Limitations of the “Bully Pulpit”

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I was doing research for my master’s degree group “think tank” project this week, and came across this article by Corwin Smidt: “Not All News in the Same.” It had some conclusions that I think should make many people on blogs I follow feel a whole lot better.

Smidt uses a study of news cycles on various issues to see how different political actors and events position an issue’s importance in the public agenda (p 72).

People assume greater news coverage means greater influence. Major political figures have reporters assigned to them consistently. Unofficial activists and grassroots organizations don’t have that access. And yet, Smidt notes the seeming ineffectiveness of many presidents to establish their favorite issues as public priorities. (73-75)

Through analysis of the coverage of gun violence issues in 2000 under Clinton and the 2009 health care debate Smidt observed that activist news was more influential that event-news or political figure news (88-89).

He concludes that the activities of the citizen activist group has a greater influence on public opinion than the actions of the president or the occurrence of random event-coverage news items. Even though public officials have more access to the news, they do not have the greater influence – that belongs to the citizen activist en masse (72-73).

So the next time you disagree with the president, or member of congress, remember, they may be more visible, but that doesn’t mean they are more persuasive of public opinion.

Reference

Smidt, C. “Not all News is the Same: Protests, Presidents, and the Mass Public Agenda, Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol, 76, No. 1 Spring 2012 ( pp 72-94).

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Recognizing People Out of Context

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Remington Steele was a 1980s television series Starring Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a 1990s television series.  So when watching an episode of season 4 of Remington Steele tonight, it was weird to look at the one character, and say: she is familiar. Then to realize the voice, though softer, is what really told me, and that the nose was all wrong.  After all, as a Bajoran, Kira Nerys has this unique nosebridge wrinkle that the actress didn’t have while playing a part on Remington Steele.

This tends to happen. Spotting people in one place that you realize you know from another show, another movie.

The night before it was an episode of the A-Team from season 3, another 1980s TV series,  where we saw Barry Van Dyke, who we knew better from Diagnosis Murder, the 1990s murder mystery series where he played opposite his father, the legendary Dick Van Dyke.

Flipping back and forth, we saw David White, best known to us for his playing Larry Tate on the 1960s series Bewitched, in another of those 1980s Remington Steele episodes, season 3.

I could go on, but those are the quick examples/memories I have had recently.

Anyone want to share their examples of celebrities out of their usual place in movies and TV shows?

 

 

Book Titles That Reflect Hymns

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One of my favorite authors, David Weber, has a book series, called the Safehold series,where he recently released #7, that has book titles that some of us in churches might find familiar.  With the exception of the first title, all remaining six titles are parts of lines from a few different hymns.

For example, here are the book titles:

Weber didn’t just choose the title by accident. The hymn titles have an affinity with the overarching plot of his book series. If you know the roots from which he draws the titles, you can see additional layers of thought and complexity to his world and the story he is telling.

Then again, for some of us it is just fun to be reminded of the words of a great hymn of the faith.  So below are the words of the hymns.  See if you can find the titles in the hymns (without using your computer search functions to scan the lyrics).And see how many of the verses to each of the hymns you are actually familiar with.

1.	The church's one foundation 
	is Jesus Christ her Lord; 
	she is his new creation 
	by water and the Word. 
	From heaven he came and sought her 
	to be his holy bride; 
	with his own blood he bought her, 
	and for her life he died. 

2.	Elect from every nation, 
	yet one o'er all the earth; 
	her charter of salvation, 
	one Lord, one faith, one birth; 
	one holy name she blesses, 
	partakes one holy food, 
	and to one hope she presses, 
	with every grace endued. 

3.	Though with a scornful wonder 
	we see her sore oppressed, 
	by schisms rent asunder, 
	by heresies distressed, 
	yet saints their watch are keeping; 
	their cry goes up, "How long?" 
	And soon the night of weeping 
	shall be the morn of song. 

