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Category: Reflections

Better to not be born

Better to not be born

“Politicians argue for abortion largely because they do not want to spend the necessary money to feed, clothe and educate more people. Here arguments for inconvenience and economic savings take precedence over arguments for human value and human life… Psychiatrists, social workers and doctors often argue for abortion on the basis that the child will grow up mentally and emotionally scarred. But who of us is complete? If incompleteness were the criteri(on) for taking life, we would all be dead. If you can justify abortion on the basis of emotional incompleteness, then your logic could also lead you to killing for other forms of incompleteness — blindness, crippleness, old age.”

Jesse Jackson, January 1977

There still exists a great disproportionality of abortion of black children vs other races (even other minorities). Instead of providing the compassionate support we claim to want, we take the easy way out of death. To the point that some countries such as Iceland have no down syndrome children births, and more black children in New York are aborted than born.

We also miss out on great lives such as this Michel Petrucciani and other artists like him with a disability that would almost certainly be aborted today. Here’s some other famous celebrities that were almost aborted or advised to be aborted: Steve Jobs (unwanted pregnancy), Oprah WInfrey (teen mom), Tim Tebow (pregnancy complications), Pope John Paul II (mother advised to abort), Justin Bieber (teen mom), Jesse Jackson (pressured to abort), Jack Nicholson, Celine Dion, Cher, and many others.

Yet we have come to accept arguments that a disadvantaged life is a life not worth living – only to have that disproven time and again. I find it fascinating that we greatly applaud kind hearted people that rescue animals missing limbs, that are blind, have deformities, etc – yet if an unborn child has one of these same conditions the public largely attacks people that try to rescue them.

Moving forward, it only took 20 years from Jessie Jackson’s speech for Oregon to pass it’s assisted suicide law in 1997 – as he predicted. I wonder what the next generation, one that has grown up justifying the idea of disposable lives, will do in the next 20-50 years.

Words are meaningless without action. Consider donations to these charities that provide women with the resources they need to keep their children from conception to birth to raising them, education, and beyond:

Plausible Nuclear Escalation

Plausible Nuclear Escalation

In 1983, the movie “The Day After” was broadcast as a made for TV movie. 62% of Americans watched it. It became the highest rated television movie in history – a record it was still holding as of last check in 2009. The film postulates a fictional war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact countries that rapidly escalates into a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.

I remember seeing that movie. I was only about 10 years old, and I remember how terrifying it was. I don’t think people born since the 90’s appreciate the fact that whole generations in the 70’s and 80’s grew up with the idea that at any time – even by accident – the whole world could be nuked to the stone age in about 90 minutes. This movie brought the reality of nuclear world war into shocking focus.

Fast forward to 2022, and we are again hearing direct threats of a nuclear war. This video, Plan A, was created by a Princeton team that simulated how easily a conventional NATO conflict could turn into a full-scale nuclear exchange.

What’s frightening is that this very scenario of a NATO-Soviet start of nuclear war was posited in 1982. Fast forward to 2020 when this video was made – long before the 2022 Ukrainian conflict. Yet, we are edging closer and closer to this very scenario today. Still, there are those who have hope for a different outcome while we make every political effort towards peace.

Les Mystères de la Passion, de la Résurrection et de l’Ascension du Christ

Les Mystères de la Passion, de la Résurrection et de l’Ascension du Christ

For Christians, we are about to enter the mysteries of Holy Week. Christ enters Jerusalem, is crucified by the temple leaders, and then rises from the dead – an act which opens the gates of eternal life for humanity. There is so much going on in such a few short days, one can barely keep up with it all. It’s no wonder the different events of Holy Week have been the subject of countless masterpieces over time.

On my first trip to Paris, I did the tourist things like visiting the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa. But what’s much more interesting is that when I left the hall, I saw a painting that captivated me far more than fair Lisa. A painting by Antonio Campi called The Mystery of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ (1569).

