Skip navigation

Category Archives: Politics

I just finished the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, and I am numb. The cruelty, horror, and inhumanity depicted in that short little book of roughly 75 pages disturbed me. I am shook to the bone.

My first emotion: anger. How did this happen? How did our world allow this to happen? How did God allow this to happen? Why are men so evil and so blind to their own evil? Why did institutional Christianity not only fail to prevent cruelty but even endorsed and underwrote it, and thereby defiled the name of Christ. After reading about the white nationalist rally in Charlottsville, I wonder how much evil and hatred reside in the hearts of men even 200 years after abolition? How can evil take root and fester and spread in man for so long? How is it possible for a man to fold his hands in prayer, or hold the hands of his family, embrace his fellow man in a hug, wipe the tear of his child, while with the same hands tie a woman to a post, strip her naked, and lacerate her with leather until her skin raises one end like flaking bark off a tree? What kind of man is this? Does this man exist in me?

Douglass adds an appendix defending his love for Christ and true Christianity, while excoriating the religion of America as Jesus did the Pharisees. He applies Matthew 23, the hell raising tirade against the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes, to the religious people of America in both the north and the south. I am nearly ashamed of my association with Christianity, and even Douglass still stays faithful to God and even acknowledges his providence in his escape from slavery in the book despite Christianity also being the religion of his captors and robbers.

I wonder – is there a blind spot for me, for us, today that causes us to ignore the cries of the oppressed? Who are the oppressed around me? Why have we chosen to ignore rather than to help? 

I once talked to a pastor about church, and he said we would never be a “social justice” church. That is fine. I love our church and how it strives to learn and know the word of God. But I wonder – does attending a mono-ethnic upper-class church affect the way I see the world? Do the sermons, Sunday school lessons, and more importantly, the discussions with people in my economic class help me become more generous and aware of oppression? Do we even give a fuck?

I wonder – will we hear anything from the pulpit about Charlottsville? Will we condemn evil when we see it? Hear it? Does mentioning this mean the polluting of our religion with politics? Is our desire to preserve unity going to muzzle our ability to speak against evil? I mean, we had no problem promoting Prop 8 when that was up for election, why do we shy away now?

Sigh. I need to remind myself your church is fallible and not the Word of God. It cannot do everything. Maybe all it is good for is potlucks and feel-good discussions about the Bible so we can feel spiritual about ourselves. Maybe it’s a place where we can feel less lonely and find roles to feel significant.

I understand these are not new arguments or sentiments. They have been around since the beginning of time. I know that such facts, especially put forward by others, are used to dissuade us from trying and from moving. And I am disappointed by my own lack of movement and understanding.

Reinhold Niebuhr is right – we can be moral towards our personal friends and family members but lack the necessary empathy towards out groups and the Other. And I am devastated.

 

——–

Random thought: Frederick Douglass deserves to be called a Founding Father. He pioneered his way into freedom, and in a way his narrative became a pamphlet for a new nation for his black brothers and sisters who suffered the lot of dogs and pigs for hundreds of years, and was not granted entrance into a new nation until Civil War. His short book should be required reading for every high school student in America. If they want to keep Robert E. Lee on the hill, then we should force every student in America to read and confront the history of our past with this book. History books, with their pictures of tattered black backs and cool analyses of the cultural, economic, and political conditions that allowed the institution of slavery to occur, do not even come close to demonstrating the utter depravity of the situation as Douglass’ short narrative account does.

 

Advertisements
Posting a lot today on fb. Which probably means I’m procrasting.
I’m attempting to read Niehbur’s Moral Man and Immoral Society, and while it being highly theoretical, it has illuminated for me how sinful we really are as a society. This article briefly takes us through the major themes and conclusion of this book, of which I will leave you with one excerpt:
 
While individuals in their personal dealings often transcend self“interest (hence “moral man”), nations dealing with other nations, or social classes with other social classes, have little or no capacity for self“transcendence (“immoral society”). Nations and classes have limited understanding of the people they harm by their unjust self“assertion; they lack appreciation for the often complicated laws and institutions through which such injustice is perpetuated; and they are more inclined to embrace rationalizations of self“interest than prophetic denunciations.
 