4.	Mid toil and tribulation, 
	and tumult of her war, 
	she waits the consummation 
	of peace forevermore; 
	till, with the vision glorious, 
	her longing eyes are blest, 
	and the great church victorious 
	shall be the church at rest. 

5.	Yet she on earth hath union 
	with God the Three in One, 
	and mystic sweet communion 
	with those whose rest is won. 
	O happy ones and holy! 
	Lord, give us grace that we 
	like them, the meek and lowly, 
	on high may dwell with thee.

1.	A mighty fortress is our God, 
	a bulwark never failing; 
	our helper he amid the flood 
	of mortal ills prevailing.  
	For still our ancient foe 
	doth seek to work us woe; 
	his craft and power are great, 
	and armed with cruel hate, 
	on earth is not his equal.

2.	Did we in our own strength confide, 
	our striving would be losing, 
	were not the right man on our side, 
	the man of God's own choosing.
	Dost ask who that may be?  
	Christ Jesus, it is he; 
	Lord Sabaoth, his name, 
	from age to age the same, 
	and he must win the battle.

3.	And though this world, with devils filled, 
	should threaten to undo us, 
	we will not fear, for God hath willed 
	his truth to triumph through us.  
	The Prince of Darkness grim, 
	we tremble not for him; 
	his rage we can endure, 
	for lo, his doom is sure; 
	one little word shallfell him.

4.	That word above all earthly powers, 
	no thanks to them, abideth; 
	the Spirit and the gifts are ours, 
	thru him who with us sideth.  
	Let goods and kindred go, 
	this mortal life also; 
	the body they may kill; 
	God's truth abideth still; 
	his kingdom is forever.


1.	"How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, 
	is laid for your faith in his excellent word! 
	What more can he say than to you he hath said, 
	to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled? 

2.	"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, 
	for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; 
	I'll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand 
	upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand. 

3.	"When through deep waters I call thee to go, 
	the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; 
	for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, 
	and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress. 

4.	"When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, 
	my grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply; 
	the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design 
	thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

1.	Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, 
	with the cross of Jesus going on before. 
	Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; 
	forward into battle see his banners go! 
Refrain: 
	Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, 
	with the cross of Jesus going on before. 

2.	At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee; 
	on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory! 
	Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise; 
	brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise. 
	(Refrain) 

3.	Like a mighty army moves the church of God; 
	brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. 
	We are not divided, all one body we, 
	one in hope and doctrine, one in charity. 
	(Refrain) 

4.	Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, 
	but the church of Jesus constant will remain.
	Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail; 
	we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail. 
	(Refrain) 

5.	Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng, 
	blend with ours your voices in the triumph song. 
	Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King, 
	this through countless ages men and angels sing.
	(Refrain)

Journey to a High School Reunion — Fourth Grade

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Fourth grade was my second year at Horseheads Christian School. There are several moments I remember from this year.

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The first item is something very unique in my schooling.  Out of 19 students in fourth grade, three of us had the name Jonathan: Jonathan Langley and myself had been there in third grade. This year Jonathan Green joined us while his parents were on leave from the mission field (was it Brazil? does anyone know/remember?).

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The second item was the bicentennial.  I remember the school putting on a big bi-centennial program.  The yearbook itself was themed around the occasion of America’s bi-centennial.

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The third thing I remember was Miss Wood, our fourth grade teacher, sending a student to the principal’s office with a note one day, and then, before the student got back, she fainted on us. I recall her being seated at her desk and then her eyes just suddenly rolling back. It wasn’t too long before someone from the office was there — her note with the student was asking someone to come relieve her because she wasn’t feeling well.

I don’t remember much of what we students did during that brief time window. Does anyone else remember this event, or have better recollection of exactly what happened? Who was the student that took the note to the office? It is amazing what I can and cannot recall.Scan0027

The Book of Blessed

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I was “flipping” through my files yesterday, and ran across the below short chapter of a project I dreamed up in 2008: a 150 chapter project. All I ended up writing at the time was about four and a half chapters, of which this is the first. So here it is as a teaser.

