jasonbwatson

October 9, 2014

More insanity

I do not mean this to be a dig at Nebraska at all, but the Cornhusker State is not where I would have expected to see a big push toward gender inclusiveness. Then again, the Nebraska motto is “Equality before the law,” so maybe some fine Nebraskans are confusing equality with insanity when it comes to this issue. On October 1 the Lincoln Journal Star ran an article entitled, “LPS staff’s transgender training concerns parents.” That story was picked up by Todd Starnes of Fox News, who published his thoughts on the subject on October 9. I have addressed the foolishness that is proliferating from the “gender inclusive” movement in this space before, so I will not rehash all of the previous points I have made. I will, however, provide you with a few examples of the idiocy that is infiltrating the public school system in Lincoln, Nebraska and will, no doubt, soon be making its way to a school system near you.

The Journal Star article’s lead paragraph states that Lincoln Public School leadership is addressing transgender issues with staff “so they can better help students.” The second paragraph is a quote from Brenda Leggiardo, the district’s coordinator of social workers and counselors: “The agenda we’re promoting is to help all kids succeed. We have kids who come to us with a whole variety of circumstances, and we need to equitably serve all kids.”

What does that look like, then? Well, apparently it includes not using the terms “boys” and “girls”. According to Rachel Terry, a parent with students in middle and high school in Lincoln and who intends to address to school board at their meeting on October 14, the school district’s personnel were given three handouts to assist them in “equitably serv[ing] all kids,” including one from GenderSpectrum.org entitled “12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness.” Step one reads like this:

Avoid asking kids to line up as boys or girls or separating them by gender. Instead, use things like “odd and even birth date,” or “Which would you choose: skateboards or bikes/milk or juice/dogs or cats/summer or winter/talking or listening.” Invite students to come up with choices themselves. Consider using tools like the “appointment schedule” to form pairs or groups. Always ask yourself, “Will this configuration create a gendered space?”

Having been in education for a number of years now, I can tell you that educators have far more important things to worry about than whether or not a configuration of students will create a gendered space. In fact, there would be many situations in which a gendered space would be entirely appropriate. The second step instructs teachers not to say things like “boys and girls,” “you guys” or “ladies and gentlemen” but to instead say things like “calling all readers,” “hey campers” or “could all of the athletes come here.” In other words, do not classify students by their gender, but feel free to classify them by their behaviors, talents or interests. And if that does not work, then create some goofy labels to use within the classroom such as the recommended “purple penguins” included on the handout.

Think that sounds crazy? It gets exponentially worse. Step 3 goes like this: “Provide an opportunity for every student to identify a preferred name or pronoun. At the beginning of the year or at Back- to-School Night, invite students and parents to let you know if they have a preferred name and/or pronoun by which they wish to be referred.” So not only do teachers in this scenario have to remember not to address students as boys and girls, they must also ask students what name and pronoun they would prefer and then remember those all year, too. And of course when we begin allowing people to choose whatever name or pronoun they want we eliminate any semblance of reality or fact. Instead, everything becomes based on whatever someone feels like or prefers at any given time. Oh, unless you feel like being in an academic environment wherein boys are boys, girls are girls and pronouns are the old stand-bys “he, she, him and her.” If that is what you prefer you’re just out of luck. And out of touch with what is politically correct these days, too.

Step 5 of the GenderSpectrum worksheet instructs teachers to avoid using references to gender but, if such references are unavoidable, to say “boy, girl, both or neither” and then, “when asked why, use this as a teachable moment.” Just for fun, try this next time you’re out to eat and placing your drink order. Tell your server you’d like “Coke, Pepsi, both or neither” and see what you get. Tell the fast food employee on the other end of the intercom at the drive-thru that you’d like “a hamburger, a chicken sandwich, both or neither.” When you see your doctor next time tell him that you seem to be having “trouble hearing, upset stomach, both or neither.” Better yet, when you go to the ballot box next month, try indicating that you’d like to vote for “candidate A, candidate B, both or neither.” See what they do with your ballot. These examples are ridiculous, of course, and that is because there are actual distinctions and it is not possible for it to be both things. Gender is no different, try as anyone may to change that. It matters not how someone feels or chooses to identify, their gender is their gender.

