Books, sermons, and debates on the problem of unanswered petitionary prayer have been around for as long as people have been praying. To my simple mind, the answer boils down to this:
- A cosmic-vending-machine god would be a horror, speeding the world to hell even faster than we're already racing.
- Capricious gods are basically humans with superpowers—think ancient Greece and Rome—and can almost be dealt with: you try to keep them happy, you rejoice when they do what you ask, and you shrug your shoulders when they don't. You win some, you lose some.
- An all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful god who describes himself as a father will act more like ideal human parents, who know that bringing up children requires sometimes saying yes, sometimes saying no, and sometimes weeping when your response causes horrific pain—like parents who put a tiny child through the torment of chemotherapy because the alternative is so much worse.
I leave out the option that prayers aren't answered because there's no one to hear. Those who pray—and "thinking good thoughts" is also a prayer—believe someone or something will hear their heartfelt cry. The only question is what, or who.
It really comes down to a choice between (2) and (3). Choosing (3) requires that we accept that even our best, most unselfish, and most desperate prayers will sometimes seem to be ignored. Thus, I've come more-or-less to terms with the problem of unanswered prayer. It's the problem of answered prayer that seems to me to be sorely neglected.
We blithely sing,
Have thine own way, Lord!
Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter,
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me
after thy will,
while I am waiting,
yielded and still.
But have we ever really considered the perspective of the clay? The process that results in a beautiful vase sees the clay being slapped, kneaded, pushed, prodded, spun on a dizzying wheel, cut and trimmed, and fired in a blistering-hot oven. Is this really what we're asking for?
Stupid me, I keep praying, regularly and earnestly, "Make me into the person you want me to be." Apparently my Potter is taking me seriously. This is where I feel like pleading to be an ordinary, sun-dried pot, shaped by gentle hands and soft nudges. Who wants to be a Ming vase anyway? But it's been a potter's wheel kind of year.
Be careful what you ask for. Your prayers just might be answered.
Once again, the CATO Institute has come out with its assessment of relative personal and economic freedom among our states. I'm always suspicious of all those surveys that purport to measure "best state to live in," "happiest city," "most family-friendly country," and such, because so often their criteria are not only different from my own, but even polar opposites. But the CATO Institute appears to have done a good job, and they're open about their criteria and how they calculate their rankings. It goes without saying that there are "freedoms" considered here that each of us would be happy to do without. I'm actually rather pleased that Florida ranks #37 in "gambling freedom," although I understand why that's included in the calculations. They even have an appendix for high-profile issues, such as abortion, that make a generalized assessment of freedom difficult.
Here is the definition of freedom that undergirds this ranking:
We ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework. In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and property as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This understanding of freedom follows from the natural-rights liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the rights-generating rule-utilitarianism of Herbert Spencer and others.
Here is an image of the overall freedom rankings. I encourage you to go to the website, however, where you can find much more information.
Way to go, New Hampshire and Florida, the gold and silver winners!
The dubious distinction of coming in dead last goes to my birth state of New York, where I lived until I was 15 and came back again for college and several years thereafter, home of my beloved Adirondack Mountains, and birthplace of our children. I still love New York and pray for it daily, but can no longer imagine—as I once dreamed—of returning to live there. However, your mileage may vary. One man's liberty is another man's license, and New York may be just where you'll feel freest in the areas that matter most to you. (If so, please stay there and enjoy it. Don't move to Florida for the weather or the low taxes and then do your best to make us like New York.)
Here's an interesting video about toilet paper I just came across (17 minutes @ regular speed, language warning). It begins with the extreme statement that the average American uses 141 rolls of toilet paper a year. You may recognize that as a useless, inflammatory statistic. First of all, I question any statement that tries to give itself credibility by being more precise than justified. To say 141 conveys no more information than "around 140" but looks more scientific because of the extra significant digit. But I'm quibbling. The real issue is that toilet paper rolls come in a variety of sizes, so that number could easily be off by a factor of three, even if you only count household use; office and public bathrooms often use industrial-sized rolls. So all this number really means is that Americans use a lot of toilet paper.
This makes me suspect the other numbers in the video as well. So why am I posting it? Well, the history of toilet paper, and toilet paper alternatives, is interesting. Though come to think of it, I quarrel with some of that, too. The idea that excrement is "gross" was not the invention of clever marketers, as any reader of the Old Testament will attest.
Still, it got me rethinking the idea of a bidet, one of the ones that attaches right to your existing toilet. Actually, I've been envying the Japanese their fancy toilets since we visited there in 2006, but that's both more money and more work than I'm in the mood for. But I always thought of a bidet as a luxury item for occasional use; it never occurred to me that it could replace toilet paper. (Think how handy that would have been in 2020.) And I'd never heard of "bidet towels," which make a lot of sense. I mean, you don't save toilet paper if you use it to dry off afterwards. Then again, Japanese toilets do the drying for you, too: wash, flush, and blow dry.
This year's Veterans Day tribute is to all the U.S. (and pre-U.S.) veterans among our direct ancestors.
Pequot War, 1634-1638: Thomas Barnes, Jonathan Brewster, Thomas Bull, Nathaniel Merriman
King Philip's War, 1675-1678: John Curtiss, Isaac Davis, Isaac Johnson
Queen Anne's War (part of the War of the Spanish Succession), 1702-1713: Giles Doud
French and Indian War (part of the Seven Years' War), 1754-1763: Samuel Chapman, Moses Whitney
Revolutionary War, 1775-1983: Jonathan Burr, Erastus Chapman, Agur Curtiss, Nathaniel Fox, Nehemiah Gillett, Christopher Johnson, Anthony Jones, Stephen Kelsey, Seth Langdon, James Pennington, Oliver Scott, Joseph Scovil, Henry Shepard, Elihu Tinker, Benjamin Welles, Moses Whitney
Civil War, 1861-1865: Phillip Barb, Anson Bradbury, Robert Bristol, David Rice, Nathan Smith
World War I, 1914-1918: Howard Langdon, George Smith
World War II, 1939-1945: Alice Porter (Wightman), Bill Wightman. I give honorable mention to Warren Langdon, my father, who served during WWII on the Manhattan Project. I like to say that his work helped save the life of Porter's father, who, being a medic, would have been one of the first to hit the beach should an invasion of Japan have been necessary.
