Category Archives: Media

Social Justice Warriors are hampered by intellectual dishonesty

“Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling would open his show with the following:

You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead. Your next stop: the Twilight Zone.

As I recently wrote, all the signs currently point to the world entering the Twilight Zone. What I  mean is that it is really difficult to determine whether a lot of people are living in reality or fiction.

For example, when I turn on my computer and choose to watch the news instead of entertain myself with science fiction, I see protesters explaining to a reporter why they are out in the street. What comes out of their mouths are best termed conspiracy theories, devoid of logic and truth.

The media aids and abets this warped thinking with its twisted reports. Their reports are seductive, for they pose as news.

Further, news organizations are in charge of what we see and hear on our devices. We may not be getting the most important news.

To be fair to the mob, we are full of false beliefs and memories. As I was writing this an article popped up in my Twitter feed from the Wall Street Journal which discusses research about individual self awareness.

“Most of us are not as self aware as we think we are,” writes author Elizabeth Bernstein.

Reporting on the research of psychologist Tasha Eurich, Bernstein notes:

When it comes to self-knowledge, she says there are three types of people: those who have it, those who underestimate how much they have (she calls them “underraters”) and those who overestimate how much they have (“overraters”). Underraters beat themselves up unnecessarily. Overraters believe they do everything well.

Some of us think that we have wonderful memories, also. I personally think mine is flawed, but I do have a close childhood friend who I believe has an exquisite ability to fill in the blanks for me on my lost memories. However, he may not be as astute as I think he is.

In a 2013 piece, The Atlantic asked “How Many of Your Memories are Fake?” Erica Hayasaki reported that even people with something called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory sometimes have their remembrances wrong.

One of the reasons for these mistakes in memory is that that our minds are subject to manipulation.

Simone Weil, one of the great philosophers of the first half of the 20th century, wrote that imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life. Unfortunately, she herself was evidence of this.

During World War II Weil contracted tuberculosis while in England.  She was there hoping to be sent to France to work for the Resistance. As a show of support for the French, she only ate what she “believed” the French person under German occupation would feed on. She died.

The coroner’s report said:  “the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed”.

Despite this sad end,  Simone Weil is credited with seeking for truth during her short life.

 

A great student and thinker, she had a higher degree in philosophy. Weil also studied several religions.  In 1935 she was drawn to the Christian faith.  She wrote in her “Spiritual Autobiography” that her concept of life was Christian.

In the same work, Weil described Jesus as the truth. She also had a high regard for the Bible. Weil wrote:

Christ made promises to the Church, but none of these promises has the force of the expression “Thy Father who seeth in secret.” The word of God is the secret word. He who has not heard this word, even if he adheres to all the dogmas taught by the Church, has no contact with truth.

Weil chose to live out her faith outside of the traditional church. She believed that Christianity was “catholic (i.e., universal) by right but not in fact.”

“So  many things are outside it, so many things that I love and do not want to give up, so many things that God loves, otherwise they would not be in existence,” she wrote.

Weil was not only an intellectual and devoted person of faith, but she was also politically active. Like a lot of young people, she was a political leftist. At the age of 10 she decided she was a Bolshevik.

Weil supported Communist movements in Europe. She wrote articles debating both capitalism and socialism. Although she was a terrible soldier, Weil tried to fight for the republicans during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

 

If she were alive today, Weil would grasp the attraction of modern groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter to today’s youth. She chose to try to reach the revolutionaries of her day and with truth outside of the Church.

Social enthusiasms have such power today, they raise people so effectively to the supreme degree of heroism in suffering and death, that I think it is as well that a few sheep should remain outside the fold in order to bear witness that the love of Christ is essentially something different.

Would that our latter day young social justice warriors, so full of a desire to change the world, add the zeal for truth possessed by Simone Weil to their repertoire. They could do it if they wished.

Weil wrote:

After months of inward darkness, I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment.

I can only hope and pray for this kind of effort toward intellectual honesty today. It is severely lacking.

 

 

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Today’s world resembles the Twilight Zone

In “22”, an episode of the old TV series “Twilight Zone”, Liz Powell is having a recurring nightmare, except to her, it is all too real.