Now, that makes me intolerant and openly hostile, and I realize and accept that. I wear that label with pride, actually. Ryan Dobson wrote a book a few years ago entitled Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid. I could not have said it better myself. What it really comes down to, of course, is the relativism that those who promote this kind of gender inclusiveness want to see infiltrate every area of society. Indeed, number 10 on the GenderSpectrum sheet says, “Teach them phrases like ‘That may be true for some people, but not all people.'”

Feel free to look for the articles on this subject online–you will find plenty more to fuel your aggravation. But I’ll close with this gem from Todd Starnes: “While we’re on the subject, what’s a gender-neutral term for morons?”

September 9, 2014

Interesting applications?

On August 29 an article by John Brandon appeared on FoxNews.com. The article was entitled, “Is there a microchip implant in your future?” The article’s lead paragraph offers several ways in which said implant could make life simpler…safer, even. For example, you could pass through airport security with your identity being transmitted via your implant, or “it can help you buy groceries at Wal Mart.” Possibly, the implant could help save your life should you ever find yourself kidnapped in a foreign country.

Brandon writes, “Microchip implants like the ones pet owners use to track their dogs and cats could become commonplace in humans in the next decade.” That simple statement is one that I find incredibly alarming, and I suspect most people will agree. Brandon lists potential advantages as including the quick location of a missing or kidnapped child or of soldiers or journalists in war zones. While those are possible advantages, there are also, of course, many possible disadvantages. During the last presidential campaign season Republican Ron Paul was mostly mocked when he pointed out that a suggested national identification card that might be used to address immigration issues could just as easily be misused by the government against U.S. citizens. The reality, though, is that such misuse is entirely possible, and the potential danger of such misuse is exponentially higher with a microchip implanted into a person than with any kind of identification card.

Brandon’s article cites Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, an author and scholar, as saying that implanted microchips could be “less intrusive than some emerging ID systems which rely on physical biometrics (like your fingerprints or unique eye pattern).” While that argument could no doubt be made, and probably convincingly, it fails to take into consideration the fact that my fingerprints or unique eye pattern (with a retinal scan, for instance) are only usable when I offer them or, in the case of fingerprints, leave them behind. Would it be easier to walk through some unseen detection system that reads my implant and immediately grants me access to a restricted area than to pause, place my eye against some kind of scanner and wait for it to read my retina? Probably. But I think I’ll take the retinal scan every time, thank you, because it is up to me whether I want to submit myself to that scan or not.

While Brandon’s article cites all kinds of possible advantages for crime fighting and security that could be provided with the implants, it seems to me that an implant could quite possibly be easier to steal than fingerprints or retinas. Maybe I’ve seen too many spy moves and crime thrillers in which complex security systems must be foiled, but if all that is necessary is for someone to have the chip that is inside me I cannot imagine it bothering them to make a small incision and remove it if that chip is going to get them whatever it is they are wanting (and they have already demonstrated a willingness to get it through illegal means). The article informs us that the chips are “easy to install and remove, and, because they are implanted under the skin, they are unobtrusive.” Unobtrusive is good…easy to remove may not be when considering the possible criminal applications of these devices.

Brandon also writes that these microchips are being used “to manage farm animals. Farmers can track sheep, pigs and horses as they move through a gate, weigh them instantly and make sure they are eating properly.” For the farmer or rancher that may be terrific. But do I really want someone–anyone–to have the ability to track me as I move anywhere, to weigh me instantly or make sure that I am eating properly? Do I want anyone to be able to do any of the myriad other things that an implanted chip would allow? And, by the way, am I the only one troubled by the idea that if it works for livestock it surely must be a good idea for humans? Such “logic” is a step onto a very dangerous way of thinking indeed.