I'm sure there are more whose names I don't know. I have not as yet found representatives from the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, nor the Spanish-American War. I know there were also those who served during peacetime.
I'm sure they weren't all always completely honorable, because they were ordinary people. They didn't even always fight on the same side. But one thing, I'm certain, they all had in common: They gave their bodies, their lives, their health, and their futures to stand "between their loved home and the war's desolation." For that I thank and honor them, and those who still make the sacrifice today.
That said, I'm going to put in a plug here for the all-volunteer military, which I think no longer gets the respect and support it deserves. We are too far removed from the 1960's and 70's, when the military draft cast a long, difficult, and painful shadow on the country. In that respect it is much better to be young today. A career in the armed services can be a very good choice—but it should be just that, a choice. It’s better for families, for society, and for the military as well.
Why haven't I left the Episcopal Church? I know many who have, from individuals, to churches, to in one case an entire diocese. Certainly I have no loyalty to its national organization, which I'm afraid I find heretical in many ways—as well as narrow-minded and unkind. Besides, I've always had more attachment to the Church as the Body of Christ as a whole than to any particular denomination. Still, I'm most at home in the Anglican form of worship, and have been part of Episcopal churches for over a quarter of a century.
Why stay in what I believe to be an openly heretical denomination? For one thing, no denomination I've ever experienced has not suffered from errors, often egregious ones. Not even "non-denominational" or independent churches. What matters much more is the particular, local church, of which there are many in the Episcopal Church, and especially in the larger Anglican Communion worldwide, that remain faithful.
For another, the nature of an Anglican service makes it more difficult—though not impossible—for a church to go too far off the rails. Even when the sermons are openly heretical—we've been there—the Scripture readings, prayers, creeds, and rubrics tend keep the worship itself in line.
Nonetheless, the policies and struggles of our denomination are painful and discouraging at times. So it was with enthusiasm and hope that I learned about the Episcopal Fellowship for Renewal, a grassroots movement of young people working within the Episcopal Church for restoration and renewal.
Where I encountered them was through their Ninety-five Theses to the Episcopal Church—a deliberate nod to Martin Luther—which I reproduce below. I can't say I completely support (or even understand) all 95 of them, but for almost all I can say an enthusiastic AMEN! They pretty much nail where the Episcopal Church has gone off track.
On a personal note, it may be the "least of these," but being an enthusiastic hymn singer, I'm particularly enamored of #57 (emphasis mine): The words of Scripture, the Creeds, the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer, AND THE HYMNS are not to be changed to insert "gender-inclusive" or "gender-neutral" language. To be clear: when a woman sings "Thou my great Father, I Thy true son," she is not committing gender dysphoria. I speak as a woman, an Episcopalian, and a prescriptivist.
All hope is ultimately in God, but I'm also feeling especially hopeful because of these young people who are determined not leave their church, even though the church has left them. I love their quote from C. S. Lewis:
We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
The following statements are coming from parishioners and priests of the Episcopal Church who are committed to its flourishing and faithfulness. In true Protestant fashion, and in honor of our faith tradition, they will be framed as ninety-five theses in hopes that, unlike the Roman leaders during the Reformation, the Episcopal Church will honor the call to return to the traditional values of the English Reformers, the Doctors of the Anglican Church, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, the Book of Homilies, the Church Fathers, and the Creeds–Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian. Additionally, the three Anglican authorities: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.
- Christian bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers must not be permitted to deny that Jesus is truly God and truly man.
- Christian ministers must not be permitted to deny that Jesus physically and bodily rose from the dead.
- Christian ministers must not be permitted to deny that Jesus was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- Christian ministers must not be permitted to deny the Second Coming of Christ.
- Christian ministers must not be permitted to deny the reality of Eternal Life.
- That since the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds affirm all the above doctrines, Christian ministers who publicly recite them in their churches, while privately or subtly denying them, are liars.
- Christian ministers must affirm the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. Any denial of Scripture’s authority in the determination of doctrine and administration of discipline shall not be tolerated.
- Christian ministers must affirm the authority and divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and avoid questioning it on the basis that it is a culturally relative or historically unreliable text.
- Christian ministers must readily affirm the promise of Eternal Life after death in the New Creation, so that the faithful may be given true hope in Christ.
- Christian ministers who attack the authority of Christ, the Apostles, the Church Fathers, the English Reformers, or the Doctors of the Church attack the very ground they stand on.
- Christian ministers must affirm the existence of miracles, as Scripture testifies.
- The Church must affirm the reality of original sin.
- The Church must affirm the reality of God’s judgment upon sin.
- The Church has no authority to explicitly deny the existence of eternal damnation, given that Jesus Christ spoke so plainly of it.
- The Church must affirm that God is all-powerful, or omnipotent.
- The Church must affirm that God is all-knowing, or omniscient.
- The Church must affirm that God is all-good, or omnibenevolent.
- The Church must affirm that there is only one true God, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as described in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.
- The Church must affirm that Christ is the only way to God.
- The Church must affirm that Christianity is absolutely true and the only way to salvation.
- Given that the foundational documents of the Anglican Church, principally the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, uphold all of the above doctrines, the Church does not have the authority to deny said doctrines.
- While liberation theology and the social gospel contain elements of truth, they cannot take the place of the Biblical Gospel, as they change its message from redemption of sin and eternal life into belief in an earthly utopia.
- Pantheism is heretical as it denies the true nature of God. All those who teach the doctrine of God as all-encompassing spiritual oneness are heretics and should be condemned as such.
- Process Theology denies God’s absolute, eternal nature and replaces it with pantheism; therefore, it should not be taught in Christ’s church.
- While we can unite with other religions in earthly matters, such as promoting understanding and the common good, we cannot unite with them in spiritual matters.
- Agnostic, Atheistic, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Wiccan, Satanist, or otherwise occultic religious beliefs, practices, symbols, rituals, and idols are to be utterly rejected and should never be allowed in Christ’s Church.
