New TW Short: “The Gathering Storm”

Very nice. I think we’re getting better at these shorts. Personally, I’d love to make one to enter the contest they announced this Sabbath.

Wow, that’s a lot of music

I’ve been working to transfer my iTunes library over to my Mac and a couple of random files here and there have been tripping me up. (Apparently something to do with Windows/Mac issues; not a big deal, just irritating.) So, it proceeds apace, and may even be finished by the end of the day.

The thing that grabbed me, though, was the sight of just how many music files I possessed. Sure, a number of them were sermon tracks or even audio readings of chapters from the Bible, and some were copies of voicemails or voice memos I’d made for myself. But, still, even with those aside, I had 2000+ songs on my computer, alone. And that doesn’t include the CDs I own that I have not moved onto my computer, nor the cassette tapes (yes, I still have some) I bought back when those things were bought, nor the vinyl albums (yes, I still have some) I have but have lost the ability to play, nor the eight-track cassettes… Ha! Just kidding on that one! (Though I certainly did have some of those.)

It truly is staggering how much music we can so easily access in a virtual instant in our world. And in the car, in addition to my entire iTunes Library of music that I can carry on my phone and listen to wirelessly through the car’s speakers, I can also turn on the radio and listen to an amazing variety of stations — and since it is a satellite radio, I can tune in to some rather specific stations, based on decade, genre, or even artist in some cases.

It is amazing. The presence of music was such a vastly more rare thing in the past. Really, to hear a symphony, you had to go to… a symphony. And if they weren’t playing, you weren’t hearing anything. Perhaps royalty could hear music on demand, but not many other people unless they could play for themselves. And even then, the range was greatly limited. Compared to the kings of history, I have more access to music than virtually all of them combined, to listen to at a whim.

While I think this is potentially a good thing, it is also so very potentially bad. As Mr. Armstrong used to say, the thing itself may not be good or evil, but how it is used is very much so.

Personally, I believe that the widespread availability of music, and super cheap at that, is part of what has degraded music and allowed the proliferation of complete junk. When a commodity is no longer rare, it is no longer as precious or as valuable. The concept of what is “music” has been cheapened over the decades, and much of what is produced is drivel and rot.

(As a side note… The widespread availability of music hasn’t helped the Art/Life Cycle of Doom to slow down any, either: Art chooses something on the fringe of Life to focus on, Life begins to move its center to that which Art has focused on, Art moves to something on the newly defined fringe, etc. Given the natural proclivities of carnal man, this isn’t the best cycle for civilization…)

Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad I have access to such a wide range of beautiful music. More than that, I am thankful for it. I just think it is interesting what excess there is. And I think that some of what is bad about much in “music” today is tied to the fact that it is so easily available in excess. Surely Proverbs 25:16 comes into play here — and not just personally, but is it also possible that it plays on a societal level?

Thoughts are welcome. And have a marvelous Sabbath!

French Moms and Social Psychologist Silliness

Česky: Eiffelova věž z Martova pole Deutsch: D...
Should parents shout, "Vive la France"? (Image via Wikipedia)

This weekend, I read the Wall Street Journal’s wonderful article “Why French Moms are Superior” by Pamela Druckerman, who has written a book with the same theme (Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting) that is being published today. It seems to be similar in spirit to the recent “Tiger Mom” fad, inspired by Amy Chua’s book about the benefits her daughters had gained from her Chinese (versus nominally Western) approach to parenting.

Those who think such books are simply a matter of the horrific “Let’s adopt the practices of other cultures because everything truly American stinks” should think again, because they are not necessarily so. Judging by her WSJ article, Mrs. Druckerman’s discoveries in France match the parenting techniques and approaches that I have seen in many happy households here in the U.S. — frankly, many biblical approaches to parenting, that, indeed, are shamefully lacking on this side of the Atlantic. For instance, there is a focus on real parental authority in the home, “discipline” as training and not just as punishment, being loving but firm and expecting obedience, not seeing good parents as those who are “at the constant service of their children” (which, in reality, does a disservice to those children).

