June 8, 2018

As we blogged about before, Brazil is attempting to outlaw the practice of some indigenous tribes of killing children whom they think are bad luck–children born of single mothers, babies with blemishes or handicaps, twins, etc.  But anthropologists are up in arms trying to block the legislation on the grounds of moral and cultural relativism, claiming that the law would be an imposition of western culture on indigenous people.  The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson has some more details on the story.

The effort to stop the killings is called “Muwaji’s Law,” after the name of a woman who did not want to kill her child and ran away from her tribe.  A group of Christian missionaries helped her.  They formed an organization to stop child-killing and lobbied for Muwaji’s Law, which has passed the Brazilian lower house and is being considered by the Senate.

But the Brazilian Association of Anthropology is saying that Muwaji’s Law is among “the most repressive and lethal actions ever perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, which were unfailingly justified through appeals to noble causes, humanitarian values and universal principles.”

But Muwaji did not want to kill her child!  Individuals do not always go along with what their culture dictates.  Culture can be oppressive, as other postmodernists keep reminding us.  Davidson tells another heart-rending story about a tribe whose elders ruled that a two-year-old who had not yet learned to walk or talk should be killed.

Her parents committed suicide rather than carry out the order.  So the job fell to her 15-year-old brother, who dug the hole–the killings in this tribe are carried out by burying the children alive–and he even knocked her out with the flat of his machete.  But then he couldn’t go through with actually killing his little sister.  So it was up to the grandfather, who shot her with an arrow, but she still survived!  The grandfather felt so bad that he tried to commit suicide too, but ended up just taking her into the jungle, where–somehow still surviving–she lived for three years.

The five-year-old was found by a missionary family, who took her in, cared for her, and eventually adopted her.  Whereupon the public prosecutor’s office took aim at the missionaries by forbidding non-indigenous people from entering the tribal lands!  The consulting anthropologist said the missionaries  ‘stood in the way of the realization of a cultural practice filled with meaning,’

Davidson tells of similar practices in other tribal societies, including a remote tribe in India.  Which calls to mind the much-broader practice in India at one time of burning the dead man’s wife on his funeral pyre.  Would the anthropologists object to putting a stop to that?  The British colonialist government did so.  An Indian objected that “this is our culture!”  Whereupon the British officer said, “And it is my culture to hang men who kill women.”  Cultural imperialism, to be sure, but this is one case in which the women of India are appreciative.

Davidson concludes his article, No, Amazon Tribes Should Not Be Allowed to Kill Their Children,  by observing that supposedly advanced Westerners are doing the same thing.  He cites Iceland’s extermination of Downs Syndrome children in the womb, sex-selection abortions among Indian immigrants, and our current “abortion on an industrial scale.”

“From a moral perspective, there is of course no difference between the ways of the Suruwaha and the denizens of London and Reykjavík,” he writes,  “with the exception that the Suruwahans aren’t kidding themselves about what they’re actually doing, and to whom, and why.”

 

Photo:  Tribal children in Brazil by Gabriel Castaldini [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

 

January 4, 2019

We now have a divided government (shut down though it be), as Democrats took power in the House of Representatives yesterday.   But that is only one of the divisions shaping up for 2019.

Divided Government

Republicans still hold the Senate and the Presidency, but the new Democratic House will likely thwart their agendas and bedevil President Trump with ever more investigations (of his business practices; of Trump University; of his treatment of women; of whether he is violating the emolument clause; etc., etc.).

Republicans too are divided.  Former presidential nominee and newly-minted senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) published an op-ed that was extremely critical of President Trump, praising some of his policies while condemning his failures of moral leadership.  This seems to herald a Romney candidacy in the presidential primaries.

Meanwhile, President Trump is taking flack from the opposite direction, as some of his most ardent supporters are criticizing him for not going far enough in implementing the agenda he campaigned on.  Ann “In-Trump-We-Trust” Coulter says that if he does not get his wall built, which seems increasingly unlikely especially given the Democratic House, “Trump will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people, amused the populists for a while, but he’ll have no legacy whatsoever.”

Then again, Democrats are also divided.  This was evident as soon as the 116th Congress began its proceedings.  Nancy Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House (third in the line of succession to the presidency after the Vice President), but a dozen Democrats voted against her.  The second item of business was a normally routine vote on House rules, but socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly-elected Congresswoman from New York, vowed to oppose the pay-as-you-go-provision, the easily-waived rule written into law that new appropriations must be funded by funding cuts in some other program.  The new class of Democrats, many of whom occupy the party’s left-most wing, are making other demands, including a special committee to draw up the “Green New Deal” (more on that later), that are opposed by the House leadership.

