Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Defending the Press

October 5, 2017

President Trump has taken a lot of flack from nearly the beginning of his presidency for his dismissal of the press.  Humanly speaking, it’s hard to blame him.  The press has not exactly been kind to him, constantly seeking for some malfeasance or other transgression to invalidate his election, his presidency, his existence.  His public and sometimes official policy of ignoring representatives from certain press outlets infuriated some people and resulted in allegations that President Trump is anti-press.  Dan Rather now routinely writes on Facebook posting his dismay and disgust on this topic as well as many other issues wherein he disagrees with conservatives and President Trump.  So be it.  He’s entitled to his say.

But I believe there is a distinction to be made between having a press badge and being what the press has always supposed to be – an unbiased and investigative community reporting the news in as objective a manner as possible.  This is a press I think most people – conservative and liberal alike – can get behind and support.  This is the press at it’s finest.  You want to uncover the misdoings of Watergate and topple a president?  Go for it – but be objective!  You want to defend wantonly criminal actions of a sitting official or candidate because you agree with them ideologically?  I’m not nearly as impressed.  Press representatives on both ends of the spectrum fall into this dangerous pit repeatedly.  At this point, I don’t think I’m the only American who thinks that ideological bias has been institutionalized in most major media outlets.  The press is not free and objective, but rather dedicated to fostering a particular view of events that support their ideological leanings.

So it was that I turned on NPR the other morning for the first time in months.  I want to like NPR.  I really do.  Hell, as a taxpayer I pay for it.  But I can’t listen to it for too long before the inherent bias’ in their reporting leaves me frustrated and I have to turn it off.  This particular morning it was discussing President Trump’s upcoming visit to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.

Of course, most of the initial discussion was about the anticipated tenseness sure to be present at his meeting with local officials, some of whom were loudly critical of his response (and our nation’s response as a whole) to the devastation suffered in Puerto Rico.  The reporter and the radio anchor person eagerly opined about how it would be awkward indeed.  The reporter then duly reported about how there was no power in Puerto Rico and the situation was dire.

But the more you listened, the more you realized she was only telling part of the story, the part that accented her desire to make President Trump look bad.  A few minutes later, she lamented that not many people in Puerto Rico would know about the President’s visit, though some would, because, actually, there were some radio stations broadcasting.  And if you have radio stations broadcasting and people picking up their broadcasts, there is likely at least *some* power on the island.  But rather than talk about how some power is being restored – whether through the grid or through shared or individual generators, the narrative is simply that there is no electricity to speak of.

Furthermore, discussion was about how aid was being distributed.  Meaning the materials and aid were already present, but there were difficulties or delays in distributing it.  Which sounds a lot different from the impression I’ve had in the news that we haven’t done anything.  Things are happening, but it’s difficult.  That’s news I can understand, but it doesn’t happen to make Trump look bad and so the presentation needs spin, apparently.

I want a free press.  I need a free press.  And frankly I have no problem with a president or anyone else who wants to point out that our press isn’t exactly objective and unbiased.  I’m not naive to think that it has ever been – or ever could be 100% objective and free from bias.  But it could do a lot better.  That’s what I was taught as a news reporter and then news editor way back in the Dark Ages of high school.  Report the facts.  Leave the interpretation to the Op-Ed pages.  Make sure readers can trust there is a clear distinction between what happens on the news pages and what happens on the Editorial pages.

Maybe our press outlets could use a reminder of this basic fact that undergirds the American concept of a free press, yet seems to regularly get ignored.  Educate the people on the facts and let them draw their conclusions, don’t presume you have to pre-package the facts to make sure that people reach the conclusion you want them to reach.  You’ll find your readers and hearers more appreciative and more supportive.

At least this one.

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If You Give a Moose a Muffin…

September 22, 2017

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this children’s book while after reading this blog post.  Apparently a news reporter interviewed a Nazi who was publicly assaulted, and the writer of the blog post was angry that they did so because it could make Nazism sympathetic and end up leading others to follow that ideology.  The alternative, the author insists, is that you never give a Nazi a platform.  Never allow their message to go out.

At first it makes sense.  I don’t like Nazism.  As a student of history I’m well acquainted with the evils perpetrated by that ideology.  I don’t want there to be more Nazis.