- There is only one God in the Old and New Testaments and to deny that is to make God relative, changeable, and not absolute.
- The purpose of studying theology is to approach the absolute truth about God and reflect on what he has revealed to us.
- Our theology should not relativize absolute truths about God that have been revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Ministers whose theology is essentially Unitarian Universalist should stop calling themselves “Episcopalian” or “Anglican” and recuse themselves from positions in the Church.
- The Church should be much quicker to discipline ministers who deny the divinity of Christ than to discipline ministers who will not bless same-sex “unions” or who decline to ordain women to the priesthood.
- Everyone should be held to the same standard of Christian sexual ethics regardless of orientation or personal situation. Hypocritically condemning some sin while ignoring others is not righteous.
- Churches should spend more time talking about Eternal Life in Christ than about contemporary political issues.
- The aim of priests should be to teach their congregations Christian doctrines, rather than casting doubts about such doctrines into the minds of the faithful.
- The Church should be more dogmatic about theological doctrine than about political and social ideologies.
- The Church should be united in essential theological beliefs and grant individual Christian liberty in non-essential beliefs, rather than the inverse.
- Preaching about God’s love without preaching about God’s holiness and wrath toward sin is just as bad as the inverse.
- To make sin merely about systemic injustices reduces the Gospel to an ineffective political message with no spiritually redemptive power.
- Social justice is an important part of the Gospel but not the whole of the Gospel, and it too often has become a euphemism for a partisan political agenda.
- Priests should never give their congregations the impression that God makes no moral demands of them.
- Parishes should hold their members to high personal moral standards.
- Priests should not hesitate to preach against personal sin.
- Incumbents should not be denied the tenure of the office of Rector. Bishops should abolish the office of Priest-in-Charge for all but interim situations.
- All parishes should present a clear theological message consistent with Scripture, the doctrines of historic Anglicanism, and the example of the Early Church.
- Homilists should not hesitate to preach theological dogma from the pulpit.
- It is crucial for every parish member to be directed toward having a vibrant, living faith in Jesus Christ. We need to get to know Him for who He truly is, as was taught in Scripture.
- There should be limits on theological diversity within the Church, especially when it reaches the point of denying the essentials of the faith as defined by our historic creeds.
- Children are to be taught the Scriptures, theology, and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer so that they know why they come to church, what to do whilst in church, and how to live their faith outside of church.
- Parish leaders should teach Christian apologetics to children and adults so that they know how to defend the Christian faith before others.
- Confirmands are not to be confirmed if they do not profess belief in the essentials of Christianity.
- People with Agnostic, Atheistic, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Wiccan, Satanist, or otherwise non-Christian beliefs must not be admitted to or allowed to remain in positions of leadership, teaching, or authority in the Church.
- Priests should not invite non-believers to receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist "lest they bring judgment upon themselves."
- The Church does not have the authority to prevent the Eucharist from being offered to believers in its churches on any grounds other than excommunication or lack of Trinitarian baptism.
- Churches and their congregations should regularly engage in evangelism.
- The point of missionary work should be to address people’s spiritual needs by telling them about Christ and the Good News of his Resurrection, in addition to attending to their physical needs.
- The Church must do social justice work on its own terms, not on the terms of any secular political factions. Christ and His true Gospel are to be the primary motivations for the charity and social justice work done by the Church.
- The words of Scripture, the Creeds, the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer, and the Hymns are not to be changed to insert “gender-inclusive” or “gender-neutral” language. Nor should the rites of Holy Matrimony be rewritten to insert “marriage” between two men, two women, or anything else outside the union of one man and one woman into one flesh.
- All are to be baptized in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [or Holy Ghost],” not in any alternatives such as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer;” nor should feminine pronouns be applied to God in these texts, as that renders their baptism invalid and ineffective.
- While the divine essence of the Lord has no gender, God has revealed Himself as “He,” so He is to be referred to as such. Jesus Christ was, is, and forever shall be a man; thus, He should always be referred to in the masculine, as doing otherwise denies his historicity and humanity.
- We should be more concerned about our worship language being offensive to God than it being offensive to our worldly culture.
- The Church must not make alliances with any secular political factions.
- Scripture, reason, tradition, and natural law–not contemporary culture and politics–should be the sole authorities for the Church’s stances on issues of sexuality and gender.
- The Church must strongly condemn adultery, extramarital sex or fornication, polygamy, sexual activity involving minors, incest, rape, and bestiality.
- The Church must strongly condemn pornography.
- There must never be risqué or sexually-themed displays in the Church.
- Due to not only the teaching of Holy Scripture, but also scientific advancements such as ultrasound technology, it is obvious that abortion is the direct taking of a human life.
- The Church must support societal efforts to protect the safety of innocents, including the unborn, as well as encourage the upholding and following of secular laws consistent with Scripture and Christian righteousness.
- Christian ministers are to model Biblical morals for their congregations and dioceses and to be held to a high standard of holiness.
- Bishops should not wield episcopal authority to discipline churches, priests, bishops, or parishioners who have not explicitly rejected the doctrines and practices of Anglican Christianity or who have otherwise done nothing wrong according to Biblical morality.
- Bishops should use episcopal authority to discipline ministers who misuse the sacraments, perform un-Christian ceremonies, teach heretical beliefs, or lead notoriously sinful lives.
- The use of legal action to seize the property of dissident parishes is petty and poor conduct by Church ministers.
- The Church should continue to condemn drunkenness, drug abuse, excessive gambling, and all self-destructive vices whilst providing support to those struggling with them.
- The Church must not ignore the voices of those who call the Church to repentance, as the Prophets did in the Holy Scriptures and the Reformers did during the Protestant Reformation.
- The Church should allow itself to be corrected by evangelical churches and thinkers in certain aspects, as when John Wesley inspired Anglicans to correct some of their errors.
- In order to revive itself, the Church should adopt a more evangelical mindset and elevate the role of personal conversion, evangelism, discipleship, and confession.
- The Church will likely die out if it continues to drift away from the historic faith.
- The Church has a commitment to diversity yet is not itself diverse, due to its lack of evangelism and its de-emphasis of Biblical theology.
