1992: A Year I Could Do Without

(I won’t be writing or posting 9/11 memorials. I’ve done that before — in 2015, for example — and in multiple poems, including Old New York Photos, Another Ode To The United States Of America, You Can Not Crush Us, Tonight, and possibly others.)


School Photo, 1992
This is my sophomore yearbook photo from Central Bible College, taken some time in the fall of 1992.

Recently, my friend Richard Barron dove into his journals to re-ponder 1992, and it struck home to me that 25 years have passed since that strange and disconnected year in my life. I can’t say for certain that 1992 was the weirdest year of my life so far, but it was indeed weird.

If you know my history, it would not be shocking to learn that the first sentence of my first journal entry of 1992 talked about going to Sunday School, or that that the entire paragraph was about church. The year began and ended with me on Christmas break from Bible college, but those bookends resembled each other very little, and the time between was punctuated with frustration, sadness, poor decision making, and death.

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Population Matters


Crowded
Stopped traffic on I-35 in Austin, Texas.
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

I’ve tried — and ultimately failed — to avoid the conclusion that humanity’s greatest threat is the increasing numbers of humans.

The latest UN report says that global population growth is slowing, but will still approach 10 billion by 2050 (which sounds like a long way off, but is only 33 years away). India’s population is expected to surpass China’s in the next seven years or so. Sixty percent (4.5 billion) of the world’s people live in Asia, while only 6 percent (361 million) live in North America.

Almost all the population growth in the next century is expected to occur in Africa, with most of the remainder to come in Asia, while Europe and the Americas are expected to remain somewhat flat.

Of course, population figures isolated from other information are simply a curiosity with no real meaning. They must be paired with other information for any impact. For example, note that currently nearly a billion people go to bed hungry each night — about one of every eight humans. And add the fact that about a third of the world’s food goes to waste each year (just a portion of that waste would be enough to feed the 800 million hungry folk).

It’s easy to say that the hunger issue is one of systems, borders, politics, and/or greed rather than the sheer number of humans on the planet. If only we developed better distribution, eliminated the wars and factions that prevent the food distribution, and so on, then we could easily feed everyone. Of course, that’s true, and some are actually working toward those goals.

At the same time, another, more surefire way to reduce hunger in future generations is to produce fewer humans — especially in the regions where people are more likely to be hungry — the very same regions where population is expected to rise the most.

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How Much Do You Know About DACA?

“Who in their right mind can be against DACA?” is my latest question for anyone remaining in my circles that still plans to vote Republican.

Not that anyone from that side will answer. They’ve ignored my previous requests for explanations — for example when I asked about President Trump’s promotion of violence against the news media.

The “Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals” policy, better known as “DACA” is one of the best immigration policies to arise in the United States in all of our nation’s history. Today, Trump administration officials announced they’ll phase it out within six months.

Some facts on DACA:

* about 800,000 people are enrolled
* it affects only people who came to the U.S. as children
* it gives enrollees a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit
* all enrollees must undergo a criminal background check
* all enrollees must be currently in school, or in the military, or must have successfully completed either
* it costs $495 to enroll (every two years)

These are not the disease-ridden rapists and drug dealers that Trump claimed and his base hated. These are high school kids — or employed people who’ve graduated high school and/or served honorably in our military. These are people without criminal convictions. They were largely raised in the U.S. and aren’t familiar with the languages or cultures of the countries Trump wants to send them “back” to. In many cases, they were so young when they came here that they don’t even remember the countries we’re going to send them back to.

What is the problem with DACA then? The only legitimate complaint I’ve seen so far is that it supersedes existing law (source), and therefore shouldn’t have come from the president’s desk but from Congress. But that can’t possibly be a reason to be against the policy itself; it can only be a reason to pressure Congress to sign it into law.

It still leaves the question: how can anyone be against the idea of DACA?

Is it true that everyone with empathy has already left the Republican party? (An online friend asserted this recently.) Do those of you remain revel in the pain of others? Is it a latent sense of white superiority? (I should tell you that many of the DACA enrollees are white.) What exactly is it, then?

