Category Archives: Current Events

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s not just another national holiday. It’s an opportunity to remember just how far we’ve come as a nation reconciling with its unjust past and how much further we have to go in realizing one man’s dream. Regardless of your politics or attitude, take advantage of that opportunity today. The past cannot be changed, but the future can be molded.

In that spirit, please take a moment to re-listen to Dr. King’s legendary speech, if only to keep that dream alive.

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Why We’ll Never (Fully) Get Rid Of Misinformation

How Private Information Helps Fake News Hoodwink the Public

Being informed is important. In some cases, it is literally a matter of life and death. That’s a big reason why I’ve made multiple posts urging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It could literally save your life. It’s also free, by the way. How many other things that could save your life are also free?

Seriously, people, get vaccinated. I’ll belabor that as much as I have to.

However, this isn’t only about vaccines or the idiots who refuse to get them. It’s about the “information” that these people are using to justify their choices. I put “information” in quotes because calling some of this stuff information is a poor use of the term.

Information, by definition, is supposed to inform. It’s supposed to make you more aware and educated about the world around you. Lies, propaganda, and misinformation do none of that. That sort of thing makes you dumber, more vulnerable, and more easy to manipulate by those willing to do so.

It happens in politics, religion, pop culture, business, and even shady marketing schemes. Much of these endeavors don’t have facts, truth, or verifiable information on their side. As a result, they require that people buy into whatever misinformation they feed them. It’s dishonest, disgraceful, and should be condemned to the utmost.

The problem is that people still buy into it.

Moreover, some people actively seek for this kind of information.

This is something I think many people have experience with, either directly or indirectly. I also suspect it has become a lot more relevant lately, given the rise of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theories. This sort of mentality was always present. The problem is that the internet and social media have made it disturbingly easy to spread.

Now, it’s easy and tempting to blame big tech companies for this phenomenon. Make no mistake. Big tech companies are certainly at fault to some degree. Many of these same companies also have done some incredibly shady things, to say the least.

However, I’m still of the opinion that, no matter how disreputable big tech companies can be, it still ultimately falls on the users to control what information they seek. Whether it’s Google, Facebook, or TikTok, these systems don’t operate in a vacuum. They simply respond to user input. We are, to some extent, responsible for the information we seek.

I’m certainly guilty of seeking out information that isn’t exactly reputable. There have been times, including a few very recent instances, where I find myself seeking information that turned out to be less than truthful. Even if it was for something as innocent as comic book news or NFL trade rumors, it’s still misinformation as best and outright lies at worst.

That may not do much harm if the information you’re seeking is only damaging to your Fantasy Football team, but if that information involved politics or your health, then that’s where the real damage can occur. I’ve already seen it manifest with friends who fell down some very dark internet rabbit holes. Some of that might have just been by accident, but I also don’t doubt it was intentional in some cases.

In recent years, I’ve tried to make a more concerted effort to seek accurate, truthful information. I haven’t always succeeded, but I genuinely try to find true and accurate information, even if it’s something I don’t like. The fact it takes so much effort has me worried.

On top of that, it has led me to believe that it might not be possible to avoid misinformation. Even without the internet, it will find you. Propaganda and lies did exist before the digital age. It’ll likely always exist to some extent, so long as human brains are wired a certain way. Since we can’t change that anytime soon, despite the best efforts of Elon Musk, we’re likely stuck with misinformation.

This has me genuinely concerned because, even as some tech companies are making greater efforts to combat misinformation, it’s still relatively easy to find. On top of that, there are people out there working for nefarious organizations who are actively engaged in creating, spreading, and supplementing misinformation. Even if you shut them all down tomorrow, others will just spring up to replace them.

In some respects, it’s a lot like the war on drugs. You could arrest every single drug dealer in the world this morning, but by dusk a bunch of new dealers will emerge to take their place. Like it or not, there’s still a demand and there’s money, influence, and power to be gained.

Misinformation may not be the same as heroin or pot, but is subject to the same incentives. People actively seek it. Taking it in makes them feel special, important, and smarter than their neighbor. Today, it’s misinformation about vaccines, liberals, and gaming culture. Tomorrow, it might be about something else entirely.

It all comes back to how we’re wired. Our brains are not designed to seek truth or accurate information. They’re designed to keep us alive. Misinformation might be damaging in the long run, but it can make us feel better in the short-term, which is sadly more than enough incentive for some, even if it proves deadly in the long run.

I seriously wish I could end this on an uplifting note. I genuinely tried to find some way of putting a positive spin on this struggle. Unfortunately, the best I could come up with is to simply urge everyone to try harder to seek true and accurate information. If these past two years have taught us anything, it’s that bad information can cause a lot of harm.

We can never get rid of it, so long as our brains operate as they do.

We can and should still do our part. Truth and accuracy matters. You may not like it, but it may very well save your life in the long run.

