Tag Archives: current-events

Idealism and Reality

The most recent celebrity picture hack is all over the news, and Jennifer Lawrence’s name seems to be in every headline.

Hacking is illegal, and invading someone’s expected privacy is a terrible violation of the individual. I feel for J-Law and her peers, whose private photos and whatever else have now found their way to the Internet, where, sadly, the rule of thumb is, nothing ever truly disappears.

Like words spoken then regretted, it’s impossible to retrieve what gets onto the Web. No matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you wish you could go back in time and make a different decision.

That sucks, but it’s–if not a fact–at least a basic working assumption you can go on when using anything online.

Some folks want to point this out to the celebs whose privacy has been violated. When one of the celebs castigated the perpetrators and anyone going out to view those images, she got a snarky response saying, “Hey, don’t take the picture if you don’t want it seen by people online.”

Harsh and tasteless, yes.

Not the way things should be, I agree.

Victim blaming instead of putting focus on the hackers? I’m not so sure.

An op-ed (which inspired this post) called out the victim-blaming mentality on this and similar subjects. Telling young women not to pose for nude pictures, or telling them not to share or store those online by any presumed secure means–this is apparently inappropriate advice because it puts the responsibility on the woman. Not enough is being done to focus on the actual hacking, the op-ed claims. (Well, there’s an FBI investigation now, so hopefully something comes of that.)

I applaud calling out victim-blaming and condemning slut-shaming, of course. The hackers who invade privacy are to blame, like thieves who take someone’s belongings and rapists who steal someone’s innocence. These actions are absolutely the fault of the perpetrators, also known as criminals. 100% of the blame deservedly rests on their shoulders.

That doesn’t mean I don’t lock my car door.

That doesn’t mean I thoughtlessly allow my teenage daughter to put herself into dangerous situations.

I also don’t take nude pics and store them online. (No one wants that anyway, trust me. It would be an effective hacking countermeasure. They’d come looking for valuable personal information and such, and they’d flee in terror.)

I have no judgment for those who engage in risky behavior online. I wish it wasn’t risky. I reserve a great deal of judgment for those who violate another’s expectations of privacy. I hope they meet the full force of the law.

But I’ll still use this news story as a teachable moment for my children, to help them understand the risks and rewards of all things Internet. I want them to be responsible users… even if “responsibility” is considered an unpopular term.

I’ve created this helpful Venn diagram to further express my point.

The contents of your middle section may vary.
The contents of your middle section may vary.

Should we live in a world where J-Law and anyone else can take whatever pics they want, store them on whatever online service they want, and expect their private matters to be shared only with whoever they choose?

Absolutely, we should.

But we don’t.

And it’s not wrong to point that out.

Helpful Perspective

I spent a lot of time tonight griping with my friends on social media (and in person) about how disappointed we were in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) movie.

Two of us sat there in the theater trying not to laugh at the wrong moments, like when a scene is clearly meant to convey some strong emotion or dramatic impact. We also tried not to be emotionally moved by the inane plot, the logical breakdowns in the story, and the constant terrible dialogue.

Normally it’s good when a viewer leaves thinking about a movie, unable to shake the feelings the film created. But not in this case.

Since misery loves company, we took our enjoyment in pondering how bad the movie was, in our opinion. “My childhood is weeping,” I posted on Facebook.

After a lot of back-and-forth banter, I scrolled through the rest of my feed. And my thoughts were swiftly refocused on what matters.

I make jokes about suffering inflicted on my childhood memories by a bad movie. But then I see stories about how children in Iraq are being beheaded for no reason other than the family they were born into.

I’m frustrated by being away from my family for seemingly no reason for the last week or so. Meanwhile, families are being ripped apart figuratively, as it happens literally to family members.

I miss my wife, my daughter, and my sons, who I will probably see in a day or two. In Iraq, wives and daughters are being taken away from homes, forced into “marriages” against their will, or flat-out raped. Husbands and boys are being murdered. Whole families are being slaughtered.

My wife and kids are dealing with the many boxes of belongings we finally received from Nebraska. I’m thinking of work I need to do to help arrange all that furniture and just plain stuff when I get home. Other families in the world have been forced to leave their belongings behind, fleeing to survive, threatened with death should they return to their homes that have been marked by ISIS.

Is it wrong to see a movie? No, that’s not what I’m saying. Is it wrong to miss my family? Of course not. Should we never have fun because there are horrible things going on elsewhere in the world? That would be foolish.

But when I start to think for even a second that I’ve got it so bad, I’m challenged by the news the West is getting (and finally paying attention to) from over there.