- Despite its progressive ideals and desire to “dismantle and heal white supremacy,” the Church remains one of the least diverse religious groups in the United States.
- Progressive Anglicans claim to want to elevate non-white voices, yet ignore the cries for repentance and calls to obedience to God's law from overwhelmingly non-white Anglicans from the Global South.
- The Church claims to uphold the traditions, beliefs, and practices of Anglicanism, yet tolerates countless theological errors that the foundational Anglican texts such as the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Homilies explicitly declare to be heretical.
- The Church bears the name of “church,” yet tolerates theological errors that the Church Fathers explicitly declare to be heretical.
- The Church speaks constantly of inclusivity, yet largely fails to create an environment inclusive of those who hold orthodox Biblical views.
- The Church usually calls for justice only in ways that are acceptable to the political left and theological liberals.
- The Church’s rhetoric on social issues and current events is frequently indistinguishable from that of progressive political commentators.
- The Church is quick to criticize evangelicals for conflating faith and politics, yet dedicates a far greater share of its rhetoric to political issues than do evangelicals.
- In offering solely a progressive political message, the Church offers people nothing they cannot get from secular culture, which is one reason why it gains so few new members.
- The progressive faction of the Church is seldom self-critical, except to repent of not being progressive enough.
- The Church keeps pushing for more and more alterations to Christian doctrine, despite the risk that they will further divide the body of Christ and cause more schism.
- Convicting people of sin and showing them their need for a Savior, as opposed to making people feel affirmed, should be our focus; convicting people of sin, when done in a spirit of love and charity, is healthy and will help us to grow in our faith in God.
- Bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers who claim the title of Christian while rejecting the essentials of the faith risk facing God’s judgment.
- Bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers who lead their congregations astray risk facing God’s judgment.
- Seminary professors who make it their goal to replace the godly values of seminarians with heretical beliefs and political ideology risk facing God’s judgment.
- Seminaries must not make affiliations with any group that affirms heretical beliefs or practices lest they risk facing God’s judgment.
- Bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers who not only tolerate but affirm and encourage what they know to be sin according to Scripture for the sake of not offending people risk facing God’s judgment.
- Bishops, priests, deacons, and other ministers who lie to the public and claim to represent Christ while denying His humanity, divinity, commandments, and teachings are using the Lord’s name in vain and risk facing God’s judgment.
We would like these concerns addressed at the next General Convention. This is part of our commitment of being God’s servants to restore the Church we revere. This document will be sent to as many congregations and leaders in the Episcopal Church as possible, and posted on the doors of as many Episcopal churches as possible. We follow the philosophy that retreatism only leads the Church to falter more, thus we are not trying to form a new Anglican denomination, we are calling for reform within the Episcopal Church.
Let us return to the Lord and long live the Episcopal Church!
Having now posted their Theses on my own "door," I will also say that I like their sense of humor, since they preface their list with, "Signed and composed by the Episcopal Fellowship for Renewal, under the patronage of St. Jude."
St. Jude, as you might know, is the patron saint of lost causes.
We commonly go to lunch with some of our choir friends after church on Sundays; recently we were at our local Outback Steakhouse. The meal was notable for four reasons:
- We were seated immediately, as there were very few other patrons eating there, a sad phenomenon reflective of many problems the once-packed restaurant has had in a new building and under new management.
- It took a full hour from being seated to the appearance of my Outback Burger. I was beginning to wonder if they'd had to slaughter the steer first.
- Once the meal came, it was one of the very best hamburgers I've ever eaten. (One of the messiest, too. I don't understand why restaurant burgers are usually too big to eat graciously.)
- It was the first of October, and the restaurant was extravagantly decorated for Hallowe'en.
It is the last that inspired this post. If I needed any proof of the power of the Name of Jesus, and the respect our society pays—albeit in a backhanded way—to Christianity, this season would supply it.
Businesses that would never at Christmastime dare to feature a crêche, or even call the holiday by its name, show no such reticence to decorate with witches at Hallowe'en. Which religion, then, is taken the more seriously? Which god the more feared?
Back when girls of my generation were swooning over those upstart musicians from England known as the Beatles, I couldn't have cared less. My heart was given to David McCallum.
The show was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I did my best to catch it on television every week. (Remember, in those days if you missed a show, it was gone forever—unless you managed to find it in summer reruns.) McCallum's character, Illya Kuryakin, easily upstaged the show's main character, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn). I wasn't the only one; as Kuryakin, McCallum received more fan mail than any star in MGM's history.
I didn't write fan letters, and I didn't scream and swoon. What I did was buy and treasure his music. David McCallum was the son of musicians, and a classically-trained musician himself. I still have this record: Music: A Part of Me. McCallum plays the oboe on this excerpt, which he also composed.
I don't remember when we started watching the TV show N.C.I.S., though it was after it had already been on air a number of years—we eventually caught up via Netflix. Porter was the initiator, and I steadfastly resisted—until David McCallum, as the character Donald ("Ducky") Mallard, drew me in. Yep, he was still fascinating, 50 years later. Here's one of my favorite scenes:
I confess we stopped watching N.C.I.S. a few years ago, so the departure of Ducky from the show has less impact for me. He was the last-remaining member of the original cast, and although his role had been reduced for quite a while, at age 90 he was still planning to continue on with the work he loved so well.
As we say in the Episcopal Church,
May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
Since we always buy used cars, I may not live long enough to get a cool car like the one my sister-in-law just bought. It has some impressive features, such as using facial recognition to know which of its regular drivers is sitting in the driver's seat, and adjusting the seat and mirrors accordingly. It has camera vision all around the car, and if in spite of all that you are about to back into an obstacle, it applies the brakes for you. It does many more cool things, including getting you from Point A to Point B, the last being pretty much where it and my own car intersect.
Recently I read an article that somewhat cooled my auto-envy: Modern Cars Are a Data Privacy "Nightmare," Says Study, in the International Business Times. If you're happy with your fancy modern car, don't read it. Elon Musk-haters will probably get an ironic kick out of it. It's a short article. Here's a teaser:
"Modern cars are a privacy nightmare" at a time when "car makers have been bragging about their cars being 'computers on wheels'", said Mozilla, which is best known for its privacy-conscious Firefox web browser. "While we worried that our doorbells and watches that connect to the internet might be spying on us, car brands quietly entered the data business by turning their vehicles into powerful data-gobbling machines."