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Filed under Current Events, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, rants, technology

New Zealand Pushes For International Bans On Fully Autonomous Weapons (And Why Other Countries Should Follow Suit)

What are drones? – Drone Wars UK

Whenever I discuss or follow issues surrounding artificial intelligence, it’s not long before the topic of killer robots come up. That’s to be expected and not just because most of us have seen “Terminator” one too many times. However, it’s no laughing matter.

At this stage in our technological development, killer robots and autonomous weapons aren’t restricted to science fiction. They already exist in many respects. We just call them drones or unmanned combat aerial vehicles. These are real things that operate in real war zones. They have killed people, including innocent civilians.

They may not look like your typical T-101, but make no mistake. They’re every bit as deadly. They don’t need to hide within the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger. They can just flies thousands of feet over your head and kill from a distance. That’s a scary thought for anyone in a war zone, but you can take some comfort in that these machines still have human operators.

That could eventually change. As I’ve noted before, artificial intelligence is advancing to a point where it can match or exceed the skill of an ordinary human in specialized tasks. Even if we’re decades away form an AI that has the same cognitive capacity as an ordinary human, we already have AI systems that specialize in particular tasks, like chess.

It wouldn’t be that great a stretch to develop an advanced artificial intelligence that could specialize in flying combat drones without any human input. In principle, an artificial intelligence wouldn’t be nearly as prone to human error or hesitation if their human pilots were taken out of the equation.

However, that also raises some serious ethical, as well as strategic questions. If humans are out of the loop in operating these autonomous weapons systems, then what happens to how we conduct warfare? What does this mean for both sides of an armed conflict?

Ideally, an advanced AI will be better at making decisions to limit civilian casualties. That is likely the ultimate goal in researching these systems. The problem is we’re still a long way from that goal, so much so that one government in the world is already trying to establish a precedent.

Fittingly, it’s a government from an area that is not in any war zone, nor is it near one. New Zealand, a country not known for frequent warmongering, recently pushed for a worldwide ban on autonomous weapons systems. It’s a bold and ambitious effort, but one I believe we should take seriously.

Stuff: Government to push for international ban of autonomous weapons, or killer robots

The Government will push for an international ban on fully autonomous weapons, or killer robots, that use artificial intelligence to target and kill people without any human decision-making.

New Zealand has for decades advocated for disarmament in international forums, after declaring the country a nuclear-free zone in the 1980s. Autonomous weapons are seen as a new frontier in the arms race between major military powers.

Disarmament Minister Phil Twyford on Tuesday said the Government had decided to take a “tough and uncompromising” stance on autonomous weapons, and seek a ban of fully autonomous weapons on the international stage.

Regardless of how you feel about New Zealand’s policies or intentions, this is one rare instance where politics might have to inject itself into science. Like it or not, the pace of artificial intelligence is accelerating. Few agree on how much time it’ll take to reach human level AI, but nobody denies that it’s an advancing field.

At some point in the very near future, we’ll have AI systems specifically tailored to fly combat drones with the same proficiency as a skilled Air Force pilot. That does not require human level AI. It just requires AI that can handle the various tasks associated with operating these systems.

When that time comes, it will be tempting to take flawed humans out of the loop. That means militaries with these autonomous weapons systems won’t have to be as hesitant when it comes to deploying these systems.

We can safely assume this because there’s a big difference between pushing a button that fires a gun and ordering another human being to fire that same gun. Even if that other human is trained and obedient, they’re still human. They can still make mistakes. They can still hesitate.

For once, that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, we need humans to hesitate in the midst of war. Were it not for hesitation, the Cuban Missile Crisis could’ve ended very differently.

If waging war is too easy for those with access to these systems, then more war will follow. More war means more death, destruction, and violence. Too much of that and lasting peace becomes much more difficult. The whole of 20th century history is proof enough of that.

Like nuclear weapons, autonomous weapons systems are a Pandora’s Box that cannot be closed once opened. We’ve already opened it partially thanks to drone warfare. For that reason, I think New Zealand has the right idea in terms of mitigating the potential danger.

Even if autonomous weapons systems become so advanced that they operate better than any human, we still need at least one human behind the decision making process. We still need a flesh-and-blood person to pull the trigger rather than entrusting that recourse to a machine.

We, as a species, simply cannot and should not walk this path with our technology. It’s not just about limiting the use of dangerous weapons. Once we start teaching these advanced AI’s to kill, then we won’t be able to unteach them. If they eventually become too good at it, then that does not bode well for humanity as a whole, regardless of which side they’re on in any war.

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A Message Of Hope (And Resilience) For Christmas 2021

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It is a special Christmas message of hope, motivation, and gratitude to help celebrate the season. Enjoy!

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Filed under Current Events, Jack's World, YouTube

Climate Change Is Real And I’m Old Enough To Feel Its Impact

Rising U.S. concern about climate change is mostly among Democrats | Pew  Research Center

Science is a long, laborious, and often tedious process. That’s to be expected. It is, by far, the most effective tool that humanity has in terms of gaining greater knowledge and understanding the world around us.

It’s not always intuitive. There are times when science has revealed just how wrong we were. It’s not that we were all stupid beforehand. We just didn’t have all the data. We could only assume as much as our current understanding allowed.

