Monday, August 18, 2014

Evil Attacks our Sensitivities--and therefore America--one Internet Click at at Time

What's evil? Evil is tearing down instead of building, killing rather than nurturing, destroying rather than enhancing, and it's thrust in our faces online every day, in a clever strategy to destroy our nation's strength.

I'd never heard of Web Trolls before reading this article in the New York Times describing "agitators who pop up, often anonymously, sometimes in mobs, in comment threads and on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, apparently intent on wreaking havoc." The writer, Farhad Manjoo, notes "The term is vague precisely because trolls lurk in darkness; their aims are unclear, their intentions unknown, their affiliations mysterious."

They harass, insult, provide graphically horrific images and demean, in comments on all sorts of websites and social media. The article describes Zelda Williams, daughter of suicide-victim Robin Williams, quitting Twitter after trolls posted vile epithets and gruesomely-altered images of her father. Gawker subsidiary Jezebel played "whac-a-mole with a sociopathic Hydra" trying to clear their site of sickening graphics trolls emblazoned with the site logo.

People speculate about Internet Trolls. Some say these are lonely people, seeking the attention available to them under anonymous conditions, on a powerful platform. I don't think it's solely mean-spirited individuals, though certainly these people are out there. I scoff at conspiracies, but think it worthwhile to look at this phenomenon on a broader scale, considering trolls' cumulative damage. 

Everyone's heard of corporate espionage, undercover sabotage and political dirty tricks. But these personal assaults and visual affronts are deeper, and worse. Here's why:

Our nation's strength, the factor that sets us apart from all others, is America's founding based on religious ideals. God's Hand on America is consistently discernible, and in fact, my husband is completing a book that details the many awe-inspiring historical incidents that can only reveal God's intervention. Americans, the vast majority religiously connected, are civil, kind, idealistic, altruistic and eschew corruption. Our nation reveres our and others' freedoms to the point where detractors use the term "imperialistic" as an accusation. 

These biblically-mandated values are so central to American national identity that many credit our strength and power directly to our larger allegiance to God, and more specifically, our Judeo-Christian orientation.

Nations or movements that seek our harm or demise realize they can weaken us by undermining our values, morals and civility. Trolls make America vulnerable by disintegrating our standards.

Trolls place before our eyes images of gore, cruelty and torture to desensitize us, making us just like them. They take advantage of an open minded culture loathe to censor and restrict--so we end up absorbing and abetting these offensive and shocking images. In the name of free expression, insults, rudeness, crass terms and snarkiness mushroom on the web, and with each view tangibly damage America's spirit.

We are growing less shame-able and shock-able every day we confront trolls' postings, every time we allow these disgusting images and insults to appear unchallenged.

The goodness and decency that encourages God's continued protection and guidance are eroded by these real, though amorphous forces of evil. It's important to scrub them, talk about them, combat them vocally and stridently. If not, we just succumb to their clever scheme to bring down America, one click at a time.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do We Need to End Inequality? For People? For Nations?

Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant wants to end inequality
The buzz word "inequality" has weirdly become a rallying cry for the far left in America.

Our nation embraces equality, as in "all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..." Both political parties love that phrase. The issue is whether all men and women should remain equal, and further, whether it's within government's scope to assure such.

Minimum wage debates express the notion that free markets don't adequately offer fair compensation; that the government must therefore make laws requiring a floor salary for every and any type of work. Each state has its own minimum wage.

Now, we've extended that to make the floor salary a federal minimum, rather than a state issue that can respond to local circumstances. Somehow, Pres. Obama believes that $10.10 per hour provides a comparable "living wage" in both New York City and Memphis, Tennessee.

This is a huge debate, one we in Seattle endured en route to the newly voter-approved $15 minimum wage, successfully championed by socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant.

The trendy term "inequality" assumes socialistic underpinnings--but rather than delve into them, I'd like you to think about inequality in the shockingly novel way it's now being internationally applied.

If we should strive for all citizens within our country to have financial "equality" or at least a comparable level of comfort in life, what about nations? Do all countries deserve equality, too? Given that the U.S. has so much, should people in another nation suffer just because it has a corrupt government and a culture of bribery and cruelty?