There isn’t an easy answer or solution, only a competing array of undesired options. The thought of further military involvement sucks. A decision to ignore the atrocities taking place would be unconscionable. And there aren’t a lot of viable choices that might make a lick of difference in between those two extremes.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t have much in the way of resources to throw at this crisis. And I don’t even have much of a following to hear me rant about how something must be done, as if my words would make some difference.

But at least I can stop and take my mind for a time off the meaningless and banal, if for no other reason than to say that the call for help is being heard and passed on.

And I can remember and cherish what matters most: appreciating family, coming together despite our differences, and taking care of each other…

which, oddly enough and despite all its faults, was the point of TMNT.

Our Lovely World

Added to the lists of conversations I’m sad to have heard:

Person 1 – So George Zimmerman is not guilty.

Person 2 – Really! How long do you think he has to live?


I suppose someone could say they’re sad to have heard any conversation that begins with the first line. I have not an overabundance of faith in the criminal justice system, so I can’t fault those who have less faith than me.

But I still find it sad.

The Needs of the You

I had the privilege of watching Star Trek Into Darkness last weekend. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the opening scene puts Zachary Quinto’s fantastic Spock into a deadly situation, freezing a volcano in order to save a planet from certain doom. Things go wrong, as they always must, and Spock is trapped. He chooses to stay and do the job, but he cannot be rescued.

He calls back to the Enterprise and explains his logic. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Chris Pine’s Kirk has a differing view about that.

But in that moment, we see the heroism of Spock’s selfless and practical decision. One man can die to save a population from destruction. If you’ve got to go, that’s not a bad achievement to take from your death.

Now imagine the scene from another angle. Kirk lines up a few “red shirts” and says, “I am going to choose one of you for a suicide mission. You’ll save the planet, but you’ll die in the process.” And then he covers his eyes and points, or plays eenie-meenie-miney-moe, or whatever Kirkly method he chooses, and he selects his crewman. “Lieutenant Jones, it’s you.”

Jones goes to the transporter crying, screaming, fighting until he is restrained. And then he gets beamed down to the planet, ordered to ensure the detonation of a device that will kill him in the process of saving many others. Instead, he scrambles to deactivate the device, like a time bomb. Spock’s voice echoes in Jones’ ears. “It is the logical decision, Lieutenant. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of you.” And Jones fails to stop the device, it goes off, and the day is saved at the cost of Lieutenant Jones’ unwilling sacrifice.

That doesn’t play so well, does it?

Sacrifice is heroic when individuals are free to take that burden upon themselves. The man who jumps on a grenade to save his friends, the medic who pulls his comrades to safety at great risk under heavy fire, the fireman who races into the burning building to save the missing child knowing the structure may collapse at any moment… we see these as heroes and rightly so.

It’s not so moving when someone chooses to sacrifice others against their will. The leader who sends his soldiers into pointless battle for an impossible objective, the criminal who makes his fortune by deception, the deadbeat who takes care of himself while neglecting the basic needs of his children… no one views the sacrifice imposed on the victims as a heroic or praiseworthy situation.

This is what comes to mind for me when I think about “reproductive rights” and abortion in the West.

I thought of this as I was attending a Chinese class. In China, the population lives under the “One Child Policy,” the rule that only the first child receives benefits from the Communist government. I discussed this with my Chinese teacher, along with Spock’s logic. And she confirmed that Chinese society has pretty much accepted this population control as a sacrifice made for the good of the nation. The nation trumps the individual, hands down.

Not so much here. We’re very much about the individual, and their freedom and right to self-determination. Don’t impose your beliefs or values on someone else, and don’t act like there’s some universal values all should esteem. We each have the right to choose!

Yet in the case of abortion, we praise “freedom of choice” when the human beings who make the greatest sacrifice have this burden thrust upon them unwillingly. The fetus does not choose, it is chosen–or rather, unchosen. We are Kirk, sending a red shirt to their death.

I know, I’m a man, so there’s a sense that I’m automatically disqualified from speaking about a woman’s right. But I’m also a human being (as are the victims of abortion). I am also aware of the basic fundamentals of biology which reaffirm that we’re talking about ending the development of human beings during these protected procedures. We may claim that a fetus is not a “person” yet, but it is a human being at a particular stage in development.

I won’t go into the graphic details of how that development is terminated, because it is disturbing. If you so desire, google Gosnell or read about the other similar cases coming to light. Then google or wiki up some abortion procedures. Then ask yourself how it is that what Gosnell did is illegal, but when he did it to a fetus inside a womb, it’s all good.

