Tag Archives: Opinion

Random Musings on Ads and PR

Standard

So, there’s some television commercial for something – I can’t even tell you what it’s for – where a woman is sitting in a chair on a beach looking at a tablet while some guy – I suppose it’s her husband – is vacuuming the sand beach.    Then the scene flips to her sitting in the living room looking at her tablet with her husband vacuuming the floor.    Like I said, I don’t know what the commercial is for, but it has something to do with her envisioning her home being like a tropical paradise or something.

All I could think of was “I wonder if they made the guy vacuum because if they’d have a woman vacuum while a guy is sitting around they would hear about it from a bunch of women?”

This may sound silly, but I’m willing to bet that this was discussed.

My issue isn’t that a guy was vacuuming.   I’ve done it.   Most married men at some point do, whether it’s the way the jobs typically break out or not.   I don’t take offense to the implication.

My issue is that we’ve somehow made any reference to traditional roles verboten.   You see it on ad after ad.   If women are cleaning or cooking it’s only because the man is too stupid to do it.   But usually it’s either a role reversal or it’s shown as a cooperative effort.    It’s just annoying.    Again, it really has nothing to do with whether or not a man can clean or cook.   That’s not my point.   Few, if any men, actually care that they are being shown in what might be considered an emasculated fashion.   And even if we care, we’re too lazy to complain about it, and it’s likely that the product isn’t meant for the typical guy anyway.    But the reverse isn’t true.    Products peddled for men often still make fun of men, even as they are trying to sell the goods to them.

Women want equality, but I’m seriously trying to remember the last time a woman has been made to look like an idiot while the man is the reasonable one.    The closest thing I can think of is the State Farm Commercial where the guy’s talking to an insurance agent and the woman freaks out.     Rarified air there.

Isolated, none of these ads are a major deal or problematic.   But when there is no real balance there is an ever-pervasive drip, drip, drip in the messaging that does, I believe change peoples’ attitudes over time.

Where I work, there is a poster that promotes the following:   “Stand out and get noticed.”    They want us to complete a profile page so we don’t miss the opportunity to showcase experience, skills, etc.

The picture on the poster is a woman standing up at the end of a table, hands placed on the table on either side of her, while she is hovering over other people who are all fixated on her.    The first thing that strikes me about this picture is that I can’t recall a whole lot of meetings I’ve been in where the person leading the meeting strikes this sort of posture.    It’s a position of noticeable elevation above other meeting participants, and has certain connotations.    I am quite certain that this would be looked at unfavorably if a man struck this posture.   But the marketing people know that they will not get pushback if a strong woman is pictured, whereas a picture of a man in this position would be misogynistic.

The other thing noticeable about the picture if one pays attention is, like all other advertising and corporate publications, there is this constant game that we play where everyone needs to be represented.   We’re so freakin’ afraid of getting sued that we need to show the largest spread of people with the fewest number of people.    So, you have the old indian guy, a middle-aged black woman, a young Asian woman, a young Hispanic male, a young white male and a white woman.    But wait…   no blondes are represented!    Discrimination much?     It’s silly, really.   But if you look at any game box, advertisement, or corporate brochure on anything these are the things we focus on.    Heaven forbid we miss a demographic.

What I think is funny is that I live in rural Wisconsin.    And we actually do have some diversity on our company’s workforce (a guy from China, a guy with Korean descent, a couple African-Americans, a couple guys from India…).   But the non-white population in our workforce is probably 2-3% of the total.    But if you look at our company’s brochure when recruiting, you’d swear it’s the other way around.

None of this offends me.   I just think it’s stupid.

 

 

Advertisements

The Vaccination Question, finding the Trail to the Moral High Ground

Standard

Part of being a Catholic is to weigh whether or not any action you take or don’t take in the course of life has not only an explicit moral element, but also an implicit one.    For example, if I work honestly and effectively at my job, the most direct measure of morality of that action is that I am doing what I am called to do at that moment, that I am not being lazy, and that I am using my God-given abilities.    The implicit moral element is that I am not harming my employer financially (at least not purposely, assuming I am doing my job correctly).   If my inaction at work costs the company an account, this is an ancillary result of my laziness.   Harm has been done.

The debate about vaccinations is an interesting one.  On the one hand, there are a lot of opinions that people have regarding vaccines and most people who arrive on one side or the other believe that people who arrive at different conclusions are wrong.    I am not writing this piece to debate whether or not vaccines are perfectly safe and effective.   Full disclosure – we do not vaccinate our children.    This decision was not taken lightly.    However, I am also not against others determining that they feel perfectly comfortable making the decision that vaccines are a safe and effective option for their own children.

My wife and I are quite informed on both sides of the issue.   We recognize there are certain risks in not vaccinating our kids.  We also recognize the risks in vaccinating our kids.   It also bothers me that there seems to be an almost overzealous view of the real risk of contracting many of the things we are vaccinated for.   To be sure, the descriptions are scary.    But the probabilities of contracting these things multiplied by the probabilities that the worst of the consequences, to be perfectly frank, are not.   So it seems to be a reasonable question as to whether or not the certain action of jamming a needle into my kid’s arm and injecting a foreign substance has ramifications that outweigh the probability of harm done from what I am protecting them against.   At least I find this a reasonable question.   But to my chagrin, many do not find it reasonable at all.    According to more and more voices in government and otherwise, not vaccinating is akin to child abuse.   It’s a bizarre idea in my mind to take this leap in logic, but it’s definitely the vibe one gets in not-so-subtle ways when simply trying to do what’s best for your family.

I get it.   I have not immunized my kid against, say, measles.    It is a somewhat uncomfortable choice, but it is an informed one.   But yes, the day could come where my kid contracts measles, and all the world will glare at me and shake a finger as if to say “I told you so.”   Now, as is more likely the case, none of my kids ever contract measles, all will be ignored, or at most I’ll be considered “lucky.”    And in the small chance my kid gets measles, the very highly probably scenario is that it will really suck for a while, and then the kid will recover, and then he or she will have the full immunity that comes with contracting the illness.