The article further states that implants are “normally” only useful within a short range, meaning they could not be used to track people unless there was “an infrastructure of transponders scattered around a city that read their identity in public buildings and street corners.” There are two things about this statement that I find exceedingly troubling. First, the word “normally” indicates that there are exceptions; if trying to still concerns about possible abuses of this technology, “normally” is a poor word choice! Secondly, given the ever-expanding presence of cameras in cities around the world–for the purpose of fighting crime, of course–I do not find that stretches credulity at all to imagine that “an infrastructure of transponders” could easily be “scattered around a city.”

Other possible uses Brandon identifies? “If children were chipped, teachers could take attendance in the classroom.” Um, no thank you. It doesn’t take so long to put eyes on a child, or even to call names and have children respond “here” that we need to facilitate the taking of attendance by means of microchips. What else, then? “Police could track cars and read data without needing to scan license plates.” Again, I think I’ll pass, thanks. There are ample abuses of the technology that exists already, but various government agencies; the idea of giving them even stronger technology with greater potential for abuse is not appealing in the least. A final possible use Brandon suggests: “[I]f you walk into a donut shop, the owner could read your taste preferences (glazed or not glazed) without needing a loyalty card.” Beyond the idea that I find this ridiculous and not even close to being a need, this would serve only to create even more disconnect between humans–something we have more than enough of as it is.

To his credit, Brandon does include a few possible abuses of the technology and questions as to whether not implanting chips in humans is ethical. Among the potential abuses mentioned are someone “hacking into the infrastructure and stealing your identity to invading your privacy and knowing your driving habits.” Brandon even talked to Troy Dunn who has a show on TNT in which he attempts to locate missing persons. While he said microchip technology would likely make his job easier, he is “strongly against the practice for most people.” He said he would support the use of chips for “convicted felons while in prison and on parole; for sex offenders forever; and for children if parents opt in.”

Stu Lipoff, a spokesman for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said, “People might find it a bit unsavory, but if it is not used to track you, and apart from the privacy issues, there are many interesting applications.” No doubt; but these are major “ifs” and “apart froms,” ones far bigger than I would be willing to toss out. Saying “if it is not used to track you, and apart from the privacy issues” is akin to asking, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” Sometimes the potential upside cannot even come close to the probably downside.

Interestingly enough, Brandon ended his article with this statement about the microchips: “At least it’s better than having a barcode stitched into our foreheads.” Yeah, probably so–less obtrusive an all that. But the implication is the same. Scripture makes it clear that there will come a day when the government requires a “mark” for buying and selling. Don’t be surprised if it takes the form of an implanted microchip.

June 10, 2014

Wrong time, wrong place

Just to prove I am an equal opportunity critiquer (and yes, I did just make up that word), today I am going to offer some criticism of one of the conservative right’s most revered figures, Dr. James Dobson.

On May 1 Dobson used the platform of the National Day of Prayer to criticize President Barack Obama. If you read this blog you are well aware that I am not opposed to criticizing President Obama when appropriate. Furthermore, given that this space is my own personal blog, I can say whatever I want here. Anyone who wants to read it is welcome to and anyone who would rather not is welcome to skip it. Dr. Dobson has plenty of vehicles for sharing his thoughts about the president, and I am not opposed to the fact that he criticized Obama or even, actually, what he said. Dr. Dobson, however, chose an inappropriate time and venue to make his comments.

According to the National Day of Prayer’s own web site, “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. … It stands as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people.” The site goes on to state that the National Day of Prayer unites “Americans from all socio-economic, political and ethnic backgrounds in prayer for our nation.” Quite simply, the National Day of Prayer is to be a non-partisan event wherein political differences are put aside so that those from anywhere along the political spectrum who believe in the God of the Bible can join together in seeking His wisdom, guidance and blessing for America. The National Day of Prayer is intended to be, in a word, nonpartisan.

