Fact-checking sensational headlines is more important than ever, and I just discovered how hard that can be.

It started when my daughter posted a link to this petition requesting the government of France to lift its ban on showing this heart-warming video about children with Down Syndrome on French television.

From the petition page:

The State Council in France just affirmed a ruling that bans the video on the grounds that it is “inappropriate.” They argue that allowing people with Down syndrome to smile is “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”

Essentially, France is telling people with Down syndrome that they do not have a right to show their happiness in the public sphere. This decision is discriminatory, and it violates the rights of individuals with Down syndrome.

That's certainly weird enough to require fact-checking. With the Internet, that should be easy, right?

Snopes made no mention of it whatsoever. Ditto for truthorfiction.com. Google News, however, was replete with articles. The trouble was that most of them were from sources that I knew many of my readers would reject, unread, without a second thought. And then there were the headlines:

France bans video because children with Down syndrome are "inappropriate"

France to ban people with Down syndrome from smiling

French TV Bans Smiling Down Syndrome Children--Might ‘Disturb’ Post-Abortive Women

French court bans TV ad showing happy kids with Down syndrome

Don't they just scream "clickbait" and the kind of story that must be misleading if not actually false? But my daughter had posted the link ... and she almost never does anything like that, certainly not unless she's sure of her sources.

I'm not surprised that the first sources I found were from right-wing publications—plus the Catholic Church, which is often left-wing, but not when it comes to anything that touches abortion. But to find the truth, I felt I needed to consult a source that was, if not neutral, at least biased in the other direction.

Enter the Huffington Post. Not that I trust everything they print, not at all. But I trust their liberal bias, which was exactly what I needed. And here it is, in the words of a mother of three children, two of whom have Down syndrome. Here are some excerpts, but it's worth reading the whole article.

Last week another big step was taken towards the mass persecution of children with Down syndrome. On November 10th, the French ‘State Counsel’ rejected an appeal made by people with Down syndrome, their families and allies to lift the ban on broadcasting the award winning “Dear Future Mom” video on French television. The ban was previously imposed by the French Broadcasting Counsel. Kids who are unjustly described as a ‘risk’ before they are born, are now wrongfully portrayed as a ‘risk’ after birth too.

The video features a number of young people from around the globe telling about their lives. Their stories reflect today’s reality of living with Down syndrome and aims to reassure women who have received a prenatal diagnosis. Their message of hope takes away the fears and questions these women may have, often based on outdated stereotypes.

[O]ur kids, whom studies from the USA and the Netherlands have proven to be much happier than the cranky, sulky bunch who go through life without Down syndrome, are banned from public television because their happy faces make post-abortion women feel uncomfortable. Women must continue to believe in the myth that society and medical professionals portray; that Down syndrome is a life of suffering, a burden to their family and society.

What’s next? Will kids with Down syndrome be banned from school? Will they be segregated from society and placed in institutions like in the old days, because their presence upsets post-abortion parents? See this ban is akin to putting people with Down syndrome away because their presence ‘confronts’ society with the reality of their systematic eradication. Eradication not to ‘prevent suffering’, but because authorities have decided that their differences place a burden on our lives and society. ... Let’s show them the truth that families with Down syndrome have an enormous good quality of life. Let’s show a future of hope, unconditional love and yes, a lot of smiles and happiness.

While Lejeune Foundation takes the matter to the European Court for Human Rights the French press has remained quiet about it. A petition has started to ask the French government to intervene. Please sign, support and share happiness!

I am not much of a petition-signer, and I generally believe that what is shown on French television is none of my business. But I think I'm going to sign this one, because I believe this policy has crossed a line. Will they ban smiling "typical" children from TV because they might disturb anyone who has aborted a healthy child? If not, that is certainly discrimination based solely on handicapped status.

My heart grieves for anyone who has suffered the loss of a child, and I have known those times when the sight of happy children was painful. When our first grandchild died two days after his birth, just before the Christmas season, all those songs about a newborn baby boy were more than a little hard to take. But our own particular griefs are no excuse for taking away another's happiness, and if aborting Down syndrome babies is likely to cause such trauma and regret with regard to what might have been, maybe we should take another look at how we approach that decision.

But that's another issue.  Regardless of one's position on when in the gestation process a life becomes fully human and deserving of our compassion and protection, regarding a handicapped person as subhuman puts us on the same level as the eugenicists of a hundred years ago, or the worst of the Nazis.  I don't think France really wants to go there.

Any of my readers who know more about this story—particularly those of you who live or have lived in France—please chime in with what it looks like from the French point of view.  I know there's almost always another side to a story.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 26, 2016 at 7:32 pm | Edit
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It has been a hard week.  It is hard not to fall into depression at the concentrated and violent hatred I have seen expressed.  It's worse to see the deep divisions among my friends.

However, it has all been through the media, especially social media.  What I have personally seen has been amazing in the other direction.  In person, people are so much more polite than on social media!

For example, we just spent several days in New York City.  New York is like Paris, apparently.  Both have a reputation for being rude and unfriendly.  But when we went to Paris a few years ago, we found that in 99.9% of our encounters people were friendly, patient, and helpful.

So it was with New York.  We stayed in three hotels, and visited several different parts of the city.  We saw strangers helping strangers, people reaching out to one another.  We saw smiles, and heard friendly greetings everywhere.  We overheard politically-charged, random conversations that were measured, reasonable, and willing to give others the benefit of the doubt.  "Please," "thank you," and other forms of polite social interaction abounded, and—in marked contrast to social media—profanity and angry words were almost nil.