I’m not glib about it, and I am not going to spend pages explaining why we made this decision.   But I will address the “community” aspect of this.   It’s a legitimate concern, and one worthy of consideration from a moral point of view.    The argument is this:   because I did not vaccinate my kids, I put other people at risk.   The people at risk, in particular, are those who have weakened immune systems who cannot get vaccinations and others who received vaccinations in the past, but for whatever reason the vaccine has lost its effectiveness.  Doesn’t the moral high ground imply that all of us should vaccinate our otherwise healthy kids?

There’s a very simple answer to this, in my opinion:   No.

I am not saying that this is not worth thinking about.   And if someone comes to a different conclusion on this moral question, then as a matter of conscience go ahead and get your kids vaccinated even if you otherwise would not.

But I do not believe this is the moral high ground.   We are never asked by our Church to do anything to ourselves or to others (in this case, our kids) that causes harm even if it is done with the idea of helping others.    Yes, it’s true that we are asked to sacrifice for others, and in some cases lay down our lives for others.  And perhaps I can even buy the argument that I should willingly vaccinate myself if it really helps others.    But I would never harm, hurt, or kill my own child to save someone else.     As a parent I am first and foremost called to defend and protect my family.   Period.

OK, OK.   I know the immediate response:   But you aren’t harming them!   You’re helping them!    You’re an idiot!

An idiot I may be, but again I am not writing this to get into the pro-vaccine/anti-vaccine debate with all the government propaganda and the anti-big-pharm propaganda and contradicting studies that either side can use to make their point.   I am just saying that some of us have decided – whether you accept it or not or like it or not – that we see more harm than good in injecting vaccines into our children.   Whether harm or potential harm is real or perceived, whether we’re wrong or right, whether we’re idiots or geniuses, in the end we are doing what we believe is in the best interests of our children.   And they are my primary concern.

Now, this doesn’t mean we just don’t care about anyone else.   But it does mean, perfectly honestly, that your appeal to me to do the “moral” thing by inflicting what I perceive to be harm on my child so that your child can be safer is not going to fly.    This isn’t meant to be harsh, it’s just reality:   why would I place your child’s interests above mine?    I wouldn’t, and that’s a perfectly reasonable position.

The other part of this that makes this a bit of an empty appeal, in my opinion, is that my kids are simply very unlikely to (a) get this disease and (b) run into an at-risk person while a communicable state.    Could it happen?   Yeah, I guess it could.    But again, the probabilities are very low, and do not outweigh the certainty of getting vaccinated.

Having said all that, the moral question is certainly not an inappropriate thing to ponder.    But please, people.   Casting final judgment on someone who arrives at a different conclusion than you, either on the vaccine question itself or on the morality of making the decision to not vaccinate, is not helpful.    Nor is it doctrinally certain.    It is a point of view, and nothing more.

One final point I’d like to make isn’t around the moral question, but is with respect to our freedoms and liberties.    We Americans speak a lot of how we’re the land of the free and home of the brave.   But we are also pretty quick to punt the whole liberty thing away in exchange for feelings of safety and security, and we seem willing to impose things upon others in return for our own safety and security.    While there are many examples of this, the vaccine issue is a prime example.   The tyranny of the majority can be a scary thing, especially when the government itself openly encourages citizens to shame, ridicule, and outright bully other citizens to do something these other citizens are not comfortable doing, or are opposed to doing.     It should not even matter the reasons for it (why should a moral objection be excused but a decision based on information not be?).    On this issue, I have experienced first-hand the comments that are supposed to guilt me into changing my mind, the insults around how uninformed I am, and little acceptance that my right as a parent should supersede their own concerns about what that means for their kids.   I can only imagine the founding fathers’ reactions to the scenario where the government mandates the injection of anything into the bodies of individuals, including children, against the will of those individuals and children’s parents.    It’s actually pathetic, in my opinion, that so many feel perfectly fine with the idea of mandatory vaccination, showing no feeling of concern at all for the feelings and opinions of others.    How is that the moral high ground?

This issue should continue to be discussed amicably, and people should be informed fully of both supporting studies as well as an honest presentation of risks of side effects and studies that aren’t all favorable.   Give people all the facts and let them make their own decisions.   That is the moral high ground.

Tattoo or not Tattoo

Standard

jesus-tattoo-by-dennis-wehler-728x868Let me lay all my biases out from the beginning:   This opinion comes from both a Catholic/Faith perspective, but also deeply on my own opinion of tattoos.   And I have yet to hear any argument that has convinced me that getting a tattoo – especially one of visual prominence – makes any sense whatever.   I think they are stupid, pure and simple.   I know that rankles people, but I have a right to my opinion.   So, I’m going to be evaluating the question from the perspective of someone coming from a good, Catholic, family who is debating the relative merits of getting a tattoo, but wanted to make clear my initial bias in this question.   I admit I will not be able to refuse my opinion of it from my personal bias, and actually I am not even going to try all that hard to do so, because quite honestly I think the reason I already feel that way (and always have) is because I did the more balance, honest evaluation of their merits years and years ago.

So, anyway, my wife has these occasional get-togethers with other homeschooling Catholic moms.   The families range in various sizes and in various stages of where they are in life.    Some have large families (8+ kids) with some kids already graduated and in adulthood, and it goes all the way down to those with a couple young kids just getting rolling.

Without exception, every family takes their faith life seriously, and it is important to them to pass on their Catholic faith to their children.   Of course, we all have our own approaches and styles, and one could debate the strategy of trying to make this happen all day long.  Ultimately, all this really tells me is that none of us our perfect and it shows the importance of relying on God all the more in our journey as parents.   One of my favorite little prayers to utter is “God, please help these kids turn out OK despite my own stupidity and laziness.”

One of the moms is struggling a bit because her 2nd oldest son has a couple tattoos.   And now the third one has a sizeable tattoo on his forearm and wants to get one on his other forearm.    She has tried to argue for why this isn’t a good idea, and as is typical of young men, they think they know better than their mom.    Now, these young men, to my knowledge, have not strayed in their Catholic faith, still find it important, and still practice it.   They do not see any conflict with the faith and getting a tattoo.

And this is where my opinion comes in.

