Saturday, March 19, 2011

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

I haven’t subscribed to cable television since 1987. That is nearly twenty-five years of avoiding such programs as The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and…..well, I don’t know what, because I never watch cable (except when our family is traveling, and the kids like to watch Iron Chef in the hotel room). Part of the reason I’ve avoided cable is that I can’t bring myself to pay for television. But the biggest motive is that I can’t bring cable programming into my house with a clear conscience. I know this opinion is not shared by everyone, but I am grateful for the time it has given me to pursue other interests. And I am deeply thankful that my children are largely unfamiliar with what is presented by cable or satellite.

I can’t seem to escape from cable at the workplace, though. Our office installed television monitors in various locations a couple of years ago and leaves them tuned all day to news stations. Non-stop talking heads. Seemingly ignorant, arrogant, opinionated “newscasters” who scare up stories, state falsehoods without reservation, and give their mostly liberal opinions as if they were reporting fact. Chris Matthews is my least favorite. He can accuse George Bush of something with obvious venom and hatred, and two years later praise Barack Obama for his leadership when he does the very same thing. I sit there and wonder – “Does anybody else notice what I just saw? Does anybody care? What happened to the desire for truth and unbiased reporting?”

Over the last week, I’ve been amazed at the coverage of the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan. I know a little bit about nuclear power, and I did some study on the Japanese reactor design shortly after the accident. But what I saw from the newscasters and their guests was often incorrect, and there were several cases where two non-related facts were juxtaposed in order to make the situation appear much more dangerous than it really was - such as discussing the hydrogen explosions directly in conjunction with the need for a twenty-mile evacuation radius. These events are only loosely related – the hydrogen explosion was non-nuclear, and was largely expected when the engineers vented a buildup of gas in the reactor core, while the twenty-mile evacuation had to do with a future, possible safety zone in the event of a core meltdown. Though these items are unrelated in time and causality, the news channels made it seem as if they were directly related.

It was clear to me this week that the news channels and websites are not attempting to promote awareness or to disseminate facts. They have one major intent in mind – to promote fear and intrigue in the hearts of people who are watching or reading. And they do this so that ignorant people will come back blindly for more. No big revelation, I know, but the daily news is not about truth.

Here’s an example, with some basic questions. I refer to this article, written by the Associated Press. Some extracts:

1) The article opens with these words – “Japan tried high-pressure water cannons, fire trucks and even helicopters that dropped batches of seawater in increasingly frantic attempts Thursday to cool an overheated nuclear complex as U.S. officials warned the situation was deteriorating.” I have to point out the use of the phrase “increasingly frantic”. How exactly do the authors measure this? Aren’t Japanese officials just using every practical means at their disposal to be sure to get coolant to the core? Have the authors witnessed real panic in someone’s behavior? Is the dispatch of a helicopter made for transporting and dumping water on forest fires a “frantic” move? In this instance, shouldn’t those in charge be making quick decisions that more than compensate for the need? Is that frantic or overreactive? No, they should be doing everything possible – and I believe they are.

2) “Defense Minister Toshifumi Kitazawa told reporters that emergency workers had no choice but to try the water dumps before it was too late”. Okay, taken as-is, this sentence is probably true, but it is stated in such a way that it again implies desperation. If I were to drink a gallon of iced tea, I would have “no choice” but to go to the bathroom within an hour. But I go because it is a wise move and a natural result – I don’t say, “After drinking too much liquid, I had no choice but to go to the bathroom before it was too late.” Do you see the difference? The news sentence is written in the most distressed method possible, while still touching on the truth. It makes the reader worry and want to read more about the juicy details.

3) To restart the cooling pumps on-site, engineers were working to install a power cable over a mile-long. The article says this – “The interim power line would be a temporary but "reliable" way to cool down the reactors and storage pools, said Teruaki Kobayashi, a facilities management official at Tepco.” I ask – why is the single word “reliable” placed in quotes in this sentence? One reason – it casts doubt on the statement made – it’s as if the author is saying – “Yeah, right – reliable. Just like the generators were reliable when they shut down after the tsunami overtopped the containment wall.” Again, there are a couple of reasons to write this sentence in this odd way – to promote fear in the reader, and to cast doubt on those who are working “frantically” to prevent a worse situation.

