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Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books
Virginia Lee Burton: Queen of nostalgia
A mom reading Katy and the Big Snow to her daughters might remember her own parents reading the same book to her. Since they first came out in the 1940s, Virginia Lee Burton's books have been enjoyed by three generations. These are classics!
But there's more to the nostalgia, because even when they were brand new, they likely had a timeless feel because, rather than being about Burton's present, they were a look back, celebrating a not-so-distant past that seemed calmer, simpler, better.
The idyllic yesteryear that Burton presents is just a bit before her own childhood, in the transition period between the late 19th and early 20th century. It's a curious time to pick as the wistful pinnacle of civilization. It's an age in which mechanization is already in place, so why is Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel worth celebrating, but the diesel shovels that followed are somehow threatening? But that is the pinnacle she picks, not only in Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, but Maybelle the Cable Car, and then again in The Little House.
While these stories are all quiet laments at the technological advances that were revolutionizing the Western way of life, they are also a hubbub of activity, with all sorts of machines at work, and so much to see on every page. This busyness is then contrasted by the happy, calm conclusion to each story.
While it's fun to take a peek at the past from someone who really appreciates the age she's depicting, parents might remind their children of what the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 7:10: "Say not 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." To romanticize the past can sometimes be to overlook the many blessings God is showering on us right now.
Burton's four most popular are available separately and also in a compendium together. They are wonderful!
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
1939 / 48 pages
Mike Mulligan and his beautiful red steam shovel, Mary Anne, do a lot of digging in this story: cutting canals, lowering hills, straightening curves. But as technology advances, and new electric, diesel, and gasoline shovels come along, no one wants to hire a steam shovel. But instead of sending Mary Anne to the junkyard, Mike takes her to a small town looking to dig the cellar for their new town hall. He tells them that Mary Anne can do the job in a day, or they won't have to pay him. The real fun here is not in finding out whether she gets the job done in time, but in the sweet way the story ends, with Mary Anne and Mike finding new jobs to keep them both busy.
The Little House
1942 / 44 pages
The story starts with a solid little house in the country that can just see the lights of the city on the horizon at night. But as the decades pass, the city approaches and then engulfs the little house, making her sad. But when the first owner's great-great-granddaughter comes across it, she decides to move the solid little house to a new spot, out in the country once more.
Katy and the Big Snow
1943 / 40 pages
A big red crawler tractor named Katy can push dirt in the summer, but when winter comes, she's the only one strong enough to push through all the snow. When a "big snow" hits, and all the plow trucks get stuck, and the snow piles up to three feet, five feet, and even more, then it's time for Katy to save the day. She clears roads for ambulances, fire trucks, the police, the mailman, the phone and electric company, and then even clears the runway for a plane that otherwise would have crashed. Katy saved the day!
Maybelle the Cable Car
1952 / 52 pages
Maybelle is a cable car who spends her days going up and down San Fransisco's steepest streets, and she's been doing so for decades. But now the city wants to do away with all the cable cars and replace them with big new buses. Will Maybelle be out of a job? No, because a campaign by citizens to keep the money-losing cable cars wins the day. Yay? What this presumes is that, so long as the majority says so, it's okay to use tax dollars for non-necessities of all sorts, including wistful ones. Parents might have to talk their children through this one, to ensure little ones don't walk away with that lesson.
Take it or leave it
Fun to read once or twice, these don't need to make the cut for personal or school library shelves.
Calico, the Wonder Horse
1941 / 67 pages
A peaceful Western county is disrupted by a gang of bad guys. The wonder horse Calico disguises herself with a black mud bath so that Stewy Stinker, leader of the gang, will mistake her for his horse. When he does, she gives him a wild ride to jail. He escapes and makes plans to hold up the stagecoach only to discover that it is full of presents for the town's children for Christmas Eve. Stinky starts crying because "I didn't know I was that mean… holding up Santa on Christmas Eve. I'm never going to be bad anymore." So the bad guys all decide to be good. This is a fun exciting story, but this people-are-only-bad-because-they-are-misunderstood turn at the end obscures that there is real evil in the world, people who are fully determined to be wicked, and they must be fought and not coddled.
1937 / 48 pages
A hard-working train engine, Choo Choo takes a bratty turn and decides she wants to go out on her own, so she runs away. After a misadventure, causing all sorts of mishaps as she flies through crossings and even leaps over an open train drawbridge, Choo Choo eventually runs out of steam and is left all on her own at the end of an abandoned line. Fortunately, her conductor, engineer, and fireman go after her, find her, and bring her home, much to Choo Choo's relief – she's learned her lesson and pledges never to run away again.
The second book below made this category on, admittedly, a bit of nitpick, but the first earned its spot, being nothing but propoganda.
Life Story - At 80 pages, this is Burton's biggest book by far, and all of it a godless evolutionary account of how life on earth originated. We move through millions of years of history until, in the concluding pages set in Burton's time, there is on display, her wistful longing for a simple, country life.
The Emperor's New Clothes - Burton illustrated this Hans Christian Anderson classic. As much as I like the story, what I'm looking for in an illustrated version for children is for the Emperor's nakedness to be strategically and artfully obscured. Burton almost pulls it off, but on the last page we have a naked butt, and yes, it is a cartoonish naked butt. However, she's already shown in previous pages that this nudity is unneeded. For this tittering age group, one naked butt is one too many.
If one could overdose on Virginia Lee Burton that might lead a child to romanticize the past, and maybe even take an anti-progress, almost Luddite turn. But Burton didn't write all that much, so this isn't much of a concern.
Instead we can just enjoy her timeless books for the lovely look back that they are. We can dig up our own old copy, and point out all the action going on, the favorite bits that we recall from so many years ago "when your grandpappy used to read this to me." Burton at her best offers up stories that will endure at least long enough for you to read them to your grandchildren too.
Documentary, Movie Reviews
Documentary / Nature 80 min / 1996 Rating: 9/10 Have you ever wondered what it’s like for bugs when it rains, getting hit by water droplets bigger than their bodies? If so, then this is the film for you. Winner of the 1996 Cannes Film Festival technical grand prize for its cinematic brilliance, this documentary delves into the world hidden beneath our feet. The bugs are the stars, so there is practically no narration – perhaps a hundred words over the whole film. We see trains of caterpillars strung out, nose to butt by the dozens, a spider capturing air bubbles to drag down to his underwater lair, the emergence of winged ants as they jostle down the tunnel towards the opening en masse, and a millipede in exquisite detail as it walks over undulating tiny, tiny hills. Parents who watch this with their children may have to do a bit of explaining about the birds and the bees (well, just the bees in this case) as a few scenes touch on sex. But as there is no narration parents who want to evade the topic for a bit can tell their kids that, “those two snails are just kissing.” ...