Divided Culture

In 2019, the number of Baby Boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964) will be exceeded by the number of Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996).  The end of the dominance of us Baby Boomers, who did so much to wreck American culture, is a good thing.  The question remains, though, whether the Millennials–who tend to be far more progressive politically–will be up to the task of putting the culture back together.

Also in 2019, the number of “Nones” (Americans who profess no religious affiliation), who already exceed the number of Catholics and Mainline Protestants, might surpass the number of evangelicals.  (There is a little bit of fake or at least misleading news in that report.  Currently, the percentage of Nones is twenty-something percent, depending on the survey.  If you add Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and evangelicals together–even if you don’t consider that most of the nones have their own private and sometimes Christian-leaning religious beliefs–America is still a highly-religious country.)

Divided World

As the United States, whether for good reasons or for bad, pulls back from international entanglements, China is working to fill the vacuum.  Now that the United States has pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, designed to counter China’s economic influence, China is setting up its own trade deals in Asia.  The still-Communist country is also projecting its military power in the Pacific, building spheres of influence with foreign aid, and peeling away  long-time allies of the United States.  China is also bolstering its international prestige with stunts like an unmanned landing on the dark side of the moon.

China’s synthesis of an authoritarian government, which has no place for religious freedom and other civil liberties, with economic prosperity due to government controls, is being hailed in some circles as an alternative to the alleged failures of “liberal democracy.”

We can expect that the days of the United States as the sole superpower will soon be over.  Will a new bilateral global balance of power emerge, as in the days of the Cold War?  Will this one be peaceful, a matter of economic competition rather than armed conflict?  Or will we see a more multilateral balance of power (the U.S., China, the British Commonwealth, the European Union, Russia, Brazil, etc., etc.)?  Will having more players make things more peaceful or more dangerous?

At any rate, it looks like the world and our country are going to be divided in new ways.  Is there any prospect for unity at any level, or might that be even more dangerous?

 

Photo: Peace Monument and Capitol Dome by Ron Cogswell via Flickr, Creative Commons License

 

December 27, 2018

This is the time of year for retrospectives, for journalists to look back on the top stories of the year.  What strikes me is how different the lists are.  And what they reveal about those who make them.

Consider the Associated Press list.  The AP is the leading American news agency, providing stories syndicated to virtually all of the country’s newspapers, television networks, radio stations, and online news sources.  So the AP list, which is voted on by the nation’s editors and news directors, is probably most representative of the mainline press.  (Click the link for details about each story.)

Associated Press Top Stories of 2018:

1. The Parkland school shooting

2. The Trump-Russia probe

3. The #MeToo movement

4. Mass shootings

5. U.S. midterm elections

6. Immigration

 7. Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination

8. California wildfires

9. Climate change

10. Murder of journalist Jamaal Khashoggi
Two separate stories in the top 10 about shootings?  Parkland seems to be #1, in part, because it provoked the big march against guns.  And is climate change a specific news event, or a general trend?  Or a cause to acknowledge?  Do you see any agendas here?
Now let’s look at a list from Fox News, the leading conservative news source.  This focuses on “political moments,” but I think it is comparable, even though it lists only 7 top stories instead of 10.  Unlike the AP list, these do not appear to be in any particular order.

7 political moments that defined 2018 [Fox News]:

  1. Kavanaugh’s 2nd Supreme Court hearing

2.  Showdown in Singapore  [President Trump’s summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un]

3.  Democrats’ House takeover

4.  Farewell 41  [The death of former president George Bush.]

5.  The other Kim summit  [Kardashian!]

6.  Ocasio-Cortez bursts onto the scene

7.  Paul Manafort behind bars

The only stories the AP and the Fox lists have in common are the Kavanaugh hearing and the midterm election.  The AP cites the Mueller investigation of President Trump, but Fox focuses on a specific individual whom the investigation sent to prison.  The Fox list shows an international awareness, plus the emergence of a political star on the left.  But in the midst of these serious stories is something completely trivial.  Who cares that President Trump had a meeting with Kim Kardashian and her husband Kanye West?  How is that a top story?

Here is the top list from Insider News, an online magazine associated with Business Insider.  This “new media” source is much more international, including tech news.

10 news stories that gripped the world in 2018 [Insider News]:

1.Twelve boys and their soccer coach got stranded in a cave in Thailand, and the world rallied to their rescue.