During his remarks this year, however, Dr. Dobson said, “Before [Obama] was elected, he made it very clear that he wanted to be the abortion president. He didn’t make any bones about it, that this is something that he was really going to promote and support. And he has done that. And in a sense, he is the abortion president.”

Even if you agree with Dobson’s comments–and as I said above, I do–it is clear based on the description of the National Day of Prayer that this was neither the time nor the place for Dobson to make this statement. If the gathering is truly supposed to welcome those from all political backgrounds this is an offensive statement. California Democratic Representative Janice Hahn walked out of the gathering because of Dobson’s remarks. To my knowledge she is the only one who did so, and Dobson seized on this fact to legitimize and defend his remarks.

According to an article on ChristianPost.com, Dobson “told [FOX News’ Megyn] Kelly that, in his speech, he wasn’t only referencing Obama, but was also talking about people’s response to the mandate and abortion, in general. ‘It’s very difficult for people who aren’t part of the sanctity of life movement to understand just how intensely we feel the issue of the killing of babies.'” I feel intensely about the killing of babies, too. There is probably no issue on which I feel more intensely. But the National Day of Prayer is not the place to make the remark Dobson made and, try though he might, there is no way to interpret his remarks to mean anything other than a direct attack on Barack Obama.

Hahn told Roll Call, “We have this annual, national day of prayer, which is supposed to bring the whole country together to pray for our nation, and typically you put politics aside and you come together. Dr. Dobson just absolutely violated that, and I really think he did damage to what we try to do up here in Washington, D.C.” I may have never said this before and may never say it again, I don’t know, but I agree with Rep. Hahn.

Dobson told Megyn Kelly, “One person chose to walk out, as far as we know, and that’s what everybody focuses on. But the people who were there were with me 100 percent, because they also believe in the sanctity of human life.” If it is not hyperbole that is an incredibly bold assertion to make. I find it difficult to believe that Dobson knows what everyone in the room thinks about the sanctity of life. Even if he did, and even if everyone in the room not only defends the sanctity of life but believes that Obama is the “abortion president,” it was still not the right time for Dobson to make his statement.

In April, when the National Day of Prayer was highly criticized for being a “searingly sectarian event” that promoted evangelical beliefs, John Bornschein, the vice chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said that the event was nonsectarian and was “purely about prayer and praying for our leadership and asking for God’s wisdom and blessing over our leaders.” That is indeed what the event should be. As Rep. Hahn said, however, James Dobson “hijacked” the event to promote his own views. There are plenty of ways in which the sanctity of life could have been supported and defended without specifically attacking the president. If Dobson wanted to go after the president specifically he could have followed up on his comments at the event with additional comments later on, adding the attack on Obama. After all, it is not as if Dobson has ever had a hard time attracting media attention.

Do Christians need to take a public stand in defense of the sanctity of life? Absolutely. They must not do it, though, at events that are advertised and promoted as being nonsectarian and nonpartisan. This is deceptive, inappropriate and, in my opinion, harms the testimony of the Church.

December 15, 2012

“This is a heart issue”

Yesterday’s shooting in an elementary school in Colorado is a tragedy, and there is absolutely no other word for it. I have addressed here before the question of why God would allow such things to happen (see my September 27 post, “Why Does God Allow Tragedy and Suffering?”) but that question is on many lips and in many minds again now. I do not, at the moment, have anything new to add to the answers I provided on that question three months ago. I do, however, want to chime in on the answers given in response to that very question by Mike Huckabee on FOX News on Friday evening. His comments have already generated a fire storm of online commentary, mostly against. But I think what Mr. Huckabee said has considerable merit.

First, what exactly did he say? When asked about the shooting, and why God would allow such a thing, Huckabee said, “When we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools, should we be so surprised that schools have become a place for carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, responsibility, accountability?”