Saturday Selections - July 23, 2022
Wikipedia's bias (8 min) One of Wikipedia's founders now describes it as propaganda for the leftwing. The passive husband A passive husband can come off as likable enough, because he isn't actively working at anything bad. He may even be quite the hard worker outside the home. He's just checking out when he gets home A sentence to bring down abortion (10-min read) We are amazed by stories of individuals who risked their lives to do what is right. But more remarkable still is that a whole village made the same decision to, en masse, to save Jews? What motivated them? How can they inspire us? Free markets bring shalom The least economically free countries have an infant mortality rates almost seven times that of the most free. While Christians know that material prosperity isn't an end in itself, we also know longer life, and happy babies are blessings worth sharing, and we can do so by encouraging economic freedom. New York Times proposing better rules for sex? As a recent NYT article highlighted, some in the world "are realizing how sex without restrictions leads to personal and social chaos. ....Our job is to take it one step deeper, and to point with our words and our lives to a better way." The amazing flying frog...and its evolutionary critics (2 min) In the video clip below, a BBC naturalist highlights just how amazing the Wallace Flying Frog is... but then he criticizes it as badly designed for only being able to glide, and not fly. This type of fault-finding is common among evolutionists, and it blinds them to the amazing reality right in front of them. As the linked creationist article above highlights – and this evolutionist also concedes – this little frog is brilliantly equipped for the treetop environment it inhabits. The criticism that it can't fly is petty, akin to faulting the Mona Lisa for not showing us some teeth. ...
The smartphone stack
You're out with some friends having a nice dinner. But one has been talking on his phone for the last ten minutes, and a second is managing to fork food into her mouth while still using both hands to type text messages. And the fourth member of your party is preoccupied with tracking down some YouTube video he just has to show everyone. So you're out with your friends for dinner but it seems an awful lot like eating alone. We've all experienced something similar... and put our friends through something similar. So how can we return a little decorum to our dinners-out? One suggestion making the rounds is something called "The Phone Stack." After everyone orders their meals all smartphones are placed in the center of the table, one on top of another, face down. Though the course of the meal it's simply a given that one of these, or all, are going to buzz, bing, or sing, but here's the kicker: no one is allowed to grab their phone until dinner and dessert is done. If someone feels they just have to pick up their phone, that's okay, but then they also have to pick up the check for the night! Can there be exceptions made? Maybe someone is a doctor on call, or a volunteer member of the local fire department, and just needs to check their messages. Yup, allowances for that kind of thing can be made. But for the rest of the group this is a fun way of ensuring we all connect with one another, rather than with our devices. And for those dining-in nights, a variation can be done involving who is going to do the dishes!...
The don't and do's of answering fools
In Proverbs 26:4-5 God says we shouldn’t argue with fools…except when we should. Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. Don't get in flame wars The danger in responding to fools is in descending to their level. If a fool is a dishonest questioner – peppering you with one after another, but with no interest in interacting with or listening to your answers – stop responding. In these situations the longer we talk, the more we make it look like the fool has a legitimate point. And if an online troll hits you with an ALL CAPS EXCHANGES, don't indulge in any sort of flame war. Here the louder we talk the more we end up looking like just another angry fool. Shouting matches aren't going to glorify God. All they do is make it hard for anyone listening to tell the difference betwixt the two combatants. Do answer real arguments The danger in not answering a fool is to leave his foolishness standing. When a fool offers an argument – misguided, shortsighted, naive, but genuinely offered and open to response and rebuttal – we need to answer him. Our goal is to show him his folly by explaining where his argument will logically take him. After that we can point him to real answers. Here’s how this looks in real life. In an online forum an abortion advocate wrote: "I don't get why a human that lives 80 years with modern medicine is more important than a tree that lives 500 years." A tree rates above people? How do we expose this for the folly it is? There are three keys: Do follow his argument to its logical end - What would it be like if we actually lived that way? Do contrast his foolishness with God's wisdom - How does his position compare and contrast to what God says? Do end on a question - This isn't must, but it is a good idea. Greg Koukl says a good question can be like putting a stone in someone's shoe: it's not big, but it sure is hard to ignore. A question can challenge them to think through what you've said. And it can be more winsome than ending on a statement. "Aren't you wrong?" is challenging enough, but it sure sounds nicer than "You are wrong." How that looks When it comes to our tree and abortion-loving debate partner, our response might look something like this: "God says that man is the pinnacle of creation, but you place us somewhere behind trees. Do you live your life consistent with that belief? How do you treat trees? Do you read books? (You do know what those are made of, don’t you?) Have you sat around a campfire and enjoyed watching the flames dance over countless wooden carcasses? What is your home made out of? Your coffee filters? Do you use tissues? How about toilet paper? "God says we matter more than trees. You say trees matter more than us. But if, in your day-to-day routine, you’re participating in the slaughter of trees, doesn't your lifestyle show that even you don’t believe what you're saying?" Now how about a more common example, say someone railing against the 1% not because of anything wrong these rich folk have done, but simply because of how much money they have. God says we should help the poor, but He doesn't want us looking at our neighbor's goods - He calls that covetousness. You argue that because someone has much more than you, that's obscene, and their wealth should be "redistributed." But do you live your life consistent with that belief? If you make more than $35,000 US you are a part of the global 1%. Just consider how much more wealth you have someone in Venezuela; when are you going to redistribute your wealth to them? God said we should help the poor, so redistributing our own wealth is a wonderful idea. But it's not our job to redistribute other's wealth. If you think others having more is a reason to take it from them, then what reason can you give that it shouldn't start with you? It's not likely you'll have someone do an immediate about-face, but you'll have exposed his foolishness to any others listening in. And you've given him something to chew on. Who knows but that God might use this seed you sow today to bear fruit at a later date?...
What is Grace?
Through sheer repetition, some Christian words seem to blend into each other and we forget their distinct meanings. That's why the word grace is some...
Top 3 marriage books
Over my years in the ministry, I’ve taught many marriage preparation classes. From time to time, I’ve also counseled couples with marriage probl...