Tesla was the worst offender, according to the study, with Nissan coming in second and singled out for seeking some of the "creepiest categories" of data, including sexual activity.
The study found that a staggering 84 percent of car brands admitted to sharing users' personal data with service providers, data brokers, and other undisclosed businesses.
Today's connected vehicles not only mine data from driving, but track in-vehicle entertainment and third-party functions such as satellite radio or maps.
Enjoy your next ride!
Have you ever heard of Pippa Malmgren? Maybe you have—not everyone is as ignorant of current events and culture as I am. Let's just say she has a very broad knowledge and experience base, and is absolutely fascinating in this 1.5-hour podcast with Ed D'Agostino, where she expounds on geopolitical, social, and economic realities, and how they connect. (bold emphasis mine)
I haven't listened to the podcast; instead I read the transcript, which you can find here: The Space Wars Are Here. Take your pick; I'm a fast reader, and generally prefer print to audio, but the podcast at double speed might have actually been faster. If you can make the time, I'd recommend it. It's good stuff, and unfortunately may be important to be aware of.
Here are some time stamps, followed by a small handful of excerpts:
00:00 Introduction to guest and what we talk about
03:28 The real story behind the “coup” in Russia
08:10 A Ukraine resolution has become a NATO imperative
15:19 How China and Taiwan fit into the Ukraine peace negotiations
24:02 We are already in WWIII
25:18 The invisible war in space
34:43 How tech innovation solves tech vulnerabilities
41:10 The mood in Washington and across the country in general
51:50 The rise of political angst in America, and what might be driving it
1:03:12 The economic “elevator” in the US is broken
1:08:58 Thoughts on the US presidential election
On the Russian side, I always think the most wonderful quote is really apt here. It came from Carl von Bismarck, who was the Iron Chancellor and who knew more about diplomacy than anybody alive today, and he said, "Diplomacy is the art of building ladders for others to climb down." And that's the situation we have here, is that Putin in some ways, he has no exit from what has turned out to be a terrible situation, and so this is not about being nice to him. It's like you're dealing with a cornered caged creature that is going to behave worse, until they can find a way to escape the situation.
There's an active strategy that the US is literally airlifting the most valuable parts of the semiconductor production in Taiwan, which are mainly those Dutch lithography machines, which cost 250 grand each, I think, and they're moving them to Texas and Arizona. And they're moving the families, because you need a certain amount of skill to operate these things. There's been lots in the press in the United States about we don't have the skills to make super edgy semiconductors, but the Taiwanese know how to do this. And those families are like, "Great, I'll just become American. How fabulous." ... I also see semiconductor production moving into space. We're going to have in orbit manufacturing that produces much higher grade computer chips at a lower cost.
We're in a hot war in cold places. Now those cold places are space, the Arctic, and the High North. People are like, "What do you mean we're at war in space?" I'm like, well, okay, so let's remember we live in a GPS world, and so we're completely dependent on satellites for not only missile guidance, but frankly, Uber Eats, right? None of this happens. ...
So what's been happening in space? The Russians have been targeting their own satellites, particularly the really big ones that weigh like 4,000 pounds, smashing them to smithereens, creating this huge debris field, which they call a Kessler effect, which has been described as razor blades in a washing machine. And that is partly what has forced the International Space Station to nearly evacuate on a few occasions, because they're getting caught in the shrapnel field that the Russians created. Now, why did they do it? Because they're trying to deny access to those critical orbits. ... The Chinese have also been very active in space, demonstrating they have lasers and all kinds of offensive capabilities, but two things there. One is only the United States and China have satellites with robotic arms. And the Chinese recently demonstrated with, I believe it's called the Shijian-17 satellite, that it was able to go up to a Chinese satellite, grab it with the robotic arms, and then hurl it into outer space. Now, why are they hurling their own satellite into outer space? To show us that they can. And so we're like, "Oh boy, all our satellites that we depend on could be gone in a heartbeat, and never to recover into the depths of space." So this is space wars.
It also has led to a fight over subsea internet cables. ... The fastest internet cable in the world is on a little island in the Arctic called Svalbard in Norway. Now, why is it there, of all places? Because that is where pretty much all the high altitude satellites connect to Earth, is at Svalbard. So you cut that cable, and suddenly your missile guidance system's not working, and your Uber Eats isn't neither. So how much damage can you do to the world? Answer, a huge amount. But luckily, that was a lot of redundancy already built in. ... It's such a wonderful story, it's so interesting. There was a oligarch yacht positioned over the top of the cable, and that yacht had a submarine inside it, but they think that, and I'll just say, we don't know who did this, right? And nobody wants to acknowledge who did it, but somebody's submarines went underneath it, and they cut away, I think it was six and a half kilometers of [cable]. Somebody cut it at both ends and took it away. Luckily, it was redundant. But it was the opening salvo to my mind of World War III.
There's this invisible war that it's there if you look for it, but because no one's given you the overarching narrative of this World War III happening in these spaces, in these ways, most people just don't even see it. And then that's just the hot war in cold places. I've also said we're in a cold war in hot places, which is what I've described in the Pacific and Africa. And I'm about to do a piece talking about the hot war in hot places, because now the coup in Niger, and the string of coups across Africa, it's literally heating up into a regional war, where it's ultimately the Russians versus the West.
I feel like this is coming to a head, some of what was happening in this country politically, where you had far left and far right people ... I'm going to try to thread the needle on this, but you had one side not understanding the other, and I almost feel like that was a distraction put out on purpose by the political class, if you will. I've abandoned the idea of there being this real left versus right divide. I'm sure there is to some extent, but I feel like the bigger divide is really those with political power and everybody else, all the rest of us. There was a song released last week by a little known singer in West Virginia named Oliver Anthony and this guy, he was doing his thing, he's an artist, he's putting his music out on YouTube and getting maybe a few hundred views. Then he released a song that I want to play for you, because I really want to know what you think because this song, last time I looked, after having been posted for eight days on YouTube had already achieved 12 million views. I'm sure it's way higher even as I speak, but I think this guy nails really what a lot of people are thinking.