But the more I thought about it, I realized why this approach didn’t sit well with me.  It presumes that the hearers/viewers are helpless, passive, and incapable of understanding either the context of the interview or the ideology that the Nazi might espouse.  It presumes that viewers/hearers need to be protected less they fall under the sway of this virulent ideology.  It reminds of the way some conservative Christians choose to raise their children – by trying to shelter them from the junk in the world and never expose them to anything that hasn’t been thoroughly sanitized.

In both cases the result is the same.  By failing to prepare people for the ideologies they will encounter in our increasingly hyper-connected world, we make possible our worst fears.  The way to protect people against whatever charm Nazi ideology might utilize is to teach them about Nazism.  Teach them about history.  Teach them about the Holocaust.  At the same time teach them about democracy, and in particular teach them about the beauty and value of free speech.  Then, if they view or hear a Nazi who was the victim of a crime talking about their ideology, they will be able to distinguish the value of free speech and protection from assault from Nazism.  They’ll be able to say I disagree completely with what this person espouses, but at the same time they deserve protection under the law and the right to speak, because that is the democracy we live under.

Which is different from the censorship that the Nazis used to control what people thought, and which mirrors, ironically enough, what the blog author espouses.  In a democracy people should be educated so that they can make good decisions.  Not everyone can or will.  But it is better to risk that some should not make good decisions, than to deny everyone the freedom to make a decision.  An educated nation will be able to reject ideas and principles that are incorrect.  Maybe not immediately, but eventually.  Hopefully.  But that requires education.  It also happens to require a strong moral common ground, something that has been decimated by many folks who also argue that some groups shouldn’t be allowed to speak freely or aren’t entitled to the same rights that they themselves are.

Reject Nazism.  But don’t destroy democracy in the process.  Nobody is better off with an insulated, poorly educated population who relies on censorship to keep away things that they would prefer not to deal with.  Nobody is better off under such circumstances.  Other than those who happen to be championing them and insisting that their ideology is the one that should be implemented.

Law and Order

September 7, 2017

I was 17 quite a few years ago.  It was a different world then, to speak without too much exaggeration.  Whether it was a simpler time or not, it was simply another time.

At the age of 17 and being somewhat of a social outcast it was decided one cool evening to take our squirt guns to the airport for a game of squirt gun tag.  The very writing of those words elicits fears of bloodbaths these days, but it was many years ago.  Most of my friends were running around with large neon plastic squirt guns.  But my buddy Mike and I, we were different.  We were better.  Who wants to run around with a child’s squirt gun when we could opt for higher quality, very realistic squirt guns?  Not us, that’s for sure.  So we took our $5 squirt guns – in the days before those orange tips they put on all squirt guns or air guns or other non-lethal, gun-like objects – that looked like very real semi-automatic handguns and headed for the airport.  Being the 80’s, we naturally were wearing our jeans jackets.

We wandered the airport for some time, successfully avoiding our friends but at the same time getting rather bored with our prowess.  Towards the end of the evening Mike found a way up to the second level of Sky Harbor Airport.  From there we surveyed the concourse below, which wasn’t too terribly busy at 9:00 PM at night.  Realizing even in those halcyon days that running around with a realistic looking squirt gun might get us into a bit of trouble, I had dutifully kept mine in the inside chest pocket of my genuine Levi’s jeans jacket.  I had to repeatedly remind my buddy to keep his out of sight, and he routinely ignored me.

So it was that as we stood looking down on the assembly below, Mike had out his squirt gun.  And so it was that we were seen by two active duty police officers walking underneath.  I will always remember the moment that they glanced up at us, and the one guy slapped his buddy in the chest with the back of his hand, and they both started running.  Fortunately for me, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize they were running for us.  Being young and dumb, we decided to make a getaway.  Mike ran to the elevators but I yelled for him to follow me to the stairwell.  The police were obviously going to be coming up the elevators.

We ran up a couple of flights of stairs, emerging into a clear Phoenix night on the top of a four-story parking garage.  There were no police in sight.  Recognizing that my car was parked a long way away, on the top of an adjoining parking garage, we ducked around a small service shed, panting and panicked.  We waited for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a minute or two.  Still no sign of police.  Maybe we had lost them.  We decided to make a run for it.

We probably only got 20 yards or so when I heard the first *ding* of an elevator, and knew that a police officer was about to emerge behind us.  Sure enough we were assaulted with shouts of “Freeze, police!” or some such language.  Because it was the 80’s and police were not the enemy in our lives, we stopped.  We were ordered to lie down on our faces on the pavement.  Mike tossed his gun to the side of him.  The officer was slowly advancing on us, gun drawn and pointed at us.