4) “But experts said that anyone working close to the reactors was almost certainly being exposed to radiation levels that could, at least, give them much higher cancer risks. "I don't know any other way to say it, but this is like suicide fighters in a war," said Keiichi Nakagawa, associate professor of the Department of Radiology at University of Tokyo Hospital.” I don’t give a lot of credibility to most professors anyway, but Mr. Nakagawa’s statements border on irresponsibility. Everything I have read indicates that they are only sending in people when they will get a slightly elevated dose of radiation over the norm – absolutely nothing like what happened at Chernobyl, by the way, so please ignore those comparisons when you hear them. “Suicide fighters in a war?” – I think he needs to stick to facts. And why are they asking a professor sitting comfortably in Tokyo about the radiation levels at a plant two-hundred miles away? Doesn’t anyone question the veracity of his statement?

5) The photo above was lifted from a news article which claimed that the mannequin head was left in the streets near the nuclear plant by the retreating tsunami wave. But should I really believe that? Or is it possible that the photographer did a little bit of staging to get that shot?

You will also note the phrases “a far bleaker assessment”, “seriously at risk”, and “rapidly evolving crisis” which appear in the article. My point? Don’t believe everything you hear on television or on the web. There is a definite trend toward sensationalism in every media source I can see. Don’t fall prey to the scare-mongering anchors, who influence people in Kansas to buy potassium iodide tablets in bulk just in case the fallout from Japan comes their way. Better yet – dump your cable connection and do some real research on your own. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get interviewed by someone who thinks you’re an “expert”!

Addendum: My heart cries out for the people of Japan during this crisis. Japan is largely an un-Christian nation – 64% don’t even believe in God. I pray that they will find comfort and solace in coming to know God, even if it takes a catastrophe such as this to do so. Knowing God in any circumstance is superior to dying in relative peace without Him. While the media may be disingenuous, we can remember - only God has the truth (Soli Deo Veritas).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sex Outweighs Religion In The UK

The world is truly upside-down today. In a landmark judgment in the UK this week, a couple was denied the right to provide foster care to children – because their religious beliefs prevent them from telling a child that a homosexual lifestyle is acceptable.

The battle lines between Christianity and humanism just got a little more clearly drawn.

The UK couple in this story are Pentecostal Christians in Derby, UK. They had previously provided foster care for fifteen children in the 1990’s, and wanted to return to that work in 2011. But something changed in the UK between that time and today. In short, religious “tolerance” is no longer extended to conservative Christian views in the country which produced the Mayflower Pilgrims and C.S. Lewis. And don’t forget the praise that was once given to Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire), the famed Scottish athlete who would not run in the Olympics on Sunday due to his religious beliefs. Can it be that the world is turning from the God of the Bible as quickly as we are witnessing it?

To sum up the story line – sex is more important than religion in the UK. This trend against Christian ethics is not a far cry from the Hitler-style ethnic cleansing so reviled by the British themselves only seventy years ago. Does that seem overstated? It is not – here are some quotes from the BBC article. Read these, and ask yourself if they look eerily similar to something that might have appeared in Nazi propaganda.

‘…Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation "should take precedence" over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.’

‘They said that if children were placed with carers who objected to homosexuality and same-sex relationships, "there may well be a conflict with the local authority's duty to 'safeguard and promote the welfare' of looked-after children".’

‘The court confirmed that the local authority is properly entitled to consider a prospective foster carer's views on sexuality when considering their application to become a foster parent and in fact, failure to do so would potentially leave it in breach of its own guidance as well as the National Minimum Standards.’

Don’t miss the import of that last statement – it boldly says that government “minimum standards” outweigh any religious belief, including the belief of parents. Make no mistake, the UK is now only one small step away from telling parents that they cannot teach Christian views on sexuality to their own children. In my lifetime, I now believe that I will be reading a BBC story where that very thing will happen – the UK government will remove children from their parent’s home because of their conservative Christian views, and place them in a state-run facility. And like Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s, millions will buy the lie.

God forbid that such a thing will be imported to our United States. But, of course, there are those in the high ranks of our own government who desire for our nation to be “more European”. But if they try to bring this intolerance to our land, I hope they will get a fight from the Christian parents here. Better yet, let’s make sure that we elect and retain leaders who will never go down this path.

Though I expect to read about and witness the decline of civilization, as predicted in the Bible, I am amazed at the speed with which it is happening. This story simply could not have happened in the days of the Cleavers on Leave It To Beaver, or even as recently as my own high school graduation. Something has changed – and it is happening very rapidly. The outrage of the Christian community should be loud and ever-present over this story. But do we see that? Have we given up on publicly championing the cause of Christ and the laws of God? Am I tempted to ignore this and just assume it is the status quo? May it never be…

For the BBC article, click here.