There is much more good out there than we think, and it's not limited to our own social circles and to those who agree with us.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 at 7:54 am | Edit
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  • I'll be blunt: The term "President Trump" sticks in my throat. I wouldn't have been any happier if Hillary Clinton had won, but at least "President Clinton" has a familiar ring to it.
  • Porter sure was wrong when he said Trump would be "The Biggest Loser" because he wouldn't win a single electoral vote. But he was also right: Trump is the biggest loser because he won. The Presidency ages people like nothing else, and he doesn't have very far to go.
  • I truly believe the one person most surprised by the outcome of this election is Donald Trump himself. I believe he began the process just to see how far he could go, and never dreamed this would actually happen. In that, if nothing else, the whole country agrees with him.
  • I have disliked Donald Trump ever since I once made the mistake of watching 15 minutes of The Apprentice. I longed that the Republicans, somewhere, anywhere along the way, would stand up and tell him, "You're FIRED!" But he is our President-elect, and as such deserves honor and respect. As a human being, he deserves courtesy, and he certainly needs our prayers. I strove, and I hope I mostly succeeded, in granting this to President Obama, and to President Bush before him, even though both of them disturbed me greatly. I intend to do the same for President Trump. If we cannot be civil to one another, it won't be Trump who brings America down.
  • I've heard several people announce, bitterly, "He's NOT MY president!" Everyone needs grace in difficult moments, so I'm not holding that against them. But it does sound a bit like a teenager shouting in an argument, "You're not my mother!" A frustrated person has the right to feel that way, but it doesn't change the facts. Mr. Trump IS scheduled to be our president in a few months. True, it's possible to leave and renounce your citizenship, but be forewarned: that process is expensive. 
  • I predict the next four years will be neither as bad as some people think, nor as good as some people hope. I would have said the same thing if Hillary Clinton had won the election. Much depends on the people he surrounds himself with, and more importantly, on the American people—all of us.
  • I've said over and over again that Donald Trump is the Democratic Party's best friend. It doesn't seem that way now, but I'm not taking back my words. The Republic Party is in disarray. The next four years could pave the way for a strong Democratic victory in 2020. Or not. We don't know. But in any case, Donald Trump is in the same position Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were in their times: being able to take actions and make compromises that would not be acceptable to "his side" if they were proposed by the "other side." (If a Democrat had tried to normalize relations with China, do you think the Republicans would have stood for it?)
  • Here's another prediction: Some Trump supporters are in for a rude awakening on some of the issues where they think he is in their corner. I don't trust any politician when it comes to political promises; the track record of them all is too abysmal. Besides, political realities are about give and take, gaining less than you hope for, hoping to lose less than you fear. Barack Obama was not the messiah many people thought he was, and Donald Trump is going to disappoint his followers as well.
  • He also may surprise his opponents. As Obama was eight years ago, he stands in a position to be able to surround himself with good people, knowledgeable people who will not be afraid to work with him and challenge him as needed. To recognize and acknowledge that he does not have a "mandate from the American People," but that half the country is bitterly disappointed today. Donald Trump won only because a goodly number of people were so opposed to Hillary Clinton that they either opted out of the two-party system altogether, or voted for him only with great reluctance. That is not a mandate. It is a plea for grace, reconciliation, and healing. Sadly, I believe President Obama failed to recognize this eight years ago. We have another chance. Please, Mr. Trump, don't blow it.
  • Donald Trump may not be a lawyer, he may not have experience in government, but anyone who says he has no experience with politics doesn't understand what it means to run a business.
  • I read somewhere, weeks ago, that Trump had much more minority support than anyone knew, but it would only become known under the secrecy of the ballot box. That may be true. Florida was expected to go for Clinton because of the Hispanic vote, but while Hispanic voters are credited with Marco Rubio's win, they did not deliver for Clinton.
  • One thing this election revealed is that the Democratic Party has once again shifted its population base. I'm old enough to remember when to be from the South was to be a Democrat. Under today's mapping system, the southern states would have been colored solid blue. Within my lifetime that changed radically, to where Democratic appeal is in the West, the Northeast, and big cities almost everywhere. More recently, I remember when the Democrats considered themselves the party of the working class, of the little guy against the rich businessmen. I suspect that many still think they are, which is why they lost this election. Working class people came out in droves yesterday to make it clear that their party has left them.
  • For every major election, people joke about dead people voting. It may be debatable whether or how much that happens these days, though it certainly has happened in the past that votes have been cast in the name of those who have died. What I will say is that Early Voting has made it almost certainly a reality in ways that don't have to involve corruption. With an electorate of our size, the odds are almost certain that people have died between the time they cast an early vote and Election Day itself.
  • I didn't see it coming, but next year we will enter the dreaded House-Senate-Executive one-party control situation. I'm less afraid of that than I thought I would be, because the Republicans are so far from united with each other, much less with Trump. I have no doubt that the Democrats will be able to find Republicans willing to cross party lines as needed, which actually give me more hope for bipartisan cooperation overall.
  • On Election Night, Google popped up a notification on my phone suggesting I follow the election results. That turned out to be great: the results were well presented and easy to follow, and best of all, there was no commentary.
  • I went to bed as usual, on the grounds that depriving myself of sleep was not going to have any effect on the election results. But Porter was following the process with NBC, so the TV was on when I got up at 2 a.m. to use the bathroom. I didn't get back to sleep till four. It was at that point that the commentators were coming to grips with the idea that Hillary Clinton might lose, and that was too interesting to miss. I was surprised and impressed by the discussion. With the exception of one of them, who showed genuine fear and went off on an apocalyptic rant, the commentators exhibited humility, respect, and for the most part a willingness, despite their obvious concerns, to give a possible Trump presidency, and the half of America who elected him, a chance. We were wrongWe didn't see this comingWe messed upMaybe we're too wrapped up in our own, isolated world. They didn't call anyone names, and they seemed genuinely interested in understanding the real issues. I found that genuinely encouraging.
  • Trump's speech, too, was encouraging. Knowing how bombastic he can be, I was nervous. But he did well, and so did Clinton, in both her concession speech and the one she gave to her supporters the next day. This is professional behavior. This is civilized behavior.  If this civility, after so much of the opposite on both sides, can spread to the rest of us, there's hope for America.
  • Finally—and I consider this to be the most important of my ramblings in this post—parents, please reconsider how you share your political feelings with your children. I'm not talking about teenagers, who are not far away from voting age. But by involving your young children in your politics, you are putting burdens on them that they are not ready to handle. I've heard post-election stories of children sobbing uncontrollably when they heard the results, and stories of children wearing Trump hats to school and teasing their classmates cruelly with their gloating. This is what happens when normal childhood behavior meets adult problems. We can, we must do better than that for our children. We do not need to let them see our own anger, griefs, prejudices, and fears. It is enough—it is essential—to teach them to be caring and compassionate, strong and brave, knowledgeable and wise.