His partner emerged a minute or two later, gun also drawn and pointed at us as the first officer reached us.  He kneeled on Mike’s back as he patted him down, gun still drawn.  He kicked Mike’s gun further out of reach, and at this point I decided I would be helpful.  I said something to the effect of “Officer, my gun is in my pocket,” and started to reach towards my jacket to get it for him.

This was not a good idea.

He swung around and pointed his gun at my head, perhaps a foot away.  He let fly a stream of obscenities and made it clear in no uncertain terms that I should make no further movements if I wished to keep my head attached to my body.  His partner arrived to hold Mike down in place while the first officer quickly located my gun and tossed it aside.  I presume that at this point they realized they were dealing with two morons rather than hardened criminals.  We were allowed to stand as they kicked the guns around and laughed between themselves about it.  They ran our IDs and realized we were just dumb kids.  They made us promise we would never, ever come to the airport ever again.   And they let us go.

It was shortly before Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Phoenix, and security was extra high.  They told us, perhaps more to scare us than anything, that had we failed to stop, or had we turned to face him instead of stopping with our backs to him, he would have “blown us off the top of the parking garage.”  I saw no reason to doubt him.  I was just relieved to be allowed to leave without being arrested.

I’d like to say that I was wise beyond my years and could calmly evaluate things in the heat of the moment.  I wasn’t.  I’m still not.  I was lucky, at best.  As lucky as an idiot who takes a gun replica to an international airport could be.  Or, more accurately, as lucky as someone who takes a dorky friend who can’t keep his gun out of sight can be.  Regardless, my instinct in that moment of adrenaline was to do what I was told.

Some will say that’s a sign of weakness.  It might have saved my life.  If the worst had happened, I would have been arrested and my parents would have had to deal with me – which was far more terrifying than dealing with the police.  Did the police manhandle us?  Not overly.  Not given the situation, and the fact that they might have been a little worked up as well.  They were pursuing two possibly armed young men.  Who might have others around them for backup.  I don’t blame the police for being careful or riled up.

So I’ve watched with a fascinated curiosity as two events dominate the news over the past week.  First the nurse in Utah who was handcuffed for refusing to allow a police officer to draw blood from an unconscious patient.  I watched the video and she freaked out, screaming and protesting and struggling.  I empathize with her shock and surprise.  The police officer clearly seems to be acting improperly.  But her reaction strikes me also as improper and excessive.  She’s told him what the law is.  He’s insisting on doing what he wants.  Something is going to get sorted out at some point, for certain, but in the meantime, resisting arrest even if you’re convinced you have the legal grounds to do so is terribly unwise.  She could have been hurt.  Someone else could have been hurt.  The whole thing was being filmed and had multiple witnesses.  It would have been – and was – sorted out pretty quickly.  She’s been trained to handle stressful situations, and I find it surprising that she reacted the way she did.

The second incident is football player Michael Bennett complaining about the treatment he received from Las Vegas police.  He claims the police singled him out for detainment, that they were rough with him and pointed a gun at him in the process.  The closest I can make out is that he was part of a group of people running from what was believed to be gunshots when the police arrived on the scene.  Some reports indicate that he acted in a way that led police to believe that he might be involved in the shooting or at least have something to hide.

Michael Bennett is black, and he views his treatment as a racist act worth possibly suing over.  Michael Bennett is also massive.  6’4″ and closing in on 300 pounds.  He’s a defensive end for Seattle and an impressively sized human being.  How many other people surrounding Bennett were 6’4″ and 274 pounds or more?  Probably not very many.  If police were trying to contain a situation where they didn’t know what was going on, there could be worse courses of action than making sure that this very large man was not going to pose them any problems.  I’ve not heard whether there were any white team-mates or other athletes of similar stature near Bennett at the time, and if they were treated any differently or better if they were.  There doesn’t appear to be indication that Bennett resisted in any way, which is wise, given the situation.  He claims he was singled out for this treatment, but what does that mean?

In both cases, the worst thing that could have happened was that these people would be arrested and taken to jail.  Absolute worst case, they would have stayed there a few hours until somebody found out what had happened and came to bail them out or get the charges dropped.   Absolute, worst case ever, they would have had their day in court to explain why their treatment was improper.  Resisting arrest or running from officers for whatever reason is not the smart course of action and could have resulted in much worse consequences.