Psalm 1

1    Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

2    But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

3    And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

4    The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

5    Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

6    For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

 

This is the story, the saga of one man, though it involves the stories of many. This is a very peculiar man.

His name is Blessed.  Blessed does not walk, he does not stand, he does not sit.  He delights in the law of the Lord.  He meditates day and night.

His home is a tree.  The tree is planted by Rivers of Water.  It is a fruit tree.  We will find out what type of fruit sometime later.

There are other points of geography in his world.  There are places called Counsel of the Ungodly and Seat of the Scornful.  The main road connecting them is the Way of Sinners.

Other places of note are the Judgment, and the Congregation of the Righteous.  The main road connecting them is the Way of the Righteous.  The Lord who rules these lands puts good portions of tax money into maintaining the Way of the Righteous.  The other main road, the Way of the Ungodly, he cut off maintenance funds for years ago, with the intention that it no longer be used, though many people still seem to use its rough and warn surface, perhaps because it is bigger and wider than the Way of the Righteous.

God Loves Business

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“The Lord hates cheating scales, but accurate weights are His delight.”

I heard that quote last night while watching 3-2-1 Penguins: The Cheating Scales of Bullamanka. And I had a thought from hearing it that I am not sure I had before: God loves business.

If one spends much time in religious circles today, it is easy to think that God does not like business. Those who want to make money are evil, the poor are good just because they are poor, everything needs to be shared equally among everyone. These are the sort of sentiments needed to have a proper “religious” view of the world.

But that isn’t what the proverb says. “Accurate weights are His delight.” Weights that allow for good and free commerce, weights that deal justly with buyer and seller, rewarding those work through the just exchange of the works of their hands with others, are blessed by God.

Scripture says a lot about taking care of the less fortunate. It also discourages rewarding the lazy — “He who shall not work shall not eat,” Paul told the church at Thessalonica.

“He has shown thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee: but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

The scripture constantly emphasizes justice. The scripture constantly emphasizes justice to individuals. It doesn’t emphasize equality. It doesn’t emphasize fairness. Most mentions of equality in the scripture are actually negative cases.

For what scripture emphasizes is freedom. Justice ensures freedom. Honest scales ensure freedom and encourage honest labor. Honest labor creates goods that provide for the needs of all. Freedom and justice encourage generosity.

The Myth of the True Story

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Life of Pi, Page 316-317. Copyright 2001, Yann Martel
Harcourt Books
“The Tsimtsum sank on July 2nd, 1977.”
“Yes.”
“And I arrived on the coast of Mexico, the sole human survivor of the Tsimtsum, on February 14th, 1978.”
“That’s right.”
“I told you two stories that account for the 227 days in between.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Neither explains the sinking of the Tsimtsum.”
“That’s right.”
“Neither makes a factual difference to you.”
“That’s true.”
“You can’t prove which story is true and which is not. You must take my word for it.”
“I guess so.”
“In both stories the ship sinks, my entire family dies, and I suffer.”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“So tell me, since it makes no factual difference  to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer, the story with animals or the story without animals?”
Mr. Okamoto: “That’s an interesting question . . .”
Mr. Chiba: “The story with animals.”
Mr. Okamoto: “*Yes.* The story with animals is the better story.”
Pi Patel: “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”

 

For our book club at Avondale United Methodist Church we read Life of Pi, and some of us watched the movie Life of Pi the night before the book club discussion, so we could discuss both movie and book, and how topics were handled the same and differently between them.

The quote above comes from near the end of the book, where the young Pi is talking to the investigators from the insurance company. The investigators want to know why the ship sank. Pi is the only person to survive, and his knowledge, his observations, have nothing to tell about why the ship sank, only that it did.

One of the interesting discussion points, both in our book club, and in some online comments about the book, is the idea that the one story, the one without the animals, is the “true story,” and the one with the animals, is the “made up” story. As my wife Betsy so succinctly put it to me “They are both fiction. The book is fiction.” And yet people want to discuss which story is true and which isn’t.