alt

Post-Finally, here's a shameless plug. I don't gain anything other than the good will of the author for saying this, but King Ron of the Triceratops, by S. S. Paulson, is a brand-new book that's a story about dinosaurs for children, a cautionary tale for grownups, and a good way to begin discussions about politics and other realities, independent of any particular political leanings. If you think it's about your party—or the other guy's—read the disclaimer. Read the disclaimer anyway. It's funny.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 10, 2016 at 11:51 am | Edit
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  • Someday I suppose I'll give in and sign up for an absentee ballot, just in case I happen to be out of town on Election Day. But "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November" is right there in the Constitution, and I much prefer to vote on Election Day itself. I took advantage of Early Voting the first year it was available, and it felt so wrong I've never done it since. Besides, I like the camaraderie of voting at our local polling place. I can walk there. I see neighbors there. It makes me feel part of a community.
  • You'll never know who I'm voting for tomorrow. You may guess all you want, but you are as likely to be wrong as right. I've been a Democrat all my voting life, but was always just as likely to vote for some other party. I've voted for people from parties you've never heard of—and parties I don't remember. (Hmm. Isn't it a bad sign if you don't remember the party after it's over?)  I don't understand voting for a party at all; I belong to one so I can vote in the primary. In any case, I'm a huge believer in the secret ballot. It helps keep the powerful from threatening the weak, and friends from disowning each other on Facebook. Besides, at the moment even I don't know how I'm going to vote.
  • Right now I'm almost wishing I'd voted absentee. Back then I felt freer. I was certain the election would be a romp for Clinton. I agreed with Porter, who insisted that Trump would be the Biggest Loser since McGovern. Thus I thought we had the luxury of voting our consciences—making a statement, telling both parties that we're not going to dance to their music if they keep coming up with tunes that make a toddler crashing pans together sound like Mozart. But now it appears that our votes might actually count, which means we have to be more responsible. The trouble is, that which appears to be the responsible decision changes daily, even hourly.
  • To my shame, I realized that what I'd rather do is vote selfishly. That is, I want to be able to say, It's not my fault; I didn't vote for him/her.
  • Here's a fun little quiz to see how the various candidates align with what's important to you.  I'm not sure I believe it entirely, but it is much more nuanced than most such surveys.
  • Porter came up with an interesting thought experiment: Suppose there were only four candidates: Clinton, Trump, Johnson, and Stein. Suppose further that the only vote that counts is yours. Whomever you pick will be the next President of the United States. For whom would you vote?
  • Much to our surprise, we both picked Jill Stein, with whom each of us disagrees on almost every issue—on the grounds that she would be in a position to do the least harm. Not that her ideas aren't dangerous, but she'd be less likely to be able to implement them. Does that mean I'm voting for her?  Your guess is as good as mine.
  • I think what scares me most about Clinton is not so much her ideas, but that she's likely to be able to put them into action. If I knew for certain that after this election the Republicans would have control of both the House and the Senate, I'd probably vote for her. Likewise, if I knew both houses would be Democratic, I'd probably vote for Trump. Unlike many of my friends, I do not mourn when the "obstructionists" make the president work hard to implement his ideas; I believe that's their job. When all the branches of the government agree too easily, mistakes are more likely to be made. One thing going for Trump is that so many people—especially politicians—hate him that even a Republican-controlled Congress would tend to rein him in.
  • This election is déjà vu all over again, only on a much larger scale. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, Florida voters had to choose between (1) a female, career politician with whom many of us had serious problems (and, I kid you not, who cheated during a debate), and (2) a brash, male, businessman who was a surprise candidate, spent vast quantities of his own money in his campaign, was involved in a business scandal, and was pretty much universally disliked by the political establishment. That was another election in which I made up my mind at the last moment.
  • Which is worse, a loose cannon randomly shooting at friend and enemy, which might even explode and sink the ship, or a powerful cannon aimed unerringly at the city in which our children and grandchildren live?
  • For the first time, I'm tempted to do a write-in vote. I've thought of writing in my true choice: Noneofthe Above. More seriously, I've thought of Ben Carson, who at least shows strength of character, integrity, and the ability to think well in highly stressful situations. But that feels like an abdication of my responsibility, since it is barely more significant that not voting at all.
  • Speaking of Ben Carson: When he was running, where were all the people who told me I was racist if I didn't support Barack Obama?
  • I feel as if we're caught in some twisted variation of the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which following the optimal strategy leads to sub-optimal results. 
  • Fortunately, there is very little correlation between a person's moral rectitude and his ability to do a good job as president. That makes no sense to me, but in my own voting life I've seen good people (Carter, Bush #2) do a terrible job as president, and questionable folk (Reagan, Clinton) do a commendable job. For this reason, I don't worry all that much about the outcome of tomorrow's election. I'm much more concerned about the increasing divisions in our society, stoked by the mainstream media, social media, and self-interested fearmongers everywhere. But that's another post.
  • Most of all, as a Christian, I know that bad times will come, and good times will come, and neither our responsibilities nor God's care are dependent on the results of tomorrow's election.
  • My most consistent prayer, with regard to our political situation, has been that we will get our leaders according to what we need, rather than according to what we deserve.
  • Whatever happens tomorrow, how we treat our neighbors will always be much more important than who wins the election.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 7, 2016 at 11:16 pm | Edit
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As a member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, I receive—among other benefits like admission to their fantastic library in Boston—their American Ancestors magazine.  The Fall 2016 issue has an article by Bryan Sykes (author of The Seven Daughters of Eve and other books of genetic genealogy) entitled, "Deep Ancestry and the Golden Thread."  The fascinating essay is actually about matrilineal genealogy, but it was the introduction that made me shake my head.