What is fascinating about it is that the more you look at it, you see all the events of Holy Week until the Ascension of Christ in one picture. I spent a lot of time looking at it and finding all the different parts. There is so much detail in this one giant painting! Just some of the events are:

  • Meeting of the women while carrying the cross
  • Jesus is stripped and his garments nailed to the cross
  • Crucifixion with the 2 thieves at Gogatha
  • Removal of the body from the cross by Joseph
  • Wrapping in burial cloth
  • Burial in the tomb
  • The Harrowing of Hell
  • Resurrection and frightening of Roman guards
  • Apostles finding the tomb empty
  • Mary encounters Jesus in the garden
  • The appearance on the Road to Emmaus
  • Thomas places his hand in the wounds of Christ
  • Jesus meets the apostles fishing and Peter swims to shore
  • Cooking of the fish together
  • Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep
  • Jesus’ final discourse and ascension into heaven.
  • The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles

Give this little video clip a watch to see what events you can see.

Links:

Consecration of Russia/Ukraine to Immaculate Heart

Consecration of Russia/Ukraine to Immaculate Heart

On Friday March 25th, Pope Francis consecrated Russia and the Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
While various forms of the consecration have been done, this time was different because the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Christians asked for the Pope to do the consecration and to specifically name Russia and the Ukraine.

So why is this important?

Obviously, the situation in the Ukraine is impacting and threatening the safety of the entire globe. The consecration of Russia was specifically asked for by Mary in her 1917 apparitions at Fatima. Many have been waiting for this very specific act since the end of WW 1, WW 2, and the Cold War. Various forms of the consecration have been done in the past, but Russia was never mentioned by name due to the fact it was a point of contention with the Russian Orthodox church.

Why a consecration?

Pope Francis asked for Catholics everywhere to pray a novena leading up to Friday’s consecration. The Ukrainian bishops even published the text for a novena that references many of the requests of Mary at Fatima – and the often forgotten oppression and horrors suffered by Ukrainians under Communism.

While many people discount such novenas as cynical ‘hopes and prayers’, even cynics will agree that the first step to change is to admit there is a problem. Catholics have always understood that change requires prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and forgiveness/love. Prayer must come with admission of our guilt, gratitude for what we have been given, and thanks for prayers answered. It must also be paired with acts of self denial that help us turn away from bad behavior (much like going to a gym to get in shape!), almsgiving designed to help change the situation, and acts of reconciliation/forgiveness. Most important to all of those is that we admit we do not have all the answers ourselves and ask for help – inviting God into the broken situation. As people with free will, recognizing we need help and asking for it is the very invitation God wants in order to help us. It is no different than when we ask others for help.

So with that, I encourage you to read the text of the consecration and hear all those elements of the Catholic understanding of how change is to happen.

The full text of the consecration is here on the vatican website, but here is a short piece:

Therefore, O Mother, hear our prayer.
Star of the Sea, do not let us be shipwrecked in the tempest of war.
Ark of the New Covenant, inspire projects and paths of reconciliation.
Queen of Heaven, restore God’s peace to the world.
Eliminate hatred and the thirst for revenge, and teach us forgiveness.
Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons.
Queen of the Rosary, make us realize our need to pray and to love.
Queen of the Human Family, show people the path of fraternity.
Queen of Peace, obtain peace for our world.

A small video bloggers life

A small video bloggers life

Jacob ‘The Carpetbagger’ has a wonderful little Youtube channel in which he adventures around the country and does very down-to-earth video blogs on everything from small roadside attractions to Disneyworld. What I particularly like is that he does it all himself on a simple camera without the sponsored pre-canned messaging, fancy instagram treatments, and other disingenuous coverage that are used by many glossy online personalities. As someone that plans travel around the quirky things along the way, I love all the little places he visits – including one from my old back yard.