First, let me be clear.    I do not think, nor will I suggest, that there is anything intrinsically evil or sinful with tattoos.   Like many things, the real question is a matter of what is driving someone to do something.   But I do think that someone really needs to be honest with themselves in evaluating why they want a tattoo if they are indeed considering one.   This shouldn’t be problematic – we really should do this with everything we do.  Why do a I want ten million dollars?   Because I want to give it away to the poor or because I want to have an easy life with little or no responsibility?   Most of us would fall somewhere in between those two extremes, and while most of us aren’t going to get ten million dollars it’s still a worthy mental exercise to go through an honest evaluation and promise yourself and God what it is you would plan to do with it if it ever happened.\

Here are my opinions and responses to some of the clever (or not so clever) arguments on the matter.

  • Argument: Getting a tattoo today is like getting your ear pierced years ago.   It has become much more accepted, and is not looked at as a big deal.    Full disclosure – I got my ear pierced in my college days.   I was in a rock band, admittedly liked the looks of it, and I did it.   I don’t even regret it.   I thought it looked cool.   There was no more motivation behind it than that.   But I am not being a hypocrite here, in my opinion, with that comparison.   Because even back then, I considered the questions, and even then there were people getting tattoos and doing all sorts of other things.    I knew and considered that at any time this was reversible.   I knew that at some point in my life, I may well consider the wearing of an earring silly or immature.    I knew I could take it out at any time if the situation called for it without needing to mask it.    It may or may not have been a dumb thing to do, and I may or may not have had other opinions of me diminished because of it, but the impact was minimal.    Also, I could switch it up for the right occasion – a simple stud for normal wear or something gaudier for a show, or nothing at all for a trip to the parents who I knew didn’t love it.    So, I get the comparison, and the social attitude may be comparable, but the reality of what you are doing is not comparable.
  • Argument: But <insert morally upright individual> has one, and if he has one, it can’t be all that bad!     In Catholic circles, the argument du jour is Father Stan Fortuna , who is a Catholic Priest with tattoos.    OK, this is always a stupid argument for many reasons, and I’ll address why.   Before I do, let me go on record as not intending in any way to disparage Father Stan Fortuna.   I honestly have no qualms about him doing what he does or having a tattoo – again, he knows why he does.    But whenever someone points to “a” person as the example among a sea of counterexamples, it is in no way an honest argument.   If you are truly going to make your life decisions based on the example of others, then you don’t look for exceptions to justify your own behavior.   You look for what the majority of people are doing that you admire and respect.   Exceptions are just that – exceptions.   And there’s a reason why they are exceptions.   Now, lest you think I am making an argument about just following the crowd, that’s misreading what I am saying.   Being a devout Catholic in and of itself is already not following the crowd.   But once you commit yourself, then you do want to follow the examples of other devout Catholics.    Most importantly, Venerables, Blesseds, Saints, and the other holy men and women we meet in our life should be very important role models, emulators, and mentors for us.   We should follow this crowd whenever the question is something that has a moral or spiritual component to it.    And in this case, the vast majority of examples in this group have not littered their body with tattoos.   Exceptions exist, of course.   But you have to acknowledge the predominant behavior and consider why that is the case.   And it is  a much stronger case.
  • Permanence Matters: My opinion.   But while young people don’t like to consider getting older or meeting other people or needing to be a good example for future children and all that, time moves quickly.   I’m 48 and I can still very clearly remember my high school and college days.   I remember how I thought about things, felt about things…   young people today have a difficult time thinking we can relate but I can tell you those youthful memories are very clear – we do get it.    I may think it’s stupid to color your hair pink, or pierce your nose, or wear some of the clothes you wear.   And I may argue why those things are stupid, and you may ignore me because I’m older and I don’t get it (even though I generally thought the same thing when I was young).    But ten years from now you won’t have that hair color any more, you probably won’t have the nose piercing, and you won’t be wearing those same clothes.   Because you’ll grow and mature and change the way you think, and for your own reasons decide that it’s time to move on from that experimentation.    But you ink a huge Eagle – or even a Cross – on your forearm or your back and it’s there forever unless you go through the agonizing and expensive experience of having it removed.    To not even rationally consider this element of getting a tattoo shows a lack of maturity and foresight, in my opinion.
  • Desecration of the Temple matters: OK, I want to reiterate that the heart is what matters.   And someone may really think and believe that they have a good reason for doing what they are doing.   And they may even think God likes them getting a religious tattoo.   But God still made you the way you are – without them.    Relating this to permanence, you are purposely changing yourself.    Others may disagree with me, but this smacks of someone thinking that they can improve upon what God has made you.    This isn’t trying to keep you healthy or fix a medical condition.   It’s fundamentally changing the intended design of who you are and how you were made.   Sure, it may be cosmetic in nature, but it’s also readily apparent for all to see.
  • Size matters: I am against all tattooing, but like all other things of questionable nature there is scale as well to consider.   If I see someone with a pierced nose, I may think it unnecessary and a bit silly, and I don’t really get the draw, but it’s not an overwhelming shock.    If I see someone with a nose, lip, eyebrow, and cheek pierced I am going to form an unfavorable opinion of that person in some way.   I try not to be judgmental, and I am not supposed to judge the heart, and I try my best not to.   But this person is also bringing a bit of this upon themselves by publicly mutilating their body.    My judgment isn’t really one about the salvation of the person.  It is more a general feeling that something is really missing in this person’s life that they are trying desperately to fill.    Others may go to other unfavorable thoughts of what that person might be like it.   And you can lecture as much as you want about that being wrong, but it is also human nature, and quite frankly it’s not 100% wrong.   We are given the discernment to separate out right from wrong and right things from wrong things.   Without even judging the heart of a person, I am not going to apologize for knowing that there is something wrong or problematic about the actual act and display of getting multiple piercings.   I will just try not to jump to conclusions about the person – though it can be very hard to separate the two.      Likewise, I could probably live with a small tattoo that may have some unknown personal meaning, but the more there are and the bigger they are is going to directly impact my first impression of you.   And as to the argument that it’s my problem and not yours, that’s dead to me.   Sure, any judgment may be my problem to an extent, but it’s also yours.   Whether endearing yourself to future in-laws, applying for work, making new friends, etc.  these things are all your problem.   And unless you never judge anyone for anything, you can’t expect others to act any differently.   And if nobody ever judges anything, then God help us all.