Guest Author: ‘How Trumpians Convinced Me’

(This is, to my knowledge, my first entry by a guest author. The original post is here on Facebook, and is reproduced with permission from the author, Anderson Connors.)


Trumpalicious

Okay, Trumpets, you’ve changed my mind. I now support our president. #MAGA! Here’s how that happened.

I was just minding my own business, writing trollish liberal comments on conservative news sites like I always do in order to get more of that sweet George Soros money, when some very smart Trump supporters began countering me with logic, reason, and pride in our great country. Here are some examples.

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The Elusive Definition Of ‘Life’

Ever since we humans developed language, certain words have had exact and universal definitions. But other words… not so much. Perhaps strangely, some of the most important words/concepts have been the most difficult to define.


Dead As Dirt
This patch of dried mud looks entirely dead. However, a microscope would reveal that it’s teeming with life. And a rainstorm would quickly reveal that other life had only been dormant within it.
(Copyright © 2011 by Wil C. Fry.)

For example, when early humans came up with the first word for “sun”, nobody ever questioned its meaning: “that big hot thing in the sky; the biggest, brightest one”. In every language, through all of history, the meaning of sun only really changed once — when we discovered that “star” and “sun” were actually synonyms instead of two separate things; it’s just that one of the stars is relatively close to us while the others are very far away.

But at the same time, words like “life” and “alive” have elusive meanings that we have yet to precisely define — though many have tried. Physicist Fred Adams (in Origins Of Existence) noted: “Achieving a universal definition of life is unquestionably of fundamental importance, but no such definition has yet been forthcoming.” Adams and others have described characteristics of life, including reproduction, metabolism, and homeostasis, but there is still not a universally agreed-upon definition of life — or what makes something alive and something else not alive.

“Whenever biologists try to formulate definitions of life, they are troubled by the following: a virus; a growing crystal; Penrose’s tiles; a mule; a dead body of something that was indisputably alive; an extraterrestrial creature whose biochemistry is not based on carbon; an intelligent computer or robot.”

— William Poundstone, The Recursive Universe

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Changing The Narrative

My wife’s eyes were damp when she came home from our daughter’s dance class yesterday. She quickly told me why.

***

“I was sitting there, and other moms were in a group talking about the Nazi rally and the Confederate statues. One woman said something about how she didn’t understand why people wanted to remove the statues. ‘It’s just history; why do people want to erase history?’ It was loud enough for everyone to hear. I didn’t say anything, because I can’t. I’ll look like the proverbial ‘angry black person’; they won’t listen to me, so I keep looking at my phone. They went on like this for a while.

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One Of The Tamer Trump-Supporting Statements Is Still Garbage

There are some rabid Trump supporters out there. Much more insidious are the ones who make an show of reasonableness. “See?” they’ll say. “I’m a reasonable person and I still support this monster.” Those are the ones to watch out for.


Not Rabid. Still Bad
This Facebook post crossed my timeline late last night

Take for example the post at right, from a family member. (Click it to see the screenshot full size.) I don’t have the time or energy to unpack everything that’s wrong with it, but note the table-turning here.

“Trump bashing” — See how easy that was? In just two words, Trump is now the victim.

“Unlike our prior president” — Because for Trump supporters, so much of what they like about Trump is that he’s not Obama. There was just something about Obama — something they rarely said out loud — that they really didn’t like about him.

The phrase goes on to paint Trump as a calm and measured person — “…take his time, gather the facts, and then respond thoughtfully…” Remember, this is in the same sentence as “unlike our prior president”. What part of that is in any way unlike Barack Obama? And what part of that was in any way like Donald Trump?

“I was impressed by his restraint and ultimate condemnation of the violent acts…” — First, the record is clear: Trump condemned the violent acts almost immediately. That was never the issue. The issue was that he said “many sides” instead of condemning the white supremacists, the bigots, the KKK, the Nazis, and whatever other ideologies were represented in the “Unite The Right” rally.