I have witnessed friends and family members perform remarkable acts of selflessness (hence, “moral man”), and yet these very same kind people may add to a collective oppression of others. I think about how even an innocuous event like gift-exchanges at christmas or humorous white-elephant gift exchanges can serve up both a moral and immoral effects. We can solidify our bonds and communicate love to others with these gifts. But these very same gifts gather dust and add on to the already large pile of shit in our closets and basements and attics and car trunks. They are a hazard to our environment, and perhaps unjustly wrought by children’s hands or by underpaid workers who work on Christmas day. That money used to solicit a little laugh from others or to impress your girlfriend could have been used to purchase a life-saving cow for a family in a third world country.
And, if Wolterstoff is right, our privilege to enjoy security and the luxuries that come with it (e.g., useless gifts during holidays…which I enjoy), actually translates as theft from the poor. (“You who have two tunics, the extra one belongs to the one who has none”, or something like that).
If I am serious about becoming a disciple of Christ, should I not, in all my tiny power (economic, social, political, etc.), continue to strive to live justly a la Micah 6:8? And how does one do this from a point of a justified state? That is, how do I live a just life with the purpose of discipleship rather than earning salvation? How do I urge myself and others to understand the importance of living justly as part of our Christian calling with a gentle tone rather than a self-righteous and self-justifying one?
I’m tired. I can’t continue this train of thought.
etc. etc. etc.

Human responsibility is ultimately an individual matter.

At the same time, however, the collective behavior of Reserve Police Battalion 101 has deeply disturbing implications. There are many societies afflicted by traditions of racism and caught in the siege mentality of war or threat of war. Everywhere society conditions people to respect and defer to authority, and indeed could scarcely function otherwise. Everywhere people seek career advancement. In every modern society, the complexity of life and the resulting bureaucratization and specialization attenuate the sense of personal responsibility of those implementing official policy. Within virtually every social collective, the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?

– Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution In Poland. p. 188-189

As I read the about the horrors that men committed against each other in WWII Poland, I realize that I am just as prone as those “ordinary men” who systematically shot, butchered, and gassed Jews. Although most men were disgusted by the butchery of their vocation, and a few managed to drop out, by the end they all resembled butchers in the assembly line of a ranch. They forgot their humanity, pressured to conform, tantalized by career advancement, and committed above all to uphold German ideals of manhood, courage, and strength. Even today, do we, too, blindly uphold these values in our selfish pursuit to fashion our dreams into reality? Christopher Browning insists that responsibility ultimately lies in the individual, and I agree with him. But how much of us is formed by the collective desire of a group?

“A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.” – John Dewey in Democracy and Education, 1916

WE ARE NOW LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY FROM THE NOVEMBER VOTE! REGISTER NOWWWWWWWWW!

I know local elections isn’t a very sexy topic, but it’s an important one that affects our lives! I have been blessed to have lived in a 1984-like dictatorship for two years to help me appreciate the precious treasure of voting. I know voting can feel like a Sisyphian burden, but it’s important because local elections give much more power to the voter as opposed to the national election. Please note that you need to register before OCTOBER 15th in order to vote in the November election.

In college, one of my friends confessed that she felt bewildered by all the complex issues and propositions, noting that it even seems dangerous and irresponsible to take such complex issues to an uninformed public. I completely agree! California is a unique state that, for better or worse, practices a hybrid direct-democracy/republic where voters can directly legislate through voting  on propositions (remember Prop 8 anyone?). Even though we might feel overwhelmed by the responsibility, I encourage all of us to educate ourselves on maybe only 1 or 2 issues, and, if you feel so behooved, vote only on those issues. I don’t think we should feel bad if we leave certain ones blank. An incomplete vote is better than a non-vote in my opinion!