I could actually go on.   Believe it or not, there are still additional points I could make.   But I’ll leave it to this last thing:

  • Find older people in your Church who you know to be faithful people, who also have predominant tattoos. Get to know them and then ask them if they are glad they have them.     I have done this on a few occasions, and in most cases there is regret.   In some cases there is acceptance that they did what they did and it doesn’t bother them.    In no cases yet have I heard anyone thrilled to death about how great their tattoo is, and they’d do the same thing all over again, and only regret that they don’t have more.

 

Of course, I could be completely wrong.

An Honest Discussion About…

Standard

Unless you’ve been napping under a bridge with Tommy the Troll for the last week (and if you have been, please take a shower- troll’s leave a residual smell that is difficult to eradicate) you will have noticed a sudden lurch forward in the crisis that is the current state of the United States of America.    While I call it a “sudden” lurch forward, it is only sudden in the same way that a pot of boiling water requires a lot of energy input in advance of the “sudden” move to an active state of boiling.   In fact, this crisis is decades in the making, but we now find ourselves in what seems to be new territory, at least with respect to this generation.

Of course, like all crises, there are numerous things that have placed us where we are at the moment, but there is always a short list of the triggers that move one from one state to another.   The proverbial straw on the camel, so to speak.  The current straw is the recent police shootings of minorities in Minnesota and Louisiana.   The pile of straw beneath these things can be traced back quite a ways, but include previous police/minority incidents as well as the President’s and Attorney General’s own statements that, at the very least, are not supportive of police and at worst are aiding in the fomenting of the anger of an already tense relationship between cops and minorities in many areas.

Clearly, this is an unfortunate situation that calls for prayer, and an honest discussion about race, police brutality, disparate treatment of minorities, guns, and an overall lack of respect for the dignity of human life.

So, let’s talk about what this “honest discussion” looks like.   Because you are seeing calls for an honest discussion about these topics all over the place.   I completely agree with those words, but am entirely annoyed with what they usually mean from those who utter them.   In most cases I am seeing these words spoken by liberal politicians or journalists who probably think they are calling for an open discussion, but what they are really saying is “people who have been disagreeing with us are wrong, have been lying to yourselves, and we now need to have an honest discussion about how you are wrong and you need to adopt our ideas.”

Let me provide one annoying example.    In an article by Mike Lupica, Why in America do we have to choose between caring about Philando Castile and Dallas cops? he tells us where the hate in America is coming from:  “Terror, we are told constantly, is the biggest threat to America. It is. The terror of race and class and hatred, of divisiveness and ugly rhetoric and too many guns. The terror of too many whites hating blacks, or browns, too many blacks hating policemen, too many Republicans hating Democrats, and hating this President most of all. Donald Trump talks about “America First.” Okay. But which America?”

Mike Lupica, in my opinion, has been a liberal tool for some time (I mean that in the most charitable way possible).  True to form, this is not the advent of a truly honest discussion.   It is one half of an honest discussion.   Further, it is the easy half of the discussion, because the other half is the half where people start throwing out all sorts of hateful terms (ironically, they consider themselves loving and tolerant people while using terms like “bigoted”,”unchristian”,”unloving”,”hate-filled” and “intolerant”).    In general, we have a problem of the soul.   This takes many forms.   The most evident and clearly evil form are the things that come from outright hate.   But hate is kind of like that boiling point in the heating process.   Leading up to that we have pride, greed, jealousy, selfishness, and so on.    These are the things that kill us inside until it is no more possible to love anyone else but ourselves.   And when there is no more love, you’re left with hate.   But let’s even give a pass on that line of thinking and for the moment support the idea that the issue we have is simply one of hate.

“The terror of race and class and hatred.”   OK, I don’t immediately have an issue with this because it’s general.  I hate using the term “class” in our country because we are supposed to be a classless society.   The poorest among us are supposed to have every opportunity to not be poor.   Interestingly, when many speak of the “middle class” and how they want to be there for them, they are really being demeaning.   There is no “class.”   I may be perfectly happy staying at a particular income level or status of wealth.   But if I choose to change that situation, I don’t need a politician tell me they are there to help.   Stay out of my way – that’s how you can help.    An honest discussion about “class” divisions must start with whether or not our policies are unnecessarily creating an actual class system in our society, and keeping people there through a state of dependency on the government simply in order to maintain that status.  Put another way, we have moved from an economic and political structure that encourages free movement from one status to another (in either direction) to a structure that encourages a state of constancy – where you are is where you’ll be.   You won’t move up, but we’ll make sure you don’t move down.   Because we love you.   Thank you, government.

Next:  “Ugly rhetoric.”   I’ll agree on this, though I look at it more as a symptom of the ailment than the ailment itself.   I’m also guessing that Mr. Lupica would disagree with me on what is considered “ugly” and who the primary perpetrators are.   And that’s OK, as long as he’s willing to listen to me in an honest discussion and show a willingness to look in the mirror.   I fully admit I can be acerbic at times.   Will he?  And what’s a healthy dose of that and what is too far?

“Too many guns.”   And there you have it.   An “honest” discussion must clearly include the premise that we have too many guns.    Lupica has an opinion, I have an opinion.   We do not agree on this.   But to many, a discussion on guns can only be  “honest” if you start off agreeing with them on this point.   Now, having said that, gun supporters should always be prepared to evaluate what is going on.  A fair question is:   would the gun control law being proposed in any way have affected crime rates, the results of crimes, etc. for the better?    If incontrovertible proof can be shown in the affirmative, we should accept that some things may be a good idea.   But if this cannot be shown, they need to be able to accept that Liberty trumps unproven ideology.  Or if we decide to try something and it doesn’t work, we need to stop the insanity that reversing course is a bad thing.   This goes for nearly every policy, not just gun control.