Drama, Movie Reviews
To save a life
Drama 120 minutes; 2010 Rating: 7/10 To Save a Life is about teen suicide... and also premarital sex, abortion, underage drinking, cutting, bullying, divorce, divorce's impact on children, adultery, drug use, gossip, and Christian hypocrisy. It's a realistic look into the teen party culture, and consequently, we see some students smoking pot, a couple about to engage in sex, lots of drinking, and a lot of immodest dress. This description might make the film seem too much like today's typical teen fare - partying kids, and the fun they have. But here's the twist: To Save a Life is about being willing to stick out instead of fit in, being willing to reach out, to walk our talk, to take responsibility for our sins, to be willing to forgive, and to take God and what He says in His Word seriously. High school senior Jake Taylor is the star guard on the school's basketball team. He has what everyone wants: the looks, the friends, the prettiest girl in school. Roger Dawson is on the other end of the social spectrum. He wonders if anyone would even notice if he just disappeared. In despair, he walks into school and pulls out a gun in a crowded hallway. As he swings the gun barrel towards his own head, only one student speaks up - Jake - but it's too late. Roger kills himself. That's how the film begins, and the rest is about how Jake reacts to Roger's suicide. It haunts him because the two of them used to be friends. But Jake ditched Roger soon after they both started high school, when Jake got in with the popular kids. Roger needed a friend. Jake was too busy pursuing the "high school dream" to care. Guilt-ridden, Jake first turns to alcohol, and then to sex to try to forget. But those are only short-term diversions. Eventually, he ends up in a nearby church, attending the youth service. But here, too, he isn't finding what he hoped - the group is full of youth who aren't walking their talk. He knows many of these same church kids are smoking pot during school, or are part of the same party scene he's running from. In disgust, he shouts out a challenge to the group: "What is the use of all this if you aren't going to let it change you?" Sure, some of the kids aren't genuine, but some are, and Jake's angry challenge stirs things up. They start meeting for lunch at school and start reaching out to others on the outside to come join them. They befriend the friendless. Cautions When this was first released it was quite a controversial film in Christian circles. Not many Christian films earn a PG-13 rating. But while the film's realistic portrayal of teen depravity means this is not a film for children, this "grit" has been used with care and restraint is evident. Still, there are reasons parents might want to preview this film before watching with their teens. In addition to the intense topic matter, here are some more specific cautions to consider: Immodest dress. Some of the girls are wearing outfits that would look much nicer, and much warmer, with a coat on. One student says "dammit" and another says "hell." There may be another instance or two of such curse words, but no one takes God's name in vain. A couple, with the boy shirtless, are shown on a bed kissing, clearly about to have sex (which is not shown). One boy is shown cutting his arm (not much gore, but we do see a little blood). A boy kills himself by shooting himself in the head. We see no blood or gore, but it is an emotionally intense scene. This is a complex movie because of the sheer number of issues it takes on and because it takes on so much, it does breeze over some issues, and deals with some others in an overly simplistic way. This includes God's gospel message. Viewers might leave with the impression that God's gospel message is meant as good news for this life - that if we follow what He says, things will start going better for us here and now. This is the "Gospel as a self-help guide" error common to many Christian films and novels. It isn't explicitly stated in To Save a Life so I don't want to dwell on it. The truth is, things do often start going better for us when we follow God's will. His law can act as a fence around us; when we stay within its bounds we are safe from many things that might otherwise harm us. At the same time, serving God can come at a cost - think of the many martyrs around the world. And in the high school setting, especially in a public school but even in Christian ones, serving God can cost you friends and popularity. That's a point that To Save a Life touches on, but also glosses over. Conclusion This would have rated higher if the acting had been better – sometimes it is quite good, but the star himself is decidedly average. (It may interest some that commentator Steven Crowder, in a minor role here as best friend, does a pretty solid job.) What this is, first and foremost, is a message film, and on that front, it is powerful. How do Christians do high school differently? As To Save a Life shows, oftentimes we don't do it differently at all - we're involved in the same drunkenness, the same rebellion, the same quest to fit in. Our peers matter to us more than our parents, and more than God. But what if we lived as lights? What if God, and what He thought, mattered more to us than what our friends thought of us? What if we did unto others as we would like them to do unto us? Then we might do high school quite differently. To Save a Life explores what that difference might look like, and while the film is gritty at times, it is a great resource for parents and their teenage children. It is an enjoyable film, but more importantly a challenging one. Parents: use it to challenge your kids. ...
A Christian perspective on freedom of speech
This was first published in the June 2010 issue To say American author and columnist Ann Coulter is “outspoken” is rather like saying Solomon was “a smart fellow.” Both statements are correct, in so far as they go, but they really don’t go far enough. Ann Coulter can, in a single sentence, be brilliantly insightful and insulting, and that – along with out-of-context quotes broadcast in five-second clips on the nightly news – has made her controversial. So when she was scheduled to speak March 23, 2010 at the University of Ottawa it was predictable that there would be protests. What wasn’t predictable was the escalation of hype and hysteria that caused the speech to be canceled. The hype was started by a letter written the previous week from the University of Ottawa’s provost, Francois Houle. He warned Coulter that she should be careful what she was going to say, or else run the risk of criminal charges. On the evening of the 23rd a mob of two thousand students surrounded the speaking venue, preventing many from entering. Those that did get in were subjected to screams from a handful of students who also made it inside. “There were five of us in there. We were loud,” one of the students told Global TV, “It was amazing that five of us could shut it, could just have them stop speaking.” Another admitted that, “Yes that was our aim, to stop Ann Coulter from speaking.” Outside students banged on the doors while others screamed: “This is what democracy sounds like! This is what democracy looks like!” Forty minutes after the speech was scheduled to start it was canceled over safety concerns. There were three ironies evident that night. The first, that this happened in a country that prides itself on being polite and peace-loving. To that point Coulter had done more than 100 speeches on college campuses in the US and never before been prevented from speaking by an angry mob. That only happened in Canada. Freedom to hear Then there was the painful irony of many in the censorious mob insisting they were only exercising their “freedom of speech.” They misunderstood it as a freedom to screech, as if they had the right to shout down anyone they disagreed with. But of course, freedom of speech means very little if it doesn’t also include a freedom to hear – screaming at the top of your lungs just to make sure others can’t be heard is not a form of free speech, but censorship. Here is where the media failed us – reporters did ask the mob’s leaders why they thought they had the right to stop Coulter from speaking but the students were never asked why they thought they could stop so many others from hearing. It should have been made clear that this presumptive bunch wasn’t just stepping on one woman’s freedom to speak but rather on the freedom of hundreds to hear her. That line of questioning would have made clear the astonishing arrogance of the mob; this was a group of twenty-something-year-old students telling people old enough to be their parents, grandparents, employers and professors that no, you might want to hear this woman, but we’ve decided we know better than you what you should hear. This line of questioning would have made it clear how condescending, how disrespectful, how elitist this group of self-appointed censors was being. But sadly reporters never brought up the crowd’s “freedom to hear.” Legitimate limitations The evening’s final irony was that the mob’s