This tends to show a couple of things. One is that the book pulled people in enough that, even knowing it is a work of fiction, they fall into the habit of talking about it as if it were a true story.

The second thing it shows is a bias in favor of “science” over “history”. People know that the story without animals has to be the true one, and the one with animals has to be made up. Mostly this seems to be because of the “floating island” that rescues Pi, and where he is almost lost.

And yet, when asked which story people prefer, it is almost invariably the one with the animals? Why? Why are we naturally drawn to the things we think cannot be true? Is there something wrong with how we are made, to be drawn to fiction more than fact, or is there something wrong with what we think of as fact?

This struggle of “story” over “reality” reminds me of another piece of fiction: The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. Jill and Eustace are in he underworld with Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, and they are in the presence of the Green Witch. They are trying to explain to her about the sun, and sky, and Lions, but the only way they can explain them is by use of examples from the underworld. To which the Witch says they are just making up stories, because they can only describe things by the things she knows. And they almost succumb to her enchantment, until Puddleglum puts out the enchanted fire with his foot, and the burnt scent overpowers the enchanted incense she was burning on the fire.

We are drawn to story, we naturally try to put life together in a story. We make science as much of a story as we make history a story, and myth a story. Perhaps the greatest fallacy of our age is the one that sees science as the “true” story, and trusts it to tell us about times and places where it has never been.

I tried to explain this at the book club — the limits of science. I could tell I was going over many heads. Let me try again here, with the below quotes from The Might of the West by Lawrence R. Brown (1963)

Scientific causality never deals with why things actually are as they are or happen as they do. It deals only with the mechanism of how they must happen if they do happen. But the wonders of modern science create the general impression that scientific causality undertakes to explain “reality,” and since nothing is more real than an actual event, it is an irresistible temptation to believe that this, too, is within the compass of causality. (56)

In the affairs of life, we deny all ability to make causal predictions about actual events, although oddly enough it is all the fashion to make causal predictions about nations, political movements or mankind as a whole… We do not consider the cause of this ship, this statue, this chemical experiment, though in ordinary conversation and in slipshod reasoning we often talk as though we did. With the problem of the existence of an actual thing or the occurrence of an actual event, Western scientific causality has nothing to do. It is a mighty science of what must happen in specified circumstances. But it does not and cannot predict the actual occurrence of these circumstances. It describes the mechanism by which all things that will happen must happen, but it leaves to political economists, astrologers and the readers of palms and tea leaves the prediction of what things are to happen. (247)

There was a recent debate between Bill Nye “the science guy” and Ken Ham, president of the Creation Museum on whether Creationism is a viable scientific theory. During that debate Nye explicitly denied Ham’s distinction between what Ham called Experimental or Observational Knowledge — which can be obtained through the scientific method — and Origins or Historical Science, which is not obtainable through the scientific method.

Now, Nye is a great proponent and well-versed in the scientific method and the results of experimental science and its benefits to mankind. What he is not, is a good philosopher, to understand the limits of various forms of knowledge.  For whether you believe in creation or evolution, the one thing Brown’s comments on science above show is that Ham is right when he says that science is limited in what it can prove. It is Nye, not Ham, using the slipshod thinking described by Brown above. It is Nye, not Ham, playing the role of “astrologers and the readers of palms and tea leaves” as Brown puts it, when he claims the scientific mantle for his “Theory of Evolution.” It is Nye, not Ham, playing the role of “snake oil salesman” by claiming more from his evidence than he allows.

Which leads me back to the title of this blog “The Myth of the True Story.” Is there, or isn’t there a true story? As a writer I believe in the truth of story, especially the truth of fiction. To illustrate, let me close with these lines from an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9:

Dr. Julian Bashir: Out of all the stories you told me, which ones were true and which ones weren’t?
Elim Garak: My dear Doctor, they’re all true.
Dr. Julian Bashir: Even the lies?
Elim Garak: Especially the lies.