All preaching aside, this month I’m going  to educate myself by researching and posting on each ballot issue, concluding with my projected vote.

P1110865

Life, The Source of All Creations” – Paintings by Huang Zhou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1110867

Produced by Communist China, 1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice how pockets of red are spread across the page. The Grandfather figure in the middle is the center. His right thumb is pointing in the general direction of the well organized fields in the background. Everyone is in a jovial mood, for what could go wrong when our Communist industriousness has produced the grapes of Canaan (on upper right)?

Arkady Plastov - Elections to the Committee of Poor Peasants

This is a Soviet painting from the 1930s I believe. Does this painting feel the same as the one above? They both seem to share the general theme of the idyllic, collective farm life.

P1110871

This is from the grandfather painting above. Do I spy a Han Chinese seamlessly mixing with his minority brethren?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1110877

Yes – I will study my alphabet in the freezing cold with hungry, bahhhing sheep in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

woman reading book

Couldn’t find the source for this one, but it’s an obvious propaganda piece from the Soviet Union. Seem familiar?

 

 

 

 

P1110879

I love this one the most. Even though I know it’s artificial, I think the artist has captured some of the essence of Central Asian life here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I randomly chanced upon this book on a dusty shelf in my living room. I took a cursory glance through the book and it is amazing. Will update with more information over the weekend if I remember!

Initial thoughts: Communist propaganda looks and feels the same, even when painted with ancient painting technique. Still trying to decide whether I respect the artist or absolutely distrust and loathe him for selling out and succumbing to political pressures for him to produce untruthful paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

One day last year my very wealthy and very conservative relatives from New York came to visit us in California. While I was recounting the travails of my first year teaching experience to them over lox spread and crackers, my uncle remarked that it must be very difficult to teach in a “culture” of a low socioeconomic student population. Something about his comment irked me.

Perhaps I took offense because he was implicitly accusing my students (and their families) for their own failure to achieve academically. To blame the “culture” is actually directly attacking the families and community – the creators of culture – for their students’ lack of educational attainment. I, like any good liberal leaning, university grad, take issue with this as I have come to think of my students’ failures as a fault of society and its failure to rectify racial and economic inequalities in the system. Sure, if my community had the wealth and resources of a pseudo public school system like that of the Acalanes School district, wouldn’t my students rise along with them?

It’s no secret that socio-economically disadvantaged students are getting shortchanged in their education in this country. According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California, researchers found that “public schools serving greater numbers of disadvantaged students receive fewer economic resources than schools with more affluent students”. This is old news (literally, this was published in 2000), for we all know that the current system continues to dole out fatty benefits to the wealthy and the powerful while leaving the poor and minorities to eat the crumbs off the table. It’s a sad, old tale of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

However, the report doesn’t stop there. Researchers found that pouring more money into public school districts that serve the poor doesn’t automatically create higher test scores.

The single most contributing factor to student achievement is, well, the students themselves. According to the report, the single greatest predictor of high test scores is the socioeconomic status of its student population. You can read the specifics in the report.

Essentially what the report is saying is that money is not the magic wand that evens the playing field. I hate to admit it, but in a way my rich uncle is right. While the unequal distribution of public funds certainly exacerbates  the already low achievement of poor communities, we must realize that, even with an equal distribution of resources, the community’s students will not magically produce high achieving students. The community’s culture needs to undergo painful change in order for its children to actually have a chance at reaching the levels of educational attainment of their affluent peers.

Upper/upper-middle class culture – the habits and values that arise from moneyed communities – inculcates a different set of codes into their children that allows them to achieve more than their poorer peers. This much is obvious, but, if this is the single most important factor in achieving academic success, then perhaps we need to reevaluate where we allocate our funds. Simply spending more money on teacher education, school programs, or classroom size reduction does not an academic culture make.

Then again, as a newb teacher in my second year at a low SES school, I don’t know what one can do to fight against a culture of mediocrity. Finding enough money for each student is one kind of battle, but the war against deep seeded values is another. Any thoughts?