That’s fine.

That doesn’t make anyone a bad or ignorant person for having held those assumptions.

Science, by its nature, is a self-correcting process. It doesn’t assume anything. It’s always taking in new information, running more tests, and expanding on previous hypotheses. Most of the time, it affirms what we already suspected. Sometimes, though, it completely defies everything we thought we knew.

For that reason, some people just love pointing out all the times science was supposedly wrong to cling to dogmatic assumptions like creationism and Flat-Eartherism. These people really are idiots and they’re often asshole grifters who don’t deserve the slightest bit of sympathy.

Then, there are the climate change deniers. They’re not just skeptics, which I can understand to some extent. They’re outright deniers in that they work under the assumption that the whole study of climate change is a hoax or some environmentalist conspiracy.

Now, not everyone in that camp is a stupid asshole grifter who probably leans conservative and has connections to oil companies. Those people are certainly there and they deserve plenty of scorn. At the same time, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to some who just can’t see the forest from the trees.

To the latter, I’d like to share my own personal testimony that I hope will improve your understanding of the topic. Whether you believe it or not, climate change is a serious issue that could have serious consequences for billions of people all over the world. We can and should do something about it while we still have time.

I say that as someone who has been hearing about these environmental for most of his life. When I was a kid, I grew up watching cartoons that often threw in a few pro-environment messages. There were even shows that presented global warming as a serious issue and I’m not just talking about “Captain Planet.”

As a kid, I didn’t understand much of the science. Even most of the adults I talked to didn’t understand it. Some showed concern, but most weren’t inclined to give it much credence. Some even thought it was all just environmentalist propaganda.

It didn’t help that many of them lived in parts of the country where the weather didn’t change considerably from season to season. Many lived in the southern United States where they rarely got snow or cold temperatures of any kind. If the Earth was getting warmer, they weren’t going to notice.

The same could be said for the family I had living in the north. Some lived in areas that got a lot of snow. Talk to them about global warming and they’d be more likely to welcome it, often joking about how they wouldn’t mind shoveling less snow every winter.

Again, both these perspectives miss the forest from the trees. Climate, by definition, doesn’t focus on weather from day to day or even year to year. It tracks temperatures and conditions over a long span of time. For people who don’t pay attention or live in areas with relatively bland weather, it can be hard to sense.

For where I live, however, that’s not the case. I live in the Mid-Atlantic area of the United States. It’s an area that sees a wide range of conditions between winter and summer. I’ve lived through summers where it has been over 100 degrees for weeks on end. I’ve also lived through winters that have had multiple blizzards. I’ve experienced both extremes.

As a result, I take notice when those extreme change considerably. It doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes, it’s subtle to the point where you don’t realize it until years later. Now, given my age and how long I’ve been living in this area, I can safely say that I have felt the affects of climate change.

It has only become obvious to me over the past few years. In that time, I’ve really taken note of how mild every winter has been lately. It used to be things got pretty brisk in mid-October. In the weeks before Halloween, I had to stop wearing shorts and keep a sweatshirt handy. For the past couple years, it only seems to get chilly for a couple of days. Then, it’s up over 70 degrees again.

The winter months have been even more noticeable. When I was a kid, it rarely snowed in December, outside a few rare occasions. However, it was still usually cold, so much so that I had to wear a heavy coat for most days. These days, it has rarely gotten overly cold. I can go almost the entire month of December without having to wear more than a sweatshirt.

It’s still January and February that have been the most noticeable. For so many years, right up until 2015, I could usually count on at least two significant snowstorms. They were rarely full-blown blizzards, but it was still common to see some snow on the ground for the majority of the month.

That has changed considerably in recent years. In my area, there hasn’t been a significant snowstorm in over five years. The most we’ve gotten is, at most, four inches in a single storm. It usually turns to rain and melts within a day.

It’s a hell of a contrast to the winters I remember. Add that to summers that feel hotter and more humid for longer stretches of time and there’s no getting around it.

Climate change is real.

I’ve felt it. I’ve witnessed it. I’m seeing it happen within my lifetime.

I understand that climate involves weather patterns over a long period of time, often exceeding that of a typical human lifetime. However, even if it is anecdotal, I’ve still felt it. That’s deeply concerning to me. Even if it means I don’t have to shovel snow quite as often, it’s still cause for concern.

If the climate is changing that much in this span of time, then I think that’s going to be a bigger problem as time goes on. Moreover, it’s a problem we shouldn’t ignore or underscore. Regardless of your politics, you’re going to be affected by the weather, whether you like it or not.

Much of our civilization depends on weather patterns that are stable and consistent. Climate change will disrupt that stability. We might be able to adapt to some extent, but not if it happens all at once. In that instance, it could lead to a lot of upheaval and suffering. At that point, it’ll be too late.

Now, I’m not qualified to know what the best solutions are. I know they do exist and we need to invest in them because if we don’t, it could end up costing us much more in the future and not just in terms of money.

