baptist, I like to think that perhaps he might have said something similar to Pastor Wang Yi.

I pray that if I find myself in a similar situation my words will be very similar, seeking not to be remembered – so very, very, very, very few of us are, even for a short time! – but to be faithful.