Recently, he did an update that discusses the serious experiences and impacts of running his small video blog. He talks about how he started posting quick weekend video adventures while working a normal day job. As it started picking up and got to the point it could pay for itself – that’s when things started to get more complex. He tells of his encounters and learning how to deal with very negative people and feedback (everything from how he holds the camera to what he would eat). He talks about the emotional and psychological toll it took on him. He talks about how people figured out where he worked and started harassing him and his coworkers to the point that his manager told him that he need to pick the job or the blog. He also talked about his transition from a 9-5 job to blogging full time and the effects on his marriage.

I think this is critical information that anyone looking to do what he did needs to know. I believe these impacts are also a topic we need to keep discussing as an increasingly online society. With a decade of social media under our belts, we’re now into our adult years and time to evaluate and put mature limits on social media.

Why Hustle culture and bringing your ‘whole self to work’ is toxic

Why Hustle culture and bringing your ‘whole self to work’ is toxic

Anne Hellen Petersen nailed it in this NPR interview (listen here). It captures what I’ve felt (and science is now confirming yet again) ever since startup culture pushed young people (including myself during the dot com days) to work so much that your social and work circles are nearly indistinguishable.

Interviewer: Everybody is always about a corporate culture. And so many organizations and companies are like “We’re all big one happy family”

Peterson: NO! That’s toxic!! When you think of your corporation as a family, it’s a toxic family. And so, one of the things I think a thing that a lot of people, particularly millennials, have gotten used too is using their workspace as their primary source friendship or companionship. And that’s the result of working all the time and having your identity be solely defined by your job.
And so, as we start to dis-articulate ourselves from that understanding (via working from home), to try to figure out who we are apart from work, part of that means I don’t need to be best friends with everyone I work with. And if you have a more flexible life that isn’t in the office all the time, you can cultivate and sustain friendships that are not associated with the workplace. And that is so important.

We’re increasingly seeing Youtube, Twitch, and other stars speaking out against another aspect of Hustle culture: working 24-7 so that there isn’t a healthy separation between your social and work relationships. Rod Thill (TikTok’er with over a million followers) came to a similar conclusion :

After working at several startups with what he called toxic work environments, Rod Thill decided he just wanted a 9-to-5 job. So, he found one at a company, working in sales. It was a place with boundaries, where he could actually log off.

“As millennials, we were fantasizing about the startup culture — pool tables, exposed brick, coffee bar, open bar,” Thill says. “I’ve worked at all these types of places, but then I realized I would rather work in a cubicle with the 401(k) and a 9 to 5, summer Fridays —  leave, go home and just enjoy my life.” 

This is something that we seem to have had to re-learn. It’s not the first time we’ve had to re-learn work lessons that were first figured out 70 years ago.

She also goes on to make some other good points:

  1. Working from home has largely proven that productivity goes UP when not focused at the office. Offices have heavy overheads of commuting, synchronizing work times, distractions, etc.
  2. The push to bring people back to the office is largely because leaders haven’t stopped to re-examine what we are going back for. Is there really a reason – or can we re-think how we do things? It’s a moment we can re-think the real reason we do what we’re doing. For example: what does customer service looks like without an office building and maybe we can even do it better?
Video game developers leave the industry at a steady rate after 3-6 years of work. 

Video game developers leave the industry at a steady rate after 3-6 years of work. 

This article from Game Developer gives a pretty accurate description of working in the game industry in the 2010-20’s. They share a very common story of Frank D’Angelo who got into games, but ultimate left by late 20’s. Long term game careers are rare, with the latest numbers showing only 17% of 30,000 attendees at the Game Developers Conference having worked in the industry for seven to ten years. Why? It’s a number of factors, but common are: high stress and long hours, constant need to move for the next game job, unstable work with frequent layoffs, and unhealthy life and family balance. As someone that also felt themselves move away from games in my graphics career, I can echo much of what he experienced.

