Tag Archives: Letters to the Editor

Better not to shotgun a response

1 Feb

When you flush out a covey of quail, don’t shoot into the covey. Instead, pick out and select one bird to bring down!

flock-of-birds

Good advice from a quail-hunter.  And appropriate for addressing opposing views we encounter these days.

I absorbed this advice just recently and already it is making a difference.  One afternoon not too long ago, we indulged in our favorite after church past time, sharing lunch while reading the Sunday paper.  An op-ed piece about ‘women’s health issues’ had caught my eye and raised my dander.  The authors wrote, decrying the new administration’s goal of decreasing federal funds for Planned Parenthood. The way they framed their argument seemed to have one goal:  to arouse the ire of women by describing a presumed danger of losing access to existing health care.

The team of two local professors raised several points worthy of questioning and I wanted to tackle them all.  Fortunately for my intended audience, I took a walk and listened to radio host Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason explain a principle learned from his days as a boy hunting quail with his friends.

He explained that if you shoot directly into the covey, you’d waste your shot.  But if you aim for one bird, you have a better chance of actually bagging one.

His advice applied to our current contentious climate in America and shaped how I focused my letter to the editor later that afternoon.  Listening to Greg, I also saw in a flash why previous letters I had penned most likely exercised zero effect on readers.  Past letters have probably tanked due to a jumble of points, all poorly developed.

So what did I focus on in this most current letter?  A statistic mentioned in the paper’s essay. In a strategic move to minimize the arguments of the pro-life position, the authors stated that abortions account for only 3 % of all of Planned Parenthood’s services.

I smelled a fake statistic.

Sure enough when I went to factcheck.org I read how PP counts services.  Say a woman goes into a PP facility thinking she might be pregnant and wanting to discuss options.  In one visit, she might receive:

  • an initial screening consult
  • a blood test
  • a pee test
  • a pap smear
  • a referral to another provider for a different issue the consult uncovered

And if this woman does indeed choose to schedule an abortion, that second visit might include:

  • a information/procedural consult
  • an ultrasound
  • a further consult
  • an abortion
  • a post-procedure consult
  • 1 or 2 prescriptions for pain/possible infection
  • a prescription for contraception

So this hypothetical one gal might receive 12 different services and only 1 is an abortion.

Do you see how the quantity of abortions performed could be minimized when compared with the accompanying services?

Thanks to Greg Koukl’s advice preceding my letter attempt, I selected this one issue and worked to write as clearly and persuasively as possible pointing out the misleading accounting.  I don’t know if anyone will be persuaded, but clarifying my purpose and aiming at just one ‘quail’ focused me and guided my thoughts and word choice.

 

Narrowing my efforts also helped me articulate for myself what my ‘bone of contention’ is!  Whatever our views, it’s always worth the time to know what we believe and why!

Separate out the issues

25 Nov

pick up stix

Do you remember the delicate touch you employed in order to play Pick up Stix? Dumping them all out on a table produced a challenging mess.

Similarly when confronted by the onslaught of jumbled sound bytes that stand in lieu of rational, orderly arguments, we have to first untangle the issues before we can discuss what is being advanced.

Recently my ‘go-to’ source for messy thinking, the Letters to the Editor page of the local newspaper, provided fun fodder.

The tragic death by handgun of a local child prompted a letter. The author’s premise ran like this:

All persons who advocate the rights of the unborn should also advocate regulating the rights of handgun owners.

He reasoned two ways:

  • by asking questions calling into question the heart and sympathies of pro-life supporters
  • by pointing out that since the misuse of cars can cause accidental death, and we accept government regulation, then we should equally embrace state and federal regulation of guns

Were I to dialogue face to face with this gentleman, I would gently point out that the use of a fallacy doesn’t take the place of marshaling reasons to support a claim.

Just what is the fallacy?  Look at his questioning technique I cited.  That is nothing more than a ‘kind’ version of an ad hominem attack.  Focusing on the character of your opponent is a weak substitute for a reasoned argument. Succumbing to a fallacy also communicates that you don’t know what else to say in support of your position!

What about my letter writer’s 2nd tactic, to tie the details of one kind of accidental death to another?  He’s arguing in essence for a broader principle:

All objects that can be misused resulting in the accidental death of someone should be regulated by the government.