Wouldn't you know? The day I read that paragraph, I had also run into that song elsewhere. The Malmgren podcast had been sitting in my inbox for weeks, and I just happened to get to it the day I heard this song for the first time. Here is Oilver Anthony's Rich Men North of Richmond (which as I write this is up to 61 million views).
Remember those days when everybody said inflation was dead? And I'm like, "Listen, as an economist, I'm telling you, when you throw free money in the system and you drop interest rates to zero, the only purpose is to create inflation." ... What we did is we tipped the balance in favor of the speculators, at the expense of the savers. And the savers are now feeling it, or the people who don't have any savings, they feel it in the form of, "Wait a minute, I'm working this hard, but I can't feed my family." And this is what gives rise to Trumpism. ... Inflation hits the poor really hard and really fast.
One of the trends that I find really heartening is that a lot of companies in America, particularly regional, large, medium-sized businesses, so not your Fortune 500s, but real companies that generate genuine unimpaired cashflow that do real business, increasingly they've been ... reverting to a very old model, which is, let's hire high school graduates, not even college, let's hire high school graduates and let's offer them that we will train them in the company because the school system isn't even providing the skills that we need. They may have a degree, but we got to train them again from scratch. So, let's bring them in, and then we'll say, "We'll pay for your college education." So you can do that while you work here, but we train you first with our priorities. And so it's the old-fashioned apprenticeship system that the whole German economy was always built on, and that economy has always been very sound because it was focused on small and medium-sized businesses. A lot of family owned businesses, regionally rooted businesses. And that's working well. But of course, that's heretical to say to the education system, which thinks that they own the stamp of approval on whether you're employable or not.
I am very optimistic about the world economy of tomorrow. I see so many new jobs being created, so much innovation that's going to make our lives easier and better. I think the biggest constraint on the future is, number one, we refuse to take advantage of the free time that we're given, because we're so ego-driven. ... We keep wanting to still make more money and have more stuff. So, that's a human problem that can be solved. Second, our most undervalued asset in the world economy are people. And we have this industrial revolution mentality that you have to have a certain degree, and you have to have a certain title, you have to have certain job skills in order to do certain things, which is simply not true. And people are capable of extraordinary things.
I began this blog almost 20 years ago, a fact that astounds me. In those years I have written some 3200 posts. Where have those 20 years gone? Have I accomplished anything good through those posts?
Perhaps it's time to revisit what I wrote about why I began to publish my thoughts.
Lift Up Your Hearts! can most charitably be called "eclectic." Some blogs are political, some personal journals, some accumulate interesting articles and news stories, some keep far-flung families in contact, some are formed around a specific cause or issue. I aim to be jack-of-all-trades, and if that means being master of none, I see nothing wrong with that. It depends on your audience. Five-star restaurants require highly-trained and gifted chefs, but I'd take my mother's home cooking and the family dinner table any day.
Fine. But why? Why do I put so much time and effort into blogging? What do I hope to accomplish?
I post first of all because I can't stop my mind from writing, and it's helpful to give concrete expression to the phrases, paragraphs, and essays that are constantly churning within my brain. The blog is a particularly satisfactory way of getting my thoughts into print: the primary audience may be small, but they're loyal readers, and occasionally people stop by from all over the world and find something useful. I can write what I want, when I want, with no pesky editors, stockholders or advertisers to interfere.
Because I write primarily for family members and friends who actually enjoy hearing about the details of our lives, there are a number of posts that are personal and of no interest to the general public, whoever that may be. I make no apology. You don't like it? Don't read it. This is not high school English class. There will be no homework grade and no final exam.
Then there are the random posts of odd bits of news, posts from other blogs, and anything else good or ill that has struck me as worth sharing. There's a lot of data out there, with a very poor signal-to-noise ratio. If I find something good, important, or thought-provoking, I want to increase its visibility.
It is obvious to me that most of the best ideas I've had, and the good decisions I've made, especially in the areas of childrearing and education, came because someone else was willing to share them. I take some credit for implementing and expanding ideas, and for having a few of my own, but I'm keenly aware that most of what I've done right I owe to someone's book, someone's conversation, someone's example. What's more, there have been many, many ideas about which I've thought, "Why didn't I know this years ago, before it was too late? Why didn't someone tell me?" For this reason I have not hesitated to pass on good ideas when I think the recipient might be receptive, or at least interested. I love to give books that I've found helpful, though I almost always add the caveat that I don't necessarily approve of everything the author has to say. Sometimes there's much I don't like, but always there's at least something I find so valuable I want to share it. Do I expect everyone to appreciate what I find valuable? Of course not. Am I offended if they ignore what I find important? No. Do I direct certain books or articles at specific people because I think they "need" them? Believe it or not, I don't. I share what I find good, useful, enlightening, or helpful. I want to make information available, in hopes that fewer people will look back and say, "I wish someone had told me about that before."
Blogging provides many more opportunities than giving away a few books, and that's another reason I write. This is the one area where I think of a wider audience; someone, somewhere out there may care about what I have learned about xylitol, or epidurals, or math curricula. Again, I don't apologize for writing what some may not find interesting; if you don't like it, skip it. But if you find something valuable in it, and especially if you have something to add to the discussion, I greatly appreciate comments. Let them, however be polite. While I don't hesitate to publish comments I disagree with, I also don't hesitate to delete comments I deem offensive; I am the sole judge of "polite" for this blog.
One thing all my posts have in common is commentary. You get my opinion on politics, education, and health; on books and movies; on bike trails and genealogy. More often you get my opinion-in-progress, as writing is as much my way of forming thoughts as of expressing them. What you won't get is something directed as a weapon against you—certain public persons excepted, although even then I prefer to challenge ideas, not people. I write from my own accumulated knowledge and experience; whether you agree or disagree, your own experiences are more than welcome. My best work still comes from those who are willing to share.