The events are the same every time. It begins with Liz lying in a bed in a hospital. She is there due to nervous exhaustion.

In the dream Liz awakes to the ticking of a clock.  She reaches for a water glass and knocks it onto the floor, where it shatters.

Liz hears receding footsteps and follows them out into a hallway. She catches a glimpse of a nurse getting on an elevator.  Liz watches as the elevator indicator lights reveal that it has reached the hospital basement.

Liz takes the elevator to the basement and sees Room 22. It is home to the hospital morgue.

A smiling, smug-looking young nurse walks out and says,”Room for one more, honey.” The screaming Liz scampers down the hall toward the elevator.

Despite the assurances of the hospital psychiatrist, Liz believes her experience is not a dream. She insists that it is genuine.

In his imitable way, “Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling tells after the initial showing of Liz’s dream: “At this moment we have just finished walking with her in a nightmare.

In a moment she’ll wake up and we’ll remain at her side. The problem here is that both Miss Powell and you will reach a point where it might be difficult to decide which is reality and which is nightmare. A problem uncommon perhaps but rather peculiar to the Twilight Zone.”

The “Twilight Zone” aired in the early 1960s. Five and a half decades ago, the depictions of horrific ambiguity were clearly fictional.

Viewers at the time watched the show to be entertained, knowing that afterwards they would return back to a world of truth and clarity.

The problem in the first quarter of the 21st century is that we have reached a point  where it IS difficult to decide like Liz Powell whether we are living in reality or a nightmare.  We ARE living in the Twilight Zone.

We all know about fake news.  There is propaganda everywhere.

But sometimes the news gives us absurdity that is unbelievably factual. This week, for example, ESPN took an Asian American announcer by the name of Robert Lee off a University of Virginia football game because his name could trigger the weak.

This poor man had a moniker that was identical (sans middle initial) to that of the Confederate general whose statue created the controversy which resulted in riots on the UVA campus. Antifa leftists clashed with white supremacists over the validity of  honoring a man who fought to keep slavery.

Robert E. Lee was a hero in Virginia at the time I was a child there. No more.

Part of the reason this is so is because today’s young person lacks knowledge. They either are being given a warped view of history in the classroom or they have chosen to see only one side of a man people of my youth thought of as a noble person.

It is easy to get suckered into false beliefs. I am exhibit 1 for this statement.

I was in my mid-thirties when I earned a graduate degree and changed careers. My father came to my graduation.

During a party in my home I showed him a brochure of the school where I planned to work. It was a start-up language program at a small college.

My father got one look at the name of the school, which identified it as one which had a Christian focus, and he quickly issued this judgement.

“You’ve never had a steady job your whole life and now you want to go work for this Christian group.”

I was shocked and offended. Never mind that the event was supposed to be celebratory. For crying out loud (a phrase I have inherited from Dad), I had just received a Master’s degree.

For probably the first time in my life I contested what Dad had said to me. I argued that before coming to grad school I had worked 11 years for a company where I had been steadily promoted.

I had had two kids through this companies health insurance for basically nothing. My savings there had helped pay for grad school.

This conversation with my father was a catharsis for me. Through it I came to understand that just because he said it didn’t make it so. I had been very much tied emotionally to his opinion of me.

To be fair to Dad, my opinion of him was also flawed over the years. It has taken me a lifetime of hard knocks to comprehend that in many ways he was a good man. For example, Dad helped me with expenses as I pursued my graduate degree.

It is not surprising that a show like the Twilight Zone presents stories filled with weird twists and ambiguity. After all, it was supposed to be science fiction.

Sadly, today’s “truth” is stranger than fiction at times. We see it not only in the news media, but in our personal lives. Individuals, for example, are now being called racist if they hold a view that history is worth saving. It is helpful if you become a target of such an accusation to state “just because they say it is so does not make it so.”

Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction author, coined his own law in the 1950s which states that “ninety percent of everything is crud.” He developed a precursor to this adage which says that “nothing is always absolutely so.”