Is he going to agree or balk?  If he agrees, then take his argument seriously and push it to the point of the absurd.

I just googled this topic: “Too much of this can kill you”

and what popped up after you tube videos of ‘too much love’ was the following from a CBS News website (see the link at kidney failure):

Doctors have traced a man’s kidney failure to his habit of drinking a gallon of iced tea each day.

Black tea has a chemical called oxalate, known to cause kidney stones or even kidney failure in excessive amounts.

But tea isn’t the only everyday ingestible that could kill you.

Mr Letter-writer is going to have to limit the scope of his claim.  His broad-sweep application of ONE situation (government regulation of drivers and cars) cannot, ipso facto, be applied to every situation.  Keep him focused on how to solve the evil killing of the child.

Actually, what both the wrong use of cars and the wrong use of guns has in common is the evil nature of the handler of either. Now THERE’s a topic worth discussing!

Can you hold a belief and not practice it? Should you?

30 Sep

I love to read the letters to the editor

Letter to the editor

A recent one caught my eye because the author, in condemning Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, wrote:

  • ….”no one, absolutely no one, was telling that county clerk in Kentucky what to believe.  One of the founding principles of this country is that we all have the right to believe in whatever type of God we wish, and to practice that belief in whatever way we feel is appropriate.

Really?  I thought many belittled Kim Davis expressly while exercising her belief in God. Didn’t she refuse to allow her name to be on marriage certificates because she BELIEVED that this PRACTICE would NOT be APPROPRIATE?  (note I am using the writer’s terms)

So the question is:  Can one separate beliefs/values from actions?

If I believe that eating fresh food is healthier for me but I continue to eat processed foodstuff, am I being consistent?

Don’t we condemn as hypocritical those who espouse one thing and do another?

Walk the talk

The truth is that Christians are increasingly going to be subject to magnifying glass scrutiny.  We have to establish ahead of time WHAT we believe, WHY we believe it and WHAT we are willing to do to be integrated human beings.  Beliefs are worthless when they swim around as vague, unsubstantiated opinions.

Let’s ground our beliefs IN reason. And if we can’t come up with a solid defense for WHY we believe what we espouse, then maybe it’s time to jettison that value. There’s no shame in abandoning a position or changing one’s mind for solid justification.  And it’s no discredit to be honest and admit:

  • I don’t have any reason for believing X, I just WANT to believe X

I just want to

At least that’s sincere and authentic.  And while it’s okay to ‘park’ in that spot for a while, we shouldn’t stay there.  Let’s take the time to examine why holding such a belief would be rational and worthwhile.  The best reason to hold and practice a belief is because it is true.

Logical Gal and why slogans fail us

14 Jan

Slogans

A recent letter to the editor in our local newspaper provided practice in thinking.  A lawyer had written to champion the ‘Separation of Church and State’.  He counseled Christians to confine their religious practices to church and NOT bring them out into the public square.  He fumed over comments made by supposed conservative Christians who ‘dared’ criticize recent Supreme Court decision.

If he had thought a bit deeper, he might have seen that he was misrepresenting the activity of  ‘religious practices’ because he hadn’t considered his terms.  Since I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to influence the readership of the local paper, I did write a letter to the editor.  In my response,  I pointed out that ‘religious practices’ were actually what people did in church (where people sing songs, celebrate communion, hear messages teaching Bible content and principles and pray together).  What the lawyer probably meant to castigate was what he, himself, might be guilty of….the supposed ‘sin’ of letting one’s values affect one’s actions.

Core values

(Surely law schools must drill into future lawyers the necessity for precise language.  Since lawyers are good at splitting hairs, I picture them spending hour upon hour practicing drawing careful distinctions!)

Back to this so-called requirement to keep one’s religious practices confined to a place of worship! It’s not hard to see that the rites and behaviors one performs in a church service are narrower than one’s core values.  Yes, our values DO influence particular religious behaviors.  But values in general shape most of our actions and decisions. The essential truths that every human being holds create beliefs, which in turn guide one’s intentional behavior.

Justice is blind

I’m assuming that men and women who choose the legal profession esteem many values that they express publicly.  Being charitable, I will say that a career in law presupposes that one cares about truth and justice for all.  So it’s not just Christians who advocate the care and dignity of their fellow human beings.