victims also seemed to be confused as to what free speech entails. One older woman interviewed by Global TV talked about Ann Coulter’s “right to freedom of speech” as if it were an absolute right, as if it didn’t matter what Coulter said, she should still have the right to say it. But we know that isn’t so. There are legitimate limits to free speech. The most famous example is that you shouldn't be allowed to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater (unless there is a fire). Other legitimate restrictions include a ban on slander, libel, false advertising, and passing on state or military secrets. One student leader said Coulter had to be silenced because her speech would violate “safe spaces for students.” It was a baseless accusation (it’s her opponents, not her supporters, who cause riots) but if Coulter really did incite violence that would have been a good reason to restrict her speech. However, while there are reasons to restrict speech, even in those instances it is the properly appointed authorities who have the right to do the restricting…not an angry mob. Christian basis Coulter’s visit to the capital revealed how confused people are about free speech. Both sides said they believed in it, but one side would only grant the freedom to people of whom they approved, while the other side seemed to be arguing for speech without restrictions – it was the censors versus the anarchists. But if the world is confused about free speech, Christians needn't be. We support free speech for two simple reasons. 1) Free speech helps us seek the Truth The reason free speech matters is because Truth matters. And if we are going to seek after the Truth we need to be able to talk freely. If we're going to find Truth, verify it, hold on to it and share it with others, we may just need to say all sorts of wrong, crazy, incorrect and offensive things. How is a Muslim ever going to learn the Truth if he can't first explain his incorrect understanding of Jesus? How can we preach to and debate with the atheist if he can't publicly and freely express his doubts about God's existence? Though Thomas was wrong to doubt (John 20:24-31), how could his doubts have been answered if he wasn't allowed to question whether Christ rose? And how foolish would the Bereans (Acts 17) have been if they turned Paul away without hearing him? Instead they risked hearing something offensive so they could test Paul's words against the Word, and find out if he spoke the Truth. We support free speech because it is by talking, discussing, preaching, and teaching freely that the Truth is known. 2) Censorship is most often used to oppose the Truth Lord Acton's dictum that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is grounded in both Scripture and history. Scripture teaches us that Man is depraved and on his own cannot resist temptation (and absolute power is quite the temptation!) while history teaches us again and again that dictators are indeed corrupted by their power. So Christians know better than to trust any king, president, prime minister, bureaucrat, panel, tribunal or judge with the awesome power of being able to decide for everyone else everything that we can and cannot read, see or hear. We can't trust that sort of near-absolute power to anyone. We learn from Scripture that we would be incredibly naive to believe we can entrust a man with such enormous power, and we learn from history that whenever broad-ranging censorship power is given, it is abused and used to suppress the Truth. The Bible, after all, remains the world's most censored book. Conclusion As Christians we know that any freedom Man is given will be misused and abused so it is certain that on some occasions people’s speech will need to be stopped. But that isn’t a path we are going to want to go down too often because we know free speech aids in the spread of the Truth. Not everyone is so tolerant, as the incident in Ottawa shows. So let’s make use now of the freedoms we still have to speak freely about God to our neighbors, our coworkers… and maybe even to a university student or two. Picture by Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com...
Adult biographies, Book Reviews
Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield
by Jonathon Van Maren 2022 / 256 pages God works in history through people, some of whom have a particularly significant impact. In Canada, one such person was Ted Byfield. Although best known as the founder and editor of Alberta Report magazine, there is much more to his life and accomplishments than that. This book is an impressive biography of Byfield, written by Jonathon Van Maren who is no stranger to readers of Reformed Perspective. The foreword is by Preston Manning, founding leader of the Reform Party of Canada. The book does a wonderful job of outlining the major events of Byfield’s life and explaining the impact he had. Newsprint in his blood Ted Byfield was born and raised in Toronto. One of his uncles, Tommy Church, was mayor of Toronto and later a Conservative MP. His father was a respected newspaper reporter, but also an alcoholic. That vice led to his parents’ divorce, which had a profoundly negative impact on young Ted. Like his father, Ted became a reporter. He moved to Winnipeg in 1952 to work for the Winnipeg Free Press where he was incredibly successful, including winning the National Newspaper Award in 1957. One of his new Winnipeg friends was a devout Anglican who eagerly evangelized him. Through reading books by major Christian apologists, especially C.S. Lewis, Byfield and his wife became committed Christians. Subsequently, he co-founded the Company of the Cross, an Anglican lay organization that would operate three private Christian schools (the St. John’s Schools in Manitoba, Alberta, and Ontario). In 1965, Byfield became something of an apologist himself. That year, legendary Canadian writer Pierre Berton released a book entitled The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity and the Religious Establishment in the New Age criticizing Christianity from a secular, leftist perspective. In response, Byfield wrote a defense of historic Christianity called Just Think, Mr. Berton (A Little Harder), published by the Company of the Cross. Van Maren notes that it “easily constituted the most effective response to both liberalization within the Church and those urging liberalization from outside it.” Like Berton’s book, Byfield’s became a bestseller. The man behind that magazine In 1973, Byfield began using the St. John’s School of Alberta as a base for producing a weekly newsmagazine called the St. John’s Edmonton Report. In 1977, a Calgary edition was added and these two magazines combined to become Alberta Report in 1979. Other editions of the magazine (Western Report, BC Report) appeared later in the 1980s. It was through the magazines that Byfield had his greatest impact. The Report magazines were not overtly religious, but their fundamental purpose was to convey the news from an underlying Christian perspective. As Van Maren explains: “The Report magazines became known as championing two primary causes: Christian values and the Canadian West. The primary enemy of both could be found in the personage of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man responsible for decriminalizing abortion, ushering in the sexual revolution, and—at least as Ted and legions of likeminded Canadians saw it—declaring war on the West.” With the magazines as a platform, Byfield played a major role in the formation of the Reform Party of Canada in the late 1980s, which subsequently had a profound impact on Canadian politics. Looking forward to the coming Christian age Ted turned over the major duties of the magazine to his son Link, and spent the next twenty years or more creating two multi-volume history book projects. First was the 12-volume Alberta in the 20th Century series (completed in 2003), and secondly came the 12-volume The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years (completed in 2013). Needless to say, the second set was history from an explicitly pro-Christian perspective. Of course, throughout Byfield’s lifetime, conservative Christianity was losing cultural and political influence in Canada. Nevertheless, he was optimistic about the future, and, as Van Maren explains, he “remained convinced that the post-Christian era was merely a pre-Christian era, and that a new dawn might be just around the corner.” Byfield was, of course, correct to see fighting the culture wars as worthwhile despite the losses, and as his son Link put it, “Think how much worse it would be if we had not fought the fights we fought.” This book is definitely worth getting. For those interested in political and cultural matters in Canada, it is essential. For others, it can be an encouragement to see how one person’s dedication to Christianity made a profound difference in the country. Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield is published by SEARCH (Society to Explore and Record Christian History) and is available from the publisher’s website at TheChristians.com/product/PrairieLion....