We all take the link for granted these days, but we few scientists working on the Y-chromosome in the mid-1990s...had dismissed any correlation between surnames and Y-chromosomes as highly unlikely.  As geneticists, we were familiar with the high rate of non-paternity, which would have disrupted the surname/Y-chromosome association over time. [Upon investigation, however] the strength of the correlation was high enough to make it a useful tool for genealogists and showed, incidentally, that the historical rate of non-paternity in England was far lower, at around 1.3% per generation, than it is assumed to be today.

That was a surprise?  Really?  The mindset of the "sexual revolution" is now so entrenched and ingrained that intelligent, educated scientists are shocked to learn that most children in the past did know who their daddy was, and shared his name?

I must be missing something.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Edit
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I need to finish this off. With this post I come to the end of LaMonte Fowler's points. (Loud cheers!) The series in response to the Fowler essay starts here.

Poor people need help. If you’re not helping them but complaining about how the government helps them with your money you are not a nice person.

Granted, people need help. We all do at times, some more than others. No one disputes that. The issue is, what really constitutes help?  It's a very complex issue that has produced no end of books and papers and Ph.D.'s and still an unconscionable amount of money has been spent doing no good or outright harm. That's no excuse for not being generous—but a good reason to exercise wisdom. It's funny how the same people who (correctly) rail at government waste when it comes to the military get upset when someone questions government waste in social programs. (And vice versa.)  

Be nice to the people who teach your children. Don’t send them nasty emails or yell at them. Their job is 10,000 times harder than your stupid job. You are not a professional educator so just shut your mouth and be thankful someone is willing to teach your offspring.

Ouch. This one is almost too personal, and too nasty, to answer. I'm 100% with him on not yelling at teachers—or parents, or even at people who yell at teachers. I greatly admire classroom teachers because I know I would not be a good one. But his hyperbole doesn't help. And much as I appreciate the good teachers out there, I will not be thankful for a system that tries to take from me one of the very best jobs in the world—teaching my offspring.

You don’t know what Common Core is. You think you do, but you don’t unless you’re a teacher. So stop complaining about math problem memes on Facebook. You can’t do the math anyway.

Anyone with an Internet connection can read the Common Core standards; you certainly don't have to be a teacher. Granted, some people confuse the standards with particular implementations, and get a little too hot under the collar, but that technicality doesn't mean their concerns are meaningless. And yes, I can do the math, despite growing up in the 1950's. Standards are good; forcing children to learn in one particular way is not. Especially since every "one right way" we've discovered seems to be supplanted in a few years by another "one right way."

ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States. We do not need to rebuild our military. Our military is the strongest, scariest, most badass killing machine the world has ever seen. So stop being afraid and stop letting politicians and pundits scare you.

If he really believes that about our military, I have two words for him: Genghis Khan. If I had to choose between being a civilian on the opposing side, I'd face the U.S. military any day over that conqueror. Or ISIS. Hmmm, that would be an interesting encounter: Genghis Khan vs. ISIS. Who wants the movie rights?

Stop being suspicious of American Muslims. The guy sitting next to you in the cubicle at work is probably more of a threat to you than any Muslim since he has to listen to your uninformed ranting day after day.

I've had my own encounters with people bad-mouthing Muslims in general, and my usually response is to suggest they come back to me after they've actually read the Qur'an and made a Muslim friend. But there is a clear and present danger out there, and it has claimed the name of Islam, so I find it hard to blame people who are nervous. The best solution I can think of is my constant refrain:  we need to know each other better. When we only interact with people who are like us, we build the walls higher.

Guns do in fact kill people. That’s what they are designed to do. If you feel you need a gun to protect yourself in America, you are probably living in the wrong neighborhood and should move before you go out and buy a gun. There are like a billion places to live where you won’t need a gun, or even need to lock your front door.

I wonder where he would suggest living. And how many of his billion places are near to where the jobs are. And affordable. People in the worst neighborhoods are unlikely to be able to pick up and move—or they would have done it already. It's probably true that more people have guns than need them—I know the gun control threats have driven many to buy guns and get their licenses who otherwise felt little need, just to be ready in case the need arises. I don't like guns. But guns help level the playing field between strong and weak, male and female, criminal and citizen. Until that need is eliminated, banning guns will probably do more harm than good.