Are there bad police officers out there?  Undoubtedly.  There are bad pastors out there.  Bad organic farmers.  Bad yoga instructors.  People are the issue, not the vocation.  The vocation, however, does increase the possibility of things going wrong in a very, very bad way.  Which is even greater reason to make sure that rather than fight the police officer, you do what you’re told.  The fact that you’re innocent means nothing in the moment.  The police don’t know that.  Their job is to try and ascertain the situation and make sure that people are safe.  All people.  Including themselves.  Innocence will get sorted out in due time, but you don’t help yourself by fighting against it like the nurse did.

And rather than assume it’s simply your skin color rather than your size that is the issue, remember that the police might have been just as frightened and wary as Bennett was.  If a man that big found it reasonable to run from a potential threat, imagine how cautious the police are going to be.  While there are bad police officers out there, there are also many, many, many good ones.  And those good ones get ambushed and killed just as well as the bad ones.

This is America, not some third world country.  Overwhelmingly I believe – based on the preponderance of evidence – that police are here to protect and serve and we should work with them towards those ends.  Things are not perfect here but in general I believe that people of all races and ethnicities that cooperate with the police are going to find their treatment far better than those who resist, regardless of how firmly they believe they are in the right.  People make mistakes – including police.  Staying calm goes a long way towards working things out on both sides of the badge.  Do what you’re told, even if you don’t think it’s fair.  There’s a lot riding on your actions and responses, just as there’s a lot riding on the actions and responses of the police.  Surely cooperating toward the mutual goal of resolving a situation peacefully and accurately is the most important thing?

Cause Celebré

July 31, 2017

My Facebook feed has been littered with people gloating over the recent conviction of former celebrity sheriff Joe Arpaio.  Of course, many of these people seem also to be of the mindset that thinks it totally appropriate to flaunt the Law of the Land when it suits their philosophical and social agendas.  Cities refusing to enforce Federal immigration laws?  Hey, no problem there!

It’s hard to be excited about one person being convicted for fighting against what he thought was an unjust law when others are explicitly encouraged to do the exact same thing, just in a different ideological direction.

Mercy Killing?

June 30, 2017

The Western world grapples with the fear of suffering.  Not simply our own, actual suffering, but the suffering of others and our own hypothetical suffering.  The idea of having to suffer offends our sensibilities.  There is no purpose to it.  And so we demand that we have the option to opt-out of suffering and along with that we demand the right to opt other people out of their suffering so that we don’t have to suffer along with them.

We term this mercy.

Here is what mercy now can look like.  Parents of a child born with congenital health issues for which there is no cure or treatment are being told that the government has decided to end their child’s life – in the best interest of the child.  Despite the fact that the parents do not want their child to die.  Despite the fact that there is experimental treatment available out of the country that could change the conditions for which the child is being sentenced to death.  Not only this, but now that their appeals for out-of-country treatment have been denied, the parents are also being denied the right to have their own child die in their own home, rather than in a hospital.

I’m still trying to see where the mercy is involved in all of this.  Perhaps because I don’t suspect that mercy is really what is being demonstrated.  Efficiency.  Expediency.  A rigorous attention to detail, the rule of law.  Bureaucratic policy.  But not mercy.

This is happening in Great Britain.  The country, as one observer notes, that fought against the Nazi’s and their insistence that some lives (other people, more specifically) were not worth living and therefore the government could decide to end those lives.  This is where we end up without a moral compass or baseline, without anything that limits our ability or tendency to define and redefine even such beautiful words as mercy until they mean the very opposite of why we find them beautiful.

This redefinition is evil.  It is evil because it reduces humanity to a matter of expediency and personal preferences, carefully sanitized in legalese and policy-speak.  It is evil because it holds the dictates of a human being or institution as ultimate and final, without recognizing that such beings and institutions are inherently unable to provide a single, permanent baseline from which to operate.  So the decisions made today may be completely opposite the decisions that would have been made 50 years ago, or the decisions that might be made 50 years hence.

We (Christians) are being inculcated to sympathy with this evil.  I find the seeds of it even in myself, despite being older and less prone to direct means of subversion and brain-washing (like schools).  We are being wooed towards sympathy because of our own fears and hopes and wishes.