Apparently the Presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala don't think so. With 57,000 unaccompanied children since October sent to the U.S. with coyotes (smugglers) by their fearful and hopeful parents, leaders of their home countries say our plenty and opportunity are to blame.

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that conniving coyotes “peddle a mistake…a totally wrong interpretation [of opportunity to stay in the U.S.] to the parents of these children saying 'You can get your kids into the U.S., we can do it for you.'”  The lure is our safety and economic opportunity--which we unfairly enjoy while they suffer.

Honduras Pres. Hernandez blames U.S. for child immigrant influx
"We will not be able to solve this problem unless we go to the root, and this requires an integral task, one that is based on the principle of shared responsibility," Hernandez declared. "The U.S.A. is responsible, and we are responsible, and we facing up to our responsibility.” The implication being that we, the United States, are not.

If only there were equality among nations, Central American parents fearful of violent gangs wouldn't have to send their offspring far away, alone. If only they could go to school, choose college, and have a chance for good jobs or to start businesses, their people would keep their progeny at home. We have all these things in the U.S., and they don't. We must therefore "share responsibility" for the influx of people who risk all, including their lives, for freedom.

Our nation has been blessed by God, but also blessed in the self-selecting populations who came across oceans because they had the courage to face even greater uncertainty and danger for the chance of a better life, spiritually or economically. The personality traits of such people, I believe, shaped our country's success. Our nation's founding populations rooted their entrepreneurial efforts in biblical values and ethics, which underpinned both law and behavior.

Are the governments and populations of Central American countries behaving in their own lands similarly to the builders and continued leaders of the United States?  If you believe in "shared responsibility" and want to stop inequality internationally, it doesn't matter. One nation is "as good as" another, and the successful owe the chaotic some of what they've built to "even the playing field" and "spread the wealth."

Does this relative morality sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me? The problems for these countries are complex, but a deeply-rooted system of corruption, and citizens so adapted to it that they perpetrate it so as to at least reap some advantage from it, dominates the list. The proliferation of drug thugs and gangs' power apparently arose over the past two decades, but devastating civil wars with war lords intermittently assuming power, made survival the priority rather than adherence to standards of ethics. Whatever analysis you choose, not all countries are, or deserve to be equal.

Those individuals or nations who place honorable values above personal gain are the sources of freedom, order and opportunity that attract and deserve support. I would have liked to hear the Central American presidents address these underlying issues rather than insisting that the United States, object of desperate desire for so many immigrants, is at fault and owes them redress.

Gut-wrenching Headlines: Too Much Anguish

Life seems pretty OK til you read the newspaper.
NY Times photo of Gaza children escaping bombing. Note English on clothes, Adidas pants

Because my husband has to talk about current events and pop culture on the radio for three hours each weekday, we get four major newspapers every morning.

Trouble is, I read them.

Newspaper content has changed over the years, and now, sitting down with my mocha and the day's headlines has become a disheartening, depressing experience.

In more civilized days (say, 30 years ago), papers never showed dead bodies. They never invaded the most personal emotional moments of victims and loved ones and horrified passers-by. Journalists reported stories with "the five w's" in the lede, just the facts: what, when, who, where and why.

Now we see splayed bodies of children, twisted in the mud. We watch contorted faces of the truly horrified, mortally wounded, devastated and crumpled. Images that would be withheld from children a few decades ago are now strewn carelessly on the sofa.

Perhaps because I was one of those sheltered children, I now recoil in agony when I flip through the pages of the paper. "Planes Bearing Bodies Reach Netherlands," blares a Wall Street Journal headline stretching the width of the page--across six columns. Above that are photos: "Relatives of the victims of Flight 17 wait for hearses carrying remains..." reads the caption. Do I want to witness the soul-ripping pain these people feel? How do you get these images out of your brain, once they've penetrated?

Next page, same section: "Hospital Attack Catches Civilians in Crossfire," says the headline over a photo of a lifeless young man. The pictures show Gazans, including many children, either dead or terrified. Is this propaganda? If so, as a psychologist who understands that emotion trumps logic--and that visuals trigger emotions best--I am shocked at the message, as well as its frequency.

Is such astounding coverage required by "the public's need to know?" Words with less graphic images could as efficiently convey the facts. Are photos now mandatory because cameras are ubiquitous and intimate intrusions possible? Is it because an abundance of news outlets compete for our attention, and the most outrageous are most likely to win?

