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                   Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tom Petty, a mileage milestone and some political/cultural observations

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Here's a mishmash of subjects from my blog queue: some new, some that have been in an unfinished state for a while.

Tom Petty: a soundtrack for an era of life

The only mainstream celebrity death with any significance to me has been Tom Petty's passing last month. During my high school and college years, his music was virtually all I listened to. I owned most of his albums. My first was the Full Moon Fever cassette that eventually had its black lettering completely worn off from my frequent plays in cars, walkmans and my stereo tape deck. Petty's music was a big reason I started my still-going tradition of long drives while my favorite songs played - first on the cassette deck and later CDs. As soon as I got my driver's license, I was on the road exploring in the afternoons and on weekends. I covered just about every back road in Washington County, Pennsylvania while a Tom Petty album was playing.

Full Moon Fever was my favorite of Petty's. I wore out the tape both magnetically and physically (as I said above) as the frequent transfer from car to stereo tape deck rubbed off all of the lettering. I eventually had to get the CD version when the tape wouldn't play any longer. My favorite was "I Won't Back Down", which I would rewind several times to replay each time the tape arrived at that point. During my last summer at home before college in 1993, I had many a nighttime drive in the country to think about what the future would hold while the Heartbreaker's "Greatest Hits" CD played. "Into the Great Wide open", "Learning to Fly" and "Two Gunslingers" were soundtracks of my initial semester of college after leaving home and being on my own and independent for the first time.

When I became a Christian in 1993, I slowly began transitioning to Christian music during the years thereafter. Although I still have a few of his MP3s, I rarely listen to Tom Petty or any secular music today. By "secular" I mean anything that isn't explicitly Christian - I would put classical, jazz, and bluegrass into that category as well. It's not that I think there is anything inherently sinful about secular music, most of it anyway (some clearly is, most of Petty's isn't). It is that I discovered music has a profound impact on my daily thoughts, attitudes and my life in general. Christian music helps me keep my thoughts oriented where I want them to be. Secular music, even though it may not be immoral, takes my mind off of those things that really matter. I simply find that what I'm thinking about (what song is stuck in my head, etc) impacts my day-to-day life in tangible ways when it's all I listen to.

I'm not saying it is wrong for Christians to listen to secular music. I don't believe that because there is nothing explicitly scriptural against it. It could just be that I'm personally not strong enough to keep a right frame of mind without the daily influence of Christian music, which, by the way, I genuinely enjoy as much if not more than I do secular music (I'm not forcing myself to it or sacrificing quality for genre).

I say all that to show that even though Tom Petty has long faded from my regular music listening habits, his music was an influential part of my adolescence/early adulthood. Every once in a while, I'll play on of his songs in my MP3 folder, remembering those Pennsylvania country road drives from 1991-1993 and the experiences of heading off to a new life in college.

Lots of 2s in a mileage milestone

A few weeks ago, I pulled into my parking spot at home and saw my odometer reading 222,221. I had the day off the following day, so I waited until the right time to drive down the street for this landmark:

The vehicle is my 2010 Toyota Yaris, which I purchased used in October 2012 at 44,000 miles. The more than 178,000 miles I've put on the car is the most of any vehicle I've owned, and I'm now on my longest interval of time gone in ownership of a single vehicle. The Yaris has been my least favorite in terms of space/comfort and daily utility (I really miss having either more interior space or the cargo capacity of a pickup truck), but it has been my best vehicle in terms of reliability and cost. At almost 40MPG on the highway, it has nearly halved my annual fuel budget over my previous vehicles. That has been huge with my storm photography and weather video trips. It's paid off, and I'll be driving it for as long as the engine and transmission hold up.

As much as I would love to have another truck or another SUV hybrid like my old Ford Freestyle, the real-world impact of such a cost-saving and reliable vehicle like my current one is hard to beat. So, I just may get another Yaris when this one's life is done.

Political and cultural observations: Big things are happening!