“While all this was going on, the press was condemning the First Lady for wearing high heals.” — First, “heals” is a verb and has nothing to do with footwear; you meant “heels”. Second, no, “the press” refers to print media — newspapers, magazines, etc. This person probably meant “people I follow on Facebook” or “cable TV organizations”.

But what stuck my craw was the excuse for two days of refusal to name white supremacist organizations. That excuse was “gather the facts”. See my response at bottom of the screenshot. If you’re 70+ years old, you don’t need two days to gather facts and decide Nazis are bad. If you don’t know it already, you’re certainly not qualified to be President of the United States.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only person responding that took issue with the above points (see screenshot). But many more were happily liking the post, including my own father.

I should have seen this coming. Six days earlier, the same person had posted that it’s “frightening” that non-whites got to be in honors classes at a high school, referring to this opinion piece on the Fox News website about a Virginia high school.

I commented on that one too, but the original poster never replied to me; only a troll replied (see screenshot below) and then quickly blocked me when I didn’t give in.


Frightening!
The same family member posted this six days before the above defense of Trump.

The race-based fearmongering piece by Todd Starnes talks of “a disturbing letter” sent out by John Handley High School (alma mater of Patsy Cline) in Winchester, Virginia. The letter calmly notes that the local schools, “like many divisions across the country, continue to see outcomes that are disproportionate by race and social class”. It goes on to show how the local school district will work to combat this. One of the goals is for their advanced classes to eventually have “proportional representation”. Nothing in the letter indicates that selections to these honors classes will be based on race; just that through various means, the administration hopes to correct the mostly white representation in honors classes.

Starnes took it farther, of course: “Martin Luther King Jr. must be turning over in his grave” he exclaimed, possibly with a wild glint in his eye. It was unclear whether he was foaming at the mouth at this point.

My family member took it even further, suddenly assuming that bridges and airplanes would be designed by unqualified non-white people. With exclamation points, if you can imagine!

The person who replied to my comment suddenly made it about an entire “demographic” (his code for “non-white people”) being “unable to capitalize” on opportunities and “excluding some of the best”. It was bizarre to say the least.

Both of these posts are suspect, but on taken individually can be chalked up to a misunderstanding. Taken together, however, since they were only six days apart, I realized I had yet another family member defending bigotry.

For me, it drove home the point that bigots aren’t always toothless banjo players living in the hills of Kentucky; sometimes they live among us. They’re here in suburbia. They work at our restaurants, file our taxes, fix our computers, and so on.

It is also no surprise that today, Trump backed away from yesterday’s clear statement and worried about the removal of Confederate statues.

The Aftermath Of Charlottesville (UPDATED)

Categories: Personal
Tags: No Tags
Comments: 11 Comments
Published on: 2017.08.14

You’ve already heard about the violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. There is already a Wikipedia page for the events (there were multiple pages, but now are being directed to this one). I don’t intend to repeat the news here; I want only to express a few thoughts.

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Thankfully, The Persecution Is Over


President + Bible = ?
A photo of a reality TV star holding a book.

If you don’t regularly hang around with evangelical Christians or fundamentalists, you might be unaware that they were regularly “persecuted” in the U.S. — so much so that they called it a War On Christianity. To ensure they continued to be aware of it, a variety of Christian-themed conspiracy theory websites keep reminding them.

But surely they know it’s over, now that they’ve got the “atheist Kenyan Muslim” out of office, and supplanted him with the “two Corinthians” reading, pussy-grabbing Christian family man* in office.

(* I suppose we could call him as a “superfamily man”, due to multiple affairs and children via multiple mothers. That’s a step above normal “family man”, right?)

