truth

Goodbye, Gramps

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I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. It was just a matter of time, but it’s a time you never want to arrive.

He turned 91 just this past September. He’d had several episodes of going in and out of the hospital, but he always came back out – sometimes not quite the same as he went in.

I have been extremely blessed with something I know a lot of my friends and acquaintances haven’t had – until last week, all four of my grandparents were still living. It is something really special for someone to know their grandparent(s) into adulthood. Many people only have vague memories of their grandparents while they were children, or visited so infrequently they never really got to know them. Often, the memories aren’t really memories so much as they are memories given/created by others via conversations and stories, pictures, or maybe a video. So, I am keenly aware of how lucky I have been.

I am struggling with what to write as memories come rushing back to flood my mind, and my eyes, with happiness and joy.

I guess I don’t really need to say much about those.

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I told him to smile for a selfie…this is what I got!

I just need a place to express remembrance and appreciation for a man who loved his wife (their 69th wedding anniversary was the day before his passing) and his children. For raising my dad in a loving home. For raising his family in a home of Christian faith and passing that legacy on to the rest of his family. For working hard, at two jobs (a fruit orchard and a factory) and teaching his family the value of hard work. For having a wry sense of humor and a mischievous smile. For all the time spent camping, and fishing, and playing cards, and laughing. For all the stories of life on the farm. For going back to the family farm in South Dakota and telling us about his younger life in a sod house on the prairie. For the story of outrunning and catching a jack rabbit in the orchard. For the times of sharing meals. For the quiet times sitting on the patio, sharing conversation, a sunset, a cool breeze, and sometimes even a beer. For the garden goodies he grew every year. For his mealtime prayer that never changed and I will forever hear in my head, “God is great and God is good and we thank Him for this food.”

Now, he is home in Heaven with his Savior. He is in His presence, praising the One who gave him life. He is whole again.

I am sure he is now fishing, gardening and farming, playing cards, talking with his parents and the son he lost to cancer while a toddler. He is hanging out and laughing with the siblings that have gone on before him. He is, no doubt, preparing a place for those who will come after him as well – because that is the type of person he was.

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Tools of my grandfather – bench vise and a pole saw he used on the farm.

Saying goodbye to Gramps is, after all, not really a goodbye. It’s just a “see you later.” Cliche, I know, but I believe it really is the truth. I know that one day we will sit together again and do the things we enjoyed here on Earth, because we have been given and accepted a promise.

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A few quiet moments with Gramps, hours before he joined his Heavenly Father.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

I hope you have that knowledge too. The knowledge and assurance that death is not the end for a loved one, or for yourself. That one day you will be reunited, because it sure takes the sting out of death.

Am I still sad? Yes, of course. Not because I have no hope, but because of the missed opportunities I could have had with him or the opportunities my own kids will miss too. But, with the sadness comes rejoicing as well. How can I not be happy for him as he continues to live, living in triumph over death? There is still a funeral and memorial to come, but for now this will do. Goodbye is so hard to say, and yet…

“Welcome to Heaven, Harold! You are going to be missed down there because you were really loved. But don’t you worry, your family knows where you are and they are celebrating too. We have lots of time and I’ll show you around in a bit. But first, how about I show you a thing or two at canasta…”

Goodbye, Gramps.

Check Your Bias: Media Evaluation

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I used to tell my students there was no such thing as unbiased media – everyone has a slant – and I stand by that statement. However, there are media resources/outlets that do their best to remain “neutral”, as hard as that may be. One thing we know, even if an outlet tries to remain bias free the person/people contributing the media still have a bias.

I recently found a source I wish I had known about while I was in the classroom. It would have been incredibly valuable! The site is called AllSides.com. The cool thing is that you can get news from across the political spectrum – the Left, Center, and the Right. So, if you are a news hound like I am, you can get your news from all perspectives, not just the ones Google thinks you want to see (remember, Google logs your clicks and searches so it progressively narrows the results you get based on your selections).

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AllSides.com site banner

An interesting part of this website is the ability to check your own bias. It has you take their short bias survey, but you also have the ability to complete a bias survey from Pew Research as well as a political party quiz from Pew (for confirmation of where you fall, specifically, or seriously have no idea). All together those surveys give you a pretty complete picture of your social and political bias.