This is a complex issue, no doubt. I don’t want women in alleys with coat-hangers, to borrow from the Planned Paranoia debate playbook. I’m not keen on abstinence-only education because it seems to me like having information is a general plus. An informed decision about contraceptives might very well prevent an informed (or uninformed) decision about abortion, so I don’t know why many of us aren’t all for that.

I also don’t much like how the Pro-Life movement comes across. Opponents rightly ask, “If you’re all for saving these unborn children and bringing them into the world, who is going to take care of them?” The implication, borne out in reality, is that as much as Pro-Lifers love charity and adoption, there’s not enough of either going on to cover the needs of all the unborn children we might have saved if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Government may be the worst at welfare programs, but if they’re the only player in the game, people take what they can get.

And there are more nuances to consider, no doubt.

I simply want to express how tiresome it is to hear the praises of “choice” in this debate. It’s like generals and politicians exercising choice to send waves of young men and women into combat.

Not quite, though.

The soldier got to raise his or her right hand and volunteer.

The fetus, not so much.

Simply Reasonable

Still useful
Remember me?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s kind of a big deal around here.

The trouble is, sometimes we forget the value and the importance of those core principles and ideas that allowed this nation to prosper for the last 200 years. And sometimes we forget that we don’t have these rights because a piece of paper in Washington D.C. says so. These rights are written down on that piece of paper because our nation is founded on the idea that people inherently deserve and possess these rights.

These memory lapses seem to come around every four years or so, like Leap Year’s Day. Strange, isn’t it?

Some atheists decided that they had a message for the two main political parties during all this buildup to the elections. These atheists want to make their case that religion doesn’t belong in politics and that the political parties should pursue ideas, not ideologies. You may agree or disagree, and you can be vocal about it. You have that right. It’s written down on that piece of paper.

The atheists used their money and resources to create billboards, and then sought advertising agencies willing to put up the images near the national conventions of both parties. There was no such agency in Florida. For whatever reason, none of them wanted to carry a controversial message about religion. They have that right. It’s also written down.

An agency in North Carolina was willing to put up the atheist organization’s message.

So these billboards were spotted in the last two weeks:

The offending billboards

You might strongly disagree with the messages. (I do.) We have that right.

However, the billboards are now being pulled down, as a response to a reported flood of “vitriol, threats, and hate speech against our staff, volunteers, and Adams Outdoor Advertising,” according to Amanda Knief, managing director of American Atheists, quoted in a Fox News article.

And that’s where our rights cross the line.

When my free exercise of religion or speech threatens the safety of another person, then maybe I’ve missed the point of both my religion and my freedom. 

I’ve said before, as a religious person, it’s reasonable to support everyone else’s right to express their religious views, even if–or especially if–those views differ from my own. As soon as we permit the government or the public to decide what is an acceptable religious view and what is not, then we are giving up the principle behind those rights written down in Washington.

It’s not my job just to make a case for my own faith and for my own freedom. It’s my job to make the case that everyone else should have the same freedom as me to express their point of view without fear of violent retribution from government or from their fellow citizens.

This all makes sense from the civic political perspective. I can’t go around threatening the free speech or free religion of others without expecting the same treatment. I can’t push for government to make laws that limit free speech or free religion (or lack of religion) for others without expecting that some day the same government might limit my freedoms.

It’s also sensible from the perspective of Jesus’ teachings. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, right? I’m not sure what my fellow believers are asking for “them” to do unto us, if we’re engaging in threats and vitriol just because some atheists don’t believe what we believe.

Newsflash: That’s kind of the point of atheism.

Of course, this is North Carolina, where religion and politics have clashed quite often in the past few months. North Carolina recently voted on an amendment to their state constitution prohibiting gay marriage, or defining marriage as one man and one woman, or however you want to put that.

North Carolina was also in the spotlight thanks to Pastor Charles Worley of “electric fence” fame, who suggested maybe we could lock “all the gays” behind an electric fence and let them die off. (To be fair, he did suggest dropping food and supplies into the fenced area so they could not starve to death… so, I mean, there’s the Christian compassion we were all hoping for, I guess.)

I think the latter is worse, to be honest.

To be fair, everyone can say what they want about other religions, about atheism, about Democrats, about Republicans, about anyone who is “not like me.” As much as I may disagree with their speech, I defend the right of Americans to say what we want. We can shout down voices of ignorance and hate.

Threats of violence are not the way to do it.

To my fellow believers who have raged against those billboards: You want to do something useful with your anger?

Go prove them wrong.