Regardless of how you feel about modern science, at least consider this personal testimony. Climate change is real. It’s happening. It could potentially lead to some serious problems down the line. Now is not the time to whine about the shortcomings of science. We all live on this planet together. Let’s do what we can to keep it comfortable.

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Filed under Current Events, Environment, history, politics, real stories

A New COVID-19 Variant Is Emerging (So Get Vaccinated!)

White House imposes travel restrictions for Africa amid new COVID-19 variant  - Kansas Reflector

I’m so sick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion at this point. It’s been almost two years of lockdowns, protocols, testing, and panic. In that time, millions have gotten sick and thousands have died. It’s hard to wrap our heads around that kind of loss. We can’t hope to understand what it’s like for those suffering this terrible illness or the pain their families feel when they lose someone.

It doesn’t matter what you’re politics are or how much you hate mask requirements. This pandemic has been a disaster wrapped with multiple layers of tragedy. Even though we have better treatments and multiple vaccines, it’s still raging. It’s unavoidable that more people will suffer and die.

To make matters worse, we were on the path to ending this pandemic. There was a brief period during the summer when it looked like it was over. We had beaten this virus and everything could go back to normal. Then, a variant emerged and the disease came roaring back. It certainly didn’t help that assholes, frauds, grifters, and liars got people killed by convincing one too many people to not get the vaccine.

We’re all getting a painful lesson in biology and evolution. Sadly, some of the idiots and assholes who are behind the denialism and conspiracy theories don’t even believe in evolution. That’s a problem because it’s still very real, especially in viruses.

From an evolutionary perspective, the old saying of what kills you makes you stronger is bullshit, at least with respect to viruses. It would be more accurate to say that what doesn’t kill you mutates, adapts, and tris again. Give it one too many opportunities and it will succeed. Viruses don’t care about your politics, your beliefs, or your nationality. They’re just microscopic terminators whose sole purpose is to infect and propagate.

Now, thanks to all the hesitancy and the undermining of public health, the COVID-19 virus is getting way more opportunities than it should’ve. It mutated once before to become more infectious. Recently, we learned that it has mutated again into a new variant. It’s called the Omicron Variant. It’s no a Transformer. It’s potentially a very dangerous turn for this disease that has already caused so much suffering.

While a part of me is tempted to panic, I think it’s important to maintain a balanced perspective. It’s not helpful to assume the worst or the best. Hell, that’s a big part of what made this pandemic so devastating in the first place. At most, we should be concerned about this new variant.

I’m certainly no expert and I have no business predicting how bad this new variant will be. I’m also aware that there are many mixed messages coming from various media outlets, many of which are not reliable. So, in the interest of offering some information with as little bias as possible, here is a brief piece about what we currently know about this variant from NPR.

NPR: What to know about omicron, the new COVID variant

The World Health Organization announced Friday that it deems this strain, B.1.1.529, a variant of concern, and has named it omicron. It’s the first new variant of concern since delta.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday night that no cases of omicron have been identified to date in the U.S., but that the agency has surveillance systems in place and it expects the variant will be identified quickly if it emerges in the U.S.

Here’s what we know so far about the new variant — and what we don’t.

The omicron variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges have been, suggesting it may have advantages over other variants.

The WHO says that the detection of the variant in South Africa coincided with a steep increase in cases there and that its prevalence is increasing in almost all provinces of the country. The variant has caused a particularly sharp rise in cases in the city of Pretoria, where it went from being essentially undetectable several weeks ago to now dominating the outbreak in a major city. Cases have also cropped up in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel during a relatively short period of time.

Why is it spreading so fast?

Scientists don’t know yet, but they believe it has to do with the variant’s mutations. “This variant has a large number of mutations. And those mutations have some worrying characteristics,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove with the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, in a video statement. Scientists say the variant has a number of mutations that are known to boost transmissibility and others that can help the virus infect cells more easily.

Still, scientists caution that there isn’t enough data yet to know for sure whether that’s the case.

What about the vaccines? Are there any signs the vaccine will be less effective against this variant?

There are hints in the virus’s genes that vaccines could be less effective against it and that there there could be a higher risk of reinfections.

But in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said: “Let me be clear, there is no data at the present time to indicate that the current vaccines would not work.”

The concern here is based on the fact that some of omicron’s mutations are ones that are already known to help the virus evade the immune system — to resist antibodies and avoid detection by some of the body’s front-line defenders.

But again, scientists don’t have enough data to say for sure.

I bolded that last sentence. That’s an important detail to remember. We just don’t know all the facts yet about this variant. As a result, people are going to make assumptions and asshole grifters will try to fill in those gaps with their agenda. I know it’s tempting to latch onto whatever information feels right, but that’s exactly why you should make the effort.

Don’t make too many assumptions.

Don’t get sucked into conspiracies, hashtags, and social media trends.

Wait for people who actually study viruses for a living to provide accurate information. Then, you can decide for yourself how much or how little you should worry.

In the meantime, and I’ll keep belaboring this for as long as I have to, get vaccinated! It’s because not enough people have gotten vaccinated that we’re in this situation. The longer we hesitate, the more opportunities we’ll give to this virus. Eventually, it’ll evolve to a point where we can’t fight it and we’ll be right back at square one or worse.