From there, you can rate the numerous media outlets based on your perception of their bias. Of course, your opinion is only a small part of the overall bias rating. They take all the submissions (a sort of crowd-sourcing) and then use statistical research and methodologies to develop on over-all rating for the media source. The methods they are using is really quite interesting. For me, I agreed with the bias rating on about 70% of the media outlets. I gave my input and added it to the aggregate results.

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An example of what you would see at AllSides.com

The important thing here is that you are contributing to bias awareness. Why is that important? Well, too many American’s get their information from too few sources. If more Americans took time to look at the same topic from different sources/perspectives, they might understand the topic in a more well-rounded way. Instead, many Americans fall into or use a confirmation bias. This is dangerous, especially in a technological, highly connected society that is hyper-sensitive and hyper-politicized.

We have to (no, really NEED to) stop using just one source to support our argument. Or, even better, we need to stop using sources that fit our point of view. We need to encourage more media sources to go back to what they used to do – report, without editorial and bias. We need to stop trying to argue our points over social media and instead demand truthful, unbiased reporting.

I know. Maybe I am too hopeful that we can “turn this ship around”. But, I believe that if we are more aware of our own bias we might have a chance. I think using websites like this is a good first step in the right direction.

**Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement for the website mentioned above and I am in no way affiliated with the organization. Just a satisfied new user.**

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

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Rather, they have been here all along and top administration officials in previous Executive branch positions have either ignored them and benefited from it, or allowed them and benefited from it. Either way, the evidence that the Russians are playing freely on American soil and in American cyberspace appears to be mounting – and this isn’t just a Trump issue, this is an issue that was prevalent long before him.

The interesting thing is this all took place during James Comey’s FBI. Another big questions is, if this was going on while he was the head of the FBI, why was this issue not raised during the past administration, like screamed from a mountain top! Or why wasn’t it raised during the presidential election when a Clinton was running and clearly benefitted from the arrangement outlined in the article?

There are a lot of things the need to be questioned here AND why isn’t this all over the media?

See the article and link below:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Source: FBI uncovered Russian bribery plot before Obama administration approved controversial nuclear deal with Moscow | TheHill

And an UPDATE:

Senate Judiciary opens probe into Obama-era Russian nuclear bribery case

 

Tragedies Shouldn’t Serve Political Agendas

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre, I have struggled with what to say. Words can’t really express the sorrow, the hurt, the grieving that some must feel and offering words of condolence sometimes feels hollow when you feel helpless. Yet, words of condolence and understanding are all that can really be offered at this time.

I am not a victim and I don’t know anyone personally (at least not to my knowledge as of now) that was affected. What I do know is that bad stuff often happens to good people and there really isn’t anything we can do about it. That isn’t comforting, I know, but unfortunately humans do bad things to each other and until something changes in our hearts, people always will.

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One of the reasons I have struggled to find words to write is that there are always those who use tragedies to pursue their political agenda. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle they are on, they just try to use it for political capital in their fight to enact their agenda. No time to grieve. No time to mourn. No time to comfort. Just straight to the microphone and soapbox.

There are discussions that have to be had, that is for sure. But they need to be done rationally, in a time set apart from the tragedy so that knee-jerk reactions don’t add to or become a part of the problem – or worse, have unintended consequences that create larger issues. Time, they say, heals all wounds. How much time? Well, “they” have never said but I am pretty sure they didn’t mean hours, or days, or maybe even weeks after something so horrific.

Let’s just take a step back and breathe for a minute, or three.

Then let’s talk. With reason, rather than emotion.

 

 

9/11: Inside and Outside Perspectives

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So we may never forget…

Every year as a history teacher I used to be faced with the reality that the anniversary of 9/11 also came very close to the beginning of the year. I was always challenged with the question, What do I do to commemorate the anniversary in my classroom this year?

It actually is an easy question, aside from the myriad of choices I had at my disposal. I mean there are a plethora of sites, organizations, and materials that are available to these days so there is no shortage. But, the harder part was always what can I use to help students who were barely alive, at the time of the attack, understand the scope of the attack while also helping them to understand the feelings of the day. That is a much harder task because helping students connect to historical events is really tough. So, I had two videos that were really the mainstay to my instruction and let to larger, more in-depth units later in the year or even to following year.

In most cases, I would start their exposure to the subject during their junior year since I had them for US History. It is, of course, an American historical event. The following year, as seniors, I would pick up where I left off in their exposure and delve more deeply into the background and aftermath of 9/11 via units in my Contemporary Issues class. This would allow them to develop a deeper understanding with a more complete history of the event instead of just a simple moment of commemoration.