Disclaimer: I'm a grandmother, not a doctor, lawyer, certified teacher, or other expert. I offer my experiences and opinions, not professional advice. Check with your own advisors, do your own research, and use your own common sense.
The blog never did become the discussion forum I had envisioned, but I'm not sorry about that. I had hoped to recreate on a larger scale the wonderful intellectual discussions I had enjoyed—especially when we lived near the University of Rochester—with people who cared about some of the same things I care about, whether or not we agreed about them, supporting each other in areas of agreement, learning from each other in areas where we differed. And indeed I have experienced some of that here, but the political and social climate of today plus the anonymity of the Internet is not conducive to the kind of helpful discussions I was hoping for.
By now you must be wondering if this is a swan song, and I'm about to announce the end of my blog. Not at all. I still need to write. The phrases and paragraphs continue to well up and swirl around in my brain whenever I am awake—and probably in my sleep as well. What's more, I need to write to an audience: For years I kept a journal, and now find it an invaluable source of information, but as an outlet it was less than satisfying to be talking to myself. I've tried publishing newsletters for family and friends, and while I have certainly enjoyed creating them, they were more for news than for thoughts. The blog has been perfect as a thinking aid.
I am not quitting this valuable format. I have, sometimes, considered a different platform, perhaps one a little more private (e.g. subscription-based), but haven't moved in that direction yet. I just keep going along as things are.
However, I have other writing projects that are crying out for more of my time. They don't serve the same purposes, but their own purposes are important, and they need my attention. Time is limited; just so is my "writing energy" limited. To focus on these other projects, I need to curtail some of my work here. Which is difficult, because writing here is one of the great joys of my life.
I'm not stopping. I don't even want to blog less frequently, if I can help it. There's more data than ever out there, with an even worse signal-to-noise ratio. If I find something good, important, or thought-provoking, I still want to increase its visibility. As a rule, I'd rather not just have someone's bare recommendation of a book, movie, podcast, video, or article, but want to know more about why the person recommends it. But I'm planning to violate my own rule, and do a lot more of pointing my readers to something I've found valuable, with maybe some commentary but a lot less, with fewer quotations and fine-tuning, which take a lot of time. After twenty years, my regular readers know enough about me to either trust, or not trust, my recommendations. What's more, I trust my readers to judge what's valuable to them at this point in their lives, and am content just to put the information out there.
For good or for ill, commentary will only be reduced, not gone. I still have plenty to say and opinions to flesh out here. For now, I'll just see how this experiment goes, and if it spurs progress on other fronts.
My heartfelt gratitude to all who have found my writing useful enough to hang in there for so long!
Here's an excerpt that I found interesting from an exchange between DarkHorse host Brett Weinstein and philosopher Steve Patterson. Caveat: I know nothing about Patterson, good or bad. But what he has to say here about complexity, information loss, and the plateauing of progress strikes a chord. (14 minutes, works well at higher speed)
Insist on answers to your letters in writing. "Come in and we'll talk" is never an acceptable answer.
I'm still cleaning out files, and finding gems. This one came from an article by Dale Berlin, "Tips for Parents from a Parent Who's Been There," published in NETWORK for Public Schools, Winter 1988 Vol. 13. No. 4. The author presents several tools of basic parental advocacy for ensuring that a child is not being treated unfairly in school.
Why did I choose this one to highlight? Because the "let's talk" tactic is on the rise, not only by schools but also by employers, businesses, government officials, and other authority figures. More and more people seem to be allergic to putting their words in writing. I'm dealing right now with a local government official who refuses to answer by e-mail some straightforward questions about our city's recycling practices. She'll be happy to discuss it on the phone, she says. Maybe that just means she thinks it will take less time than typing out a few sentences, or maybe she thinks she can explain the situation better orally, or maybe she wants to give an intentionally fuzzy answer (I've gotten a lot of that recently). Whatever the reason, what I want is facts, serious facts about a serious situation, and I find answers to be a lot less slippery when they're pinned down in written form.
I obviously trust our financial advisor, or we'd find another one. But he does have a significant strike against him: he doesn't like to communicate by e-mail. If we send him a question over e-mail, he will call us on the phone to answer, or if the question is complicated enough, schedule an in-person meeting. I suspect he's just more comfortable speaking than writing. I'm the opposite; f you want clarity and truth from me, ask me to write; my verbal answers are much less likely to be accurate. But I understand that some people are different.
However, in some situations it's not just a matter of preferred communication style. Words written down have been purveyors of serious meaning for millennia. Written words may no longer be literally etched in stone, but they're still more permanent than what is spoken. More importantly, you can go back and refer to the text if there is a question about what was said. There's a reason secretaries take minutes during meetings, and the court reporter's job is critical.
Printed-on-paper communications have the advantage of being on a material medium. On the other hand, e-mails have the advantage of being easily searchable, so sometimes I prefer one, sometimes the other. Texts, social media messages, WhatsApp, and the like are also text-based, and useful in their own sphere, but much more ephemeral and difficult to search, especially since there are so many platforms. Video and audio formats are orders of magnitude less searchable; how much time is wasted going back over a recording trying to find out where in the two-hour presentation the speaker mentioned something you later want to refer to? Much too much, in my case.
And often, as in the above-mentioned situations of what someone is doing with our children, or our money, oral communication doesn't leave a record at all. Long ago I read the advice that every phone call and in-person meeting should be followed up by an e-mail to the effect of, "This is what I remember of our conversation; if you don't respond to this e-mail and correct me, I will assume you agree with my summary." Great advice, but also a time-consuming pain, and I'm not good at remembering to do it.
It's true that there are benefits to spoken communication that one doesn't get when the words are in writing, especially since the time-honored art of conveying and interpreting emotional content with letters has all but died out. Emojis just don't cut it. I love a good chat among friends. Bring back campfires, family meals, and tea parties!
But if you're my child's teacher, or my financial advisor, or my employer, or my government, nothing says "I will stand by what I say" better than putting it in writing. That won't stop you from going back on your word, or being wrong, or just changing your mind, but at least it will be clear that you did.
Enough is enough.
I won't drink Bud Light. I won't buy Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
Big deal. I don't like beer, and I've long found Ben & Jerry's not worth the price, especially since they sold out.