I don’t want that.

You don’t want that.

Nobody wants that.

This world has suffered enough from this pandemic. The best thing you can do is not make crazy assumptions before we know more about this variant and get vaccinated if you haven’t already. We can still end this pandemic, but only if we’re willing to adapt.

If we don’t, then the virus will. That is the only assumption we can safely make.

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Filed under Current Events, health, media issues, politics

Happy Black Friday Shopping (And Why I Love It)

Black Friday 2019: What You Need to Know - The New York Times

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Some of you may still be emerging from your food coma, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That just means you had a damn good meal. That’s exactly what Thanksgiving is all about.

Now, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. For some, it’s just another day after a holiday. It usually involves cleaning up the messes your relatives made, giving your stomach a much-deserved rest, and sleeping off a hangover, if necessary. There’s certainly a place for that sort of thing, especially after a holiday like Thanksgiving.

For me, though, the Friday after Thanksgiving is Black Friday. It’s all about Christmas shopping. I know it’s weird for a straight guy like me to say this, but I love Black Friday Christmas shopping. Even when I was a broke college student with no car, I still loved it. There’s just something about it that puts me in the holiday spirit.

I know that’s not a feeling shared by everyone. I don’t doubt that Black Friday is a joke to a lot of people. I also don’t deny that the commercials for Black Friday deals are annoying as hell. I don’t like them, either. I still tolerate them because just getting out there and enjoying the Black Friday experience is worth it.

That experience used to be a lot more pragmatic. As I’ve noted before, I take Christmas gifts very seriously. I’m one of those guys who has his decorations up by Halloween and does as much of his shopping as possible before Thanksgiving. Before the days of reliable internet shopping, that was a lot more challenging.

I actually needed to go out on Black Friday in order to complete my shopping list, picking up whatever I couldn’t find online. It could be stressful at times, especially for certain relatives who are hard to shop for. I also needed some of those Black Friday deals because for years, I had to be very careful with my shopping budget.

Believe me. You learn how to stretch a budget when you try to buy gifts when you’re still in college or just graduated with a sizable amount of loan debt.

Say what you will about those annoying commercials, but some of those Black Friday deals ensured I could get quality gifts for my loved ones that didn’t look overly cheap. It made Christmas morning that much more rewarding. It showed the people I love that I’m willing to go the extra mile for them on the holidays.

These days, I’m not quite as broke. I’m not rich, but I have a somewhat larger budget to work with and that has helped make my holiday shopping a lot more efficient. Thanks to a bunch of lists I maintain on Amazon, I’m usually able to get at least 80 percent of my shopping done before Black Friday. On rare occasions, I get all of it done.

Even so, I gladly venture out on Black Friday. Even if I don’t buy much, I just love taking in the holiday spirit and décor at every mall and shopping center I go to. Plus, going out and actually shopping is very different from just browsing online. When you’re walking around in a mall, it’s a lot easier to randomly come across something that would make a perfect gift that you never would’ve found otherwise.

Some of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever gotten for my family were a direct result of me just randomly browsing stores at the mall. I see them as small Christmas miracles. Last year, it was a lot harder to find those kinds of gifts because of the pandemic. This year, it’s still not completely back to normal, but I genuinely look forward to having a more traditional Black Friday shopping experience.

Hopefully, I find another special gift to give to a friend or loved one.

Even if I don’t, I’m just going to enjoy the holiday ambience that comes with Black Friday. I hope others do the same.

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, Christmas is coming up fast. Today is one of the best possible days to get started on your holiday shopping or finish it. That way, you can spend the rest of December just enjoying the holidays.

In that spirit, Happy Black Friday shopping, everyone! I hope you find something special for someone you love.

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Filed under Current Events, Jack Fisher's Insights

An Unholy Way To Handle Claims Of Sexual Assault (According To Liberty University)

Scandal at Liberty University: How a Christian college dismisses students'  reports of sexual assault | Salon.com

Every now and then, we encounter a story in the news that is outright egregious, but not the least bit shocking. There’s no question the details are awful. No matter how cynical or jaded you are, there are real injustices in this world. Innocent people are victimized in horrible crimes. A part of us wants to be outraged, but it’s just too unsurprising to get worked up.

I feel like we’ve had a lot of those stories over the past two years. I get the sense that a lot of people have just become so numb to horrible news.

Even so, we should still take notice when a terrible injustice is exposed, even if it doesn’t surprise us. That means that when another high-profile religious institution is found to be culpable in some egregious misdeeds involving sexual assault, we should still try and take interest.

Now, organized religion and egregious sex crimes aren’t new. They aren’t even that shocking anymore. Even if you consider yourself religious and strongly value your faith, it’s hard to miss the headlines that expose heinous crimes of sexual abuse and efforts to cover them up. It’s become so common and belabored that “South Parkdoes jokes about it.