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Conservative Friends: I’m Still Curious

Saturday morning, I posted a query to “my conservative Facebook contacts”, accompanied by a link to a Washington Post article called Trump Appears To Promote Violence Against CNN With Tweet:


Washington Post Story
A screenshot of the Washington Post article in question.
If any of my conservative Facebook contacts haven’t yet “unfollowed” me, I’m curious about your thoughts on this. Do you find it acceptable? Normal? Does it make you feel like the U.S. is on the right track? Is it making us “great again”? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, I am genuinely interested in your reasoning.

This morning, our president tweeted a video (an actual video from one of his “pro wrestling” appearances) of himself slamming a man to the ground and repeatedly punching him about the head. The video had been doctored, with a “CNN” logo superimposed over the victim’s face.

Based on other interactions (or lack thereof), I suspect that many of the most conservative have “unfollowed” me, so they didn’t even see this post. If they did, I really do wonder what their answer(s) would be.

Perhaps one of them will see this blog entry, or my link to it on Facebook or elsewhere. Hopefully, someone will answer my question(s). In my mind, the lack of responses is (and will be) telling. I think they are questions that need to be asked, and answered. I need to know that even traditionally right-leaning voters (at least those in my circles) aren’t condoning this sort of behavior or accepting it as the new normal.

A lot of pundits and politicians have spoken recently about quitting the “violent rhetoric” and working together, so I think my questions are fair — can we indeed “come together” as a nation if multiple sides won’t interact with each other? And one side can’t propose solutions that the other side will accept, if we’re so divided that no one can tell what the other side is thinking.

Comments from other people (strangers) on the internet indicate that at least some conservatives actually do answer “yes” to some or all of my questions. But many, even within the Republican party, want the president to “stay focused” on his agenda and quit mouthing off on social media. I don’t know any of those people, so it’s difficult to know whether they’re bots or trolls. I was hoping at least one family member or conservative friend would respond.

Perhaps obviously, I think the correct answers are “no”, to all four questions. If there is a “yes” answer to any of the questions, I am still interested to know why.

(As for my non-conservative, non-regressive readers, who seem to be the only ones I have left, I welcome any guesses as to what the right is thinking about this.)

***

EDIT, 2017.07.05: I’ve reworded this post to use less divisive language, due in part to Michael’s comment below. I think he was correct that my original wording was not representative of my desire for open dialog.

What If The Shoe Was On The Other Foot?


The Thinker
A very distant relative of mine contemplates the deepest issues he can think of. Or maybe he’s merely smelling the poop on his fingers.
(Copyright © 2006 by Wil C. Fry.)

Thank you to everyone who participated in Monday’s discussion, both here on my blog entry and under my associated Facebook post, on the topic “When My Family’s Posts Are Racist And Sexist”. I received responses from varying spots on the political spectrum, not only from friends and family but from a handful of strangers.

So today, I wanted to ask an obvious followup question: “What if the shoe was on the other foot?” In other words, if it was ME who posted something offensive, incorrect, derogatory, or otherwise off-putting, how would I expect/want others to react?

Short answer: I want you to tell me. But you don’t have to an ass about it.

Read on for the longer, Wil-esque version.

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When My Own Family’s Posts Are Racist, Sexist

Categories: Bigotry, Personal, Racism, Sexism
Comments: 10 Comments
Published on: 2017.06.26

I’ve blurred the avatar and first name because I don’t want to focus on one individual’s behavior. But I’ve left the surname visible: this was posted by a member of my extended family, someone I’ve known since childhood.

I’ve been open about unfriending more than a dozen social media contacts last year (several of whom were real-life family/friends). As is natural for me, I’ve second-guessed that decision many times. I wonder repeatedly whether I should have remained “friends” with them online and challenged their posts — “call them out”, so to speak.

None of the issues were things I consider “political”; all were stances on very fundamental things like women’s rights, civil rights in general, freedom of speech/expression, whether sexual assault is okay, or whether we should favor environmental protections over obscene profits.

Months after all of that, I got a friend request from an extended family member who I knew as a child but haven’t had much contact with since then. I had no idea what I was in for.