If you do own a gun, then make sure you know how to use it really, really, really well. Seriously... get some training because you still don’t know how to record stuff with your DVR. Go to the gun range and shoot the thing a lot. Learn how to clean it properly and be able to disassemble it and reassemble it with your eyes closed. It’s a freaking gun and it deserves that level of care, proficiency and respect. And for God’s sake, keep it locked up and away from your kids.

Barring the abusive language, I'm with him on this one. Guns are tools that need to be respected and used properly. With rights come responsibilities. There was a time when even a child could be trusted with a gun, because he'd been taught how to handle it. Not so much anymore.

If you are even a little bit unhinged or pissed off... you shouldn’t have a gun. And the Founding Fathers would totally agree with me.

Granted, you have to know yourself. If you have a hair-trigger temper, or are abnormally fearful, or inclined to impulsive actions, or to take unnecessary risks, owning a gun is probably something you should avoid, as an alcoholic avoids taking a drink. If you can't control yourself, you probably can't control a gun. But I'm not at all sure that some of our Founding Fathers weren't little unhinged, and they were definitely angry. 

Stop sharing Facebook memes that tell me to share or else Jesus won’t bless me with a laundry basket full of cash. That’s not how prayer works. And I don’t want money delivered (even from God) in a laundry basket. Nobody ever washes those things out and they just keep putting nasty dirty clothes in them. Yuck!

Oh, hooray!  I can be very thankful that my Facebook friends are so much nicer than hisI have never had such a meme shared with meBut if he thinks that in an exchange between a laundry basket and a pile of cash, it's the money that gets dirty, he doesn't know much about filthy lucre.

We are the United States of America, and we can afford to... house every homeless veteran, feed every child, and take in every refugee and still have money left over for Starbucks and a bucket of KFC.

No, we can't. This is as foolish as the idea that we can win all wars, make the world safe for democracy, and fix all the broken countries in the world. Have you never heard of bankrupt millionaires?  Lottery winners who five years later are worse off than before they bought the winning ticket?  With wisdom, we could do better than we are doing now. But spending money as if it were endless is guaranteed to prove that it isn't.

 

I'm sure Fowler meant well in writing his essay. I did, too. But I'm done, and glad to be done. I need something more uplifting to write about....

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 30, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Edit
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I had no idea.

When I'm driving and see a sign that one lane is ending, I move out of that lane as soon as possible. I want plenty of time to make the merge and then not have to worry about it anymore—except for dealing with those obnoxious drivers who speed down the emptying lane and try to horn in at the last minute. Those people are so rude!

But they're right, and I'm wrong.

Apparently the technique of using all lanes until the very end, called a zipper merge, is considered the safest and best way to deal with the lane reduction problem.

 

They didn't teach the zipper merge back when I took driver's ed, but I can see that it makes some sense. Unfortunately, it has one big drawback: It requires turn-taking courtesy on the part of all drivers. I can imagine it working in Switzerland, or Japan. But in America?  I have my doubts. Zippers are great; broken zippers are nasty.

Next time I'm in a situation of heavy traffic—which is where the zipper technique is considered most important—I may or may not have the courage to try it out. But at least I'll be more patient with the drivers who remain in the closing lane.

Unless they start using the shoulder. Then I'll allow myself to be annoyed.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Edit
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The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is — not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him ... to make him think things for himself.

 — George MacDonald

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 19, 2016 at 9:41 am | Edit
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Here we go again. The series in response to the Fowler essay starts here.

American Christians are not under attack. We are not being persecuted. We wield so much power in this country that politicians pretend to be Christian just so we will vote for them. No one is trying to take your bible away from you. The gay people are not destroying our families — we don’t need any help from them, thank you. We do a fine job of that by ourselves. So stop saying we are persecuted. You sound stupid.

Well, this covers a lotWhere to begin?

Persecution?  On the one hand, of course we are not experiencing persecutionIt is not illegal to be a Christian in AmericaUnlike people in many other countries, we do not risk our lives by walking into a churchIf we want to become Christians, or atheists, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or whatever, our families may disapprove, but they're not likely to kill usWe can be Christians and still get jobs, write books, speak in public, educate our children according to our beliefs, and many other freedoms others are dying for.

On the other hand, I think Christians are right to be vigilant, and concerned. Persecution rarely starts out large and obvious. There's sufficient evidence that in the extraordinarily influential spheres of both academia and the media, there is plenty of intense, deep-seated prejudice against Christians. (Against conservatives, too, but that's a different issue—and the failure of so many to recognize the difference is a big part of the problem.)  If it's not illegal to be a Christian in the United States, there are more and more social and yes, legal restrictions on how we act as Christians, and belief without action can hardly be called faith.

Where does he get the idea that we think people are trying to take the Bible away from us?  He's right; that does sound stupid. But I don't know anyone who believes that. What's more, unlike Islam, in which the Qur'an, the book itself, is considered holy, it's only the contents of the Bible that matter. While it's certainly possible for Bibles to be banned in the U.S.—and it could happen faster than we'd like to believe—I'm far more concerned about the many of us who have Bibles but don't read them, or read them and don't care to apply what we learn. In any case, Fowler is knocking down a straw man again.

"Gay people" destroying families?  Yet once again he's taking a very complex issue and making it something it isn't. A hollow straw man. 