Much of what we absorb today is like Liz Powell’s nightmare. It is crap.

Yet, we may be able to receive a warning through our encounter with the crud. Liz did.

(Spoiler alert)

At the end of “Room 22″ Liz is shown boarding a plane to Miami after having been released from the hospital. The flight number is 22.

As she enters the airplane, she is greeted by a flight attendant who looks exactly like the nurse in her dream. The woman says to Liz,”Room for one more, honey.”

As in her dream, Liz scurries away, but this time back to the terminal. She watches as the plane she was to be on explodes on takeoff.

It’s important in the midst of our cultural decline into the Twilight Zone that we seek to learn what we can from the light we do have.  It could save our lives. More on this in the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Charlottesville: love needs to be combined with universal truth

When I was a teenager there was a book floating around in Christian circles about situational ethics with the title “It All Depends.”

I still remember the title because I think even in my youthful state I could not understand a philosophy that  seemed to have no hard and fast rules.  In my memory I have falsely added the intensifier “really to “all depends”, probably because my mind mocks the philosophy of situational ethics.

In short, this system of thought states that what is moral is decided not by law, but through a consideration of  the entire circumstances at hand. The ultimate goal is to respond in love.

In principle this idea of doing the “loving” thing sounds good to me. I have grown a lot since my teen years and know that not everything is cut and dried or is as it seems.

In the recent days of political upheaval in the US. there have been calls for loving each other by our president and even sports stars like Lebron James.  I see nothing wrong with that idea. As a believer in Jesus I see it as totally biblical. I even thought of it myself in trying to determine how we should respond to each other in the midst of all the chaos in our country.

But love is such an abstract idea. To have any foundation, it also needs to be combined with truth.  Pastor John Piper says that truth and love support each other. “Truth aims at love” and “love aims at truth,” he writes.

As I noted in my last post, truth in American society seems to have been thrown out the window. We live in a nation in which emotion and personal beliefs rule the day.

Piper writes,”Truth shapes how we show love.” If we attempt to show love based only on how we feel and believe, the consequences  may not truly be loving.

Because truth has been dispensed with, we are being governed in our decision making by a gutted situational ethics.  People just do what they seem to think is right.

We’ve seen the extremes of this with white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. Identity politics has reached even the majority. What had been deemed abominable in the last part of the 20th century, i.e., the putting down of people based on their color, is rising again.

On some college campuses the previously put upon African-American minority is also calling for a return to the bad old days of segregation, albeit for different reasons then those which motivated Jim Crow laws. These students just want to feel safe.

Both of these extremes are motivated by personal beliefs and emotion. A dose of truth serum is needed in the mix if we are to show true love.

I am informed about the nature of truth by one of the foundations of Western civilization: The Ten Commandments. They are pretty straightforward. It’s difficult to quibble with “honor your father and mother” and “you shall not murder.”

I think I am on the right track here in my pursuit of genuine love. Piper tells me that John, a disciple of Jesus, wrote that we show God’s love when we keep His commands.

“So John tells us some truth will help us know if our acts are loving,” writes Piper. “One truth test of love is if we are keeping the commandments of God towards people.”

Even so, it is hard to apply such commands in our own relationships in today’s times. It helps to get some insight from people who have thought deeply about the meaning of these truths.

Currently a place I am finding such wisdom is in a book called “To Be a Christian.” It’s a catechism produced by the Anglican Church.

In one section is provides some practical advice on how to keep the Ten Commandments and some ways we can violate them.

For example, it expands on the command to honor your father and mother by stating a principle that we should honor the aged and submit to our teachers, pastors and directors. The catechism also calls for respecting tradition and civil authorities.

I haven’t seen much respect given towards civil authorities in the news this week. In fact, what I have seen in the media is rioting, destruction of property and the killing of police officers.

Jesus expanded on the truth of what it means to murder. He said we break this commandment when we are angry with others. The catechism does say that there is a place for proper anger, but that for the most part that our anger is motivated by things that are not right.

If there is one adjective that can be used to describe a lot of Americans today, it is the term “angry.”