“The terror of too many whites hating blacks, or browns, too many blacks hating policemen:”   Notice what he did here?    Whites are racist, and blacks hate authority.    This is dishonest.   And while it puts some psuedo-blame on blacks for hating in an attempt to look fair and balanced, it really isn’t at all.    One is hating because of color and once is hating because of abuse.   While hate is always bad, the one is purely evil while the other is at least understandable.

Most whites aren’t racist, but it’s a valid part of the discussion to talk about how to change the hearts and minds of those who are.   But a real honest discussion would also be to address the hatred in much of the black community towards whites.   Not just cops, but whites.   We cannot get past this issue until that is honestly addressed as well.   If all whites are to carry the burden of particular whites who have caused past and current harm in the minority community, then this is an inconsistent standard for how whites are to view the black community.   Both should be able to forgive and move on.   But too often, the very suggestion that one side do this is considered racist.   It is not – it’s Christian.   We are to forgive and love.   This is not limited to one race or another.  It is not even limited to the relative grievances one group may have over the other.   If forgiveness can only come after an assessment that each group has now been harmed equivalently, this is unworkable and insane.

The other part of this is that we need an honest discussion about both sides of the police/minority question.    It is too simply put as institutional racism among police officers.   I am not saying there isn’t some racism among the population of cops – I’m sure there is.   But the issue nobody wants to have an honest discussion about is why that is.  Most of the “racism” is probably more accurately described as “tension” or “increased anxiety.”    Human beings are not robots.   We have emotional responses to things that are reflective of past experiences (past conditions).   If a white police officer has, over the years, had much more difficult and dangerous experiences with black individuals than he has had with white individuals (on balance), it is almost certain that this will create a different  psychological and physiological response when dealing with a white person versus a black person in similar situations.   Is this fair?   Well, yes and no.   It is based on experience, so in that way it’s fair.   But it may not be fair to a particular case with a particular person.  And this is the main issue.    It is probably very real that some police officers overreact in some situations, and it can lead to tragic results.  It is probably very real that one of the reasons for this overreaction is due to the color of the skin of the person they are dealing with.   This isn’t good, it’s not right, and if a person has reached a point where they can’t control their emotions then they need to be dismissed.   But was it intentional and racist?    I’d say probably not in the strict sense.    But even if it was, part of the honest discussion needs to be about the responsibility of the minority community that led to that officer being in that state of anxiety in the first place.

Finally, my favorite: “too many Republicans hating Democrats, and hating this President most of all.”    Yes, Mr. Lupica.    Republicans hate Democrats and this President.  But no mention of Democrats hating Republicans.   Clearly, that is because Democrats are all about love and togetherness.  Seriously, how difficult would it have been to be a little balanced here and say “Too many Republicans and Democrats hating each other.”    At least that has a minimal guise of balance.    This is why I just can’t trust half the people calling for an honest discussion on these issues.    Is it true that too many take politics and political differences to a personal level, and spew hate?    That’s absolutely true.   And it’s absolutely true for both sides.  And it seems to get worse all the time.    But good grief, no President was more hated by the opposition party than George W Bush.  I live in Wisconsin, and I can tell you the words Democrats use when talking about Scott Walker are horrific.   Both sides need to acknowledge when they are moving too far in this direction.

To finish up on the point I started with and moving past this one example of hypocrisy, the next time someone suggests we have an honest discussion about division in America, ask them any or all of the following questions:

  • Are you willing to discuss how abortion and euthanasia devalue human life and has helped lead us to where we are today – that people are more willing to do harm to others because they don’t see the dignity of the human person?
  • Are you willing to discuss how the continued attack on religion and religious people – on our faith itself – has harmed our ability to bring meaning to why it is inherently wrong to bring harm to another person or their property – regardless of who they are and what they have?
  • Are you willing to revisit the premise that divisions between races is a white problem only?   That the minority communities bear some responsibility in how people – including police – see them and treat them?
  • Are you willing to tie any talk about gun control to real evaluations on how proposed actions would actually have changed the outcome of past events?
  • Are you willing to look at the actual results of anti-poverty governmental spending programs and make an honest assessment on whether or not we are better or worse off because of them?   Or if some of them are causing more harm than good?
  • Are you willing to accept that differences of opinion on the best way to handle matters – especially regarding the poor – does not mean one side or the other cares more or less?   Can we start with the premise that we both care, we just have a different vision on how best to help those people?

America was once a Christian nation.   It is not anymore.   If looking for the most succinct summary of the root of our current issues, that is it.   We lost our way, and our leadership is now floundering to find our way back to greatness, but they want to do it with God.   Without an honest reflection on that side of things, and true acts of repentance, the wisdom of man will simply not prevail.

Many are starting to pray the Rosary or the Chaplet daily for our nation.    I am not as consistent on this as I should be, but I need to get better.   We all do.

Following Your Conscience

Standard

Hello, everyone.   OK, so I could write a series of a half-dozen posts on why I will post in a flurry for a while, and then stop entirely for an extended period.    But simply put, this is an outlet for me.   So many other things take priority over this, and if this needs to fall by the wayside as an obligation, then so be it.   Some are called to write a blog for a higher purpose, some of us mainly like to vent and if others happen to follow us along the way for whenever we vent, then I guess that’s fun.

Today’s diatribe is about conscience.   Somewhat intriguing to me is the word itself:  “con” and “science.”   Depending on how you read that, it is either “with science” or “against science.”   Or, put otherwise, it’s a mystery within a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma.   Or something like that.

I must admit, I have long been frustrated and irritated by the use (or misuse) of the application of conscience.   We have boiled this wonderful gift from God down to an utterly perverted version of its intent, and it is now used as a determinant to take whatever action makes us feel good about ourselves, with nary a critical examination of whatever it is we are (or aren’t) doing.

It seems we have long forgotten the precursor to following our conscience:   that it be well formed.    This is not just a nicety, it is absolutely critical.   A malformed conscience is quite easily perfected.   First of all, we know from the wisdom of the catechism that sin darkens the intellect.   When the intellect is darkened, many things follow.   Among those things is a suppression of feelings of guilt.   Everyone hates guilt, it seems.   It’s been placed alongside “shame”,”sin” and “fault” as archaic religious relics of the past.    This is unfortunate.   Guilt is a gift from God to pull us back into a right relationship with Him.   Sure, it’s true that overly scrupulous individuals can overdo it on the guilt.   We need to guard against feeling as if God doesn’t love us anymore, or that we cannot be forgiven.    While that needs correction, the answer is not to swing entirely to idea that guilt is a bad thing, and that we should just feel good about everything we are and everything we do.   Which is mostly where we tend to find ourselves today.