It’s still serious and egregious. There are still real-life victims who suffer this abuse, but cannot get justice because the abusers hide behind religion and religious institutions. Regardless of your affiliation, I hope that upsets you, even if it doesn’t shock you.

For that reason, I also hope we can all share in the dismay and disgust regarding the recent revelations from Pro Publica about how Liberty University failed victims of sexual assault. If you haven’t read this recent report, I highly recommend doing so, but on an empty stomach. Some of the details are a bit graphic, but they’re still worth reading.

It’s a lengthy report that follows how multiple women who attended Liberty University, one of the most prominent Christian private schools in the United States, were sexually assaulted and the school failed to help them. In some cases, they were punished and shamed for the egregious sin of being victimized. It’s even more egregious than it sounds.

I won’t highlight every detail. Again, I encourage everyone to actually read the report. However, I will cite one excerpt that nicely sums up the environment that Liberty University created for victims of sexual assault.

Ten more former students told me they chose not to report their rapes to campus officials amid fear of being punished. “I knew I would face the blame for putting myself in that situation,” said Chelsea Andrews, a Liberty alum who said she was assaulted by a Liberty graduate student.

I hope it goes without saying that this is abhorrent. I also hope most reasonable people agree that we should be careful, understanding, and diligent when it comes to addressing accusations of sexual assault. I’ve said in the past that this can be tricky because sex crimes are difficult to prove and false accusations do happen, even if they’re rare.

In any case, lives can be ruined. People can be scarred for years because of what happened to them. We should definitely make an effort to improve how we handle these sorts of issues, but we should also actively work to not make things worse.

After reading this report, I won’t hide my underlying sentiment. By nearly every measure, Liberty University offers a case study in how not to handle claims of sexual assault. The fact it’s a religious school that touts conservative Christian values only makes it worse, not to mention hypocritical.

That also makes it unsurprising because, as we’ve seen, hypocrisy from organized religion is not that hard to find. However, this is a bit more personal for me because I actually know people who’ve gone to Liberty University. I’ve visited the area around Lynchburg, Virginia where the campus is based and have spent some extended time there.

That school is a big deal in that region. It’s hard to explain to people who have never traveled to that part of Virginia how big a presence they have. They’re not just another college within a college town. This is a university that is closely aligned with all things conservative and Christian.

It was founded by Jerry Falwell, a man who basically spent his entire adult life advocating for a Christian theocracy in America. That’s not hyperbole. Falwell and many like him actively promoted an ideology that sought to impose their brand of Christianity on every domain of American society.

That, in and of itself, should concern everyone who doesn’t want to live in a world devoid of fun, freedom, and anything remotely sexy. However, I’ve already touched on that thorny issue, so I won’t belabor it.

All you need to know is that Liberty University espouses an ultra-conservative brand of Christianity. That also means they impose strict codes of conduct on their students and faculty. I’m not just talking about rules against drinking, smoking, mini-skirts, and premarital sex. This is a school that forbids cursing, extended hugging, and R-rated movies.

Basically, it’s the antithesis of a party school. People go here to be educated in conservative Christian traditions. That’s why they’ve often been closely aligned with the religious right in America.

Now, that’s not to say everyone who goes to that school is some uptight carbon copy of Kirk Cameron. Some of the people I know went to that school found ways to drink, smoke, and get laid while attending. They just had to be extra careful than usual.

After reading this story, I find myself wondering how many gross misdeeds happened in the shadows that never came to light. That same code of conduct I just mentioned made it next to impossible to responsibly address matters involving sexual assault. You could go so far as to say it demonstrates the worst possible way to handle such issues.

Think of it in terms of both context and theology. Here is this very conservative school that is extremely anti-sex in any way that doesn’t result married people producing more Christians. That means any sex act, be it consensual or forced, is a gross violation of that code of conduct they hold so dear.

Then, imagine being someone who was sexually assaulted. You can try to report it, but in doing so, you just admitted to having sex. Even if it was forced on you, neither the code nor the theology seems to take that into account. They might not be able to prove the accuser assaulted you, but they already can prove that you had sex.

That gives them two options. They have to spend time, money, and resources investigating the incident, not knowing whether they’ll be able to find enough proof to warrant prosecution. The other option is to just focus on the fact that someone admitted to having sex, assume they were somehow responsible, and make whatever excuses are necessary to close the case.

One requires a lot of work and investigation.

One just requires assumptions and reinforcing time-tested traditions about blaming the victim.

That’s why investigations at places like Liberty will often focus on what the victim was wearing, what they were doing at the time, and why they put themselves in that position. It’s cruel on a level that defies description, but for religious schools, there are plenty of unfortunate precedents.

For those working these cases at Liberty, they had every incentive to take the path of least resistance. It’s easy to just shame someone who had sex. It’s a lot harder to actually prosecute a crime. That same process also requires that the institute admit some form of responsibility for not protecting people.

If nothing else, this Pro Publica report only confirms what we’ve seen with plenty of other religious organizations. When it comes down to doing the right thing by the people they’ve failed or protecting their power/influence/tax free status, these institutions will do whatever allows them to keep doing what they’re doing.