I almost never buy spices from Penzey's—previously my absolute favorite spice source—having found alternatives that aren't deliberately offensive to half their potential customers. I still buy King Arthur flour, because it's simply the best I've found, but the company has become more aggressive in pushing their political positions, and that has left a bad taste in my mouth—maybe not the smartest move when you're a food company.
Or any company.
I get it. Corporations are run by people, and people have opinions and favorite causes. A business can seem like a very handy bulldozer with which to push those opinions and causes. But behavior that may be appropriate for individuals and small businesses is annoying (or much worse) when adopted by large companies.
Corporations: You want to make the world better? I have some suggestions for what to do with your money and influence. Do these first, before throwing your weight around in places that have nothing to do with your business. And if you can, do it quietly, without blowing your own trumpet too much, please.
- Think and act locally. Make your community glad to have you as a neighbor.
- Provide good jobs, and pay your employees fairly. You have extra funds? Give them a raise, or at least a bonus.
- Improve working conditions. Consider not only physical health and safety but mental and social health, and opportunities for autonomy and initiative.
- Clean up your act. Wherever you are, make the water and air you put out cleaner than that which you took in. (Until the late 1960's, my father worked for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York, and I've never forgotten his comment that the water that went back into the Mohawk River from their plant was cleaner than what they had taken out of it. Whether that said more about GE's water treatment or the state of the Mohawk at the time I leave to your speculation.)
- If you're a publicly-held company, don't forget your shareholders. Think beyond next quarter's numbers and work to make your business a good long-term investment.
- Return charity to where it belongs. Instead of using their money to contribute to your favorite causes, lower your prices and let your customers decide what to do with the extra cash. Maybe they'll contribute to their favorite causes. Freely-given charity is always better than forced charity. Maybe they'll even spend the extra money on more of your products, who knows? But being generous with other people's money doesn't make you virtuous, it makes you despicable.
- Improve your product. Are you making or doing something worthwhile? Then do it better.
Any or all of these business improvements would make the world a better place without controversy. I've never understood why a company would deliberately and aggressivly seek to alienate half its customer base, but that seems to be happening more and more frequently. Do they think those who appreciate their controversial stance will out of gratitude buy more to take up the slack? Do they think they can ride out a temporary downturn and that those who are offended will quickly forget and go back to "business as usual?" My cynical side thinks they may be right about the latter, but I also think we may be reaching a tipping point.
I'm not a fan of boycots, preferring to make my commercial decisions based on quality and price rather than on politics. But I sense, in myself and in others, a growing distaste for dealing with companies that have gone out of their way to make it clear they think I'm not good enough to be their customer. I still shop at Target, but I just realized that the last time was more than three months ago. I still buy King Arthur flour, but find myself less inclined to linger over their catalog and consider their other products. Penzey's still has some products I can't get elsewhere, and I won't rule out another purchase—but I find myself unconsciously doing without instead. Small potatoes, sure. What difference can one formerly enthusiastic customer make to such large corporations?
A big difference, if that one person is part of a groundswell of discontent. I think it's happening.
I call on all businesses to adopt my simple model of true corporate responsibility. If you want to see better fruit, nourish the world at its roots.
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I thoroughly enjoyed watching the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and the coronation of King Charles III, which heightened our awareness of royalty when we recently visited Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The Scandinavian countries have monarchs, but they don't wear crowns and have no coronation ceremonies, as our guides appeared to take pride in telling us.
As a child of the 60's, I was quite familiar with the sentiment, "Why should we get married? We don't need a piece of paper to validate our love!"
Many Protestant Christian churches look askance at liturgy, formality, and ceremony in worship.
Nuns and priests are no longer clearly distinguishable by their clothing.
In languages that distinguish between formal and familiar pronouns (e.g. French vous/tu or German Sie/Du), use of the familiar form has become widespread.
Adults have largely dropped the use of titles with other adults. (Except for doctors, who stubbornly insist on being called "Dr. So-and-So" all the while calling their patients by first name.) When I was young, my parents used Mr., Mrs., and Miss when speaking of or to anyone with whom they would have used the pronoun "vous" had they been speaking French. And even their closest friends retained the titles when they were spoken of in front of children. As the years passed, I watched this dissolve, as most of our own friends specifically did not want any honorific, unless it was the compromise of a non-relational "Aunt" or "Uncle." In some families children even call their parents by first name.
Why? Why this suspicion of anything formal, polite, or respectful? Is it from humility, or more precisely the feeling that others should be humble? Or because we have been taught to see excellence in manners as undemocratic, as C. S. Lewis observed in Screwtape Proposes a Toast? Or perhaps because we believe it hypocritical to honor those whose behavior has demonstrated that they don't deserve our respect?
On the contrary.
We have pomp, ceremony, rituals, oaths, symbols, traditions, and manners not because we deserve them, but because we don't.
When I first met the man who turned out to be one of my favorite pastors ever, he surprised me by asking us to call him "Father." Years of Evangelical Christian sensibilities were not ready for that. But I liked his explanation: Use of the title was an ever-present reminder that the office of priest—his calling, his vocation—was a higher and better thing than the man filling it.
In the military, you salute the uniform, not the man. A couple in love does not need "a piece of paper" to prove it, but the promises, the ceremony, and the legal standing serve to uphold that love when it is tested and struggling. Maintaining historical liturgy can help keep a church from descending into apostasy even in the hands of a heretical priest. Blurring the line between adults and children opens the door to unhealthy disrespect and even child abuse. And sometimes parents need reminding that it's our turn to be the adults in a relationship, and to act accordingly.
Watching the two recent British ceremonies, knowing the difficulties and just plain terrible behavior that beset the Royal Family, I could almost see them rising to the occasion, becoming better, at least briefly, as they conformed themselves to the customs and expectations of their positions. If I lived under a monarchy, even a constitutional monarchy, I think I'd want my king to be upheld by the traditions and trappings that encourage him to act more wisely and righteously than he is by nature.
We have pomp, ceremony, rituals, oaths, symbols, traditions, and manners not because we deserve them, but because we don't.