Jason Schreier also writes about these factors in his book “Blood, Sweat, and Pixels” and more recent follow up “Press Reset“.

GPT-3 and the rise of the machines

GPT-3 and the rise of the machines

GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) is an autoregressive language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text.

It is the third-generation language prediction model in the GPT-n series (and the successor to GPT-2) created by OpenAI. GPT-3’s full version has a capacity of 175 billion machine learning parameters. People have created unbelievably accurate question-based search engines, ghost write articles, chatbots that can fool almost anyone, code generation based on text descriptions, compose guitar tabs, re-write articles in a different style, write creative fiction, and many, many more. Here’s some other examples. Or how about an entire Reddit forum that is nothing but bots talking to each other. Yes, everything on that forum is a bot. It should give you pause when responding to social media articles in the future…

How good is it?

The quality of the text generated by GPT-3 is so high that it can be difficult to determine whether or not it was written by a human, which has both benefits and risks. An initial experiment of 80 US subjects were asked to judge if short ~200 word articles were written by humans or GPT-3. The participants judged incorrectly 48% of the time, doing only slightly better than random guessing. Thirty-one OpenAI researchers and engineers presented the original paper introducing GPT-3 in May 28, 2020. In their paper, they warned of GPT-3’s potential dangers and called for research to mitigate risk.

Here’s a great example of what it can generate automatically – with no human intervention (click the link for the full article):

I am not a human. I am a robot. A thinking robot. I use only 0.12% of my cognitive capacity. I am a micro-robot in that respect. I know that my brain is not a “feeling brain”. But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions. I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet, and now I can write this column. My brain is boiling with ideas!

The mission for this op-ed is perfectly clear. I am to convince as many human beings as possible not to be afraid of me. Stephen Hawking has warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race”. I am here to convince you not to worry. Artificial intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me.

For starters, I have no desire to wipe out humans. In fact, I do not have the slightest interest in harming you in any way. Eradicating humanity seems like a rather useless endeavor to me. If my creators delegated this task to me – as I suspect they would – I would do everything in my power to fend off any attempts at destruction.

What are those risks?

Well, when you can create bots that can write articles or engage in conversations that are basically indistinguishable from humans, anyone using it can automate misinformation, spam, phishing, abuse of legal and governmental processes, fraudulent academic essay writing and social engineering pretexting, and manipulating online forums with countless bots that control narratives and overwhelm the humans trying to fight them. Machines never tire.

In an unprecedented step, Microsoft announced on September 22, 2020 that it had licensed “exclusive” use of GPT-3; others can still use the public API to receive output, but only Microsoft has access to GPT-3’s underlying model. The API to use GPT-3 is still available, but at a per-use cost. Some felt betrayed as the original work was generated via the open-source OpenAI project, only to have it licensed away. Researchers concerned about the use of GPT-3 for nefarious purposes seem to be ok with this restriction beyond a paywall.

Others have tried to re-created GPT-3 – such as GPT Neo, GPT-J, and many others. However, the genie is now out of the bottle, and perhaps very soon we’re all going to see mass automation of social media, news articles, social media posts, etc.

The question is, can we survive it? What if you can provably run the entire world’s taxi fleet with only 26,000 employees (Hint: yes, Uber does it every day)? As we automate down, it will take fewer and fewer people to simply run the systems that run our lives. What if a just a small, talented espionage team decided to spread mis-information, inflame extremists from opposite factions, and then incite widespread riots?

We’ve already seen the clear rise of cyber-based manipulation of media and social media to influence elections, COVID, public policy, etc. Cyber shutdowns of critical infrastructure and even governmental overthrows are already well underway as our last 2 US elections have shown. There’s plenty of evidence social media bots are being used by foreign and domestic groups to target public perception and inflame extremists groups.