It doesn’t matter if their preferred holy book gives strict guidelines on what is right and what is wrong.

It doesn’t even matter if basic human decency is enough to surmise that this way of doing things is a gross disservice to victims.

All that matters is protecting the institution and the power it wields. I definitely felt that when I visited Lynchburg. You could say a lot of things about politics and Christianity, but you could not say certain things about Liberty University. That’s just what happens to an institution that is given that much prestige.

Sadly, I doubt these revelations will change that. Liberty University already dealt with some bad press regarding some acts of sordid adultery and some financial scandals. However, this school will still find a way to keep doing what it’s doing. Not enough people care and the school just has too much influence, both on the region and on the nation.

At the very least, this story is out there and that could help inform anyone who is thinking of sending their children to this school. Even if you’re a devout conservative Christian, I hope the knowledge that this is how they handle matters of sexual assault gives you pause.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, politics, psychology, religion, sex in society, sexuality

The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy And How It Changed History (In All The Wrong Ways)

Assassination of John F. Kennedy - Wikipedia

For a certain people of a certain age, the date of November 22 will always carry a unique impact. No matter how many years pass or how many opinions are shared, it still affects them. It acts as a yearly reminder of a powerful moment in history that they experienced first-hand. From their perspective, the entire course of history changed on that day.

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in broad daylight in front of hundreds of civilians. To say the event was historic, as well as traumatic, would be an understatement of immense proportions. There are few dates in world history that many can single out as a turning point. This is one of them.

Now, since this was such a monumental moment in history, this event has been the subject of a lot of conspiracy theories, some more absurd than others. I’m not going to delve into those rabbit holes. All I’ll say is that pretty much all of them fall apart with the slightest bit of scrutiny. They also degrade and detract from the full impact of that day.

I know this because my father has frequently told me about this day. He was still a kid in 1963. He still remembers it vividly, so much so that I can sense it still affects him to this day. He frequently recounts how they all got this dire announcement in school the afternoon it happened. He also tells me about how schools were closed the next day and how much people dreaded what might come next.

Keep in mind, this was the middle of the Cold War. For everyone alive at the time, including my dad, nuclear war could’ve broken out at any moment. For all they knew, the death of JFK was just the first shot of World War III. All they could do at this point was brace themselves.

It’s hard for anyone who didn’t live through that to appreciate that kind of dread. I know many will cite September 11, 2001 as a date of similar importance to the current generation and while I do think that too was a major turning point in history, the JFK assassination was still bigger in terms of impact.

That’s a sentiment my father has also conveyed to me. He and plenty others who remember that day said that nothing was ever the same afterwards. Before November 22, 1963, there was still this sense that everything was getting better. We, as both a country and a world, were on the right track.

We defeated the fascists in World War II.

We were making social progress with the Civil Rights Movement.

The war in Vietnam hadn’t yet become the tragedy it ultimately became.

We were even venturing into space.

Then, this happens. The President of the United States is gunned down in broad daylight. Everything action, choice, and sentiment is suddenly fueled by fear rather than hope. This notion of looking forward to the future gives way to anxiously agonizing over the present. Fear becomes distress and distress becomes anger and from anger comes chaos.

The way the 1960s played out after JFK’s death certainly took a turn. My dad also had plenty of stories to tell me about that. However, he could tie a lot of what happened back to that fateful date of November 22, 1963.

Naturally, the notion of what might have happened had JFK never been assassinated has been pondered many times and inspired many elaborate alternate history scenarios. While they may make for great stories, they still don’t change how much real people and real history is affected.

In many respects, we’re still reeling from the impact of that day. I’m no history, but I still believe that November 22, 1963 changed history for the worse. Losing the President of the United States in such a public way didn’t just shake the world. It filled everyone with dread and anxiety, which has affected us on so many levels for years to come.

We’re still dealing with many of those effects. The turmoil and chaos from that date affected geopolitics, major wars, and social trends. Since few good decisions are made in the midst of such chaos, I honestly don’t believe we as a country or a society made the best decisions we could’ve after that day. The consequences of those decisions are still being felt by many, even by those who weren’t alive that day.

It’s impossible to grasp all the ways that the JFK assassination affected history. It’s just as impossible to appreciate how it still affects our lives to this day. With each passing year, more and more of those who were alive that day either pass away or bury away those memories. As a result, many younger people don’t realize just how impactful it was.

I may not have been alive on that day, but the world I live in was shaped significantly by the events of November 22, 1963. If you’re reading this, regardless of your age, there’s a good chance that applies to you too. Our world and our history took a dark, tragic turn that day.

We can’t change it.

We can’t forget it, either.

We can only appreciate its impact, learn from it, and try to move forward.

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Filed under Current Events, history, politics

The Metaverse: What It Is, Why It Matters, And Why You Should Be Concerned About FaceBook’s Plans For It

So what is “the metaverse,” exactly? | Ars Technica

There was a time, not too long ago, when if you said words like “email,” “texting,” “hashtag,” and “internet” to most people, they wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. I am old enough to remember when the internet was only a fringe interest, known only to computer nerds and tech gurus.