Science - Environment
Environmentalists: How to tell the bad ones from the good
In 1997, while completing a science fair presentation, 14-year-old Nathan Zohner devised a way to test for bad environmentalists. The first part of his presentation was on the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. He noted this chemical: is a major component of acid rain can cause severe burns accelerates corrosion of many metals is often lethal when accidentally inhaled. After explaining these risks, Nathan surveyed his listeners and asked how many of them would support a ban of this hazardous chemical. Of the 50 students surveyed, 43 supported a ban, 6 were unsure, and only one realized that dihydrogen monoxide is H2O, or water. Yup, 43 students wanted to ban water. Nathan Zohner had exposed them as bad environmentalists. Marks of a baddie Some might object that these students weren’t actually bad environmentalists – they were just tricked. But how were they tricked? Nathan never lied to them, and never even exaggerated the truth. He told them the chemical’s true hazards: water is a major component of acid rain, it can cause severe burns in its gaseous form, and drowning (accidentally inhaling water) is often lethal. True, they wouldn’t have banned water if they had known it was water, but the point is they were willing to ban a very useful chemical based on very limited information. And they aren’t the only ones. Bad environmentalists abound, and some of them are very influential. Before Christians side with an environmental initiative, we need to sure the people we're listening to are good environmentalists. Telling the difference between the good and bad ones can often be very hard, but the “baddies” have at least a couple of flaws that Christians can be on the lookout for. 1. They make decisions based on one-sided information These students were ready to ban a chemical after only hearing about its hazards. Would they have come to a different conclusion if they had also heard about dihydrogen monoxide’s many benefits? Just imagine if Nathan had told them that yes, it can be lethal when inhaled, but on the other hand, if Man is deprived of it for as little as three days, he will die. And that without it, plant growth is impossible. Hmmm…this dihydrogen monoxide sounds like a pretty important chemical, doesn’t it? They wouldn’t need to know it was water to come to a different conclusion; they would just need to know about its benefits. The problem was, they made a decision based on a one-sided presentation. In Proverbs 18:17 God speaks to this very issue. There we read: "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." When we hear just the one side, we simply don't have enough information. Based on what the students heard, it made sense to ban water. However, they didn't have all the information. They needed to hear the other side. Far too often we will find environmentalists emphasizing only the one side. A classic example involves the chemical DDT. It has been vilified for the last number of decades and yet since its commercial introduction in 1944 it has been credited with saving millions of lives (some estimates put it between 100 million and 500 million). Though it is useful as a general insecticide its most impressive results came when it was used to stop mosquito-born diseases like malaria. In 1948, for example, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) had 2,800,000 reported cases of malaria. In 1962 large-scale DDT programs had reduced that to only 31 cases. Results like this garnered Dr. Paul Muller – the Swiss chemists who patented DDT as a contact insecticide – the Nobel Prize in medicine. But the odds are, when you hear the word DDT, you don’t think of a beneficial chemical. You are more likely to recall the accusations leveled against the chemical in the 1960s. Environmentalists back then tried to get DDT banned, claiming it: 1) was harmful to bird populations, because it caused a thinning of their egg shells, 2) was persistent in the environment and didn’t break down quickly 3) was a cause of human disease since it built up in human fatty tissues. There was some merit to these claims, particularly the first one, but there was a good deal of hype as well. Even as US bird populations were supposed to be suffering due to DDT spraying, the Auduborn Society was noting an upward trend in the numbers of most birds. The persistence of DDT in the environment was both a hazard as well as a benefit, as it meant the chemical didn’t need to be sprayed as often. It was true that DDT did build up in the fatty tissues of animals and humans, but only to very low levels that hadn't been shown to be hazardous. The point here is not to argue that DDT is harmless. Its use does seem to have some impact on birds and here in the western world we were able to afford other methods that are safer to our avian friends. But the move to ban this chemical was a worldwide movement. In 1963, the last year Ceylon had wide-scale DDT spraying, malaria cases had dropped to 17. Then they stopped and by 1969, only 6 years later, the number of cases had risen back to 2,500,000. India used DDT to bring their cases of malaria down from an estimated 75 million in 1951 to only 50,000 cases in 1961. But then they reduced their use of DDT and by 1977 the number of malaria cases had risen to at least 30 million. Even if you accept all of the claims made about the hazards of DDT, even if you believe it does cause harm to birds and may even be a contributing factor in some cancers, DDT was still a cheap and effective means of fighting malaria. If you factor in both the hazards and the benefits DDT was a clear winner. But of course, if you just focus on the hazards even water should be banned. Nowadays we see this same sort of one-sided presentation when it comes to the global warming debate. I was just reading a 2005 Christianity Today editorial by Andy Crouch, where he presented the idea of adopting all the global warming restrictions as akin to Pascal's Wager: "Believe in God though he does not exist, Pascal argued, and you lose nothing in the end. Fail to believe when he does in fact exist, and you lose everything. Likewise, we have little to lose, and much technological progress, energy security, and economic efficiency to gain, if we act on climate change now—even if the worst predictions fail to come to pass." Little to lose? Global warming initiatives like carbon taxes, and restrictions on the development of oil and gas, and the increasing rejection of coal, are all raising the cost of energy. And higher energy costs impact food prices, housing costs, access to medicine, the ability to heat homes, and much more. How are those with the most to lose – the world's vulnerable poor – going to deal with these increased costs? What Crouch's argument overlooks is that there is a real and enormous cost to implementing what the global warming catastrophists are demanding, and such a one-sided presentation is no basis for making responsible decisions. 2. They view the world as a closed system with limited resources In 1980 two prominent environmentalists, Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich, made an interesting bet. Simon bet Ehrlich that any 5 metals that Ehrlich chose would, in ten years time, be cheaper than they were in 1980. Lots of people make bets, but there was something important at stake here. Simon and Ehrlich had two very different views of the world’s resources, and the bet was a way for them to wager on whose view was right. Ehrlich thought the world’s resources were finite and limited, and as we used them, we were getting closer and closer to the point where we would run out of them. The predictions of doom you frequently hear in the media are usually based on this worldview. As resources became more and more rare, they should become more and more expensive, so Ehrlich was sure the 5 metals would be more expensive in 10 years' time. Simon, on the other hand, had a much more optimistic view of the situation. Rather than running out of resources, Simon was sure the opposite was true. He was so optimistic he let Ehrlich choose the metals (copper, chromium, nickel, tin and tungsten) they would wager on. It didn’t matter what the specific resources were, he was confident they would be more plentiful, and therefore cheaper in 10 years. Well, when 1990 rolled around Simon emerged the winner. All five metals had dropped in price, chromium by 5 percent and tin by an amazing 74 percent. But even as Simon emerged the winner, it was less clear how he won. Ehrlich for example, conceded he lost the bet, but refused to concede that Simon’s view of the world had beaten his