Reactions to the article and the book have varied, some good and some stupid.  Closer to the latter end of that spectrum were some of the reactions I saw in a Yahoo! “Shine” item on the book, “Are French Women the New Tiger Mothers?” provided by a “social psychologist” who “specializes in parenting.”

For instance, here’s the beginning of one such instance:

“While you can’t blame parents for everything, some popular parenting practices aren’t worth adapting. A 2003 poll found that 84 percent of French parents admit to slapping or spanking their child.”

You have to love that choice of word, “admit.” Interesting how the choice of a single word can make spanking seem like something one should be ashamed of, isn’t it? After all, who would say, “Yes, I admit that I kiss my wife on the cheek every morning”?

Expect the standard (false) equivocation: spanking = abuse. And to deliver on our expectation, the article provides the social psychologist “expert”:

“Anytime you hit or spank a child, you are teaching them that that’s acceptable behavior,” Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist who specializes in parenting, tells Shine. “There’s study after study that says abused children have the potential to become abusers themselves. From my thinking there’s no excuse for a parent hitting their child.”

Did you catch the switch? The move from “spank” to “abuse”? I’m glad that she qualified that last sentence with a “From my thinking” — that’s more qualification than most give.

(I’ve posted on spanking before — here and here. The “spanking = abuse” scam is one of the most damaging aspects of our society’s approaches to child rearing.)

But the “good advice well” in the article had not yet run dry…

But there are some things we can teach the world, too. “American parents are known for putting their children first,” says Newman. “As a result, children overall feel and know they’re special.”

This is a bit ambiguous, so I’d love to give our “expert” the benefit of a doubt as to what she really means. But does this mean putting the children’s “needs” at the very top of the family’s needs? If so, then it’s contributing to part of our society’s problems not the solutions.  If spanking them supposedly turns them into abusive monsters (it doesn’t), then why doesn’t making sure the children’s desires come first in everything turn them into narcissistic little entitlement monsters (it does)? We suffer from a terrible “I’m special and the world owes me” entitlement mentality in younger people today, thanks to the insidious influence of Darth Rogers. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. Mister Rogers was a sweet fellow. But read the article at the link for what I’m talking about.) And families have been ruined by the choices some parents make in putting their children’s wants ahead of even the health of their marriage, ironically and tragically sacrificing the most important foundation children need in the name of those same children.

If anyone reads the article or book for himself or herself, feel free to leave your comments below. But, as the above comments demonstrate, don’t expect it to be reviewed sensibly by a society that may see some of its most cherished “sacred cows” offered up as barbecue.

Funny video explaining the European bailout

Too funny not to share. Europe has reached a “solution” concerning its (current) finance crisis, and the UK’s Guardian uses two animated office workers to explain it to us in simple terms. Check it out — and feel free to notice the parallels to America’s own “magical” economic solutions, as well. (Word of warning: Some “common” language is used on one occasion, so caveat navita stans.)  I tweeted about this earlier, but thought it was funny enough I’d post it here, too.

Click the screen grab below to go to the article and video.

[Click to go to the Guardian's video]

The dark world of “Young Adult ” literature

Library Pengo
Sadly, here there be monsters... (Image via Wikipedia)

I would like to post a link to this article without too much commentary from myself, as (1) I don’t have the time, and (2) for those unfamiliar with the “Young Adult” literature being sold in our bookstores it will be quite an eye-opener and should be read for itself (with warning: it contains some graphic content).  The article is “Darkness Too Visible” by Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Gurdon’s insights are very good, and I won’t distract you from reading the article by copying them here. Suffice it to say that Philippians 4:8 is not exactly the guide many “Young Adult” authors are using.  If you are a parent who is simply allowing your children to pick their own books to read at the library or from Barnes & Noble and you’re not reviewing those books yourself to know what they are mentally and spiritually digesting — perhaps, simply delighted that they “love to read” — you are making a huge, huge mistake.