I would maintain that the only way we are ever going to love one another and thus heal our nation is by returning to God and His universal truth.  Relying solely on situation ethics, sentiment, feelings, personal opinions and some undefined concept of love is not cutting it.

 

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America is a post truth society in turmoil

 

In my post “The muddled mess of truth today”, I discussed how news site editors like to twist headlines to convey a point of view.  These kinds of banners are not hard to find. Just open up a news feed.

Before me right now is the headline “Amidst Trump Turmoil, Pence carves his own identity.”  Looks benign enough, right? The US Vice President is becoming his own man in the midst of our president’s own mess.

Well, not so fast. The editor has already asked us to take for granted that the current president is encompassed by all kinds of  horrible commotion by their use of the term “turmoil.” It’s a loaded word full of negativity. Who wants turmoil?

In my view, this idea that Trump’s administration is in “turmoil” is a matter of perception and open to debate. I have some questions.

I wonder if President Trump sees himself as surrounded by turmoil.  What does he think about it if he does? Who or what is causing the turmoil?

The answers produced from those questions are also a matter of one’s point of view. Some think our president creates turmoil out of his own alleged incompetence and vulgarity. Others think he also creates chaos because he thrives on it and works better in such an atmosphere.

Mr. Trump’s supporters think that there is no turmoil in the president’s White House. They believe that the media or the president’s opponents have fabricated this as a story.

Those of Mr. Trump’s advocates who do see tension around him also believe the media is at fault. They say that the media is actually creating the disorder to bring the president down.

It’s really difficult in today’s media to get at the truth amidst all the click bait. The owners and editors of news organizations seem to have other agendas they want to follow which triumph over truth. Their goals appear to be more financial and political in nature.

The media is not the only institution where something besides the truth is emphasized. If the purveyors of communication have contributed to the tumult in our society because of their departure from the road to truth, so has the justice system.

Like the media, the American judicial system also has other priorities which supersede discerning the truth. This includes taking the human element out of the equation and emphasizing rules. In an article comparing the American system of justice to the European one, Ellis Washington writes, “Under the Anglo-American/common law system of jurisprudence, especially over the past 100 years, rules trump the truth.”

Washington notes that in the last half century that the US Supreme Court “made up out of whole cloth” criminal defenses which emphasize procedure over the rule of law.  In other words, ‘rules’ rule over  a principle meant to provide fair and equal justice to everyone.

For example, some of SCOTUS’s rulings  developed into something we see all the time on the ubiquitous cop shows on TV: the reading of Miranda Rights. (“You have the right to remain silent, etc. etc.”). We all know what happens if a police officer blows it and doesn’t read a perp their rights.

Washington says such cases “have thoroughly perverted the rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, plunging American law, culture and society into our present state of chaos.” Judges are handicapped by rules imposed from above. Criminals go free when rules are broken. Police are tempted to perjure themselves if they break a rule in their arrest.

Washington thinks the Continental System is much better because it gives judges a freer hand. It allows them to be more involved in the cases before them and better arrive at the truth.

Following the Continental System, he says, would be better “because the law’s primary purpose should not be to legalistically follow a case-driven, judge-centered template, not the rules of evidence, not politics, liberalism, conservatism, feminism, humanism, secularism, positivism, pragmatism or any other ‘ism’… but justice, equality under law and veritas – truth.”

Sadly, in today’s America “isms” do tend to run the show in the courtroom.  Judges are more known for their political views then who they are as human beings. Conservatives, for example, think of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as a bastion of left wing thought. The progressive believes Supreme Court justice Atonin Scalia was a reactionary. Who today focuses on the judge’s ability to arrive at the truth? They instead zero in on their politics.

That we live in a society devoid of truth is evidenced by a term such as ‘post-truth’ receiving the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year Award for 2016. It is a word which Oxford defines as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

There are people who think the Western concept of the rule of law is strong and able to withstand the assault on it described above. British attorney Tamas Lukasi is not worried about the effect of a post-truth world on our legal system. He stresses the soundness of Western law:

“Lawyers are often seen as a greedy and unethical profession; and law as bureaucratic red-tape. To deny this perception would itself be a post-truth posture. Though I happen to have a better opinion of lawyers and the law, who cares about opinions? It is rather facts that should matter. And the fact is facts matter in law and they matter a lot.”