worldview. Simon’s optimistic worldview just didn’t seem to make sense. How can the world’s resources keep increasing even as we keep consuming nonrenewable resources? It comes down to Man. Ehrlich, and those who think like him, see Man as a consumer – they view each new person on this planet as yet another mouth to feed. But in Simon's worldview, we recognize Man as not just a consumer, but also a producer; so yes, each of us is one more mouth to feed, but we also come with two hands to create and craft and produce with. Of course, it is not our hands, but our brains that are our biggest tools. The world’s resources can keep increasing because Man can use his brain - his God-given creativity – to create new resources. For example, in Alberta there are huge oil sand deposits that were absolutely useless to mankind until quite recently. Then someone figured out a way to separate out the oil and suddenly Alberta had vast new oil sources. Yes, the oil was always there, but it wasn’t a resource until man’s ingenuity figured out a way to get at it. Man can create resources in another way as well. One of the more interesting examples of this has to do with copper, which was an important component of phone lines. As the number of phones, faxes and computer modems increased, the number of phone lines increased as well. The cost of the copper in all these phone lines started becoming a concern for phone companies, so they began to investigate cheaper ways of transmitting the phone signals. Now, instead of copper, many phone systems use fiber optic lines made of glass. And glass is made of sand. Man’s ingenuity turned common sand into a resource that can be used to replace the more limited resource of copper. And these “sand” telephone lines can now be used to transmit hundreds of times more information than the old copper lines ever could. So the ultimate resource on earth is Man’s ingenuity and it is limitless, growing with each new person born. But, the critic might ask, is it truly limitless? Sure, we might replace copper with sand, but it's only a certain sort of sand, and what if we run out of that? The world is finite after all. Maybe Ehrlich was wrong about how many the earth can support, but surely even Simon would agree it can't support a trillion. Or even a 100 billion. Right? Can the world support 1 trillion? Not at the moment, no, but we haven't put our God-given minds to this challenge yet. Shucks, the moon is only a hop, skip, and a jump away, and Mars could be next, so who knows what we might be able to turn them into. Unimaginable? Not with millions of little problem-solvers being born each year. We went from learning to fly, to landing on the moon in just 66 years – how's that for unimaginable? – so let's not buy into any sort of overpopulation hype. Instead, let's use our brains to explore what other resources we can create. Besides, there is no reason to believe Earth's population will reach anywhere near 100 billion, with most saying it will top out at 15 billion or so. Countries like China and Japan and Russia are facing problems caused by already occurring or coming declines in population. Many Western nations are only staying steady due to immigration. Those nations that have treated children as a curse to be avoided, rather than as a blessing to be received (Prov. 17:6, Ps. 127:3-5) are going to have problems in the near future when there are not enough young people to care for the elderly generation. Whereas those that see children as a blessing will focus, not on limiting their numbers, but on providing for them. Creative thinking might have us mining meteors, or, in some other fashion, continuing to create resources. Lest I belabor the point, here's just one more example. In Washington State farmers used to use sawdust as bedding for their cows. It was a waste product from the lumber industry that they put to productive use. But then someone else realized they could turn this waste product into wood pellets for wood-burning stoves. So the price of sawdust went up and farmers had to look elsewhere for bedding. So what did they do? Someone invented a process by which they could turn cow manure into bedding – it would be heated, the germs killed, and then the end product served the purpose well – manure was turned into mattresses. That’s what happens when Man imitates his Creator, and creates resources where they didn’t exist before. That we get this right is more important than many Christians might realize. It was bad environmentalism, looking at the earth as a closed system, that was behind the push for restrictions on population. That in turn was an impetus behind the legalization of abortion and consequently the death of millions around the world including, but certainly not limited to, China with its one-child policy. Conclusion God calls us to be stewards of the earth, and in fulfilling that calling, there will be times when we can work alongside a number of secular environmental groups. After all, while they may not know the Lord, they do want to care for His planet. But it's important that we, as Christians, seek to discern the good environmental efforts from the bad ones. Bad environmentalists do abound: groups that see Man as more of a problem than a problem-solver, or neglect to consider the poor in the plans they propose, or only offer a one-sided perspective. This is no small matter - the DDT ban cost lives by the thousands and maybe millions. The global warming debate could impact food prices in ways that harm millions more. Overpopulation hysteria led to the abortion of millions too. We need to be able to discern good from bad because environmental issues really can be matters of life and death. A version of this article was first printed in the October 2001 issue of Reformed Perspective....
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What a cross-continent trek taught one pioneer about Sunday rest
My town of Lynden, Washington has a mother, Phoebe Judson, who founded our city, arriving here in 1871. She promoted Sunday closure. Here’s why. In May, 1853, Phoebe and her husband Holden joined a covered wagon train near Kansas City hoping to reach Washington Territory by mid-October, a distance of more than 2,000 miles over the rough Oregon Trail. Like all wagon trains, they elected a captain. His word was the law. Well, they chose Rev. Gustavus Hines, only to be surprised one Saturday night when he announced the train would never travel on Sundays. Phoebe was shocked. They had half a continent to cross, at oxen pace (15-20 miles per day on a good trail), with at least four mountain passes and innumerable river crossings ahead of them. She sat in her wagon and just fumed. One family deserted the train and joined another. On their first Sunday, while they stood still, one train after another passed them by. But, being the daughter of a minister herself, Phoebe felt they had no choice but to honor their captain’s scruples. They started out again on Monday, bright and early, only to reach their first river cross on Tuesday evening. A long line of wagons stretched out ahead of them, waiting for the single “ferry” to carry them across. They waited 3 days. On Saturday they resumed the journey, only to be told they would still rest the whole next day. Phoebe was livid. This made absolutely no sense to her. Still, the minister’s daughter obeyed. Then, a few weeks later she began to see scores of dead oxen, mules and horses along the trail. They had been driven so relentlessly, they had collapse and died. She grudgingly admitted that perhaps the animals needed a day of rest. A few weeks later, she ruefully admitted that maybe the men needed it too, since they walked most of the time. Then she slowly began to notice that as they worshipped, ate, rested and even played together on Sundays, it had a remarkably salutary effect upon people’s spirits. There was less grumbling, more cooperation. She even noticed that they seemed to make better time the other six days. Finally, what totally sold her on the value of the Sabbath happened one Sunday evening: the family that had deserted them came limping into their campsite, humbly asking to rejoin them. She had assumed they were at least a week ahead; in fact, they had fallen behind. Their own wagon train had broken down! Of course they welcomed them back. And so it happened that they reached their destination in plenty of time, as friends, and out of the 50 head of cattle with which they began, only two were lost. This an excerpt from a Pastor Ken Koeman's longer article on the 4th Commandment which you can read here: Practicing the Sabbath. This first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue....