This subject is so exciting and deep that I could fill dozens of blog posts on it. And I probably will in the future. There is a tremendous political and cultural shift happening right now that for me, has been amazing, unbelievable and fascinating to watch. Unless you are still deeply entrenched in the echo chambers of the extreme right or left, you have hopefully seen signs of this. A new cultural/political movement is beginning to emerge. I don't yet know what it is being called. While it bears marks of - and includes the former ranks of - centrists, moderate conservatives, classical liberals and libertarians, it doesn't yet have a name that I know of. I'll call it "centrist" for now, as it seems to be a blend of everything without the extremes. It is a remarkable uniting all of those aforementioned groups with (mostly) very sensible policy positions. While (as a Christian) I do not agree with everything in this movement, I see the potential for different factions to "agree to disagree" on many previously contentious points, and simply work together. It is a far cry from the divisive options of the Republican and Democratic parties in the US, and in fact, has arisen as a direct result of the collective disgust felt toward those two parties (and in no small part, their leaders).

To me, the most incredible effect of this new political movement is that a large part of the skeptic/agnostic/atheist community is on board with it, and as such, this has brought about a watershed changing of their opinions on religion and Christianity:

  • Many longtime atheists are abandoning their previous fierce anti-religion and actually starting to acknowledge the vital role of Christianity in providing the basis for our current Western society, along with being the basis for the concepts of human rights and the value of human life. Atheists aren't becoming Christians, mind you - they are still critical of the belief system in itself. But, many are saying things I never thought I would hear them say. They are showing an unprecedented defense of and reverence to a Christian worldview in light of how it has shaped western society as we know it, and how rapidly removing its influence may be detrimental if not catastrophic for us. It is a far cry from as little as 3 years ago when most of the skeptic community railed against Christianity, pining for the day when all religion would be completely eradicated (there are still a few of those types out there, but their influence is waning, as I'll get to in the next bullet point).
  • There is an across-the-board revolt against the stridence and hubris of New Atheism. The tide is turning against the "edgy" ever-Christian-bashing internet atheists. Instead of persuading people to ditch Christianity, the unrelenting, unsophisticated, uncharitable verbal barrages from these critics are having the inverse effect. People across the spectrum of worldviews in the aforementioned centrist political movement have grown weary of this genre of petulant atheism, and even agnostic/atheist commentators are speaking out against it in ways I have never seen before from the skeptic community. Mind you again, this doesn't signal their conversion from atheism/agnosticism, but a disavowal of the tactics, arguments and basic tenets of hard-line new atheism - and dare I say, a historic warming up to Christianity by many skeptics.

A central figure in the moderation and even abandonment of anti-Christianism within the ranks of the skeptic community is Dr. Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Canada. Peterson became famous for his battles against progressive legislation in Canada, and has been a very influential critic against progressivism and identity politics - especially in how those ideologies have overtaken the humanities and social science departments at most western colleges and universities. His Youtube channel containing full-length lectures and short topical videos has become wildly successful, and is worth a visit.

Again, the reason we are seeing this political phenomenon emerge is due to a disgust with the extremes of the left (progressives/Democrats) and the right (Republicans). It is a reaction to how far off the deep end those parties have gone. This is in part due to:

  • Identity politics: Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned a time when people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Now, university professors, celebrities and progressive politicians want to go back. They speak of things like "unconscious bias" wherein every white-skinned person is automatically a racist, even if they never do or say anything racist. And because all white people are racist, they need to be punished/opposed through legislation, corporate policies, social alienation and more. You aren't judged by the content of your character or your actions as an individual, you are judged by your skin color alone as a collective group - then presumed guilty without a trial, and punished accordingly.

    Identity politics divides our society up into groups of "oppressors" and "oppressed", a distinctly marxist idea (a fact that progressives willingly and openly acknowledge). If a group is deemed an "oppressor", then they must be opposed with laws, corporate policies and new standards of social interaction. These groups are defined by some inherent trait - skin color, gender, sexuality, economic status, etc. All who fall under such groups are judged collectively, not individually. "Oppressor groups" include whites, males, and the wealthy. If you are part of an oppressor group, you are automatically guilty of the actions of any of its individual members. The infuriating absurdity of identity politics has been a huge factor in the mass-defection of Democrats toward the more sane and rational centrist movement.