Before flying off to my Peace Corps service in Turkmenistan, I was required to participate in a pre-departure staging, a mini-conference where I attended training sessions and met my fellow volunteers for the first time. On our first night, we played a short ice-breaker game where we had to write down five self-descriptive adjectives, then introduce ourselves to 5 random people with each of those adjectives. We had to find a random person and introduce ourselves like this:

“Hello, my name is X, and I am insert-adjective.

After a few harmless introductions, I finally met “Eve”(not real name), to whom I was about to introduce myself as “religious”. It was one of the more risky adjectives as I knew it was likely to either immediately alienate or connect us, but what the heck, no use in hiding who you are right? The conversation went like this:

Eve: Hi, my name is Eve, and I’m queer!

Me: (inside- Oh $*^&(! I chose the wrong (*&(@^#* adjective!)

Oh! Um, um…um….! My name is Russ, and I’m…religious.

Awkward silence. Taken aback by the frankness of our answers, we tried in vain to cover up the awkwardness by sputtering a few niceties about things like the weather, but in the end, excused ourselves and ran for the shelter of anonymity among the other volunteers. Eve and I took giant leaps of faith by voluntarily offering deeply personal pieces of information about ourselves, but midway we suddenly realized that we were leaping in opposite directions.

My brief exchange with Eve was the first among many future interactions with gay/lesbian Peace Corps volunteers. Even though I hailed from the most diverse state in the US, California, I didn’t have much experience with lesbians and gays. As an Asian American who grew up in a conservative Christian community, I represented a very small slice of the American Diversity Pie that did not demand much intermixing. My views on homosexuality were largely based on what I saw on TV (Will and Grace), heard in church (“it’s wrong.”), and learned from a human sex ed class (xxx).

In the Peace Corps, however, I was actually dealing with lesbian and gay people in the flesh, and I had to learn how to work, interact, and ‘be myself’ around them. Admittedly, in the beginning I felt the uneasiness and nervousness that comes naturally when you meet people for the first time, except this time, there was such a deficit of experience that I really didn’t know what to talk about or how to act – “So…how’s the lesbian life treating you?” “Hmm, that is a nice tote bag you have there, wish I had one myself”. Over time, however, I followed the traditional storybook path from ignorance-to-enlightenment, learning to look past their sexuality and focus on the person. More importantly, I met gays that didn’t fit the stereotypical mold of a limp-wristed, well-dressed lisper, nor did I ever encounter a butch, shaved-head, inked-up lesbian.

Outside of Peace Corps, I read up on the lesbian and gay experiences through articles and blogs, paying close attention to gay Christian bloggers in particular. Through their writings I could feel the shame and utter fear of their adolescent and young adult years. Many of them harbored suicidal thoughts, endured bullying, and trembled at the very thought of revealing themselves to their parents, knowing that such knowledge would destroy them. I also read stories about self-realization, which actually turned out less to be less of an “aha! I’m gay!” epiphany, but reflected a gradual self-reflection. These stories coupled with my new friendships with my homosexual friends helped me round out my own preconceived notions of homosexuality.

+++

Now that I’ve been back in the States for some time now and have mixed myself back into my small slice of Asian American Christian pie, I find myself questioning some of the views I once held about homosexuality:

What does the Bible really say about it?

Can one be gay and Christian at the same time?

Does one choose homosexuality or does homosexuality choose you?

Can one truly “repent” from his sexual orientation?

These troublesome questions surfaced during my college years, but I never seriously examined them as my immediate social circle did not demand critical self-evaluation in this area. My friends either took a hardline stance against it, basing their positions on the solid rock of the Word, or just didn’t care. In church, I had never heard much more than a brief mention of homosexuality from the church pulpit, and when I did, it was usually a dismissive condemnation or a galvanizing call to action to support Proposition 8. Unmolested by intrusions from the rest of the world, I let my unchallenged mind err on the side of caution, taking my authorities’ categorical denunciations of homosexuality for truth – the Bible said it was wrong, and that was that.