Our local Publix grocery store often gives out samples of products and recipes. The other day I was offered what was called non-dairy chocolate pudding. I'll grant that it was non-dairy, but chocolate pudding it was not. Made of bananas, avocado, cocoa powder, and who knows what else, it did meet the Merriam-Webster simple definition of pudding: a thick, sweet, soft, and creamy food that is usually eaten cold at the end of a mealAnd it wasn't unpalatable, if you like bananasBut it certainly was not that lovely concoction of milk, sugar, cocoa, and cornstarch that said "chocolate pudding" to generationsTo pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

Family—that lovely concoction of husband, wife, many children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in all its inclusive, complex, and messy glory—is indeed under siegeIt's not the fault of "gay people." The redefinition of the ideal and purpose of marriage and family began decades before homosexual marriage was ever considered an option instead of an oxymoronFrom the misuse of birth control to helicopter parenting, from the worship of sex to the devaluation of single people, from rampant abuse to rampant divorce, from hyper-patriarchy to the exclusion from our families of those who differ from the norm, and above all because of selfishness and the coldness of our hearts, Fowler is indeed right that we are our own worst enemiesBut knowing it's wrong to single out one crack in the dam among many doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned that the edifice may collapse and flood the valley.

I may have to eat your banana-avocado-cocoa dessertI might even enjoy itBut don't tell me I have to pretend it's chocolate pudding.  And don't try to make me stop promoting the real thing.

Christians in America are not being thrown into the arena with wild beasts, nor used as human torches, beheaded, tortured, stoned, torn to pieces, kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery—at least not solely for their faith. But would you have us wait until it gets to that stage before being concerned?  If you really have no idea how quickly a society can go from mere prejudice to the gas chambers—ask a Jew.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 17, 2016 at 8:37 am | Edit
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Now I'm realizing how long LaMonte Fowler's essay really is. But I plod ahead with my even longer series in response.

Racism exists. And you are probably a little racist and should work on that. Seriously.

Yep. Guilty as charged. Human beings—and most animals—have always assessed a situation by matching up observable facts with previous experience as quickly as possible. That's how we survive. If you're a rabbit and see a shadow that could be an eagle flit by, you don't stop to think that it might be a seagull, or an eagle with something other than dinner on his mind; you dive into the nearest briar patch. If all your experiences with law enforcement have been negative, you duck around the corner at the sight of a policeman, no matter how innocent you are. If you are ever mugged by an old lady wearing a hoodie and quoting Shakespeare, you'll never look at old ladies, hoodies, or Shakespeare the same way again. You won't look at anything the same way again that you don't immediately recognize as familiar and safe. This gut reaction is not wrong; it's a hard-wired survival skill.

It's also far from limited to racism. In myself I recognize "culturism":  my instinctive prejudice kicks in much faster in the presence of tattoos, body piercings, falling-down trousers, foul language, or blasting music than it does for a mere difference in skin shade. But I'll continue to use "racist" as a catch-all term, since that's the one Fowler used.

Because this kind of prejudice is instinctive, not rational, it's useless to try to counter it through rational means. What we can do, through argument, laws, and social pressure, is counter what happens after we've had a chance to analyze a situation and rethink our instinctive response. We can't control our reactions, but we can and must control our actions. It's no sign of guilt to instinctively duck into the alley at the sight of a police car, but when we are stopped by the police, it is our responsibility to speak and act with respect and reasonableness. We may legitimately feel the grip of fear at the sight of a hoodie-wearing old lady with Macbeth under her arm, but that's no excuse for gunning her down—or even for calling the police.

In working on this kind of racism, it's not helpful to call someone a racist. What good does that serve?  It would be much better to point out racist actions. One of the first things new parents learn is to separate a child's actions from the child himself. You might say, "It's wrong to hit your sister," or "I can't allow you to hit your sister," or "It hurts your sister when you hit her," or any number of alternatives, but you do more harm than good by saying, "You hit your sister!  You're a bad boy!"  What is your goal? To built yourself up by making other people feel bad, or to make real progress in human relations?

 


 

There is a way to work on the internal racism as well, though it has nothing to do with laws or reasoning or shaming. What alters our instinctive survival reactions?  Experience. The more we have positive interactions with people of different races and of different cultures, the less their appearance on our internal radar screen will provoke negative responses. As I've said so many times before, the best antidote to the irrational hatred that is sweeping our country is to seek out the commonalities that show our enemies to be human beings much like ourselves.

Sadly, the process of really getting to know others is often difficult, and always slow. However, it turns out that our brains are remarkably indiscriminate as to what constitutes experience. Studies have shown, for example, that violence in television and movies (and no doubt in video games as well, at least the more realistic ones) provokes neural responses similar to actual, physical violence. The influence of the shows we watch, the games we play, the music we listen to—and also, I would say, the books we read, though many these days give books a free pass—is astonishing.

That influence can do terrible harm. Do we really think we can listen, day in and day out, to lyrics that extol the virtues of raping women and shooting cops, and not see a negative impact on real women, real police?

But it can also do significant good. The power of positive images is enormous. If our favorite TV shows feature likeable, intelligent, kind, positive characters that we can for other reasons identify with, be they black women, Norwegian children, homosexual bankers, Jewish homeschoolers, or Shakespeare-toting old ladies, our deep-seated impressions of the classes of people they represent will be changed—because our experiences, however virtual, have been changed.

This is "Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws," squared.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 8, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Edit
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Back to LaMonte Fowler's essay, for the fifth in this series.

Science is real. We know things because of science. Don’t be afraid of it. You have an iPhone and Facebook because of science. It’s your friend.

It's hard to respond to this without knowing what he means by being afraid of science. I've certainly never been afraid of science itself: growing up an avid science fiction fan, in an era when SF was more science than fantasy, in a family where anyone who was not an engineer was a mathematician. Math major in college with a heavy sprinkling of science and engineering courses—later I worked as a software designer in a university research lab. No, I never was afraid of science. 