When my wife an I were undergoing marital instruction, our Priest at the time (an otherwise good many and good priest, from what I can remember about him), informed us that the use of contraception was essentially something left up to us – whatever our conscience dictated.    The effect of that was no different than had he just handed us condoms.    First, allow me to openly confess that (a) I should have known the teachings of my faith better, and (b) I certainly had no thoughts to look into the matter further – we had been given the green light and that was good enough for me.   At least, that’s how I read it.   As a result, I used contraception entirely guilt free for the first few years of marriage.

But then we ran into these pesky super-Catholics who informed us that this wasn’t quite right.   Thankfully, to cut a long story short, we discussed, learned, and followed our much more informed conscience and now I have 9 kids.    There are days when the kids are being really annoying that I jokingly ask God why He had to let me in on this teaching of the Church.   I hope He knows that I’m joking…   sort of…

But today’s rant is more about this idea of conscience as a Catholic in a public matter, such as voting.   We’ve seen key GOP leaders step away from Donald Trump and make a general statement about people voting their conscience.    I know very good and well-meaning Catholics and other Christians who are saying they can’t vote for either major candidate based on their conscience, and that they will instead vote for some third party candidate.   I’ve even seen some men of the cloth make such statements.

This may sound blunt, but here’s my response:   Get real.

Listen, I get the reality of the situation.   I was very vocal during the primaries that Trump was NOT my guy.   I had numerous reasons for this opinion, which didn’t come down to feelings and emotions nearly as much as a general assessment of abilities and character, and from a strict standpoint of moral positioning I thought many other candidates were stronger.    But whether or not it was because the way the system is set up or Trump was intended to be the nominee all along and others don’t see it as I do, the situation has now changed.

Once the primaries are done, you need to do a complete and honest reset.    Trump was not my guy.   Now he is.    Am I utterly enthusiastic?   No, not really.   Am I committed?   Absolutely.   There is a difference.

So, let me talk about this whole “conscience” issue with respect to Trump.   It is one thing to say that you desire someone who is more upright, Christian, etc.    It is another thing to play a part in delivering the country to an even worse fate because of a (I believe) misinformed idea of what applying your conscience really means.    Voting your conscience is an act of will, not an emotional response.   One can, at once, understand the imperfection of someone they are going to vote for – and even feel not that great emotionally about doing so – while still feeling good about the decision to do so based on the given choice.

Frankly, I know we all wish it would be different that there were viable third party candidates so that a vote for one  wasn’t the equivalent of a vote, or at least a half-vote, for the major candidate you oppose more.    But wishing it won’t make it reality.  And no reasonable person can honestly assess that there is enough of a groundswell of support for a third party candidate to make that person viable.   By all means, give it a shot in the next few months, but if it becomes plain and obvious by election day that there is zero shot that your third party candidate has a chance, then in my harsh opinion, you are using your conscience as an excuse to avoid responsibility for electing the very person you are helping to elect by your choice to not vote for the stronger (even if still weak) candidate.   It is an irresponsible choice to make, and you are washing your hands of all responsibility because of your “conscience.”  Not only do I believe this is wrong and problematic, but I honestly think you may even be held to account.

I guess there is a potential caveat here.   If you really, honestly, in your heart of hearts, believe that the two are equally evil and this determination has been made not just on the character of the people, but an honest reflection on what you think they will actually do, then I guess that’s fine.   I think you’re bonkers if that is the judgment in this particular case, but that’s just my opinion.

Even worse, in my opinion, are the Catholics and Christians who have utterly convinced themselves through what can only truly be an improperly formed conscience that it is preferable to vote for politicians who hold pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage positions because they have somehow convinced themselves that the issues of education, union rights, and failed welfare state programs are morally equivalent to or even superior to those other issues.   The former are disqualifying issues with no moral ambiguity.   The other issues are differences of opinion on the right way to go about things.   It is not intrinsically moral or immoral to have an opinion on either side of the appropriate level of taxation, or the right level of funding for social programs.   It is not intrinsically moral or immoral to have an opinion that the state is inefficient and charity is best left to family, friends, churches and private organizations that specialize in these matters.   It is, however, intrinsically immoral to support policy that allows us to kill an infant in the womb.   Period.

So, where does that leave us?    I argue that:

  1. Given a well-formed conscience, and
  2. Given no realistic chance of a viable third party candidate
  3. And the existence of any difference in moral equivalence between the two major party candidates
  4. Voting for anyone other than Trump of Clinton is a shirking of responsibility and a perverted sense of what it means to follow one’s conscience

 

Given that conclusion, I present the following as evidence that a well formed conscience must lead one to support Donald Trump – even if reluctantly and purely as a matter of will. Let’s accept as given that each have many character flaws, that neither are as upstanding or moral as I’d like, and that this is in no way a suggestion that I expect Trump will make the world’s greatest President:

  1. Trump has repeatedly referenced state’s rights.   Even if he personally doesn’t take a stand on an issue to my liking (e.g. transgender law in NC) he at the same time does acknowledge the right of NC to pass such a law and I do not believe he would interfere in any way with their right to do so.   Barack Obama, and I also believe Hillary Clinton, uses the threats of the Justice Department and the withdrawal of federal funding to bully states.   Further, they broaden the issue at hand in almost every circumstance, doubling down and demanding all public institutions accept whatever the next level of societal degradation is at hand.
  2. Trump has released a list of what he considers to be a representative sample of the kinds of Supreme Court justices he would appoint.   Whatever you might think of Trump personally, what matters much more is what he will actually do as President.   His list is impressive, and is very promising.    Could he disappoint?   of course he could.   But all we can go on is what he has said, and what he has said is that he would literally plug the hole in the dam preventing an utterly progressive and left-leaning activist court.   There is zero question about the kinds of justices Clinton would appoint.    This issue is of such utter importance that if no other issue at all matters to you, or if you are concerned about other aspects of a Trump Presidency, this should override it.    That is because this is the once decision that impacts the next entire generation.    All other faux pas can be addressed and corrected in the relative near-term.   This cannot.
  3. Trump may not be convincingly pro-life, but he publicly makes the claim that he is.    He may be willing to live with exceptions that many of us find problematic.    He may have a history of flip-flopping on the issue.   All of which isn’t great, but it’s also relative.   Compared to Clinton, he is much more favorable to at least giving consideration to pro-life voices.    Further, the main impact a President will have on this issue is in the appointment of Supreme Court justices (see #3).   I find it simply frustrating that good and well-meaning pro-life people say they can’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t see things as they do without thinking through what that person can actually do about it in the first place.   Yes, there is the bully pulpit and there is the face of the country perspective, but in practical reality there are only a handful of things the President can impact through executive order or through the signing of legislation.    Do you really think Trump will veto pro-life legislation that makes progress?   I doubt he will.    I certainly do not think he will take the Little Sisters of the Poor to court to require they cover abortion and contraception.   I do not think he will issue Executive Orders expanding abortion rights.   He may or may not issue EOs to restrict them.   Now contrast in your mind what you think Hillary will do…  certain vetoes, likely executive orders, and continued use of HHS and Justice.    Trump may or may not defund Planned Parenthood, but I’ll bet if Congress passes a budget without funding Trump will not veto on that basis.   You know Hillary will.

 

The intellect needs to inform the conscience.   The conscience cannot simply be a feeling.

Go forth and apply a well-formed conscience to your decision-making.

 

 

 

Determining Political and Charitable Donations Using Facebook

Standard

A little while back I mentioned that I was getting irked by all the junk showing up on my Facebook timeline from “friends.”

To recap:   When I finally took the plunge and got onto facebook (under my real identity, not the diatribical pseudonym), I pretty much decided that it would a benign entry into the social media world.   My general mental rule of thumb was “If I were hanging out with all my facebook friends, what would I choose to talk about, how wouold I talk about it, and why would I talk about it?”

I mean, here this is my blog.   I’ll write what i want, and I don’t really care because you’re choosing to come here and read it.

And while it’s true that I don’t have to click on anything on Facebook, I just find it annoying that people update their profile pic with rainbows and it’s plastered on my timeline.   Yeah, whatever.   I try to ignore it, but I’m human, and to me it’s just shoving a particular stance in my face.   I want to shove it back.   But then I think of my rule and I don’t.

But then I see a post in the aftermath of the gay marriage ruling and some friend of mine shared a link that basically made fun of Christians.    I mean, really?   You’re going to share this?   So, I’m more peeved.

Straying into politics a bit, I’m a conservative.   I don’t “like” and “share” every anti-liberal or pro-conservative thing that comes onto my page.   But apparently others do this, especially when it comes to teachers and Scott Walker.   Egad, my brain wants to explode.

Well, I mused on this blog about whether or not it might make sense to let people know that I would donate to causes in opposition to things that – pardon the french – piss me off.

At first, it was just a musing.

And then it happened.   Another shared link to “Occupy Democrats.”

Now, I don’t want to offend my Democratic friends out there.  I know there are Catholic Democrats, though how you can support a party that is in bed with Planned Parenthood, has entirely embraced all things abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender…   I could go on, but now I’m straying from the point.   So, suffice it to say that I guess you have your reasons, and you will need to wrestle with that yourself.

Anyway, back to Occupy Democrats.   Seriously, these guys are loons.   Yeah, I said it.

I couldn’t take it.    I finally posted “New rule:   Every Occupy Democrats link showing up on my timeline will initiate a donation to whoever they hate the most.”   Now, that isn’t specific, and it’s subjective, but basically anyone good, moral, and conservative will do.   Occupy Democrats hates anyone that satisfies those three categories.

Well, that’s as far as it went for a while, but someone finally posted a ridiculous anti-Scott Walker post.    I already donate to Walker.   “New rule:  Every anti-Scott Walker post showing up on my timeline will add $1 to the donation I will already be sending him.”

I’m just getting started, I think.   I was thiiiiiissss close to declaring that any rainbow flag showing up on my timeline would initiate a donation to the Family Research Center.   I still might.

So, as is obvious, I’ve started to give up on my utopian dream of just getting family updates and catching up with friends.   If people want to be political and anti-religious, well then game on.   But facebook debates are generally fruitless and often devolve into a lack of charity.   So I’m trying to find a creative way of making my point.

Hopefully it’s not too expensive.

Book Review/Diatribe: The Harbinger

Standard

One thing I’d like to do a bit more is review some of the books I read. I don’t read a gazillion of them, but I do like to share my thoughts on them when I do.

I am going to start with a book I just finished: The Harbinger, by author Jonathan Cahn. Mr. Cahn is the leader of Hope of the World Ministries, an evangelical outreach organization.

I do not purchase many new books. Having a large family and trying to maintain a budget, I usually check with my library first for my leisure reading. When I either cannot find it from the library (often enough for religious/spiritual books) or decide I want to own it, the title goes on my wish list for birthdays or Christmas. If I don’t want to wait, then I look for good deals on used copies on Amazon or elsewhere.

The Harbinger was an exception. Touted heavily on World Net Daily, and also featured on Spirit Daily (a Catholic-based news site), my interest was heightened to the point where I decided to buy the book new.

I almost feel bad about the review I’m about to give, because it is not favorable. So before I go there, let me differentiate between the book itself and the book’s insights and message. The entire prophetic insight is a tying of what is happening in America today to what occurred long ago in ancient Israel, and in particular centered about the hard-hearted response of the nation of Israel in Isaiah 9:10. There are some very interesting parallels that are presented in the book. For the most part, these things are thought-provoking and worthy of study and contemplation. The message itself with respect to what is in store for America if there is not repentance for straying from God is spot on, as well. All those aspects of the book are worthy of note and generally a good thing. What is not good is the book itself. So, keep those high points in mind as you read the rest of this post.