The danger of slogans is that they brush with too broad of a brush.  They remind me of those mall-stalking pollsters with their clipboards who take sport in canvassing your views, yet all the while limiting your responses . But the problem is that your opinions don’t fit any of the categories!  The same pitfall is attendant in sound bytes.  Lack of time prevents clear thinking!  And furthermore, these written or shouted symbol-laden words actually can cloud communications.

As an aside to my rebuttal letter to the editor, I pointed out how the values and beliefs of many Christians have resulted in much good for society!  Accounts abound, throughout the world, of Christians who have sacrificed to care for the poor, the sick and those in prison.  These followers of Christ have allowed their values and beliefs to shape their actions.  One only has to think of British Christians like William Wilberforce and others who fought tirelessly to abolish the slave trade.  And what about American Christians like Martin Luther King who sought to bring civil rights to the black community?

Beliefs formed from values DO matter and everyone has them.  And unfortunately, we know too many examples of evil done in the name of beliefs, from Christians and non-Christians alike.  My point in gently taking the lawyer to task was to ask him if he really believed that only Christians allow their convictions to inform their actions.

Declaring he doesn’t want ‘conservative Christian values’ spilling out into public, leads me to think that he apparently values autonomy for everyone.  That belief has led him to defend the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.  To be consistent, maybe he should leave his values at home when he ventures into the public square.  Or is he, alone, allowed to vote his conscious, but those who happen to engage in ‘religious activities’ not?

I admit, it’s difficult for all of us to be even-handed in our thinking and consistent!  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Logical Gal and how to write a letter to the editor

7 Jul

letter to the editor

Today’s Asheville Citizen-Times sported a guest columnist who is Director of Radiology at a local medical school.  He wrote about 750 words asserting as FACT two ‘propositions’ about the theory of evolution and the nature of Christians.

About evolution, his statements were along the line of ‘it’s settled science’.  And his view of Christians painted a strawman group of people who can’t ground their beliefs in anything true or factual.  He also maintained that most Christians accept the theory of evolution.

Nor did he build a case around either premise.  His commentary turned out to be nothing more than multiple statements offered as ‘fact’.  He then finished up by accusing Christians of being anti-science and a threat to democracy if they support creationism.

As a thinking Christian, I have to keep my emotions in check.  But it’s not enough to avoid mild rants about how our current society sees Christians.  I don’t always compose a letter to the editor. This time I felt like I should.

But what do you do when there are so many un-truths in one piece?

direction?

 

I had to limit myself and choose a main topic and maybe one side issue.  First I prayed that God would guide me.  And He did!  Before I sat down at the computer, I listened to a podcast while walking and heard some ideas that gave direction to my thoughts.  Then I jotted down my points BEFORE I started writing the letter.

Taking a few minutes to line up my direction kept me, I hope, from volleying back with an equally shot-gunned answer.  I also tried to write at a 5th grade reading level (the audience of daily papers, they say) and keep my tone winsome.

Here’s my response.  We’ll see if the paper publishes it.  At least the guy or gal whose job it is to monitor letters and perform ‘triage’ on them will have to read it!

 

Dr. ‘Joe Blow’ seems to think that only Christians trust beliefs they cannot see. Were we to sit down to talk, I would offer the following for his consideration:

We all start with a story or world-view written by the community we most identify with. This world-view is a lens through which we see and explain different facets of life. Dr. Rowe has faith that the scientific view of the world is true.

Reason calls us to verify our view with facts and experiences. What can be measured lends credence to the story.  Christians rely on the evidence of the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. No top-rate New Testament scholar, secular or religious, disputes the historicity of the death and rising to life of Jesus of Nazareth.

However certainty about one’s assumptions is impossible. We should retain those offering the most explanatory power.

Therefore, the best any human can do is exercise reasonable trust.

If Dr. Rowe were married, I would ask him how he is sure of his wife’s love. I would point out that he couldn’t have the same kind of certainty he probably has about the temperature at which water freezes. But he can look at his experiences with his wife and choose to trust her love for him. She has probably built up a track record of faithful exercise of loving actions toward him.

Thinking Christians look at the evidence and their experiences of God in their lives and make the rational step of trusting the God of the Bible.