All these may be true, but it seems no one considers the impact of so much in-your-face anguish, mayhem and gore. It desensitizes all who see it, and especially everyone watching it repeatedly, every hour, on a variety of outlets, so that death becomes just inert forms, mourning is what far-away people do, and we perceive the world as a place of continual peril.

Those who would be violent are encouraged by the notion they're just another in the flow of anger and aggression visible everywhere. Or by the idea that a spectacular attack will gain them the fame they could never earn in normal life.

Yes, I could throw away the news sections of all my periodicals, but that's hardly shelter from awareness. As my husband and I wrote in our book Saving Childhood: asking someone to avoid media is like asking him to stop breathing.  Media messages are all around us, transported in the very air we consume.

The degeneration of standards of respect for suffering bothers me. Do these wailing widows want others observing their intensely nightmarish moments? Does being in a newsworthy setting automatically grant every journalist approval to distribute expressions of searing pain, penetrating loss and paralyzing fear around the world on instant video?

Too much information. Too much agony. I'm very sensitive; I refuse to go to movies with violence, suspense or slapstick, because I identify too much with what I see. I ache for the people portrayed in those news photos; I can't just put down the newspaper, take another swig of mocha and move on.

Yet I also can't repair the victims of genital mutilation in Iraq, or protect the Gaza "civilians used as shields" at Hamas weapons stashes. I can't fathom the horror of bodies and debris from Malaysian Flight 17, nor stop Boko Haram from taking Nigerian towns or schoolgirls. Each of these situations is appalling, and I am powerless. Am I somehow better off for knowing about them? My heart feels weighted by these realities. I can pray, but can't truly comprehend.
Nigerian mother holds photo of daughter, 17, kidnapped by Boko Haram (The Guardian)

My plea for greater sensitivity in journalism, I realize, is useless. The news business always relied on shock value, but having so many outlets requires ever-increasing extremes to produce reader/viewer response. So the prospect of uplifting the baseline of printed/broadcast decency is poor. Still, discussing standards reminds us that we can avert our eyes, and judge what ends up before them anyway.

So I savor the Science, Style, Cooking and Arts sections, and get most of my news from talk radio, where the host I prefer couches his descriptions in language my sensitive ears and tender heart can tolerate. My children see this, and learn it, and sometimes even protect me from encountering the gory and gruesome. That's probably the best any parent can do--prepare children to fend off and push back, so as to preserve personal compassion and gentleness in an increasingly frightening world.

Friday, July 11, 2014

God's Iron Dome Protecting Israel from Hamas' Barage of Missiles

My photo of bus stop shelters in Sderot, Israel
Just got off the phone with my teacher, Rabbi Teller, in Jerusalem. He's a frequent guest on my husband's radio show, internationally in demand for his lectures, books and videos--and he's the father of 18 children, (grandfather of dozens, though he's still got young kids at home). He was telling me what it's like to spend time in air raid shelters.

Sderot playground doubles as bomb shelters (photo by Diane Medved)
I speak to him every week when we "learn together," the term for his teaching me the deeper meanings of Jewish texts. Right now we're "learning" Yechezkel, which in English is called Ezekiel. We've been covering the section about the End of Days, eerily resonant when he describes the bomb-missiles intercepted today by the Israeli defense system called Iron Dome.

Rabbi Teller said that yesterday, Iron Dome caught several missiles headed for Jerusalem; one got through but detonated outside the city. He said sirens blare one minute before expected impact; at their piercing tone, everyone scurries to the nearest bomb shelter--each apartment building has one; they're found on every block. If there's no explosion and shattering noise within a few minutes, people emerge and carry on as before.

Iron Dome missiles protect Israeli cities in Operation Protective Edge
Can you imagine continuing daily life aware that enemies not far away are shooting missiles at you? How long would the United States tolerate rocket attacks on us?

Here's an app that lets you compare your home to the distance Hamas' deadly M-302 missiles travel.

As part of the Medved Israel Tour last year, we visited the city of Sderot, just a few miles from Gaza. After touring a site that had hosted Iron Dome, we went into the town--where every home has a reinforced bomb shelter in--or replacing--its back yard, and bus stops and even children's playground equipment double as metal-strengthened protection when sirens shriek.