But here are a few things that do cause me concern.

Misuse of technology  I've loved computers since paper tape. I think technology is wonderful. The Industrial Revolution was wonderful, too, but it had a dark side. It's foolish to believe the advances in computing, medicine, and agriculture, for example, can be safely accepted without serious environmental, ethical, and social considerations. So yes, I'm scared of science unbounded.

Science politics It doesn't take long working in the field to realize that scientific research is as plagued by prejudice, good ol' boy networks, and partisan politics as anywhere. It doesn't matter how good your research and reasoning are, if you run afoul of accepted doctrines, they may never see the light of day, and you're not likely to get funding. This is nothing new, having been around as long as science itself has, but it still scares me. If the work of Ignaz Semmelweis had not been ignored because it contradicted established tenets, much suffering and innumerable deaths would have been prevented. I'm afraid of missing important breakthroughs and making dangerous mistakes.

Science-as-religion  Science is a wonderful servant but a terrible master and a worse deity. There are many people, usually professing themselves to be atheists, whose devotion to Science displays all the characteristics of the religious fervor they despise. "But what we profess is the truth," they may object. Q.E.D. Science fanaticism scares me as much as any other—maybe more so, since it's a fundamentalist faith that's flying under the radar.

Science isn't my friend. It's much too powerful and overarching to be friendly. It may be one of the greatest tools we have, but it's more like a chainsaw than a friendly nextdoor neighbor.

Global warming or “climate change” as the cool kids call it IS REAL. Anyone who tells you it’s not real is not a smart person and probably should not be dressing themselves or caring for children.

Once again skating past the gratuitous insults, I have to say that if Fowler thinks the objection people have with the current climate change ideology is "it's not real," then he's not listening very well. Sincere and serious issues that I have heard include: 

  • Questions about the reliability of the computer models used to predict the future—especially from those of us who have seen how badly computer models have sometimes performed in other areas
  • Questions about how much of the change is due to man-made causes and how much is part of a natural cycle
  • Questions about the efficacy, sustainability, and social consequences of any actions we might take to ameliorate the situation—especially from those of us old enough to have lived through the time when the worry was global cooling, and it was seriously proposed that we might improve the situation by spreading sun-absorbing dirt on the ice caps
  • Concerns that the issue has become less science and more religion, with those who venture to question the orthodox creed suffering ad hominem attacks and the full force of science politics as mentioned above

To be clear: I don't question climate change. I do have serious objections to using straw-man arguments and insulting language instead of listening carefully to those with whom we disagree and responding calmly and rationally.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 14, 2016 at 10:05 am | Edit
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If our country is 240 years old, that means it has been 40 years since we attended the great bicentennial celebration in Philadelphia.  This Bicentennial Baby that Porter caught on film (yes, real film) is now forty years old.  (Click to enlarge.)

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Here are a few more pictures from that event.  Except for the first one, I'm not naming names.

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President Gerald Ford spoke.  Some people were more thrilled than others.

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Watching the parade.

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Happy birthday, America!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 4, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Edit
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I am getting tired of LaMonte Fowler's rudeness, and so are my readers. But I press onward; it's actually mild compared with much that I encounter—hence both my concern for the future and my delight over my young relative's attitude, from which this series sprung.

FoxNews, CNN and MSNBC have an agenda and are not “fair and balanced” or in any way unbiased. I’ll reiterate... read more. Read newspapers (even online ones). Read lots of opinions and sources and then (stay with me here), THINK! Form your own opinion based on as many facts as your can brain can tolerate.

Speaking of facts... there actually is a difference between facts, opinions and propaganda.
 You should learn the difference. (Another opportunity to show off your mad reading skills.)

Beyond the insults, there is truth here, and it's about time someone spoke it, though it's hardly news. Longer ago than I care to admit I remember my father coming home from a lecture one night, very impressed by the speaker, a new, young Canadian journalist named Peter Jennings. The primary thrust of his speech was that all news reporting is biased; it's best to admit that up front so that your audience knows where you are coming from. The best defense for the audience is to consult many sources, as Fowler suggests.

But not exactly as Fowler suggests. He seems to have a prejudice in favor of newspapers. I'll admit to my own prejudice for the printed word, but newspapers are just as biased as any other source. I'd also recommend expanding one's source collection to include foreign news outlets. I found the perspective of a French news program on the Brexit to be much more interesting and comprehensive than anything I saw from U.S. sources. And even though I could hardly believe it myself, the best and most accurate reporting I found on a story about which I knew more than usual was from—Al Jazeera.

And why stop at current events?  The study of history is also rife with bias. Perhaps it's useless, when American students graduate high school having learned little history at all, to ask that they be shown multiple, divergent sources beyond their textbooks. But otherwise it's not education, but indoctrination.

No doubt fueled as much by the marketing power of sensationalism as by the desire to promote their own points of view, it is our news sources themselves—which at least once pretended to report the facts—that have blurred the lines between fact, opinion, and propaganda.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and all the rest are ENTERTAINERS! Stop getting your opinions from them. (Here’s where that reading thing can really be an advantage.)

Is it a good or bad thing that the only one of these I didn't have to look up is Rush Limbaugh?  I don't know if they, like John Oliver, admit to being entertainers, but if you have a TV or radio show, that's what you are. As the Geico commercial says, "It's what you do."  I do now see that these examples are all considered conservatives, and I must make the point that liberals do exactly the same thing. Fowler does his audience a disservice by not admitting that. Nor is the phenomenon limited to visual/auditory media. Newspapers and magazines maintain circulation, books sell, and blogs (which mix all media) prosper by making themselves entertaining. The veracity of a subject is independent of whether or not I am entertained by its presentation.

