Tag Archives: controversy

Making Controversy Out of Nothing

22 May

The Washington Post did a poll, asking Americans what they think of the national anthem being played. The answer? 84 percent of Americans support the anthem being played or sung before professional sporting events. But that’s not the headline…

The headline of the article is “How do Americans feel about the anthem at sporting events? It depends which Americans you ask.” Okay, suspicious, but it’s there to attract your attention. The big reveal… “Fewer than 4 in 10 Black Americans say the national anthem makes them feel positive.” (blink) Are you kidding freaking kidding me?!

What I’m amazed by is that the newspaper worked with a university, sent out a poll, and instead of going with the results–because it wasn’t the one they were expecting–they had to exaggerate it to get the result they wanted to report. Instead of the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans support playing the national anthem, what did they want to focus on? A clear minority of a minority didn’t like it. Seriously?!

The problem with living in a bubble is that you have no contact anyone outside your bubble. I’d be guilty of this, too, if I didn’t have a wife that thinks the Democrat Party is too far right for her tastes. But let’s imagine you’re a reporter for the Washington Post. You’re a liberal and always vote Democrat. You work in a solid blue District of Columbia, you probably live in an apartment nearby, or a comfy suburb that votes majority blue. All your friends are liberals and think Trump was the antichrist (or you would if you weren’t an agnostic). So you never talk with anyone with an opinion to the right of yours. Of course, black America is upset at the national anthem. We should all feel uncomfortable about it!

But when faced with hard data, which tells you that your assumptions are wrong, how do you write your article? Simple–you double down on your assumptions. In the article, they have to admit that even that 40% is sketchy… the actual number of black Americans with a negative view of the anthem is 22%. You have to say “fewer that 4 out of 10.” It’s like my old employer saying that “we’re one of three of the top hospitals in the country!” Really… so you want to guess which number they are? Third. Children’s Hospital Boston and CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) consistently rank higher. Third is still really good–and you can get just as good care there as you can in Boston. But saying, “We’re number three!” doesn’t inspire customers coming. If they had said “top 5 or 10,” that would have been fine… but the marketing department had to spin it higher.

So you have to ask yourself–is the poll valid? Well, it’s your own poll, you spent money on putting it out, you better believe it is. There’s a lot of ways to skew polling; the most obvious is to choose to only the population you want. If they polled just D.C. residents, they might have gotten closer to the answer they wanted. You can also skew the question. They asked “When the national anthem is played or sung at sporting events, does it make you feel…?” But they could have said, “Do you feel offended at the national anthem?” Or “Should we continue to play the offensive national anthem?” That would have skewed it closer to their result.

It’s just sad that when media tries to put people into pigeonholes, they get really confused when people don’t fit in the spaces they’re supposed to. Hispanics don’t consistently vote Democrat (which is why Puerto Rico isn’t going to be a state anytime soon, but they’re pushing D.C. towards statehood), majority pro-life, and are for stronger enforcement at the border. But I’ve already written about that–but what do you think? Are polls to be trusted? How do you react when you receive contradictory information about your beliefs? Let me know in the comments below! And if you want to continue to be challenged, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your beliefs, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. (They’re not that controversial.)

“We Just Thought You Knew!”

25 Mar

A teacher once explained a concept using an iceberg as an example, saying how you could only see part of it; the rest of it was hidden. After the end of his brilliant parable, one student raised their hand and asked, “What’s an iceberg?”

Sometimes you run into a problem where you really don’t know what the basic concept, but all the commentaries keep going as if you do. For example, today is the Fast of the Firstborn. What does that mean? Well, it’s more complicated this year, because Passover starts on a Saturday night. You can’t fast on Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night), because that’s intended to be a happy time. Okay, move it to Friday. Nope, because you’re doing prep for Shabbat, and you don’t want sadness to get in the way of that. So it’s shifted back to Thursday. Sunrise to sunset, you’ll fast.

Great! What does “fast” mean?

This sounds like a “duh” question, but it’s kinda important. Does “fast” mean just “no food” or “no food and drink” or “nothing passes through the mouth” (i.e., smoking)? This is not a “minor fast day,” because there are four other days that qualify… not this one. So what does a “fast” mean? I checked online, with three respected sources, and the answer is… “it depends.” What is your particular tradition? What did your parents do? What does your rabbi say?

There’s a joke that says, “Two Jews, three opinions,” but it makes it very frustrating. You don’t wanna approach your rabbi with the question, because it makes you sound like an idiot. So in the end, you’ll just do what you want to do, basing it on whatever’s convenient. Some helpful rabbi wrote down “since it’s on a Thursday, if you are even “minorly inconvenienced,” you can get out of fasting. So I’m going to go with “no food until sundown” restriction today, but still drink water… because that’s what I’ve done before for minor fast days, even though other authorities go through the “no food and drink from sunrise to sunset” rule.

“Is this the sort of fast I want, a day when a person mortifies himself?

Isaiah 58:5a (CJB)

So I have to ask myself, “why am I going through all this legal hoops if I’m just going to do what I wanted to anyway?” First off, because my wife reminded me of it–I was going to blow it off, like I have many years–but once reminded, I feel obligated. And so I’m left with this strange “half-assed” fast.

When I was teaching live, I would frequently remind me, “There are no stupid questions,” because if you don’t know it, chances are, the person behind you doesn’t know it either. The teacher needs to read the room; if the student looks confused, address it. But how do you know what they don’t know?