Facebook’s 2018 Year in Review:

  • International Women’s Day: For the second year in a row, International Women’s Day on March 8 was the #1 most talked about moment of the year. But in 2018, IWD conversation was about more than the day itself. Women and men around the world discussed a wide range of topics, issues and causes related to women.
  • March for Our Lives: Survivors of the violence in Parkland, Florida announced the March for Our Lives movement on February 18, which drove conversation and action around the world. Over the next month, more than 1 million people showed interest in attending a Facebook Event for March for Our Lives, and more than $2.5 million was raised through Facebook Fundraisers.
  • Civic Engagement: The Brazilian Presidential Election on October 7 and the US Midterm Elections on November 6 were top moments for conversation about voting and elections.

We also saw communities join together in celebration of global moments in culture:

  • World Cup: More than 383 million soccer fans from around the world took to Facebook to cheer on their favorite teams through 2.3 billion posts, comments, reactions and shares. France’s World Cup victory on July 15 and England’s Semi-Final match against Croatia on July 11 were two of the top most-discussed moments of the year.
  • Super Bowl 52: The Philadelphia Eagles secured their first Super Bowl win against the New England Patriots on February 4. More than 62 million people turned to Facebook following Tom Brady’s incomplete Hail Mary pass at the end of the game, and Justin Timberlake’s halftime performance paying tribute to Prince.
  • The Royal Wedding: The much-anticipated nuptials between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19 connected 42 million people on Facebook who about posted about the ceremony, the newlyweds, and the pomp and circumstance.

Finally, people came to Facebook to honor prominent figures who have had a significant impact around the world:

  • Nelson Mandela 100: July 18 marked 100 years since Nelson Mandela was born, and millions of people came to Facebook to celebrate Mandela’s life of dedication to human rights and social justice.
  • Keeping Legacies Alive: The world lost many influential and inspirational people in 2018. From musical icons Aretha Franklin, Avicii, and Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, to scientific visionaries like Stephen Hawking, influential storytellers like Anthony Bourdain and Hollywood stars like Burt Reynolds. People around the world shared millions of posts on Facebook to memorialize the global impact and work of these individuals.

What else do you see in these lists?  What do they tell us about those who made them?  What would you say were the top stories of 2018?

 

Illustration by geralt via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons

July 27, 2018

The latest cause is banning plastic straws, which are said to pollute the oceans.  So restaurants, coffee houses and fast food joints are getting rid of them, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes because they are being forced to by local laws and regulations.

Starbucks is phasing them out.  San Francisco and Seattle have joined the cities that are straw free, and Santa Barbara will put purveyors of straws in jail.  (For background on this issue, read this.)

But Matt Walsh says that even though plastic pollution in the oceans is indeed a big problem, eliminating straws will have virtually no effect.

From Matt Walsh, Quit The Hysterics. America Is Responsible For Almost None Of The Plastic In The Ocean:

In reality, your straw usage has almost no impact on the ocean whatsoever. That’s partly because the “500 million straws a day statistic” is invented, and partly because the United States as a whole contributes very, very little to the plastic waste problem. About 60% of the plastic in the Ocean comes from five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand. Indonesia’s Citarum River, the most polluted river on Earth, is essentially a massive trash heap on a giant aquatic conveyor belt. Every day, 20,000 tons of waste and 340,000 tons of wastewater are dumped into it and then ferried to the ocean. In places like Vietnam, plastic in the water is the least of anyone’s concerns. Raw sewage is discharged directly into water ways, turning the rivers toxic.

In all, and speaking just of plastic pollution, Asia and Africa account for 95% of the problem. That leaves only 5% of the ocean’s plastic debris to be split between the continents of Europe, North America, South America, and Australia. According to this chart, Brazil is the worst plastic offender outside of Asia and Africa. 23 European countries, collectively, are 18th on the list. The United States comes in 20th. America, with its population of 330 million, is dwarfed on the plastic pollutant list by countries like Sri Lanka with 310 million fewer people.

[Keep reading. . .]

Walsh goes on to say that even if the United States were to eliminate not only plastic straws but all plastic altogether, it would do almost nothing to clean up the oceans.  “The United States accounts for a tiny fraction of the plastic in the ocean and straws account for a tiny fraction of that tiny fraction.”

The pictures that have been circulating, including that poor turtle with the straw up its nose, are mostly of plastic pollution caused by these other countries that Walsh cites.

So why have straws become such a big deal?  One reason, bizarrely, is the viral spread of the statistic that the United States throws away over 500 million straws a day.  It turns out, the source of that number is a 9-year-old boy!  He called a straw company, which told him that their customers use 1.6 straws per day.  He then multiplied that figure by the population of the United States, 325 million, to come up with 520 million.  I salute this young man for his scholarly spirit, but this is not a valid research methodology.