However, after greater exposure to gays and lesbians in the Peace Corps, and after deeper online research, these questions took on a new sense of urgency and personal importance.

My time in the Peace Corps has lead me to a frightening question, one that I still struggle with spiritually and mentally, and one that might have life-changing, paradigm-altering consequences: If I find that the Bible does indeed unequivocally condemn homosexuality as a sin, would I then choose to continue to believe and accept the authority of the Bible, categorizing and denouncing the orientation as sin, despite my knowledge, reason, and personal experiences with my homosexual friends? And if I decided to mentally accept homosexuality as a normal, acceptable orientation, would that mean I would have to toss out my most treasured source of knowledge, guidance, and wisdom: the Bible?

Through personal observation and research, I’ve concluded that homosexuality is not a choice, but an orientation. I’ve heard and read enough stories about formerly closeted people who have endured suicidal thoughts, ridicule, disownment, and harmful “reverse-orientation” therapy sessions to determine that sexuality results more from innate character than from personal decision. If this is the case, why would God condemn a person for something that he cannot control? Why would God set a double standard for human love, allowing satisfaction for one man but denying fulfillment for another?

Take two Christian men, Bob, a heterosexual, and Joe, a homosexual, both faithful and sincere in their love of God and earnest in their desire to please Him. Bob, with a natural sexual desire towards women, abstains from any sexual act until marriage, after which he is allowed to behave sexually towards his wife. This is considered right and proper and within God’s blessing.

Joe, however, with his natural sexual desire for men, must refrain from acting upon those longings for the rest of his life. His ideas for wholesome love, consummated by marriage, are by default deemed as unholy by Biblical decree. While God blesses the natural aspirations for love of one man, he curses the yearnings of another for no reason but by arbitrary decree. Some christians have argued that someone with gay/lesbian tendencies should lead a holy life of singleness, sustained by the love of God – a blessing, according to Paul. This is a possible consideration, and yet I wonder, if the situation were reversed, how many of us could endure such ‘blessings’?

I recently wrote a small letter to future Turkmenistan Peace Corps Volunteers detailing the struggles and problems during  my two years there from my unique, Asian American Christian perspective. It was written for a project headed by a current Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Turkmenistan who is compiling extracts from these letters into a reference book for incoming PCVs. This is the letter I wrote.

 

For the Asian American/Christian/quieter personality:

 

Being an Asian American in Turkmenistan put me in a unique position where I was able to really integrate into the local host culture. I could walk the streets without drawing a glance if I dressed the part and kept a low profile. Even towards the end of my service when I was able to pick up a pretty good Turkmen accent, some folks even took me for a Turkmen from a different Welaÿat (prideful grin)! I see this as a great advantage for the Asian American volunteer – just by looking a little bit like the host population helped me blend in without rousing any suspicion.

 

At the same time, however, there certainly were frustrating moments when I had to explain and re-explain to locals that I was NOT actually from China, Japan, or Korea, but from America. Incredulous, they would badger me with a barrage of questions about my origins until I would finally acquiesce and submit to them that I was indeed, Chinese. I consider this a minor inconvenience in light of all the other challenges in living as an alien in a foreign country.

 

Actually, while learning how to adapt to the host culture was difficult, I personally found that it was just as strenuous in trying to fit in with a diverse group of questioning, opinionated, boisterous, uncouth Peace Corps Volunteers (half-joking)! It should be noted, however, that I grew up in a conservative environment where drinking, smoking, and fraternizing at weekend parties weren’t the norms, but instead, weekends at church, and daily sports activities filled my schedule. Yes, I know, this might sound strange to some who are reading this now.

 

It was hard to find common ground with “Mainstream America”, represented by the other Americans hailing from different parts of the States. I did not grow up in the world of Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, the zany 80s, or the zillions of “classic” movies from which my Peace Corps friends could so often quote verbatim. I can’t tell you how many times when one of my Peace Corps buddies quoted a line from some 1970/1980s movie to me, hoping to evoke a jovial and affirming reaction that would have signified our shared American heritage, but only experienced disappointment (and incredulousness) when they saw my inability to appreciate the humor (‘Heyyyyy youuuuu guuyyyyyyssss!!’ ‘What? what guys?’).