Two invaluable resources are shown above and each are briefly described below.

Inside Perspective: 9/11

There is of course really only one video that can be used for this purpose. What was it like inside the Twin Towers that day? While this can’t be fully known, there is only one surviving video from inside the towers that day and it is the one shot by the Naudet brothers, Jules and Gedeon, as they were recording a documentary about become a New York firefighter. The video, 9/11, is or should be essential watching, really for all Americans.

Perspective. Always an important thing to consider. There is no better video to show students what it was like inside the towers. I really believe this is a MUST SEE for students.

If you would like to see this video (if you haven’t, or want to remember) you can see it on YouTube, in its entirety (here / here / here), though it is hard to tell for how long as it is copyrighted. I have included several links just in case one or more becomes unavailable. It is also available for sale from many of the popular shopping sites.

Outside Perspective: 9/11 Day that Changed the World

Again, I believe there are questions that have to be answered and students often wonder after watching the first video, What was going on outside the buildings and what were our leaders doing while the attack was happening? This video answers both those questions with incredible insight so this was also an important video for them to see.

This video takes actual news footage, firefighter and police radio broadcasts, phone calls, hijacker cockpit radio transmissions, air traffic control conversations, and weaves it together with interviews of the most important people (except President Bush) who had a role that day. This video was put together by the Smithsonian Channel for the 10 year anniversary of the attack, therefore giving the people who were responsible for running the country and cities a chance to put a little time and perspective into their insights. The video is extremely powerful as it bounces between cities as the timeline of the attack unfolds and then incorporates the interviews of the officials

This video is currently available on YouTube as well (here / here). It is also available to order at the usual places online.

Final Thought

It is important to remember 9/11. We can never forget what led to it, and the profound affects it had on our nation moving forward from it. There were implications in and to all facets of life. We must never forget – ever.

 

**Please be aware that both of the videos deal with sensitive topics and show some alarming scenes. Do not let that discourage you from showing them to students, however be sensitive that each student may handle to emotions differently and react differently. It is always good to follow up each viewing with a discussion to process what they saw, what they felt, and how it impacts them.**

Truman and Free Speech

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“There is no more fundamental axiom of American freedom than the familiar statement: In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have. And the reason this is so fundamental to freedom is not, as many suppose, that it protects the few unorthodox from suppression by the majority. To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…But we would betray our finest traditions if we attempted…to curb the simple expression of opinion. This we should never do, no matter how distasteful the opinion may be to the vast majority of our people…We need not fear the expression of ideas—we do need to fear their suppression.”

– President Harry S. Truman

Context: fighting communism in the United States and around the world.

The emphasis above is mine. One of the most important freedoms we have is under attack and I’m afraid it will only get worse. The attacks are coming fast and furious and from every side. I doubt there will be a turn from this trend, only a charging straight into an unknown and dark future.

“We punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have”

We have sunk so low these days that we are punishing people for their opinions. I don’t mean we are legally punishing them, though I suspect we aren’t far off from this. (On second thought, maybe we are – see the baker, the florist, the photographer, the wedding venue, etc. being prosecuted because of their beliefs and opinions.)

We are now punishing people in the public arena via social media, sometimes even to the point of violence off-line. There is no crime in holding an opinion and expressing it, yet many people apparently believe it is these days. The trend to punish people for their opinions has gone to name calling, bullying, harassing, taunting, threatening, unfriending, embarrassing, humiliating, and in some cases even following through with physical violence simply because someone disagrees with another person’s opinion or disagrees with their extreme viewpoint.

Take this student photo article as an example. No harm done, to anyone, by her posting a photo she is proud of. It is easy to imagine that anyone would post a picture they have when they got it while interacting with someone famous. So, when did it become acceptable to treat someone so poorly because you disagree with them?

We teach our kids in school not to bully, harass, threaten, or otherwise make someone uncomfortable (Really? Because that’s reality…). Yet, there is no reasonable expectation among the adult world that this will carry forth into daily life. We aren’t practicing what we preach. It brings to mind that whole “Do what I say, not what I do” adage.

Now, it appears at least as adults, we celebrate people who go out of their way to bully, harass, or even attack others who have opinions that don’t line up with mainstream opinion. We are teaching our kids that it is ok to fight detestable and offensive opinions with violence and intimidation and bullying and harassment, etc. as long as we believe it to be repugnant.