Now Hamas rockets can reach 50 miles, and were launched at Israel's most populated cities: Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. Iron Dome was employed against 27. It has a 90% accuracy rate. The attacks have affected every region of the tiny country, with sirens heard from the northernmost border with Lebanon down to the nation's southern tip, where the resort beach at Eilat was evacuated, apparently for a false alarm.

As the Sabbath approaches, Hamas missile attacks have stopped access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and air traffic at Ben Gurion Airport; sirens have brought code red warnings in several Southern cities, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has declared that Operation Protective Edge--the name for Israel's present effort--will expand.

We have many friends and family-members living in Israel, and we can only speculate
Message on Jerusalem building urges faith in God
about the stress brought by nearly constant threat. During an earlier period of conflict, I asked my brother-in-law about it, and he thought my concern was ridiculous. Living "in a bad neighborhood" comes with risks and inconveniences, but Israelis I know believe their protection comes not only from the sophisticated military technology and expertise of their defense forces, but from the Iron Dome that God provides for His people and His Land.

The strength provided by prepared defense forces is bolstered by the spiritual underpinning of their stance. Jews around the world continue to pray for The Almighty's intervention to thwart deathly missiles, and reinforce God's biblical promise (Genesis 12:3) that He "will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you, I will curse."

(The building is lit with the main Jewish prayer: "Listen, Israel: (The One) God is our God. God is the one and only.")

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Murder of Three Israeli Boys: Intense Emotional Reaction as Seldom Seen

I'd just finished my morning prayers when I turned on my computer to learn of the horrific murders of three Israeli boys, Naphtali Fraenkel, Gilad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach, abducted 18 days ago near their schools in Gush Etzion.

My heart fell in my chest with shock and dismay over the loss. I'd written a post shortly after their disappearance describing the unity with which Jewry worldwide banded together in prayer--our natural reaction to such news.

Eighteen days is a long time of rallies, beseeching the Almighty and performing mitzvot--God-commanded positive acts--in the merit of the missing young men. Eighteen days was enough for a strong investment of emotion, as Jewish organizations of all types remembered the boys' plight and continued pleas to God for their safe return.

The young men became symbolic of Jews' requirement for freedom of movement, freedom from terrorist threat, freedom to pursue normal life. Instead of the outcry diminishing with time, it only increased in fervor, as more individuals and organizations fueled swelling concern.

With the awful outcome, families of the murdered children suffered the most deflating blow possible, but the Jewish family at large also endured injury.

Immediately, my email in-box crammed with statements of grief and mourning from dozens of rabbis and organizations. Every Jewish outlet that ever gleaned my email address, and many not connected to Israel or Judaism, made loud public expressions of horror, sadness and resolve to bring justice to the perpetrators and prevent further terrorist acts.

My husband's brother Jonathan, resident in Jerusalem for 25 years, spoke on the air with stirring emotion that reflected the intensity of response shared by the emails and internet-disseminated communications.

Given present worldwide Muslim violence and aggression, this animalistic attack engenders anger. Jews have never enjoyed comfort and acceptance, and today's sad outcome re-ignites solidarity in fighting anti-Semitism and thwarting aggression with strength.

The discovery of the three bodies inflames Jews' already smoldering ire against those who behave so contrary to God's rules, while claiming He supports their deathly morality. Viewing photographs of the young men wounds my spirit, but I believe the plethora of emails, statements, articles and discussion causes a cosmic consequence as powerful as anything military. Terrorists may harm bodies, but ultimately, positive spiritual unity will prevail.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Escaping Poverty, and the Cultural tolerance for Sex

Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution researched causes of poverty and found three controllable factors make all the difference.
Pres. Johnson on his fact-finding War on Poverty trip to Kentucky, 1964

"Our research shows that if you want to avoid poverty and join the middle class in the United States, you need to complete high school (at a minimum), work full time and marry before you have children," they write in the Washington Post. "If you do all three, your chances of being poor fall from 12 percent to 2 percent, and your chances of joining the middle class or above rise from 56 to 74 percent."

Important to note is that 88% of people have little chance of being poor, and 56% are likely to join the middle class--even without the three magical factors. But high school grads who marry before procreating and hold a job can be confident of a solid financial future.