Of course, some will whine that any parents who review the books their young children read are acting like dictatorial little censors who are afraid to allow their children freedom of thought.  Those people who say such things are, generally, clueless at best and neglectfully damaging their children at worst.  Ms. Gurdon makes a point herself (OK, one quote!) when she says, “It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person’s life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks ‘censorship!'”

As she concludes: “The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.”

Proverbs 22:15 tells us, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” — not a condemnation, just a statement of fact and a reminder of parental responsibility.  How sad that so many parents sacrifice their children’s minds so that corporations may profit on that foolishness.

(By the way: I note that I’ve referred to work by Meghan Cox Gurdon before back in February of 2010 when she wrote a pathetic-but-sadly-true article about the horrific “prom etiquette” book written by the descendants of Emily Post.  The post was “Girls save themselves not for marriage but for the prom” and has a link to that article as well as to some great Tomorrow’s World resources.)

Tomorrow’s World website redesign is up

I don’t know if it was up earlier, but upon visiting the Tomorrow’s World website today, I noticed that the redesign is up and running!  I like it and think it ties the website better to the television program and magazine, making the three faces of our effort a more unified whole.  It’s certainly less cluttered.

I’m sure they will be working bugs out now that it is live, but it is nice to see!  To go there yourself, feel free to click on the “screen snippet” below.

Click to go to the Tomorrow's World website

A few offerings about Ronald Reagan

U.S. President Ronald Reagan's Oval Office add...
Addressing the nation after the Challenger tragedy (Image via Wikipedia)

With the passing of 100 years since his birthdate, Ronald Reagan has been in the news a lot, lately.  The current political climate, in which politicians on both sides of the aisle wouldn’t mind borrowing a little of the luster that has accumulated upon his memory, has made his legacy all the more relevant.  In particular, whether you liked him or disliked him, you’d be hard pressed not to agree with the assessment that he was a real leader. And as I’ve written about frequently (inspired by Dr. Douglas Winnail’s observations), we’re living in a time where there is a real leadership crisis.

I won’t add to the abundance of commentaries out there, myself — there are too many who can speak more knowledgeably of the man and of what he represents to us today.  I just thought I would pass on two links for those who may be interested, both of which go to articles I enjoyed concerning the man.

Additionally, for those who remember some of his speeches and would like to hear them again, you might consider the Reagan Foundation’s YouTube channel.

In particular, here is a video of what is arguably one of his most famous speeches (ranked in some places as one of the top ten American speeches of all time): His televised comments after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  While of little political consequence, perhaps, it is one of my favorites (and was, if I recall correctly, written by Ms. Noonan).

Well, surely I’m no lower than #48,037,298

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Well, the list of top ten YouTube videos for 2010 is out.  It looks like the Friday Night Greetings videos I make each week for my congregations did not make the list.  Go figure. 🙂

Who did? Check out the list, yourself: “ABCNews/GMA: Top YouTube Videos of 2010” (As always when you wander from the warm, fuzzy confines of the blog: Let the surfer beware.)  I suppose that if Justin Bieber had been wearing Old Spice during his sixth grade talent show duet with Lady Gaga while viewing a double rainbow and surrounded by an elaborate Rube Goldberg employing various talking fruit then the world would have come to an end.  (Is there an eighth seal in the book of Revelation that mentions any of this?)

Any resulting comments on what you think this list of videos says about our culture, if anything, are welcome below.

Death of a Storm Chaser

This week has been ironic in that I haven’t written much because I’ve had too much to say.  Of the things on my mind, rather than comment about the elections or the Fed’s Magical Money Making Machine (or MMMM™), I thought I would mention something more personal.

Logo for Storm Chasers (via Wikipedia)
Logo for Storm Chasers (Wikipedia)

There are few television programs that my family and I enjoy on a regular basis, but one of them is Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel.  The business of tracking tornadoes has always been interesting to me and to my wife, as well, and for the last few years we have enjoyed following the exploits of Sean Casey and his tank-like Tornado Intercept Vehicle and Reed Timmer and his exuberant and sometimes careless zeal.  While the tornado chases are exciting, like any decent “reality television” (those three words define a very large programming universe) the personal dynamics are a real part of the show.  Concerning Casey, an element of personal drama comes into play when considering that he has spent around half-a-million dollars on his equipment and countless months away from his wife chasing his dream as much as he chases storms: the desire to create an IMAX movie that features footage inside the heart of a twister.  In Timmer’s case, watching the development of a young man with talent and potential but also with a need to learn the lessons that make men into leaders has also made for great television.