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What Is Cultural Appropriation? And Why Is It Wrong?

Categories: Racism
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: 2017.06.20

My household has been busy recently, including a vacation in Galveston, visiting new babies on both my wife’s side and my side, starting swim lessons, and having birthday parties (BWF) and dance recitals (RLF). I also wrote an introspective and melancholy Father’s Day post.

Hopefully those are good excuses for not posting on this Verily blog in a while. But I have wanted to write here, and several topics have fluttered around in my brain. One of them is “cultural appropriation”.

Three years ago, I wrote a bit about “Columbusing” — which is related to but not exactly like cultural appropriation. In that entry though I focused specifically on meat pasties because of the NPR article that had caught my attention and didn’t drive toward a discussion of cultural appropriation — which is what I want to do soon.

As with any social or political viewpoint, I can be convinced with logical explanations, evidence, and clear definitions. This happened to me on the topics global warming and climate change, progressive taxation, gay marriage, and other issues. I changed my position once I more fully understood each topic. That might happen on cultural appropriation too. (My current position is: “I don’t really understand what the fuss is about, but I plan to learn more.”)

One problem is that I haven’t found a good working definition of it — certainly not a definition that fits all the scenarios. In specific instances I do understand the problem. For example when white people adopt hair styles traditionally associated with black people, and are praised for it, while black people are still kicked out of school or denied jobs for the same hair styles — there is a problem. But that problem is systemic ubiquitous racism, at least to my mind. It’s the fact that we (as a society) still treat people differently due to perceived race/ethnicity, even when we don’t intend to.

I hope to dig more deeply soon, because I don’t want to merely “I’m not convinced” my way through something that others claim is an issue. I want to know for sure. If any of my readers have more fully formed thoughts on cultural appropriation, feel free to share them in the comments below. It might help shape my research and writing on the topic. Thanks.

Maher Should Have Known Better

Comments: 6 Comments
Published on: 2017.06.03

Lots of folks are dumping their two cents’ worth about Bill Maher recently. I don’t carry cash or coins anymore, but here are some of my thoughts on the recent “incident”.

Background: Friday night (June 2), Real Time host Maher used the phrase “house nigger” — referring to himself — after guest Ben Sasse (a U.S. Senator) invited him to “work in the fields with us” in Nebraska. Criticism was almost immediate, coming from several directions, and the defense flew in just as quickly. By Saturday, Maher had publicly apologized, saying: “I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive, and I regret saying it and am very sorry.”

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Unfit Hypocrites At The Church Gym

Versions of this idea have existed since I was a youth in the 1980s — long before online social media existed.


The Metaphor Fallacy
This week’s silly meme compares a church to a gym and “out of shape people” to “hypocrites”.

It says: “Not going to church because of the ‘hypocrites’ is like not going to the gym because of ‘out of shape people’.”

So much is wrong here; I’m not sure where to start. I’m also having a difficult time assigning specific logical fallacies, so perhaps someone more versed in such things can help me out. At first, I thought it was the metaphorical fallacy, the mistaken belief that a metaphor provides an adequate cognitive frame for a given abstract concept. Now, I’m leaning toward false equivalence, in which “an anecdotal similarity is pointed out as equal, but the claim of equivalence doesn’t bear because the similarity is based on oversimplification or ignorance of additional factors”. Perhaps it’s something else. There might even be a straw man thrown in there.

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The Inherent Flaw In ‘Religious Freedom’ Laws

The past several years have seen a slew of “religious freedom” laws popping up — mostly in state governments, though a few arose at the federal level.


Still In The News
The “religious freedom” laws attempted in various states are an effort to head off court cases like the one mentioned in this story, about a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple and was later sued for discrimination.