Mr. Cahn decides to present his insights and study of Isaiah 9:10 (and surrounding verses later on) into story form. All that is well and good, but the story serves almost no purpose, and is not remotely entertaining. The book is 253 pages long, 250 pages of which is conversation. Even more frustrating is the incredible thick-headedness of the man at the center of the narrative. The conversations are reduntantly redundant, and no matter how many times a point is made, the main character reacts as if it’s a brand new revelation.

The format of the story is that the main character, Nouriel Kaplan, tells his tale to a woman, Ana Goren, who has something to do with publishing or marketing or something that isn’t quite clear. And when I say that he tells his tale, that’s all he does. Oh, they eventually get up and go for a walk to somewhere that is not embellished upon, but their interaction is a conversation. A long one. And what he is telling her is a recounting of his conversations with a Prophet. We never find out the Prophet’s name, through no fault of Mr. Kaplan’s attempts to uncover this detail.

So, Mr. Kaplan gets a seal (as in a small waxy seal that secures a bound scroll) in the mail with markings on it, and happens to sit on a bench one day to look at it, when it all begins. The Prophet is on that bench, and as the book moves along it becomes clear that he is some supernatural figure with a divine purpose. Well, I won’t spill all the beans here with respect to what is all discovered by our friend in the book, but each encounter goes something like this:
Prophet: Here is another seal for you to worry about, and here’s an enigmatic clue as to its meaning, but I’m not going to tell you what it means. You need to figure it out for yourself.

After weeks, or months, of investigation, sometimes figuring out nothing, sometimes figuring out only a partial aspect of it, and sometimes thinking he figured it out but not really, the Prophet suddenly appears again and the next encounter ensues.

Prophet: Did you figure it out?
Kaplan: (a) No. (b) Kind of. (c) I think I did.
Prophet: (a) OK. Let me tell you everything. (b) Good, but you’re not really that close. Here, let me tell you everything. (c) Nouriel, you’re on the wrong track. Here, let me tell you everything.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

One was left wondering the point of all the waiting and wheel-spinning, if the Prophet was just going to spill the beans anyway. Other than to fill up pages with the hopeless pursuit, that is.

To the extent that the interesting aspects of what Mr. Cahn has observed were laid out, the background and history were intriguing, and this is clearly the most redeeming aspect of the book. But all of these things could have been covered, even with relatively extensive commentary, in 50 pages or less. Quite honestly, I found myself forcing my way through it many times just to get to the next relevant part, and at some points I was outright wishing we could just get it all over with.

I would have much preferred something other than a forced story that really wasn’t much of a story. A commentary by Mr. Cahn just providing the scholarship behind his observations and insights and the history that accompanies it would have simply been much better, much more concise, and interesting. If wanting to provide it in terms of a fictional story, then a book-long conversation that made you want to smack Mr. Kaplan upside the head and say “How do you not know the answer to that question yet, you moron?” wasn’t the way to go. I don’t pretend to offer an example of how one would have actually written a story where actors are playing it all out and discovering these ancient mysteries along the way, but almost anything would have been better than a book-long account of a reporter recording a very wordy prophet saying the same thing in a dozen different ways.

Mr. Cahn also cannot resist interjecting a little outright evangelization at the end, which is fine as far as that goes. As a Catholic, it is easy to recognize that he is not one, and we do see some of the “it’s about faith, not religion” pronouncements from the Prophet that are a bit problematic, as if the two things are not in any way compatible. But quite honestly, that whole chapter has nothing at all to do with the insights of Isaiah 9:10. It simply reminds us that no matter what happens to nation or peoples, we still have to account for ourselves, which at the heart of things is a fine message. But again, it’s just all a long conversation.

So, I realize this sounds a bit harsh. I admit to being disappointed with the book. But my disappointment is almost more in what I perceive as a lost opportunity. You see, I actually do think that it’s worth understanding what it is that Mr. Cahn sees. I think there are some stretches, as far as a couple of his “harbingers” go (I mean, really… the “vow” made by a failed VP candidate in 2004, regardless of where or how he said it, just doesn’t seem to be nearly as alarming as Mr. Cahn apparently believes it is), but having said that there are remarkable parallels that he has uncovered that, at the very least, make you go “hmmmm.” But the problem is that the book itself is so overly verbose, and – quite honestly – boring, that you lose the excitement of some of these interesting elements. And I’m someone who really enjoys reading this kind of stuff.

I have seen that some donor has decided to send a copy of this book to everyone in Congress. That’s all fine and dandy, but the travesty of it is that I am almost certain that someone who might otherwise be interested in and appreciate a more concise and/or entertaining approach towards sharing the insights around Isaiah 9:10, but who is not necessarily a person of strong faith or is not inclined towards the prophetic, will be utterly bored with this book before it even gets to the point of shedding light on some of the more important areas of consideration. And that is, itself, a missed opportunity and a bit of a travesty.

One final word, back to the positives around the intrigue of many of the harbingers of America’s recent past and possible future… I am not among those who believe that there is no such thing as a coincidence. When I meet someone in South Dakota from a place I used to work, and there is no other particular import that comes from that, I chalk it up as one of life’s interesting coincidences. Neither do I believe that all “coincidences” are simply that. When our second President – John Adams – and our third President – Thomas Jefferson – both signed the Declaration of Independence and then each died exactly 50 years later, on July 4, 1826 then there just seems to be another hand at work there. Signs and symbols and all that. So, as we uncover the “harbingers” relating America’s fate to that of ancient Israel, and how that relates to Isaiah 9:10, I will say that some of the things strike me as a reach and some things don’t. The things that look like a reach have nothing to do with me not accepting the divine hand of parallel activities, it is that I just don’t see the import of some of the things that Mr. Cahn does. But there are certainly some unmistakable parallels that are either coincidence or they aren’t. And if they aren’t…

Recommendation: If you can borrow this book, or check it out at a library, it’s worth the time to scan through and pick up on the interesting parts. If you want to read the whole thing, go for it, but you really aren’t missing anything by skipping over a lot of the filler. Preferably, assign it to your kids as a book report and make them summarize it for you.