For Sean Casey we knew that one of his challenges (at least, in the way the show is edited, and there is always that element to be considered) was recognizing the need to let go a bit and to trust the team he had put together.  He used the talents of 30-year-old meteorologist Matt Hughes to help get him as close as possible to tornadoes, but he constantly second guessed Matt.  Part of that was due to his understanding of what an IMAX film would require as opposed to simply an “intercept” but, as he said in interviews, a large part was the fact that this was his investment, his “family’s future,” as he said.  And consequently, he found it hard to let go of some of the decision-making, causing him to miss many great opportunities while simultaneously frustrating his support team, including Matt.  Young Mr. Hughes commented often about how he could get Sean to the tornado and get the shots he wanted if he would just let him.

Well, as this week’s episode showed, the moment came, and Sean gave Matt full control of where to go, what to chase, when to stop.  And, sure enough, on that particular chase, Matt Hughes succeeds in spades, planting Sean and his giant armored vehicle smack dab into the center of a tornado.  Watching the mixture of terror and exhilaration on the faces of the Matt and the team inside the vehicle as they sat looking out the windows surrounded by winds near 200mph was thrilling, and a reward for the viewer as much as for the storm chasers.  Well, perhaps not “as much,” but it was satisfying.  In one moment, you got to watch as several men experienced a dream come true.  You felt a great deal of gratification concerning Sean, who not only got a great IMAX shot but who (hopefully) learned that by trusting the team that he had, himself, assembled, he would have a better chance of succeeding.  And concerning Matt, you had the opportunity to watch a young man who had made bold claims really come through when it counted and be rewarded — not just in the satisfaction that comes from success and being tested and coming through but also in getting to experience a unique event and experience the majesty and power of the Creation in a way that few people have ever known.  What a perfect day for young Matt Hughes.

But as much as you enjoy that moment, it comes twinged with sadness as the viewer is aware that Matt Hughes died days later.

The very weekend after that climactic chase and unprecedented success, Mr. Hughes’ family said that he attempted suicide.  The results were damaging enough that he died of the results a week later, leaving behind a wife and two sons.

My wife and I made the mistake of watching the program from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. and then trying to go to sleep afterwards.  But I couldn’t.  I would lay there with ear pressed between my head and my pillow, notice my pulse, and think to myself, “What a horrible resting heart rate.  I bet my arteries are clogged.  I’ve got to get my blood pressure checked.  Etc.”  Then I would flop and turn fitfully — nothing seemed comfortable, but I knew that the discomfort was all in my head.  The juxtaposition of that climactic moment of worldly success and the knowledge of such an end so close together was too disconcerting, too demanding that I process and deal with it in some way.

Actually, the fact that the death was due to suicide was tactfully not mentioned on the show, though it has since been written about by one of his friends and colleagues and has been admitted by his family.  So that night, it was pure issues of mortality that mentally arm-wrestled with me for hours.  Since learning more details, the contrast grew into sharper focus and added details to my meditation.

The events, themselves, happened this summer during storm chasing season, but with the airing of the episode this week I would imagine that the family is reliving many of those events in their minds.  Consequently, as small as the readership of this blog is, there are still some thoughts I just can’t bring myself to say right now in a public forum, in deference to them and to what questions they may be asking themselves.  I think of that wife and two boys, as well as the other family members left behind who loved him, and my heart just breaks.