Science - Creation/Evolution
Dinosaurs and dead bodies
If Lenin’s body can't last, how could dinosaur tissue have lasted millions of years? ***** In a Russian laboratory, a team of highly trained Russian scientists is leaning over a dead body. The body is that of a man who has been dead for over 90 years, and these scientists are being paid $200,000 a year to keep this man looking alive. They are good at what they do, such that some people consider this body to be the best preserved corpse in the world. These are the earthly remains of the infamous Vladimir Lenin, socialist revolutionary and founder of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that he killed 3.7 million of his own people during his bloody reign of terror. He was an avowed atheist and declared that “there is nothing more abominable than religion,” and “all worship of a divinity is a necrophilia.” He was responsible for the mass killing of thousands of Christian in Russia. When Lenin died in January of 1924, the first embalming efforts began at a Moscow location that would later be termed the “Lenin lab.” It might seem like it should be an easy task to preserve a body for a long time, but it is actually very difficult. There were times when up to 200 scientists were employed at the Lenin lab, researching and testing the best ways to preserve Lenin’s body. They have partially succeeded. If you go to see the body of Lenin today, lying in his glass sarcophagus in Red Square you might think he looks in fairly good condition. The reality is that it has been a huge task to keep him looking like that. The sarcophagus is cooled to 61 degrees, with the humidity between 80 and 90 percent. Underneath his clothing there is a double-layered rubber suit that keep a thin layer of embalming fluid continually covering his body. The body gets re-embalmed once every other year, using a process that involves submerging the body in baths of glycerol solution, formaldehyde, potassium acetate, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, acetic acid solution and acetic sodium. Each session takes about 45 days. After the re-embalming Lenin is carted back to his sarcophagus, but each week he is visited by scientists who carefully examine his skin using precision, scientific instruments to detect any change in moisture, color and contour. Dehydration and time are the main enemies. If any fungus stains or mold spots are detected on Lenin’s face they are carefully treated with a mild bleach solution. A doctor who worked on the body from 1934 to 1952 said that with current preservation techniques, the body could last "many decades, even for 100 years.” It is now getting close to 100 years, but despite the best efforts of hundreds of scientists and over 90 years of research Lenin’s body is still deteriorating; the best of modern science has not been able to stop the downward march to dust. Artificial skin has been created to replace what is deteriorating, and his nose, face, and other parts of his body have been resculpted to restore their appearance. A moldable material made of paraffin, glycerin and carotene has been used to replace much of the skin fat to maintain the original shape of the body. It has been estimated that only 23% of Lenin’s original body tissue still remains. The rest has been replaced by artificial materials. So the famous body of Lenin is becoming more and more of a “wax” sculpture and less and less of a real body. Another well-preserved body Let us now leave Russia and visit another location, this time on the other side of the world. Once again a team of scientists is bending over the remains of a body. This time they are not in a high-tech laboratory. They have just finished removing these remains from the dirt. Once again it is a very old body, but this time all they have is the skeleton. It’s the bones of a T-rex dinosaur, and a paleontologist named Mary Schweitzer is about to take one of its bones back to her laboratory for careful study. It’s there that she places the bone in a solution of EDTA, to dissolve the bone matrix. To the astonishment of the scientific community, she discovered that there was still soft tissue inside – blood vessels, red blood cells, etc. At first some of the other scientists ridiculed her because they said, “These fossils are millions of years old and we know that biological material doesn’t last that long!” But she finally proved that it was the soft tissues of the dinosaur itself, and the majority of the scientific community accepted her discovery. As time went by more and more fossils from all over the world were tested and found to still contain soft tissues. If you saw some of the microscope pictures you might easily think you were looking at a piece of meat from the grocery store. The level of preservation is quite amazing! Even the microscopic structures of veins, red blood cells, osteocytes, and nerves have been preserved! Young earth or old flesh? Now the scientists had a problem. Most of them believed the dinosaurs had died out 65 million years ago, and previous experiments had shown that soft tissues should not last for millions of years. But they weren’t willing to let go of their belief that evolution happened over millions of years, so they started scrambling for answers to explain why the dinosaur bones still had soft tissue in them. Scientists who believed that the fossils formed in a worldwide flood about 4,400 years ago, like the Bible describes, didn’t have a problem with this discovery. Like so many other discoveries in recent science, it matched very well with their belief that the earth is only about 6,000 years and the fossils formed during the flood. This was exciting news for them, but not for the evolutionary scientists! Mary Schweitzer next did an experiment by soaking ostrich blood vessels in concentrated blood plasma for two years to see what would happen. She reported that after two years the blood vessels were still recognizable. She suspected that the iron in the blood acted somewhat like a preservative. So she put forth the theory that maybe the soft tissue in the dinosaur bones had been preserved for millions of years by iron in the blood of the dinosaurs. She compared it to the action of formaldehyde, except not as strong. The scientists who believed in Darwinian evolution immediately grabbed onto this explanation as the answer to their dilemma. They said that this experiment must explain how dinosaur soft tissue could last for millions of years. But does it really? Many of the bones Mary Schweitzer tested are dated by evolutionists at 145,000,000 to 199,000,000 years old. Can a 2-year experiment in a climate controlled laboratory be extrapolated to explain 145,000,000 years of preservation under harsh environmental conditions? Animals die all the time. We’ve all seen them dead beside the road. Does the iron in their blood act as a preservative to keep their tissues from decaying? Ninety years of research and the combined knowledge of up to 200 scientists has not been able to stop the decay of Lenin’s body. They are using the most advanced preservation techniques and the best embalming chemicals, including formaldehyde, but that is still not enough to stop the slow, but steady decline into dust. “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19). It appears that iron molecules do have some preservative qualities that act in a similar way to formaldehyde, except that they are weaker than formaldehyde. And we can see that even formaldehyde itself, combined with other strong chemicals cannot preserve tissue indefinitely. A large portion of Lenin’s body is already gone after only ninety years. It is even surprising to find that fragments of soft tissue have been preserved in dinosaur bones for over 4,000 years since the flood buried these fossils. But it is quite inconceivable that iron molecules could preserve tissue for 145,000,000 years. In order to grasp the vast difference between the evolutionary time scale and the Bible time scale, let’s try converting them to seconds. If the 4,400 years since the flood was converted to 4,400 seconds or 1.2 hours, and the 145,000,000 years (the supposed age of the bones) was converted to 145,000,000 seconds or 4.5 years, we can see the huge difference between the two. What a little over an hour is to four and a half years, the evolutionary time scale is to the creation time scale. Evolutionary scientists believe these soft tissues are almost 33,000 times older than creation scientists do! Rejecting accountability doesn’t work Evolutionists are willing to believe something extraordinary rather than accept the thought that maybe God created the earth only 6,000 years ago and the Bible record of the flood is true and accurate. Why do they rule out God, even as they struggle to find other explanations? Well, if there is a God in heaven, then we are accountable to Him for what we do and how we live our lives. And they don’t like that. However, it also means that if we give our lives to Christ and ask his forgiveness for our sins, then we can have eternal life with Him in the earth made new! Lenin asserted that there is nothing more abominable than religion, yet his decaying body is unmistakable evidence that soft tissue contained in dinosaur bones cannot be millions of years old. We can imagine that if we had lived under his Red Terror in Russia, he would have said to us, “You Christians will spread your religion over my dead body!” Indeed! Check out the great 5-minute video below with more on dinosaur soft tissue. ...