Elliot Friar, on Policymic.com, took Huckabee to task for these comments (he did the same in response to comments Huckabee made after the shooting in the Colorado theater last summer). Friar writes, “What makes you so sure that your God is the answer to all evils? Over and over you say that people kill people, guns don’t. Well, we supply the people that kill people with guns that do, in fact, kill people. Between 2006 and 2010, a staggering 47,856 people were killed by firearms in the U.S. More than any other way of killing. Guns do kill, and they kill a lot. … How dare you blame their deaths on the absence of religion in our schools and in their lives. Even God himself, any God, could not prevent the easy purchase of multiple assault rifles to murder elementary school students.”

Well Mr. Friar, first of all, God Himself could prevent the easy purchase of guns if He wanted to. That gets into the questions I addressed in September, so I won’t elaborate on that here. But you’re also missing Huckabee’s point. He is not denying that the bullets and the guns do the actual killing. He is denying that it is the guns themselves that are the problem. If somehow the United States eliminated all privately owned guns with the snap of a finger, the thoughts and desires that lead people to kills dozens of innocent people, whether adults or children, in a theater or a school, would not also disappear. There was another tragedy in a school yesterday too; a man in China stabbed 22 children. Should China ban knives, Mr. Friar?

Mr. Huckabee’s point is that when we make everything relative, when we refuse to teach children that there are such things as absolutes, when we make excuses for wrongs rather than holding wrongdoers accountable…that is how we “set the stage” for these kinds of tragedies. No one thinks about the possible consequences of taking ideas to their extremes. Instead, we think about lovely it would be to eliminate the rules and let everyone do whatever they want. After all, why should any one person, group of people, or even God, have the right to tell me or anyone else what I can and cannot do? That sounds dandy in theory. But in reality, when boundaries are eliminated and right and wrong cease to exist, chaos results. Anarchy is an incredibly frightening thing. If there are no rules, no absolutes, how can we say that the perpetrator in Connecticut was wrong? He was, of course, but I can only say that because I believe in right and wrong. Interestingly, everyone seems to believe in right and wrong moments after a tragedy. But then it’s too late…the damage has been done.

Prior to make the statements cited above, Mr. Huckabee said, “Ultimately, you can take away every gun in America and somebody will use a gun. When somebody has an intent to do incredible damage, they’re going to find a way to do it.
People will want to pass new laws…. This is a heart issue — laws don’t change this kind of thing.” At the conclusion of his remarks Huckabee said of God, “Maybe we oughta let him in on the front and we wouldn’t have to call him when it’s all said and done on the back end.”

That’s the irony, I’m afraid. As Huckabee suggested, America has been engaged in a systematic effort to remove God from the public square for decades; all efforts at insisting on and teaching morality are met with cries of Puritanism or extreme right wing religious zealotry. Why, then, when our culture wants nothing to do with God, seldom even bothering to acknowledge His existence, is the first instinct to look at Him and ask why He would let this happen? God is a God of love…but we cannot ignore Him all the time and then blame Him when things don’t work out. The law of the harvest still exists…we will reap what we sow.

January 26, 2012

Protecting the Minds of Impressionable Youth

In recent weeks there has been a flurry of activity in New York City over the efforts on the part of the Board of Education to no longer allow churches or other religious organizations to meet in school facilities when school is not in session. Originally the Board of Education and the New York Housing Authorities announced that they would no longer allow churches to meet in schools or community centers. After protests, the Housing Authorities announced on January 6 that it would reverse its position, but the Board of Education has not changed its mind and, unless something changes, as of February 12 the ban will take effect. According to a report in WORLD, “If the ban prevails, more than 150 congregations will have to move to other meeting space starting next month–and that’s hard to find in New York City.”

So what exactly is the problem? After all, churches without their own meeting space have met in schools and other community buildings for decades. I can remember being part of a church start up as a child, and we met in a bank and then in a public school auditorium until the church was able to purchase land and put up its own building. Not only is the school space typically sitting vacant when many churches meet (Sundays), the churches rent the space, providing income for the school system, the city or the county. The problem, apparently, is the damage that allowing churches to meet in school facilities may do to the minds of young people. Tiffany Owens’ article in WORLD cites the Board of Education as saying that the ban will “protect the minds of ‘impressionable youth.'”