Using sci-fi as an example, there are details you have to address, those you have to skim, and those you just throw out there for flavor. Faster-than-light travel is currently impossible, but we understand faster-than-sound travel, so you can address incredible speed and g-forces, but then you skim over the actual device that makes it possible, and then have people puking from breaking the light barrier. Why? Doesn’t matter, it just emphasizes that it’s difficult. The trick is knowing what is important enough to address and what is important to skim.

There’s no real answer for this question, so I’ll throw it to you? How you do determine what’s important when explaining a concept? How you do react to a “stupid question?” Let me know in the comments below! And if you liked the sci-fi example, check out one of my books and find out more about how I address faster-than-light technology. Or if you’re not that interested, simply download one of my stories, and you’ll get a similar (but lesser) flavor!

Fight, Freeze, or Flight

23 Mar

It is exhausting to view the entire world as a threat.” The quote is talking about PTSD, but I’m gonna take this out of context, and apply it to the world around us. How do we tackle that which we can’t control?

The answer is simple; we react the same way we do with any dangerous situation, “fight, freeze, or flight.” Now maybe you haven’t heard that phrase quite that way before, but it is an option that many people do. Scary thing happens and you freeze–paralyzed by your own decision making–because you’re not really sure what to do.

Some are frozen because your body can’t process the new information that doesn’t fit into your worldview. In education, there’s actually a theory called “transformative pedagogy,” which actually tries to force the student to reexamine their beliefs by presenting data outside the student’s mindset and having them address it. It can be very effective.

Now imagine if every class were designed that way. If you take four to five courses a day, and every single one of them was trying to transform the way you look at the work, you’d be exhausted. There’s only so much shock one can take to your worldview before you either fight it (reject the contradiction completely), freeze (accept the contradiction and either struggle with it or ignore it), or flight (accept the contradiction and change your worldview).

Let me give an example of this… and it’s not the one you’re thinking of. 180 years ago, a preacher by the name of William Miller revealed to his followers (anywhere from 50 to 500 thousand of them) that Jesus would come back to Earth on October 22, 1844. As you might guess, Bill was wrong. After what became known as “The Great Disappointment,” there were four reactions:

  • The prophecy was invalid, Miller was a fraud: Some of these went back to their old churches, a lot of them just became agnostic.
  • The prophecy was valid, the date was invalid: These became the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  • The date and the prophecy were valid: These joined the Holy Flesh Movement, which eventually collapsed, and then they joined the Shakers.
  • The date was valid, the interpretation was invalid: These became the Seventh-Day Adventists.

Since I have a lot of love for SDA’s (they’re like Jews for Jesus, but nicer), let me put my conclusion this way. In a classroom, when faced with contradicting data, you aren’t going to come to the same conclusion that your teacher wants you to. The J-Dubs and the SDA’s had the same teacher, different result.

My wife sees this a lot in her classes. I don’t think she’s deliberately using a transformative model, but she’s often confused by students who reject (or “fight”) the contradictory information. Say you have your students read Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors by Taiawake Alfred; it’s his doctoral thesis before he went all activist-y. He’s talking about the Mohawk reserve just outside of Montreal. Some arrive at the same result that my wife has: “Aren’t (white) Canadians just bastards? Free the native peoples!” Her university has a large number of conservative students who might fire back with “The Mohawk people are dealing with an unrealistic model that doesn’t conform with modern life.” And some (like myself) might freeze and say “both views are valid. Why can’t we give more sovereignty to the reserve, but still have it subservient to the Canadian (but not provincial) government?”

As the teacher, she has her own transformative moment. Do you accept that your conservative students have a valid but opposite worldview? Or do you just shake your head and say “I just don’t get it.” Or do you reject them and say, “Oh, they’re white supremacists and/or conspiracy theorists.” Having read many of their papers, some are conspiracy theorists, but in my opinion, conspiracies are just another way of dealing with the contradictory information. I think I need to write my belief on conspiracy theory tomorrow.

But I could be way off… what do you think? How do you react when faced with contradictory information? Does it depend on the information… or how much you care about the subject being questioned? Let me know in the comments below!

Once you’ve done that, check out one of my books! But if you think that $1.99 is too much for an author you barely know, download some of my stories for free, and then tell me what you think. Maybe then you might buy a book of mine! 🙂

Distracted Posting

30 Nov

I know I’m a great listener–it’s one of my gifts. This has the downside of getting sucked into conversations that I don’t want to get into. I honestly enjoy talking to people, but sometimes, I can’t get off a subject that my fellow is really passionate about.

While I’m trying to write this post, my wife is trying to tell me about the latest COVID news. I couldn’t care less. However, she doesn’t have anyone else she can tell about this without kicking off an argument online. So I’m in a no-win scenario where I have to listen while I’m trying to accomplish something else.

I’ve been recently reading a non-fiction book about Chabad, which for those not in the know, are missionary Jews… to other Jews. They get trained at an early age how to do outreach, how to talk to strangers and get them in a conversation, and some do it better than others. However, it was a quote to the opposition to Chabad that struck me the most. To paraphrase, “Our mission is to be inclusive. We can’t use the same tricks as them.”

So when I get in a conversation, I don’t like arguments. I don’t find that enjoyable, so when I talk with people, I will often stay silent when they talk about something that I disagree with… until I come up with a polite way to phrase it. Of course, they might have blown past that point and gone onto bloviating past that.

Of course, I’ve run into the problem that I so often mute myself on so many topics to avoid contention, that I honestly stopped caring about most topics… simply because so many people are so passionate about it. However, when I do get into the rare, civilized discussion, I feel I can enjoy discussing these topics that I have opinions on, but I don’t feel I have to rant about.

Am I alone in this? Do you stand mute simply because everyone else is so loud? Or do I just need to suck it up? Let me know in the comments below!

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