But, of more importance to us, what questions should we be asking ourselves when faced with such examples?  There is a reason that the seventh law of success is one of the seven, for instance — the one that affects all the others.  Am I keeping that one in mind?  Is there anyone I know who seems to have things all together on the outside but who may be in desperate need on the inside?  Do I really live with the the recognition that today may be my last — not in a debilitating way, but in terms of the priorities I set?  The knowledge that you probably won’t die today, but, at the same time, you just might should have an impact on our lives.  Does it?  As busy as I can be, does my life reflect an understanding of those things that are of fundamental importance in the eyes of God, as in Micah 6:8?  Do I recognize that taking care of my health isn’t a matter of being selfish — not even just a matter of respecting the temple of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) — but is directly tied to the second great commandment, to love my neighbor as myself (Matt. 22:39), given that my five closest neighbors, my wife and children, depend on me?

Sorry to write today on what may generally be considered a morbid topic, but there is a reason that Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 7:2, “Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart.”  There’s nothing wrong with a great time now and then, as Solomon admits in chapter 5 and verses 18-20.  But sometimes we need to spend some time at the house of mourning, meditating on reminders of mortality, to ensure that our lives are ultimately focused on those things of eternal value.

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(For those interested, the Discovery Channel Storm Chasers website currently has a dedication to Matt Hughes up, and video clips are available there of his last chase.)

Stephen Hawking publishes old ideas, World ends, Film at 11:00

President Barack Obama talks with Stephen Hawk...
Stephen Hawking with President Obama. (Image via Wikipedia)

Excerpts of Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, have been published in Britain’s The Times newspaper, and the world seems to be having a hissy-fit.  (I’d include a link, but they require subscription. Here’s a Independent article on the same thing. Take that, Times!)  Actually, I will admit that I would love to finish a commentary I had started on the subject, but other things are pressing on me and it looks unlikely.  Compared to writing a commentary, this blog is simple stuff!

But for those who have somehow escaped the news, Dr. Hawking states in his new book that the newest (and shiniest!) theories demonstrate that that God is not necessary for the universe to exist.  Whether it oscillates, permanently contracts, or expands into the nothingness of “heat death” — it’s irrelevant.  Hawking has declared God an unnecessary variable in the equation.

I can understand the hissy-fit: Every time a famous and highly respected scientist (read: Richard Dawkins) becomes a lousy philosopher and theologian (read: Richard Dawkins) and says something sincerely-believed-but-still-dumb (read: Richard Dawkins), it makes news.  I do admire the intellect of both Dawkins and Hawkings.  I’d pay good money to have some of their neural synapses.  (I’d also pay good money to have vocal chords like those of Kevin Lee or Mario Hernandez, but that’s another story.)  But I don’t want the set of assumptions they work from.  Perhaps the synapses could be purchased separately…

The thing is, what Hawking (and poor, little recognized co-author U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, who might as well build a grass hut in Hawking’s shadow) is saying is nothing new.  Physicists and cosmologists have been hypothesizing and waxing hopeful about multiverses and  M-theory for years.  I’ve blogged a bit about it myself, and, personally, I find the research fascinating even if I disagree with the conclusions they are trying to justify.

The news is not what Hawking is saying.  What he is saying is incredibly old news.  It is that he is saying it.  I rip my pants, my wife and kids have a giggle.  Britney Spears rips her pants, Google searches go wild across planet earth.  And when it comes to statements about existence, God, and the universe: Stephen Hawking is Britney Spears.  (Please tell me I can copyright those last five words…)

I really don’t have time to write anything serious on the topic (that’s where insightful equations like “Stephen Hawking = Britney Spears” come from!), but I can link to a blog post from the past that discusses a similar topic: “Is the Universe Made of Math?”

If Hawking & Mlodinow’s book discusses M-theory, it might be worth getting.  Hawking is a good popularizer of scientific material that can be hard to grasp in the hands of others.  But his philosophical conclusions?  That’s another story.  Still, the bridge he tries to build from one to the other might be instructive.  (“Instructive” as in “The data from the Black Box we recovered was instructive.”)

I’ll finish the commentary if I can find some time.  Until then, don’t worry.  Stephen Hawking may have declared that the universe doesn’t need God, but a declaration doth not a reality make.  Old false news is still false news even if it is packaged as new false news — and even if Britney Spears announces it.