 

At times I felt I was working twice as hard in trying to “fit in” compared with other volunteers who shared in the dominant American culture. It was as if I was a working man who had to work hard all day at being a Turkmen, but at night, when I could finally come home and relax with my American family during the many reveling weekends at MST or PST or whatever, I realized I couldn’t exactly just “be myself” but that I had to work just as hard to stay social with Americans. I had to work hard to fit in with Turkmen, and I had to work hard to fit in with Americans, and that’s just how it was.

 

And yet, they say that you reap what you sow, and what little I sowed brought forth an abundant harvest. Not only did I learn to adapt and make real friends with Turkmen by adapting to their cultures and customs, but I also learned a lot about mainstream American culture and developed true friendships with other Americans so incredibly different from myself. I remember one sunny afternoon where I was sifting through my sitemates’ itunes playlist, transferring Johnny Cash, Hotel California, and Beatles’ music into my little thumb drive in an attempt to understand why such music appealed to the musical taste buds of my American friends. Through self-imposed listening sessions to American rock, I grew fond of certain songs and even play them from time to time.

 

RELIGIOUS ISSSUES

 

While being an Asian American in T-Stan proved challenging, being a conservative Christian among a crowd that was generally composed of humanistic, pluralistic liberals (“I believe what works for me, you believe what works for you”) presented a unique challenge as well.

 

I don’t want to go too deep into it, but in the event that a conservative religious/practicing believer is to be found among the future cohort of PCVs, I’ll offer a small comment: you will be challenged. I often found myself at odds with my environment everywhere I went, as my concept of morality, my definitions of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ abrasively grinded against other peoples’ thoughts and opinions – and this goes for both Turkmen and American cultures alike. Some of these challenges came indirectly and directly. I remember conversing with a Turkmen friend over tea one pleasant afternoon when suddenly the conversation turned to religion, where I eventually found myself on the uncomfortable end of his evangelism pitch for Islam. Another time, in a drunken stupor, one of my Peace Corps friends jokingly remarked to me that if he held the same religious views as I did he would “kill himself”. I let it slide and attributed it to the alcohol.

 

The forced intermixing with both Turkmen and Americans tested me mentally and spiritually, and the natural struggle for dominance among competing ideas in the arenas of our minds – West vs. East; Individualism vs. collectivism; Theism vs. Atheism/agnosticism, etc. — proved beneficial as it stretched me mentally. At the end of my service I learned to become more tolerant and accepting of other viewpoints while retaining my core values – and that, I think, is a great success for an unimaginably challenging two years.

 

Russell Hsieh
T-Stan, 2008-2010

The internet was supposed to hail in a golden age of free information where even the most remote member of society could gain access to facts and figures that would help him make better informed decisions in life. We thought it would open up the communication lines, create transparency, and free up information to help us learn and understand, and eventually apply it to our lives. I don’t think it is a far fetch to say that we hoped it would better inform the voter to vote in a way that lines up with facts and figures. I am that voter, I am that user, but unfortunately, with all the information that the internet has to offer, I feel more confused and angry than educated and informed.

I’m a big train buff – instead of waking up to watch Sesame Street, I eagerly waited for the end of that boring show to enjoy a wonderful episode from Shining Times Station. I love riding BART and MUNI, and although it was expensive to take the Amtrak trip from Emeryville-Davis during my freshmen year, I still hopped on the trains to experience the romantic and spacious trips that trains offer.