Yesterday I visited one of our long-time members who is homebound.  She has been homebound for the past seven years, by and large.  Over those years I have brought her Communion and led us in simple worship together.  She is an amazing woman.  Her mind is sharp, her will is formidable, she is articulate, cultured, and refined, and she has a zest for life that would be admirable in a person a quarter her age.

When I saw her two weeks ago she was having a good day.  We shared Communion and prayer.  I could see much of her through her condition.  When I went yesterday, however, it was a bad day, and I could see so very, very little of the woman she is.  She was fearful, her words slurred and at times indecipherable.  Her fear was palpable and audible, her weakness striking.  She didn’t know who I was, or who the woman caring for her was, or where she was.  She begged to go home while sitting in her own living room of 50 years.

I left asking God why He didn’t take her yet.  She has been ready to go for years.  Her faith is strong, but her mind and body have been subverted and twisted by time.  What point is there in having her linger, I wondered.  I even flirted with the thought that perhaps God was being unkind to her in this.  She deserves to die.  It would be a blessing to her.  It would be merciful.

Merciful to whom, I suddenly thought.  Perhaps it would be merciful to me, so that I didn’t need to keep going to see her.  Merciful to me so that I wasn’t made uncomfortable by her condition and deterioration, fearful that I might one day be in her place.  Merciful to me in that I wouldn’t have to accommodate myself to her limitations, and that I could leave feeling happy and care-free, to go about my daily routine and duties, rather than struggling with mortality and the damnable reality of sin and death that lurks within my own frame.

She is still herself.  She isn’t less herself, or less of a human being, than she was two years ago or twenty years ago or eighty years ago.  She is entitled to all the same love and care and concern.  Is it harder to be with her?  Yes.  Which is perhaps why it is all the more important to be with her.  To come to grips with the effects of sin in our lives.  To seek to love her consistently and care for her consistently, rather than simply deciding that at some arbitrary point or in some arbitrary state of mind or body, she is no longer herself, no longer deserving of the life that God himself has given and sustained her in.  Perhaps part of the blessing of suffering is that we learn to see past and through these things, both in ourselves and others.

She is not defined by her dementia.  She is not defined by her physical frailty.  She is not defined by her suffering, and neither she nor I have the right to redefine her as such and cease to see her for what she is.  Beautiful.  Alive by the grace and wisdom of God.  And therefore an opportunity to love and practice mercy with in the truest and best sense of that word, rather than the senseless way our culture wants to redefine it.  Perhaps as I continue to care for her in this way, it will better prepare me to care for others in similar conditions, and will further prepare me – inasmuch as may be possible – for me to endure that condition should it become my own one day.

Mercy, like hope, isn’t necessarily expedient.   But we are in a dangerous place without either.

 

Meanwhile, in Michigan…

June 6, 2017

Just the latest instance in a rising tide of discriminatory moves aimed at silencing, shaming, and economically targeting people who have the nerve to actually act on their beliefs.  Or more specifically, people who act on beliefs that are contrary to the petulant demands of a tiny minority steamrolling cultural changes.  Or more specifically, Christians.  This time, a farmer is being banned from participating in a farmer’s market.

But, hey.  Tolerance is awesome, isn’t it?  Freedom of speech?  Freedom of religion?  Yeah.  If you have kids or grandkids, I hope you’re having conversations with them about how they choose their careers because if they intend to live as Biblical Christians, their range of options is going to grow narrower in the coming years.  I mean, a lot narrower.   I mean, incredibly narrower.  This is for real.  It’s happening now.  It will only become more and more institutionalized in a self-perpetuating cycle of compliance.  Ignoring this reality is going to be very, very costly for a lot of families and individuals.

Then again, that’s the point.  To make Biblical belief and practice unattractive and cost prohibitive.

Askewed Perspective

June 2, 2017

The news this week is hopelessly cluttered with rival articles about our withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and the role of the Russians in the 2016 election.  Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about both of them.  I’d just like to point out two things.