  • Unwillingness to try anything new: The Republican party's biggest fault, in my mind, is its unwillingness to try anything different to solve some real problems in our society (most prominently, the health care issue). While Democrats deserve credit for thinking outside of the box in this realm, they tend to make huge "leaps of faith" on principle without considering/planning for the financial/practical implementation of said ideas, essentially turning a blind eye toward any future negative consequences that might result from failure. Hence, Obamacare's result. That being said, the right's refusal to consider any options at all in favor of an eternal status quo has made any type of reform impossible, and is causing them to lose favor with many rational-minded people.
  • The anti-science and lies of intersectional feminism: James Damore's infamous memo presented, with evidence and citations, the fact that men and women tend to choose different career paths out of their own free will. Women on average tend to choose people-oriented careers like teaching and nursing, while men tend to choose technical careers like engineering, programming or construction. This, Damore points out, naturally leads to so-called gender inequality (more men than women) working in computer programming at companies like Google. Not, as progressives and feminists allege, due to a conspiratorial patriarchy that keeps women out of tech companies by discrimination/harassment. The memo also a.) didn't deny the existence of some harassment/discrimination, and b.) stated that women should be free to work in traditionally male-dominated careers if they so choose, it's just that on average, they tend not to do so.

    Nonetheless, nearly every mainstream media outlet paraded out inflammatory headlines like "Google memo says women are unfit to be in IT careers" - a blatant lie, since Damore said nothing like that. These types of shenanigans - lies/distortions by the media and a placing of ideology above facts by progressives - are turning an increasing number of reasonable people away from the progressive end of the political spectrum. This will continue to be the case - all that is needed, like in the Google memo case, is for someone to actually read the memo and compare it to what the progressives and mainstream media are saying about it.

  • Media dishonestly and the deliberate stoking of polarization for profit: The media has been repeatedly exposed by insiders as operating on what brings them the most views and ad revenue: controversy and outrage. The media's manipulation, in concert with our society's willing submission to the corporate influence of social media feeds, results in hyper-partisan news constantly fanning the flames of needless division among us. This is why the centrist political position is so refreshing - it shows that people on the left and the right, while we DO have significant differences, actually are not irreconcilable from one another, and could actually work together politically. The extremes of the left and right don't actually represent the views of most of the population, but you wouldn't know if from mainstream and social media. All they do is paint the entire other side as the "other" extreme - if you're not part of the extreme left, you're part of the extreme right, they say. NO! Step away from Facebook (permanently, I'd recommend) and at least check out some of these rational-minded people that are comprising what most of us really are.
  • Intolerance of dissent and free speech suppression: The tendency of the far left (including most of the mainstream media) to label everyone who disagrees with any tenet of the progressive ideology as a "nazi, white supremacist, alt-right" has forced many who were on the left/Democrat to disavow the party and go centrist. Examples include former Young Turks commentator Dave Rubin and British commentator Carl Benjamin, who have gained large and politically diverse followings on their respective Youtube channels. While they are self-described classical liberals, they are mostly deemed conservative by the party-line Progressives. True conservatives will not find their views "conservative" - as a Christian, I certainly don't - as they are pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, etc. That being said, they are surprisingly agreeable and non-threatening to Christianity when compared to the modern "bake the cake or else" progressive/Democrat politics we are used to today. As a Christian, while I might not agree with everything a "centrist" presidential candidate might believe, I would certainly be very comfortable voting for him/her over the type of choices we had in the 2016 election!

    The (sometimes successful) shutdowns of conservative, libertarian and even classical liberal speakers on campus and deeming them all "alt-right" has triggered (no pun intended) a massive backlash that has even liberal media calling out the nonsense. Nonetheless, the lunacy on campus (so eloquently catalogged by Jordan Peterson) continues as even center-left professors and students find themselves excommunicated (including losing their jobs) simply over disagreement over even the tiniest points of the neo-progressive ideology.

So, having said all of that, keep an eye out for this new political option. I don't know how long these things take to gain an actual foothold (to where we'll see candidates popping up), but surely there are enough people on both sides fed up enough with the extremes that such an option would be immediately attractive. How could anyone on either side want to continue on the path of polarization we seem to be on?

To wrap this subject up for now, here are a few good Youtube channels covering the above issues in case you haven't heard of them:

California earthquake "expedition" trip

I am planning on a week-long trip to southern California, Lord willing, to document the earthquake-primed southern section of the San Andreas Fault, with departure hopefully next Wednesday. I will do blog updates during the trip, so stay tuned!

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