Yes, that makes me feel older than I wish it did, but that helps illustrate my point.

Now, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know what the internet was or what a hashtag entailed. These have all become parts of our lives, for better and for worse. Checking our email and texting our friends is just part of everyday life now. Most don’t even give it a second thought.

It should give us all pause in the sense that we don’t always know when some new technology or trend becomes that integral with our lives. We usually don’t realize it until many years after we’ve embraced it to such an extent that life before it seems strange by comparison.

At this very moment, we may be at such a state with an emerging technology called the metaverse. You’ve probably heard of it, if only in passing. The recent news surrounding FaceBook’s pending name change is at the heart of it, but who can honestly say they know what it is or why it matter?

I certainly won’t claim to be an expert on the metaverse. I am not the most qualified to explain it to most ordinary people. However, as someone who does follow this kind of tech news closer than most, I think it’s worth discussing. I also feel like the concept of the “metaverse” is in a similar position that we saw with the early internet.

In terms of basics, the metaverse is basically a more ambitious form of virtual reality. It’s not quite on the level of “The Matrix,” but it’s a lot more varied than a standard model of the Oculus Rift. It’s not just for playing games or creating elaborate avatars for ourselves. This is supposed to be something more personal.

According to an article in NPR, the metaverse is described as this.

Think of it as the internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” you can go inside of — instead of just looking at on a screen. Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.

It also will incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.

That may not seem too revolutionary at the moment. Then again, you probably could’ve said the same thing about email and texting back in 1994. It’s so new and poorly understood that most people don’t see the appeal or the potential, but I personally believe the metaverse represents an evolution of the internet, as we know it.

I also believe we should be very concerned that FaceBook, of all companies, is trying to be at the forefront of it all. To say that FaceBook has a credibility problem would be like saying a sewage plant has an odor problem.

In many respects, I don’t blame FaceBook for investing in the metaverse. Like every tech company, they’re looking to the future. They’re seeking the next big thing that they can develop, dominate, and monetize to the utmost. It doesn’t matter that they’re already a billion-dollar company. There are many more billions to be made in the metaverse, if not trillions.

If anything, the potential of that market intensified in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this crisis, we all learned just how critical it is to stay connected to the internet. It wasn’t just a form of entertainment anymore. It became vital to continue working and going to school. Many even realized just how much they could get done from home with nothing except a computer and an internet connection.

With the metaverse, we could potentially do even more. One of the big limitations that the pandemic also revealed is the inherent limitations of a screen. While applications like Zoom and FaceTime allowed us to interact, it was still so impersonal. It didn’t have the same impact of being in someone’s physical presence.

The same limitations go beyond work and school. Even though we do a lot of shopping online these days, there are times when we can’t do everything we would usually do in a store. I can personally attest that buying a good pair of shoes or a dress shirt online can be a gamble. Even when you think you got the right size, it doesn’t always fit when you get it.

The metaverse could help change that. It could help us explore the internet in ways that go beyond a typical screen. It could help us create Zoom meetings that feel more like gatherings around a conference table. It could make shopping feel more like browsing a physical space, complete with more personalized selections.

It could even make for more engaging entertainment. Instead of just staring at a screen and watching a game play out, we could actually feel like we’re present and play a larger part of what happens.

Yes, that will likely include porn.

Yes, that will likely cause discomfort, distress, and all sorts of other issues that will get certain prudish crowds fired up.

No, that won’t stop the metaverse from evolving.

In the beginning, it probably won’t feel like that much an upgrade over how we interact with the internet at the moment. Chances are it’ll probably start off looking like something akin to “Second Life,” a game where people create and interact in their own virtual world. It’s a big idea, but it still looks like a game.

That will change as the interface and computing power improve. At some point, it’ll get to a point where going into the metaverse won’t feel at all like a game. The imagery and graphics could ultimately get so life-like that it’ll be hard to distinguish from the real thing. Going to a store in the metaverse could appear no different than going to a mall, at least from your brain’s perspective.

It won’t just stop at appearing lifelike, either. Add in more advanced interfaces, like the ones being developed by Neuralink, and there may come a time when going to the metaverse will feel like going into “The Matrix.” Within that virtual space, what we could ultimately do would only be limited by our computing power and network connection.

The possibilities are tantalizing.

However, keep in mind that much of these possibilities will be developed, packaged, and sold by FaceBook. This is already a company we know engages in shady business dealings, to say the least. We also know they’re not exactly careful with our private information. The idea of them being in control of this new virtual world should be concerning to everyone.

Thankfully, they’re not the only ones seeking to develop the metaverse. Other major tech companies are already making investments in creating this new virtual space. Will that be enough to ensure FaceBook and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t the undisputed overlords of the virtual world? I don’t know, but I hope there’s some semblance of balance in that world. As much as I’d like to explore that world, I’d be quite hesitant if doing so meant entrusting the integrity of the metaverse to a company like FaceBook.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, Neuralink, technology