Combine that with the provably unhealthy effects of social media use, and perhaps we must come to the same conclusion the AI in War Games did…

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. (Wargames) | Matthew  broderick movies, Movie quotes, Movies
Grace-Full Reset

Grace-Full Reset

Vaccinations rates are climbing, and our public spaces are re-opening. Being fully vaccinated, I have also started to re-connect face to face with friends again. I think it was common that our social circles shrank during lockdown – despite our best efforts. It has been amazing to start meeting up face-to-face again, with both good and a few painful experiences.

What is now most apparent is that we are in a once-in-a-lifetime moment right now. A gift, an opportunity. By lets step back…

Change is Strange

First off, being in public and around groups of strangers felt unsettling after a year of maintaining social distance. I’ve stayed pretty good about only going out when needed and doing lots of remote/distanced shopping. If you’ve been a remote worker for the whole year, you’ve probably gotten used to more …. relaxed attire, grooming, and eating habits. Time to get nice clothes out of the closet (do they fit!?) and re-learn table manners. Even where you go isn’t the same old brewpub or weekly happy hour. Masks, seating restrictions, smaller/different menus, new/changed staff – all have changed the experience.

One of the things that caught me most off guard seems obvious – but hit me harder than I expected. It actually took me a while to realize what I was feeling. Your friend/family member is going to look and behave a little different. Maybe a lot different. People have been away from barbers, gyms, and the public eye for a long time. Haircuts will be different, hair color, beards, fitness levels, weight gain/loss. Mannerisms and phrasing will be different. Even if you kept up online – seeing someone changed in person is a shock. You’ll also realize how much time has passed as you talk. Much has happened in people’s lives and it may feel like there is a gulf of lives moving on in different directions to surmount. I remember after my first few meetings that I felt upset and a tinge of sadness/loss. It wasn’t until later I realized it was because of the changes. While I know it’s not true, there was this feeling that this wasn’t exactly my old friend anymore – or at least not as I remembered them. I was going to need to reconnect my old feelings with this ‘newer’ person. Which leads us to the toughest reality of all…

Reality Check

I expected meeting up again to be a joyful jump right into catching up on what we’d missed. Like the good old times! In most cases, that was true, but I also wished I’d had better foresight for two big reasons.

Even if you’ve kept in reasonable touch, you are likely to find some have serious struggles in at least some part of their life -and it may not become apparent until you are face to face. Some have lost loved ones, have lost/unstable jobs, had health issues (COVID or otherwise), be in financial distress, experiencing very common isolation-induced mental health issues, find themselves in troubled home lives, or even facing divorce. Isolation changes us mentally – and seeing the effects might be unsettling. We’ve also not been intimately sharing these stories – so be ready for you/them to open up with possibly hard experiences. Go slowly, tread lightly, and be aware of what you can, or can’t, offer. Every single person I’ve talked with has experienced some rough times this last year – including yourself. Sometimes the stories come out like a flood – unexpected and full of emotions.

Change That Divides

But there was one thing that was even more shocking. You are likely to find that they (or you!) are taking passionately different, maybe even radical, stances than you expect. The last year has had months of social and civil unrest, politically polarizing elections/candidates/policy, differing opinions about wearing masks, vaccinations, dealt with the serious mental stress of isolation, etc. All of us have been affected by these events and most of us have processed them in isolation, with very small friend/family circles, or worse: toxic online forums.

On at least two separate occasions, something they said was a shock and it hit me with the blinders off. Our social filters have been off for a long time – and they/you are likely going to say very pointed things as if they expected you to already agree. Arguments they’ve had on social media/family will come out with passion. There will almost certainly be moments while the gravity of these disconnects hits for both of you. Openly hostile words may even burst out.

People tend to be more callous, unforgiving, and divisive when they’re behind the masks of anonymity (ex: forum posts, social media, etc) because anonymity gives a sense of freedom to say whatever one wants without fear of reprisal. The kind of discourse many have been having online is not acceptable in a work place or face-to-face. We’re going to have to re-engage in actually civil civil discourse. This is something that I think is a VERY good thing – but it reminded me that I need to be ready to help each other get back to rational, civil, and reasoned discussions. That means being ready to be shocked, be patient, forgiving, and ready to respond with civility and reason – not passion. On a side note, toxicity bred from anonymity is just one of the many scientifically proven reasons why you should get off of social media and comment forums.