Question: which is easier for you to do – write a response to someone with whom you fundamentally disagree or dialogue face-to-face?

 

 

 

Logical Gal and Truth by Repetition

27 Jun

Brave New World

Summertime and I’m using the time off to read!

One of the English teachers from my school lent me Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel.  In his futuristic vision, caste life is engineered in factory-like laboratories.  And for each caste member to be content and ‘happy’ with their work and limitations, they are brainwashed from birth through something called ‘Hypnopaedia‘. While they sleep, certain messages are repeated numerous times until they are absorbed as ‘truth’ by the hearer. “One hundred repetitions three times a week for four years, thought Bernard Marx, who was a specialist on hypnopaedia.  Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth.”  (p. 47)  Hypnopaedia

We shutter and chalk that up to science-fiction, however long ago it was written. (1932) But is that particular society’s modus operandi so different than ours, today in the 2010’s?  You hear something enough times and it becomes ‘a kind of truth’. Take the widely accepted ‘fact’:

  • 50 % of all marriages end in divorce

Apparently that is not true.  What?  But everyone says it is.  (that, my friend, is called a fallacy –  when your reason for advancing or believing a proposition to be true is just because ‘everyone’ says it’s true – Argumentum Ad Populum) Cats - 8 of 10 prefer Whiskas (Like the ad says, 8 of every 10 cats prefer Whiskas! Conclusion: it must be good! )

 

In doing a little fact-checking about the divorce numbers, the story goes that some assumptions were made in 1981, the year that this ‘fact’ was publicized as legit.  See link for account of rumor’s origin Okay, you say, you don’t fall for urban legends like marriage and divorce rates.  You track down alleged facts and do your homework before you believe what you hear! And maybe that is so, but where I live in Western North Carolina, many don’t.  They have absorbed publicized claims as truth because they WANT to believe them.  Each day I read the letters to the editor in the Asheville Citizen-Times.  I’m sure they are not unique in their source of letter-writers.  I would guess (before doing my homework) that many citizens across the United States cobble together truth the way these local readers do.  And repeated enough times, anything becomes believable.

But what is Truth?  By definition truth is that which corresponds to reality.  It doesn’t matter whether many or none believe it.

Truth is the truth

I don’t doubt that you KNOW what truth is.  And reading a novel whose leaders so blatantly have set systems in place to brainwash people strikes us, the readers, as fantasy.  Actually, however, we gloss over the same kinds of practices ONLY because they are not SOPs, publicized standard operating procedures.  But whether the actions are de jure or de facto, the results are the same.  And that is frightening.  Control by repetition.

Logical Gal thinks through ‘Income Disparity’

23 May

Haven’t you had enough of people deciding what is enough for you and me?

Income Inequality - scales

Recently the editorial staff of our local newspaper gave an F

F - failing grade

to what they call “another example of runaway income disparity in America

That blanket assessment left me with many questions.  And as you know, QUESTIONS are the stock and trade of all Logical Joes and Janes!

Here are a few:

·      What is wrong with income disparity?
·      Why does it bother people so much?
·      Who designed the measurement against which income levels are evaluated?  And who invested THESE folks with the authority, respect and cachet to be quoted?
·      How come professional athletes and movie stars get a pass?
·      Why is business the category that is most maligned?
·      Isn’t this reaction just jealousy and covetousness, thinly veiled as self-righteous indignation?

Income inequality - tax the rich

This morning I was listening to a pastor think through aloud whether those who die as believing Christians are aware of us here on Earth.  Interesting question, no?  His response  seemed to follow on nicely, though tangentially, to this discussion of  ‘enough’.   Here is his conclusion:   God will provide believers in heaven exactly what is sufficient……..

FOR their complete joy!!!

Fullness of joy

I wasn’t expecting those last 4 words, ‘for their complete joy‘.  And that got me thinking that the next time I encounter a smug Joe or Jane citizen who purports to know best what I, MARIA, need, I will continue the discussion with this….

You assert that I should be satisfied with X, that …..

X is enough for what?

  • for subsistence?
  • for my enjoyment?
  • for my satisfaction?
  • and what about the very American foundational principle of the Pursuit of Happiness…..?  Have we abandoned that value via the mechanism of the loudest, most clamoring, strident and angry voices?

Pursuit of happiness