So, I naturally grew excited when the Obama Administration portioned a small piece of government funding to push forward development of High Speed Rail projects throughout the country, one of them locating in my very own backyard, San Francisco! Unfortunately, the bubbling excitement over the sleek, sexy trains ran into speed bumps coming from detractors – both experts and politicians alike – who questioned the utopian picture of profitability, environmental benefit, and job creation painted by the Administration and other supporters. Despite feeling piqued by the naysayers of a transportation project, whose benefits seemed obvious to me, I allowed them room to speak in the courtroom of my mind for the sake of objectivity and sound judgment. To this end, I decided to hop on the internet and do some research.

A simple Google search on High Speed Rail produced a report published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation whose findings decisively lined up against High Speed Rail. The Foundation provided compelling arguments against HSR, claiming that the trains would create minimal displacement of auto ridership to trains, and, therefore do little to alleviate congestion. They also dismissed the environmental and social benefits claimed by supporters as embellished fiction, and suggested that the Federal funds could be used to make incremental changes to the current transportation system, such as investing in better traffic control technologies, the bus industry, and automobile technology. As I read through the report, I found myself agreeing with them on certain points, and even began to doubt the benefits of my beloved HSR.  In the end, my curiosity lead me to ask, “Who is this Texas Public Policy Foundation”? While the report was persuasive, the passionate language used felt imbalanced and even unprofessional, so a quick Google search produced the Foundation’s website:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highlighted in the top right corner are the tenets of the Foundation: Individual Liberty, Personal Responsibility, Free Markets, Private Property Rights, Limited Government. These values smacked of the stuff often publicized by free-market evangelists of the Tea Party, so another query of the first name found under the Board of Directors, Dr. Wendy Lee Gramm, generated a link to a wikipedia page about an economist who was known as Regan’s “favorite economist”. Hm.

I was discouraged and felt a little cheated. Here was a report on HSR claiming objectivity,  yet whose authors worked for a foundation that clearly hews to a certain political line.

Continuing my search, I found a layman-friendly analysis from CNN, which selected simple, but apt questions and comments from its readers and offered answers from both academics and politicians – democrats and republicans alike. I thought the article struck a more balanced tone than the previous Texas Public Policy report, offering multiple perspectives yet ultimately titling slightly towards the pro-HSR side. However, the alarm bells were set off when I saw this brief exchange:

Comment: “High-speed rail is faster, cleaner and safer than driving.” — CNN.com user “Orangecat46”

Expert response: I agree

Sudhir Chella Rajan, senior associate with the Tellus Institute:

Other nations: “In countries where it has been effectively implemented (e.g., China, Japan and France), average speeds above 130 mph have been achieved and at relatively low costs on a per passenger-mile basis.”

Pollution: “In terms of emissions too, high-speed rail is cleaner, with carbon dioxide emissions (on a per passenger-mile basis) roughly half to a third of what is conventionally achieved by automobiles at normal load factors (passengers/vehicle or wagon).”

Safety: “The record is mixed and depends on which countries we’re examining. In the United States, for instance, railroad accidents have resulted in far fewer fatalities than highway accidents on a per passenger mile basis, but that the numbers are closer in countries like India and China.”

—————————-end quote——————————————————-

Wow! Fantastic! HSR really is the way to go! Right? Wait, first, who in the world is the Tellus Institute? One look at the website and you might think that the author of the website might belong to the cult group, La Rouche, a predatory organization that can often be found pamphleting its wacko ideas on college campuses. If the picture on the right of the Mother-Theresa-like grandma giving the world to a small child doesn’t convince you of its leftist leanings, then you should read the text: “We are at the cusp of a new historical epoch – the planetary phase of civilization – that binds the world’s people and the biosphere into a single community of fate.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This single citation from an obviously biased source ruins the credibility of the rest of the article. Thank you, CNN.

The internet, without a doubt, is a wonderful thing. Yet, I often forget that the internet is designed to propagate ALL information – some of it good, but a lot of it bad, or at least untrustworthy. It has made us doubt the sources of even our most trusted providers (CNN is no fringe news outlet), and therefore creating doubt in our ability to reason, judge, and ultimately, to act. I don’t know a remedy. I don’t know how to move forward and make a decision on such critical and expensive issues such as High Speed Rail. I could find resources to support my childhood predilections for all things trains-related, but not in good conscience.