The whole point of the United States and it’s foundation was to protect free speech, even the kind we find repugnant. Our Founders, who were persecuted for their beliefs and opinions, are celebrated because they fought against a society that believed their ideas were repugnant. (Back to the whole historical argument – were our Founders patriots or terrorists? It depends on your point of view.) Our Constitution is meant to protect all ideas and opinions, even the ones we don’t like, because we are supposed to have a “marketplace of ideas”. Take the ones you like and leave the ones you don’t. There is nothing in the Constitution about convincing others they are wrong by bullying and harassing them into changing their idea.

Truman understood that “To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…”  He understood that if there is a problem in society it needed to be discussed and worked on until it was fixed. If there is a belief that our country is going in the wrong direction, then there needs to be open dialogue about it not suppression and violence.

If we become a society that suppresses ideas we don’t like or find repugnant, how do we move forward? Censorship at every corner and in every facet of life? I know everyone hates the cliche “slippery slope,” but we are seeing some prime examples these days. Where does the suppression of ideas or thoughts, or opinions end? What one person finds objectionable, another finds acceptable. Who gets to decide in a open and free society?

 

 

 

Spicer: Inarticulate and Ineloquent

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Many of you won’t want to hear this, but Sean Spicer was TECHNICALLY correct.

Press Secretary Pressure

Before we get into that though, let’s pause for a second and think about this guy and his very difficult job. How many of you would be able to stand up in front of a hostile crowd of reporters, get asked questions you haven’t prepared for, about subjects you aren’t totally knowledgeable about? What if those questions were about something you knew well, like your job? Would you be able to produce thoughtful and coherent responses on the spot, as you are grilled by the press? My guess would be no, probably not. That is a lot of pressure!

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not a fan of Sean Spicer. I haven’t been impressed with his performance thus far and there have been many other press secretaries who have impressed me by doing a much better job. When I say much better, I mean they were articulate and eloquent, nearly always. Remember, this is a tough job! So, who comes to mind? To name just a few during my “knowingly aware” time paying attention to politics, I would say Dee Dee Myers and George Stephanopoulos (both for Clinton), Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan, and Dana Perino (all for G.W. Bush), as well as Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney (both for Obama). All of these former press secretaries stand out in my mind because they handled the job well, articulately and eloquently. The press secretary shouldn’t be the story, which Spicer clearly doesn’t seem to grasp.

Difficult Comparison

The subject at hand, however, are Spicer’s comments regarding a comparison of Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons amidst his civil war and Hitler’s use of chemical weapons during WWII and the Holocaust. He was TECHNICALLY correct when he said, originally, and in other interviews as clarification, “[Hitler] didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons…[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing…[I was] trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers.”

Granted, this is a tough comparison without some context. Context, as journalists should know, is important but many in the room that day (and many others for a week or so thereafter) jumped into the fray and condemned the remarks Spicer made, whether they had done their research for context or not. Therein lies the problem, many (especially in social media circles) jumped on a bandwagon they knew very little about or cared to get clarification about because they were shouting from the mountain tops about how gross an injustice his statements were. And, like usual, there was enough public outcry to cause yet another person to come back with their tail between their legs and offer an apology for something that didn’t really need to be apologized for.

It’s a sensitive subject, I know that. I had taught for years, very passionately, about the WWII and the Holocaust in my own history classroom. My students knew very well about the Holocaust and the personal stories of Jews killed by the Nazis, as well as survivors of the Holocaust. I even included some personal family history in my class. My students would often make comments about how much they learned and how the subject impacted them, about how reading personal accounts and watching movies or viewing images made them feel. Many expressed confusion about how the world could let something like the Holocaust happen, let alone not take direct action to stop it.

So, when I heard Spicer’s comments, I had some context and I knew he was TECHNICALLY correct.

Context, TECHNICALLY Speaking

Context is always important. Taking something out of context can really exacerbate an issue if people don’t understand the topic. This is one of those cases.

Yes, the Nazis and Hitler used chemicals to exterminate Jews. Again, no dispute there. It is well documented history. However, chemical weapons were never used in open combat, to kill combatants or civilians indiscriminately (see the CWC link below or visit A Brief History of Chemical Warfare: Timeline). This is the context to which Spicer was referring. I don’t believe, in any way, was he trying to downplay what was done to the Jews nor was he denying chemicals weren’t used on them.