Forming one's own opinions is a lot harder than Fowler implies. Most of us are too busy living our lives to put in the necessary time and research. At some point, we simply have to trust our sources. And verify when we can.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 1, 2016 at 8:40 am | Edit
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Continuing my commentary on  LaMonte M. Fowler's Huffington Post article. (Links to Part 1 and Part 2.)

We don’t live in a democracy. Technically we are a Federal Republic. But in reality, we are ruled by an oligarchy. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. Reading will do you good. You probably need to do more of it.

Thanks for making the point clear about a democracyMy Swiss friends, who really do live in a democracy, will be happy for more Americans to learn the difference.

I disagree about oligarchyOur true rulers are many and diverse, though if I classify and personify them I can present it as a rule by the fewBehold, our Tredecumvirate:

  • Government Bureaucracies
  • Political Insiders
  • Lawyers
  • The Media
  • Hollywood
  • Madison Avenue
  • All Businesses Considered Too Big to Fail
  • The Educational System, from preschool to university
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Apple
  • Public Opinion
  • Our Own Self-Centered Natures

I'm sure you can think of more, as can I, but thirteen seems a good place to stop.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 26, 2016 at 9:23 am | Edit
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Once again leaving the rest of my life to fend for itself for a while, I return to my commentary on LaMonte M. Fowler's Huffington Post article.

Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall, and we’re not going to deport millions of people and break up families. If you think either one is a good idea, you’re not smart and probably not a person I want to hang out with.

Aside from the rudeness, I agree with him hereIt ought to be glaringly obvious that Mexico has too many problems of its own to finance something that only helps its rich neighbors to the northIf they have any leftover pesos, I'd rather they put them towards conquering their drug lords and ameliorating the conditions that make their citizens take desperate risksAnd deporting millions of people isn't any more of a solution to our problems than the creation of Liberia was to the problem of slavery.

Nonetheless, focussing on these extremes misses the valid and important points behind the bombastI can name a few.

  • Illegal immigration is ... illegal. We keep missing this point. It's possible that, as with Prohibition, immigration restrictions are so unpopular that they only breed a nation of scofflaws and fuel organized crime. I don't think so—other countries manage better—but we either need to muster the national will to enforce our existing laws, or else change them to something we are willing to uphold.
  • Illegal immigration is slaveryFirst, it unnaturally depresses wages by providing an unending supply of workers. Even legal immigration has that effect. When it's illegal, however, the workers are powerless because of their status. I heard an otherwise upstanding citizen brag, in my presence, that his workers do as they're told, because they know that if they don't, he'll pay a visit to the immigration authorities.

    To the farmer who insists he needs his undocumented workers because he can't afford to farm without them, I say that was the excuse the Southern plantation owners gave for owning slaves. To the commentator who said that without such workers we'd be paying $45 for a head of lettuce, I say I don't believe it. Switzerland pays good wages and their prices, though high, aren't that much more than ours. Less, in some cases. And even if our prices did skyrocket—is it right to allow slavery just so we can have cheap lettuce?Illlegal immigration is unfair to all those who have gone through the effort and expense to obey the law. In the case of poor immigrants, it is cruelly so. We know a family of refugees who built an honest and successful HVAC business that thrived until they could no longer compete with the companies that use cheap, illegal workers. Thus a real-life, recent example of the American Dream come true was scuttled by our collective unwillingness to enforce the laws meant to protect such people.
  • The problem of breaking up families is largely the product of a policy I'd change if I could—although that's hard, because it's in the Constitution. Most countries do not grant automatic citizenship to a child simply because he is born there. Our Swiss grandchildren are Swiss because their father is Swiss, not because they were born there. Granting American citizenship to minors whose parents are in the country illegally, or even legally as tourists, has become the root of many problems, not the least of which is the inability to enforce immigration laws without either breaking up families or illegally deporting citizens.

 

Unless you can trace your family line back to someone who made deerskin pants look stylish and could field dress a buffalo, you are a descendent of an immigrant. Please stop saying that immigrants are ruining our country. Such comments are like a giant verbal burrito stuffed with historical ignorance, latent racism and xenophobia, all wrapped in a fascist tortilla.

As it happens, I do have ancestors who wore deerskin pants and could dress a buffalo. But how is that relevant?  Everyone who came to this country, Native Americans included, was an immigrant. (As an interesting side note, if you want to see a hotbed of illegal immigration, look no further than present-day Boston and the Irish.)  Who says that "immigrants" are ruining our country?  

Where people see ruination, or the potential thereof, lies in the coincidence of (1) an uncontrolled flood of immigrants, most of which are very needy, and (2) our modern society with its greatly expanded governmental services. No longer are immigrants supported solely by their own hard work, their families, their churches, and their communities. It's a good thing to have an additional safety net, but that net is not infinitely stretchable, especially in an era when the country and the economy are no longer expanding.  Even leaving aside the social safety net, ordinary governmental and infrastructure services—such as schools, police and fire, water and power, and roads—are stressed by rapid population growth, especially when that population will not for a long while represent a commensurate increase in tax revenue.

We don't just need a solution to our immigration situation. We need a solution that's affordable and above all sustainable. The United States is like the Earth itself: vast, rich, and full of resources. But those resources are not inexhaustible, and it's as irresponsible to act without taking that into account as it is to continue consuming as if fossil fuels were going to last forever.

To be continued....

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Edit
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