“I am quite confident,” he writes,” that until the deeply rooted rules on legal argument, evidence and standard of proof stand strong, the legal process cannot be else but immune to post-truth. The rule of law has survived much turmoil.”

Despite the convoluted sentence, I presume Lukasi means in context that our Western judicial system will triumph. (He seems to mean “while” the rules stand strong, not “until.” Blame HIS editor.)

I’m not so sure our judicial system is winning. The current situation in it, the media, and other Western institutions is as confusing as Lukasi’s statement.  This is I believe is due to the inability of our thought leaders to even arrive at basic truths. They even have trouble, as I mentioned in my last post, in defining what truth is or even deciding what their own buzz words mean.

For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) admits that the term “rule of law” is difficult to define. The best it can come up with is that it is “an ideal that we strive to achieve but sometimes fail to live up to” and that “institutions and procedures have contributed to the definition of what makes up the rule of law and what is necessary to achieve it.”

The ABA seems to have written an expanded definition without forming a simple one. Let me help. Here’s a formula for  a simple definition by John Swales.

T=G + D1 + D2 etc. or Thing equals General class plus distinguishing characteristics

As I mentioned, there is the even more important attempt to define the concept of “truth”.  A website called DifferenceBetween.net struggles to differentiate between the terms “fact” and “truth.” They note how dictionaries discuss how similar the terms are. In comparing the two, the site calls ‘truth” the “true state of a certain matter.” I was always told by my teachers not to include the term in my definition.

Further (and what is worse), these folks say “truth” is “what a person has come to believe” and that facts are more permanent and more constant than truths are.

DifferenceBetween.net’s kind of definition of truth is at the heart of the problem in today’s world. Truth appears to be relative to modern mankind. There are no universal truths. “Truth” is something we believe. It may be reality. It may not be. It really all depends on what we “believe.”

The consequence of the muddled mess created by inability of our institutions to define truth is that our society is in a state of confusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The muddled mess of truth today: introductory thoughts

Lately, I’ve noticed that news organizations configure their headlines in such a way that only half truths or even falsehoods are told. Here’s an example

Woman to be deported after traffic violation

The story is accompanied by a picture of the lady and her children.

This limited information evokes an emotional reaction of how unfair it is for this poor lady to be thrown out of the country because of such a trivial incident.

Only after you go beyond the headline and read the details of the story do you get a clear picture of the facts.

This woman has been living in the United States illegally for two decades. She was found out when she was stopped by police and ticketed for operating a vehicle without a driver’s license.

Commenters on this story note that the woman brought this situation on herself by entering the country illegally in the first place and then staying for so long.

Illegal immigration is of course a hot button issue in the US.  There are extremists on both sides.

Some believe that all those who have broken the law by coming here should be sent back to where they came from. This would include “dreamers”, the children who came here before the age of 16 and probably had little say in the matter.

Others think that we should just have open borders. Anyone who wants to live and work in our nation should have the right to do so, they say.

Based on my training in journalism school in ancient times, I would have reported this story with the 5 W’s and H. Just the facts, ma’am. Give ’em who, what, when, where, why and how.

Editors don’t function that way in today’s society, however. What used to be suitable  only for the editorial page is passed off as headline news.

The result is that America is inundated with propaganda.

One of the reasons this is happening is that how we perceive truth is changing.

We used to be a culture based on a Judeo-Christian world view. Thus, the generation after World War 2, for example, tended to see things through that lens.

Nowadays,  young Americans talk about presenting “my truth.” I take this to mean that what they are going to tell me is not the “truth” per se, but their own view of reality.

In  modern America, the state of truth is similar to the condition of my favorite major league baseball team. Baseball writer Ken Rosenthal recently called my Baltimore Orioles a “muddled mess.” I would maintain that truth in the US is in the same shape as my beloved Os.

What is occurring in the media today is that reporters are now giving us SOME facts, and then interpreting them with “their” truth. It used to be that the reader was supposed to do the interpreting.