As an example, take Texas’ current attempt: at least 18 separate bills in the 2017 legislative session. These cover any number of topics, all couched as “protecting the right of Texans to hold sincere religious beliefs”. The two that made it the farthest were House Bill 3859 and Senate Bill 522. The former would allow “faith-based” foster/adoption agencies to discriminate based purely on gender and sexual orientation; the latter regards county clerks opting to refuse marriage licenses to certain people. Others are added as amendments to unrelated must-pass bills, like the amendment to HB 2950 that would allow medical professionals to discriminate without repercussion if they claimed their discrimination was based in religion.

If you have the time, read the language of these bills/amendments and note some very important things. (Or just take my word for it.)

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Are Humans A Superior Species?

Here’s a question I found in a Facebook forum recently:


Why Nature Choosed?
English almost certainly isn’t the questioner’s first language, so I’m only considering the underlying assumptions in the question(s).
Why nature choosed humans to be superior . . . ?

Why not cats, whales, or eagles to lead . . . ?

English apparently isn’t the questioner’s first language, so I didn’t reject the post outright as I often do with poorly worded social media entries. However, the question itself rests on two major assumptions, which makes the question itself invalid — unless the audience agrees with those assumptions. (In logic, this is called the “complex question fallacy” or “loaded question”. The assumptions of the question force a false choice to the responder, as in the infamous example: “When did you stop beating your wife?”)

Here, I want to address the two assumptions, both of which seem frightfully common.

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Where Do Our Rights Come From?

The title of this entry is something I’ve been thinking about for a while — in brief spurts — but haven’t had a chance to sit down and really mull it over. What spurred me to finally deal with it was a post on Facebook, in which the American Humanist Association said “Nope” in response to a quote from our president (see image below).


From God In Heaven
This image, from the American Humanist Association’s Facebook page, contains a quotation from President Donald J. Trump, expressing a very popular opinion.

In the comments below that post, several interesting assertions were made:

• “…our rights were granted by a Constitution…”
• “Our rights are most certainly not granted to us by any document or institution.”
• “Rights are inherent, they aren’t granted by the Constitution.”
• “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR with certain UNALIENABLE Rights…” (quoting the Declaration of Independence)
• “Freedom does not come from the government or a sky monster, it is inherent in being human.”

Each person was sure they knew the answer. The Constitution grants our rights. Rights are inherent, not granted. The “Creator” endowed us with rights. Reading through this thread — and searching the internet for other input, it looks like these are the three major choices: God, government, or nature.

The conclusion I eventually came to is: Everyone is wrong. More fully stated, I discovered that few of these positions are supported by evidence or reason, and none of them are well-supported. I hope you’ll follow along with me as I attempt to sort this out, and as always I hope you’ll share your own views in the comments.

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10 Bogus Explanations For Millennials’ Lack Of Religion

Christians — especially mistaken authors like “Doctor” Alex McFarland — are pretty worried about the Pew survey which shows younger U.S.ians are leaving religion in droves. Logically, for anyone concerned with the longevity of religion, there have to be two immediate goals: (1) find out what’s driving millennials away from the church, and (2) figure out how to get them back.

Interestingly, that’s exactly what McFarland tries to do in his new book, some of which he repeated in a recent column published by Fox News. Perhaps unsurprisingly, McFarland immediately engages in what we atheists call “lying for Jesus” — inventing alternate reality and claiming it’s true.

Let’s take a look at his “ten reasons”.

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Wholly Unremarkable Observations On My Music Collection

Categories: Music, Personal
Comments: 5 Comments
Published on: 2017.04.30

Backstory: Now that we own a BlueTooth-enabled new car, I determined to curate my digital music collection, hoping to store on my phone just a “few” select songs that I don’t mind listening to anywhere, any time. So I went through every album on my hard drive over the past three days.


Neverday
Close-up photo of the guitar player for Neverday, a small-time band that played a Fourth of July Festival in Seminole, Oklahoma.
(Copyright © 2006 by Wil C. Fry.)

I’ve read that the average person owns 89 music albums (150 in the UK) — this was several years ago. I don’t know how true it is, or how we would calculate it in today’s world of digital music libraries and streaming services like Spotify.

I have more than 89. Way more.

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