At any rate, not using straws and preventing other people from using them seems less about saving the environment and more about virtue signaling.

 

Photo from MaxPixel, CC0, Public Domain

 

May 17, 2018

In the jungles of Brazil, some tribes kill children who are disabled, who were born to single mothers, and who are twins.  The Brazilian legislature is considering a bill outlawing these practices.  But anthropologists and other postmodernists are opposing the bill on the grounds that child-killing is part of these tribes’ culture.

So reports the new Patheos blogger John Ehrett, who explores the conflict between human rights, as liberal democracies have understood them, and the new ideology of cultural relativism.  Throughout, he shows the necessity of an objective moral order, as given by Christianity.

You have GOT to read his post, Moloch in the Dock:

For the last couple of weeks, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this astonishing feature story in Foreign Policy magazine. The article explains that a number of indigenous tribes in Brazil still routinely kill disabled children who would (traditionally) be unable to survive under harsh jungle conditions. “Those targeted include the disabled, the children of single mothers, and twins — whom some tribes . . . see as bad omens.”

As someone previously under the impression that such practices were a vestige of the past, I find it stunning that such killings have gone on openly for decades. More shocking still, though, is the fact that a bill outlawing the practice is actually being met with opposition: “[W]hat may seem an overdue safeguard has drawn widespread condemnation from academics and indigenous rights groups in the country. . . . One anthropologist at Funai, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the foundation, argues that child killing among indigenous peoples must be understood in the context of the Amazon’s incredibly harsh environment.” The article goes on to explain that the bill “immediately created tensions between those who champion universal human rights, which prioritize the individual, and those who support cultural relativism, which favors the freedom of communities to organize themselves according to their own moral codes.”

First things first: I find it difficult to comprehend the degeneracy of those who would sanction such killings in the name of “preserving culture.” I have to wonder whether these anthropologists would hold that laws against murder are similarly unjustified in high-crime areas where violence is commonplace. After all, why infringe on those areas’ local norms? (And yes, I realize this is particularly low-hanging fruit, but I can’t help pointing out that such relativism is the logical terminus of any intellectually honest attempt to simultaneously secularize and privatize morality.)

Yet upon reflection, I’m also aware that my outrage is grounded in my own worldview—indeed, modern liberal “human rights” frameworks are predicated on deeply Christian assumptions about the dignity of the person.

[Keep reading. . .]

 

Illustration, Molech Worship, by Charles Foster (Rhymes with Right) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

November 7, 2017

Donna_Brazile_(30219832340)
The Republican Party is having its problems, but the Democratic Party may be in an even greater state of disarray. Especially now that a Democratic insider has published an exposé of the Clinton campaign’s takeover of the Democratic Party.

Donna Brazile is a long-time Democratic operative and a frequent guest on TV news panels. After Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down as head of the Democratic National Committee after the hacked e-mail debacle, Brazile took over that role.

She has written about her frustrations trying to lead the party despite the machinations of Hillary Clinton and her campaign organization, telling the tale in
Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.

Brazile says that the Clinton campaign was actively controlling the party as much as a year before her nomination, thus preventing Bernie Saunders from having a chance.

Brazile also tells about financial shenanigans, with the campaign taking over party funds, commandeering state money, and laundering contributions through the party coffers.  This, despite Clinton’s calls for campaign finance reform.

Even though she was the chair of the Democratic National Committee, she found that every decision and expense had to go through “Brooklyn,” a reference to the Clinton headquarters.

Brazile took office after Hillary Clinton was nominated, and she writes about her frustration with Clinton’s campaign operations and her conduct as a candidate.

Brazile even tells about how she considered starting a process to remove Clinton from the ticket, due to health issues, the stumbling and loss of coherence which her campaign attributed to “pneumonia.” Brazile considered putting together an alternative ticket of Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (NJ).

Overall, Brazile lambastes Clinton and her organization for blowing the election and putting Donald Trump into the White House.

The Democratic establishment is furious with Brazile for writing this book.  Factions are defending themselves and attacking each other.

To her fellow Democrats who are telling her to shut up, Brazile says that she is not “Patsy the Slave” (Brazile is African-American) and that she insists on telling her story.

Read this excerpt from her book published at Politico.

Brazile is being supported by the Bernie Saunders wing of the party, which wants to impose a more left-leaning ideology and is contending with the more pragmatic Democratic establishment for control of the party.

 

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