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BLOOM WHERE YOU ARE PLANTED (1 meg) LET'S DRAW AN ANT! Want to know how to draw the ants from the March?April issue? OMA AND TOMMY (1 meg) You can find the coloring page from the Jan/Feb 2023 issue right here. Click on the text link to download the file, or click on the picture to get the larger version in your browser. (Pictures are for personal use ©️stephanielorinda) SOLDIER (1 meg) Find downloads from the Nov/Dec 2022 issue below. Click on the text link to download the file, or click on the picture to get the larger version in your browser. SWORD (2 meg) ...
Don’t watch the news, read it!
This first appeared in Reformed Perspective in 2000, and yet the thesis of this article is just as relevant for today's Internet Age, as entertainment is an even bigger part of the news now. ***** Entertainment is the news. When the hit television series Seinfeld went off the air in 1998, all the major networks ran lengthy stories. The Hollywood press conference that announces the nominees for the Academy Awards receives coverage comparable to the president’s “State of the Union” address. And the box office tallies of the sequels to Jurassic Park and Star Wars become major network news stories. In this day and age of giant conglomerates, a number of networks are now owned and operated by film studios, but there is no grand media conspiracy. There are plenty of independent news sources that provide competition. So who is responsible for the triumph of “infotainment” over information? It is us, the consumers of news. We allow television to be our main source of news, and this leads to three critical distortions in our lives. 1. Self-pity Television news encourages self-pity. TV spokesmen talk a lot about the importance of the “news business,” but what they really mean is the “bad news business.” Except in small doses, good news simply doesn’t make for good television. The tube inevitably emphasizes violence, mayhem, death, destruction – it doesn’t matter if we are talking about battles, riots, train wrecks, or hurricanes – as long as it is visual, dramatic, and compelling. That is why news producers love wars and natural disasters. Bad news is not only the lifeblood of the major networks but also the local news stations across the nation. A USA Today survey indicates that 73 per cent of the lead stories they air are devoted to coverage of some kind of natural disaster or violence. Bad news literally drives out good news. To understand why this happens, try putting yourself in the position of a television news director. How do you make your show gripping? Do you show a computerized graph on the declining national crime rate or live footage of an elementary school shooting? Do you interview a small business owner who has created 100 new jobs in the plumbing industry or an environmental activist who claims to have proof of a deadly new toxic threat? Do you run a lead story about a Detroit janitor who moonlights as a cabdriver so he can send his five children to a Christian school? Do you tell your cameramen to zoom in when he arrives home late at night, kisses his sons and daughters as they lie sleeping, and asks God’s blessing on them? It happens every night in Detroit, Cleveland, Saint Louis, Los Angeles, and New York. But is it news? Never! What if the same janitor arrives home and something snaps? He gets a pistol from the closet shoots his children, and then shoots himself. You don’t have to think about whether to run this story. Your decision is automatic: “If it bleeds, it leads.” 2. Shortened attention span Television news encourages a short attention span and a lack of perspective. Forget about nuclear wars and germ warfare. The most destructive invention of the 20th century is the remote control. Channels magazine notes that the average adult male (who wins the gender and age battle over possession of the remote in most American households) changes stations every 19 minutes. If this keeps up, “channel surfing” will soon be an Olympic sport. Imagine once again that you are a news director. You know that most guys are incapable of watching a half-hour program. How do you respond? By changing the entire nature of television in a desperate bid to keep viewers riveted. In the 1950s a typical camera shot lasted 35-50 seconds. In the 1990s it lasts 5 seconds. Commercials are even more frenetic, often switching images after only one second. Television sound bites have also been reduced to the point of absurdity. Forget about the interview subject who tells you what he thinks about the state of the economy of the defense budget in 25 words of less – you have to find someone who can do it in three words – and they better be pretty titillating, or they won’t make it onto the evening news. Titillation is the new and ultimate entitlement of television viewers. We want to be excited by what we watch. It doesn’t matter if topics are presented in a thoughtful and thorough manner, just as long as we aren’t bored. Who among us would tune into a broadcast of the Lincoln-Douglas debates today? We ought to remember what life was like before television. In 1858, 20,000 residents of Freeport, Illinois, heard presidential candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas speak for four hours without microphones, teleprompters or commercial breaks. In city after city, Lincoln and Douglas grappled with consequential issues, and they attracted huge audiences of ordinary citizens – farmers, laborers, shopkeepers, housewives, and even school children. Today, they would be hard-pressed to get an hour of airtime on PBS and even if they did their Nielsen ratings would be abysmal. 3. Superficiality and subjectivity Our love affair with television has led to an obsession with appearance. Look at the current crop of anchormen and anchorwomen. Do you think they were chosen to read the news because they were at the top of their class in journalism school? Everything on television, even the “truth,” is subordinate to appearance. Television is all about surface impressions and this means that intentions, feelings and desires take precedence over logic, substance and reality. Worse yet, television news infects viewers with what I call the “do-something disease.” It presents alarming stories about every imaginable tragedy – famine, cancer, illiteracy, pollution, you name it – and encourages viewers to feel that they should do something right away. It doesn’t matter if they can’t solve these problems. What does matter is they will feel a whole lot better. Stop watching and start reading Self-pity, lack of focus, superficiality, subjectivity – how do we deal with these? Do we try to improve the quality of television news, to make the medium work for us instead of against us? Certainly that is an important and worthwhile effort. It isn’t the ultimate solution, however, because the fundamental problem isn’t a lack of quality programming. We now sit in front of the “boob tube,” 28 hours a week. We spend more time watching television than we do pursuing our careers, since we don’t retire, or take vacations, sick days, or weekends off from our favorite programs. We also spend more time watching television than we do reading to ourselves or to our children. Best-selling novelist Larry Wolwode is right. Television is the “Cyclops who eats books.” When it comes to the news, this one-eyed monster also has an insatiable appetite for newspapers and magazines. But Cyclops in not all-powerful. We can defeat him Unlike the Greeks, we don’t need clever tricks or deception. Armed only with our remote controls, we can turn off this giant glowing eye. Nearly all Americans say they want to cut down on TV viewing. Where is the best place to begin? By eliminating the time you spend on television news. Most material on the tube doesn’t pretend to reflect reality, but news broadcasts do, so they are particularly, potently poisonous. The hour you spend each night watching local and network news could easily be redirected to reviewing not one but two newspapers in their entirety. Sure, print journalism has its own biases, but because of the way we read and comprehend it, we are more capable of compensating. Reinvesting your time in this way may not instantly change the world, but it can change your world and the way you respond to reality. And like and wisely planned reasoned investment it can pay long-term dividends. Reprinted by permission, from IMPRIMIS the monthly journal of Hillsdale College. Be sure to check out the "sequel" to this piece, Don't read the news, read a book....