I can’t philosophize about this phenomenon. I’m not a philosopher. I’m trained in journalism, linguistics and to some extent in practical theology. So I can only look at the problem through those grids.

In terms of language, my observation is that people can’t even get their terms straight. For example, slurs with fully charged political electrons are freely being thrown around like darts, especially in social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter.

In the immigration debate, the left likes to accuse the right of being  “fascists”, “bigots”, “racists” and “Nazis”. The right tosses out equally inflammatory terms toward progressives. Insults such as “loon”, “nut job” and “bomb thrower” come to mind.

From my perspective, it would be appropriate in some cases to question who is actually the fascist or the loon.

I know that questions about truth are not new. Neither are discussions over the meaning of certain vocabulary words.

Even popular culture contains the story of  Pontius Pilate asking Jesus, “What is truth?”.

As a student of the Bible, I like to go a little deeper than what a film at Easter might tell me. I want to know the context, i.e. the whole story

In context, Jesus is being examined before Pilate before he was to be delivered up to be executed by Roman soldiers.  The trumped up charge made by the chief priests of Israel at the time was that Jesus was a rebel trying to overthrow the Roman government. The Jewish leaders, who had a stake in trashing Jesus, claimed that he wanted to be a king. Here’s the text from John 18:

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”

The last statement by Jesus prompted Pilate’s question about truth. The excerpt reveals that  Pilate not only did not understand truth, but that he also had no idea what Jesus meant about being a king.

The effects of such miscommunication can be devastating, especially when a politician with authority is involved. Pilate ended up bowing to popular demand and having Jesus nailed to a cross.

In future posts, I will discuss the effects of this kind of confused thinking on our society. But first, I will try to ascertain exactly what we mean when we discuss the term “truth” and how it is related to other words we currently like to bandy about.

I also hope to propose some solutions that could help us work through the murk and gain a clearer picture of reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Out and about with the down and out

Comedian Dennis Miller was recently asked by now-disgraced pundit Bill O’Reilly how things were going in his home city of Santa Barbara, California.

Miller said something to the effect,”I tell ya Billy. I only go out when I have to. I leave home, do my business and scamper back to the compound as quickly as possible.”

Hisstatement comes as a surprise considering that he lives in a resort city with a Mediterranean climate. The inference from Miller was that the world has just become too full of nutcakes  who make modern life just completely unpalatable, even in a place like Santa Barbara.

Yesterday, after I had spent some time in downtown Los Angeles and nearby Pasadena, my brother asked me how it went. My response was similar to Miller’s.  I mainly was trying to get a laugh out of my brother because in truth yesterday’s experience was different than the comedian’s, even though I did indeed meet up with what most people would say is a strange dude.

After dropping my brother off at work, I traveled to Pasadena and took the light rail to Union Station with a friend to view a Nordic exhibit featuring food and nature scenes from the region. We were both interested because we had once lived in Finland.

Before I had even looked at one image, a fellow was in my face. My normal response over the course of my life when accosted by strangers in public transportation centers has been to flee the scene as quickly as possible. But for some reason, this time I took a different approach. I carried on a conversation with Jorge.*

We talked and I think at first I didn’t understand that this middle-aged man might be mentally ill or perhaps homeless.  We quickly got into details of our personal lives and I found we had a lot in common.

However, at times my new friend seemed a bit unhinged, at least for my taste. Jorge hugged me twice, which made me a little uncomfortable because I am not a “hugger”, especially with men. Fiat times came close to breaking into tears when I shared something about myself that moved him.

In addition, he tended to drop f-bombs regularly, complained about security at the train station harassing him and made comments to passing females.

Although my pal claimed to have a job, a wife and a home and also said that he had just come from a doctor’s appointment, he seemed to linger at our venue. His backpack was parked over in a seat in the station lounge.

Further, Jorge’s demeanor wasn’t one you would expect from a person you had just met. He followed me around the exhibit and kept talking.

Unusually for me, I took it all in stride. In fact, although I don’t think I did anything untoward, I think he might have wearied of me. He said he had to go to the rest room and left, never to be seen again.