There’s probably a remedy to all this self-doubt. Maybe choosing a side and sticking with it through the thick and thin would be one method, for we all must choose sides eventually (stagnation = support of status quo). Or maybe there are practical methods in sifting through the mountain stacks of information out there.

I don’t know. Maybe the answer is out there on the internet.

Some of my friends are into listening to sermons from pastors such as John Piper, Francis Chan, Tim Keller, and others, but for some reason or other I never cultivated the habit. Recently I’ve heard a lot of hype from Christian friends posting on blogs or Facebook, concerning Tim Keller, a pastor of the giant Redeemer church in Manhattan. My friends even dropped his name during a few conversations some times, but I never bothered to look him up to check out what the hype was all about.

Today, while I was surfing the Veritas Forum, a website which features recorded debates and talks among both secular and Christian scholars on Worldview issues such as the true meaning of life, the tension between science and faith, and other philosophical topics concerning the Christian faith (Dr. Francis Collins’ incredibly articulate lecture about the complementary nature of science and faith is particularly good), I found a video featuring NBC correspondent Martin Bashir and Columbia University professor David Eisenbach interviewing Tim Keller in a Q & A session. With all the hype that Christians friends have created for him on Facebook and other social media platforms, I expected to see a tense but enlightening interview that would showcase compelling answers from a man whose reputation for charisma and intelligence preceded him.

I was disappointed. To be fair, Bashir’s questions ripped through Keller like sniper bullets, and for anyone to come out of that with only a few grazes would have to be an a very crafty and creative person indeed, but the problem is that I found that the inquisitor’s questions were so good at encapsulating my own skeptical sentiment that I, too, eagerly awaited an answer from a man purporting to know the Truth with a capital T. What I witnessed, however, was a self-conscious man larding his arguments with the  fat of others’ opinions and thoughts, circumventing the issues at hand like a B-grade diplomat, allowing his reputation as a straightforward, thoughtful speaker to cave in itself like a house built on shaky (sandy?) foundations.

When Bashir asked Keller directly about the fate of billions of non-Christian people in this world, the pastor immediately parried back with an idea about how people who grow up in White, middle-class, Christian America are not necessarily guaranteed a spot in heaven either. He deflects the question because he doesn’t want to say ‘yes’ directly, as it would offend and turn off an already ambivalent audience, but of course would never say ‘no’, as he would probably have no congregation to preach to on the following Sunday. Working through the question,  he constantly reiterates that God only gives him information on a “need-to-know” basis, which I suppose is a roundabout way of stating that he doesn’t know, which more than one of his more hardline Christian followers picked up on, spreading doubts about his true convictions. After bumbling through his answer, he finally defaults to a pretty weak, albeit Biblical truth: while the Bible fails to comment on the ultimate destiny of an unevangelized unbeliever, it does declare the absolute justice of God’s judgment, therefore allowing Keller and other Christians like him to accept God’s decisions based on the tautological fact that God is the definition of justice. In other words, while Keller admits that he doesn’t know what happens to unproselytized people, he accepts the justness of their fates based on the fact the unchallengeable fact that God is just. It’s almost like asking what makes an apple an apple, and the answer being that it is an apple because it’s an apple! This is an abysmally unsatisfactory answer, especially for earnest, thinking people who are looking for compelling responses to such critical questions of faith.

I think, on a personal note, this question cuts at the heart more deeply than any other, and I don’t think I’m alone on this. In this information age we are learning more about and connecting with the Other more deeply and frequently than ever before, and with each contact we might ask ourselves some very basic, challenging questions that might alter the perspectives others,  or more dangerously, upend our own:

If I’m a Christian (sub category: Catholic/Protestant/protestant-baptist/protestant-presbyterian/protestant-anglican/etc.) /Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu/Sikh/Mormon/Atheist/Agnostic/etc. – what’s going to happen to the rest of the world?