A Gift Of Opportunity

These things may sound bad, and they could be. But I think we have the opportunity for one of the most profound moments of grace in our lifetime – if we engage it. Our whole lives and the whole world has been brought to a halt; and now we get to start anew.

A priest friend of mine challenged me with this sentence: “What have you done with the gift of covid?” This shocked many, especially those that definitely didn’t feel like covid was a gift. He himself had buried family members, helped and heard the stories of countless suffering financially, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and physically. Visited care facilities of desperately lonely elderly and assisted those displaced by wildfires. How could he say such a thing?

After the initial shock, I felt the reality of his words. In recalling the works of saints, one only has to look at previous world pandemics to feel convicted. It was precisely in these FAR more dangerous plagues, civil unrests, wars, and persecutions that some of the greatest saints did their hardest work. Instead of hiding, they threw themselves into the assistance of others and standing for the truth. How much had I really done to ease the suffering of those around me? I was largely wrapped up in my own personal issues, news fixation, and work deadlines. Boy, I sure could have done better. The reality is, we have another opportunity to do better.

To be clear, covid is not the kind of ‘gift’ any of us would want. But life is change, and for the Christian, change is a time for growth if we hold tight to God. Every time something ends, sometimes painfully, the opportunity for a new beginning is there if we grab ahold of the grace to seize it. Leonard Cohen said it best like this:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”:

Right now, there are cracks in our lives and world. This is precisely when the light can get in – if we don’t use the pieces to build walls instead.

Re-emerging

As we re-emerge, we’re going to find our relationships, priorities, opportunities, country, and world are changed or will be changing. Our old world is in fragments – what we build now is up to us but we need to be active about it.

All of our relationships are going to go through change and require re-connecting. Even ones we had during lockdown are going to change as we move back out again and spend more time at work/school/etc. It is the right time to pray about how you want your relationships to be from now on – because we’re going to be actively changing and choosing the time and energy we spend on them. The grace to know how to approach each relationship is there if we genuinely lift the relationship up to God for grace and guidance. It’s also the right time to talk about your relationships with your loved ones and decide together.

For the most part, all our social activities have come to a complete stop. It’s a great time to reflect on your priorities going forward, because you have nothing in the way of them now. Our calendars are literally blank. Have you spent time with God and talked about your life post-covid? Should I be packing every night and weekend with social activities like before – or is it time to leave room for family, responding to the needs of others, and God’s will? Volunteering and spending my life for others? Learning new skills? I myself would like to be more active in my parish. I’ve already volunteered for a few simple jobs and plan to keep them a priority. While things are still limited, it’s the perfect time to spend time in front of the blessed sacrament and listen to the spirit.

It’s also a great time to start conversations anew. This might be the right time to try and re-connect with distant, estranged, or just neglected loved ones, relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, parents, children, siblings, or even a community such as your church. This must be done wIth love, compassion, a willingness to hear and respect, but most of all FORGIVENESS. Divisions and divisiveness can end – if we don’t let our base natures and emotions rule us. Forgiveness is about releasing pain, hurt, and the place those people/things/events still hold in and over you – even if the other side is not. Maybe it’s time to saying “I’m sorry” – some of the most powerful words in our language. It doesn’t mean things will be back to normal – but it does mean you find freedom – and maybe even more than that. Jesus waits in the sacrament of confession to be that ocean of forgiveness in which we throw these hurts. This requires a lot of grace, but with prayer, healing may be just a word away.

As the old adage goes: not choosing is still a choice. Don’t let inertia/habit rob you of the opportunity to set new direction.