I jokingly told me friend that perhaps I had been more overbearing than Jorge was and he had had enough.

I believe my newly minted view toward talking at length to strangers, even those who seem down and out, has come from my own encounter with setbacks in life. I guess what they say is true, that life tends to keep you humble.

It’s not that I have totally objected to talking with unfamiliar people in public places before I met the train station man. In my travels in the US and abroad I have grown bolder.

Just this week I introduced myself to an old age pensioner in Starbucks. He was wearing a hat with the moniker “Sisu”emblazoned above the lid. The term is Finnish and is loosely translated “guts” (i.e., courage, determination and toughness).

Having lived in Finland and knowing that the language isn’t exactly common in Los Angeles, I was curious. I figured the man must be from there or at least had traveled to this out-of-the way place.

Turns out he was that Los Angeles rarity: a transplanted Finn. Heikki and I had a lengthy conversation about his homeland, California and our lives in general.

I was amazed when he explained that he was born in Rovaniemi, a city on the Arctic Circle pillaged by the Germans in World War II and had to flee to Sweden at the age of one. I have a relative from there who had the same experience.

It was interesting to learn of his travels in Europe after the war and his eventual location to California to become an engineer. He told me he worked for decades in the aeronautical industry and even for the C.I.A.

The reason I was willing to approach Heikki was that we were in a Starbucks frequented by paying customers. Unlike loiters in bus and train stations, I could expect that the inhabitants of the coffee shop were not threatening. (I hope Heikki had the same expectation. He could have had questions when I walked across the room to introduce myself. I don’t always look that approachable.)

I noticed that I was tempted to revert to my unwelcoming attitude toward the debilitated when my friend and I returned to Pasadena. On the train back I held a mildly negative view toward a peculiar fellow who felt free to impose himself on our conversation about the fascinating local natural phenomenon, the Jacaranda tree. But I didn’t hold my disdain for long. I was mostly amused.

I was less amused when a young man came by our table as we dined and asked for food. When another clearly homeless and aging man sat on the sidewalk and directed some unintelligible verbal ire toward us as we exited the restaurant, I also wasn’t pleased. But to be honest, I was more annoyed with the restaurant for allowing these men to harass its customers.

It’s not that I lack compassion. It’s just that I feel a bit put out because I don’t personally have the wherewithal to deal with all of society’s less fortunate.

I know there are government and private institutions out there that will help them.  They don’t need to be harassing the general public as they go about their business. I tend to get unhappy when  I face off with these folks because I feel they are choosing to take this approach to dealing with their lack instead of making use of the resources available to them.

Even so, I hope my attitude from yesterday’s meet and greet with Jorge at the train continues and grows. As a Christian, I walk around with the subliminal question “what would Jesus  do?” floating around in my brain when I face off with the distressed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the way I handled the situation with Jorge yesterday was more in line with how Jesus would have responded. In fact, while taking the time to talk with him, I was briefly able to share my faith and perhaps move Jorge toward faith.

In the  final analysis, the state of his eternal soul is more important than improving his physical and mental condition.

 

 

 

 

*(name changed to protect the innocent)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Christianity, Finland, Homeless, Jesus Christ, Media, redemption, religion, Uncategorized

How my TV viewing influences my writing

I have always had an awkward friendship with writing.

When I was in journalism school our connection was more of a love/hate relationship. There were times I was really “jazzed” about a career in print. Then there were the other times.

When I got out of school, I gave a fair to middlin’ effort in finding a job with a newspaper. However, as I lived in our nation’s capital I faced a dilemma. My attempt at looking for work locally was akin to a high school player attempting to sign on to the Washington Redskins to play professional football. I lived in  a major league city where the big boys and girls already had a spot on the team.

What I needed to do was go to small town America to hone my skills and gain some experience. At least, that’s what I was told.

But at the time I was a big city guy and liked DC. So I demurred. Ironically, I have spent about a third of my life in Podunk since then, but working as an educator instead of reporting on hog futures.

I haven’t given up on writing though. The romance is gone, but I still feel married to it.