The Jews were captives, rounded up for the express purpose of killing them in large quantities. Under the liberal and broad definition of chemical weapons, as defined by the Chemical Weapons Convention (signed in 1993 and enforced in 1997), the extermination could be seen as using chemical weapons. However, the CWC is based on the first understanding of what chemical weapons were, as defined by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. To be clear, the standards by which we define chemical weapons today, didn’t exist during WWII. The extermination of Jews wasn’t open combat. It was targeted, deliberate, controlled, and contained. It was horrible and can’t/shouldn’t be forgotten, but it shouldn’t be judged using the same standards as to what Spicer was actually referring to.

Fact Checking

Fact checking has become a must today, not only for politics/politicians but it seems it is seriously needed for media outlets as well. The fact is, not all fact checkers are equal and media outlets that provide fact checking should be suspect from the start. Context : fact checkers pick and choose which facts to check and thus can add to biased information. In general, only one source has been reliably reliable – Factcheck.org . When looking into this issue I found that two fact checking websites that I use often addressed the issue. While one offered a mostly unbiased assessment, the other did not. Fact checking should only present the facts and not offer opinions in order to skew the reader’s opinion.

Unfortunately, what I found when I visited politifact.com left me flummoxed and irritated. What I found was a fact checking sight that seemed to be swayed by public opinion and bandwagon riding. It was spinning the facts in order to join the errant public outcry. Their claim of “Pants On Fire” is a misuse of historical record and their standard for such a claim is based on a definition that didn’t exist at the time of crime.

On the other hand, Factcheck.org addressed the issue with more in-depth research and historical review, as well as more context. In “Hitler and Chemical Weapons” they didn’t say Spicer was wrong, per se, but (probably for fear of liberal backlash) they didn’t say he was right either. Instead, they merely tried to explain why Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons in combat.

Searing Double Standard in the Media

While doing research on this topic, I discovered an incident I didn’t recall or ever even remember hearing about. Interestingly enough, it came from a member of the liberal media while talking on a notoriously liberal media outlet. Also not so surprisingly, I can’t find anything showing he faced a backlash because of his comments. To his credit, however, he stood by his comments and defended Spicer.

The original incident was from Chris Matthews on MSNBC. As far as I can tell, he is still employed (NBCUniversal and Comcast) and there were no calls for his dismissal at the time of his statement. As such, there have not been any calls from the liberal media to fire him as a result of his defending of Spicer either. There have been cries from conservatives for him to be fired, but only to show the double standard the media has when one of the people is their own. He hasn’t been fired, but then neither has Spicer. It would appear the biggest reason for the outcry would be because of the dislike for the president and anything or anyone associated with him, not because someone was disrespecting the victims of the Holocaust or that he got his facts incorrect.

Final Thought

Thankfully, Spicer wasn’t fired over this episode and cooler heads prevailed. He is likely being pushed out of the press secretary’s seat because, as I said at the beginning, of his inarticulate and ineloquent handling of his job. He clearly wasn’t suited for the job from the beginning.

Care should be taken to not redefine and rewrite history simply because it doesn’t fit into today’s newest interpretation of the facts. History is messy and sometimes even offensive. We should be wary of people who try to make it fit their agenda so they can browbeat the unsuspecting into their point of view. Social media is the favorite avenue these days, but the media seems to be participating wholeheartedly.  This needs to stop. Verify, and report. That is all.

NOTE: I realize this blog isn’t being posted in a timely manner (I have been working on it for a long while) and the topic has likely passed from the minds of most readers, but I wanted to get it out there any way.

 

 

 

Rumors – Investigate and Authenticate

President Obama is an alien robot from a planet just beyond our galaxy that wants to do medical experiments on us, which started with changing our healthcare system to something no one can understand or navigate.

Shhh!

No, this is, of course, not true. But, if I had seen it on Facebook (liked or shared by a friend or family member), Twitter (I don’t participate btw), other social media site, or forwarded to me by a trusted person in my email contacts then I should assume that it is. WRONG! I am a skeptical cynic of much and very rarely do I lend any credence whatsoever to this stuff because it rarely is founded in truth. Rather, it is likely being perpetuated by someone that has some sort of agenda, whether is be political, economic, nutrition, health, or medical.

So yesterday I got yet another email from someone that failed to do their “due diligence” before forwarding it to my inbox. It would be comical, if it weren’t so sad about what people will believe without verification.

Please, before you pass something along, do your homework. You owe it to those you are going to communicate with. 

Check out the link below to see the latest offender in the rumor mill, which apparently is getting new life this year from years past.

snopes.com: Obama Explains National Anthem Stance.