Firstly, withdrawal of participation from the Paris Climate Agreement – participation that was never ratified by Congress as is required to make such participation legal, according to our Constitution – does not necessarily mean a rejection of reducing greenhouse gasses and other environmentally harmful emissions.  The assumption is that if we are not part of the Climate Agreement then we are not going to do anything to try and be more environmentally conscious.  That’s a rather major assumption.  The issue should not be so much whether we are or are not part of an international, non-binding commitment to being wiser about our environmental impact, but rather what are our actual intentions as a nation, as communities, and as individuals in this regard?  As usual, the hyper-focus of attention on the actions of a political leader (whether you like him or not) is an easy substitute for the question of how am I going to live my life and make choices that I believe are healthy for me and the world around me?

That’s a harder question, which is perhaps why so many people prefer to focus on somebody else.

Secondly, I find the outrage over Russian tampering hilarious.  First of all, what does tampering mean?  So far, what I understand it to mean is that the Russians might have helped hack and disclose unflattering information about one or more of the candidates for President.  Once again, this diverts the question from the information itself to how it was disclosed.  Does the potential for tampering matter?  Of course, but I find it ironic considering that we have made little effort to hide our tampering in the world around us (or at least some of our tampering).

The United States hasn’t simply made information available to foreign populations.  We’ve run guns to support rebels against leaders we didn’t like.  Or to support leaders we liked against rebels we didn’t.  We’ve actively assisted in trying to topple or sustain foreign governments.  We have attempted to assassinate political leaders we viewed as dangerous.  We actively engage in espionage around the world against both allies and enemies, perceived or otherwise.  Yet we express righteous indignation and outrage when someone potentially has attempted to influence the political landscape here at home?

The narrative we are taught is that we do these things on the behalf of good, or democracy, or freedom, but when others do it they are doing it for opposite reasons and motivations.  In other words, we are justified in doing these things, and not only justified, it is practically our moral obligation to do them.  But anyone who might try something against us is definitionally wrong.

Do the Russians think they were morally obligated to intervene in our elections?  Perhaps some of them do.  Might we consider such attitudes dangerous or erroneous?  Very likely.  Which ought to lead us to be suspect of our own motives at times.

Some will undoubtedly call me jaded, but frankly, I presume that every government that can is engaged in espionage and manipulation of other countries for its own interests on a regular basis.  Russia is not unique in this, and neither is the United States.  I presume that this has been going on basically since the beginning of human civilization.  We act to preserve our own best interests.  Cain understood this in Genesis 4 when God sentenced him to be a wanderer.  Cain knew that others would act to protect themselves from a perceived threat and so God blessed Cain with some sort of mark that would prevent others from trying to kill him.  Without a community of his own to offer protection, Cain would be vulnerable.

The instinct to protect and preserve by a variety of means both obvious and subtle is part of our sinful, fallen nature.  We should be on guard against how others might seek to subvert or dominate us for their own ends, but we should hardly be surprised at it.  Particularly when we take great pride in our own similar efforts with other peoples and communities.  We will struggle against – and participate in – these kinds of behaviors to various degrees until sin has finally been removed as an issue in our lives, something the Bible teaches me won’t happen until the Son of God returns.  That doesn’t mean I sit passively by until then.  But it also means that I should be critical and evaluative of my own motivations as well as the motivations of others.

Which in turn means that I should spend less time screaming at those who disagree with me on these or other issues.  I will stand up for what I believe, but I pray for the strength and wisdom and integrity not to stoop to the level of those who mistakenly think that their cause justifies their abuse, mistreatment and maligning of anyone who disagrees with them.

Three in a Row

May 31, 2017

Scanning the news this morning I came across three interesting articles.

The first is a not-so-veiled criticism of President Trump’s ban on certain electronic devices in airline cabins – meaning passengers have to put these items in their checked luggage instead.  As I reflected on this  article, it strikes me as one of the dumbest articles I’ve recently read.

The article ignores the fact that lithium ion batteries are “inherently volatile” beyond wanting to criticize a policy decision.  If they’re that dangerous, why are they allowed on flights at all?  Why are we using them in electronic devices that we carry with us everywhere if they are essentially the equivalent of little time bombs?  Wouldn’t the article be better aimed at critiquing why such a volatile substance is accepted beyond the parameters of certain airline flights from certain countries?

The second article is a great discussion of what may appear to be  rather arcane Supreme Court ruling that actually has a great deal of actual and potential impact for consumers everywhere.  I’ve long been distrustful of the growing trend of virtualizing ownership.  Seen most clearly in computer operating systems and software, it’s the idea that you don’t really own a product, per se.  Rather, you are paying for the right to access something that still belongs to someone else and who has ultimate say over what you do or don’t do with what you’re accessing.  Physical and intellectual property issues are critical not just for their economic implications but in terms of privacy and consumer rights.  Definitely worth a read through!