The desire to be in print and get paid for my prose has waned and I write as a hobby now. The “what might have been” in terms of a professional writing career got up and left a long time ago.

But I still have a goal. My highest objective is to use words to influence people. I’ve had this ambition since high school, when I was a sports reporter.

I have learned from the experts that I don’t have to have “feelings” for my writing in order to produce. In fact, the gurus tell you that you just have to keep at it. So I do.Most writers have spells they just don’t feel like putting words to page, so I know I have lots of company.

What helps me to generate is to know my interests and write about those things.

What are the kinds of stories I gravitate too? I think I can tell by what I watch on television. For instance, the programs I have recorded on my DVR are a good indicator of my favored genres.

The other night I was watching TV with a friend and he couldn’t believe the number of programs I have recorded. I told him that I the reason I have so many recordings is that I scan the menu of programs offered by the satellite provider and click on those that arouse my curiosity.

If my predilections were determined by the number of recorded programs on the DVR, the analyst would  note that I am drawn to humorous stories. I must have 30 recordings of the 1990s situation comedy “Frasier.’

It is no wonder this show is constantly available after 20 years. Like “M.A.S.H” and “Seinfeld”, the sitcom is a series of one liners wrapped around a story. The writing is superb.

In addition to  providing a list of amusing stories, my DVR also reveals my penchant for history. I’ve always loved history. In fact, I minored in it in college. Thus, I tend to watch stuff that provides me with insight into the events and lives that came before me.  I especially like military history.

I have numerous historical accounts presented by American Heroes Channel. Right now I am recording “Apocalypse: World War 1”. The series is filled with over 300 vintage pieces of film documenting the conflict.

I have also spent hours and hours watching Turner Classic Movies. The channel provides history within history. Not only do I get a story of days gone by, but the films themselves are documentation of earlier times. The stories give us a look at the technology and culture of the early to mid 20th century.

Recently my friend and I watched  “The Gallant Hours” (1960). It was unusual for an American movie.  Even though it was a film about war, there were hardly any battle scenes or explosions. The focus was on the characters, especially naval commander Bull Halsey, a man who helped the US Navy defeat the Japanese in the Pacific in World War 2.

“The Gallant Hours” was ahead of its time in its biographical story telling.  Released in 1960, it used the “up close and personal” technique developed by ABC’s Roone Arledge later. At the time Americans were not that interested in Olympic sports, or foreign countries for that matter, so Arledge lured us in with his features on their private lives. Arledge focused on the challenges the athletes faced and overcame to become an Olympic hero.

Indeed, “The Gallant Hours” combined several features draw me in to a story.  For example, the docudrama style combined the Hollywood embellishment of fiction with the facts of the characters’ real lives.

In addition to tales containing  humor and history, I am also drawn to mysteries, especially the kind represented by crime shows. This interest surprises me in that I have never thought of myself as someone interested in depictions of wrongdoing. But the truth is, I watch a lot of “Law and Order” and “NCIS”.

I think what attracts me about these stories is the gradual revelation of the truth I get from detectives, police, lawyers, witnesses and criminals. I have always enjoyed researching something and then presenting the results. This is why I have been able to stay in teaching so long.

Sports also provide a compelling narrative. Every weekend I record a NASCAR race. While auto racing is not at the top of my sports viewing, I share an interest in it with friends and relatives. This season I have watched a race almost every weekend.

Last weekend at Talladega the unique story was about Ricky Stenhouse.  Up until that Monster Cup series race he had never entered victory lane. Stenhouse has mainly been known as Mr. Danica Patrick, the boyfriend of the only female driver in the series.

Races at Talladega are known for their massive wrecks. The TV announcers kept talking about the “Big One” they expected. It did not materialize until the end. Stenhouse managed to escape the carnage and get the checkered flag.

Of course, the Internet was full of pictures of Danica hugging and smooching Ricky and . Who said sports doesn’t have romance.

As I reflect on it, the subject matter may initially attract me to a show, but what keeps me coming back again and again is good writing.  I admire stories on TV that are well written and I believe I subliminally desire to emulate those who create them.

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Filed under Classic Films, Media, Television, Uncategorized, writing