Of these three factors, I believe the most important is married childbearing. Pew Research Center data from 2013 shows that the poverty rate for single mothers climbed for the fourth straight year, to 41.5%, comprising 4.1 million households in the population. At the same time, just 8.7% of married couple families were in poverty, a total of 2.1 million households in America.

In the half-century since Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty with massive government assistance programs, the national poverty rate has fallen only modestly--from 19 to 15% of the nation.  Investment of billions of tax dollars failed to eliminate poverty. Why?

Because unmarried childbearing is closely correlated with child poverty, and the disassociation of marriage with parenthood occurring over the past decades has placed more women in a dependent financial state.

Poverty is not just a marriage issue; it's a morals issue. With the re-defining of marriage from a one man-one woman commitment centered around raising children to a declaration of love, there's little stigma if new parents skip the party. And, one could argue that the programs initiated to combat poverty have relaxed any pressure to wed, since unmarried moms qualify for government support more easily than couples do.

As Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation notes, "When the War on Poverty began in the mid-1960s, only 6 percent of children were born out of wedlock. Over the next four and a half decades, the number rose rapidly. In 2008, 40.6 percent of all children born in the U.S. were born outside of marriage."

In perhaps the most illuminating article on the subject, Dr. Rector concludes, "Marriage remains America’s strongest anti-poverty weapon, yet it continues to decline. As husbands disappear from the home, poverty and welfare dependence will increase, and children and parents will suffer as a result."

 The broken connection between parenthood and marriage, at root, isn't just about childrearing but about sex. The promiscuity urged in the 1960s and '70s by baby-boomers eager to fulfill adolescent hormonal desires now masquerades under a pretentious banner of tolerance for any sexual expression. When stigma against free, easy sex disappeared, more babies resulted--and the compassion-fueled post-facto response was to rescue them from poverty with government programs.

Perhaps the national conversation should return to the basis of poverty--the sexual culture that leads to out-of-wedlock births, and that allows individual feelings to trump the welfare of children and society.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Reason we Lost The War on Poverty

Just returned from appearing on a panel at the Road to Majority conference in Washington, DC, where I addressed "A New War on Poverty."
Pres. Lyndon Johnson with poor people in Kentucky, 1964

We now "celebrate" the 50th anniversary of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson's original War on Poverty. And as I opened my talk: poverty won.

In fact, poverty flourishes. Of course, it can never disappear, not only because genuinely poor people will always exist--sidelined by disability, downturns, age or incompetence--but because "poverty lines" will always be drawn and adjusted.

Presently, earnings below $11,670 for an individual, $15,730 for two, $19,790 for three and $23,850 for four people defines official poverty.

But as a psychologist, I maintain that people who stay beneath those thresholds have a different mindset from those who leave poverty and move into higher economic status:
A long-term perspective leads to short-term poverty. A short-term perspective brings long-term poverty.

What that means is that people who see themselves in a temporarily squeezed situation that doesn't define them permanently, tend to use drive and vision to move up. Those with a "victim" mentality, feeling stuck, tend to live that self-fulfilling prophecy. In the present political climate, these people might resent "the 1%" who they assume selfishly hoard too much of a finite financial pie; they might then feel entitled to benefits from government to make up for a position inherited or "received" through no fault of their own.

It's the difference between the grad student living on a shoestring who self-identifies as a professional enduring temporary times of sacrifice, and someone who looks forward only to a nice meal when the government assistance check arrives.

I found this comment, originally from Gawker and quoted by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, most instructive:
"I make a lot of poor decisions; none of them matter in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don't pay a thing and a half this week, instead of just one thing?"

The writer continues, "I will never have large pleasures to hold onto; there's a pull to live what bits of life you can while there's still money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are, you'll be broke in three days anyway."

For such people, short term is all they envision, so they might as well enjoy now.

Compare that to Asian immigrants. Pew Research did, and began their report, "Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success..." This within a century of being "low-skilled, low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official
Amy Chua forces daughter to practice while on vacation

What's the difference? Ask Harvard professor Amy Chua, who became famous as the Tiger Mother who made her daughter stand outside in the cold for not sufficiently practicing her violin. The source of a long-term perspective is the family culture, the values that infuse everyone's expectations and behavior. Children learn what they see, and internalize the messages expressed and enforced. Work hard now, excel, accept only your best. How many individuals infused with those values end up in poverty?