The final article describes the renaming of a NASA project to send a probe closer to the sun than ever before.  Instead of calling it the Solar Probe Plus (which is admittedly a lousy name!), it is being renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honor of a scientist.  But the article immediately reminded me of one of my favorite author’s short stories – The Golden Apples of the Sun.  It’s the name of both one of his short stories – about a manned trip to the sun to actually scoop up and bring back to earth some of the sun’s essence – as well as the anthology that includes the story.  Since Bradbury’s story pre-dates Eugene Parker’s solar scientific contributions, I think it’s at least worth considering.  Plus, The Golden Apples of the Sun is a far more beautiful name for a solar probe!

Fake News

January 12, 2017

A couple of years ago I posted a link to an article about a supposed discovery of a first-century eyewitness to one of Jesus’ miracles.  At the time I did some due diligence, checking on the alleged first-century source and determining that he was indeed an actual historian.

But today I stumbled on this blog indicating that the story I originally linked to is false.  However the author doesn’t explain why they reached this conclusion.  The only evidence is that the site contains other articles with questionable topics or titles.  But that’s hardly in and of itself enough to discredit a source.  And certainly, the photo in the original article is not a Greek document, but there could be human-error reasons why the wrong photo was linked to the article.

So I dug a bit further and found this article at Snopes.com.  Interestingly enough, Snopes’ main reason to disbelieve the article is the nature of the other article titles on the web site.  They only mention secondarily what I find to be the smoking gun in terms of the original story being false.  Buried in the About Us section, in the Disclaimer subsection, is a sentence that immediately discredits everything hosted at the site.

All characters appearing in the articles in this website – even those based on real people –  are entirely fictional and any resemblance between them and any persons, living, dead, or undead is purely a miracle.

In other words the story was completely fabricated, even though it involved a real person.  A great example of fake news.  Perhaps a more esoteric form of it than most people think of in today’s discussions of the topic.  But it reinforces the importance of verifying sources, of not simply assuming that because Great-Uncle Hubert posted the link on Facebook, it must be true.

But this highlights the greater issue.  Not all news sites will have a disclaimer like the above one does.  And if people are only just now realizing that the media has biases, then we should begin to worry that fake news may not just come from a disreputable source, but could also be pushed by a reputable source.  Someplace without fantastical headlines in other areas to tip us off that we might be getting fooled.  And given the impressive abilities of technology these days, it’s getting harder and harder for anyone to avoid being roped in or fooled at some point or another.

Be careful what you assume is true.  Look for multiple sources.  Watch to see who else picks up on the story and runs with it.  Or who doesn’t.  Don’t believe something just because it’s something that you want to believe.  The Truth is out there – but we have to be careful that we don’t mistake it for something false, and that we don’t give up searching for it just because of all the false stuff out there.

Meanwhile, in America

January 7, 2017

In yet another wonderful display of a complete lack of responsibility, two women who were kicked off a flight are now indignantly blaming the airline for the fact that they missed seeing their father before he died.

So you ignore crew member instructions and try to get up and move around a plane as it attempts to take off, and yet the airline is somehow to blame?  The plane was apparently already moving towards take off.  Why was this woman receiving texts when she’s supposed to have her phone turned off?  Why did she feel the need to immediately inform her sister of the situation, despite the fact that she probably knows her sister is prone to panic attacks?

I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic – it’s truly an unfortunate thing.  But personal grief doesn’t get to trump the rights of a plane full of people.  To blame the airline as though they did something wrong when they were simply following safety laws, seems like the height of arrogance and short-sightedness.  If someone else had been disobeying crew instructions for some other reason, who would these women have blamed – the airline for turning around to deal with the situation, or the person causing the problem?

Other passengers sided with the two women against the airline, but I still hardly can see why this matters.  The crew was acting in a way to protect the safety of everyone.  Aren’t we all pretty hyper-sensitive to odd behavior on airplanes?  I know it’s an emotional situation, but the airline was actually doing what it was supposed to do in order to get these women to their dying father – and they weren’t cooperating!

I’m sure this will end up in some sort of public apology from the airline at the very least, and perhaps free tickets for or a lawsuit from the women involved, but that’s unfortunate.