The Bronx Household of Faith took the New York Board of Education to court over the ban. I would have expected the courts to rule in favor of the churches. After all, it is established precedent that if a public facility it going to allow outside groups to rent its space (or use it for free, whatever its guidelines may be) it cannot discriminate as to what kinds of groups may use the space. Much to my surprise, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that a church has no right to use a school for its place of worship. Then last December the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, thereby upholding the lower court’s ruling.

Let’s dig into this matter a bit more, shall we? Marci Hamilton is an attorney and a columnist for Justia.com. According to her bio on the site she is “one of the leading church/state scholars in the United States and the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.” In her article for the site today she analyzes the issue in order to support her position that the courts got it right. As she states them, the facts of the case include a New Your City Department of Education rule barring the use of school facilities for religious worship services, but allowing “religious clubs and groups to use public schools, just as the Boy Scouts and other extracurricular clubs did, as long as the clubs’ and groups’ activities were open to the general public.” The Bronx Household of Faith uses a middle school for its weekly worship service and a fellowship meal that follows the service. Hamilton says the church was not charged rent (though other sources, including FOX News, have reported that the church did pay rent), and commented that the church “dominates the building with its religious use of the premises on Sundays.” Here is the apparent rub, though: the church “excludes from its services and post-service meals anyone who is not baptized, is excommunicated, and/or advocates the Islamic religion,” according to Hamilton. According to Judge Pierre Leval of the 2nd Circuit, however, the church excludes such individuals from “full participation” in its services.

Now I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t bother me one bit. In fact I would expect that. Almost ANY group has requirements for full participation or membership. Even, by the way, public schools! A public school will not allow a student who has only taken 5th grade math to enroll for a Trigonometry class, for example. And, believe it or not, a public school will not allow a student to participate in graduation exercises or receive a diploma until he or she has met all of the requirements/standards for graduation. Kinda sounds like requiring baptism for full participation, doesn’t it? And a public school will not allow a student who has been suspended or expelled from school to be on school property, let alone participate in school activities. Sound anything like excluding individuals who have been excommunicated from the church? And a public school will also exclude students who advocate dangerous or threatening activities. A church should have a right to consider Islam dangerous or threatening if it so desires.

Hamilton goes on to note that, “the intensity of the religious worship use undoubtedly leads students to believe that the church and its views are being endorsed by the school, and thus leads to likely confusion regarding the connection between the religious group and the public school.” Hogwash, I say. By the time they are in middle school most students are plenty smart enough to understand that a group using the school outside of school hours is not necessarily connected with or endorsed by the school at all. Hamilton claims that the issue is akin to that in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez in which it was ruled that Hastings Law School could exclude the Christian Legal Society from receiving school funds–even though other student groups receive such funds–because the group had a policy that violated the school’s “all-comers policy” by refusing to allow homosexuals in the group.

Hamilton’s position is that allowing churches to have services in schools will “open the door for white supremacist, misogynist, and anti-homosexual religious organizations to take up weekly residence in the public schools.” Her language is extreme, and intentionally so I am sure, but again I say, “So what?” If other community groups have positions that I disagree with I do not automatically assume that those positions are held or endorsed by the person, organization or entity who owns the space in which the group is meeting. According to Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, “of the top 50 school districts in the nation, New York City is the only school district that has a policy banning worship services.” In other words, this statement by Leval is ridiculous: “In the end, we think the board could have reasonably concluded that what the public would see, were the Board not to exclude religious worship services, is public schools, which serve on Sundays as state-sponsored Christian churches.” Do we have a nation full of state-sponsored churches? Nope. And I don’t know one single person who thinks we do, either.

So here’s what I think: if we really want to protect the minds of impressionable youth, lets not worry about letting churches meet in school facilities on Sundays. Lets worry about the filth “we the people” are paying teachers to pour into the minds of our public school students every day.

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